It was inevitable that our paths would cross. We lived in the same close-knit running community. We had mutual friends and training partners. We were both slated to run Boston this Spring.
And it was likely that we would be friends. Both of us stay-at-home moms. Our kids the same age. Outgoing runners.
It’s not a stretch at all to say that I was days away from knowing her. The track workouts had been planned with Sage. A tentative date set. The three of us had work to do. Meg was running Boston…Sage chasing a PR at Gettysburg…I had a Beast to slay…
By now we all know how this story plays out. Wrong road. Wrong time. Wrong driver.
Tomorrow is like any other Saturday. So many of us will lace up our shoes and head out for a weekly long run. Last week Meg was a nameless runner logging 16 miles with her training group. Tomorrow 75,000+ will put on blue and run with her name on their lips, her children in their hearts. The running world coming together to remember someone we didn’t know….yet we all knew.
She could be any one of us. A mother, a friend, a sister. One of the good ones, raising a family and taking some time to pursue her passion. She was fast and she was strong, but from everyone I’ve talked to she was more. She was life and love, happiness and enthusiasm. She was a mom.
What is the vibration….the energy….the spirit that binds us runners? Emergence theory. Emergency. When tragedy strikes….9/11….Boston 2013….Meg Menzies…we unite. We congregate. We run.
We run and we breathe and we try to find some meaning. We push and we hurt and we show our strength. We preserve. We endure.
In April we ran for Boston. Now in January we run for Meg. I have no doubt that we will be called in the future to gather again. And I have no doubt that when that call comes we will answer en masse.
JFK. Love it or hate it, this race is special to me.
I told myself I wasn’t running it again. I sat on the registration for a solid week until I couldn’t stand it anymore. Finally, I caved. Without another thought, I mailed it off and planned to return home on November 23.
“Settle down, it’ll all be clear Don’t pay no mind to the demons They fill you with fear The trouble it might drag you down If you get lost, you can always be found Just know you’re not alone… Cause I’m gonna make this place your home”
The idea of running JFK led me to ultra running. And ultra running helped me find myself. For 36 years I went through the motions….always competent enough to look like I belonged, but desperately kicking my legs below the surface to tread the waters of life.
In the thousands of miles and hundreds of hours since, I’ve come to know myself. Never doubted that this is exactly what I should be doing…even when that means sacrificing time with those I hold most dear. I can’t explain this calling on any rational level, but I know in my heart that I’m doing what God wants me to do. (Note: I have some very complicated issues with religion in general…worthy of a separate post…but running is the one area where I am comfortable expressing my spirituality…)
So JFK is a pilgrimage of sorts. A return to the start…of my running dreams and of my childhood. My present and my past. It’s who I am.
With Masochist on my legs, I didn’t expect a fast run. In fact, I was really excited to experiment with two 50’s in the same month. It was to be a fun day running in Washington County, and I looked forward to a weekend of hanging out with trail friends…those running the race (Angela, Sage, Jon, Eric) and those I’d see along the way (Crista, Steve, Eddy).
I rolled into Hagerstown Friday night in time to meet up with Jon, Eric, and new team members Mel and Bill. Eric had run into Jane – a girl he’d met at the Steamtown Marathon several weeks before – she joined us for dinner and by the end of the weekend was our new best friend.
An early bed-time and good night’s sleep made the 4:30 wake-up tolerable. The weather was decent – in the high 30s, but a cold front was expected to roll through mid-day, so I decided to wear my lulu capris, along with my Terrapin tank and MMTR long-sleeve. As I did last year, I carried my nathan’s pack (sans bladder) with gels and s-caps and gloves, relying on my hand-held bottle for hydration.
The race started at 7AM, and without fuss the 1000 runners rolled up Old National Pike to South Mountain Inn. It was an easy 22 min of climbing, and I never felt like I was working too hard. We hit the AT and cruised for a mile or so, before reaching the second long climb (on asphalt) to the summit of South Mountain. Just like last year, I was running with guys who were hoping for an 8 hour finish. But this time, I didn’t worry….I just kept a steady, easy pace through the climb and onto the trail….the only goal was to run conservatively through the early trail miles and have some spunk on the canal.
Well…I did run easy, but by mile 14 my hips and hip flexors were telling me they’d had enough of rocky trails for the year. My quads stared to feel heavy, and though I was staying on top of my fuel, I was tired. I distracted myself by chatting with the girl in front of me – an Ironman from PA – and then was thrilled when I heard Angela’s voice…she had caught me on the switchbacks and we ran onto the canal together at 9:40
Still…I was ready for a rest. Was it too early to walk a bit? Yes.
OK….three miles to the Steeplechasers aid station (Mile 19). Crista would be there with my Hokas, and so I struggled to keep up with Angela as we transitioned to the LONG 26.3 flat canal miles. This is the hardest part of the race for me, and the only way I get through it is to muddle along…mile by mile…running to the next aid station. From 19 to 23. From 23 to 27. The low point of the day….last year and this year.
I HATED these first 11 canal miles. But once I hit the Mile 23 aid station, I was on a mission. My girls would be waiting at mile 27, and I really, really wanted to get there on time. It was a cold day, and the mama in me wanted a quick hug and then the knowledge that they’d be back in the car getting warm again. These thoughts pushed me along and I got to them around 11:25.
I’d hit the halfway point at 4:05, and estimated that I would be off the canal by 1:50 (a 4:10 marathon). The constant headwind and monotony made me feel like I was shuffling along. Last year, I took a walk break at every mile post. This year I told myself it was OK to walk, but every time I saw a mile marker I challenged myself to keep moving. I had some nice conversations with the other runners…even seeing some guys that I ran with last year (one of them had been wearing pajama pants, so they’d made an impression!). While I felt blah, I kept moving along, and sure enough…came off the canal right at 1:50. I was only passed by one other girl – quite a change from last year when I think 5 or 6 caught me on the canal section.
I was SO looking forward to the last 8 miles of road, as there were some great hills that would provide an excuse to walk. Well…not so much! I walked the first one, and a few others, but everything was so darn runnable. So, I kept at my shuffle and plodded along….SO tired, and SO ready for the run to be over.
Eight miles to go….Seven….Six. Each time I passed a sign I’d look at my watch. 10 more minutes….keep it up.
With 4 miles to go, not one but TWO women passed me. So strong!! Turns out they were both over 45 – Woot! Love to see that older does NOT mean slower. One of them was a local who was running her third JFK (she PR’d by several minutes).
Three…Two…One mile to go. Home.
8:11:29 over the line. 20 minutes faster than last year. 14th woman.
Though I felt tired and worn out for a full 36 miles, a very happy Annie….
A few minutes after crossing, I heard my name. Crista and Sage. Huge Hugs…and a question…how did Sage do? Sage did just fine….SECOND WOMAN!!! So, so happy for her and her unreal 7:14 time.
All in all, it was a great day. I was tired for most of it, but know that I can find another 11 minutes out there and break 8. Not sure if that will be next year, but am excited to return to home in future years and see what I can do on the course.
“Feeling my way through the darkness
Guided by a beating heart
I can’t tell where the journey will end
But I know where to start”
-Wake Me up, Avicii
A few weeks ago this became my MMTR anthem. Unsure of my training and my health, I wasn’t certain of the race’s outcome. But I knew that in the darkness of the morning, I’d be on that starting line.
The Mountain Masochist Trail Run was my goal race for 2013. But what did that mean?
Did I expect to win? No.
Did I expect a 50 mile PR? Nope.
Did I expect to make the top 10 women? After seeing the entrants list on Tuesday…an emphatic NO!
I describe myself as a B+ runner. I’m strong. I push through. But I’m not a contender. I am sooooo OK with that! I love keeping up with the fast kids on training runs. I enjoy having the cushion that comes from being comfortably in the middle. I’m not well equipped to manage other’s expectations and so I like floating along – right under the radar.
What I wanted was a strong MMTR. One where…
… I didn’t crumble mentally.
… I ran a smart race.
… I stayed on top of the essentials…food, hydration, electrolytes.
… I could take in the experience, hang with my ultra-family, make new friends, and come home refreshed and renewed.
By September, my training was going well. I was logging lots of miles (though not as many long runs or back-to-backs as I’d like).
With the girls in school, I am able to train during the morning and “hide” my workouts. It’s becoming increasingly important that I am home with them in the afternoons and evenings, and I never – EVER – want them to feel like I’m choosing running over family time.
But with the peak in mileage, my immune system took a beating. I ended the month with a bad case of bronchitis/walking pneumonia. October passed in a lethargic haze. Worn out and run down, I decided to focus less on pace and more on staying within my limits. The best I could hope for was a steady run.
I am blessed to have some very strong women in my life who have a ton of experience with Masochist. In the weeks leading up to the race, Martha and Sophie told me what to expect. Martha’s photographic memory painted a picture of the course in my mind. Sophie, always so generous, shared her strategies and advice. A few days before leaving for Lynchburg, I met Bethany for coffee. While she wasn’t running it this year, her enthusiasm was contagious and I finally started to get excited!
When Martha pulled up Friday, I gave the girls hugs and kisses and hopped in the car. With Prissie and Mike joining us, it was a quick trip to Lynchburg. We went straight to packet pick up, where Horton put us to work hauling boxes of t-shirts 🙂 A fun dinner followed…seeing friends and familiar faces, meeting new people, and getting ready for the morning.
Happily (and uncharacteristically), I was not a bundle of nerves. I knew I could manage the distance. I did not have any time goals. I did not expect to be among the top women. I was going to take Sophie’s advice- go out slow, run without my GPS, rely on my body, and enjoy the day.
The race began at 6:30, which required an early wake-up and bus ride to the start line.
It was warm for November, so while I started in a long-sleeve shirt, I was quickly able to strip down to my tank and skirt. I paid no intention to my place in the bunch, and when we started I jogged along with the group. As the line thinned out, I found some space and settled into an easy pace. The trail was rockier than I would have like – a trashy jeep road – and I stepped gingerly over the obstacles- careful not to roll my ankle early in the day. Over the first 10 miles I was uncomfortable….I hadn’t been able to use the bathroom and my stomach was complaining. Catching up to Sophie and Donna as the sun came up I couldn’t quite find my breath…I was running too fast.
The day was beautiful, especially as the sun brightened the fall colors around us.
When the time (and trail) permitted I ducked into the woods to FINALLY answer nature’s call -I ran much more comfortably after that!! I watched Sophie zip off and was worried – if that was her conservative pace, I was outta my league! So I returned to my mantra – steady girl, run within yourself. Enjoy the day.
And I did! With the pressure of “racing” off the table, I bounded along the trail, enjoying a long stretch of running with Brian, trading places and smiles with Donna, overhearing the chatter and conversations of runners around me. I looked around, blown away by the beauty of autumn…
…the light bouncing off the mountains, the reflection of the reservoir, the open fields and wooden fences. The warmth of the day.
I stayed on top of nutrition as well. I don’t like to eat, but I forced myself to take in calories on a schedule. Not since Emma’s newborn days was I that focused on feeding by the clock! It worked – though I tired, I never once bonked.
I wanted to run easy and strong to the “halfway” point – Long Mountain Wayside. I knew there was a long climb up Buck Mountain that I’d be walking. After that, I’d start pushing it (if I could) or walk more (if I had to). When I rolled into the Long Mountain aid station there were two unexpected, friendly faces there to help. Sam and Brad had driven up from Richmond – they helped me get re-stocked and re-shoed and I set off knowing that there were friends on the mountain!!
The climb up Buck was when I knew I was having a good day. I started passing other runners…and not just guys. It was a big boost to know I was running strong relative to other women who had been ahead of me all day. Hiking up the mountain I had a nice conversation with Kevin (about raising chickens, of all things!). We reached the top, ran to the next aid station, and then we were in The Loop.
I knew the first few miles were runnable and I forced myself to cover them quickly, as the terrain would devolve into a rocky mess. It was beautiful in there as I was running along – not a soul in sight. When I got to the turn-off for the out-and-back climb up Mt. Pleasant I saw Nebs running strong, immediately followed by Gaby (looking great!). I shouted out a congratulations to them both and started the climb.
I think half of the field was on that mile section. How funny to run alone for so long and then see how close everyone is to one other.
I had no interest in counting girls, but I did see Sophie right above me. It was great to catch up to her and chat over the next few miles. She told me to go ahead – and she also mentioned that I was now in 9th place. I tried not to hear, but with only 12 miles to go I was now determined to get into that top 10!
I came out of the loop, and started a long climb to the next aid station. Then more climbing and a long single track section. I was chatting with one of the guys when he asked me if I knew there was another girl right behind me. I looked over my shoulder and saw her 100 yards back. Thinking a) that she was gaining on me and b) that I would still be in the top-10 if she passed, I almost eased off to let her go ahead. But then, considering that I could still run and that there was another women within view up ahead, I kept my pace steady and pulled away.
I caught up to the next woman and we talked for a moment. At the aid station (the last one, I think?), I noticed her race number and realized this was Sophie’s friend Meredith. I introduced myself, but there wasn’t any time to chit-chat. We both knew that puffy-vests were on the line. Meredith had much happier quads than me, and bounded down the mountain. I rolled on…trying to run as strong as I could, while saving just a bit in case I needed to push it on the final flat section.
Three miles to go….down, down, down. Where – oh where – is that really cool tree that will tell me we’re 1.5 miles from the finish. There it is! OK…down some more…ONE MILE TO GO! Hit the pavement….there is Rt. 56. Left turn, Clyde…stay strong, final curve, finish line in sight….across the line at 9:34. DONE!!!
For weeks I’d focused on this moment – when I could change into sweats, put on my new socks and slippers, find a patch of grass and watch my friends finish the race. I was pretty queasy after crossing the line, and my body decided to empty out all of the gel and liquid sloshing around my stomach. Feeling better, with chili in hand, I sat next to Loretta and Nebs to watch the finish.
Loretta had rolled her ankle and dropped a few hours earlier. It was disappointing after all of her hard work, but she wasn’t the only casualty. Tight cut-off times got a lot of the other RVA runners, who filtered in slowly. But we were there when Brian finished, then Guzzi, Elizabeth and finally MARTHA!! Powering through a recent ankle fracture to come in before the cut-off!
Masochist was a HUGE success for me…I gained a lot of confidence by running my own race and seeing that I had the legs to feel good throughout the day. I ended the day 10th female (oops…not as much cushion as I thought!!) and was truly humbled to be standing in that line with the other nine women – amazing athletes and really great people.
But, more than that, MMTR was just plain fun.
These crazy people have become like my family in so many ways. I can’t wait for next year 🙂
As I mentioned previously, I was a NEUROTIC mess going into Terrapin. I carried all of that stress and anxiety on my shoulders up those climbs and when my foot started to hurt (as I knew it would), I kind of fell apart. Even though I was happy with my time, I knew I *should* have enjoyed the day more.
Promise Land was different, and I’m not sure why. I haven’t been training harder (if anything, there has been too much racing and not enough running this Spring). We certainly still have a TON of stress at home as we get ready to put our house on the market next weekend. But as I rolled out of town on Friday, I just decided I was going to enjoy the day and the run and not worry about anything. I wasn’t going to try and crush the mountains. I wasn’t going to try for an arbitrary time goal. Just like Boston, I had the whole day to run, and I was going to love every minute of it.
It doesn’t hurt that Spring has finally come to the Virginia mountains. It was a beautiful drive down to the camp, and when I rolled in around 6pm, the Richmond crew had set up a big tent and were hanging out . THIS is why I run ultras! Familiar faces, pizza, Horton’s always-entertaining race briefing, and a big bonfire made for a fun evening. We turned in early, and I climbed into my van to catch a few hours of sleep before the EARRRRLY morning wake-up call.
At 4:15 I was up, taking care of the usual pre-race stuff. Oatmeal. Coffee. Mole-skin. My big question was which shoes to wear. I had worn my new Hokas for the last few long training runs. While I like how they handle the downhills and expedite recovery, I’ve never yet LOVED running in them. I had my Brooks just in case, but in the end I decided to give the Hokas a chance.
The race began promptly at 5:30, and we jogged out of camp. I knew the first 4 miles were uphill, and I settled into an easy pace. My plan was to conserve energy through the first half so I’d have some mojo left to climb Apple Orchard Falls (miles 26-29…the hardest part of the race). I’m not sure how much I ran or walked up this stretch, but we made it to the top, and started the first downhill. It was on a grassy horse trail, and truly a delightful run. My Hokas felt like they had little motors in them, and all I had to do was relax and let gravity do the work.
Before the start, I had studied the elevation profile and knew there were four climbs. As we started up the second, I still felt great, and decided this was going to be a good day. I could see a girl about 30 seconds in front of me, and while I could never catch her, I kept her in sight for almost the entire race. This helped me to feel, even when I was tired, like I wasn’t coming apart at the seams. I stayed on top of my nutrition and hydration, so avoided the bonk that got me at Terrapin.
My energy did ebb at times. The stretch between Colon Hollow and Cornelius Creek (mile 20-25) was a bit rough, as there was more climbing than I expected. But I had some nice conversations along the way and I knew we were just grinding through the miles before the Last Big Climb. And then we were there. Martha had told me it usually took her an hour to climb Apple Orchard Falls. Drew warned me that I’d hear the Sunset Fields aid station long before I’d get there. Ed let me know the exact number of steps I’d be climbing. I was ready to do this!!
Ugh. Just because one is prepared does NOT make it any easier. But I moved forward, step by step, in the final death march of the day. I passed a couple of guys, but was humbled when another girl came up from behind and passed me like I was standing still. I watched her billy-goat climb enviously!!
I trudged along, loving the beauty of the falls and the majesty of the mountain. Then, I heard the cow bells and cheers from Sunset Fields. Finally, I was at the top. I rolled through – with one finally small section of uphill, I started the 4 mile descent to the finish line.
A few miles on trail, and then the last 2.5 on gravel road….a quad-busting thrill ride that carried me across the finish line in 6:10. I was pleased with my time and placing (7th female), but over-the-moon to have finished a TOUGH, BEAUTIFUL course and kept the smile on my face throughout.
I sat at the finish awhile and chatted with Stacin and his friend Mark. And then the final-4 downhill miles took their revenge. My gel-filled stomach rebelled, and I excused my self so I could be sick in solitude. With a now-empty stomach I hobbled back to the car, cleaned up a bit, and hauled out my air mattress so I could lie in the sun while the world spun around me. Kyle & Nebs were there and we chatted for awhile as the rest of the Richmond group finished…first Brian, then Martha (with the grand-masters win!!)…then Mark (bloodied and muddied…but with the Best Blood prize as a consolation). Some protein and Pedialyte helped my tummy, so we all went to the finish line to cheer for the next batch of finishers…Nigel….Emily & Phillip…then Loretta (with a HUGE PR). I had to leave for home, but got word that Hurley, Brooke, and Alli all finished as well!!
Attitude is everything, and this sport is such a mental one. I’m really, really happy with the day. Truth be told, I’m happy with my performance in the first three LUS races. I’ve been consistent – with my 6th place at Holiday Lake, 8th at Terrapin, and 7th at Promise Land. For the most part, I have a good balance between running and my “real” life. And there is SUCH a crazy great group of people that I am fortunate to call friends!
I am REALLY looking forward to some down time in May, as we finish up the house and move. Summer has its own adventures in store…Alaska in June, Catherine’s and Catoctin in July (I hope)…and I’m sure August will be find me in the Tye River or Rip Rap swimming hole after long training runs.
One week ago, I was in Boston. Preparing to run the marathon. And, though I hate to admit it now, I was thoroughly ambivalent about running it.
There were so many people. And they were all wearing the same blue and gold jacket. And the expo was crowded. And my foot hurt. And I was cold. And there were so many people. And it was another weekend, one of too many recently, that I wasn’t home with my babies.
Why is Boston such a BIG DEAL? Why do people want to run it so badly? Why do they take themselves so seriously?
I crawled into bed and tried to sleep.
I woke up the next morning, and the world wasn’t much better. My dog was missing in Richmond. I had lost my driver’s license. My foot hurt.
I ate my breakfast, got dressed and donned my “throw-away” gear that would keep me warm while we waited to start. One last inventory of essentials (hydration pack, arm warmers, ear-buds) and I headed to the bus.
And then, just like that, the magic hit.
My phone buzzed: Daisy had been found – she was safe!! It buzzed again: Pam and Crista were at the start & wanted to run together! There were a half-dozen familiar Richmond faces on the bus! In the athlete’s village, I bumped into another friend and got to wish her luck! In the starting corral, yet another Richmond friend to hug & run with for a mile or two.
Coming out of my funk, I realized that I was the luckiest gal in the world. I had then whole day to run with friends and enjoy life, and I’d be dammed if an achy foot was going to ruin that.
As soon as my attitude changed, Boston unveiled herself to me. I got it. 26.2 miles of joy. From the front lawns in Hopkinton and Framingham to the college kids at Wellesly and BC. On lawn chairs and trampolines and fire ladders and balconies, we runners were treated to the longest stretch of cheerleaders I’ve ever seen. Thousands of hands to high-five. Music and dancing. Celebration.
The runners were not the cause of the celebration, we were merely the excuse for revelry. The town was celebrating itself, its tradition, and its culture. I felt honored to be a part of that.
By the time I crossed the finish line with my friends, I had fallen in love with this crazy town.
20 minutes later, the bombs went off.
We were still in the finish area, retrieving our drop bags from the bus. Boom! We turned around. Cannons? It is Patriots Day. Boom! Cell phones are raised. There is smoke in the street. Things no longer make sense. We look at each other, a silent question: Is everything OK?
A lady next to me can’t get through to her son. He is at the finish line. “Do I need to panic?”, she asks me. “I don’t think so”, I answer, “No one is panicking. We don’t need to worry until they tell us something has happened.” She knows, and I know, that something has happened.
A police office stares blankly ahead. Staying calm until his radio crackles. Keep moving out of the finish area folks. We start moving more quickly. My hotel is a block away and I head straight there. A quick text to my parents and brother and Jimmy. I am OK. If you see something on the news, know that I am OK.
In the hotel, people are still oblivious. I head up to my room and drop my stuff. No Jimmy. I come back down and its buzzing. Bombs. Terrorists. Other devices. Lock down.
The next few hours are a blur. 2 hours after the blast, Jimmy finally gets to the hotel. He describes the panic, the injured people he saw on the street. Messages and texts trickle in. All Richmond runners are safe. Debbie and Tim are locked out of their hotel but find room at ours. My marathon-tired body needs food, but when my plate arrives, I can only stomach a bite.
We fly home the next morning, on a clear day. We fly over Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, and I see my small babies running along the sand with their school friends. Gleeful shrieks as they jump off the dock and into the chilly water. I hold tight to the memory of last summer – of moms and kids and no bombs in the street of Boston.
And now. One week later. One bomber dead, the other captured. The nightmare over.
My heart aches for Boston. And my mind is resolved to return next year. I owe that city an apology, and as a runner, I owe that city my sweat and tears. For 117 years, the Boston Marathon has been the lifeblood of our sport. For better or for worse, it represents the pinnacle of amateur accomplishment. I will never run in the Olympics, or stand upon a winner’s podium. But with a reasonable amount of time and training, I can qualify to run Boston.
So this girl who so loves the mountains and trails and woods – she won’t hang up her road shoes just yet.
I got my most recent taste of “real” Virginia mountain running a few weeks ago when a group of us from Richmond headed up to Nelson County to run Three Ridges and the Priest. It was to be training for the upcoming Terrapin Mountain. I had no idea what to expect, but the training run confirmed what I already knew: I like climbing, I stink at running downhill – especially the technical stuff (i.e. ROCKS).
Still, I was excited for Terrapin, and a new adventure. My quads, glutes, and hips had recovered quickly from Holiday Lake…the only lingering problem was my feet. The tendons and ligaments had loosened, and I was constantly rolling my ankles. I was worried, especially since I have a history of issues with my left achilles. 10 days before Terrapin, my RIGHT foot decided that it was its turn to complain. Serious bruising and weakness led me to believe I might have a navicular stress fracture. Drawing inspiration from many stubborn seasoned trail runners before me, I buried my head in the sand. I iced, compressed, rested, and put my fingers in my ears when anyone mentioned going to get it x-rayed.
In part because of my cranky foot, and in part because of the serious reduction in training mileage, I was a neurotic mess going into Terrapin. My non-running life has been CRAZY lately…we are in the middle of a home renovation, the girls’ activities are ramping up for Spring, and the never-ending-richmond-cold-rain-winter-weather has kept us from being outside most afternoons. I’ve been short-tempered at times, and, although the girls were thrilled to be spending a River weekend with their grandparents, I couldn’t help feeling guilty as I rolled out of town Friday afternoon.
I started to settle down when I turned onto Rt. 29 outside of Charlottesville. It is SUCH a beautiful drive, as one leaves the Piedmont and gets a glimpse of the Blue Ridge.
By the time I reached the Sedalia Center at 6pm, greeted friends, and set up my “tent” (really just an air mattress in the back of my minivan), I was ready to get my mind back in the game. The Sedalia Center serves as the start and finish point of the race and provides a wonderfully terrifying view of Terrapin Mountain.
There was an open pavilion where we got our race numbers, AWESOME pottery mug (love!!!), and pizza. A band was on stage, playing laid back music (kind of a celtic-folk sound). I chatted with the Richmond crew…almost all of the “usual suspects” were running…
…then headed back to the van for a COLD night.
The race started at a very civilized hour – 7 am! I had plenty of time to fire up the camp stove, eat breakfast, get dressed, and check in before we lined up and the gong sounded. I wasn’t sure how my foot would handle six hours of running, but I felt loose and good on the first 1/2 mile of asphalt and the initial 3 mile climb up the mountain. Coming into the Camping Gap aid station (the first of three times we’d visit), I peeled off my long sleeves and handed them to Drew. I was third female, but I knew that wasn’t likely to last. Still, it was encouraging, and I reminded myself to just take the day as it came and not get hung up on placement (soooo much easier said than done!!).
Leaving Camping Gap, we were treated to FIVE miles of downhill on forest roads. I tried to let gravity work and roll down the hill….making time without trashing my quads. About halfway down, Kristen Chang passed me. We introduced ourselves, and she stayed 15-20 seconds ahead of me through the next few miles. Once we started heading uphill, however, she pulled ahead. It was on this LONG uphill (Seven miles, in all, back up to Camping Gap) that another girl passed me…I think it was Emily Warner. She was moving fast, and very quickly was out of my sight. My foot had started to hurt, we weren’t even halfway through, and I began to worry. Still, when we hit Camping Gap, I got a nice shout of encouragement from Horton, and I rolled through to finish the climb to the summit of White Oak mountain.
It was on this loop, about mile 18, that I really started to slow. The downhill was steep and my foot hurt, and two more women passed me. Coming off of the “lollipop” section, I started to see the runners behind me. I got a moment of sympathy from Mark, then lots of smiles from Debbie, Nigel, and Hurley. I came back into Camping Gap in a happier place, determined to get this race OVER and head home!
But first…Terrapin Mountain. Drew warned me as I was leaving the aid station that I’d have a 3/4 mile climb, and he wasn’t kidding. Straight up and up and up to the summit of Terrapin. We had to climb out on some rocks to punch our bib (one of three required check-ins), and then start the trek down the mountain, squeezing through a rock gap (the aptly named “Fat Man’s Misery) in the process. The descent was HARD and TECHNICAL and I did NOT enjoy it! But I got it done, and came to what I thought was the final aid station. Not so quick, Annie! Only a sign & some volunteers letting us know we needed to go downhill another half mile to check-in, and then retrace our steps back up. Ooof!
5.5 miles to go. I don’t know why I thought that this section was on a fire road, but it wasn’t – just more rocky trail – a lot of it uphill. I could see the valley below and knew we’d have a lot of decent – where was it?? I trudged along, until we hit the road with about 1 1/4 miles to go. It felt nice to open up the pace and fly for a bit, and my final mile was 7:12.
I finished in 5:47; 8th female. I met my goals, but wouldn’t call it a great race. I hurt, both physically and mentally, for a big chunk of the race. Horton came up to me afterwards and said “You died out there, didn’t you. When I saw you earlier you were running well, but then you died”. And he was right. Somewhere around mile 18 my foot started to hurt and my strength ran out. From that point on, the uphills were OK, but the downhill killed me mentally. I knew I wasn’t running those sections well, and that was the difference between an great race and a so-so one.
I gained a LOT of experience yesterday. I know the training I need to be competitive in the mountains. I saw how the fast girls run. I learned that you can’t always use mileage as a nutrition guide (I did NOT eat or drink enough yesterday…I only consumed about 600 calories, or about 100 per hour. I think 150-200 might have been better). My foot hurt, but after mile 18 it did not get dramatically worse.
Go run some mountains (not going to be easy with our Spring Break trip to…..Delaware….)
To the extent that my “real” life will allow, I need to get my mileage back…I whine less when I run more!
Finally, I need to work on my nutrition – both on race day and leading up.
I can’t wait to run Terrapin again next year. Hats off to Clark Zealand, the volunteers, and everyone who came out to make it a fun, laid back, day!
Saturday was the winter edition of Mark Iscool’s semi-annual Really Early Morning Run (REMR). A group of 10-12 crazies (mostly ultra-junkies) gather at 2 a.m. to run up to 25 miles.
Upon returning to Mark’s house, runners enjoy coffee, baked goods, and lots and lots of BACON. Its always a good time.
The companionship and BACON did not disappoint this year, but the run…ugh. Its been a long time since I hurt that badly. While I am really annoyed at myself for suffering like that, there are a LOT of lessons to be had. I realize that we need these bad runs (or bad parenting days) every so often so we don’t take the good ones for granted. Just because one has the base mileage doesn’t mean one can ignore such important factors like recovery, nutrition, sleep, fuel and hydration.
Recovery. Still healing from running hard at Holiday Lake. Upping the strength training has left me with aching quads and glutes. The tendons and ligaments in my feet are also still sore.
Sleep. The run started at 2 am. I did not get ANY sleep beforehand. I went bowling instead. Bad Annie.
Nutrition. I’ve had a lot of luck with eating a big breakfast, protein-rich lunch, and carb-based early dinner the night before a big run. A bowl of oatmeal 2 hours before the start tops off my tank and gets me through the first 2 hours feeling strong. Friday, I had a small breakfast, a salad for lunch, and ate a late dinner – a huge mexican meal that sat like a rock in my stomach.
Fuel. The undigested food in my tummy meant I had NO desire to eat anything during the run. I forced down a gel around 90 minutes in, but it had no noticeable effect. I ate nothing else the rest of the time, and I bonked HAR D around mile 14.
Hydration. I also had no desire to drink anything. I forced down about 20 ounces of fluid, but probably needed twice that amount.
I believe ALL of these factors contributed to the extreme nausea that plagued my run. I knew 1/2 mile in that it was going to be rough. By mile 6, I was questioning my ability to continue. I wanted to throw up, but couldn’t. I ended up slogging through 18.5 miles – almost 3 hours. Even though it was miserable, I knew it was good training. I’d much rather feel this was on a fun run than in a race. As an added bonus, it was dark – so no one could see the near-death expression on my face!!!
I have more of these “bad runs” as a mother than I’d like to admit. When my patience frays. When I’m not as present with the girls as I’d like to be. When the clutter, mess, dishes, and laundry take over the house like a mutant-plant-creature in some B-grade horror movie. If I can just step back, there are always root causes. There are always solutions. And, like muscles, bones, and tendons, my family grows stronger each time we’re tested. Thank goodness for tomorrows – a chance to wipe the slate clean and start over again.
I suppose there are as many answers to that question as there are ultra-runners. When I first mentioned to family and friends my intention to run the JFK 50, I got a LOT of questions:
How many days will that take you?
Will anyone else be out there running too? (Implied – are there other crazy people that do this??)
Can you stop and sleep during the race?
What about your poor knees??
I explained each time that, if my luck held, it would take me between 9 and 10 hours to run. That yes, in fact, there were over 1200 other registered runners. Since there was 12 hour time limit, I would not need to stop and sleep. And fortunately, my knees have never caused problems for me, so I was sure they’d hold up just fine (my IT Band – now that’s a different story….). But I stumbled every time on how to answer that first question: why did I want to run 50 miles? Truthfully, its taken me over 10 years to figure it out.
2001. I was a novice runner, training for my first marathon, and chatting with my neighbor. She was primarily a triathlete (with a recent Ironman under her belt) and she mentioned that she had run ‘JFK’ a few years before. “What’s that?” I asked. She replied it was a 50 mile race up near DC. I was skeptical, and dropped the subject. As far as I knew, 26.2 miles was as far as humans were capable of running. A few months later, I got curious and googled “JFK 50”. I was amazed to learn that not only was it a real event, it had been run every year since 1963 in Washington County, Maryland where I grew up. I still thought 50 miles was a crazy distance, but it I were to ever run that far, I knew where I’d be headed.
As I logged the miles for that first marathon, I found that rhythm and patterns of running suited me. I worked through problems and stresses of the day, made new friends, and enjoyed the challenge. When the world seemed to fall apart that September, I ran and tried to make sense of it all. Three weeks later, with the Pentagon as a backdrop, I finished the Marine Corp Marathon. I carried that enthusiasm into 2002, with several triathlons and another fall marathon. But a month after running Chicago, on a crisp-blue November Sunday, my world was shattered. My cousin Joanna was killed. She was 32.
I didn’t run much after that. While at the time, I muttered excuses about being burned-out, it was simply too hard to focus on training. Over the next nine years I ran sporadically – usually just enough to get through the Monument Avenue 10K. Life continued, I became a mom to a beautiful little girl in 2005 and two other daughters soon followed. I quit my job to be home with the girls. I didn’t need to run: there is no workout like swinging a baby in its car seat so it will stay asleep or chasing two toddlers through a crowded shopping mall! But at the same time, I lost touch with a bit of myself. For the first time in many years, I wanted to lace up my shoes and head out the door.
I found my way back to running in the dark winter months of 2011. It started as a way to improve my fitness, but I soon found that I needed the solace and quiet of my morning run. I ran a few 10Ks that spring and as the weather warmed I ran just a bit further each week. I was hooked! Running gave me the patience and energy to be a better mother. My girls loved cheering at races and helping me set up a “Running Mix” for our iPod. By the end of the summer, I had to admit that I was secretly training for the Richmond Marathon. As the crisp days of autumn returned and my mileage increased, I dusted off a thought that had long lay dormant: JFK.
Now I had no idea how I was going to run 50 miles, but as soon as the Richmond Marathon was over I started to plan. A good friend mentioned that she was running the Holiday Lake 50K in February, so we trained and ran it together. Through the Richmond Road Runners I met a great group of folks who showed me around the James River trails. I looked forward to our Tuesday night runs as my night off from dinner & bed-time duties. Maybe it was the increased focus on trail running, maybe it was the novelty of training for something that seemed beyond reach, but I had so much FUN over the summer months. When we went on vacation, I explored the island through long runs. A family visit became an excuse to fit in the Catoctin 50K – a gnarly, rock-filled trail ultra with several rattle-snake sightings. Training became a catalyst for new friendships, an excuse to eat really great foods, and a way to find a bit of the kid I used to be. And throughout it all, I thought of my cousin Jo. This adventure was so much like the ones we had growing up.
Ten years ago, the JFK was held on the last full day of Jo’s life. This year, I carried her memory with me when we set out from Boonsboro at sunrise. As we climbed the first two miles up to the Appalachian trail, I thought of the South Mountain ghost stories she’d tell to scare my little brother. Over the rocks and roots we ran, and I remembered our weekend explorations. Soon, the Potomac River was in view, and all along the endless canal I recalled biking trips and our summers on the river just a few miles upstream. When we finally turned onto the last nine miles of roads, I laughed. This is where she taught me to drive – how much fun we had over these rolling hills! And across the finish line, a stone’s throw from her old home, we finished. 50 miles, an amazing day.
A few days later, after the soreness had left my aching quads and the eupohria subsided, I realized that I had the answer to my question. Why do I want to run 50 miles? To celebrate life – past, present, and future.
Forgive me as I ramble through the myriad thoughts consuming me in these final days before JFK, but this week is kind of a big deal for me. In fact, the last time I felt this way was almost seven years ago. Instead of tapering for a race, I was on bed rest, awaiting the birth of my first child. I was a nervous wreck. I knew at a high-level what to expect: the pain of labor, sleepless nights, maternal anxiety. But not having been through it myself, I had no idea how I would handle the pain and exhaustion. Would I be able to perform? Would I be a good mother? What if it was all too much??
The labor was agonizing, but I got through it, and the pain was soon gone. The sleepless nights were rough (and continue to this day), but I discovered that I didn’t need much sleep after all. As I emerged from the first six months of motherhood, I had started to form a new identity. I was Emma’s mom.
With this new identity came many changes. Some for the good: new friends, new layers of patience and self-sacrifice, new depths of feeling. Some for the bad: more wrinkles, more chaos, more laundry. Running, my faithful go-to method of sorting out life’s stress and problems just wasn’t an option in those early years. Sure, I’d put in a half-hearted effort to train and run Monument Avenue each March, but afterwards I’d just throw my running shoes to the back of the closet for another year.
I found my way back to running in the dark winter months of 2011. It began as a way to stay fit. But as I gained strength and set a few 10K PRs I thought that, just maybe, I could recapture a bit of my pre-motherhood self. I started training for the marathon. I read ‘Born to Run’ and dusted off a thought that had been pushed aside a decade ago: JFK. It was the tiniest little spark – just a wild idea that seemed so fantastic, so out-of -reach – an embryo really. But it gestated and grew over the ensuing months. Each time I went for a long run – it became more real to me. Every race was a stepping stone. The long runs and speed work, the hills and the trails, they all brought it closer.
Not long ago, it hit me. I wasn’t recapturing my past. I was a BETTER runner than I had been before children. Motherhood has given me an edge. The grittiness required to endure a toddler’s tantrum, the exhaustion that comes from waking four times a night, the knowledge that hard work yields marvelous benefits all help the runner in me. I may not be vying for a podium spot, but in this small way, I feel like a winner.
So here I am on the eve of JFK – the race that started it all. This time next week, I won’t be holding a baby in my arms, but I will have given birth to a new me. And while I want so badly to cross the finish line – I don’t think the result matters so much. The changes of this year – the discipline, the knowledge, the experience, and the amazing network of new friends – will endure regardless of whether there are numbers or letters next to my name.
So I will deal with this anxiety head-on, just as I will handle the pain and fatigue on race day. I acknowledge it, accept it, and calmly put it to the side so I can carry on.