Monday, November 2, 2015

Race Review: Stone Steps 50K

Toward the end of September my friend AK asked me if I would do a race with her. She wanted to do the Stone Steps 50k in Cincinnati. This race is billed as “Cincinnati’s Toughest Ultra.” It is no joke. And even though I hadn’t ran any real distance (any more than 8-10 miles at a time) in recent months I decided why the hell not? So I signed up and went about formulating a 4 week training plan that would at least give me a shot at finishing the race.

The day before the race I did something I’d never done before: bought a pair of trail shoes. Yes, that’s correct. Although I run on trails quite regularly and was about to embark on my 4th ultra (all 4 on trails), I didn’t own a pair of trail shoes. Yes, I know getting shoes the day before a race isn’t ideal. To be fair, I didn’t plan on running in them the whole time. (Spoiler alert: I did run the whole race in them.) Anyway, I visited my local running store, Up and Running in Troy, and tried on a few pairs. I fell in love with the Mizuno Waves. They were lightweight yet sturdy. And after Sunday’s race, I’m hooked on them. I walked away from that rugged trail race with NO blisters. And I’m not going to lose any toenails either. Woot!

I left my house at 6am on Sunday morning and drove to Cincinnati’s Mount Airy Forest, an absolute gem of a park very close to downtown. To be honest, I was really nervous on the way down. It was over an hour away and my stomach was in knots the whole time. I felt tired and nauseated and wondered why I was wasting some perfectly good sleeping time to run around in the woods. (I am not a morning person.)

When I arrived at the race I quickly found AK at the sign-in spot. It was chilly and dark when we got there but by the 8am start time the sun had risen. The race directors gave us all a pep talk (I think there were around 100+ people signed up to run) and turned us loose on the trails at 8am. This event consisted of 4 big loops of 5.3 miles alternating with 3 loops of 3+ miles each. Both loops lead back to just one very well equipped aid station. There’s over 10,000 feet of elevation change. Basically that means that you’re always going either up or down. There are very few flat stretches. It is also mostly one track and very technical – meaning full of rocks and roots. There are spots where a misstep could send a person tumbling down a ravine that looks beautiful but probably wouldn’t be fun to land in. 

The namesake of the race happens during the big loop – the dreaded stone steps. I started calling it the hellish hill to Hades. Those steps last forever.  And we had to do them FOUR times. That loop also had Gummy Bear Hill to contend with, another extremely challenging uphill battle. (It did have a big bag of Gummy Bears at the top. That was nice. It would’ve been better if they were soaked in vodka, but beggars can’t be choosers.) The smaller loop was no piece of cake either. It didn’t have any HUGE hills to contend with but it had plenty of gradual raises of elevation followed by quad busting downhills.

In the weeks leading up this race I had faced some emotional turmoil. I was looking forward to talking with AK while we conquered the trails. We run well together. There are times when we talk non-stop, and other times there’s complete silence. I also got some solo time as I ended up running the last few loops on my own. I needed that – time alone to absorb some recent changes and reflect on life. 

Although I have some excellent friends I talk to on a regular basis, I desperately needed some time to do some deep thinking – just me and the trails…a time where no one was asking anything of me and all I had to do was concentrate on the moment. A time to reflect and think about what is important to me - what to hold on to, as well as the things I need to let go of. It was a perfect day to do that. It was a sunny day – crisp and cool. The color of the leaves on the trees and the ground ranged from green to gold to vivid orange and red.

While in some ways those last few loops felt very cleansing, they were also painful. My left hip and knee were killing me. My quads were also extremely unhappy. I’ll be honest, I was giving myself pep talks during the last 5 miles. Out loud. In the woods. Alone. Judge if you must, I don’t care.

As I crossed the finish line at the end of my final loop the race director caught me and asked my name and age. I answered, curious as to why he wanted it. Was I the last one on the trail? I knew I wasn’t setting in course records on this crazy hard course but was I the reason he and many of the EXCELLENT volunteers were hanging around? But to my extreme surprise, I actually placed first in my age group. I was shocked. I’m 41 – the age group for 40-49 females is usually very competitive and there are plenty of women in that range that excel at ultras. I don’t consider myself an accomplished or expert runner. But when the race director handed me the award, I was stoked. I wish I would've gotten a picture with him, the guy is a legend. Thank you, David Corfman!

Overall, this race was as fabulous as it was challenging. The trail was well marked.  The volunteers were incredibly supportive. The other runners were encouraging – including the ones who were flying by and trying to set course records.  The scenery was breathtaking. I drove home exhausted but happy. I was very sore for a few days. Getting up and down the spiral staircase at work required time, effort, and a few choice words.  Don’t get me started on the chafing in my armpits and from my sports bra. I guess all that’s a small price to pay. And I’m already scoping out ultras for next year… there may just be a 50 miler on the horizon. 

If you're looking for an intense race that will cause you to dig into your inner reserves just to finish, Stone Steps 50k is a good option. It is not for the faint hearted...but it is well worth the effort.  Be sure to train on hills...

P.S. I didn’t run for a week and then went out and did The Narrows 10k this past Sunday. It’s put on by ORRRC and was super fun. There were over 150 runners and I managed to place 5th in my age group. No chafing this time. Holla!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A Tale of Two Races - Another Dam 50K and the Dawg Gone Long 50 Miler/50K

June was a busy running month for me. I didn’t intend it to be that way but as we all know, sometimes shit happens. I’m not complaining at all, I like challenges. (Or torture, sometimes those words are interchangeable.) So far in July I've not logged many miles but I have wrecked my bike. Inaugural ride with new pedals/shoes.

Not my most graceful moment. Anyway...let's talk about running. 

The first Saturday in June I ran the “Another Dam 50K” at the Englewood MetroPark. This was my second year running that race and it was a lot of fun. The weather was perfect, as I don’t think the temp ever topped 70. Trails were clear and dry. The course is beautiful. The race director and the volunteers were simply incredible, and the other runners were inspiring. There’s something way different about trail runners – such a sense of camaraderie during these races. This year’s time was notably slower than last year’s, but I met a really cool chick and we spent 20+ miles talking about life, booze, men, and running. Thank you, AK, you are awesomesauce! ;-)

If you’re a first timer and want to try your legs out on a 50K, this is the perfect race to do just that. And if you’re an experienced ultra runner and want to try for a PR, this is also a good race for that.

Running an ultra is sort of like childbirth.  It hurts like a sonofabitch during the process, especially toward the end. However, finishing those events and basking in the afterglow is pure heaven. And just like the pain of labor, the pain of an ultra is soon forgotten.
Days after that race I decided to sign up for the Dawg Gone Long 50K at Caeser’s Creek State Park. I feel like I’ve said this before, but I swear I wasn’t drunk when I signed up for it. I did however, get drunk after I finished. This race was the HARDEST race I’ve ever done. Here goes…

This event started at 6:30 in the morning. It was also about an hour away from my house. That meant getting up waayyyy before the buttcrack of dawn and driving to the park. My friend Steve (he used to be my running partner before I gifted him to the infamous TJack) was generous enough to volunteer to do some mileage with me. During the drive down I admit I was a nervous wreck. I actually called Steve while on the highway and told him not to lose me when we got to the exit because I was paranoid about getting lost. Yes, I have GPS. Yes, I have been to Caesers Creek before. No judging. Please refer back to the “nervous wreck” comment.

One thing worth mentioning is that in the days leading up to this race, this part of Ohio had gotten large amounts of rainfall. Roads were closed due to flood waters. Flash flood warnings were being posted everywhere. Race day dawned gray and rainy…and on the drive down I started wondering what the hell I was thinking. Am I normal? Am I insane? Who the hell does this shit? (Those are rhetorical. You don’t have to answer and if you do, please keep your answers to yourself.)

The temps were in the high 50s and a light rain fell as about 60 of us stood at the start line. (At the end of June in Ohio. Normally hot and humid as Hades.) Half of us were there for the 50K, the other half were doing the 50 miler. Those 50 miler people are gluttons for punishment. Anyway, the race director gave us some encouragement and directions, and released us into the wild. Less than a minute into the run we hit the mud. Never in my life had I experienced anything like that. The trail was a soupy viscous mess that threatened to suction my shoes off with every step. Then we hit the first stream…which thankfully cleaned my shoes but soaked my feet. This race consisted of a 5-6 mile out and back followed by two more loops of 12+ miles each. And EVERY step of the way was mud. If we weren’t in mud, we were in water. This water was above my knee level in some spots. So not only did I worry about ticks (very prevalent in this area this year), I also worried about leeches. To be honest, I’m still doing tick checks but I’ve stopped stressing over leeches.

Most of the trail was single track and it was a tight fit. It was also impossible for me to get into a rhythm due to the mud. This race also had about 2900 feet of “rolling hills” per each of the long loops…and let me tell you something – hills and mud make for interesting adventures. If I wasn’t scrambling up a hill and grabbing onto tree trunks and foliage for traction I was sliding down a hill and praying I wouldn’t break anything. There were also stairs in a few spots…and to say those were slippery is a massive understatement. I’m happy to report the only time I went down was toward the top of a really steep hill and I basically just slid down on my ass and hoped for the best.

At the 17-18 mile mark, Steve and I stopped at the start/finish aid station so I could change my muddy and waterlogged shoes and socks. This is also where my friend Melissa (an elite runner who’s done over 20 marathons in several different countries and across the good old US of A) met up to pace me for the final loop. I apologized in advance for what she was about to experience and prayed that she wore old shoes and didn’t mind getting mud in places that should never have mud in them.  

That last loop was crazy difficult. I expect to hurt during an ultra but this level of pain and discomfort was new even to me. Everything from my boobs down just HURT. My core muscles were on fire, as were my hips. I had a blister on the back of my foot that popped during the race. I could feel the mud squishing my toes with every step. My quads were screaming at me. But I kept on going, albeit very slowly. New curse words abounded with every hill.

I came in last place during this race, which felt a little demoralizing. I later found out one third of the people who started the race didn’t finish the 50K at all. I’m sure most of them dropped due to the extreme conditions and the weather. It was a seriously rough race. I am very thankful to my pacers for sticking with me and for helping me during and after. I feel truly blessed to have such people in my life.

The race director and the volunteers were (again) AMAZING. The Ohio River Road Runners Club truly puts on some of the best races in the area. The aid stations were stocked with a multitude of options and the volunteers had nothing but positive comments for the soggy and grimy runners.

Recovery time following this event was harder than any previous race. Navigating stairs was impossible for the first two days. Hell, stepping in and out of the bathtub elicited a few choice words. I’m sure the bottle of wine I drank while laying on the couch afterward helped with my recovery though. Wine has restorative powers, just in case you didn’t know that.

Initially my next race was going to be in Vegas, baby in November. But there’s a 50K in September that looks like a lot of fun…hmmm. We’ll see how that fits in with soccer coaching duties, as I’m the assistant coach to the 9 year old’s soccer team. (And yes, I may have been drinking when I signed up for that…no judging, please.)

Happy Running!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Recap of the Vegan Venture

Tracey and Lisa’s Vegan Venture was officially over on April 1. And although neither one of us will be making a full time commitment to staying vegan, we both decided that we are going to incorporate more plant based menu options into our respective lifestyles. Simply put: we need cheeseburgers every once in a while. 

Overall, the experiment went very well. We planned our menus and did some grocery trips together. One of them might have happened after splitting a pitcher of margaritas. No judging, it made Krogering infinitely more entertaining. The Kroger’s we go to isn’t exactly in a thriving and busy metropolis but it did have most of what we needed. We might have had a hard time finding buckwheat flour after those margaritas but really, who has ever found buckwheat flour on the first try?

One of the things that surprised me was the weight loss. Between the two of us we lost 10lbs. And it wasn’t muscle mass, it was definitely those pesky fat cells. I am convinced that the weight loss was due to lack of dairy intake. We got the calcium we need from green veggies, rice milk, beans, and almond milk. I discovered chocolate almond milk and have since become addicted.

I will admit, that first non-vegan meal on the evening of April 1 tasted fab. I went to one of my favorite places downtown, Harrison’s. They make an incredible Black and Bleu salmon salad with a healthy plank of salmon, bleu cheese crumbles, craisins, and nuts. That salad with their homemade ranch dressing is the bomb-diggity. I was soooo happy….until I went for a run later that night. I had to cut it short due to a bathroom emergency. No, I did not poop myself but it was very close call.

One of my favorite dishes was a soup I made one afternoon. I diced some onion and garlic and sautéed it in a little bit of olive oil. Then I tossed in some water and vegetable broth, elbow macaroni, green split peas, chickpeas, a can of diced tomatoes, fresh broccoli and cauliflower and carrots and celery. I seasoned it with some salt and pepper and Italian seasons and damn, that was a good soup. I paired it with some greens and homemade dressing (brown mustard, honey, & olive oil) and it made a very filling lunch option for the week. Another fave was black bean burgers. I drained a can of black beans and mashed them with a fork. Then tossed in some oats and chili powder. Added some salt and pepper and formed the mixture into patties before throwing them in a skilled with a little bit of olive oil. Again, quick and easy (hey, who doesn’t like that…and get your mind out of the gutter) and oh so delicious!!!

Playing with my new blender/food processor was fun as too. (That’s a sentence I never thought I’d say.) Tracey turned me onto smoothies. Our favorite versions use spinach, a few fruit options, almond or rice milk, and chia seeds and BAM! Now I drink one after almost every run.

Tracey's Vegan Burgers from the Oh She Glows website.

Overall, we think this experiment was a success. It didn't affect our respective training plans in a negative way at all. Both of us had plenty of energy and Tracey was in the high mileage phase of her BM training, so diet is really important. (That's BM for Boston Marathon, not bowel movement, btw.) 

We still eat at least one or two plant based meals per day. Both of us are keeping our dairy intake to a minimum and it has helped immensely with the bloating issues that were bothering both of us prior to this venture. And as an added bonus, the gas that plagued both of us seemed to level off toward the end. At least that’s what we told ourselves.

Happy Eating!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Vegan Venture, Part Deux

We are a little over the halfway point of Tracey and Lisa’s Vegan Venture and we think it’s going pretty well. I’ve been experimenting with different soups (big surprise) and Tracey made a vegan enchilada for dinner guests that no one complained about. We’ve been discussing different recipe options and making sure we are getting enough protein.  Both of us have lost a few pounds and we think this is due to the lack of dairy. It is safe to say that TJack and I were addicted to cheese. I didn’t know how much of an effect the lack of cheese/dairy would have on my body, but I like the results.  I feel like I need to say that neither one of us set out trying to lose weight and we are definitely getting enough to eat. This experiment truly drives home the point that people can eat healthy and nutritious foods and not starve themselves while still losing weight. Duh. No magic pill is going to do that, just saying.  

One thing that really hasn’t gone away is the horrific gas. Again, I’m still blaming it on the dog when she’s in the vicinity. She doesn’t seem to mind. I’ve been very appreciative of the warmer weather of late because it means if I let one rip in the car I don’t freeze like the proverbial popsicle when I open the windows for some fresh air. That is some sweet relief, let me tell you.

I do get some weird looks when I take some of my concoctions into work. The soup I made this week (Potato and split pea from the Oh She Glows website) looks like vomit but actually tastes very good. I’m having a really fun time making my own salad dressings too.  This weekend I’m going to try making a vegan spinach lasagna dish. Another thing I’m super excited about is the change in the Girl Scouts Thin Mint recipe. They are now vegan and get this, JUST AS DELICIOUS AS THEY WERE BEFORE. Thank you, Girl Scouts.

Overall, this has been a good experiment so far. One more item to put in the oh hell yes column is that I’m a cheap date – my tolerance of alcohol has dipped somewhat. Not that I’m complaining, as it means less money spent on wine. And that means more money I can spend on those new running shoes I’ve been eyeing – holla!

And so the vegan venture continues…