Stone Mill 50-Miler

I’m finally on the other side of running 50 miles. Last week, I woke up on Monday and Tuesday morning with the jarring reality that I was running 50 damn miles straight. Realizing that made my heart beat a little faster and made me a little queasy. It’s a long way. I had never run that far, and I wasn’t sure I could finish it. But as the week wore on, I became more and more zen about the experience. That 6 a.m. Saturday morning start was barreling toward me whether I liked it or not. I love running, and I love being outside. This is just doing that for a long time with lots of fun people every five or six miles. Going in, I was mostly worried about my stomach and fueling and then about keeping my head right for many hours. I just needed to drag myself to the start line and not screw up any of my taper runs. Perhaps I should approach big goal marathons this way, too. Worrying about it won’t change a thing. I just needed to step up to the start line, push myself over the threshold and get on with it.

Race gear: drop bags, Suunto Ambit3 watch, Oiselle Verrazano bra, Brooks gloves, Nathan quickdraw plus handheld water bottle, Adidas Boston 2015 hat, Oiselle lux arm warmers, Nike dri-fit Rival shorts, Nike Terra Kiger shoes, Lululemon swiftly tech short sleeve, Petzl Tikka RXP lamp, Injinji RUN 2.0 midweight mini-crew sock
Race gear: drop bags, Suunto Ambit3 watch, UV Buff Cartons Cru, Oiselle Verrazano bra, Brooks gloves, Nathan quickdraw plus handheld water bottle, Adidas Boston 2015 hat, Oiselle lux arm warmers, Nike dri-fit Rival shorts, Nike Terra Kiger shoes, Lululemon swiftly tech short sleeve, Petzl Tikka RXP lamp, Injinji RUN 2.0 midweight mini-crew sock

The logistics involved with running 50 miles are more intense than running a marathon. I can throw some GUs, a watch and a pair of shoes in a suitcase and be pretty set for 26.2 miles. Fifty requires more planning and longer checklists. Some people use backpacks, but I felt more comfortable with the handheld bottle I trained with over the last six months. I never ran out of liquid because the stations were pretty close together. And the handheld bottle ended up breaking my fall once, so win-win!

Stone Mill allowed two drop bags for miles 28 and 40. And with a 6 a.m. start, it required a head lamp for the first 45 minutes or so. I decided to over-pack my bags with treats so I could choose what sounded good at the aid stations.

At the 10-mile/40-mile aid station, there were two bins for headlamps — to be taken back to the start line or to stay at the aid station for slower runners to pick up if they needed lamps for the run back. I decided to be pessimistic and put my light in the “I’ll need this for the run back” bin.

The 28-mile gear bag seemed like the better bag to overpack. In that one I packed a second pair of shoes, a clean pair of socks, a Larabar, a Clif bar, a packet of peanut butter, a Stinger caramel waffle, four GUs, four salt tabs, moist towelettes to wipe my face, lip balm, Tums. Of all those items, I took all the GUs, all the salt tabs, one towelette, lip balm, peanut butter, the Stinger waffle and a Larabar.

When I got back to the 10-mile/40-mile point, I grabbed my headlamp. At that point, I didn’t think I’d need it, but I didn’t want to be stuck in the woods at dusk. It was a security blanket. In my 40-mile gear bag, I packed a second watch in case my first watch’s battery stopped working after 10 hours (it didn’t), more Clif bars and Larabars, Tums, a few GUs, salt tabs and an extra shirt. There, I took one GU, the spare watch and half a Larabar. I knew at mile 40 I could make it home on what I had in my handheld, even if that meant walking.

Some race stats:

  • Distance run: 50.4 miles
  • Elevation: 2,895 feet
  • Time elapsed: 10:22:57 (moving time 9:47:20)
  • Scrapes and bruises: both knees scraped and bruised (right knee now black and blue and yellow), road burn on both quads, elbow gash, black toenail, windburn, minor shorts chafing, but the hamstring is fine!
  • Times I fell down: five
  • Blisters: zero
  • Food and beverages consumed: nine S-Caps, caramel Stinger waffle, miso soup, chicken soup, banana, Goldfish crackers, Cheez-Its, Tailwind, Gatorade, GU chomps, Clif shot blocks, two Larabars, Nathan’s maple peanut butter, half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, one donut hole, potato chips, half a piece of bacon
  • Hallucinations: none!

First of all, without a doubt, the best part and an unexpected surprise, of this race was our friends Jen and Tom coming out to crew Michael and me. They were at four aid stations and the finish. I didn’t ask them to be there, but they showed up at 7:30 in the morning at the first station and drove all over the course to meet us. They brought potato chips and bacon for me because I know I love salty, crunchy things in the middle of races. At times, especially as I neared the 40-mile aid station, one of the only reasons I decided to run a section and not walk it was because Jen and Tom were on the other side. If I ever run another trail ultra, I will nearly insist on knowing people at aid stations. Plus I saw other friends (Jamey and Ellie, Robin, Leah, Betsy, Sara) scattered throughout the course. I’ll certainly be volunteering to crew other races. The volunteers are just the best.

Michael, Matt and I arrived at the elementary school at 5:35. The volunteers were letting cars with three runners or more in to the lot, so we got a close spot and stayed warm until a few minutes before the start. The school wasn’t open at that point, so runners had to go to the woods to use the bathroom. I did my duty in the woods at around 5:55 and then headed to the start. We were all a little nervous, but the low-key, meandering start and slow first mile both helped set the tone for the day.

Matt and me. Crazy eyes and headlamps.
Matt and me. Crazy eyes and headlamps.

This brings me to the trail and to mile 2. At mile 2, I was just starting to wake up and move my legs. I was with a group that was keeping a 10:30 pace, which felt unbelievably slow. I noticed myself watching everyone’s feet and listening to all kinds of conversations. People were wired and ready for the miles ahead. Then I ate it. I wiped out. I don’t know if it was a root or a rock or what. Ugh. It was bad enough that for the rest of the day people asked me if I was the woman who ate it at mile 2. So my right knee had a gash on it, and as the next few miles wore on I could feel it bruising and swelling. Not good. But I still felt decent — maybe it was just endorphins — and picked up the pace on the road until an aid station at mile 14.

Mile 14: Not bad.

After a quick stop, I was back on the trail and kept a pretty steady pace until mile 24. I was running with a guy named Chris who was also running steady and hoping to break 9. I thought we’d do it together, but he went ahead when I started to fade.

Chris and me at mile 24
Chris and me at mile 24

The towpath portion was a nice break from the mental strain of the hills. My cadence clicked back in to place, and as I crossed the 25-mile point, I started to think maybe I could finish the race.

Chris and me again at mile 30
Chris and me again at mile 30

Then around mile 32 the downhills started giving me trouble. My swollen knee would lock up a bit as I tried to charge down hills. Charge might be a strong word. I mean, I was pushing the pace to around 10 minutes for a group of at least five people until that point, but then my knee started talking to me. I pulled the pace back and decided to pick my way down the rootiest downhills, walk the steep uphills and jog the flats. It was going to be a long day. Even with this strategy, I tripped again and again.

The next two aid stations are a little blurry. I remember peeing behind a bush and trying to scoot a little out of the way mid-stream so a little girl wouldn’t see me. I remember soup and crackers. I remember many stream crossings and one where I had to balance on a log much narrower than any logs I’ve ever been on. And I crossed it like I knew what I was doing.

I remember looking around through the trees at about 3 p.m. and realizing it was the afternoon and thinking I’d been running a long time. The sun was getting lower in the sky, and the trail was just glowing. The leaves stopped blowing, and I was alone and at peace. I wish I could run more in the afternoon.

The final run through Riffle Ford at mile 40 is pretty vivid. This is when I knew I was going to make it. My head was fine, and my fueling was decent. I put the 10 miles ahead of me in perspective. I run 10 miles every Tuesday, and I’ve been doing at least 10 on trails lately. I knew I had it.

Hill by Riffle Ford aid station at mile 40
Hill by Riffle Ford aid station at mile 40

I apologized to Tom and Jen for taking what felt like forever to get from mile 28 to 40. They were awesome and said it wasn’t a problem. I picked up my headlamp in case I ended up slowing more and couldn’t beat the sunset. I would be fine, though. Tom ran with me on the road to get to the trail entrance.

The last 10 miles were slow and lonely. But they were familiar. Michael and I had run about 7 miles of the course in training the week before, and this portion was and out and back, so I knew the big obstacles like the slanted rocks under the bridge and the big ups and downs.

When I finally got to the road section, I was relieved to be able to run without worrying about my knee locking on the downhills. I felt like I was charging up and down the final few hills. I wasn’t really going that fast, but at that point, this felt like the final quarter-mile stretch of a marathon. My final mile was at 8:35 pace. With the grade, it felt like a 7:25. I had plenty left in the tank.


The only thing that didn’t go well, aside from my dumb knee not cooperating, was a little stomach swelling. I probably took in too much liquid or didn’t pee enough. Something wasn’t right about my liquid situation. When I finally stopped running and went to the bathroom, my bloated belly went down. At the finish line, I was feeling a little waterlogged.

Finish line tiredness. Pulled an 8:35 final mile.

A video posted by amandahi (@amandahi) on

This run gives me all kinds of confidence that I can complete the Comrades ultramarathon in May. I can probably go sub-9 if I’m smart about it. Stone Mill was probably harder for a cautious, non-trail runner like me, and I came in to it with general marathon training and a recovering hamstring and without the long runs I will put in for Comrades. I don’t know if I’ll ever do another 50-mile trail run again. Getting back to that point mentally will take me a good year. But I think I can do well at the 50K distance on trails as part of Comrades training.

Now, here’s a list of things I thought of on a 50-mile run:

  1. All the words to Bohemian Rhapsody
  2. Were there dinosaurs in Maryland? Why are these rocks slanted?
  3. Don’t fall don’t fall don’t fall Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the fandango
  4. Yelling at anyone who has a dog off leash. (This might have been in gibbberish.)
  5. Here come guys on bikes. Guys on bikes. Big tires.
  6. Bright Eyes songs and then I tried to stop thinking about that.
  7. How many miles until the next aid station? (Over and over again.)
  8. Do I have to pee or do I not have to pee at all?
  9. I should probably try to clench my butt more or at least pretend to use my glutes.
  10. What time is it and do I need more salt pills yet?

Hamstring injury (or, why running 80 miles the week after a marathon is a poor life choice)

Well damn it. I went and ran myself ragged and injured my hamstring five days before a marathon.

I reread my post from about two years ago — last time I was injured before the Philadelphia Marathon — and I tried to spot some trends. Too many races? Yep. Too close together? Yep. Running like a bat out of hell because the weather is so beautiful and I’m so happy and it’s fall wheeee? Yep. So if I stack a bunch of races up and don’t adequately rest between them, you’re saying I might get hurt? Gosh. I’m an idiot.

Let’s pick up 10 days ago when I last posted about my revised Marine Corps goals. I was going to have fun and run smart and do all that feel-good stuff. In the next week, I proceeded to run 80 miles. They were 80 fast-ish, fun miles that I cranked out because I loved being able to put my taper rested legs to good use. For the weekend I cleared it with my coach to run a few more miles than we’d originally planned. On Saturday I kept the paces quick for a 16-miler, and I built a ton of confidence that I could still hold marathon pace. Felt like a million bucks. On Sunday instead of my planned 12-mile easy run, I did 15 at a decent pace and mixed in some trails. And I pushed the pace with a group running along Beach Drive. That felt great, but my hamstring was a little wonky by the end. Something was a little off. On Monday I stuck to my taper plan. Go me. On Tuesday, my plan was to run 10 miles (Ten-Mile Tuesday) with four super quick, 30-second pushes. The run started fine. Going fast. The first two pushes were OK. The third push was not OK. The fourth push wasn’t much of a push. Hmm. I kept running for about three more miles, my pace gradually slowing. I stopped to try to stretch. When I started running again, I felt an odd pain in my wonky hamstring. Nope. I ran/walked the two miles to get home and then started freaking the eff out.

My friend Sara is a saint and recommended an acupuncturist who might be able to patch me up for the race. He got me in at 8 a.m. this morning. When he was working on me, he told me he “could just tell” I was fast. That made me want to cry. I used to feel fast. Last week I was able to pound out bunches of marathon pace miles like a boss. Sigh. After the acupuncture session, both of my legs feel much better than yesterday or even Sunday when the hamstring started to feel a little off. Plus I feel like I’ve been run over by a train. I’m physically drained and cranky as hell. When I got home, there was an envelope in the mail. I got some gift certificate from the Georgetown Running Company for an 8K that I apparently won the age group award for back in June. I thought back to the race and how good I felt. Then I started to cry like a goddamn idiot.

So new plan. Lots of deep breaths between now and Sunday. This week was supposed to be a taper week, so my mileage isn’t too far off from where it would otherwise be. I’ve been on the verge of tears most of the day because I hate uncertainty and I hate not running. And I really hate not running in the fall. But if I can pull off a marathon on Sunday without injuring myself and without DNFing, I will have performed some kind of voodoo miracle comeback that I so far haven’t had to pull out in my short running career.

These posts are the ones I’ll look back on when I’m faster and stronger and I’ll say, “See, Amanda. See where this series of setbacks got you? You should be happy you are where you are today because without those little blips, you’d never know how good you have it.”

So you had a bad race

I prepared for the Hartford Marathon as if it was the race of my life. On Friday while I was lying on the floor with my legs stretched up the wall, Michael said, “I’ve never seen you rest this much the day before a race.” I replied, “I don’t want to have to break 3:00 again.” Breaking 3:00 had become a kind of quest over the past five months. In April I surprised myself by pulling out a 3:01 in Boston in suboptimal conditions, and I crossed the finish line convinced I had a sub-3 somewhere in me. Then I ran a 3:15 six days later in Big Sur with lots of miles between the two races. Between Big Sur and the start of the Hartford Marathon, I’d put in more than 2,026 miles. I was faster, stronger, smarter, completely rested, even more rested than I was coming in to Boston. And I believed on a good day I could put down a fast time. So why didn’t it happen? I’m healthier than I’ve ever been and running stronger and more consistently than ever. By all measures, it should have happened.

Work weigh in numbers
Work weigh in numbers

I don’t know. I can point to several reasons why I finished my goal race in 3:14, which is 15 minutes off where I wanted to be. The answer is probably some combination of the reasons below. And I know a 3:14 is not a bad time. Plenty of people would be thrilled with that time. Hell, it gets you in to Boston Marathon registration on the first day. It just wasn’t the time I was supposed to run.

  1. I went out too fast. I started the race about 10 rows behind the 3:00 pacer because I screwed up my seeded corral bib and then couldn’t inch my way up far enough. After weaving through people for the first mile, I found the group. The group’s pacer was going way too fast. I should have backed off right there, when the group members started mentioning that the pace seemed a little too fast. There’s no reason I should be putting down a 6:33 on an uphill mile seven miles in to the race. That’s running like an idiot. My legs knew this. They gave out around mile 16. I couldn’t convince them to move. The second part of the race felt like a training run — like I’d run 100 miles the week before. Like my Jello legs were running through more Jello.
  2. I was too nervous. In most races, I show up and just start running when the gun goes off. I haven’t mentally played out how the run will go mile by mile. I go with the flow and follow the crowd. I mostly follow my body, and I’m sometimes pleasantly surprised by my mile splits. Maybe I have a pace in mind, but maybe I’m there to have fun. Most of the time, I have no race jitters. This week, I must have repeated “6:47, 6:47, 6:47,” to myself 50 times. My heart was beating out of my chest at the start line, and I wandered up to the start line after my warmup like a zombie. I was mentally exhausted before I’d started.
  3. I ran too many training miles. While I doubt my high mileage was the only source of a bad race, I ran about 10 percent more miles this training cycle over last. When I ran the 3:01 in April I wasn’t also training to run an ultramarathon , and I certainly didn’t put in as many trail miles. The trail miles and mileage increase both seem to have helped me race stronger at other distances, so I tend to think more mileage isn’t to blame.
  4. The wind. When I started slowing down the most, I was running alone and against what felt like a pretty legit headwind. Maybe it wasn’t that bad. By the time I turned around with the wind at my back, I was mentally wrecked and had seen the 3:00 goal slip away a few miles before.
  5. I ate beets. When I ran a sub-par marathon in Austin in February, I had terrible stomach cramps around mile 25. I’d had beets the night before and the morning of the race. I ate a huge bowl of beets for dinner Friday night and had stomach issues around mile 24.5. No beets next time. They’re good for training, but I can’t have too many of them before a race.

But I really don’t know the answer for my poor performance. I beat myself up most of the day yesterday. I ate some cheesecake, had a beer, pouted. Why couldn’t it happen? What did I do wrong? I’ll probably never know the real answer. But I woke up this morning, and ran a 30-minute easy run at a startlingly fast pace. It was faster than I’ve ever been able to go the day after any race — even a 5K. I went to the gym and then later today went out for a second, even faster run. I think the race is out of my system.

Marine Corps is still on my race calendar for two weeks from today. I don’t know if I’ll try to break 3:00 again. It depends on the day, and I don’t want to stress about it (see 2 above). But Marine Corps has tons going for it.

I’ve run this marathon more times than any other one except Boston (2008, 2009, 2010, 2014). I know the course because I train and race on these streets. My friends and family line the racecourse; people I don’t expect to see will magically appear on the Mall or in Georgetown. I love it. So the goals for Marine Corps are to relax, have fun and be smart. There’s no crazy pacers to mess with my head. There’s just me. Dressed as Wonder Woman. Getting cheers from strangers and running because I love it.

Marine Corps Marathon outfit testing. Needs wrist bands? Also needs shoes.

A photo posted by amandahi (@amandahi) on

Three weeks to go

We’re coming up on that critical part of the training cycle when I just might screw up all the hard work and high mileage I’ve put in. I get antsy about a few big goal races every year. This year’s goal race is the Hartford Marathon, and I’m already wondering about my training. The good news is I start to get squirmy about my training every time, so this is nothing new. The bad news is it seems to be happening earlier with this race.

I have one more week of reasonably high mileage including a trail half marathon this weekend and a long run with some miles at marathon pace worked in next weekend. Then the taper begins, and I begin obsessively checking the weather and obsessing about what I eat and how much I sleep.

Because I don’t have any speed work planned until later in the week, I’m kicking around the idea of trying to make the easier runs in to group runs or organizing some kind of meetup with Strava or Twitter friends. Let me know if you are interested, and I will try to coordinate.

  • Sunday: 16 miles easy on roads somewhere in D.C. area (7:45 to 8:00 pace maybe)
  • Monday: 8 or 9 easy miles on roads or trails
  • Tuesday: 10 easy miles on trails
  • Tuesday evening: 7 miles steady effort on roads, not pushing too hard (7:30-7:40 pace)
  • Wednesday: 8 miles easy, probably on trails and maybe in the middle of the day if I stay home for Pope road closures
  • Thursday: 12 miles steady (7:30 pace, probably)

The worst runs only make you stronger

I’m training for my first 50-miler and two fall marathons right now. Those things don’t go together, really, but I’m trying to make speed and mileage play nice together in some kind of masochistic training plan. It’s been sickeningly rewarding to pound out marathon-pace miles and feel myself getting faster in summer’s most humid days. In practice, my plan has me trail running and long running and longtrailrunning and doing speed work over and over again. Add in lots of healthy eating and drinking and foam rolling and being tired like I haven’t been tired before — both mentally and physically — and then rebounding in time to put in more fast miles. The training plan was working great on vacation. Michael and I went to Portland and Tahoe. We got engaged ON A RUN in Forest Park. I had access to beautiful trails, loads of recovery time, eight hours of sleep every night. Perfection.

But coming home around midnight on Sunday last week was a doozy. The week started with jet lag and two consecutive nights of five hours of sleep. At work, we had the biggest product release I’ve been part of on Wednesday, and I had a 5K race on Thursday. Came in first female and fourth overall! But that meant my legs were less than fresh for any long-running.

Nice to see a progression of times. First female on the course this year. And a $20 gift card.

A photo posted by amandahi (@amandahi) on

By the time I made it to the start of what was supposed to be a 25-mile trail run on the Appalachian Trail on Saturday morning, I was already beat. When Dan proposed this route, I warned him I’d be slow. I’m a pretty cautious trail runner to start, but factoring in the planned 6,600 feet of climbing we’d be doing, I wouldn’t be going quick at all. This run was supposed to be about moving forward at a comfortable pace for 25 miles. I’ve done that, what, 50 times at least probably. Usually on roads and definitely without so much climbing. But sure.

The run started off in a fairly sane place. A gravel road dumped us out on to a trail that seemed not too steep or technical. I started to kind of get into a groove. The climbing started. I was fine. I was running/jogging/hiking. I kept climbing. Still fine, but I was behind my group. That was fine. They could wait. Then around mile 7, when the first downhill part started, I started to cruise downhill. Felt pretty good. But I lost my footing and ate it. I bruised my left leg pretty bad and, worse, reopened a gash on my elbow that I got trail-running in California that was just starting to heal. That fall really shook me up. My legs weren’t fresh, I felt terrible for dragging the group down to my hiking/jogging pace, and we ended up cutting the 25-miler down to 20. We did see a bear on the run. So there’s that?

Trail running aftermath. Or, an idea of how I'm going to look for the next three months at least.

A photo posted by amandahi (@amandahi) on

By mile 12, I was in tears for the second time, with my elbow wrapped in my tourniquet Buff, blubbering nonsense and feeling sorry for myself and wondering why I even run. I vowed to drop out of the 50-miler. I took that back. I vowed to never run trails again. Took that back. Definitely vowed to do a make-up run on Sunday if my legs would cooperate at all. I vowed to find better shoes with bigger lugs and come back to conquer this stupid thing some day. The trails became more runnable again, but I was cautious and mad. I fell down again but landed on my ass that time. I fell again and landed on my hand, not bad. I’m getting better at falling.

My trail-running group (of two) was fine with a shorter run, or they said they were. Writing about it now, I’m still pissed at myself for dragging us down. I feel the way I felt when I started running trails — like I should just give up because I will never be good at it. That feeling will pass, and I’ll get better at this part of it. Technical trails are simply my biggest weakness right now.


On Sunday, I dusted myself off, put bandages over my scrapes and bruises, put on my road-running clothes and headed out the front door. For the first three miles, I worked through Saturday and convinced myself I could actually run, damn it. By the time I crested the hill to Mount Pleasant at the end of 19 steady miles, everything had clicked back in to place. It felt normal and right and like home. I put in 101 total miles last week. That’s one of those hard-fought high-mileage weeks I’ll gladly take, even if it wasn’t pretty.

Race Review: The March 50K

I went in to this race with no small amount of anxiety. My only goal was to finish upright. I came off a strong training 50K two weeks ago that helped me build some confidence that I could at least complete 31.1 miles. But racing a trail 50K is different from running a training run on mostly roads on a home course that I know like the back of my hand. I’ve been training through heat and humidity for a few months, so I was confident my body could handle the temperature. But as I laid out my clothes on Friday afternoon, I understood that this would take more than the normal marathon race prep that has become almost second nature. I also didn’t end up wearing my headphones. I haven’t worn them much lately, and this didn’t seem like the kind of race where I’d want to zone out. Good call.

Only a little freaked out.

A photo posted by amandahi (@amandahi) on

Of course, preparing for this race started before Friday afternoon. My mileage has slowly crept up since Big Sur. I worked in a few marathon-distance training runs and a 50K in the past few months. In the past week, I got between seven and eight hours of sleep every night, and I monitored everything I ate and drank. I tried to taper even though my legs were begging to run more on Thursday night. And Friday morning. And Friday afternoon. But mostly, I convinced myself I could finish this distance.

We chose this particular race for several reasons — and we signed up about three months ago when 90-degree temperatures seemed unthinkable. Late July was a time of year we didn’t have any other marathons. My goal marathon is in October, so if I injured myself training for a long race, I would have enough time to recover. Plus it made sense to begin to build up toward Comrades with a longer race. This one was on a wide trail with rolling hills. It was written up as not technical, though it has “some lose sand at points.” I’m mostly a road racer, so anything that isn’t paved scares me a little.

The race started in the most anti-climactic way you can imagine. A guy — I believe a war vet — said, “Two minutes ’til race start.” Then, “One minute.” Then, “Y’all gah on now.” Michael and I exchanged a look of, “Hmm. OK?” and we were off. The first 11 miles are not too hilly, and with temperatures in the mid-60s, I was moving right along. At the first turnaround, I could tell I was about four minutes ahead of the second woman. I wasn’t too far behind the leading male group, either, but I knew I had a long way to go.

Sometime around Thursday morning, I started to worry about horseflies because someone mentioned them on the group’s Facebook page. It was all I could think about. Or maybe they were deer flies. Whatever the big, stupid, biting bugs are that follow me for miles at a time when I run in the boonies. I asked around about remedies and heard eucalyptus might work, so I went in to the race doused in eucalyptus essence and eucalyptus lotion. I also layered a bug spray/sunscreen combo on top of that. Still, around the ninth mile, a giant fly started circling my head and then moved to my legs. About a mile and a half of circling and swatting later, I’d had enough. I stopped to try to catch the bug. From behind me I heard, “Was it a spiderweb or what?” from one guy and then saw Michael next to him. Oh good, more people for the bug to attack. The bug moved on to swarm the three of us, and I got to run with Michael for the next eight or so miles. Win-win.

Michael and I stopped at the second aid station, around mile 11, briefly, to refill our handheld bottles and grab some fruit. Then we were off to the hills of the rest of the course. Around mile 15, where knew there was supposed to be some kind of course change because a portion of the course was closed, we started to see the three leading men come in to view. We were happy we were on track — that we hadn’t missed a turn. We followed them for a while. They came to a road that I was pretty sure wasn’t on the course map. I sped up to catch them to ask what was going on. We’d taken a wrong turn, somehow. We were running parallel-ish with the course. A guy in a truck drove alongside us to let us know someone had marked off a section that should not have been closed. We would be adding about two miles to the course.

Sometime around the 19th mile, I followed the group down a hill to the aid station. The three guys ahead of me took about two minutes each to grab supplies, and they filed out. I stayed a little longer and ate fruit, a Bearded Brothers bar, drank a bottle of water, put ice in my bra, asked for more bug spray … This part is a little blurry. But by the end of it, I felt like a new person. The volunteers were amazingly helpful. They refilled my water bottle, handed me cups of ice for my bra, lied and told me I looked great. I walked for about 100 yards, stopped to pee beside the trail where I was out of view and then kept running.

Here, I got the giggles because I started running through this underbrush area that was unlike anything else on the course. I kept thinking, “It is A SHRUBBERY” and then laughing and laughing and then hating my life because I had no idea when this slow stretch of overgrowth would be over. I couldn’t see my feet, and I there was sand under the shrubs. After about a half mile, Michael caught up with me, and we made our way out of the shrubs to giant hills that were straight-up sand. My legs were kind of shot, and running on sand wasn’t going great. But I kept it up. My mile splits aren’t terrible through here, but I definitely wasn’t putting down the 7s and 8s like I could in the first half.

We ran together for a while to the 24-mile aid station. The world’s nicest woman insisted on refilling my bottle for me twice. She was amazing. I ate the best Nutella sandwich I’ve ever had. Again I put more ice in my bra. And we were off. The three leaders passed us on the way to the aid station, which was the farthest point on the course.

Around the 27th mile, a guy shuffled past us the other direction and said, “Watch out. Slippery back there.” This launched me in to singing all kinds of Talking Heads. “Slippery People” seemed doubly appropriate.

Cool down
Stop acting crazy
They’re gonna leave
And we’ll be on our own

I might have been damn loopy by the time we got back to the shrubbery (!) and back to the heavenly aid station. Ah well. The volunteers cheered and whooped as I came down the stretch. I think I dropped several curse words in front of children while I was there. I was glad to be upright and happy to know I only had around five miles left. I left the aid station happier and much cooler than I’d entered. But because we came to the aid station from a different direction (read: we were lost the first time), I was confused about how to get home. Here’s my being confused.

Asking the volunteers which way to go.
Asking the volunteers which way to go.

Michael and I were together for a few more miles. I think he saw some kinds of animals at one point — guessing coyotes or wolves, maybe. And at some point I started chanting, “Same as it ever was. Same as it EVER WAS.” I crested one final hill and saw a flag in the distance. The final stretch of trail was probably half a mile, and I could hear the volunteers yelling for me the entire way. Running it felt kind of surreal. I’d never been that far before, and I certainly didn’t expect to feel so good. My finishing time for 33.2 miles was 5:09:28, which was better than last year’s woman’s winning time by about 30 minutes. And that includes two extra miles. I won a pair of Altras and a knife I’m not sure what to do with. Aside from the trail being poorly marked and the bugs swarming me off and on, I don’t think I could have hoped for a better first ultramarathon experience. Veronica, the woman who headed up the race, was so warm and gracious. Each of the volunteers made me feel like I was the most important person out there. They were phenomenal.

50K race winnings. Plus a pair of Altras! Not a bad first effort.

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The best news about the race is that I didn’t get hurt training for it or running it. None of the stomach or lethargy issues I had on my training run reappeared, probably because I kept my nutrition top of mind the entire race. I ate when I didn’t much feel like it, and I had two bottles for fluids for two-thirds of the race. And today I met up with Laura, one of my Strava buddies, and somehow managed to put down four miles at 7:21 pace. Maybe the endorphins are still going, and maybe the muscle soreness won’t set in until tomorrow. But right now, I’m cautiously optimistic I can do more of these crazy events.

Finishers: 4th and 5th place! And female win for me!

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So what’s next? Other than continuing to build toward running Comrades in 2016, I’m taking on a big, scary goal to run a 50-miler in November. Everyone needs big, fun, scary goals to keep going, right?

race view

The beginning of long training runs

On Saturday I turned a corner in my running life. I ran a 50K training run. I’m not sure what I was expecting when I started. I thought about the long, long run off and on for most of the week. What would I eat? What would I wear? Should I carry water? A handheld or backpack? How many gels? Would I make it the whole way? Where would I run? Would I have to walk? Maybe it would be just five more miles than I’d ever run before — not a huge deal. It might just feel a little longer. I’ve been running between 85 and 95 miles weekly this spring and summer, including two marathon-distance training runs the first two weeks of June. My base is definitely strong enough to go longer.

I’m pleased with the effort, and I can say I finished with a giant, goofy smile on my face. Michael ran the first 20 or so miles with me, which kept my mind off the task at hand. My pace was consistent — between 8:49 for the first mile and 8:03 for the 28th mile for 8:23 per mile overall. This is slower than my normal long run pace, which is in the 7:45 range, but with a goal to just finish, I can’t complain. And I learned a few things about how I deal with longer distances.

First of all, I have to figure out why my toes aren’t happy and solve this blister situation. For the first 14 miles, we had a steady, light rain. My Adidas shoes that actually worked well for three hours in the pouring rain in Boston tended to create pockets of humidity around my feet for this run. They’re the most ventilated shoes I have, but I think I need to look in to alternatives. I’m wearing lightweight Balega socks that have never given me problems before, but I still end up with soggy toes.

Toenails are all, “We hate you.” 😕

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Another lesson I learned the hard way around mile 28? I need to start eating solid food. Even though solid food sounds completely unappetizing in the middle of a hot, stinky run, I could have used more in my stomach. The four GUs and two Clif shot blocks I had weren’t cutting it. I felt a little lightheaded past the marathon point. Maybe it was just a mental block. I also probably should have eaten more than a banana and a half cup of coffee before the run. Guess I need to wake up earlier so my stomach has time to settle if I’m going to eat more.

The most surprising thing from this first longer effort is how completely wiped out I felt for the rest of the day. I was home by 11 a.m., and I felt like I’d been running all damn day. By 3 p.m., I wanted to go to sleep, but I had this endorphin-fueled, wired thing going on, so I couldn’t nap very well. Physically, I felt like I’d run a kind of easy marathon — sore but I could still walk down steps without much wincing. The main difference for me between 26 and 31 is the mental drain. That’s what I need to train to push through.

Finally, another interesting quirk came in the form of some pretty vivid hallucinations. I haven’t had to run through this level of euphoric, fuzzy just-put-one-foot-in-front-of-another since the St. George Marathon last year, when I think I was probably dehydrated and I saw the road start to kind of melt. The two things I saw during this run were rainbows and a bird. The rainbows were flashing by my head on both sides as I ran down Beach Drive. Going by my head like really fast cars. But just by my head, not by my whole body. At the same time I felt like I was running with rocket shoes. Looking back at my Garmin data, this was my fastest mile. Then at mile 29, I looked down at the ground and saw a dead blackbird. “Hmm. That’s not a good sign,” I thought. Then I blinked, turned away, turned back, and the dead bird was gone. So. It probably wasn’t there? Then I got in my head and decided that seeing a dead bird and then having it disappear was also not a good sign. I drank some more water a quarter mile later and felt good through the end of the run. But man, that bird.

I have a 50K race in 10 days in North Carolina. There, the goal is to finish at an OK pace (maybe between 7:45 and 8:30?) and to work on my fueling and blister/soggy feet issues some more. Oh and not to see phantom dead animals because that’s a little weird.  I will have a trial and error period for a while before I get this long run thing right, but I’ll definitely figure out what works before Comrades.

A Few New Goals for Recovery Week

For the first time in years (years!), I had a week without a training plan. Aside from my traditional ten-mile Tuesday run, I had nothing on my calendar. I indulged in a few treats early this week: pizza, cookies, ice cream. But after a few indulgences, I decided I really wanted to go easy. After eating fairly well for a while, I have kind of lost any cravings for really fattening food. My coach said to just have fun this week and to take it easy. In the absence of a plan, I had time to think about my goals for the summer through to my next big marathon attempt. Here they are, in no order.

  1. Return to physical therapy: I came off Big Sur with a touch of knee soreness. That’s new. My quads and calves were pretty tight after two marathons in a week, so I’m guessing my knees are taking on extra work. Multiple flights and lots of sitting didn’t help. My running mechanics need a tune up if I’m going to put in high mileage through the summer. I’m sure I need to stretch more, and I certainly need more hip and core strength. My physical therapist an help with that.
  2. Try group runs: Shakeout runs before marathons are some of the most personally enriching experiences I have all year. The time seems to pass quickly, and I get to talk to new, interesting people while I run. D.C. has tons of running groups. One of them will probably be a good fit, right? I tried a Pacer’s group run on Saturday, which had the benefit of being slow enough to keep me from overdoing it this week. I don’t think I’ll return to run with this group because the pace was a little slower than I’d prefer, but I’ll find one that sticks.
  3. More trail running: I’ve resolved to put in more trail miles in the past, and I know more miles on softer surfaces will help reduce my risk of injury. I need to hold myself accountable this time. Maybe a trail run every other week to start. To get this started, I went for my first trail run in many months today.
  4. Learn to carry water: We have a 50K fire road/trail ultra coming up in July. It’s going to be hot. I need to figure out fueling and try out water bottles. Maybe backpacks too. I hate carrying things, so this is going to be tricky.

I know 80 miles is a lot for an easy week, but I had a lot of fun. I ran slower than normal. I went out for short, relaxing runs when I felt like it. I started chipping away at my goals. Got in some nice hill work, too. In a few weeks, I’ll be ready to start working toward the big October goal.

Boston 2 Big Sur: Big Sur Marathon Recap

The Big Sur Marathon is undoubtedly the most beautiful race I’ve ever run. The scenery is everything they talk about but more vibrant and the smells — the redwoods and the sea air — are perfect — and sounds — waves and drums and footfalls — are what running should sound like. Sure, the roads slant away from you, and you kind of lose your place when you’re trying to run. The wind this year was particularly awful, not just at Hurricane Point. It blew straight on and from the side for miles 6 through 21. But this was my second marathon in a week, and maybe making a time goal was not the most important thing for this race. Even so, I ran a 3:15:36, which was right on track for my optimistic A Goal.

I spent this week as I would any vacation week, stupidly running more miles than I really should have because California running is glorious and always beautiful. Every day except one, I deviated from my plan. I was dumb. But I was happy. And looking back on it, I wouldn’t have changed any runs this week.

A recap:

  • Tuesday: We landed in San Francisco, and I got in a few miles in Golden Gate Park for 12 for the day. It should have been 10, but I felt good.
  • Wednesday: I thought I’d have an easy run across the Golden Gate bridge for maybe six miles, but I felt great, so I ran some hills. And I ran 10 miles. Oops. Then we walked about five miles around the streets of San Francisco. My feet weren’t happy.
  • Thursday: Actually, I think I did well to only run five easy miles on trails on Thursday. Michael and I went to Marin to hang out for the morning, and we walked about a mile and a half around Muir Woods.
  • Friday: I finally had my legs back, so I celebrated by running seven miles at 7:37 pace. Way too fast for a recovery/taper week. But I got to see the ocean on my run!
  • Saturday: Stuck to the plan for once and ran a short shakeout run with Bart Yasso.

On to the race! Big Sur starts at 6:45 a.m., and the buses need to be off the road for the runners to funnel on to the road, so that means everyone needs to be in the tiny runners village no later than 5:30. My 4:15 bus was one of the last to leave Pacific Grove, and we arrived at the start line around 5:30. If you back out that timeline, that means I had to wake up around 3:30 to hurriedly gather myself and my stuff to get to the bus on time. And because we’d been in California since Tuesday, I couldn’t use my East Coast/West Coast powers to wake up early.

The runners village is a setup of rows and rows of portapotties (I only had to wait in line for about two minutes both times I went) and tightly packed, nervous runners huddled together in the darkness. There is coffee, water, Gatorade and maybe snacks. I didn’t look for snacks. I tried to find a place to put my towel so I could stretch. That was kind of a success. After about 45 minutes, the race announcer started to call the later wave starters to line up. Because the road is so narrow, there isn’t really room for runners to make their way to the corrals, so they have to line up back to front. The wave 1 runners shuffled around and did weird warmup drills until about 6:40 when the announcer finally called for the final group to line up.

After a few introductions for the elite athletes, everyone edged forward a bit, and we were off. The first six miles are rolling downhill. They aren’t all downhill. But they’re blocked from the wind. In hindsight, I probably should have gone faster here because this was the only point in the race that running felt normal.

A strong headwind — stronger and more unrelenting than anything at Boston — knocked us in the face right at the seven-mile mark. You could hear the group let out an audible groan, and everyone shifted to try to get behind someone else. We were out of the cover of trees, and the people I’d been running with and the ocean came in to a kind of technicolor. But the wind. Ugh.

For the next four miles, I stuck with a group of guys and one woman who were trying their best to fairly take the running burden and shield each other from the wind. I would tuck in behind a guy and run beside another for a while, and they’d reposition themselves after about a mile. I wish I could have stuck with them longer, but the group seemed to disband at a water stop.

Mile 10 has a nice downhill that I tried to not take too fast. I had to tie my shoe during that mile because the WIND UNTIED MY SHOE, which took about 20 seconds.

Wind on Bixby Bridge
Wind on Bixby Bridge. Also: heel striking and awful form!

On Friday, Michael and I drove the course, so I kind of understood how awful Hurricane Point might be. It is deceptively long. I’m used to running hills with steeper grades in D.C., but I don’t train on any hill that is two miles long. So miles 11 and 12 were 9:05 and 8:18, respectively, but Strava tells me the grade-adjusted pace for those miles is 7:08 and 7:09. That’s what it felt like. And wind. So much wind.

The Bixby Bridge piano player was adorable, but I wasn’t going to stop to listen. I plowed through and tried to get my mind right for the rest of the race. Looking at my watch, I could tell I’d need to run a negative split to get to my goal. The rest of my miles were all under 8:00 pace, and I ended up averaging 7:26 for the race. I even stopped for strawberries at mile 23 and ran a 7:33 mile. So hooray for negative split!

Done! Cumulative time: 6:17:02

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My overall placing for the B2B for women was fifth out of 219. I came in ninth of 2,133 women overall, which is pretty good, considering I didn’t have fresh legs. The B2B tent was stocked with all kinds of food — sandwiches, fruit, cookies — and beer that I promptly chugged. I got a sweet medal and jacket, and I got lots of cheers for running Boston along the route. The race was incredibly well executed for a medium-sized event. The race communications, water stops, bag check, swag, pasta dinner, expo. Everything. Everything was organized like the best marathons you’ve run. Hell, the guy who gave me my race shirt bag even put my number tag on my bag for me.

I know I can run Big Sur faster than 3:15 now that I understand the course. I would adjust my training to work in more long hills and more back-to-back weekend runs. I had plenty of those on my schedule, but I could have flipped the order to run Sunday longer instead of Saturday.

One of my goals for next year is to break three hours at Boston. I would love to run Big Sur again some day when the lottery gods are smiling, but I can wait another five years before I return to such a punishing course.

This week I will run easy, fun runs. I started this morning with an easy recovery run in Palo Alto. And later this week, I’ll put together my race and non-race goals for the next few months. I know I’ve got a three-hour marathon in me, and I have more PRs to set.

Boston 2 Big Sur: Boston Marathon Race Recap

The first part of the B2B Challenge is complete, and I’m beyond happy with the result. My A Goal (a 3:00 marathon) coming in to the taper was quite aggressive. My PR was a 3:02:21 in St. George last fall, but that course is notable for its crazy downhill profile. That day was perfect. I ran the tangents. There was a tailwind. Boston is a tougher course. Running better there seemed like a long shot. But goals should be aggressive.

Training went well this winter, even through the coldest temperatures D.C. had seen in decades. I knocked out my training runs and nailed my 3:00 marathon goal pace during tempo runs. I’d had a sub-par race marathon in Austin, another hilly course, in February, that I was trying to get over mentally. A lot would have to go right for a new PR, and a lot would have to go right to break three hours here.

My taper went remarkably well, though holding back during those final runs wasn’t easy. Last week’s key workout was a 10-miler with two miles at marathon pace. I also practiced running in the rain and running in to a significant headwind at marathon pace. I didn’t know how handy the thoughts of those runs would be on Monday.

Ready for Athletes Village looking like a homeless Teletubby.

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This year I went all out with my warmup getup for Athletes Village. I might have looked like a total idiot, but I had to be the warmest person in the tent. Michael and I hopped on the first round of buses to Hopkinton. We left around 6:25 and were off the bus by 7:15. I spent at least an hour relaxing, nearly asleep, under the tent. My nerves only started to kick in around 8:30. Somehow I remember the road to the start line being longer. This year, the distance between the tents and the corral seemed shorter. It isn’t. I’m crazy. Got in the corral around 9:40. We’d had a passing rain shower around 8 a.m., but there wasn’t much wind or rain at the start. I decided to try for my goal pace and assess that pace and the weather after the screams at Wellesley, when maybe I’d be feeling optimistic.

The one mistake I haven’t made at Boston in the last three years is going out too fast. I have to be OK with a slower first mile. This year was no different. My 6:58 pace felt incredibly easy, given the downhills and crowds, and I knew I would be going faster soon. The next few miles ticked off perfectly: 6:42, 6:43, 6:42, 6:49, 6:36, 6:40. I kept on like this through Wellesley — past Wellesley. I took my GUs on time. I sipped Gatorade when I needed it. I even held my goal pace through a downpour during miles 14 through 17. Everything went well. I could have done without the headwind and the downpour, but I dealt with it.

The one thing I could have done better this year, and the thing I could probably stand to work on in every race, is running the tangents. Boston is a point-to-point course with only four turns, so I’m not losing time on the corners. I did tend to weave a bit more than I needed to. I would get frustrated and dart around a slower runner or a walker, especially at the end. That adds up. My final Garmin reading came in at 26.3.

The Newton hills were tough, but I knew I’d lose some time there. Once I crested Heartbreak, I did a quick calculation, in kind of a half-math, weird, what is 8+7 what I don’t even ugh math, thing and realized I would certainly be setting a Boston personal record. I would need to walk to miss it. I then tried to reason my way through whether breaking 3:00 was possible. Well, if Heartbreak is mile 21 and I have five-ish miles to go, how fast do I have to run? How far off is my Garmin? Can my legs hold this pace? Would I need to go faster? Probably would need to go faster than seven-minute pace. But there’s a lot of downhill and cheering. I’ll try?

Miles 22 through 26 felt windier than the rest, but I tried to will my legs to run through a final kick. I couldn’t quite hold my goal pace for the final miles, which would have brought me under 3:00. I ran 7:00, 6:58, 6:53, 7:09, 6:53 (for the final .3). At the 25.6-mile marker, I figured I would need to run a 6:00-mile to end up under 3. I would have to settle with a 3:01-something, but I’d definitely push it all the way down Boylston. Coming down Boylston is always my favorite part of the running year. Coming down Boylston with a shiny, new PR (3:01:26) is even better. I came in somewhere between my A and B Goals, and I’m pleased with how well I ran, given the wind and rain. I’m sure I can break 3:00 in the fall on the right course.

After the race, aside from a few stomach issues and minor knee aches, I felt pretty good. This week is about recovery and relaxation and getting my mind and legs in a good place for Big Sur.

I ran half of Ten-Mile Tuesday long the Charles this morning before we left for San Francisco. I’ll finish up my miles on the West Coast, and I’ll look forward to a week of recovery running.