Thursday, October 21, 2010

The 2010 Other Half

"Do what you love. Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it still." -Henry David Thoreau

Mid-October in my neck of the woods brings what is perhaps my favorite annual race, The Other Half Marathon. The name comes primarily because it is "the other half marathon" that was recently added by the Moab Half people, five months before the original Canyonlands Half, a race that has been taking place for many more years. While Canyonlands is now a lottery race and stuffed full every year between the half and the five-miler run the same day, The Other Half is a much more intimate and smaller feeling race. While 1500 people is still a fairly large race, the vibe is just different. The whole race takes place well up the canyon on Highway 128, beginning at the Dewey Bridge and ending at Sorrel River Ranch, with the river running behind it, and red cliffs all around. I feel very alive on this course, and love running it. No matter how well my season's been going coming into this race, that alone is enough to give me quite literally a leg up. There was absolutely nothing of serious consequence at stake with this race for me; I would be happy knowing I did my best on this course regardless of my time. With that said, there was a little voice in the back of my head saying "NYC......NYC." Some days it's just not your day, and The Other Half is not at all known as a PR course. Still, I felt very confident about pulling out all the stops with whatever I had for the race.

I started my race weekend by taking the road less traveled, and turning off of I-70 at the exit which takes you through the ghost town of Cisco, eventually leading to a turn for Highway 128. It can take a few minutes longer than driving all the way to the main exit to Moab, but it is a scenic drive and would also give me the opportunity to drive the rolling course. It was a beautiful day, and I took my time enjoying the ride, stopping for photos every now and again.

Rolling into town, I was still well ahead of check-in time at my hotel, so I wandered over to the expo to pick up my packet. I knew that Ilana would be due in town at the expo around five or five-thirty, so I wandered back to the hotel, checked in and brought my stuff inside, and headed back over to the expo. I had a friend not running the race ask me to pick up her packet/shirt; the problem was she'd pitched her packet pickup card. Um, makes it hard for me to get your stuff, I told her-but I said that I would do my best.

When I arrived back at the expo, the race director (who has done an amazing job growing all the Moab races, keeping them organized and high quality) was working the information/help table. I'd jotted down my friend's bib number and explained that that was all I had. She started quizzing me on stats like my friend's birthday (um....she's ten years or so older than me? That's all I've got), her phone number ('s programmed in my cell phone. Maybe.), and other stuff. She joked with me "well, how good of a friend is this, anyway? What's YOUR name?" When I said it, she said "OOOOOH! I didn't recognize you with clothes on! You going to win your age group this year?"

Now, if I'd had a drink in my mouth I would have blown it out at the "didn't recognize you with (regular, street) clothes on" comment. What I was more surprised at is that she knew my name and was implying I had a shot at age grouping. I wound up third in my age group at last year's Winter Sun, and have run all three of their races every year since '07 with the exception of the 2008 Other Half, but I haven't placed or done anything interesting in all those runs. I said something like "ooooh...I don't know," and she got together the race bag and a slip of paper that would let the shirt people know it was okay to give me one. I thanked her for letting me collect my friend's stuff, and as I walked away she said "See you on the podium!" Gulp.

Soon after, I found Ilana, and after she gathered her stuff, we met up our friends Kevin, Nora, and Paul for dinner at Miguel's Baja Grill, which is typically where Ilana and I wind up for dinner before any Moab race. Kevin and Paul were both running, and Kevin's wife Nora was along for cheerleading and enjoying the weekend. It was a great time hanging out, loosening up, eating good food and having a margarita or two.

After dinner, Ilana and I headed back to the hotel for the standard outdoor hot tub soak and race gear selection. I brought my regular training New Balance 1225's, which I've pretty much used for races without regard for whether or not something lighter would help with my time and feeling light on my feet. I did buy a pair of Newtons several months ago, though, after trying them on at the Boston Marathon expo. They felt AMAZING on my feet, and I have been using them in shorter races lately, running race PR's each time. Despite being a bit unsure that it was a good move for a comparatively "bigger" runner, I attached my timing chip to the Newtons and called it a night.

Our day started early when it was determined that we were both wide awake and restless, and soon we were chowing on Ilana's breakfast cookie and drinking coffee. It was a nice bus ride in the dark to the start, and getting out, it definitely felt warmer than it had been in 2007 and 2009 for this race. I worried a bit that it might warm WAY up, but thus far it wasn't terrible. It was actually sort of nice that it was just medium-cold, and not bonechilling to the point of taking your energy while walking around and shivering.

When it finally came time to warm up, I ran up the road, away from the start, and toward an old abandoned service station. I felt very calm and normal. Nothing hurt. When I finally peeked at my Garmin, I was surprised at the pace-it was faster than I thought I was going. This was a good sign to me that it was a day with potential. I had my Jet Blackberry Gu and started getting the game face on.

We moved down to the start area to line up, and noticed right away that there were no women moving all the way to the front, and just a small handful of us clumped right behind the 7:00 pace sign. Where were the sponsored runners? They weren't there. So this was going to be a day for the competitive mid-packers. Another sign to just go for it. The minutes counted down, and the Moab Taiko Dan drummers started pounding away on the drums from the back of a truck at the start. We were counted down, the gun sounded, and off we went.

It felt great to finally get underway. My breathing was excellent, my heart rate felt like it was well in check, and I concentrated on staying very relaxed, something I've been working on lately as part of learning more about POSE running. This isn't a sales pitch, and I frankly am just a novice at applying its principles to my running. It's just something that I have learned really works for me-it keeps my heart rate down, and is making me more efficient. Today, it was allowing me to work hard yet still feel relaxed.

Mile 1: 7:02

First mile was done, and my self-assessment here was that I felt very strong. Could I maintain this all the way through? Who knew-but I was now committed to an all-out effort with no holding back. There were maybe a dozen women tops who were out ahead of me-so maybe I really did have a chance to age group today. I really wanted that, and I really wanted to keep every mile under the pace I needed for the guaranteed entry into next year's New York City marathon.

Mile 2: 7:13
Mile 3: 7:18

I was really settling in now. The first three miles had gone by without extreme pain or struggle. I felt like I was walking that line and in Good Hurt Land. Not at a pace so fast that a hard crash-and-burn was guaranteed, and not in that range of being just a bit slow so that I could "save something for later." Listening to how hard some of the men running around me were breathing, it reminded me to relax and lift lightly, and to go to a "zero gear" with an even smaller stride if I started to feel fatigued, but still keeping my cadence up.

Mile 4: 7:21
Mile 5: 7:24
Mile 6: 7:27

Oops. That mile six was a little slower than what I needed to average to hit 1:37 or faster. I was still feeling good, though, so I didn't let that split get into my head. I was now coming into the last of the downhillish miles, and getting ready for the big rolls and hills to come on the second half of the course.

Mile 7: 7:16

I was back on track and ready for the meat and potatoes of the course. The "Big Hill Mile" was next. I felt a normal amount of fatigue for this point in the race yet still felt in charge of my race. I knew it would be markedly slower than the first seven and that I'd lose some time coming up the hill, but I just relaxed, focused on what was immediately ahead of me, and did not strain or stress the size of the full hill. I went back to that "zero gear" where I was moving with small steps, keeping my cadence up and staying relaxed. While others around me were in a super-heavy-breathing zone, straining, and somewhat on their toes, I was not. I let my heel relax totally and lifted every so lightly, which felt like shuffling but did in fact feel a LOT easier than the way I used to get up on my toes and try to stride big up the hill. While I had slowed a little in the hill, I had slowed less than others and actually passed a runner or two here. It felt SO strange and awkward the first few times I practiced being really relaxed and getting to a point where I was at zero effort on hills, but dang, there's something about it that is working for me now that I am getting more used to it.

Mile 8: 8:08

This was a good split for mile 8, but I knew that it also took away most of the little cushion I had for 1:37. As soon as I was up and over the hill, I increased my turnover but kept the strides short and relaxed. Still in a surprisingly good physical state at this point, but I still had a bit over five miles to go.

Some clouds covered this part of the course. There was a light headwind briefly that concerned me, but it stopped almost as soon as it started. A little bit of moisture spit from the sky-not much, but just enough to feel refreshing and cool. It didn't last for long, but it did feel good.

Mile 9: 7:17

I can't do running math to save my life but again I knew I was right back to walking that 1:37 line. I was becoming more fatigued now but made myself relax every time I started to tighten up. Another good roller was in my path now.

Mile 10: 7:33

Over that 1:37 pace again. Dang. I got a little "mushy" feeling on the hill-that scary sensation of nearing glycogen depletion I felt late in the Eisenhower Marathon in 09, and right before my one hitting of the wall at my fall marathon last year in mile 25. I had no choice but to slow down just a bit to go back to that zero gear again. Amazingly enough, though, this wasn't the beginning of the end, and that feeling went away. I charged into the next mile back at full speed ahead. I heard the drummers, then saw them, and started clapping over my head in time to their drumming.

Mile 11: 7:18

There was one last hill left. I was feeling invigorated to know that the tougher hills were behind me, and that I just had to get over one more before my attempt to pull out all the stops on my finish. I was getting really tired, but there were no wheels about to come off. I felt in control of my race and just fed off of that feeling.

Mile 12: 7:23

I was over that last hill, and heard an aid station worker at the last station yell "It's all downhill from here!" Yes, yes it was. So many people I talk to HATE this last mile. You can see the finish from a long way off. Coming down the hill, you sort of follow a horseshoe kind of pattern, going curving off the highway and following the driveway as it bends toward Sorrel River Ranch. I love it, though. Seeing that finish lights a fire under me, and I break the home stretch up into small chunks in my mind, taking one small bite out of the course at a time. I went up into as high of a gear as I could. All out, prepared to take whatever pain I felt. Turning into the driveway, I passed a guy I'd paced next to for much of the second half of the race. Oh, man. I hurt. I was not going to allow a five second miss on that 1:37, though, as I looked again at my Garmin to see I had under two minutes to do it. I passed another guy and was running like a woman possessed.

Mile 13: 6:41

Making the last turn toward the finish chute, I could see the clock ticking off in the 1:36 minute and knew I was going to do it unless I tripped, fell and broke my legs. Even then I think I could have clawed my way accross the line with the adrenaline I was feeling. I heard the finish line announcer saying my name and pushed on in to make it official.

Last .17 miles Garmin measured: 6:26. Garmin time 1:36:28, official race time 1:36:27. I did it. Sub-1:37, free to bypass the New York City Marathon lottery and go directly to guaranteed entry. Words fail what I felt at this day coming together perfectly on all fronts, or how I felt about a five minute race PR and four minute half PR. It was just a sense of satisfaction and peace.

Kevin and Nora saw me come in, and were the first to say congratulations on my race. Kevin, for his part, ran an incredible race, finishing ninth overall and second in his age group. I came out of the finish chute to talk with them, and turned around to see that Ilana was now coming in at right around 1:40. This was good enough for an age group win for her, and 14th woman overall. Steven, another runner from the running forums, wound up placing 1st in the same group in which Kevin ran, and was sixth overall. It was exciting to see them do so well.

For my part, the run did get me on the podium after all-2nd in my age group out of 199 finishers, and 7th woman overall. Like I said, there were no sponsored women there, but you can only race the people who show up. After several beers in the beer garden with friends, I got to collect my medal. I thanked the race director, and as I started to walk away she said "See, I told you you'd be on the podium." Ha. I think I owe her a thank you for the age group talk at the information booth because it just fueled my thoughts that yes, I certainly did want to wind up placing. We wound up getting a nice shot of our little group after everyone received their medals.

I'm a little stumped, on one hand, how I could come into this race with ZERO indications for a sub-1:37 based on recent race results, but if I look closer at all the little components, they stacked the deck in my favor. I had been up in weight since a little bit after Boston until recently-not a lot, but it sure does help to be at your best weight for racing. I think getting back to that point helped, along with going to shoes that are significantly lighter. My feet feel so light in them, and the design of the Newtons just works for my gait. I feel this "flick, flick, flick" of kicking lightly and with ease in them. I almost did not get these shoes because of the ridiculously high price. They were still ridiculously expensive when I found a discount code for a running retailer, but they have literally been worth their weight in races. The weather was just perfect, too. Ilana and I were a little concerned when it was already 50 at 5 am, thinking the temperature would climb high early. Instead, we got the best of both worlds with it staying relatively unchanged for the pre-race and race itself.

And my training leading up to the race? I wasn't doing speed work. I wasn't doing high mileage. What I did do was a number of QUALITY runs on hills and trails. I practiced that POSE thing as much as I could, and started learning how to run hills and trails without taxing my body as hard as I was before. It made me more efficient, and I would be fresh and ready to go for my next run without ever feeling beat up. I started leaving my Garmin at home, and ran just for the joy of running. I took two full days off before the race, knowing I couldn't help my race with "one last workout," and was just ready to enjoy running through the Canyons in Moab. None of these things guaranteed the kind of race I wound up having, but it was a recipe for a potential great day. On Sunday, the ingredients mixed well, and cooked until done.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Jane, Stop This Crazy Thing!

When did the middle of October sneak up and bite me in the butt? I'm not quite sure, but it sure got here in a hurry. This means it's almost time to meander across the border to Utah to gather with like-minded friends at the spot where the Dewey Bridge once stood. From there we'll be moving as swiftly as our bodies will allow to Sorrel River Ranch, 13.1 miles down the road.

This was a race I looked forward to greatly back in 2007, when I timidly signed up for The Other Half as a member of Team Tiara, the fundraising leg of Girls on the Run. I really didn't think I could cover the distance at the time of registration and was terrified the first time I showed up for a training run with all those strong, fit ladies. As it turned out, they were all pretty great and encouraging, and I started sliding down that slippery slope from just wanting to finish to modest time goals to what were moderately aggressive at the time. Squeaking in to the finish in just under two hours was an exhilirating feeling, and I was truly bummed the next year that the race date was too close to that of my first marathon. Returning in 2009, though, I remembered exactly why I love this race. Beautiful surroundings, a course that keeps coming at you with good hills and rolls, one big climb late in the race, and then the opportunity to run all-out after cresting that hill and heading down toward the finish. Stoked? You bet.

As for goals, motivation, and confidence, I think it's safe to say that I have kicked all negative feelings about Imogene to the curb. It was a bad day, I was disappointed, but it was just one day. I turned around and ran a local 5K two weeks ago that I have run every year since becoming a runner, trimmed one second off my time from the year before and somehow snuck into the first place women's spot. While I will be the first to say that 21:25 really doesn't and shouldn't win a race (and was probably the slowest winning time for women since the race started), it felt goodnonetheless to keep up a consistent pace for most of the race, and not let any other women get ahead of me. My huge positive splits in 5K's have been sort of a pattern so it was a huge confidence booster to keep things pretty even.

What's more is that the race honors a girl who ran for one of the local cross country teams and passed away in a car accident. It's a total celebration of her life-not depressing at all, with her family and friends running and in attendance. People seem to be very "up" for this race, and just ready to give 110% since we're healthy and able to do it. There is a huge high school cross country race that follows the citizen race, and it's down in the area where I do so much of my running, through the lakes and trees along our riverfront trail. If I could pick any one local race I'd like to win, this definitely would make the cut. It was just the kind of bounce-back to get the ball rolling toward my fall goals.

Goals? Oh, yeah. I have a few. I am not putting massive amounts of pressure on myself, but I d have that New York City Marathon guaranteed entry standard whispering in the back of my head. Sure, 1:37 is over three minutes faster than my fastest half to date. Sure, The Other Half is a very rolly course. You'd never describe it as flat and fast. That said, I don't care why I shouldn't be able to do it. I'm up for this race as much as any race, and even though it kind of hurt to push over some of the hills last year, it was a good hurt and I'm feeling focused and ready to do it again. 1:37 is a long shot right now, but it's possible. I'll push with everything I have Sunday morning, and we'll see how it turns out.

As far as other goals, I have taken my first step toward my not-so-secret-anymore desire to one day run the Leadville Trail 100. I registered for the Moab RedHot 50K+, which will take place in February. I briefly had my name on the entry list for that race last year after upgrading from the 33K, but minor injuries and lack of appropriate training made it a no-brainer to shift back down to the short race. This year, though, I'm training for it as my main goal race for the early spring. I'm already spending more time on trails, and have made some changes to the way I used to run that now allow me to be more confident and more efficient. It's a learning process and I still have a long way to go, but I am actually feeling up to the challenge of 34 miles, and not petrified and sick to my stomach. I didn't know where it went, but it feels so good to have found my running mojo again.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The 2010 Imogene Pass Run Race Report-Crash, Burn (When Will I Learn?)

A few people already know how the day went for me. For just the facts, ma'am, look no further. It was a beautiful blue sky day in Colorado on Saturday September 11th. I ran my fastest times ever to the Upper Camp Bird checkpoint and summit, hitting both of my time goals with everything going perfectly to plan. It all went south on the downhill. I had cramping up and side stitches, which is something I have never experienced in a race before. I also had my first fall ever in the three times I have completed this race, spilling some blood and rattling the confidence. In the end, my sub-4 goal was not to be, nor was it even a PR day. Still, when all is said and done, it's a privilege to get to do this race, and be healthy enough to make the trip from Ouray to Telluride the hard way.

Upper Camp Bird time (7.6 miles): 1:58:12

Summit time (10 miles): 2:59:25

Finish time: 4:28:39

Finish placement: 38 out of 76 in age group (literally the last of the top half), 248 out of 499 among females (also rounding out the bottom of the top half by gender)

That's the meat and potatoes. Here's the rest of the story, told through song. See, you thought I was kidding, Ilana and Jen. I wasn't. Be very, very afraid.


I headed out of town on Friday afternoon, checked into our standard hotel two blocks from the race start, and walked down to the fire station to pick up my stuff. I ran into the Nebraska Superstars, AKA Cara and Gary, and visited with them for a few minutes. These guys came in last year to run some times that would put most of us to shame, but they were both feeling a little under the weather this year, sounding like they were going to just try to enjoy themselves out there and make it fun. It's just hard to go all-out at something like this if you're not 100% healthy so it sounded like a great plan for their run this year.

I left and found my friend Butch outside, a local runner who tends to hit many of the same races I like to run. We made our way over to the new Ouray Brewery, eating on the rooftop patio where we could easily spot and holler at my race roommate Ilana when she made it into town a few minutes later. The brewery has only been open for a month and they were already out of all but two of their house beers by the time we sat down to eat and get in that pre-race beer. It was fun hashing out race times and strategies, as this was the third IPR for each of us. Butch and I were both going for sub-4, and for the past two runnings, our times had been very close. He was about ten minutes back from me both years, and we both improved a bunch from first to second year.

After dinner, we found our friend Jen, and grabbed a sweet treat at Mouse's Chocolates before heading our separate ways. Butch headed back to his campsite up the road in Ridgway and I went with the ladies for the standard soak in the outdoor natural hot springs hot tub under the clear night sky and stars. We swear by it-the muscles seem to get a little bit of an extra "oomph" sitting there, and it just helps a person relax and get a better night of sleep. Coincidentally, the race timers we met in the hot tub last year pre-race were also there again this year along with more company, all of whom were either going over the hill, or attached to someone who was running the race. The third part of the evening was devoted to race day wardrobe and gear selection. This is always fun as weather can move in quickly in the mountains. It's very unpredictable, and boy can it be COLD at the summit of any mountain even when it feels terrific down in town. I decided to go with shorts for the first time ever along with a lightweight, long-sleeved tech shirt, and the standard hat, lightweight gloves and jacket. There was nothing left to do at this point but try to get a good night's sleep.


You gotta go, you gotta go. Out that door and into the cold early morning mountain air. I was very pleased to step out the door and feel that while it was quite cold, it was hardly miserable or bonechillingly cold. YES. Perfect. It looked like it was going to be one of those great days for a mountain run. We dressed and geared up, drank coffee, and Butch ventured over to our room where we hung for a little bit before heading out.

Butch gave Jen and I a lift over to the bag drop bus. We got rid of our stuff and headed in to the fire station to stay warm for a little bit. Here I ran into my friend Ben. He considers himself a cross country skiier but is one of those "I'm not a runner" people whose trail running abilities still put most of the rest of us to shame. I wished him good luck with his first IPR, telling him to expect to see me crossing half an hour or more after him at the four hour mark. Jen and I then decided to head back out and move near the starting area.

We met up with Ilana on the sidewalk near the start, now with our friend Annette from Texas. There was a certain giddy, nervous energy in knowing that we were less than half an hour to starting the race at this point. There are disadvantages as a flatlander to doing this race when it comes to not being able to train at altitude or with any long climbs, but Annette's in great shape so there was really no doubt that she would be getting over the hill one way or another. We got another racer to take a few pictures of the four of us at the start.

The race director was on the microphone, and the girls laughed at me as I recited along with him " the 37th Annual Imogene Pass Run...from Ouray (pronounced You-ray) Colorado to Telluride Colorado over the Imogene Pass!" Although race founder Rick Trujillo always tells you it's pronounced like the woman's name Imogene, I pronounce it Eye-mo-gene, just like the race director and nearly everyone else seems to say it. He was sure taking sick pleasure in telling us over and over that it was 24 at the summit. I knew we'd be warmed up by then, but come on, man.

We reached final countdown time, and we were also informed that while there is normally about a 20% no-show rate, a record number of runners were present-over 1200-to toe the line. I think the weather may have helped with anyone who was on the fence about starting, along with the organized bib exchange/sale program for the race. Finally, we were off! I was focused and ready to go with my plan for the day-no photo ops or stopping all the way to the summit, make Upper Camp Bird in under two hours, and summit it under three. Bomb away on the downhill to Telluride like I did in 2009, and I would be right around that four hour mark I wanted to hit.


One change I made this year in gear is that while I still had my women's Camelbak, I opted to fill it a little less than half full. With its large capacity, that would trim 3-4 pounds off and would still be enough to take care of myself up there if weather mayhem rolled in, and it took me longer to get from aid station to aid station than planned. This turned out to be a good move. I felt very relaxed and like I wasn't hurting from the get-go. Of course, that's the Imogene pain scale. Running uphill takes effort at altitude but I was optimistic at how great I did feel. I did a double-take early on when a guy moved by in a very formal looking red dress, and recalled someone on the "transfer wanted" board for the race ages ago promising to wear a dress of the seller's choosing for the race if they would sell to him. I think this had to be That Guy. Well played, sir.

My Garmin has been a source of trouble on several occasions in spots where I find mountains towering over, but it worked, more or less, during the previous two runnings of IPR. I looked down at my Garmin this time, though, just before the first mile was up and saw that it was only logging time. Distance and pace were zeroed out. At another race, or as a brand-new runner, this may have sent me into a panic. This time, though, it was really no big whoop to me. Garmins are notoriously inaccurate on mountain terrain. They like to measure peak to peak, and the course measured barely 16 miles for me (not 17.1 or thereabouts) in 2008 and 2009. I kind of shrugged and thought "no worries-just need to check my time at Upper Camp Bird and the summit." I followed the mass of humanity up the early switchbacks and continued steadily upward, running most of the time with some short power hiking periods if things got really steep, or my heart rate felt like it was getting a little too high.

Early on, I see that Butch and I are more or less going the same pace. Sometimes he would be a little behind me, other times he would float a little bit ahead, and for part of the way were were pacing exactly the same. We were running our own races but it helped to chat with a buddy in the early stages when talking was still possible. He let out a loud whoop to wake up the crowd at one point. I laughed a little when he startled the lady in front of us. He apologized but she laughed it off and said that she is a kindergarten teacher who required more to be truly rattled. As we moved on, I wound up leaving him behind, not seeing him again until the finish where we were both surprised at how we finished relative to one another. More on that later.

At about the one hour mark, I was still plugging away uphill, running as much as I could with those short hike breaks. As I was pulling my sports beans out of my jacket pocket, I noticed a guy looking over his shoulder and I recognized him the second he said "Hey! You were in the alcohol study! How's it going?" HA. I know this had to sound really strange to anyone listening around us. I ran up alongside him and saw that he was with our local speedster who destroyed the top end of the curve in the beer study. I was surprised for a second because he's usually one of the first people finished at any race in the area. I quickly remembered, though, that word on the street was that he'd had knee trouble at the Leadville Trail 100, where he still went on to finish in the top 20% of the field. So, here he was just enjoying being in the company of fellow runners for some sort of twisted rehab run. Awesome. I asked them about their VO2Max results and chatted for a bit before they pulled away and continued up ahead.

As I continued upward, the body still seemed to be holding up okay. It gets harder to deal with the altitude the higher you climb, but I felt really good about the night-and-day difference between how I felt at this point in 2008 versus today. That year, the thought running through my brain going into the second half of the climb was "Please, if I get off this mountain I promise to never do this race again." Today, it's like I had two extra layers from two successful finishes where I was thinking "Meh-sure this hurts, but only to a certain point. Look around. It's a beautiful day." While I moved progessively more slowly the higher we climbed, and my mouth and fingers felt like they didn't quite work anymore at altitude, I really was keeping a cool head about me on the course. I looked at my elapsed time somewhere in the sixth mile and knew it looked good to be at Upper Camp Bird in under two hours. SWEET. I power hiked as quickly as I could with short, efficient steps. Coming around the corner to UCB, I was stoked to get in just under that time in 1:58:12. I was there in 2:02:29 the year before, and felt like I'd moved steadily then, so this was progress.


Long distance runner, what you standing there for? (NO WAY are we breaking out any John Denver in this race report) With no time for berry-picking today, I grabbed a couple of peanut butter sandwich cookies from a table at the aid station and kept going. This next section is just HARD due to both the altitude and the slippery scrabble and scree underfoot. There are a few very steep pitches uphill, and it's pretty easy to tip yourself over moving that slowly with not much forward momentum. I kept going, though, and just blocked the pain out of my brain that comes from being so close, yet so far from the summit. The sight of a woman who was barely moving but still creeping forward, practically willing her body to make tiny, deliberate steps, was a good reminder of the great key to success at the Imogene Pass Run (say it with me folks)-IFM. Incessant Forward Motion.

I slipped a little at one point but managed to regain my footing without a fall. Soon, the summit was in sight. I was listening for Cowbell Lady, but they switched things up a little in this World Cup year. Soon, I heard the distant sound of a Vuvuzela. Hmmm. I'm not really sure this is an upgrade from Cowbell Lady but I'll take it. A lady next to me asked if I just checked my watch, wanting to know the time. I tell her, and from her positive reaction I could tell she was working to reach the summit in under three hours. Onward we pushed, and soon I was in the single file line with rock fields on either side to the summit.

Once you're that close, there's really no passing possible unless you want to knock someone down a step slope. The guy directly in front of me was having a bit of trouble, and lagging a few feet behind the woman in front of him. It IS just a race and it wouldn't be a great tragedy if I missed the three hour mark, but I looked at my watch and could see that it was going to be very close. C'mon, c'mon, keep pushing, man. We're almost there. And then....we were there! The last piece of land to the timing mat where it's possible to just run it out. I crossed over that puppy in 2 hours, 59 minutes, 25 seconds. YES! I was pumped. It was just a bit faster than my 3:00:46 summit time, but any time trimmed off at this race feels great. I did a little fist pump as I came across the timing mat.

My next order of business was securing some hot, salty chicken broth. I didn't chug, but I drank it as quickly as I could manage. I then grabbed some water, just like I'd done in the two previous Imogene runs. Don't know exactly how long I was at the summit, but it was less than five minutes for sure. Time to switch gears and head down to Telluride.

BLOW OUT (And everything I touch turns to stone)

Starting downhill, my legs were a little burn-y but I didn't worry much and took it a bit easy off the summit. This is where most injuries and accidents occur, and it's not hard to see why. After going uphill for ten miles, it feels SO good to reach the top and point yourself down to town, no longer gasping for breath. It's easy to bite off more than you can chew, or not realize how loosey-goosey the legs are really feeling. Still, I was a bit more shaky than I expected. As I continued cautiously off the summit, I began to notice a dull pain in my side that became more sharp the more I tried to ease into a downhill rhythm. This caused me to back off a bit, but the pain did not go away. People were moving past me right and left.

Once I was close to a mile down, I got into a bit of a slow jog but I could feel that I wasn't moving anywhere near as fast or as confidently as I did in 2009. Every time I pushed, my side screamed right back at me. I have NEVER, ever cramped in a race before and it really threw me off. I have used S-Caps for all my marathons without an issue, but IPR has been a salt tab-free race for me to this point. I started walking again and the cramp subsided a bit but I could still feel that pain in the gut. My quads felt tight and tired, and while my mental game is usually my strongest suit, it seemed like the more I tried to block out the pain, the more I felt things on the verge of going haywire. I don't know if there were more jeep tours than usual over the past year, but it seemed a lot more rocky than I remembered from the year before, and I was having a hard time plotting my trajectory downhill.

After another hike/walk break, I thought I'd quieted the side stitch and tight, crampy legs and got into a somewhat loose jog. I didn't push hard because I didn't want that sharp pain to return, and seemed to feel kind of okay. As I moved ahead with a bit more speed, I saw a woman walking her mountain bike along the edge of the trail. She yelled "Woohoo! Looking good, runners!" I smiled as I was about to pass her.


AAAAAAAAAAAA..........OOOOOOOW......CRAP! My body was sliding like cheese across a grater over a bed of rocks. One second I was upright, and a split second later I was laid out with my head pointing downhill. I think my toe didn't clear one of those big rocks and I did what I've always referred to as "toe pick" from that really horrible movie The Cutting Edge. My right hand was throbbing, my calves were cramping from tensing up after hitting the ground, charley horse style, my right arm felt like it had been jammed hard into the socket by someone, and I had open skin from the outside of my right knee up to just below my right hip where there was a red, puffy, road rashy mess.

Instantly, there were about four runners around me, all asking "you okay? you okay?" along with mountain bike lady. I'd landed more or less at her feet. Talk about adding insult to injury-wiping out on my own would've been a lot less embarrassing. I slowly stood up and didn't feel anything busted to the point of needing to stop my race, but the palm of my hand was on fire. I pulled back my glove-I had thought about taking them off at the summit for the journey to Telluride but decided to keep them on since my hands get cold easily. I am SO glad I kept them on, as some of the rock had gone straight through my glove, slicing my hand which was now a bloody mess. I told the others around me that I was okay, and just started applying pressure with the glove to the palm of my hand. The mountain bike lady said "Walk it off for a bit," something that I planned to do anyway, but was good to hear. Someone else encouraging me to shake it off was just what I needed right then.

My mission now was to not fall apart and have a complete mental collapse after being badly rattled by that fall. I've skidded and slipped plenty in this race, but I've never fallen-let alone with enough speed and at just the wrong angle where I am very lucky I just banged myself up and did not break anything. My hand was burning and oozing, and even though I really didn't want to stop and waste more time, I knew I HAD to get that thing covered with a clean band-aid. At the next aid station, it took about five minutes for someone to locate one-they'd had a full first aid kit there but apparently had to take it to one of the other stations. A volunteer found one in his personal stash (thank you sir!) and slapped it on for me. Just having that extra layer of protection made it feel a bit better. Not great, but it didn't hurt as bad.

From here on out, things evened out a bit. I tried to push but darnit if that side cramp was not omnipresent. I was gritting my teeth from the pain, trying to block it out, and run as much as I could. Every now and then, I would stop to walk to get a break from the pain and to try to make it go away. Sometimes it didn't hurt quite so bad, but most of the time it was this sharp thing that wouldn't go away. I was fighting back being really upset that a good race was just slipping away from me. As the miles went on, it just sucked because endurance wise, I felt like I had more to give. Between the pain in my body from the fall and the cramping, and being honestly pretty spooked and afraid to push too hard and fall again, I was just barely keeping it together.

The town of Telluride finally was in my sights, but the first time you see the roofs of those Victorian house, there is still a LONG way to go. Still, it's a bit of a pick-me-up when the race-watchers, family, friends, and random tourists start dotting the trail. With maybe a mile to go, I see my beer study friends. They gave me a nice shout-out but I think I must've been running ugly and like I didn't feel good because a second later they were going NUTS yelling for me. I didn't know I needed that right then but boy did I appreciate it. I found out later that they'd both come in around 3:30-ish.

My sub-4 had gone out the window a long time ago, but it was another kick in the butt to look at my watch at around 16 miles to realize that I wasn't even going to PR. 4:14 came and went, and I was still out there. I really bore down and just let the pain come with it. I just wanted to be finished, and not make it any worse than it already was. It was now pretty dicey for even a 4:30. My jaw was clenched tightly as I forced some speed out of myself. Finally-relief was in sight. I could see 90 degree turn onto the road to run two city blocks downhill (that .1 mile in the 17.1) to the finish. I'd salvaged things just enough at the end that I was now assured a sub-4:30 finish, and I just pounded hard and fast toward the finish chute. I heard my name-extra points to this guy in the announcer's booth for nailing my first name with extra letter on the end, and hyphenated last name-and barreled on in, crossing the line at 4:28:39. Forget Ouray to Telluride the hard way...this was Ouray to Telluride the ugly, bloody way.


I won't lie-I've never felt so down in the dumps after a race. I had a plan that was going well, and I reached the summit thinking I was going to be able to carry it through to the end. The downhill is a lot harder to me for many reasons than the climb, but I felt prepared to do it like I did the prior year. I was not expecting a Murphy's Law death march into Telluride. Yeah, sucked dry and disappointed pretty much nails it. I was standing there, kind of dazed, when Ilana came up to tell me she already had my race bag, and to come meet her and Butch (what? I never saw him go by?) on the green downhill from the finish after I had a chance to visit the first aid tent to get my hand cleaned out and rebandaged. A fabulous volunteer at first aid washed it out with some solution that really burned, but got it nice and clean before getting a new little bandage on it with a mesh sleeve to hold it in place.

When I got back to Ilana, I found out that she had finished slightly faster than her previous year's time, and Jen had finished five minutes ahead of her. I asked Butch his finish time, and he showed me his watch, reading 4:24:xx. He didn't seem to realize he'd come in ahead of me, and made a weird face when I showed him my watch at 4:28:xx. He never saw me either, and had reached the summit about 12 minutes behind me. We assumed it must have been when I was futzing around at the aid station, looking for a band aid. Cara and Gary stayed true to their plan and did a "photo hike" over the hill in a bit over five hours, complete with a re-creation of her epic fall last year where she did a good job slicing up her hand before racing in on pure adrenaline. Annette came through in a bit over five hours too-a great, solid time coming from sea level and trying to get through it safely and consistently. Ben was long gone by the time I came in. He had a race not unlike mine with a terrific start, blazing to the summit in about 2:20, feeling loose and awesome. He twisted his knee near the same point on the course where I fell, and couldn't run from that point on, walking it in in roughly 3:55. It was an all-over-the-board day for my friends on this gorgeous September day.


Even though I was down about the race, part of the fun of this weekend is enjoying the fruits of our labor when it's all said and done. Annette, Butch, Ilana and I sat on the patio of the restaurant just down the hill from the finish, had a bite to eat, drank a little beer, and listened to the awards going on across the street in the park. Some performances that stand out included the 67-year-old woman who knocked over half an hour off the 65-69 yr old age group time, finishing in 4:07. I'm still working on a time like that now, and love hearing about strong Grand Masters women who can kick butt like that. After finishing lunch, we walked down to the river to get the ol' tootsies wet, and passed through the park right when everyone rose to their feet for a rousing standing ovation for the lone finisher in the 75-79 year old male age group. The super healthy and strong looking 76-year-old was grinning from ear to ear, enjoying the love the other runners were giving him for his finish (5:26). I want to be like those guys when I grow up.

We had a fun bus ride back to Ouray, which is surprising since they didn't have enough seats for everyone and we were all crammed in together at the back. We made it work, sharing seat edges and taking turns standing (even though it was a school bus,they'd been we were not required to sit down and could "bus surf" legally. Tee hee. Fun.). Upon returning to Ouray, it was time for another hot tub soak followed by dinner and margaritas at Buen Tiempo, where I think we did indeed have a good time. It's kind of become the perfect place for a celebration after what has been the most challenging race on my schedule every year.

Three days later, I am well over the dark mood I was in after the bad race. I went to my women's toning class on Monday, and we laughed hysterically at how my body was just screaming "ooooooh nooooooooo" with half the things we do in class that normally aren't a problem. I just kept laying down on the floor, shaking my head at how tired all over I am for a couple of days. I couldn't do anything right, and didn't have the energy to care other than to laugh at it.

I went for a run this morning, and remember that as much as I've dreaded that first run each year after Imogene, it always goes MUCH better than expected because I'm back at my normal 4600 foot altitude, where anything feels easier. So, what have I learned? For starters, I still need more time on trails, and need extra special focus on downhills. I thought I was getting in good trail time, and have in fact spent more time on trails this year compared to '09, but I am clearly hit-or-miss with downhill.

I also think the S-Caps will be a no-brainer next year. Maybe I'll never cramp again-who knows-but that's an easy thing for me to do. It doesn't bother me to take them, and if it prevents cramping, then all the better. For now-I'm just watching the scrapes and bruises on my body change colors, and considering that I did do some things right in hitting my goal times climbing out of Ouray. All I can do is shake it off, learn from what I screwed up, and come back next year to take another swing at the mountain.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Running For Beer, Episode III: Return of the Fat Tire

Yes, I am finally concluding the running for beer saga. Just in time to head off to Ouray for the Imogene Pass Run-but I won't jump ahead of myself.

When we last left off, I had finished all preliminary meetings and testing. It was time for the nitty-gritty: a big "Weekend O Running." I actually had a moment or three of wondering what I'd gotten myself in to. There were some seriously talented locals in there. The other women were very strong mountain runners and it was hard not to compare. I had to just shove all those thoughts aside, though, and show up on Friday night for the first depletion run.
Now, we're casual in this neck of the woods. I did not expect humorless, antisocial researchers in lab coats with stethoscopes, but when I walked back into the human performance lab I was instantly at ease. Again, the researchers were walking around with smiles on their faces, and I saw one step behind the privacy curtain that was around the fridge in the lab (just like what you'd see in a doctor's office). You know, to protect the identity of the beer being poured in the unmarked cup for the folks who had already finished their runs.
The guys and gals who had run already were on the back patio of the lab, where a camp stove was set up to cook spaghetti. Just inside the big windows and double doors to the patio was a table with salad made from fresh stuff from the garden of the head researcher, some bread, and beverages. His dog was hanging out in the lab, as was Oskar, the dog owned by the writer of the piece. (You can see the back of Oskar's head, and the writer standing off in the distance, in the September Runner's World on page 90.) The photographer was walking around and taking candids, as well as photos of runners on the treadmills. It was hard to stay bunged up and nervous in this environment. They were ready for me pretty quickly, and they told me I would start on the treadmill that I dubbed the "Big Green Monster," and then would move over to the smaller treadmill where they could get some photos of me. All I can say is WOW...that thing is BIG. I think it is bigger than most city apartments. I got to do this run without that dang breathing mask contraption on my head, so this was good.
After a little while, they moved me over to the little treadmill, and the RW photog got lovely shots of me in all my sweaty glory. All told, I ran for about 45-50 minutes. Next would be food and beer, but I had to stand in front of a backdrop for more goodtime sweaty photos. Oh yeah. "Please look off into the distance while you stand there pouring sweat." Okay, he didn't exactly say that-but that's how it went down. A handy lab assistant brought me the first of my 2.5 beers. I started to eat and drink and was told I needed to come over around the corner for another quick shot where I basically sat on a box, drank my beer ("Act like you're really enjoying it!" I was told-my, now this is a real stretch for me. Let me bust out my acting chops.) and stared off at the Colorado National Monument across the valley. This was certainly an awesome way to spend a Friday night.

I went back to finish my food, and the beers kept coming. I couldn't pinpoint what I was getting and didn't think deeply over it then. Everyone was chatting on the back steps of the lab, eating and drinking and enjoying one another's company like any regular barbeque. As I neared the end of my last beer, I called my husband to come over to pick me up. The next day would bring the really scary stuff-the first run to exhaustion, followed by another evening depletion run.

When I showed up in the morning, I was a little intimidated this time. I saw one of the guys finishing up his run, and getting to that point of exhaustion. Let me just say that people running like that with a huge thing strapped to the head with tubes and machines kind of look like scary cyborgs-not your friendly neighborhood runner. For this test, they covered up the pace and time on the treadmill so I would also have no point of reference for how long I would be running. Geez..this would be totally blind running. At different points in the test, my lab assistant would hold up a "pain scale" printed on a clipboard. Unlike your standard hospital/doctor office pain scale that goes from 1-10, this one started at 6 and went to 20. I would need to point at the number that best indicated my level of exertion when he asked. Again, it was back to the humiliation of make-you-drool mouthpiece attached to oxygen mask/head gear, and the oh-so-sexy noseplug. I'm glad I am not unusually obsessive about appearance because nobody looks good with this getup. They counted me down and off I went at my pace at which I hit 80% of my VO2MAx in the original test.

I was surprised at how not bad I felt at first. Things were uncomfortable but they were really okay for quite awhile. When they started to go downhill, though, they started going downhill fast. All I could think was that they see a range of 25 minutes minimum to typically a 55 minute maximum on the test. All I could think was "I SUCK...this hasn't been 25 minutes! Stay on! Stay on!" I was getting lots of positive whoops and hollers and "looking good" and I kept pushing on. Finally, I cried uncle and jumped to the side rails when I felt myself slumping and feeling like I was ready to fall off. Turns out I'd been on for 28 minutes. Not their minimum of minimums but pretty close. I felt like a lightweight but it is what it is. They told me that my heart rate had stayed pretty high for a long time, so I felt like slightly less of a loser. Our local guy who is just this amazing oddity when it comes to running everything well-all surfaces, all distances-had totally broken the other end of the curve with a one hour, twenty minute run to exhaustion. I was in awe of that kind of greatness-he has not been running for much longer than me, and from my limited greetings at various races, I've found him to be very cool to fellow runners. I'm looking forward to reading about his numbers when all is said and done.

We had a table full of bagels, juice, and fresh peaches from the head researcher's orchard. Yum. I didn't even know breakfast would be included in the deal. All I could think, though, was "I have to be back here for another run tonight! How am I gonna do that?"

One of the other runners had his young daughter at the lab in the morning, and I'd mentioned offhand that I bet my son would dig all the stuff going on, expecting they'd cringe at that. They'd said "bring him!" so I brought the 6-year-old along to check things out. At first, he was sticking closely to me, barely looking at anyone else, but they coaxed him over to start the big treadmill for one of the other runners. Awesomeness. He was enjoying the dogs in the lab too, and when I started running I could see that he thought that all the equipment in the lab was pretty cool. I told him he could walk around and look at things but he wanted to wait until I finished to check things out.

As for the run itself, I'd been worried at how hard it would be after the morning run. What happened, though, is that the hard workout kind of loosened things up. Running at a more middle of the road pace without the mask felt surprisingly comfortable, and soon I was back on the patio, drinking beer, and eating pasta and salad. My son looooves pasta more than anything, and is hip to the salad and bread, so to him this was a pretty sweet adult gig. We also poked around the lab and I got photos of him by various pieces of equipment. My husband showed up again and took us home after the evening run/eat/drink session.
In the morning, I got up for the very last run. I'd held up well thus far but I have to say that my legs felt TIRED. Mentally, though-it was the strongest I'd felt. Just kind of "whatever...let's just pile on one more run. Legs are numb already." This morning, I brought my middle daughter-the eight-year-old-along for the action. She is a hoot-my daughter promised to yell "Suck it up, buttercup!" at me if I wanted to give up too soon.

Performance pressure much? They hooked me up to the mask of doom one last time and it was time to go again. I was surprised that I didn't feel markedly worse today after all the running. I kept going....and going....and going.....but then that screaming body/dead legs thing set in. My daughter did apparently yell "suck it up buttercup" at one point but I didn't hear her over the whir of the treadmill and with the mask on my face. When I finally cried uncle, it turned out that I'd spent 33 minutes on the treadmill. A full five minutes longer than the night before, and after a full weekend of running.

After poking around the lab with my daughter and getting all the obligatory photos (plus a random shot when she said "Mom! Take a picture of me doing the splits in the lab!"),

I tried out some inflatable leg compression thingies and chowed down on peaches and bagels. Think blood pressure test sleeve, but for your entire leg. OUCH. Maybe they work to circulate the blood but they got so tight it hurt.

While I was sitting there, the one detail of the study that hadn't been mentioned but seemed to have been an obvious way to measure things was revealed. Yes-we got "beer" both nights. It's just that it was non-alcoholic beer on one of the nights.

HA....yes. Now it all made sense. I had to know. Which night was my beer night? It turns out that the alcoholic beer was New Belgium Brewing's Fat Tire, which was the same thing we had on the beer calibration night when we blew on the breathalyzer. The nonalcoholic beer was O'Doul's Amber. It was a random mix each night of real beer and near bear drinkers. As it turns out....drumroll please......I'd been served the near beer on Friday night, and ran 28 minutes the next morning. On Saturday, I had real Fat Tire. On Sunday-yep, five additional minutes.
Familiarity with the testing procedures? Sure-that could explain the longer run. Fear of my kid laughing me out of the room? Maybe. I still have to say that I was stoked to find out that I'd done better after the real stuff, and after the full weekend of running to boot. I may just be an experiment of one, but this is pretty much what I suspected. While getting drunk and tying one on is clearly a bad idea, not anything I support or advocate, and destined to produce bad running results, I've always thought if a runner enjoys moderate amounts of alcohol and doesn't notice negative effects-why give it up? Wouldn't it be more negative for that individual to suddenly break from routine?

I said I wouldn't bring up Imogene, but it's the best example I can think of with regard to the beer study. I was SO nervous before this race the first time two years ago. I could have eaten a light dinner, skipped my favorite beer, and returned to my room to toss and turn restlessly in bed. Instead, several of us enjoyed a nice, slow-paced dinner, had a few beers and enjoyed some really pleasant dinner conversation. All the positive components of the meal (food, drink, friends) got me in a great mindset where the edge was off, and I felt a little better and less terrified of the morning's race. Then I was more willing to go soak in our hotel's outdoor hot springs hot tub instead of rushing off to bed, and once we did turn in I slept like a log, ready for my best shot at the mountain in the morning. I know everyone has their own routine but I think that sticking to my routine was a good move.

Going back to the study, the most thought-provoking discovery from the initial results came along gender lines. While only one of the men did slightly better on the run to exhaustion following real beer night, each of us ladies did dramatically better after our moderate alcohol consumption than on the fake alcohol consumption night. They were planning to test some more women to see if we were just freaks of nature (the sample group was pretty small, after all), but I found this pretty fascinating.

I also got my personalized results a week ago. I'd already been told during the study that it was clear from my initial numbers that I had good endurance but could make considerable improvement with more speed work (ouch, but right on the money). There were some suggestions in there for including speedwork, and where the heart rate or intensity should fall. It's something I just need to now that fall is upon us and it's not blazing anymore, I'm going to get back to that Tuesday track night.

Then there were the nitty-gritty results. The cold hard numbers. The coldest and hardest to me was that body fat percentage. Yeah, I know it's part hereditary, and I have grown and fed four kids. That does leave a little bit of a mark with extra fat stores. Still, I was a little depressed that when it was stated that most female runners fall in the 12-24% body fat range, I came in at 23.5%. When it came to other numbers, I had a VO2Max of 44.2 mL/kg/min. This is a measure of how much oxygen can be consumed for every kilogram of your weight every minute. It's largely genetic (I will never be Lance Armstrong or Matt Carpenter), but 20% can be trained to higher levels. My VO2Max is nothing special for a runner, but it's cool to know that I can work at it and bring it up some.

My anaerobic threshold (ventilatory threshold) was 73%, which is a heart rate of 164 BPM for me. This percentage represents the point where lactate formed during aerobic/anaerobic exercise is equal to removal, and therefore where people are taxing their aerobic systems to their max. This goes back to where I need more work, and regular interval sessions was something suggested to improve aerobic performance (I get it, I get it). It's something I know but when you hear someone else tell you who knows what he is talking about-yeah, pay attention to what he has to say.

So, that wraps up my time as a lab rat. It was a thoroughly enjoyable opportunity, even when it was uncomfortable or painful. I am not sure when the article will publish but do know it will not be until a 2011 issue of the magazine. A lot of what is printed is planned out well in advance, and things are sometimes pushed back for a variety of reasons. This is okay-I'm a little frightened at the possibility of any of those sweaty, drooly shots seeing the light of day. Until then, I am going to keep running long, running hard, and enjoying a cold frosty one when the mood strikes.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Running For Beer, Episode II: The Treadmill Strikes Back

After a few crazy weeks around these parts, I'm back with more tales from the human performance lab. When we last left off, I'd attended a meeting, filled out paperwork, drank some beer and read about what I was going to do. I left excited and nervous about being one of a small handful of people doing the testing, and with a bit of a complex when I realized I was the average chick among some really awesome runners in the room. I put that out of my mind and figured I wouldn't think hard about it, and would just show up for each day's activities without worry.

A few days later, I returned to the lab for my very first VO2Max test. First, though, I had to sit in that egg-shaped thing called the "Bod Pod." Let me tell you guys-I was less than excited about this. Nothing like getting down to a swimsuit or tight fitting yoga-type clothes in front of a room full of dude researchers in the lab. Let me be clear...NOBODY was making me feel weird or giving me the judgmental eye. This was all my own doing. It was like going back to junior high again and being insecure with your body. Luckily, this test did not take very long. I climbed in, the door was shut, and I sat inside it, keeping my body as still as I could. This test can take up to five minutes, but the lead researcher let me know after about thirty seconds that it had done its thing one time already, and after it reset and did it again, I was finished. Phew. I spent no more than about two minutes total in there, and ran off to change for the VO2Max test.

Up next would be the beginning of the real guinea pig action. There was a small treadmill set up in the middle of the lab (bummer, I wasn't going to get to run on the "green monster"-photos to come). In order to properly measure the gases coming out of my mouth, I would have to run with this helmet thing with a mouthpiece attached. It had a soft rubber mouthpiece to gently bite down upon-think going to the dentist. The mouthpiece attaches to a tube that runs back to their fancy computer. So, yes, this means that test subjects run with mouths wide open. This would be awkward enough, but to add insult to injury, the nose must be plugged as well. The first time they hooked me up to all this, it was very disorienting. I'm sort of a clumsy treadmill runner but the one thing that has always made it possible for me is being able to "spot" the console on the front of the treadmill. That is, if I just focus on it while I run, I don't get off-balance or shift too far to one side, forward, or backward. This just took away all point of reference to where I was on the machine.

I also do not normally run with a heart rate monitor, but this was another important part of the test. I had more crap attached to me and more people watching me than when my son was born by emergency c-section. Very strange for someone who is used to being a solitary runner much of the time, and with as little as possible to get through the run.

Once everything was properly fitted, the treadmill started. One of the researchers immediately commented "she's nervous" because my heart rate was apparently through the roof at first. The head guy in charge commented that he knew it would come down-other first-timers in the study also had the same thing happen-and sure enough, he commented that it had settled down a minute or two later. They gradually upped the pace until it reached 8 miles per hour, or a 7:30 pace mile. This felt all right, but I knew that soon the incline would be increased every few minutes until I cried mommy. The first increase wasn't too bad, but the whole helmet face thing was quite distracting. I felt like I was drooling out of the corner of my mouth. Yeah, sexy. I could see that there was a VO2Max reading on the screen but couldn't quite read what it said.

When we moved to 4%, I was REALLY starting to hurt. I felt pretty pathetic for being ready to give up already. I knew one of the other women had made it to 8%, and I really wanted to get there too. I pushed on, and the research team was being nothing but enthusiastic and encouraging. The incline was upped to 6%, and I was ready to throw in the towel. The guys were going apey offering encouragement, saying "looking good" and all that but I knew better.

Finally I was sagging and sliding back to the point that I finally did my rescue jump to stand on the side rails, feeling exhausted and a bit like I wasn't up-to-par for what they needed in this test. I was told that it was a gutsy test because I'd actually hit my VO2Max awhile before, and to keep going at all beyond that point was awesome. I am not sure if it was true and it didn't exactly make me feel better, but I didn't have much else to give. I knew one thing, though-I was happy to have that mouthpiece out and the nose plug gone. With that, day one of research was on the books. I was due back in the lab later in the week for my first depletion run and (woohoo) beer and pasta dinner.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Running For Beer-Part One

I never thought that being a not-so-young, not-so-old, slightly higher-than-average mileage, sometime-beer-drinker would get me anywhere out of the ordinary in life. A few weeks ago, though, I got that very special e-mail that changed my life. Oh, okay. It didn't really change my life, but it did present a very interesting opportunity that would allow me to find out a few things about my own fitness, and give scientists a chance to see what effect, if any, moderate alcohol consumption has on training and performance in distance runners.

Among weekly group run schedules and race announcements, one special item caught my eye in our running club's weekly email. Beer drinking runners, 30+ miles a week, ages 25-44 were needed. Free beer and food would be served. We would go through a battery of tests that would normally run a pretty penny, but for study subjects, they would be free of charge. Are you kidding me? Where do I sign up? I filled out the short questionnaire and received word pretty quickly that I would be included in this study. About ten days ago, I showed up for my first meeting with the other test subjects and researchers. I recognized a few faces in the room but there were others there as well, and everyone was very excited to be doing this "research."

We filled out paperwork and consent forms, and were served an amount of beer that had been calculated by our weight and gender to bring us up to just under .08 BAC, the legal limit in my state. I was served 2.5 beers of what I believe to be Fat Tire, a favorite from my home state. All the while, I thought to myself "This is a first-drinking beer in a lecture hall desk on a college campus." I kept waiting for the cops to show up and break up the party....and then, there they were, smiling in the lab doorway. Two campus police officers in plain clothes appeared, and came into the room with the breathlyzer kit to see if the researchers had nailed our blood alcohol content.

As we went around the room, it seemed that they had gotten things right for most people. One guy who had just eaten a gigantic burrito before showing up only blew .034 after his four beers. I stood up for my turn, and they watched excitedly as my numbers climbed up.....up.....up.....and then stopped at .072. Yep, I do it Price Is Right style-the closest without going over. I was actually pleased with this. My cupboards had been practically bare at this point in the week and I'd snacked as much as I could so I would not have an empty stomach, but it wasn't quite as much as I normally would have eaten at this point in the early evening. One of the researchers kept hollering "you're goin' to the pokey!" with each person's turn on the breathalyzer, and it cracked me up. I thought these guys were going to be serious lab coat folk. Another guy must've had a particularly empty stomach, or his weight had fluctuated, because he blew a .09 on the four beers they had calculated for him. Whoops. Just 3.5 beers for future testing, sir.

The police officers actually enlightened us on several things having to do with traffic stops for suspected drunk driving, one of which was the fact that your eye will do an involuntary twitch when you are impaired. This is why they always do that field sobriety test in which the subject is asked to follow the officer's finger with their eyes. This came into play when another one of the women who was actually part of a post race food and drink gathering I was part of last winter was overserved on her beer. She was supposed to get only 1.5 beers and was leaning back looking VERY relaxed in her seat after 2.5 beers. I thought it seemed off that a girl several inches shorter and clearly a good 20 lbs or more lighter would get the same number of beers as me-and it was. She asked them to field check her, and I had to get up to watch. She was focusing like mad, intent on outsmarting the test-then I saw the eye twitch. Yep, you're going to the pokey! (BIG DISCLAIMER....under no conditions were any of us allowed to drive at all following testing that included any alcohol consumption. And it goes without saying that this wasn't about heavy alcohol consumption that obviously messes with performance, training,a nd health and general. Even if you blew barely over zero, none of us was anywhere near a car.) Whoops.

While we drank our beers for calibration purposes, I went through my study information in more detail. The next visit would be a VO2Max test on a treadmill, complete with oxygen mask and nose plugs. For most of us, this would involve increasing our speed up to 8.0 mph, and then an increase in incline by 2% every few minutes until we gave up and cried mommy. From this test they could determine not just our VO2Max, but the pace and incline we were running when we reached 80% of that VO2Max. The 80% mark would be very important for future test runs.

About a week later, we would return for a carb depletion run in the evening. This run would last 45-50 minutes and would be at more of a moderately hard pace-not piece of cake but nothing that would suck the life out of us either. No oxygen masks or nose plusgs-just a nice little run. This would be followed by our designated amount of beer, plus pasta, salad, and bread. The next morning, we would return for a run in full lab rat regalia...oxygen mask, nose plugs, heart rate monitor. We would then go at that 80% VO2Max pace until we could not run anymore. Now, this pace does not necessarily come 80% of the way through your VO2Max run. It could be right before hitting that 7:30 pace, maybe some other time. Then we'd come back again that night, do the depletion run (yep...another run the same night after wearing ourselves out), drink, eat, get up in the morning and do it again. At some point during the testing, we'd also get in this thing that looked like an egg with a window, or maybe a spaceship. It was called the Bod Pod, and it measures body composition.

When all was said and done, they'd have some interesting data to analyze, and each of us would be given a packet of valuable training information with details about our VO2Max, heart rate, body fat/lean muscle mass, and a variety of other information that the researchers could deduce from our testing as far as what we could use most in our training and where our weak spots lie. This was stuff I'd always wanted to know, and I was stoked to say the least that I was getting to sit in this lab for the testing. As I called my husband and waited for my ride home after the orientation/beer calibration meeting, I felt both excited and very nervous about beginning this experience as a beer drinking, running lab rat.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Prehistoric 5K

We could go with the alternate title of "I Suck At Cherrypicking Races," but somehow that's even less catchy than the actual title. Rather than making blogger excuses regarding posting frequency, or that the race I am writing about was almost two weeks ago, let's just dive straight into the race report for the annual race at the dinosaur museum.

This event has taken place for many years, but numbers have dwindled in recent years. It's been different distances and has been held at different locations, but last year marked what I believe is the first time that both a 5K and a 10K were offered. I did the 10K last year with lackluster energy, marking my fifth race in six weeks, and finished second in the small women's field, getting pretty well pummeled by a collegiate runner who was unable to accept the non-advertised $100 prize. Meanwhile, the women's winning time in the 5K last year (also a $100 prize for that race) was well over two minutes slower than the slowest 5K I've run in the past three years. Sure, my legs could have been whapped off by a passing car on the hilly course, but barring that kind of calamity I should have easily been able to run faster that day. Though I wasn't out to pick a distance based solely on my chances, I did kick myself a bit for doing the 10K.

This year, there was no doubt in my mind that I would do the 5K. The main reason was that both courses were very hilly and tough, and I would still be working pretty hard in the shorter race. I thought the 10K would be a bit too much for me to handle just two weeks after my summer marathon. I half-seriously joked, though, that I was cherrypicking for the shorter race. We have a lot of expenses around this time of year with school starting soon, and it's really nice to be able to offset race registration fees whenever possible. I showed up at 6:30 a.m. on a very warm summer morning, registered there (this is a new trend...NOT planning things out and making gameday decisions on races), and did the usual hang with the usual suspects. I noticed that among the usual suspects was the woman who is two age groups older than me and who also routinely thrashes the field.

In the past, I may have been disheartened by this, because she's a couple of notches above me as a runner with a great finish kick to boot. The best I've done in the past is staying ahead of her for a mile in a 5K before she passed me, along with the other five women ahead to win the entire race. She's that good-her first mile is just for warming up and faking you out before the burn. This time, though, I thought-screw it. I had some cool new lightweight shoes that just feel like buttah (tried them on at the Boston expo, resisted the unconscionably high price for a long time, found a coupon that made them merely shamefully expensive, and got a pair). I didn't feel dreadful in the warmup, and the new shoes gave me a pick-me-up I'd never felt when trying to go fast. I just said "Screw it...when she kicks it up I'm gonna try to stick with her. Even if it really hurts." This is total fantasyland-think-I think my "closest" finish to her has been by about a minute, but hey, you've to take some risks to start making a little progress.

Lining up with everyone else, I thought "oh boy-I paid money to run a Personal Worst-worthy course!" Oh, and this was my second black tee shirt in as many July races. Really? Do other runners really like being as hot as possible in the hottest month of the year? But I digress.

We got our countdown and headed off down the road, which started out flat but then began to climb. Speedy 50-something was already ahead of me, but this was one of the first times that I was more or less right behind her at the start. This was good. Some very excited high-schooler struck up a conversation with her and she made small talk for a bit. Yeah, honey, wear her out with conversation! I checked my pace-it was brisk for this course but I was feeling strong today so I kept at it. At about three quarters of a mile, I actually witnessed the moment when she looked at her watch and kicked it up a notch. Now there was a ten or fifteen second gap between us, but I kicked it up too and kept it from widening further. I was energized that this wasn't a first round knock out yet. Mile 1: 7:04

The second mile runs down the main drag in a subdivision with some huge hills. This is a double-edged sword-they sure do slow you down compared to a flat road, but after a summer of twice-a-week hilly trail runs, I've had decent practice at running steadily uphill and carrying that momentum into the downhill with good turnover and a short stride. The speedy lady inched a little more ahead, but still wasn't on fire the way I've seen her. "Struggle" is certainly not the right word, but on the relative scale of how smooth she normally looks, she was working harder than I'd ever seen. I did my keep on keepin' on thing and ran like I had a chance even though I knew the gap was even bigger now. When we reached the turnaround I could see that I also had a little company. There was another high school girl who was close enough to overtake me if I let up, or if she could have a strong finishing kick. Mile 2: 7:49

That felt like a reasonable slowdown for those big hills as we doubled back for the big finish. There were two good hill climbs, and then a bit of a reprieve with the gradual downhill and flattening out to the finish. Somewhere around 2.25 miles, I got my last look at the competition ahead as she kicked it up another notch. I pushed hard to pick it up but my maximum output was just slower than hers. She went over one of the hills and by the time I crested it, she was long out of sight. This was MY race, though, and I focused on pushing ahead hard and keeping some distance from the third lady.

I hit the peak of the last hill, and passed this boy that I know to be the same age as my oldest daughter. They were in swim lessons together about eight years ago, and have done some of the same youth track meets in the past. Let's just say that when this kid mockingly said "He has TERRIBLE form" about my then 4-year-old son at one of those meets (just before we found out that he needed orthotics and some PT because of weak muscle tone and a severe inward roll at the ankle)-well, I needed to pass this little turd. So I passed him. And this made him think "this lady who older than my mom just passed me." So he kept trying to push past me and finally got a bit ahead with about three tenths of a mile left to go. Crap. Mile 3: 7:12. I kicked it toward that finish line with a time of 1:34 for what my Garmin measured as .21 miles (so, maybe a little long) and finished in a slow 23:39.

This was not a personal worst, but it was the second slowest 5K I've run since the first one without a kid to pace back in late 2007. On those hills, though, I'll take it. Even though that second mile was obviously going to be the slowest one for everyone, I have a history of big positive splits on the third mile. Rebounding in the third mile was a bit of a baby step forward toward better 5K racing. That high school girl wound up being a mere five seconds behind me, so if I'd allowed myself to be lame-o for even a second, I would have been back another spot. I did win my age group (Yay! A nifty dino trinket...seriously, I do like the plaques and medals they give at this event) but the overall win and the dough went to the Masters speedster. Oh, and the kicker....yeah, you guessed it. I picked the wrong race for big money with the winning time in the other race being several minutes off what I ran the year before. Ah well. Reminds me of a conversation in The Big Lebowski:

{insert awkward segueway here}

Speaking of bars-hey, remember that study where somebody gives me beer to drink, food to eat, and then has me do all kinds of lab rat tests? I'm in the middle of it-only we're not drinking at a bowling alley bar. More on drinking and running very soon.

Friday, July 16, 2010

And A Big Flat Road Runs Through It: The 2010 Missoula Marathon

I did not start 2010 with intentions of making a twelve hour drive to Montana, nor did I stay up late at night dreaming of the chance to run a marathon in the crisp, cool month of July. Once these plans were made, I even had second thoughts and wondered what business I had running a full marathon on what was essentially training consisting of marathon recovery from Boston followed by a bit of base-building, short buildup, and strange hodge-podge two week taper. Sometimes the best experiences, though, come from plans made on the fly, which was the case with our family's trip to Missoula for a long weekend together.
In the weeks leading up to our trip, I was wondering if I'd be in way over my head in this race, and was considering what to do if the weather was terrible. Caught between not wanting to give myself a free pass to make this a fluff training run "race" and also not wanting to wind up pushing to the point of sickness, ER visits or painfully long race recovery if it was very hot, I decided that this was going to be one of those useful experiment races. My tendency is to start aggressively and fight to hang on, but this seemed like a great time to play around and see what might happen if I went with a purposely conservative marathon start. I also wanted to treat the race as something I was doing over the course of the weekend with my family-not "the family's coming to Montana to watch me run a race."
With that in mind, we loaded up the family truckster bound for a hotel that boasted an indoor water park among its features. While two waterslides might be a stretch when it comes to calling something a "water park," they were two AWESOME waterslides, with a three story climb to the top. The kids scoped it out two seconds after our arrival and I have to say we were all pretty excited at the prospect of playing there. More on this water park later.

We hit up the expo early on Saturday, and also got the three younger kids registered for the "Kids Marathon," which was actually a 1.2 mile race. Don't start groaning about labeling a 1.2 mile race a marathon just yet, though. For the schoolkids in Missoula who were registered, this was to be the final 1.2 miles to complete their "marathon" after logging a total of 25 miles in training. Kind of a fun concept, and I liked the idea that it's not just about the race, and that the process of getting ready for the big day is just as important and fun. Right away, we were impressed with the "I don't know the answer to your question, but I will find out for you right now" helpfulness of race volunteers. It takes a LOT to put on a good race and everyone was working hard to make it happen, and work the problems when they came up.

After tooling around for awhile it was time for the kids to do their thing. This was not without drama as my son tried to use his head as a battering ram during the race warmup, accidentally getting thrown headlong into a bench in the stampede of kids who were supposed to be jogging, but instead seemed to be racing down to one lightpost before turning back to the warmup area. My middle daughter frantically trotted him over to me, and oh wow...he had a GIANT goose egg coming out from his head. A race volunteer found me a bag of ice and even though I knew what his response would be, I said "I think it might be a good idea to sit out for the race and ice your bump." That lower lip pout immediately came out and he dropped the ice bag. He was totally with it, no dilated pupils or signs of a serious injury, so I told him to go ahead, line up, and be careful not to get trampled.

All three kids lined up, ran the course, and seemed to have a blast. My husband ran with our not-quite-4-year-old, and he said that she had actually turned to him at one point as she trotted along, saying "Daddy, this is FUN!" I cracked up, though, because her bib was almost bigger than her.

We went back to the hotel after the kids race, and boy did we have a blast on the water slides. One was an open slide, but the other one was an enclosed tube that sort of freaked me out the first time I slid into the pitch black, feeling claustrophobic and wanting to be back out in the open. I swore I wouldn't go down that one again but didn't want to be a big chicken in front of the kids, so I did go back and actually tried to turn it into a calming pre-race activity by just closing my eyes and enjoying the total silence for those fifteen or so seconds.
Not wanting to wear out my legs, I eventually stopped sliding and watched the kids and husband from the hot tub. All in all, this day-before race strategy seemed like it was going to yield that desired result of tired kids who would crash into a deep sleep, and leave me loose and ready to go. After a dinner with a handful of RWOL forumites at Carino's we headed back to the room for an early bedtime with my painfully early 3:50 a.m. wake-up call beckoning.

I had stressful thoughts in the days before the race over the possibility of a bad night's sleep, or the ultimate racemare of sleeping through alarms and missing the start, but this was not to be. After all the water play I did get one of those quality nights of sleep where I may not have been out for eight hours, but still found that very deep sleep that allowed me to wake up alertly at 3:30 a.m., feeling that punchy race day energy where you're ready to get moving.

I got dressed quickly, gave the husband a quick kiss and snuck out to get a van ride to the start. We thought the whole family might have to wake up to get me the few miles down the road, but perk #2 at this place was that they were offering special shuttles outside their normal hours of operation for runners. As it turns out, I was the only person ready to go at 4:10 a.m., so I basically had my own personal car to get to the parking garage in downtown Missoula. My driver guy was playing the radio and I found myself singing along to Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car" as we pulled into town.

When we arrived at the garage, I easily found the line of marathon buses, with the half buses just around the corner, and chatted with a friendly seatmate for our ride to Frenchtown. As it turned out she seemed to be one of those "hybrid" runners like me, living in a mountain area and hitting up both roads and trails. She had also run Boston, had a husband who has run the Imogene Pass Run, and had recently relocated to Missoula. It really helped kill any potential for the bad kind of nerves to be on this bus with a bunch of folks who all seemed to be like me-excited to be running in a beautiful setting in a race that they felt compelled to do after reading positive reviews.

When we got off the bus in Frenchtown, I though WOW, it feels warm out here this early. I watched the marathon walkers get going at 5 a.m., and as I wandered around and kept the legs loose I realized I was starting to feel a little chilly. I figured out it wasn't just me when the starting line announcer said the temps had actually dipped a bit in the past hour from a little over 60 to about 53. PERFECT! Maybe the weather wasn't going to suck after all. I took my pre-race S-Caps packet, chowed down on some sports beans and started to get my game face on. It was almost time for the big show.

I've never run with a pacer before, but decided it wouldn't be a bad idea to follow the 3:40 guy. He said he was going to run even splits and this would all work with my plan today to avoid being Captain Aggressive. The next pacer up was 3:30, I had nothing to indicate this was likely today, and it might give me something on which to focus if the going got rough. I chatted behind the pacer with a lady about my age from Texas who like me already had a BQ with nothing major at stake other than just wanting to do her best out there at some race in Montana that sounded like a fun summer getaway (noticing a theme yet?). Soon it was time to get going. Several of us in my immediate vicinity said good luck and have a good race to each other, and then I was fifth marathon was now underway.

Right from the get-go, the pacer kind of launched ahead and I was stuck in what was a surprisingly tight crowd for the first mile or two. I knew the marathon had doubled the number of entries from the year before, and it seemed as if almost all of them were running in the front of the midpack, where I was. I finally just tried to relax for the time being and keep the guy in my sights. Still a long way to go, so I didn't want to waste lots of energy on side-to-side weaving. I was feeling not great...almost bad. Yet another reason to stick to the conservative pacing/even splitting goal.

Mile 1: 8:30
Mile 2: 8:21
Mile 3: 8:13

Ew. I just felt really icky. For the first time ever in a marathon, I found myself thinking "oh man...I have another 23 miles to go!" I nipped that thought right in the bud before that mentality could take over and basically shut the brain off, running and not thinking of anything. At almost four miles in, I passed the last of the marathon walkers, a young woman on crutches using just one leg. As myself and another runner passed her we said "hi" and "looking good." We passed a few remarks between one another after passing her about how that pretty much destroys anything in the excuses department to see someone out there who didn't have much to work with today but was still out there with what she had. I considered my attitude adjusted and went on with things. I got a little ahead of the pacer, and instantly felt a bit more relaxed to not be smashed in with all the people following the guy.

Mile 4: 8:21
Mile 5: 8:18
Mile 6: 8:15
Mile 7: 8:22

The first ten miles or so of the course is just about as flat as a pancake as it meanders through the wide open spaces dotted by small homes and farms, with Missoula off in the distance. Normally, I like relative silence and the few- and far-between fans at this point, but just feeling a little bit off at this point I actually could have used some good cheer. The pace group wound up easing past me again but I could still see them, and runners had strung out enough that I was no longer shoulder to shoulder with other runners. I tried to shake out the arms, stay loose, and do anything I could to find the rhythm I needed.

Mile 8: 8:12

Hey, that "Doubters Can Suck It" sign next to the wig-wearing cowbell guy was pretty funny. I cracked a smile and was sort of enjoying myself for the first time.

Mile 9: 8:18
Mile 10: 8:23

Ten miles in! Woohoo! This was a small victory. I was through the section where the road just kind of went on forever, and had a chunk of the race behind me. I think the first sprinkler on the edge of a homeowner's property appeared somewhere in this stretch of the race. I'd been told that the sprinklers would be all over in the final miles but this was a very pleasant surprise. I ran right through the sprinkler, and said thanks to the woman out in the yard who returned my words with a smile.

I can't be certain, but I also think that my first "Chuck Norris Facts" sign sighting occurred around this point in the race. For those who are not familiar, this is one of those bizarre pop culture phenomenons where people have come up with "facts"-AKA, ridiculous and sometimes funny lies about the magical powers of Chuck Norris. I'm not a fan of Chuck Norris the guy but the facts are a different story. I chuckled and moved along in better spirits.

Now we were starting to go gently uphill, though not doing anything that would constitute a true hill climb.

Mile 11: 8:22
Mile 12: 8:34
Mile 13: 8:29

I was now running along Big Flat Road, which weaved upward through the trees, providing welcome shade and some nice scenery. Though I wasn't gaining speed at all, I was feeling stronger than I did at the beginning of the race. Soon I made my way up the one really significant hill. It was steep but relatively short-nothing that would have a person quivering in their boots. Upon cresting the hill, I saw a man in a cowboy hat riding his horse next to the road, looking at the marathoners running by, and got an amazing panoramic view down across Missoula and the surrounding areas. This was my Montana moment, for sure. It was pure awesomeness.

Mile 14: 9:19 (the hill mile)

Okay, I was feeling pretty upbeat now. I was feeling a normal amount of tiredness for this stage of the race but was thankfully NOT feeling like the wheels coming off was imminent. More Chuck Norris signs. I laughed out loud at "Chuck Norris Once Visited The Virgin Islands. They Are Now Called The Islands."

Mile 15: 8:33
Mile 16: 8:15
Mile 17: 8:33
Mle 18: 8:32
Mile 19: 8:42

We were moving toward more populated areas now, and the sprinklers along the road along with folks hanging out in yards to cheer for, feed, and entertain the runners were becoming a more common sight now. It was warming up but there were opportunities here and there to run in the shade. Twenty miles came and went with another feeling of triumph.

Mile 20: 8:41

Physically I was getting to that point where I knew it would be hard work for the last 10K, but I was feeling like I was building mojo and getting that mental game at just the perfect time. I passed the sign that indicated we were now within the city limits of Missoula, and I thought okay...less than an hour until I finish and get to see my family! I hugged the side of the road where I could run in partial shade, and hit up as many sprinklers as possible.

Mile 21: 8:39

I was still feeling pretty even stephen, and quite surprised. I'd obviously slowed a little bit but I just thought I'd be really hurting, crashing and burning by now when I was really just in base building mode for my fall marathon. I believe there is definitely something to be said for experience, and putting together all the little things that have worked for me in the first four marathons. A good fueling and hydration strategy was helping me out a lot today, along with knowing I wasn't trained today for a PR attempt.

Mile 22: 8:45
Mile 23: 8:51

Ah, so there it is...not the wall but just really getting to the point of being pretty physically spent, and really needing to crank up the mental game. We were now criss-crossing through the neighborhoods near downtown Missoula. Random fiddle players, a banjo player, residents on their lawns and sprinklers dotted the route. It brought me back to the feeling of making all those turns through the neighborhoods in Boulder for our tiny little 10K that takes place there every Memorial Day. Another Chuck Norris sign..."Superman wears Chuck Norris Pajamas."
I just focused on that whole incessant forward motion thing, and kept running ahead to the next sprinkler in the road so I could do the little leap-through.

Mile 24: 8:45

The route was getting really thick with the last of the half marathon walkers now, and sometimes they'd be two and three astride so I did a bit of weaving here and there. It wasn't really bad, but in mile 25 of a marathon every bit of extra work really hurt. I knew the end was near, though, and just pushed the tired legs to keep turning over at the same rate they'd been going.

Mile 25: 8:49

Oh, man. Ready to be done. More threading my way through walkers. I saw a bunch of high schoolers near the bottom of the road where I'd make one of the last turns. They had big foam hands and were trying to high five people going by. Yes. Time to slap some foam hands and feed off their energy. I got to them and made the turn and knew I was coming up to the home stretch.

Mile 26: 8:47

For those who are unfamiliar with the Boston Marathon, the last two famous turns on the course are the "Right On Hereford, Left On Boylston." Well, I was amused that we had kind of the reverse here in Missoula. It's left on Fourth, then right to turn and run down Higgins Avenue and across the Higgins Avenue Bridge to the finish. After running a course that is gently net uphill for most of the 26 miles, it was a nice payoff to hit a flat to very slightly downhill piece of road to sprint in to the finish. Coming across the bridge, I saw my husband and all the kids, who smiled and waved. I could see the time clock, and that I was going to make it in under my BQ time for my age group, something I wasn't sure would be entirely possible between all the factors involved with me, and this race. I hauled buns as fast as I could into the finish.

Last bit of road was at an 8:00 pace, measured as .3 miles by Garmin in a time of 2:23. My Garmin, which I'd started at the cannon blast to begin the race, read 3:44:11. Final official chip time, 3:43:52, 9th out of 82 in my age group. Not a bad way to ring in my "fifth marathonversary."

I got my free finisher photo after the race, headed through the covered tent where runners could pick up lots of free food (watermelon, pasta, bananas, fresh fruit popsicles and lots of water and powerade), and caught up with my family a few minutes later. I'd been so worried about this race being an epic disaster, and though it was the 4th slowest of my five marathons, I think the day couldn't have been better. This was my kind of course, and it provided a perfect setting to try my pacing experiment. Other than the Rim Rock Marathon, where a negative split is almost a given because of the uphill then downhill course, I think this was my smallest positive split to date, though I haven't looked at the numbers yet. What this seems to tell me is that when I am fully trained up (and hopefully free of injury) for Boston next year, I should really think about holding back a little more in the first half. I have crazy thoughts of a true even split or (gasp) negative split second half, and find myself believing that it could be possible after this Missoula Experiment.

I really enjoyed the rest of the weekend in Missoula, including the leg soak in the river I'd been dying to do. There were a number of like-minded runners who had also made their way down to the river, some just soaking their legs, and others going for a full swim in the delightfully icy waters. The guy in the upper left corner of the first photo below was so blissed out that he said he didn't know if he'd be able to get himself out of the water. It really felt like all the pain was being frozen and numbed in my legs, and it was just fun to be down there with the other weary but happy runners.

We spent part of our last afternoon in Missoula playing more in the water park at the hotel, which I believe is another reason why my legs feel so springy and alive less than two weeks after the race. I did a ton of three story stair climbs to slide and splash around in the cool water, alternating with soaks in the hot tub, and I think my legs just never had the chance to tighten up completely. It was a good way to unwind with the kids and just keep moving the body without forcing anything painful.

After an early dinner, we ended our day at The Big Dipper for ice cream cones. I'd highly recommend them if you're ever in Missoula for this race, or any other reason. They have a ton of interesting homemade flavors, and picnic tables where you can sit, chat, and enjoy your surroundings.

Now I'm back home and hitting the roads and trails again, and gearing up for my next challenge-the running and beer study. I hope I'm up for the task. The things I'm willing to do in the name of science. Oh, and one last detail. I was curious, so I did a little research on the Chuck Norris signs. Here is your lady responsible for the on-course giggles. Don't know if it's a fact that I am tougher than Chuck Norris, but I'll accept this as truth for the time being.