Friday, December 11, 2015

TNF

Had the chance to go out and race TNF 50 mile in San Francisco.  Yeah I probably should have ended my season after Wasatch since it's been over a year since I've had an off season, but still healthy, unsure of what next year will hold for me, and wanting a bit of mental/emotional redemption after Wasatch, I decided to put in a couple more months of training in after a month off (which was super difficult for this race with school this semester and my family of course) and head out.  Thankfully we got to bring the kids too and stay in a fabulous Altra team house with our great Altra teammates out there to race as well.
My goals were somewhat casual. I wanted to have a good time.  Different than run a good time.  First and foremost I wanted to enjoy myself and what was around me and come away from this race and season happy. My motto was "Fun and focus, focus and fun". Now of course I wanted to run well and thought top 10 would be amazing in a crazy deep field like this was set out to be.  Top 20 for sure.  Figured it would take about an 8:30 to come in 10th based on previous years.  Great coach and friend Nick Clark gave me several pieces of advice including staying out of the top 10 in the first 20 miles and not asking for my position till 30 miles.  Basically to come into Stinson at 27 feeling good and not destroyed, and then to push hard and pick up any carnage.  He told me they would come and I held fast to that and all of his advice.  I got several other great motivating thoughts to add to the pot from great friends and I'm really grateful!

So I am in my 3rd of 4 nursing school semesters.  Had a hospital clinical the Thursday before the race that I could not (and would not want to) miss.  So my husband and kids made the 12 hour trek out west in the van and I got to fly out late that night after clinical.  You know, it was only flying to Oakland from SLC, not some exotic international race, but I looked down at one point on the dark flight at my scrub pants and Altra shoes, wearing my Wasatch shirt on top, and was so grateful and happy and honored to be able to fly to a race.
Friday we spent the day scouting for photo spots with our Altra photographer Tyson and my little fam enjoyed a great afternoon at Stinson beach and in the wonderful Muirwoods.  I also spent time stressing over and trying to figure out how I was going to deal with a significant sore/post blister on top of my foot.  I have never blistered in Altra's in our 5 years of having shoes, never.  But trying a prototype sample 2 weeks before the race, I somehow got one.  And it wasn't healing.  I spent the 10 days before the race out of shoes and either barefoot on an elliptical or in flip flops giving it every chance to heal possible.  Well come night before the race and it's still not healed, all the shoes I brought out rub it painfully to some extent, and I was scared.  I got lots of good advice from my Wasatch Mountain Wrangler family and teammate Josh Arthur though, and made a plan I would stick with (non adhesive dressing cut to size covered with leukotape) and would hope and pray.  I packed extra supplies for my foot in my pack and drop bags.

Typical race morning, so lets get to the actual race eh?  Used the bathrooms, ran around in the dark trying to find my husband who had my pack and headlamp, put on my pack, and lined up with like 1 minute to go.  How I roll.  Then I realized I didn't have my headlamp.  Freaking out because I couldn't find him and couldn't do that 2 hours without a headlamp, I asked friend and teammate Meghan Arbogast's crew for her's.  Oops.  So glad to have it though!  Off we went and Meghan and I enjoyed some miles together.  I wanted to stay with her, this queen of ultrarunning who obviously knew more about all of this than I, but at some point she got ahead of me.  I kept my cool and hoped I'd see her again, which I did near the top of a big hill and we ran together again through Tennessee Valley aid and up some of the next climb.  An honor to run her.  
When we got to the top of a big climb between Tennessee and Muir, I saw the best most colorful sunrise over the ocean and looked down to see and hear big waves crashing into the rocks.  So great!  Meghan was having GI issues and I hoped they'd be ok for her, but in all that talk, I think it got to my head and guess who had to stop now?  Guess which section now had no where to pull off and hide behind?  This one.  Almost at the end of my rope and out of options besides indecently flashing everyone, we came to a switchback where I could continue forward past line of sight to do my business, and even happened to squat perfectly over a small log I could rest my weight on.  I smiled, did what I needed to do, and happily continued on.  Saw Megan shortly behind me and wondered if we'd be together again.  We went up a big hill/mountain covered with more switchbacks than I had ever seen in one go.  And it was great, totally runable, loved it!
Leaving Cardiac we got our first taste of the woods and it was so nice!  Wide soft pine needle covered trail with big green trees and moss.  Eventually getting to the long out and back section it was fun to see the tail end of the leading men and all of the leading women ahead of me.  Trail was very tight in places so there was a lot of running up on the hillside for a couple steps hoping not to roll anything or knock anyone down.  Felt good to get on the road at the top eventually and run that strong.  Beautiful views up there both east and west toward Stinson beach far below with great fog clouds rolling over.  Enjoyed a good pace and conversation with a local gal and some beautiful green rain foresty stuff on the way down to the beach.
A little idea of the foresty sections by friend Katie Despliter
 Was excited to get to Stinson and could feel the energy approaching it.  Was looking forward to seeing my family but wasn't going to be upset if they weren't there.  I was ahead of schedule as I'd been all day (yay!) and it's a lot of work and driving for him and our 4 kids.  They weren't there, but my motivation to get to push now was.  The second I left mile 27 the fire was lit.  I never took it easy, had a positive mind that I could push for that long, felt good and was going to continue taking care of myself.  Hadn't taken any caffeine or pills besides electrolytes and was happy about that.  Music wasn't even on yet.  I felt like I still had lifelines to turn to and was half way done with the race now.

Heading up the big climb with lots of stairs toward Cardiac again I saw friend Caroline coming down toward me and that wasn't good.  Poor lady had fallen hard and busted 2 teeth!  Wished her well and continued on, seeing what I thought was my husband green coat at the top of a climb.  Soon after I turned a switchback and saw my 9 year old boy with cowbells in hand.  Was so good to see him!  He put them around my neck as instructed by his sisters so they would hear me coming.  He ran up a minute or two with me which was really neat and said huffing and puffing "How do you do this Mom??" :)  Ran into the rest of the clan and enjoyed a quick moment with hugs and kisses and ran off down a hill now with my 7 year old for another minute or two.  Such a nice lift to see them!
Still working hard, feeling good, keeping up on nutrition and hydration, enjoying music now, and I come up on top of the ridge before Cardiac and had the most emotional moment.  It reminded me exactly of the ridge above the Grunt at Wasatch where I puked and pulled out of my great darkness and ran hard for 12 miles.  Now though, I wasn't in a pit, I was feeling good, and I was going to push that long and longer till I was done.  The view of the ocean all around me was so great and it was just a really neat moment.  I was going to work to correct my mistakes from Wasatch and take this race as the opportunity to do that, even just for me and my psyche. 
Through Cardiac quickly with the help of teammate Sondre who unfortunately dropped there and onto what was for sure the funnest part of my day.  It was green and soft and amazingly gorgeous in the Muirwood forest and there was a lot of downhill.  I literally flew down it better than usual for me, feeling like a kid.  Felt like this went on for hours and I loved every second of it!  A guy I passed wanted to stay with me and that was fine, good motivation to keep the feet moving quickly and nice to feel like I was helping someone else.  Gosh that section was fun.
This photo I found on http://www.savetheredwoods.org/park/muir-woods-national-monument/ by Paolo Vescia            seemed appropriate for how I felt on that section - running free fast and happy like a child

Nearing Muir beach aid station I was feeling a tiny bit of fatigue, probably from diving through the downhill forest like I did, but enjoyed petting a few dogs along the way (yep, totally do it, we're there to have fun and 10 seconds to stop and pet a dog is not going to hurt anything) and pushing up the very long hills from here.  I was having to work to to do it of course, but was so happy to be running up things I wouldn't normally.  I wasn't too chatty now, but wasn't grumpy, just focused.  Kept that focus through Tennessee where I saw my husband and boy one more time and hurried out.  Wasn't doing any math on when I'd come in, but was relying on Nick's words that I would pass people by the end.  I knew I was going to have to work to do that.  More than that though, I wanted to say to myself that I had pushed and worked the whole time, that I didn't physically or mentally give up and 'just finish' as I have done in other races this year, a lot actually.  I wasn't going to be top 10 today and frankly I wasn't sure top 20 would even happen as I just was not seeing any women in front of me.  But I wanted to finish strong for me.
 Breathing hard, running hard, keeping positive thoughts in my head and remembering the errors of races this year and running to correct those, to redeem my mind from this year, I pushed.  I still tried to keep a smile on my face when I could, as I had all day.  Ive heard a smile can make a really big difference psychologically and physiologically and I was going to experiment on that.  Couldn't hurt right?!  Finally finally done with the last climb, man there were a lot, it was time to blast down the last 4 miles at as fast as I could go.  I'm pretty sure I ran a 22 minute last 5k, and it felt great.  I finished running fast, not just finishing pace, and with a smile.  And happy.  And I am SO happy about that!
8:38, 21st place. 12th American, a lot of international! Lower than I thought, but I believe I was 34th at mile 8.7.  Only passed 1 woman during the race that I know of (maybe passed some in aid stations not realizing it), so there must have been a lot of drops.  Yeah I wanted to place higher than that, but the time I ran this year, would have been 14th last year on what my friend said was a slightly easier course.  And I don't think of this as my best race time wise, but it was a good strong healing one.  I'm cool with the place and time!  What I'm thrilled about was how strong my body and mind showed me they/we are!  I pushed strong and consistently from 27 on, sometimes feeling pain, but able to push through it, often without pain and just full of gratitude, positivity and motivation. Next time the challenge and test will be to start that push earlier.  I will have to learn to tune the fine balance of conservative start - strong finish, with less conservative start - strong finish or strong start to finish which I think is possible, it would just hurt a lot more.  This race filled me with the confidence to do that, turn the engines on for a longer period of the race than I may have thought I could. It filled me with happiness for my body and opportunities and the gorgeous world around me.  And it put any demons from the long year+ to rest.  I didn't get emotional or grumpy or ornery, I didn't give up mentally or physically and just settle for whatever pace, I am not worried about my time or place.  I'm left satisfied for now without the need to enter another race for redemption.  I'm happy and that's such a great way to end a very long 18 month season!
And guess what??  My foot didn't bother me AT ALL.  That is truly a miracle to me and one I am so thankful to God for.  That could have ruined my day.  But I had a great day.  Let the off season and not having to run in the cold wind and ice if I don't feel like it and ski not worrying about injury begin!

As far as the race itself, definitely worth doing once!  Lots of uphill and downhill, some pretty big and/or long, not an easy course, and not much flat stuff, but some great scenery and excellent race management and volunteers.
Altra Running Paradigm have been my go to for many ultras despite not considering myself a maximal runner.  Sure was nice to pound the downhills with all that lightweight cushion.  Vfuel gels worked great all day and I decided to go with packets this time vs a flask of gel as I have before.  Made sure I got enough and I felt like it reduced the weight I carried since there were times I didn't pick up all the gels I had packed in drop bags.  I really love that Ultraspire Spry vest.  I use it more than any other hydration system I have.  Minimal and simple and light but enough.  I filled the 30oz bladder a couple times but it's quick and easy and the couple pockets up front held just what I needed and no more.  Loved my Elete Electrolyte routine for the 3 days pre race in everything I drink as usual.  I know it helps absorption and priming my body and is a good thing mentally for me too to psyche me up for a race feeling excited and prepared.
Other stuff - Handful bra, Injinji wool socks, Gore shorts and singlet, 1 dose of First Endurance Pre-Race pills.

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