Moving On

I have some new scenery to enjoy.  I think the swamp thing is lurking in there somewhere...

I have some new scenery to enjoy. I think the swamp thing is lurking in there somewhere…

I probably should write a positive post in light of the negativity expressed in my recent post.  So, here it is.

Thus far, I found a few things that make running in Virginia much better than running in Colorado:

1.  Heat & Humidity.  What??  Yep, my body is responding to this added environmental stressor by increasing my blood volume, maintaining better control of my body temperature and lowering my rate of glycogen depletion.  In other words, I am adapting and become an even more efficient runner.  Take me somewhere cool and I will blow away the competition!

2.  No hills.  Sure, I am a lover of running up hills, but I do not like running down hills.  Now, I rarely have to run down a hill.  Also, when I say I am going to be back in an hour, I will be back in an hour.  The lack of hills takes out the guesswork of how long a run will be.  I can just be fast all of the time…

3.  Fewer rattlesnakes.  Out in the Colorado foothills you kind of have to worry about stepping on a rattlesnake.  No place is safe.  In Virginia, there are a few poisonous snakes, but for some reason, rattlesnakes scare the pants off of me more than any other type of snake.  And I don’t plan on doing any jungle bushwhacking just yet.  Oh, and no mountain lions will be stalking me during my runs.

4.  Warm weather.  I know, I mentioned heat & humidity, but to add more to that I would like to mention the fact that I don’t have to log in to the weather report every hour and figure out what I should wear.  I know for a fact that I will be wearing shorts and a tank top.  Every time.  Probably even for most of the winter.  I don’t have to worry about:  Thin or thick glove, both pairs, add a hand warmer or no gloves?  Visor, thin or thick hat?  Long sleeves or short sleeves or triple layers?  Rain coat (because who cares if it rains here, I am soaked anyway)?  Long pants, capris or shorts?  Which long pants, thick or thin?  Face mask??  Yak tracks??  Yeah, no more freakin’ questions about what to wear!

5.  No need to study a map.  Okay, so I did get lost in my new neighborhood last week.  However, getting lost in civilization is a lot better than getting lost out in the middle of rattlesnake and mountain lion territory.  I kind of had to look at a map for my run in the swampy state park this past weekend, but that state park is only about 4 miles wide and surrounded by a city.

6.  More family exercise togetherness time!  So, back in Colorado I had to squeeze the jogging stroller and the kid bikes into the back of the Acadia.  Why did I bother driving somewhere to run and ride bikes?  Well, I guess you didn’t see the giant hill that we lived on.  Our entire neighborhood was a series of hills.  Steep hills, long hills, short hills… just plain scary hills when your kids are learning how to ride a bike or when you are pushing 70 pounds of kids in a stroller.  Now we can just grab the jogging stroller and bikes and head out the door.  Our entire neighborhood is as flat as flat can be.  I won’t be losing a kid down a hill.

7.  Ah, the ocean.  I have always been an ocean kind of gal.  I was raised in California and spent some of my early years playing at the beaches and rocky shores of the north coast.  Maybe it had something to do with why I joined the Coast Guard.  And I do kind of have a thing for sharks and other sea creatures. Yep, I missed the ocean when I was living in Colorado.  Now I am only about 20 minutes from the beach.  Granted, it’s the east coast, but I will take it for now.  I just get to run on the beach during sunrise instead of sunset…

So, there you have it.  Running isn’t so bad in Virginia.  I lather on the sunscreen and bug spray and I am on my way!

 

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The Enlightening Marathon

Photos never do it justice... that was freakin' steep!

Photos never do it justice… that was freakin’ steep!

Most runners have a mantra (or two) that help them overcome a tough situation.  It might be a simple as “you can do it” or as deep as “keep running for those who can’t.”  I am typically deep and sentimental when it comes to my mantras.  I always think about how my mother would be proud, how I can be a positive role model to my daughters or about friends and family who have fought (or are fighting) cancer.   Those thoughts motivate me to push through the mental and physical barriers that try to keep me from moving forward.

Yesterday’s mantra couldn’t be further away on the mantra spectrum.  You see, I was smart (or stupid… still not sure yet) and decided to run a marathon 3 weeks after achieving a personal record in a marathon.  And not just any marathon…. a marathon that included a 2,200 foot climb up steep and winding roads through a national park.  A marathon that was going to be the most scenic racing adventure of my running career thus far, but a marathon that would also be the toughest one for me to complete.  I knew I could do it, but I wasn’t sure at what cost.  Would my knees buckle and leave me crying on the side of the road?  Would I hurt my ego as I crossed the finish line in last place?

We drove the route the night before the marathon.  It wasn’t like I hadn’t seen it before.  Last spring we came out and did the tourist thing.  At that time I never imagined running the road we were driving on.  As we drove it again the night before, I had a whole new perspective.  Wow, that was quite a climb!  I will be running up that?  This part of the road looks relatively flat, but there really is no true flat section.  I have to run down that?  How will my knee react?  There were some positive thoughts as well.  Holy cow, would you look at that view??  I get to stare at that for 5 or more hours?  I should just look at this marathon as a run to tour the Colorado National Monument.

I went to sleep thinking that everything would be alright.  And then I was wide awake at 4:30 am even though I didn’t need to wake up until 6.  My mind was racing.  Should I wear that shirt or the other one?  How many bottles of water should I carry?  What should I eat for breakfast?  What if it is colder at the top?  How the heck am I going to get up those hills??

Eventually it was time.  I was there at the starting line.  The road started off as a slight incline for the first half of a mile and then it went up.  Up, up and up.  I kept thinking about getting to the halfway point.  Once I was there it would all be downhill.  Then a negative thought popped into my mind.  Yeah, downhill looks good on paper, but the reality is that you could be hurting so bad by the time you get there that it really sucks to go down.  It is not fun to run downhill when your quads are on fire.

But wait, here comes the mantra.  I was recently reading a book about running (okay,  I tend to read these books a lot) and I came across an excerpt on hill training.  It emphasized the need to activate your glutes (yes, your butt) in order to alleviate some of the work that is ultimately placed on your quads when running up a hill.  It happened to mention the fact that you are definitely using your quads if you run up a steep incline and feel the need to put your hands on your knees.  Yes, I was just doing that the other day when I was running up a steep trail.

So, I decided on a new mantra: “Activate your glutes!”  Yep, that was it.  I kept repeating that over and over in my head (maybe out loud a couple of times too… not sure since I was in a daze).  I wasn’t really sure how to activate my glutes, but I just kept my focus on them and hoped that it was working.  Any time I felt like I wasn’t going to make it up the hill I just repeated the mantra.  Somehow I made it up the worst part… the first 4.5 miles of straight climbing.  That was when I reached the first aid station and was greeted with volunteers cheering me on.  I felt like I had just won a major victory!  I was pumping my arms up in the air!  And then I remembered that I still had 21.7 miles to go.  Um, I think I just used all of my energy on that climb and I am not sure how I am going to keep climbing.  “Activate your glutes!”  Then I was off again!

Any slight flatness or decline and I felt like I could fly.  Running on level road or running down a slight incline just seemed so much easier than before!  Of course I didn’t know how fast I was going.  I had decided to leave my Garmin behind and just run based on how I felt.  Afterall, my only goal was to finish.

It seemed like forever, but I finally made it to the final incline (well, I was smart enough to tell myself that there could be a few surprises down the road… which there were).  I was feeling okay.  My legs were still with me and I didn’t feel any unusual pains (not even in my knee).  I tried to tell myself to take it easy going down.  From mile 14 to mile 20 it wasn’t so bad.  A bit rolling, some flattish, slight declines with a few of those “surprise” inclines.

Then I looked over the cliff and saw the road.  Steep switchbacks heading down.  I looked out and could see the park where I would finish.  Just a down and out.  That was it.  I tried to tell myself to take it nice and easy going down, but I don’t usually listen when I spout good advice.  I didn’t focus on my glutes as much because I turned my attention to my form.  I tried to get into a downhill rhythm.  Then I saw them.  The runners who were walking down the hill.  One even stopped to stretch his… yep, he was stretching his quads.  I wanted to yell “you should have activated your glutes on the uphills!” but I figured that it was better left unsaid and I just said “Hi!” instead.  I was so sure that I was going to get passed going downhill.  Yet, somehow I managed to be the one doing all of the passing.  That made me wonder if I was running too fast.

When I passed mile 22 I knew I was as good as gold.  Miles 20-22 are usually my toughest both mentally and physically.  Not this time.  I was even speeding up.  And then there it was right before mile 25.  One more freakin’ hill.  Nothing major, but not something you were hoping to see again.  I just kept going because I didn’t want to be passed.  As I came down I saw a friend of mine.  I ran right up to him and we crossed the finish line together.  I was so relieved to be done that it didn’t dawn on me for a minute or two to find out what my time was.  I couldn’t believe it when I found out I had done that crazy course in 4:03:34!  I was expecting to take at least 5 hours.

Then I realized something.  Nothing is out of reach.  You just have to work hard to grab it.  I never believed I could be so strong and endure so much.  Running that marathon was an enlightening experience that I will never forget.  What’s next?  I’m not sure yet, but I will let you know.

Up the Mountain and Over the Pass We Go!

The calm finish line before the storm...

The calm finish line before the storm…

The Trailer Trash gang was our secret competition.  It was really only because we knew everyone on that team (they are part of our running club).  I’m sure it had nothing to do with the fact that our teammate’s husband was on that team.  They thought they were so cool with the beer cans hanging off the doors, the string of white lights around the roof and the half-naked blow-up doll strapped to the back.  Sometimes we would also make fun of other teams just so we could feel better.  “You Got Chicked” was annoying just because they were so fast and then there was the tye-dye gang (not quite sure what the theme was there).  I really didn’t understand the girls AND guys wearing the tutus because half of the time we would see them running with the tutu in their hand.

But we had to focus on getting our own asses over the pass (that is the tagline for the Wild West Relay so excuse my language… I can’t even wear my very expensive technical shirts to the YMCA or at home).  The morning hours came much too quickly.  I was lucky if I even passed out in the back seat of the van for 2 hours.  It is kind of hard to sleep like a roly poly, especially when seat belts are sticking into your side.

Not only that, but some drama had played out in the other van while our van was attempting to rest.   Something about someone getting sick and delirious.  I don’t want to go into much detail, but I will mention that our van was assigned with picking up the slack.  What’s one extra leg right?   One of our teammates had a very short leg on this segment, but that soon changed.  He was given an additional leg to add to the 2.4 miles making it a total of around 8 miles.  Then another teammate volunteered to take one of the most treacherous uphill battles of the course.  We had it all under control.

The wee morning hours were a tad on the chilly side, but of course that all changed by the time it was my turn to run again.  And the drama that we were faced with earlier only seemed to intensify.  As I was waiting to start my leg, we were approached by the highway patrol.  They informed us that a section of the next leg (the one after mine… the one our sweet teammate volunteered to take for the other van) was going to be shut down for an hour.  Runners would be able to get through, but not vans.  He informed us that this shut down would happen in one hour and 5 minutes.  That means that I had to run my 6.7 miles in that amount of time if we were to make it through before the road closed.  But wait, I couldn’t even leave yet.  Our teammate hadn’t finished her leg yet.

The clock was ticking and we were watching the road.  After a few minutes passed, we came to the decision that the van would just have to wait until the road re-opened which meant that our other teammate would have to wait for it on the other side.  That meant that there was no rush for me to finish my leg.  Our teammate arrived a few minutes later and I was off.

A nice drop for the first half mile and then it was all uphill from there.  At least it was a relatively nice uphill because it wasn’t too steep and it stayed steady for those 6 miles.  It was my third leg in 25 hours or so, but I was feeling great.  So great, in fact, that I wondered if I was going to keel over before I reached mile 3.  I thought it was stupid to run so hard in the beginning, but I always think that.  I guess I really haven’t learned a thing after all these years of running.  But you know what?  I have developed some type of mental toughness.  I can push in the beginning and somehow keep pushing all the way to the end.  And that is just what I did.  I kept pushing.  I glided past 4 other runners and continued up the hill with ease.  I talked myself through each section until I finally saw the sign: “One mile left.”  I still had three-quarters of a mile left when I saw the end of my leg where my teammates were waiting.  I had to keep pushing because I didn’t want to look bad in front of them.  I trudged up that last hill to high-five my teammate.

The next thing I know my teammates were shouting “Get in the van!  We still have time!  Get in the van right now!”  I was delirious, but somehow managed to run over to the van and jump in like some kind of secret agent.  I was confused at first until they told me that I had finished the run before the road was scheduled to close.  They had a look of shock on their faces like it was totally unbelievable that I could run so fast.  Honestly, I was shocked too.  That was by far my best leg of the race.

We drove up and over the pass and through the construction and I realized that I had much empathy for  our teammate who was currently running.  Not only did she have to deal with the steep incline, but she had to run through a harrowing construction zone.  When we arrived at the next exchange I was finally able to get out for a proper cool down and to do some stretching.  We waited for our teammate to round the corner of the steep hill.  We were hallucinating most times because we assumed every runner was her.  Eventually it WAS her and we were done!  Our van had done its job for the relay!  Now it was time to head to the finish line and wait for our other teammates so all 12 of us could cross the finish line together.

Oh, but we had some time to kill.  We decided that it would be best for us to head to town and grab a cooked meal.  Yes, that was the best plan we had all day.  As we ate our most delicious meal ever, the clouds started to roll in.  By the time we arrived at the finish line it started sprinkling.  As the minutes ticked by and our final teammate was due to arrive, the weather turned treacherous.  Tents were flying across the field and the finish line tipped over.  The rain started pouring just as we spotted our teammate.  We all ran as fast as we could to get across the finish line.  No one was watching because they were all huddled under the tent.  Oh well, at least we can say that our finish was truly climatic.  We grabbed our treats and ran to the van.  The dreaded van that we would have to sit in for another 3 hours in order to get home.

Best. Experience. Ever.  Yes, I will probably do it again.