Sunday, February 24, 2008

Reflections on Black Mountain Marathon and Mt. Mitchell Challenge 2008

Photos by Steve Dixon of Asheville Citizen-Times
I know many amazing women, yet at the moment I am going to enthusiastically rant about one in particular! Anne Lundblad! She had a great run up and down Mt Mitchell yesterday. She smashed her previous PR and course record (CR was held since 2005-5:50:19- by “yours truly”) with a time of 5:38:55. What a run! I know Anne is a hard working runner and strong competitor and woman-yet what I personally are 2 things I am presently most impressed/influenced by:
1) she is 41 and
2) she has a positive, future seeking attitude! When I saw Anne yesterday on the trail for all of 2 minutes (we chatted briefly as she scampered past me in Montreat just before meeting the dirt “toll road”, and I saw her round the lake during the last ¼ mile of her run) she was friendly, focused and seemed to float up the hill with a seemingly effortless gait so characteristic of Anne. Anne seemed happy and humble at the awards dinner last night. I felt so proud! Why proud you may ask? Don’t you sometimes try and race her? Doesn’t she make you come in second a bunch? Doesn’t she continue to hold course records that you might have if she didn’t? Yes and YES and YES! is my answer! (I don’t know of all of Anne’s CR’s during the last many years, yet I know the JFK record (and masters) is hers and Mt. Mitchell Challenge record (and masters) and Frosty Fifty (and master’s) etc, etc…I love it that she as a 40+ year old sets a great challenge for young women and more seasoned alike. Fabulous! And she helps me push myself and call upon my strengths and work on my weaknesses! And she inspires me and reminds me as a “sister” (somehow saying fellow runner sounds silly) 41 year old runner-I still have many good races left and my smartest/fastest events aren’t necessarily behind me! I hope 41 year old Anne has a great season and mushes my 2005 CR at Bull Run this coming April! Last night, leaving the awards presentation as she and I briefly chatted about being “41” she commented, “Look at Anne Heaslett, Bev Abbs (she mentioned at least 1 other name also, yet I can’t remember)- 40 is the “new” 30! I love that attitude and will remember that for sure! Forty-something does have different concerns and added benefits-so the challenge as always is to seek to balance the two!

Congratulations to Anne and Jason Bryant (male Challenge winner) and all the Mt. Mitchell Challenge and Black Mountain Marathon runners!

On another note, yet equally as celebratory, I ran the Black Mountain Marathon yesterday. For days I went back and forth about staying with The Challenge, yet on the Wednesday before the race thought it best not to participate in 40 mile event since by my standards I am pretty out of shape after sitting on the shelf until 2 weeks ago. That combined with Way Too Cool coming up in 2 weeks I asked to be transferred to the Marathon, a distance and terrain I felt realistically prepared for.

I must admit, withdrawing from the Challenge was hard. It is a grand adventure. It holds a certain mystique that the marathon doesn’t. It is beautiful. It is tough and it’s a great ultra marathon in NC! I felt disappointed I may not be running an ultra in NC this year. And part of me felt I had “demoted” myself to the “fun run” …I so didn’t want to miss out on the good stuff up the mountain! Then the day unfolded…

I did have a great day! I didn’t run to race at first. I was trying to sort out how to pace myself for such an unfamiliar distance. I ran according to my strengths and limitations. (Faster on flat, huffing and puffing on uphill-hence really feeling the time “on the shelf” and loving the leaning in and feeling strong on the descents). At first I was scared of falling and getting hurt-yet as long as I didn’t socialize when rock/root hopping I did fine and the one stumble I did take (right in front of Sourwood aid station on the way down as some folks at the aid station and I bantered about BEER of all things!) was just the sloppy harmless “splat” I can be soo good at!

At the turn around for the marathon I had twinges of envy of the strong runners go for the summit of Mt Mitchell. I did feel a little left out at a tiny bit like a wussy. But only a tiny bit. I was also unexpectedly RELIEVED to be able to turn around and frolic down the hill! At this point I was in 1st place and vowed not to relinquish my position. It would be very cool to win this marathon. Now I had my dorsal fin out as I moved back down the rocks of the toll road. Backtracking was super fun as I passed other runners on the way up. EVERYONE was amazingly encouraging and supportive-I hope I was able to return even a small portion of the enthusiastic cheerleading I received!

I worked hard getting down the mountain staying focused, breathing, positive self talk. This marathon was hard for me. I did not demote myself. I kept on and didn’t look behind me. Once passing through the last aid station in Montreat I cried a little (thankfully not too much ‘cause when I cry and run I can’t breathe and that is not a good way to go into the last few miles of a race!) I cried because I was working hard and felt both frustrated at having soo many more miles to go (3.4!) and because I was eternally grateful that my body is healing from the bruised bone/micro fractures that I can run hard! I thought about knowing I could get back in shape given regular training. I felt grateful for the ability to heal and kept being so thankful for all the generous humans along the route who helped me along by shouting “good job” or “keep it up!” There seemed to be random amazing cheerleaders on their bikes on the Montreat trails, standing in parking lots on Hwy 9- and in front yards. Thank you to all of you who kept my focus forward thinking and happy. As I ascended the last hill on the course-just before dropping into the park/lake area, a young teenage boy on a bike with a Cross Country sweatshirt passed and called out kindness. Ahhh-if only we knew the power of our own effect on others. His enthusiasm was a wonderful fuel! I am reminded of what generosity of spirit can do to help others. Many generous folks helped me yesterday and made an impact that I will remember to take with me into the crazy world of life outside of trail running! Thank you!
I also celebrate being back to being a runner again! My whole body hurt during those last few miles-my knee-somewhat sore today (like the rest of me) yet I know it is on its way to being well. I did place first in the marathon (as a 41 year old!) with a time of 3:54:58. Not fast but not slow and I was thrilled with the ability to be back on the trails and looking forward to training hard and getting back in shape! Thanks again to all my friends and fellow participants-I just can’t say enough how contagious the positive attitudes and encouragement felt yesterday!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Valentines Weekend: a feeble run, pond jump and team marathon

(If you look carefully you can see me in my sports bra, mouth open wide behind the guy dressed as a polar bear!)
Mid week last week I decided against “back of the packing” at Holiday Lake 50k. My reasons were 2 fold: 1) I felt on the edge about being ready to run 32+ miles after having done only 2 “long runs” of 12 and 15 miles each. After being on the edge for several days, the universe intervened by blowing the door off my car! Seriously we had gusts of wind in Ashe County last week in excess of 70mph and when opening the car door in the driveway it was torn out of my hand broke the door check, dented the front panel and bent a hinge. It didn’t actually blow across the neighborhood, yet still did some damage. Ooops!

The wind event made my decision for me. After physical therapy visits and an MRI bill this past month, $$$ is a bit tight so traveling to the race + late entry fee would cost as much as the door to fix. For the sake of my wallet and impact on my body, I thought a lot about the event instead of going!

Instead I filled my weekend with friends and experiences. On Saturday I occupied myself with a morning run. I’d planned on doing a slow 20-running 6 alone and meeting up with an old friend Russ Hiatt to do 9 and then continue on alone. Russ is training for the Black Mountain Marathon coming up on Saturday 2/23. I am still signed up for the Mt Mitchell Challenge 40-and will decide by mid week whether or no to run.
I drove 40 minutes out to the Cone Estate off the Blue Ridge Parkway and was running up the fire tower by 7am. The red sunrise was beautiful! 6miles and 50ish minutes later I was back in the parking lot changing into shorts and readying to run with Russ. We set what should have been an easy pace for me, yet after 30 minutes or so I was having trouble breathing and carrying on a conversation at the same time. A sure sign of being out of shape! I was so disheartened getting back to the car; I bailed on my next 5 miles. But only temporarily. After a little self talking, I stopped at the Wellness Center in Boone where I do occasional treadmill workouts and plodded out 5 slow miles. No harm physically and I did feel better mentally.

I went home and curled up with Mama Grey and took a nap. Saturday afternoon I joined with 50+other folks for a “polar plunge” fundraiser in the 34degrees Ashe County Park pond. This event rose well over $5000 for the Ashe County Humane Society!

Sunday morning, I met my friend and sometimes running companion Carrie at her house and we drove to Greensboro for the Valentines Day Massacre Marathon and Team Relay. Carrie used to be an ASU track runner and is currently is readying for the Boston Marathon. For the massacre, runners could choose to run the event solo-1 lap of 2.2 miles followed by 15 laps of 1.6 miles or run in teams of 2 or 4. The event was entirely on pavement and route circled a lake on rolling pavement. Carrie and I did the duo-each running 8 laps, swapping on and off. We both worked our butts off and each sent one another an email this am titled, “What are you trying to kill me?” I had a blast-never, ever having done anything like this! And my knee didn’t hurt-some soreness afterwards. Yet I think my knee is the only body part that did not hurt! I did the 2.2 mile lap to start off (15:52) and was amazed to see how close my other splits were: 10:55/11:04/10:49/10:51/10:49/11:01/10:56. I think working out on the elliptical trainer has helped!
The weekend truly zapped me and I went to bed last night at 8:30pm. It is humbling to be so tired after runs of the same length 3 months ago would have barely registered energy drain! Yet I figure at this point, unless I do dumb things, I will only get stronger! I don’t want to wish time away….yet look forward to not feeling so feeble!
Best wishes to Russ this weekend!!!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Runner in Waiting: A bruised bone heals...

On December 8th, 2007 I ran the Hellgate 100k and as I often do, took a few falls (more on this later) during the 66ish mile event. Though I was sore and my left knee swelled, I really thought little of the “owie” I’d earned during the event…I just slowed and eventually finished up the last 20ish miles after the fall as I usually do-knowing that I was sore yet that it wouldn’t last forever. Back in December I was psyched to have PR’d, disappointed to have slowed down and assumed my knee would be “all better” in a matter of a week.

It was not better in a week. Or in two. Even after resting and icing and taking a horrible number of ibuprofen. I couldn’t run without lots of pain and so until I could have my MRI, which was scheduled for Dec 31st, I resorted to trying the elliptical (too sore), biking (too sore) walking…ok as long as I stuck to 4.0 mph or so. Sigh. So I walked and started doing lots of sit-ups and pushups (yet alas the pushups put too much stress on the knee do to the quad muscles working) ACK? What was I to do? Go nuts and get fat until I could figure out what was wrong and how to help myself? No. I wasn’t willing to go nuts or get fat…so I resorted to slow walking and immersed myself in my sedentary hobby of quilting for many hours a week.

On New Years Day, the day after my MRI, my doc called and revealed: 1) good news-no obvious soft tissue injury-meniscus, ligaments, cartilage all seemed well. I have a thickened plica-yet no conclusions drawn from that. What had been causing my pain was a bone bruise on the inside of my knee. 2) This is good and bad. Good because bone bruises (which are actually micro fractures of the bone marrow as I understand it) will fully heal-the bad news is the initial healing takes usually 6-8 weeks and activity can be done if the individual uses pain as a guide. Although 80% of the healing should be complete in 8ish weeks (add a couple of weeks in some cases) it can take up to a year for a fracture or bone bruise to completely heal itself. In most cases people can be fully active as the final healing takes place. I realized it might take me a little longer to go through the initial healing process because I kept experimenting and trying to run before my diagnosis.

During the past month, until a few days ago, I did not run. Not one step. I have pulled out of races I registered for and have made plans to run others in a couple of months. I have walked (strolled at 4ish mph) many, many miles listening to books on my ipod. I have tried pool running (too much strain on knee) and have used the elliptical trainer in conservative moderation. I have done matt and ball core workouts and I traded in my long weekend training run days for time at home sewing, cooking and doing graduate schoolwork. A couple of weeks ago, to distract myself from being frustrated with not running, I tried out for a community theater play. I will be Agatha (the maid) in The Children’s Hour during the 1st weekend in April. Rehearsals began earlier this week.

My knee is healing and I am soo excited to be again looking forward to training and getting back to racing. Yet I know I must be careful not to rush things. I have run on the treadmill 4x this week 3-5 miles at a time and have traded my flat walking for trail hiking in order to strengthen my ankles and supporting muscles before I venture out to fully running on the rocky, rooty, icy/snowy trails of February in the NC mountains! I am hoping being immersed in the theatre will be a positive and fun focus until I again put lots of energy and time into running trails.

You might be wondering why did an experienced trail runner fall so many times as to really hurt herself? What lessons were learned? This part of the story is important-yet straightforward.

Question: Why did she fall multiple times in the leaves and rocks, if she is used to running in leaves and rocks?
Answer: Because she had sheet metal screws in her shoes. Yes-these were a terrific tool for the icy roads early on…as the route progressed the elevation dropped and we knew there was no ice in the lower elevations.
Question: So why did she continue to run with screws in her shoes even when there was no snow?
Answer: Because she failed to consider that the Blue Ridge Parkway might be closed (which is always a possibility) and we didn’t have drop bags at mile 21 as anticipated. So she got to run over slippery rocks with slippery screws in the soles of her feet.

Needless to say shoes with screws and slick rocks covered with 2 feet of leaves weren’t conducive to me running with much stability!

Uwharrie was run today.I was sad to have backed out-and thought of the runners all day long! Uwharrie 40 was my first ultra in 2003! I really look forward to seeing the results and hearing stories!

What's next for me? I hope to be strong enough to participate in Holiday Lake in 2 weeks...not as a competitor-but I hope to run back of the pack and support some folks who might need some companionship or a bit of a "boost". It will be good for me to get back out there and I think it will be neat to experience an ultra from a different perspective! After that? I hope Way Too Cool in March, Zane Grey in April and WS 100 in June. I am also planning on heading to Richmond VA in May for Montrails Run Like A Girl!

If you are reading this, please send me good wishes of continued healing and patience!