I'm starting my 30th year of running. I really think of it as my second running career. My first started at 11 years old and went through my late 20's. I had a several year break where I worked on my career and had children and began running again in 2004 (at 36). I am now looking forward to new events, new PR's and new distances.
October 26, 2011: Decisions, decisions
What started as a seemingly benign decision soon turned into a quad busting, nausea inducing, acid tasting competition. It started with the decision. It was a beautiful Saturday morning that promised the wise competitor a chance to strut their stuff. Three races to choose from. Three possible chances at suffering. Should I do Wild Duluth, beautiful trails covered with colorful leaf litter? Whistlestop with a cool, flat course to run endless fast miles? Or, perhaps, Harvest 5k? Get a speed bump of adrenaline? Well, I decided to do none of these races. I haven’t run fast, or real long, for a couple of months, recovering from Ironman Canada (which, by the way, exceeded my expectations 10 fold) and doing a steady, injury preventing build up to the HURT 100 which I am running in January. No, instead I decided to “participate” in the first ever “Kettlebell Endurance Challenge”. To those not familiar with kettlebells, they are cannon balls with handles that come in varying weights to challenge even the fittest athlete. I first tried kettlebells a year ago after a lifelong battle with weight lifting. I want to be strong, and fit, however, weightlifting is not for me. I always start with good intentions by going to the gym and “lifting”, which always ended with telling myself “I hate lifting weights”. I heard of kettlebells from a colleague who couldn’t say enough positive things about it. He told me about a guy named Adam who could turn my noodle arms into powerful limbs of destruction, and would probably help my running as well. As any good citizen of the 21st century does, I Googled “kettlebells duluth” and found the Superior Kettlebell Gym and saw the words “functional fitness”. Wow, I thought, that’s catchy. I want “functional fitness”. As an aside, I was also motivated by a recent trauma patient who (never mind, might be a HIPPA violation). Anyways, I made an appointment for 2 private lessons which are prerequisites before joining the classes. I showed up to the gym and found a young guy that looked like he just came from the skate park. I was skeptical, until I looked around. There was a middle aged, normal looking guy (he’s 54) who walked up to the door threshold while I was learning the “clean and press”. He grabbed onto the top of the threshold and did 25 pull-ups without even a sigh. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know anyone who could do so many pull-ups so effortlessly. I also saw another guy lifting huge cannonballs above his head. I heard someone say that the guy was trying to lose weight. Over the last year I saw that same guy go from a “soft” looking (but strong) guy to a “hot” guy with a good body who now runs marathons. To make a long story short, I had never been so sore in my life as I was during the first month of kettlebells and because I like suffering I have continued with Adam and Liz for the last year. Before I get back to the original story I can attest that by doing consistent resistance training, in a very encouraging environment, I have taken 12 minutes off my marathon PR, 37 minutes off my 50k PR, an hour off my Ironman bike leg and ran under 19:30 for a 5k for the first time since college and I can do pull-ups!! I have seen people transformed over the course of a few months because of kettlebells (well, more because of Adam and Liz then the actual cannonballs themselves).
Back to the challenge. About 20 hearty souls met at Chester Bowl early in the morning for the “challenge”. I decided it was going to be a laid back workout to start my day and I wasn’t going to worry about competition, or racing. It was a time trial start and I was 3rd up. Funny how the words “ready, set, go” change ones rational decision making skills. “Ready, Set, Go”. I darted up the first hill which is the small hill right next to the ski jump stairs. Hand over fist, slip sliding up the hill to the top where I met a 22lb kettlebell and snatched this 15 times with each arm. Down the ski jump stairs to the bottom and immediately turn around and go back up, up, up to the platform where I did 30 pushups and immediately down a few stairs to those 22lbs in each arm for 8 clean and presses, down the stairs to a wonderful, refreshing, 30 foot flat section then up the ski jump hill where 26lb kettlebells awaited 30 swings, back down the stairs, across the flat, up the other ski jump stairs to 26lbs in each hand and doing viking push presses, down the stairs to repeat the whole thing a second time. I don’t know if it was the clean air or the people or the slight taste of vomit in my mouth but I started really pushing. I realized, this is a RACE. I pushed up the final hill which was straight up the ski hill to the finish line. Only, the finish line had a twist. After pushing and seeing the end in sight I got to dreaded news, 30 pushup burpees and then I was really done. After using my face as a launching pad for the pushup burpees I was finally finished. I was spent and couldn’t believe how ridiculous it was to feel so alive by doing something so brutal. I laughed for being able to push myself to hurt so bad. I laughed because I wasn’t the only crazy out there doing this, I know many crazies and we are so lucky to have found an outlet for our pent up energy. I laughed the whole drive to the Wild Duluth aid station I was working.
In the end I didn’t “win” but was a few seconds behind the strongest spitfire I know and she can do 20 pull-ups in a ROW.
April 24, 2011: Chippewa Moraine 50k
As I sit in my office, yet another night of call, I am about to embark on a journey. My sick patient is about to allow me to participate on their journey and I feel privileged to be a part of it. It is my gift to this world that maybe I can reverse a sure devastating outcome by simply doing what I am best at. Not unlike ultra running, surgery is a journey and each time into the operating room or onto an unknown trail the outcome is not a given. It is a journey that is intimately shared with others. The adrenalin rush is an unexpected reward for executing precisely the plan and the sorrow is the possible outcome of a plan that takes a detour that is out of my control.
Ultra running is very similar. Unlike a 5k or 10k or even a marathon where the race is very much me against the clock, an ultra marathon is a journey where I get to glimpse into other peoples lives. I get to see people at their best and the joy in the faces of champions is unparalleled. I get to see utter disappointment when someone has a bad and unexpected glitch which is usually out of their control. I love competition and my best, most memorable races are not the one’s I’ve won, but the one’s fought hard and battled to the end and finishing mid pack. There is also a sense of accomplishment when things don’t go as planned and I am able to readjust and make a new plan on the fly.
Chippewa Moraine 50k was last weekend and my “plan” was to use it as a training run. I am concentrating on Grandma’s marathon this summer and I have a hard time running my best at multiple races a year so I decided to combine a high milage week with an ultra marathon. Best laid plans forget about life. My life included multiple colleagues taking the week off for vacation and leaving the rest of us covering for them. Then one of my colleagues went down with medical problems so the situation became compounded. I did what all surgeons (as would ultra runners) do in this situation, put the pedal to the metal and work my ass off. Unfortunately, when I wasn’t working I only had time to sleep so my high milage week became a week of no running.
Saturday morning came quick and we woke up at 4am for the drive to the beautiful Ice Age Trail. I felt good. My legs felt light and it felt so good just to be back in the woods for a run. I started at a pace that felt good. I knew it was a little faster than I had planned but I really felt good so I decided what the hell, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I enjoyed running in a line with Leslie and Christi and learned that they really rock the downhills. This is also where I met Meg, another youngster who has taken to ultra running like a fish to water. How inspiring for me and my kids to see such strong, fast, beautiful young people with healthy bodies and positive energy amongst a world of abundance and overindulgence.
When I came to the turnaround as the women's leader (only because Christi took a wrong turn) I knew I needed to slow down. The blissful, easy downhills were aggravating an old patellar tendinitis and my stomach was feeling uneasy. I looked at Henry and told him to be ready at the next aid station to run with me. He always seems to run at a reasonable pace and I knew he would help me readjust my pace. I slowed down and my knee started feeling better. Henry’s constant chatter took my mind off my stomach until he got a side ache from slamming too much Heed, then we compared side aches. He also started to count the number of times I feel down which were way more often than I wanted.
Henry continued to jump in and out of the race at every other aid station. He was worried I’d get disqualified and refused to carry my water bottle when my shoulder was getting sore (such a rule follower). I was able to finish in reasonable condition and enjoy a beer at the end. Only in Wisconsin is beer the recovery drink! Overall, I was happy with the race and even though I hadn’t planned on a crash and burn at mile 20 I appreciated the opportunity to practice mental toughness and in the scheme of life, nothing is as tough or frustrating as telling someone (or someone’s family) that life is coming to an end and I can’t do anything about it.
A few notes from the trail:
-Shelly Thompson’s smile erases miles off the course
-Marcus has some bad ass feet
-Christi and Meg are ROCKSTARS!!!
-Helen is tough as nails
-Jonas is FAST
-Leslie is the smoothest runner I have ever seen
-Chris Scotch is the only one I saw run the whole way up the finishing hill
-Julie Berg will always be an inspiration to me
-Jeff did an awesome job with this race and I suspect it will become a premier event
March 24, 2011: The H.U.R.T. hurt.
I’m running on a crisp winter evening listening to the snow crunch under my shoes, contemplating. What happened? I’m not really disappointed or even sad that I only made it 40 miles. After all, 40 miles is a long way and many people didn’t make it that far. Hmm... I turn into the moon and it surprises me back to the present. I feel my breath warm up my frozen nose and I just barely see Greta ahead of me as she turns to wait for me to catch up. My thoughts drift back to Hawaii where wearing shorts and a cool max performance shirt were stifling. Sweat dripping off my forehead and into my eyes with a stinging sensation overtaking me. I knew my training wasn’t near the level it needed to be for a competitive 100 mile race, but was it good enough to finish? Apparently not. The excitement of not knowing is such a draw. How far can I push?
It started from the time I first heard of the H.U.R.T. 100 a few years ago. The rugged terrain, 29,000 feet of climbing, lush tropical rain forest with hot and humid temperatures. All that Hawaii has to offer. I knew this was a destination race for me and with a 100 mile finish under my belt I felt confident with my chances to finish so I put my name in the lottery and secured a spot. I even had a goal to go under 30 hours which only a few women have ever done. That goal came crashing to a halt when on another brisk day in November I felt pain in my knee I hadn’t felt before. I did what all dedicated, intelligent runners do, I ignored it, and increased my milage. The pain became excruciating. My gait changed and I tried to continue to ignore it. I increased my milage some more. As sensible as this plan seemed to me it didn’t seem to be helping the pain in my knee at all. It came crashing down on Thanksgiving day when I was running the Gobble Gallop with Henry and he sprinted to the finish and all I could do was barely hobble without falling over. Oh no! Two months from the H.U.R.T. 100 and my knee HURT.
I was able to continue running but only outside, on flat roads, very, very slowly and for no longer than 20 to 30 minutes. The treadmill hurt. The hills hurt. The icy, uneven trails hurt. This was a big bummer. I had planned on acclimating for the heat while running on the treadmill but I couldn’t run on the treadmill, it hurt. I tried the indoor bike but this also hurt. I resorted to reading in the sauna. I barely broke a sweat.
After weeks of babying my knee it started feeling better. I could go longer and longer without feeling the sharp, stabbing pain. I tried Celebrex for a couple of days and on New Years Day I ran trails with hills. I felt better but unfortunately it was only 2 weeks before the big event. I already had plane tickets, hotel reservations and time off work. I was going to Hawaii!
I arrive at the pre-race meeting with no hill or heat training under my belt and it was HOT. The energy was palpable and the stories were intimidating. Tracy Garneau and Monica Sholtz showed up. They are ROCK STARS (neither of them finished). I was as ready as cattle heading to slaughter, but with 100 miles, anything can happen.
The race started with a blow of the conch shell and 125 runners hit the trail. It was a walking start since the first mile is straight uphill. I was sweating and it was dark and rugged. I adjusted my headlight and darkness fell around me. The thing had opened up and my batteries fell out into a mud puddle. Crap!! I didn’t attempt to find them for fear of losing the group I was with since they all had light. I planted myself between 2 people and followed, stumbling over things I never saw. Finally, after I was really feeling sorry for myself, the roosters started hollering (yes, Hawaii has wild chickens) and dawn came upon us. I was in awe of the trail with the enormous banyan trees and bamboo forests. Then I turned a corner and was on the edge of a cliff with unending views of the Pacific Ocean. It was spectacular! I tried to stay with the group of people I started with. Monica was among them and there was no way I was going to pass her so early. For those that don’t know who she is, she is the world record holder for the most 100 milers finished in a year (25, I believe). I later figured out she was helping a guy on his 7th attempt to finish this race (which he didn’t do). She would yell out “take some salt”, so I would. She would holler “drink some water”, so I would. She would shout “take a gel”, so I would. She has such a presence about her that even though she wasn’t talking to me, I felt I should listen.
We finally headed downhill into the first aid station which involved a river crossing around 7 miles in. I felt good and only needed a short pit stop and headed back on the trail realizing I had to retrace my steps back up the enormous hill I just ran down. I left the others at the aid station and enjoyed some time by myself. The course is like a 3 legged star fish with the body being the top of the mountain at 2000 or so feet and the tip of each leg being an aid station at 200 or so feet. Each loop is 20 miles, so, obviously, you do 5 loops. The hardest climb is coming out of the second aid station. It is over 2 miles of climbing up an exposed mountain where the sun beats down on you like you are a chicken on the rotisserie. It is also muddy and slippery and going down would have been easier with a toboggan.
I felt pretty good for the first 20 miles. My knee didn’t hurt at all. I was happy with my progress and finished the first loop around 6 hours. The second loop was much harder. The sun was high in the sky and all the climbing was taking a toll. I stayed within myself and made it to mile 33 when the aid station volunteer told me I hadn’t drank any of the water in my backpack. He also said I didn’t look too well. I had had a ham sandwich at the previous aid station and it didn’t settle well. First of all, I’m a vegetarian so I don’t know what made me think eating a ham sandwich was a good idea. Secondly, I don’t do well eating solid food, especially in the heat. What a moron I am. I was beating myself up about it and the kind volunteer offered me miso soup, which I ingested, then vomited. I ran out of the aid station hoping I could ignore it. Unfortunately, I continued to vomit the next 7 miles. I felt worse stopping so I just ran and puked and ran and puked. I pulled into 40 miles around 12 1/2 hours announcing I was finished. Well, if you really want to quit, the last thing you should do is announce it. I was jumped by Mike, Henry and volunteers who made it their mission to not let me quit. I tried their suggestions and after 2 1/2 hours I felt better. This was a hard decision. I knew I had run out of time to finish. There was no way I would have been able to go any faster than I previously had and it was now dark. Very, very dark. I could make it another loop before I would get pulled, or I could call it a day. Olivia looked at me with her big brown eyes and said, “Mommy, you don’t look too good and even if you want to go and run more, I don’t think I can let you.” That was it. I was done. I took her hand and we walked back to the car together.
I know it’s very hard for my family to see me hurting and the kids don’t understand why it is so important to go until all you see is darkness. I hope I didn’t teach them it’s ok to quit but if I was supporting them, I would hate to see them suffer. Maybe I should excuse my family from crewing during the difficult, soul searching hours of an ultra. All I know is I’m going back to Hawaii next January if the lottery gods are with me and I’m going to push my limits again and hopefully come home with a buckle.
November 5, 2010: DNF
September 18, 2010: VoyageurQuest
I love stage races. The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica was my first and only stage race and I had a blast. Something about dedicating time to running for a few days or more without having to think about much else is very appealing, however, I decided after the Coastal Challenge that stage races kept me away from my family for too long a stretch so I decided no more until my kids were older. Well, that was until a stage race showed up in my back yard (thanks Andy ). VoyageurQuest is a 105 mile stage race on the Superior Hiking Trail that goes on over 4 days. I didn't take long to sign up.
I hadn't run a step since the Voyageur 50 miler giving myself a break from running. I showed up in Grand Portage feeling a little sluggish and overworked after finishing a 36 hour stint of no sleep, but I was excited to run the only part of the SHT I haven't covered yet.
The race started with a prologue 1 mile run to the top of Mount Josephine. Despite feeling like my heart was going to beat out of my chest, the finishing views were worth it. All I can say is STUNNING!
After camping, Stage 1 officially started in Grand Portage after a tenuous drive to the trailhead (thanks Andy). Before starting, Andy passed out the Race Leader Jersey (male and female) and I was a little surprised I got it. I didn't chance wearing it to run in because I didn't want to stink it up for someone else. Finally we started. The trail quickly turned into an overgrown swamp which led to a detour which lead to power hiking through waist high grass. Eventually the trail improved (slightly) and became more runnable. I ran with a guy from Indiana most of the way while trying to keep up with Mike. I did take it rather cautiously running down hill since that was my mistake at Sawtooth last year. I didn't want another bout of tendinitis. I loved the laid back atmosphere of the race and the lack of aid. There were checkpoints every 10 miles or so but only water was available and a sign in book. Everything else had to be carried. I loved it!! I finished the 29 mile Stage 1 strong and conservative and still the female race leader.
Stage 2 was 24 miles from Magney campground to Grand Marais. Sounded easier than the first day but that was not to be. Early on we hit a section of the trail that is on the rocky beach of Lake Superior. It was so beautiful but the rocks were soooo difficult to run on. I was demoted to walking slowly much of the stretch which made my ankles a little sore, and they continue to be to this day. Eventually the trail became a trail again and I tried and tried to catch up to Mike on his 60th birthday but he is way too much of a machine for me. By the time I was done with the stage I was hot, hungry, tired and crabby but after soaking in Lake Superior for 20 minutes I felt better. I still got to hang on to the coveted race leader jersey.
Stage 3 was suppose to be 35 miles, however, Andy felt it wise to shorten it because there was a mountain bike race going on where we would have started. I don't think anyone was disappointed and the stage was lowered to 30 miles (thanks Andy). I actually started to feel good during this stage. Unfortunately, the guy from Indiana dropped out and drove home but I had a good time running with Chris for much of the way on this stage. We ran along rivers and through the forest on some pretty awesome trail. This was definitely the most runnable section. Again I tried to keep up to Mike but to no avail. That was until the last sign in. His name wasn't in the book?!? Turns out he really wanted to run 35 miles so took a detour trail (ie: got lost). This stage finished at Caribo Highlands and a jump in the pool was a welcome treat.
The last stage (Stage 4) was 16 miles from Lutsen to Tofte Town Park. I wore the race leader jersey and had plans of taking it easy. I had a feeling Chris was out to get me so once I crested Mystery Mountain I picked it up and ran harder than I wanted to. Luckily I caught up to Brad and had someone to talk to as well as someone to push me a little. Try as I might, I wasn't able to hold on to my lead over Chris (just kidding, Chris ran hard and deserved it). I finished 4th overall and 1st female. The whole experience was awesome and I recommend this race/adventure/challenge to anyone. Thanks Andy!