Thursday, December 31, 2009

A summary of 2009

Somehow December has zipped by with only 2 posts. This is similar to my whole year. It seems like just yesterday that it was January and yet there are less than 6 hours left in 2009.

I had great adventures this year. And I had profound sadness.

In running I ran further and faster that I ever dreamed. I met so many great people running and expect I will see many of these friends in the upcoming year. I also learned I can dig deep and go moderately fast. My biggest running accomplishments in the past year in my opinion are:

Umstead 100 in 27 hours and 42 minutes-while I was running this race I thought I was on target for over 28 hours and even during the last lap my only goal was to be just about 28 hours. Clearly I was an over achiever! And I ended up with a 1 hour PR for a 100 miler.

JFK50 miler in 11 hours and 10 minutes-while I was running this race I thought I would just beat my previous time of 11 hours 40 minutes. It was only at mile 38 that I started realizing I was well ahead of my previous PR.

New River Trail in 6 hours and 6 minutes-while I was running this race I had no idea I was going to set a 1 hour PR. In fact my time at the halfway point while an improvement of my previous 50 km PR was only about 10 minutes faster. But during the second half I somehow started to pick up the pace.

Frederick Marathon in 4 hours 9 minutes-this race was one of the most miserable experiences of my life. And yet somehow I set a new PR. The course is quite hilly, the weather included several hours running in a torrential downpour and it was quite chilly. But somehow I PR'ed.

But my favorite memory and proudest moment was my 50 miler PR at Rocky Raccoon. This was the last time I saw and hung out with my mom. Sadly she passed away in May and I still am trying to get over this. I miss being able to call her when I want to just chat.

In addition to these numerous PRs, I also had so much fun this past year. I had wonderful pacers at Umstead 100: my sister and my husband who even paced me a lap together. This 3 hour 12 mile jog was so much fun. We chatted, laughed and had a great time.

Another favorite memory is at VT100 with my pacers Dan and Shane. Both Dan and Shane really are 100% responsible for my finish at VT100. I was pretty depressed during this race and at one point my heart really wasn't in it. But they kept up my spirits, gave me all sorts of positive encouragement and were truly GREAT friends and pacers. I was so lucky to have spent ~10 hours with Shane and ~5 hours with Dan sharing my VT100 mile experience.

Also at VT100 I was part of a running community with lots of friends I knew before: Emmy, Debbie, Caroline, Frank, Bob and of course my adopted running club, the Reston Runners: Mary, Anna, Dave, Jim A, Jim B, Bill, Tim, and Jim. And of course during the race I was supported by my friend Tony (fresh from his Badwater finish!) and Mark M.

Friends is a common theme in why running makes me so happy. I was so delighted at JJ100 when I spent many hours running with (and perhaps even pacing at the end:-) my friends Susan and Rob. They are such accomplished ultrarunners and so kind and encouraging. The miles just flew by with them.

This year had many trips for business and pleasure. During these trips I got to see friends and family. Some places I had never been to before (for example, Sedona, Arizona with my dad) while other places I had been to before.

Of course in real life I also was very busy. I traveled to many conferences and even co-organized a large statistical conference. I still am recovering from this...although immediately heading to the VT50 might not have been the best idea (although the pre-race dinner with Steve, Tony, EJ, Shane, Tristan and others was so much fun!)

The year ended with two bits of good news. Gilligan who was diagnosed with cancer in early June is now considered fully in remission since he has not had a recurrence and based on X-rays and scans his cancer had not spread. And the final bit of good news is that I was selected for a team leader position at the FDA. Hopefully I will be a fair, reasonable and well respected team leader.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Death Valley Marathon (pictures added later)

In 2008, I ran the Death Valley Marathon followed by the Las Vegas Marathon. I liked the Death Valley Marathon for it's natural beauty and the fact that if I had a crew, they could easily support me on this out and back along the one and only road in Death Valley, CA.

Being my crew would take no effort and would enable support every few meters or so. Alas in 2008 Tristan was busily climbing Telescope Peak during the race. But this year he was lurking around in the Furnace Creek Ranch area where the race started. Sadly due to miscommunication he went to Zabriski point to climb to the top of the Beacon (a class 2 summit) before the race started. I lurked around the room waiting for him hoping he was just embracing his caffiene addiction by heading to the Ranch or Inn for some espresso.

About 7:15 I decided I needed to head to the start to pick up my packet. This was very easy and was at the Saloon (although it was not open). It was a bit chilly so I just lurked there and chatted with runners.

The pre-race briefing was announced and I remembered I needed to use a potty. Because the course is an out and back on a road that is in the middle of a desert, the choice of LaTree's include a few scrubby bushes and several varieties of small cactus. None of these options appealed to me so I headed to the restroom.

The pre-race briefing went on for quite some time. The race brochure suggested the start is "about 8 a.m.". I would suggest this year it was closer to 8:30, but the race director gave us information about the course, where aid stations were and some history about the race and event staff. At some point he suggested it was time to start the race. All I know is that we started more than 10 minutes late but in fact how late was a mystery that would haunt me throughout the race.

The Death Valley Marathon also has a 10 km and half marathon but luckily the full marathon starts first. We lined up and pretty soon we were told, "go"!

I tried to run a conservative race because I knew I had a marathon in Vegas on Sunday in less than 24 hours. I think my initial pace was about 10-12 minute miles but then suddenly I was running with a group of Marathon Maniacs moving pretty quickly. I missed the mile 1 marker but when I did see the mile 2 marker I happened to glance at my garmin which suggested I was doing sub 10 minute miles. And this mile was up a hill. Not good, not good at all!

I started walking up the hill (because that's what I do) but somehow resumed running pretty quickly. The scenery along this section, (the top of Mustard Canyon, I think) is very rustic and beautiful. Along this course, several miles away are 5,000 foot mountains on the East side and close to 10,000 feet on the West side. The valley has a variety of terrains along the course including salt flats, scrubby brush and even an oasis by the Furnace Creek area.

Pretty soon I was arriving at the first aid station. The aid stations for this race are really impressive and have all sorts of treats including M&M's, Banana's, Pretzels (filled with peanut butter!), gummies and other food. And of course they have water and sports beverage. This race is exceptionally well supported with aid stations every 3 miles.
Heading out of the aid station I resume running with my marathon maniacs friends. Because this race is on a Saturday with a marathon on Sunday at Vegas less than 150 miles away, many runners use it as a "double" (two marathons in two days). I imagine some of the runners on the course are a little discouraged when asked the question, "are you doing the Vegas Marathon tomorrow", as though a single marathon is not impressive enough!!!
Continuing on I jogged with my friends for a bit then let them head off as they picked up the pace a bit. I knew I needed to save something for Sunday (which became my mantra). My garmin was showing a consistent 8:30 minute mile pace when I would look at it and became very worried about running too fast. And of course I don't run sub-10 minute miles!!!
As we continued running, the half marathoners (who started 10 minutes after us) started catching up and passing us. They were moving really fast! The first few runners passed us as though we were not even moving. The runners were really nice and encouraging. A few folks mentioned I was the brightest and sparkeliest runner. In fact a few folks commented about my hawaiin print gaiters. Because the race is in a desert there is a bit of dirt/dust/sand along the course. This gets a bit worse if the wind picks up. I like to treat my feet well, so I figure gaiters make sense. And of course I think my gaiters look stylin!
Jogging along, the half marathon leaders were running towards us. They still were moving super fast and looked really strong. This race is a bit odd in that we run out and back on the same side of the road. Thus going out we are facing traffic but returning we are running with traffic. This means runners have to figure out who is going towards the center of the road and who heads towards the shoulder. Some runners appeared to embrace Britains road rules while most of us did not. It made for a few interesting passes along the course.
Soon I was suprised to be approaching the 6 mile aid station. I desperately needed a potty break. And since the course has tree's few and far between I vowed to use only porta potties. After finishing my business I headed over to the aid station for some treats and drinks. Because Death Valley is a desert and we were reminded about how quickly and easy it is to become dehydrated I was extra cautious to drinks lots. I refilled my water bottle and drank several cups of sports drink.
I was feeling really good and was having a great time. I was chatting with a variety of friends but was not really running a consistent pace (or maybe my friends were not running a consistent pace) so it ended up that I would run with folks then either get abandoned or else move ahead faster.
The weather for the race was delightful. It started a bit chilly and with a few clouds but over the course of the race, the clouds disappeared and the sky turned a bright blue and sunny. Once in a while there was a bit of a breeze but overall it was a perfect day for a race.
The course starts about 190 feet below sea level. Throughout the race runners remain well below sea level; however there are many rolling hills during the 26 miles. Although I had my Garmin on to keep me aware of my pace, I had not realized I could have set it up to indicate elevation.
Running along I am suprised to see the mile 9 aid station. Moving from aid station to aid station is taking me less than half an hour. And my Garmin continues to show my pace is less than 10 minute miles. I keep thinking it is because I happen to look at my Garmin during a section I am going super speedy.
I drink, eat and thank the volunteers then continue on my journey. I am surprised that I have not seen Tristan. He is supposed to drive along the course to see me but so far no Tristan.
I keep chatting with runners and am enjoying the race immensely. Pretty soon the full marathoners are heading back towards us. They are moving fast but determining where to go (pass on the left or right) is a little less hectic than when negotiating with the half marathoners.
Along the course you can see runners ahead as well as the upcoming aid station from miles away. You can even see cars that pass you for miles. It is sort of nice to know where you are going but on the other hand sometimes the distance doesn't look too far off but then you don't seem to get any closer! The runners are tiny specks you can see going up and down small hills and weaving left and right following the contours of the road.
The miles are just flying by. I run into my friend Connie from the Vegas Marathon in 2008. I had talked with her during that 2008 marathon and somehow the Death Valley Marathon double came up. She was not aware of the Death Valley marathon, but this year she was. She was doing the double as well. Connie was running one of her first few marathons in 2008, but during the year she had become quite and accomplished marathoner and even finished the San Fransisco 100 miler in the summer!
As we chatted about events I realized she was a faster runner than I with a typical 4:15 or 4:30 marathoner. But somehow I was keeping up.
Unfortunately as usual just when I was getting into a conversation an aid station popped up. We had arrived at mile 12 and it was time for some food and beverages. Because I was taking my fueling and hydration needs I lost Connie. But alas I enjoyed my treats and chatting with the volunteers. Leaving the aid station I knew I had less than 1 mile to the turn around. I had a feeling I was going pretty quickly but unfortunately I had no idea of my time. I asked a few runners what they thought our half marathon time was and the general consensus was about 2 hours and 10 minutes, which suggested my marathon might be 4:20.
This was too speedy for me. I don't do 4:20 marathons! In fact I started to kind of panic in my mind because I was going too fast. But I continued to feel really good and strong. As I approached the turn around I saw my friend Connie. She was looking really good and I figured if I did not loiter I would catch her just a little after the aid station at mile ~14 (formerly the mile 12 aid station).
I did loiter at the aid station and even took a potty break, so catching back up to her took a bit more time.
Almost immediately after heading out of the mile 14 aid station, I hear a horn honking and my name being yelled out of a white car facing me. It is Tristan. He is really lucky that he did not pass while I was in the ladies room.
He pulled a U-turn and parked along side the road facing the same direction as I. He told me about his morning which included climbing the Beacon. I said I was busily running the race and having a good time. But I suggested I was a little worried about my speed. I knew I had another race on Sunday so needed to pace myself.
The day was warming up and I had been taking layers off slowly throughout the race. Since Tristan was there with the car I decided it was a good time to give him my jacket. I asked him to meet up with me in a mile. He acknowledged this request then drove off.
I continued jogging and finally caught up to my friend Connie. She was doing really well and sporadically her family would pull up right in front of us and cheer us on. They were really encouraging and lots of fun. In fact sporadically they would give her a gatorade, treats or water from their car window, like a reverse drive through.
We continued chatting about running including events that we had run during the year as well as upcoming events. Connie was great fun to run with. We occasionally would join up with other runners who were either passing us or we were passing. Everyone was really nice and in good spirits.
As miles continued to fly by I was very glad I did not have "buyers remorse" about needing or wanting my jacket. 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes passed and there was no Tristan. I was a little worried and wondered what was going on. I thought perhaps Tristan had headed to Stovepipe Wells to refill the gas tank (which was a bit low). Then I thought perhaps he had headed to the sand dunes thinking he could make it to a dune and then catch up to me. But my instructions were explicit, "catch up to me in a mile". This didn't seem like a complex instruction. But miles and miles passed with no Tristan.
Pretty soon I was passing the 17 mile aid station. Finally Tristan caught up to me. He explained that he had stopped off at the Salt Creek for a walk. Apparently meet me in a mile was not clear enough. If I ever do the Badwater Ultramarathon, Tristan is definitely not on my crew because I am confident he would not be at all reliable. And in 130 degree temperatures this probably would be significantly more critical than a December Marathon.
Tristan hopscotched with me a bit along the course at this point, passing me with the car then stopping chatting with me then hopping back into the car to pass me again. He also ran a bit with me although my blistering pace was too fast for him. He also suggested that he was doing everything he could to slow me down so he could keep his Marathon PR be the Massie family Marathon PR. When I asked him what I should be aiming for he would not tell me other than to suggest it was sub 4 hours. I was pretty sure this was out of my reach but wonder if I had no marathon the next day what I could have run the marathon in.
Also by this time my knees were a bit painful. In fact in most marathons by mile 18 my legs/knees are a bit painful particularly when the course surface is asphalt. I was pretty sure Tristan's record was safe but this didn't stop me from trash talking him a bit suggesting I was going to be putting the pedal to the metal.
During the brief bit when Tristan was driving along, taking my picture, stopping, jogging with me, then heading back to the car to do this again, I lost Connie. I also passed 2 aid stations and somehow just had a few miles to the finish line.
Pretty soon I was at mile 22 and it was time for some hillwork. This section is the hilliest segment of the race. It has rolling hills and is moderately challenging. My legs are tired but luckily I have all sorts of residual hill training. There are runners well ahead of me and a few runners behind me. I think I might be able to catch up to a few runners ahead of me because they are slowing down. I wonder if the runners behind me will be catching up to me. I have to run my own race but I continue to feel strong.
In the last few miles I do catch up to a few runners. And finally I am running up the final hill pas the Borax Works. The last hill is about one mile long and moderately steep. I can see the Furnace Creek Visitor Center as well as the palm tree's of Furnace Creek. I know somewhere in that area is the finish line.
Almost immediately after passing the Borax Works I see Tristan. He is ready to pace me to the finish line. I ask him where we are and how far to the finish. He seems to not know. I ask if we have passed the 1 mile to go sign. He doesn't know! As a pacer he now fails! I actually never see the 1 mile to go sign.
As we run up the hill, I am pretty sure the person behind me will not be catching me. I also know there are no runners in front of me that I can see. All I need to do is maintain my pace. I still have no idea what my time will be but suspect it will be about 4:20.
As we get closer to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center I ask Tristan where the finish line is. He suggests that it is between the Visitor Center and the Gas Station. I know this predicted location is not correct. This bums me out because I have no idea where the finish line is. Tristan than suggests it is by a RV. Sadly we pass the RV and no finish line. I am glad I am simply pacing myself at the same speed I have run for the previous 26 miles and have not tried to sprint to the finish.
Finally I see the finish line. A few hundred meters before the Furnace Creek Cabins is a tent and the finish line. There are several runners there as well as runners family cheering me on. I am happy to be finishing and have really enjoyed the race.
After finishing I ask what my time is and am startled to hear 4:15. This is my second fastest marathon. In fact this shock is continued when I get home after my vacation and learn I was the 11th place female!!!!
In fact my 4:15 marathon is fast enough to have me be the 2nd place female in my age gender category. This is the first time I have placed 2nd in my age/gender place when there are several competitors in my age/gender group.
Overall, this race is great and I have lots of fun with new friends and old friends.
After I finish I walk the course backwards cheering on my friends. After the 6 hour time limit passes, Tristan and I head to Gulden Canyon to hike a bit. We make it to Cathedral Rocks which is about a 1.5 mile hike. It is a bit challenging but I am able to do this hike even with 26 miles of running and 2 miles of walking.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

My posting hiatus explained

Within 1 week of finishing JFK50 miler I headed to Las Vegas for a family vacation and to run two marathons (Death Valley and Las Vegas) in two days. I was out of town for over 10 days and had great time. But alas in Death Valley there is no cell phone or easily accessible internet. Then when I returned home I had to hit the ground running at work.

But now things are a bit settled down and in fact tomorrow, we have the day off because DC is digging out of a massive snowstorm WAHOO!!! We had 22 inches here in Gaithersburg and our cars and sidewalk is now clear. Thus, I am optimistic I will be able to post about my trip, my marathons and my recent running escapades tomorrow.

Highlights include:
* a 5 miler and 10 miler at the Gaithersburg Turkey Burnoff (I gave in my bib after 5 miles and 48 minutes then had buyers remorse and ran another 5 miles)
* a 4:15 marathon at Death Valley (Where I came in 2nd in my age gender category...and not just because there were 2 people in this group!!!)
* a 6:11 marathon at the Las Vegas Marathon
* about 15 miles at the Virginia Happy Trails Running Clube (VHTRC) Gluteus Maximus Fat Ass 50 km

In this past month I have seen so many friends, family and just have had a great time busily living life. Hopefully I can write more soon. Now it's time to go to bed because I am exhausted from all my recent shoveling.