Sunday, February 21, 2010

"Thank You" to My Super Friends! And a picture of Puffie after the massive snowstorms

Here is PowderPuffGirl, our youngest seal lynx ragdoll cat at just over 5 years old. She has many aliases including but not limited to: Powder, Puffie, Puffle, Powdie, Uffle (because she had a phase when she whizzed inappropriately on everything!), PuffPuff, and squirrel tail (take a look at her tail in this picture for how this name was given).

Puffie is a very sweet cat with lots of personality.
She is quite the daredevil and seems to have no off switch in her quest to get into mischief.

I am always inspired by all of my friends! I am so fortunate to have so many friends in different area's of my life: professional, running, pet-owners, fellow-bloggers just to name a few; but everyone I know are such exceptional people doing extraordinary things.

As I watch the Olympics I am so impressed by all of the athletes who are digging deep and doing such incredible feats. But I cannot relate to these athletes as do with those who I know, run with, share meals & rooms, hike, or even volunteer with!

I know I am very fortunate to have friends and family who consistently believe in me, even when I may not believe in myself.

In running I have consistently been mediocre at best and terrible at worst. But regardless of what my time is or what my placement is in races my friends are always so encouraging! This means a lot to me.

Because of getting hit by a car about 15 years ago, sometimes I have pretty bad pain in my right leg. It seems to come and go and I never really know if I will have a good or bad day/week or even month. Occasionally people will notice I have a limp, but I try very hard to not let this show nor let it prevent me from accomplishing my goals. But I could not do this alone!

I do not know of any better motivation or painkiller than friends alongside me on a race course or cheering me from the course of remotely from afar. I know that I am so lucky to have so many wonderful friends who will support and encourage me no matter what. For this I am so thankful!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Inaugural Snowmargedeon/Valentines Day Marathon in Columbia MD

Getting ready for a super cold marathon or getting ready to rob a bank (although perhaps the flowers and lei would make me to easy to identify).

It was pretty cold at the start and throughout the race. I think it was just above freezing for a high but occasionally the wind would pick up.

We were lucky there was no snow occurring during the race and for the most part the course did not have any snow, ice or other hazards.

The biggest issue was a bit of ice at the parking lot of the school where the race started. Initially they applied ice to this and subsequently it melted away.
A very kind competitor offered to take an action shot of me along the course.

This was pretty cool because while I have plenty of action shots of other runners along the course my self portraits tend to be of only my face and not me visible "running"

Here you can see me running a bit of the long downhill section (although on the other part of the out and back, it is an uphill section).

You also can see how deep the snow continues to be even nearly a week after the snows.

My friend Jean gave me my "hand made" finishers medal immediately after I finished this marathon in 5:17.

Jean made this medals on Fri & Sat for all the potential finishers (I think nearly 25 of us started but only 19 of us finished the full marathon).

The medal consisted of a cute ribbon, two popsicle sticks with "2010" and valentines stickers as well as a medal of Chocolate, YUM!!

I think this medal is one of my favorites because it is personalized and hand made.

To celebrate the completion of the marathon, all runners received a flute of champagne.

This is my kind of marathon!!

You also can see in my right hand a valentines day heart cookie.

This marathon, has multiple names including "The Inagurual 2010 Snowmargeddeon Marathon" or "2010 Inaugural Valentines Day Massacre Marathon"

I hope this marathon continues to be organized and implemented for many years because it was quite cute and well run.

After the finish of the marathon, several of us hung out waiting for the final finisher then had a bunch of pictures of finishers as well as finishers with volunteers.

This race was lots of fun and I would recommend it without hesitation.

Jean, Walt, Dwight, Greg and other Howard County Runners and volunteers are to be commended for a GREAT race!

It was great fun, everyone was super enthusiastic and the aid stations were super well stocked with all sorts of treats including home made cookies, donuts and other food.

I have been signed up for the George Washington Birthday Marathon since registration opened in Dec. 2009. My friend Pat Brown from the Reston Runners is the current race director and organizes a superb race. This was to be my 5th George Washington Birthday Marathon which is one of my favorites because of the pedestrian 10:30 a.m. start time, excellent post race vegetarian Chili and cookies and peanut butter that make excellent sandwiches!

But alas the 30+ inches of snow last weekend and the additional 8-10 inches of snow on Wednesday led to the race being cancelled for only the 2nd time in its 47 year history. Luckily because of this early cancellation some local athletes helped out runners traveling from afar (Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Ohio...) including a bunch of marathon maniacs and 50 states marathon club members have a marathon in MD this year.

There were so many runners who were instrumental in organizing and implementing this race including Walt, Jean and a bunch of Howard County Striders. The race was 5 loops in a cute neighborhood near Centennial Lake (home of the IronGirl Triathlon). It was very hilly and there were a bunch of turns looping around the neighborhood but with the cluster of flags indicating turns as well as written directions passed out to runners, this marathon was easy to run and very well organized!

There were volunteers at the start/finish as well as the turn around 2.65 miles out. The volunteers were enthusiastic, attended to runners every need and were just amazing!!! I hope this race occurs again in the future because it is definitely in my top 10 favorite marathons. Even better, the finishers medal was a hand made medal by my friend Jean which includes a ribbon indicating "Celebrate" and "Congratulations". Two popsicle sticks indicate the year and include a heart sticker showing it is valentines day and the medallion is a chocolate that for mines says "I'm Proud of You!". I really like personalized medals and this one takes the cake!

Of course knowing nearly all of the runners from various events. Three runners I knew from the Tails for Trails ultra, several folks I knew from the local MD Marathons, 2 or 3 of us were Virginia Happy Trails Club members-including 2 who ran Holiday Lake 50 km on Saturday, a few runners I knew from Umstead 100 over the past several years and somehow several of the other runners looked very familiar.

Getting to the race was pretty easy. The race start in Columbia, MD is less than 1 hour from my house and other than the small local roads near the start, I was traveling on major interstates. The 8:30 a.m. start meant I had to get up at 6:30 a.m. but this is way better than the 4 or 5 a.m. I have to get up for Marine Corps Marathon or 2 a.m. for the Vt100!

My drive to the start was uneventful. But I knew exactly where the start was because of doing the Columbia IronGirl so often. The race start was just past Centennial Lake.

Arriving at the race start I was delighted to see my friend Mama Jean. She was one of the supporters to arrange and implement this race. She is a 50 states club member who has done all 50 states marathons so knows the importance of having marathon races occur regardless of challenges. Since there are very few marathons in Feb, the George Washington marathon is a good marathon for folks to run in MD. Other marathons in March, April and November all conflict with many other marathons. But GWBirthday competes with only 1 or 2 other marathons.

After signing up for the marathon I chatted with other runners while waiting for the start. I also debated what layers I needed an ultimately decided I needed 4 shirts (including one thick shirt) as well as a jacket, two pairs of pants, a neck gaiter, hat, a pair of gloves and outer wind mitt. I knew I would be warm enough with all these layers but wondered if I might be too hot. I figured I could put gloves and such in my pockets and tie extra layers to my waist. After taking off my Rocky Raccoon bib # from my sparkeley fanny pack and attaching my new bib, I was ready for the race.

Soon enough, the race start was announced. Less than 5 minutes to go. I asked the RD if I would need YakTrax because the parking lot where we were parked had quite a bit of ice. It was suggested this was the worst of the ice and that the rest of the course was very manageable, which I would agree with. After a quick race briefing describing the course and ensuring we all knew what we were doing, it was time to start.

Jogging along after the "Go" I was a little worried. I slowed tremendously heading out of the parking lot where there was ice to make sure I got through it safely. I was a good 100-200 meters behind the entire field turning onto the main road. This race did not have an early start and I was not sure of the race time limit. I decided I wanted to aim for 5 hours to 5:30. This seemed like a decent but not too fast pace for a week after a 50 miler. As I ran along I was dead last for a bit. So inched my way up asking folks if they were doing the marathon (this event was also simply a regular running route of the Howard County Striders, so only bibs indicated a runner was signed up for the marathon), clearly coming up behind runners I could not tell what kind of runner I was approaching. As I moved through runners I found a bunch of runners who were undecided. Then I finally found a pack of marathoners and settled in for a bit.

Walt, one of the race organizers from Chicago was one of the runners in this group. We started talking about events and figured out we had run a bunch of events together including Umstead 100 a few years ago. I believe Walt is planning to run New Orleans Mardi Gras Marathon which is when we may see each other again. The first out went very quickly. I tried to pay attention to the turns but was not entirely successful. Luckily a cluster of flags indicated turns and showed which way to turn which was VERY helpful!

Heading into the aid station I was very excited. 2.65 miles down (well after a little extra jiggle) and only 24+ miles to go. The aid station was well stocked with pretzels, water, M&M's and gatorade. This aid station was better than most of the megamarathons! And yet this marathon was only formalized on Friday. In addition to having lots of treats and drinks, the aid station volunteers were super enthusiastic and very energetic. I believe some of the volunteers were runners who were going to run a lap or 2 later and some of the later volunteers seemed to have run the course early on. I think it is cool when runners become volunteers and really respect those folks that immediately give back!

After turning around I ended up being well behind the other runners. I am not sure how this happened although I believe it was my loitering at the aid station chatting with the volunteers. Heading back onto the course I knew we had just run down a massive hill that was going to be brutal to run up. On a positive note, I decided to walk any of the uphills so I was looking forward to this break. In fact, I would say this course was predominantly rolling hills with sporadic flat sections.

Many of the neighborhood residents were out an about taking Sunday strolls, walking their dogs or even continuing to clear snow from the previous weeks storms. It was nice to have some pre-made spectators willing to cheer us on.

Pretty soon I was arriving at the start/finish. My time was 1:02. I was right on track for a bit over a 5 hour finish. After a brief stop at my car (which was right along the course...sweet!) to remove some layers and take out a gatorade, I headed to the aid station to socialize a bit.

My second lap was pretty uneventful. I was getting familiar with the various turns and started to have my favorite (and least favorite) sections. Because I was going a bit slow, I was second to last. The runners in front of me were just far enough so I couldn't catch them but close enough so frequently I could see them on long straight aways. The runner behind me, Tim (a fellow marathon maniac) was a good 400 meters behind me. But I was content to ponder my thoughts and appreciate a beautiful day with a bright blue sunny sky.

I was excited to get to the turnaround aid station and chatted with the volunteers for a bit, then headed back to the start. This course had a large hill approaching the two aid stations (turn around and start finish). The turn around aid station was at the base of a very large hill you went down approaching it then had to go up the hill leaving it. Then heading to the start/finish you had to head up a really long hill that you climbed immediately following a long hill you go down. Most of the course was in residential area's with some neighborhoods with lots of tree's and other sections that had large expanses of fields.

Throughout the day the wind would kick up pretty hard. It was nice when it was behind you, but all to often it seemed that the wind was at your face or alongside fierce enough to be quite chilly.

Heading back to the main aid station my time was 2:04. I was keeping a pretty constant pace and I was in good spirits. This would not last long. Although at the aid station I ended up with a dunkin donut triple chocolate donut that was really yummy. Unfortunately, although I was really happy about the donut, during this lap my knee started getting really painful. This lap I walked quite a bit.

Most of my impression of this lap was just trying to muddle through. I could barely move my leg because my knee was so stiff and refused to bend. And I was in alot of pain. I was quite worried and at one point considered having this be my final lap. But somehow by the end of the lap my leg was behaving better. Sometimes it is hard to figure out what is the right thing to do but as I write this 24 hours after the race, my knee is doing fine.

This race was quite fun because during each lap you could see all the marathon competitors as well as other runners. Each runner was so encouraging and it was lots of run to see and sort of form a relationships with other competitors. Many runners knew my name, while others just called me flower girl, which was cool. For the most part I would not be alone more than a few minutes before I would see another runner approaching me. And early in this lap, the front runner, Kasten lapped me. I felt a bit better when I asked him if he had run Holiday Lake the day before and he said, "No". I believe he has come in first at some marathons I have run a day after another marathon or 50 km. He is a running machine but yet very nice and supportive of all the runners.

This lap finally ended and my knee was bending again. Odd but I would take it.

Going out for my 4th lap I was getting excited. Although my 3rd lap was not my best with a time of about 1:12 (total time 3:14), I was happy to be able to continue on. Because I did not want to stress my leg out, I tried to run a bit more conservatively during this lap to ensure I could finish the full marathon. I tended to walk a few more of the hills and walked longer.

During this lap I started feeling a bit more time. I started to think about the fact that I had run a 50 miler only the week before. I also realized during this lap that last year Rocky Raccoon was the weekend of Feb 5th, while the GWBirthday was Feb 19th. This meant I had a week off between RR50 and a marathon last year. Now wonder why I was fatigued and my knee was revolting.

As I headed to the turn around I was excited to see my friends at the turn around aid station. They always were so excited and encouraging during each lap. Because of the set up of the race, you would see this aid station then pass it for about 300 meters, get to the turn around then head back. This meant I could take a cup of gatorade then have a refill by the time I returned. They were so helpful and so much fun!

Slowly walking back up the massive hill, I noticed my friend Karsten who was heading to the turn around. He was about to lap me a second time. I suggested I would see him in a few minutes. As I resumed jogging after getting to the top of the hill, Karsten passed me indicating he would not miss doing that hill again. I suggested it is alot easier if you walk up it. But I guess you don't come in 1rst if you walk the hills.

The rest of this lap passed uneventfully. There were lots of runners on the course and everyone was looking so strong. A final long downhilll followed by a super long uphill and I was approaching the start/finish line. The time was 4:17. I was doing pretty good and had resumed a decent running pace. I was optimistic that I could break 5:30, but would be satisfied with any finish.

At the start line aid station, I chatted with my friends briefly while munching on some pretzels. Upon learning they were running low on gatorade, I drank some of my own cool blue gatorade. I had one bottle in the snow so it was nicely chilled.

Then it was time for my victory lap. At this time I was feeling pretty good and was ready to continue on. Heading out, there were lots of runners who were completing their final lap so were so happy and many had lots of pep in their step. I could relate because I was starting to pick up the pace in my excitement of finishing.

At the turn around aid station I acquired a pacer. But not before I did the extra little bit and a brief drink of gatorade. Then it was time for my final 2.65 mile jog. Kenny was a local runner looking for a small workout. I warned him that I would be walking the hills and that I was not going to be exceptionally fast but he was agreeable to whatever I ran. As we jogged along he mentioned he was looking to potentially buy a house. I mentioned that there were several houses for sale along the course but at least one was huge! We chatted about running (he ran the North Central Trail last year as well as the Cherry Blossom 10 miler). But he enjoys the shorter distances because he has a very active young family with a daughter and son 5 and 7 years old.

Pretty soon we were getting the large hill right before the start/finish line and I was ready to walk again. I mentioned that in my opinion a run walk strategy definitely makes running molre manageable and makes for an easier recovery. I tend to do this strategy in all of my races although how, when and for how long I walk varies depending on the terrain, how I am feeling and just what I feel like at the time.

Rounding the bend I was back on the main road, then it was simply a quick right turn and I was back in the parking lot. I passed my car, then got to the finish. I was shocked when I saw the time of 5:17. I realized that my last lap was run in exactly 1 hour and it was my fastest lap of the day. Go me!!

After finishing I was handed my personalized finisher medal by my friend Jean. Then I was handed a flute of champaign to celebrate my victory. I then relaxed a bit and chatted with the other runners. At some point I got chilly so put on some extra layers and continued chatting. We were all waiting for my friend Marathon Maniac Tim to finish. I got cold again and then decided to head back on the course to jog him in. This would add some distance to my day and hopefully keep him entertained. I know like me, he had spent most of the marathon alone.

Getting to the base of the huge hill I was bummed not to see Tim. But I knew he was at least a mile or 2 behind me. I started walking up the next hill and spotted his bright green jacket. When he caught up to me, I turned around and we walked/jogged to the finish line. He was recovering from an injury and even worse at some point along the course had inavertantly added some mileage. Based on the written directions I almost made the same mistake (because every street seems to have the same name but is street, court, road, lane...), my only saving grace was the cluster of flags.

As we got close to the finish line I pulled off to the side and watched him finish.

After Tim finished a handful of runners chatted, reminisced and hung out for a bit. It was great to hang out with a bunch of runners from all over the country. We took a bunch of pictures then helped clean up a bit. Then it was time for me to head home.

I had a great day and was thrilled to have completed this race. Oddly enough this marathon (which was a week after my 50 mile) was nearly the same time as my first marathon time the Marine Corps Marathon in 2004. I was really excited. After this marathon, I am feeling really good about my ability to run Umstead 100 in sub-27 hours.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Rocky Raccoon 50 miler Lap 3: A victory lap leading to a sub 10 hour finish

Rocky Raccoon in 2009 was the last time I interacted with my mom.

During the race I thought about this alot. I know she was present along the course cheering me on in spirit which definitely enabled me to run this race very fast.

A week after last year's Rocky Raccoon she had an unexplained car accident that put her in the hospital for 3 days (my sister and I only knew about this after receiving medicare bills after she passed away). Because she was a campground host at a park that did not have decent cell phone service I was not alarmed by the lack of communication because I had assumed the dog tag she wore as a necklace would ensure I was contacted if she was unable to communicate effectively. Sadly this did not occur.

After her car accident she did not recover and ultimately she passed away from a catastrophic stroke Memorial Day.

Here is my friend Jenny C. who was running the 100 miler this year.

Last year Jenny was the 2nd place female and this year she was 5th place overall. Jenny runs 100 milers every month or so. She is a running machine.

Jenny is super sweet, fun to run with and really encouraging.
I will look forward to running a bit of the 8 loops at the Umstead 100 miler coming up in late March.

Previously I have run a bunch of 50 and 100 milers with Jenny but most of my interactions with her have been before or after the race. She always shows up early for races and tends to stay around cheering on the back of the packers like myself which I greatly appreciate.

After falling down in lap 2, I for some reason did not clean off my hand for nearly 15 miles. Along the dam I decided I needed to document the dirt and grime from my fall.

Sadly this picture does not show the broken thumbnail on this hand. So far the reaction to this statement has elicited a bunch of your pathetics, scoff's and laughter. Very few people have given me any sympathy. I DEMAND Sympathy!!!

And the sympathy should be for both the dirt which horrified me as well as the broken nail. At the Dam Aid station, second pass, I finally wiped my hands down.
Closing in on the finish you can see the enthusiasm and excitement of my friend Devin.

Here we are just a few meters from the finish and by this time we both knew that we had broken 10 hours for the 2010 Rocky Raccoon 50 miler.

We will both be back at this race again in 2011. It is so well run and so much fun. We were really lucky with delightful weather, a decent course with only a few mud puddles and bright sunshine.

Finishing this race we both were surprised and excited to find out we had broken 10 hours because we sort of had no idea where we were on the course due to inconsistency between the course mileage and our garmins.
After finishing together, Devin and I got a picture to commemorate our finish.

Devin was so much fun to run with. He was funny, enthusiastic, energetic and great fun to run with.

His pace matched mine very well and it seemed during the last few miles we were only in a slump together once. Most of the rest of the time one or the other of us could muster some enthusiasm for moving quickly and efficiently to ensure we reached our goal of a sub-10 hour finish.

Ultimately we not only finished in under 10 hours, we finished with nearly 10 minutes to spare!

Starting Lap 3, I finished a cup of gatorade, nibbled on some snacks then headed back on the course. I was in a bad mood as I had fallen way earlier than last year (last year it was mile 49, this year ~mile 30). My hands were dirty, a nail was broken and I was not happy. Mostly I was not happy about the dirt. And the broken nail was just salt in my wound.

Heading out carefully, I knew I needed to pay attention. I wanted to keep my fall and stumble count down but the only way to do that was to be careful and watch out. I started out pretty slow but realized that I had just under 3 hours 30 minutes to run 16.67 miles and break 10 hours. So I needed to keep some pep in my step.

Once I cleared the area by the lake where I took my fall I did resume running with purpose. But I did not resume looking up to make eye contact with other runners. I would see runners in my peripheral vision and would say encouraging things but I really did not look up. I felt bad about this but figured the next time I fell I would not get up but would take a nap or wait for another runner to pick me up and carry me to the finish.

Pretty soon I was approaching the first aid station. So far so good. Less than a half marathon (13 miles) to go. I grabbed a cup of gatorade and some tasty treats and continued on. Along the single track I realized I needed a potty break. I found a tree that seemed suitable and hoped no runners would catch up to me and that no gator, rattlesnake or other creepy crawley insect would approach me. Luckily I had a few moments of privacy then it was time to continue running.

I was getting very excited about the fact that each section I passed through was either my final time or the second to last time of seeing it. This made me happy. Gingerly picking my way around the massive puddle I chose wisely and picked the left side. This added a few extra minutes and perhaps 50 meters, but my feet continued to stay dry and relatively clean.

Getting back on to the single track I was excited to see my friend Sherry who I knew from last year. She was doing the 100 miler and was powering along steadily. After a very brief conversation we headed in our own direction.

As I ran along I heard a familiar voice behind me. It was my friend Jenny who was running the 100 miler. She was running really strong and was in good spirits. We chatted about our race season which would include the Umstead 100 mile in late March. Jenny is so positive, encouraging and great fun to run with. We ended up spending a bit of time together chatting which surprised me, but alas I was moving faster than usual in my quest for a PR.

Getting on to the Jeep road Jenny and I separated. I could see the Dam Aid station and I was excited. Everyone was so cheerful and encouraging at the aid station. I drank a few cups of gatorade followed by some coke and then ate some treats. I continued my meal of banana's, M&M's and Chex mix. I figured with about 12 miles to the finish this was going to be my final meal. Leaving the aid station with the volunteers enthusiastically cheering me on, I felt really happy and at peace.

Heading out on the Jeep Road, I met up with Jenny. We continued chatting. The miles were going so quickly. As we ran along I talked about my mom who Jenny had met last year. Jenny remembered my mom having her cat on a leash at the post race breakfast. I mentioned that I was running the race in her memory and was hoping to break 10 hours. Jenny felt confident I would do this and agreed that my mom was along the course in spirit. This segment was very poignant.

Heading into the mud puddle in the loop I followed Jenny onto the right side. Sadly this was the wrong side to stay dry and mud-free. I ended up turning around and heading back while Jenny continued forward. I need to rethink my dirt/water/mud free strategy because by the time I cleared the mud pit Jenny was several hundred meters ahead of me. After a brief wave as she headed into the 100 miler loop and I headed into the shorter 50 mile loop.

I was really excited at this point. I had 10-12 miles to go and about 3 hours to complete it. I just needed to keep moving forward with purpose. As I headed onto the dam I was moving along appreciating the view. I considered jumping into the lake and swimming to the finish, but the gators in the lake and the cold water stopped me from doing this. It was a beautiful sunny day and the view was lovely. What a great day for a race!

As I finished crossing the dam I could hear another runner coming up from behind approaching quickly. He was very polite but yet was moving super fasted. I offered to step aside to be passed since I knew he had more energy and speed than I. I even suggested that as he passed I kind of expected to hear "In your face Chump!" since I was moving considerably slower. But alas he passed me but not as quickly as I expected. I fell into a rhythm behind him and started chatting.

It was Devin from Texas, a fellow Rocky Raccoon 50 miler from 2009. He had finished in about 11 hours in his first 50 miler last year and was hoping to go faster this year. He was definitely on target to beat his time by at least an hour.

Devin was really good company and kept a constant conversation flowing. He was positive, upbeat and quite funny. The miles just flew by even though it was the last few miles of a 50 miler. Devin seemed to know many of the runners on the course. I believe this was partially from running this race last year as well as the fact he was a local (or at least more local than I). He was super encouraging to the runners we would face during the out and backs along the course and was just a pleasure to run with.

Pretty soon we were arriving at the Dam Aid Station. I was really excited and decided to document my last visit at the aid station in 2010 (I'll be 2011). As I snapped a picture I did not realize I was taking a picture of the aid station Caption Lynn changing out of his jumpsuit. He realized my error and shrieked in dismay about my XXX picture:-). Since I was moving along, I suggested that I would not be deleting this picture and asked how much it was worth. I see running a potentially profitable sport and am not adverse to being bought off. After a few moments I realized time is more valuable then money and asked if the picture was worth some time off my finish time. Our negotiated time reduction was 2 hours which I was to talk to Joe P, the race director. So far I do not see a sub-8 hour finish time for me....

Actually speaking of compromising pictures, I do have several from a bunch of races. Because I take a bunch of pictures along the course particularly in lap courses or courses with out and backs I sometimes after looking at my pictures after the race notice runners doing all sorts of crazy stuff off in the distance or along the side of the course. If you think I have a picture of you you can send a check and make it payable to cash:-)

It is fun to joke with aid station volunteers and the Dam Aid Station North Texas Trail Runners a just a hoot! They always are so enthusiastic and encouraging and make the race so much fun. I was bummed to be leaving but knew I had less than 7 miles to the finish so was very excited. With a final "See you next year", Devin and I were off.

The jeep road leaving the Dam aid station follows some undulating small hills. Devin and I were both struggling a bit but plugging along. We were near a handful of other runners who also seemed to be hitting the same wall. Our strategy was to jog the flats and the downhills and walk the uphills. Our definition of uphill varied a bit with a few tiny inclines being deemed hills. But we both knew we needed to keep focussed and minimize our walk breaks to ensure our sub-10 hour finish.

We kept an easy conversation flowing and the course just seemed to fly by. Having 3 identical laps with some out and back sections makes it easy to become familiar with the course. I find this very comforting because you can recognize landmarks that indicate you are getting closer and closer to the finish.

As we jogged, Devin called his wife to give a status update. Unfortunately during this conversation at a turn point I fell asleep at the wheel and we kept jogging straight. We missed a turn. Oops! Luckily we did not go far before realizing our error. I have gone off track alot further and our 10-20 feet was not too bad.

Getting back onto the single track we were getting that much closer to the finish. Last year when it was warmer there were many armadillo's burrowing along the course which I found a little frightening. Unfortunately, it is hard to tell the difference between the noises made by an armadillo, rattlesnake, alligator, puma, other man eating animals or serial killers. But this year with the cold and my friend Devin to protect me I was good to go!

As we jogged along we cheered on runners heading towards us. Then soon enough we were splitting off and closing in on the Mardi Gras Aid station. Devin's wife was there with his lucky shirt. And the Mardi Gras volunteers offered up some more beads. I was hoping for some pink beads but only scored some pearl, silver and gold beads. But I was happy. I would look sparkely and festive. The volunteers were so enthusiastic and so much fun.

After a brief visit with Devin's wife while drinking some gatorade it was time to finish this race! We had just about 3 miles to go and between 45-50 minutes. We were pretty optimistic about our ability to break 10 hours but knew there always the potential for unexpected disasters until you cross the finish line. During this aid station we also realized both our Garmin 410XT were not seeming to have identical mileage to the race documents. This was pretty confusing and we could not figure out what pace we needed nor why there was a nearly 0.5 mile discrepancy between our Garmins and the race. We thought we were at mile 46, while the race printouts suggested 46.5, for sure we would happily accept the race distance and hoped they were not taunting us. Figuring out where we were became a huge debate that kept us going the next several miles.

At some point I had the realization I kind of wanted a potty break. But we had less than 3 miles to go. I was in a quandry. Finally Devin made a decision he also needed a potty. I slowed down and started looking for a satisfactory "LaTree". Sadly the "girls" potty location had a field on the left and some tree's behind a razor wire..AACK!! I slowed down and waited for Devin and explained my dilemma. Devin suggested he would be up for walking until I found a good spot for my potty break. So finally I found a tree that worked for me. Checking for rattlesnakes, alligators, javelina's, puma's and other frightening creatures I decided it was safe to use. I then caught up to Devin. Oddly enough he was not as thrilled to see me as it meant it was time to run again. I actually got a little confused at this point and thought we were about to walk a REALLY long time because we were heading straight into a huge mountain. Alas we were making our final right turn towards the lake.

Along the lake I was super careful and by mutual agreement we slowed down a bit. I did not want to fall and was struggling to look for roots, nubs or other things ready to trip runners. There were runners heading out including some 50 milers and a bunch of 100 milers. All the runners looked really good. Obviously everyone heading out was not going to finish the lap before sunset; however, everyone was in good spirits.

The one segment we would pick up the pace was along the bridges. This was a flat surface with no tripping hazards. But soon enough we were exiting the lake area and were climbing the hill that would get us closer to the road. Once we were along the road, we had less than 1 mile to go. At this point Devin and I had the most surreal discussion in my opinion. I had an idea of where we were on the course and felt we had two road crossings as well as a maintenance/house paved path. I could not remember the exact order but felt it was road, maintenance road then final road by the straight away. I think Devin wanted to course to be shorter and while I would appreciate a shorter course, without violating laws of physics we needed this pattern (2 roads, 1 driveway). So I said, "I hope we do not have just one more turn". I think he thought I had totally flipped my lid but I just wanted to make sure I was not missing vital pieces of my life. Sometimes during 100 milers I have bits of my life I cannot remember. Hopefully I did not commit crimes during these missing life pieces. I don't think I have started a life of crime but realistically I cannot remember a bunch of miles and brief time periods of my life.

As we continue running, I mention that I know we are on track to break 10 hours but we might be able to squeak by with a sub-9:57 finish. I suggest we should aim for this time because then I could say I have broken my 50 mile PR time by half an hour and Devin can say he broke his 50 mile PR by an hour. This may be challenging, particularly since we actually have no idea how much course we have left. But we decide to keep moving with purpose.

As we continue running, we pass by the bench overlooking the lake. This is where my mom and I sat for about an hour after last years Rocky Raccoon. I said a small prayer and thought about what a great mom, cheerleader and wonderful friend she was. This gave me so much energy. Less than 600 meters to go.

Devin and I were thoroughly enjoying the race and having a great time. The left turn arrow is up ahead. Less than 400 meters to go. We pick up the pace and start running in strong. Not a sprint, just moving forward quickly and efficiently. I am so excited to be finishing the race with such a great friend. Running together with Devin has made the final 10 miles of the race such fun! The memories and the challenges make this race one I will never forget.

I finally see the clock. It says 9:50 and a few seconds! We are going to break 10 hours. Crossing the finish line we exchange a huge hug. Then Devin's wife and father come up and give hugs freely. This race exceeded my expectations wildly and finishing with Devin is icing on the cake. I know we will both be back next year!

You can see Devin's report of our time together on his blog at this link:

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Rocky Raccoon 50 miler 2010 Lap 2: Girl Down

As I headed out into my 2nd lap, I saw my friend Kim Sargeants Mom. She was at the race cheering on her daughter. I have met Mrs. Sargeant several times including at last years Rocky Raccoon.

She is really encouraging and knows just what to say as you are running along the course.

I know Kim from Umstead 100 (she gave me lots of advice my first Umstead which helped me as I finished my first 100 miler)

Kim always is dressed up really nicely and always has her make up nicely applied. I wish I had the courage and knowledge to wear make up in a 50 or 100 miler!
As I headed out of the main aid station (start/finish), I saw a pair of husky dogs. They were so cute and so sweet.

I ended up spending a few minutes petting both dogs. They reminded me of my previous dog who was a Samoyed, Snowball.

I offered the dogs my bib/chip since many husky's are accustomed to running far distances. Alas I was not able to convince the dogs or their master to take my place on the course. Although it did sound like the dogs would have been happy to keep me company for the 16.67 mile lap.

Heading into the Mardi Gras aid station a volunteer insisted on taking my picture.

It is funny I have a bunch of pictures of other runners, the course and some self portraits but I definitely lack pictures of myself standing along side the course so this offer was greatly appreciated.

In just a few moments another volunteer was going to snag me and take my picture in front of the Mardi Gras themed decorations. Then after that picture I was going to be roughed up a bit and forced to wear mardi gras beads for the remainder of the race:-)

The Mardi Gras Aid Station has super enthusiastic volunteers dressed up with beads and boa's in the spirit of Mardi Gras.

They were so festive and encouraging (just like all the Rocky Raccoon aid stations).

I really enjoy hanging out at all of the aid stations, although I did not spend super long at any aid station other than to grab some treats and beverages.

But I do really appreciate all of the kind volunteers taking such great care of us runners. Without them, I know I could not run 50 miles!

Lap 2:

After a brief visit to my drop bag to take off my jacket, grab my sunglasses and get mentally ready for my second lap it was time to head back onto the course. I was really excited about the fact that I had just run 30 minutes faster than 2009 so had a huge buffer and was on track for a sub-10 hour finish.

Heading back out onto the course I was lucky enough to see lots of friends. Everyone looked so good. It was a great day for a run with bright sunshine and nice temperatures. I still had my gloves on but had only one pair of pants and two long sleeve shirts. I was pretty proud of this lack of layers but would have been so much happier with 75 degree's and sunny!

My friend Rhonda from Umstead, Mike from VHTRC, Paige & Geoff and a bunch of others all were heading towards the start/finish finishing their first lap. I saw a bunch of new friends whom I met during the first lap as well and cheered them on.

Because of all the folks running facing me and cheering & chatting with them, I was very well entertained for the first section of this lap. Pretty soon I was arriving at the first aid station. I felt really good and just grabbed a quick cup of gatorade, some coke and a handful of treats including pretzels, banana's and M&M's. Heading out of the aid station I was excited to see my Garmin was suggesting I was doing a pretty solid 10-12 minute mile pace. I was running strong and feeling great.

Heading towards the Dam Aid station I continued to see runners but now it was the leaders of the 50 and 100 miler. My friend Jamie was looking super strong and was in good spirits. I saw my friend Melanie who had changed from the 100 to the 50. She was running super fast and was looking good. Meredith another 50 miler who I have briefly met was also running strong. I am afraid of Meredith because like my mother-in-law she is a Nutritionist/Dietitician. I worry nutritionists can smell the Snoball's, Twinkie's, SuzyQ's on my breath and will yell at me for this dietary transgression.

Continuing on I hoped that I would arrive at the big puddle and be alone. Then I could gingerly scamper around the mudpit going as far off course as I so desired. Although there were runners lurking around I was able to walk around the puddle. I would guess each mudpuddle took me at least 4 or 5 minutes wasted trying to keep my feet neat and tidy.

As I continued on I heard a familiar voice. It was my friend Richard. During the first lap I had chatted with a bunch of runners but because I was focussed on the ground to ensure I saw roots and other hazards I had no idea who I was talking with. I would occasionally ask folks their names and actually got pretty good at recognizing my friends from behind or from their voice. I had a friend Mike with 2XU compression sleeves who I chatted with extensively as well as a different friend, Richard who I ran some of the 24 hour race around the lake. Richard and I kept up a conversation about ultra's, life in general and how we were doing.

As we continued to chat, I was very excited to be approaching the Dam Aid station. This aid station is filled with super excited and enthusiastic volunteers. My friend Lynn is the captain and is a super nice gentleman with a huge personality! I was happy to arrive and see my friends. After grabbing some gatorade, coke as well as pretzels, and banana's I continued on.

Somehow I got separated from Richard at the aid station. But alas I was content to run alone and watch and cheer on runners heading towards me. This made the loop by the Dam go very quickly until I had to deal with the huge mud puddle. I was able to "draft" off another runner who was working his way around the puddle pretty successfully. We chatted briefly but our conversation was interrupted as he headed off to the 100 miler loop while I completed the 5o mile loop back towards the Dam Aid Station.

As I headed along the Dam I heard a familiar voice. It was my friend Mike from Orlando who was now running with me. He was in really good spirits and was having a great race! We ended up running the rest of the lap together which was so much fun. I learned he graduated from University of Central Florida (the same place I earned my MS in Statistics). He attended UCF back when it was being built and you had to look under your car for gators and rattlesnakes (who knew school could be hazardous?). All of my schools have been fairly well established by the time I attended however, my undergraduate school, Stockton State College used to have classes out of the Mayflower Hotel a hotel/casino in Atlantic City. In addition to our common University, we also both worked for Disney World. This section of the course went by very quickly.

Pretty soon we were heading into the Mardi Gras Aid Station. The super enthusiastic volunteer suggested I should take a set of beads. Of course I was fair game for anything. I ended up being handed about 8-10 beads. I mentioned to the volunteers that the last time I wore beads for an extensive time period I ended up with bruising on my chest and expected it to be the case during RR50. But it was so worth it.

After grabbing some treats it was time to head back onto the course. I was getting excited I had completed more than 25 miles in well under 5 hours and I was continuing to move quickly. Sadly this was not going to be the case for much longer. As Mike and I continued jogging (and walking up the hills) the miles just flew by. We were chatting and having a good time. As we got close to the lake we moving along quickly and happily. Other runners were heading our way so we knew we were getting close to the turn around.

Mike took a stumble. He slowed down significantly and I was worried about him. His stumble/root kick was pretty loud. I offered up an advil to help numb the pain. Oddly enough a runner heading the other way (unbeknownst to me) took me up on this verbalized offer. The poor guy had to catch up to me as I continued running thinking it was someone behind me who wanted my painkiller. But Mike did not accept the offer. We continued running and after just a few moments my toe hit a root and I was flying through the air. But not like superman, more like a clumsy person about to chew dirt.

As I hit the ground I slammed into my hands, hit my hip and skidded a bit. I was down. I stayed down and pondered my options. I could keep lying down and wait for someone to rescue me or even just stay put and take a nap. I waited a few seconds thinking how nice it was to rest a bit and to be off my feet. But finally I realized Mike was getting concerned so I slowly got up and resumed jogging. By this time we both had the wind knocked out of us and neither were overly excited to resume running fast. We jogged for a bit and then once we headed over the ridge to near the road we finally picked up the pace again.

I was pretty bummed out. I had not wanted to fall at all and certainly not this early in the race. And I was all dirty. I HATE dirt!!! My hands were dirty, I had a big slab of mud on my pant leg and I was horrified. But I continued on.

At the main aid station I was not in good spirits. I was my own worst nightmare, covered in dirt. And I had BROKEN a NAIL!!! This was the worst race ever!

After grabbing a few treats and a drink, I headed back onto the course. I did not want to fall again and I had just made a decision that I was going to continue running fast. I had not picked up my good headlamp so I was committed to finish the race before sunset. It was time for my 3rd and final lap.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Rocky Raccoon 50 miler 2010 Lap 1

Along the course early in the day. You can see that I have gloves on, several layers and of course my lucky flower lei.

I was really happy throughout the race and really enjoyed seeing so many friends, having so much fun running and just enjoyed the whole day.

I know I am really lucky to be able to do what I enjoy. I also am so fortunate to have so many great friends.

The weather was nearly perfect for an ultra. It was sunny, not too cold and there was only a slight breeze for the most part.
Here is my friend Dane running the 50 miler for the first time.

Due to some health issues earlier in the week he ended up running a 50 km not the full 50 miler, but realistically it is better to stop to run another day than to do something foolish.

Dane will be running Umstead 100 mile in just about 2 months and then will be running the Oddesey Race a 204 mile race from Gettysburg to DC (I think) later in April/May.

Previously Dane ran 52 marathons in 52 weeks which he chronicles in his book "See Dane Run"

Approaching the Dam I had a moment to take a self portrait picture. Sometimes I take pictures because I need a bit of a break and this is the way I can easily take a break without looking like a slacker:-)

You can see that the majority of the course is run in forest. Some of the forest is evergreen while other sections are oaks or other trees with leaves.

The course is pretty nice soft pack dirt with about a 50/50 split of jeep road and single track. There are also a bunch of bridges you run along that apparently cover some really muddy sections.

Here is my friend Paige and Geoff. I know Paige from the VT100 last summer.

We ran a good portion of the first 40 miles hopscotching when our paces were different as well as running together.

Paige is really sweet and a super strong runner. She is lots of fun to run with.

I spent a bit of time running a bit with them at the end of both our lap 1. They were finishing their 20th mile while I was finishing my 16.5 mile.

On display near the start/finish line were the finishers medals and 1rst, 2nd and 3rd place awards.

I took a moment to examine what I could win if only I was running the 100 miler and if only I was a decent runner.

Someday perhaps I will be faster but for the time being I am perfectly content to do the best I can.

In fact I have learned that I was 73 out of 240+ finishers (top 30%, wahoo!) as well as the 13th female overall out of 70+ females. This placement really exceeded my hopes since I think of myself as a "back of the packer".


Ready, set, go!

It was the start of my second Rocky Raccoon 50 miler. I knew what to expect from the course (lots of roots) as well as 50 milers, but I did now know what the day would bring for me. I was optimistic about my ability to break 10 hours and was confident that I would finish unless something catastrophic happened.

To break 10 hours I knew I needed to run on average 12 minute miles. However, I knew I needed to run a bit faster to give myself a bit of a buffer as well as to enable aid station breaks, potty breaks and drop bag breaks. This was going to be tough but hopefully manageable.

Unfortunately with ~300 runners doing the 50 miler I inadvertantly placed myself in the wrong place. Because I am so used to being far in the back from the start to the finish of a race, I loitered around a bit. But this meant for the first several miles I was with runners who were aiming for 12 hours up to 29 hours. This enabled me to pace myself in the beginning while I warmed up but after a bit I realized my goal of sub-10 hours could be adversely impacted.

After about 2 miles the single track opened up a bit and I re-assorted myself to a more appropriate place in the conga-line of runners. As I passed runners, my friend Mike from VHTRC was surprised to see me as he was aiming for 12 hours. I explained about being in the wrong place at the start, but I always would prefer to be with a bit slower runners that I can pass than to feel pressured to go super fast.

Continuing on I ran with 3 young ladies who had just run the Disney Goofy. Oddly enough they had their disney marathon shirts on, I think if I were running in a previous race shirt, I would pick the longest/toughest shirt. Luckily I have my lucky outfit including my bright pink "Tammy" tank and long sleeve shirt. It makes dressing easier and of course if I become unconscious everyone will know what name to use.

We chatted for a bit then I headed on to find runners aiming for 10 hours. I was surprised and delighted when I arrived at the first aid station. It was less than an hour into the race and I was feeling great! I drank a few glasses of gatorade then headed on. I was still full from my breakfast of a Cosi chocolate biscotti (my new favorite pre-race breakfast).

As I headed out of the aid station I was alone. I would sporadically catch up with runners and chat briefly but many folks were running their first 50 miler and a few were already struggling. I wanted to draft off an experienced runner who had run a bunch of 50 miles

Pretty soon the faster 100 miler runners were heading our way. They all looked amazingly strong and were in good spirits. Many of them gave us words of encouragement. After a few clusters, I saw my friend Jamie. She was looking so good. She was moving super fast and steady and was in a pack of about 5-10 runners. We exchanged a brief "Go Jamie/Go Tammy" then continued on our way.

As I continued running I was running alone for the most part. But I was happy with my pace. This also enabled me to deal with the occasional mud puddles as I saw fit. I could stop, walk around and figure out the best way to make my way around the puddle in a way that would keep my feet dry and mud free. Sadly by not being in a pack of runners I could not watch where others stepped to avoid the mud; however, I get the impression that many of the runners were just running right through the mud. This was not an acceptable strategy to me, but I believe I am not exactly an ultra runner as I had dirt, falling, getting sweaty and a bunch of other stuff that 90% of the other runners are okay with.

Pretty soon I was approaching the Dam aid station. This was my favorite aid station last year. The North Texas Trail runners lead by Lynn are a super enthusiastic group of volunteers who take GREAT care of all of the runners. I was so excited to see them and as last year they were so cheerful and encouraging. While in the aid station, I saw my friend Dane who was crusing along. He looked really strong and was in good spirits at this time. After a brief chat he headed back onto the course, while I grabbed some gatorade, pretzels and banana's and M&M's and then continued on.

In this section I met Barbara a Texas based runner. She was really nice and seemed to know everyone on the course. We ended up hopscotching our positions for much of the race, but ultimately I believe she finished well ahead of me.

Heading down the jeep trail I was happy to pick up some speed. I wanted to continue building my buffer and this part of the course is easy to run. I was moving fast and feeling really good. It was getting warmer (but not to warm) and it was sunny. What a great day for a race!

After this out and back section, we had a small loop to complete before we headed back to the dam aid station. Somehow as I headed into the loop I got confused. I knew we had to stick left but was running like an American. I almost took out a runner completing the loop in my confusion.

Unfortunately the beginning of the loop section had the worst mud puddle that entailed a long side trip around it. Luckily the puddle was really big, looked very deep and the runners just ahead of me started walking around it. I simply followed these runners and they did a pretty good job of picking their way around it. A few minutes later we were back on the course running. The loop for the 50 milers headed off pretty soon after the huge mud puddle.

We then quickly arrived on the earthen dam. The start/finish line was visible about 300 meters across the lake. Each time I run this section I think how much easier it would be to simply jump in the alligator infested lake to get to the start/finish. Alas I continued running.

A short segment of single track connected us to the jeep trail near the Dam aid station. I grabbed another cup of gatorade for the road then continued running. Although this little loop is supposed to be about 3-4 miles, it felt like it went super fast. I was about 10 miles into the race and less than 2 hours has elapsed since the start.

The jeep road out and back went really quickly. There were many 50 milers heading towards me many of whom I knew by name and/or face. It was so much fun and I was having a great race.

Back on the single track I was moving along quickly and efficiently until I got back to the pretty large mud puddle we would see on both the out and back. I disliked this mud puddle and struggled to figure out if the left side or the right side was better. Unfortunately my first choice was wrong and I had to double back to retry the other side. But it was so worth it.

Again I ended up being being between runners but it was nice to be able to cheer on all of the runners heading towards me without interrupting a conversation. And it allowed me to think about my mom. I spent alot of time along the course thinking about her. This was the last place I saw her, so it was special to reminisce in my mind. Sometimes I miss her so much but during the race I felt closer to her than I have for quite some time. I know she was there in spirit cheering me on and supporting me.

The course continued on with a mix of jeep road and single track. This section heading back to the start/finish has undulating hills. The jeep road has a bunch of hills some of which are steeper than others. However, on the first lap the hills are not as noticeable.

The final aid station along the course had a theme this year, it was the "Mardi Gras" aid station. This became my new co-favorite aid station because the volunteers were so enthusiastic and the station had all sorts of beads all over it. It also had lots of sparkeley Mardi Gras decorations. I felt at home. After chatting with the volunteers and grabbing some gatorade, pretzels, M&M's and banana's I headed off to finish up my first lap.

With only 3 miles until the start finish I was sure I would be finishing my lap in under 3 hours and 15 minutes. I was very excited because this would help in breaking 10 hours. However, at this point I started to have knee pain. It was pretty bad and was on the top of my knee cap and under my knee cap on my leg that has had a bunch of surgeries. This was worrisome because I never know if/when pain might go away or get more severe. I decided to take 2 advil and hope for the best. Because of this pain I knew I was changing my gait a bit and this was the most troublesome. I tried to fight the urge to bend my leg funny but it was tough. My knee was objecting to bending and it was less than 15 miles in. Luckily after a bit the advil or else some endorphins kicked in.

Luckily during this section there were several hills on the jeep road. This gave me an excuse to walk a bit and massage my knee. Finally I was able to run normally again. And it was time to run on the final miles of the single track. This section of the race is very beautiful. The lake is in the horizon and with the bright blue sky it was so lovely. Sadly because I was focussed on the ground trying to make sure I did not trip on a root I only saw this view from my peripheral vision.

This sight was a sign that the start/finish line was really close. Just a few bridges to go, a small hill and I would be finished with lap one. As I headed away from the lake up the small hill I was excited to see the road and the other finger of the lake. Less than 1 mile to finish this lap and I was feeling great! Other than my knee issue, I was feeling strong, my legs were moving and my stomach was doing well.

As I caught up to a pair of runners, I thought I recognized the long blond hair from VT100. I did, it was my friend Paige and Geoff from the VT100. They were running the 100 miler and were looking super strong. I chatted briefly with them and caught up since I had seen them last at JJ100 in Oct. Both looked really strong and were enjoying the race immensely. I was thrilled to see them and enjoying catching up. They are running a bunch of races over the year including several 100 milers.

Heading to the turn around, I was pleased to see my friend Frank from VHTRC heading out for his 2nd lap. I also saw a bunch of other 100 milers and several 50 milers. Then soon enough I was making the right hand turn into the start/finish line. The clock time indicated it was just a little over 3 hours from the start. I was on track for my sub-10 hour finish.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Rocky Raccoon Race Report Before the Race

With my friend Jamie before the race.

Jamie is such a great friend! She is so positive, upbeat and fun to see even just briefly (cause she is super fast!!!). She came in 2nd place for females running a faster pace then I can run even for just a mile (with an imaginary bear chasing me!)

I was so shocked to see that other than this jacket (which she took off before the start), she just had a long sleeve shirt and shorts on, SHORTS!!! I was bundled up with 2 pairs of pants and 6 long sleeve shirts with a jacket prior to the race and grudgingly took off one pair of pants and one upper layer right before the race started.

With my friends Nathan and Jenny. I have met both Nathan and Jenny numerous times. They both ran RR100 last year as well as Umstead and a bunch of other events.

Jenny and Nathan are so nice and both are super fast. Last year Jenny came in 2nd place female at RR100.

Jenny and Nathan ended up running about 12 hundred milers last year, which is super impressive. Additionally in many of these ultra's they both placed very well.

My friend Dane was running his first Rocky Raccoon 50 miler. I was able to give him some helpful hints since I had run this race previously.

My basic advice consists of "don't fall". Although this is alot easier said than done.

I have run a bunch of races with Dane over the past several years and will be running Umstead 100 in late March.

Dane ran 52 marathons in 52 weeks in 2006 and wrote a very inspirational and interesting book (in fact my father-in-law who I gave a signed copy right after the Richmond Marathon, says it is his favorite book).

My friend Mike from the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club was running the 50 miler.

There were at least 5 of us from this running club running the Rocky Raccoon 50 or 100 miler.

Mike finished the 50 miler really strong (after darkness which meant a bit of his final lap was smartly spent walking), but a finish is a finish.

I think Mike and I have run 10-20 events in the MD/DC area including several ultra's. I think when I first started running he was consistently beating me, but now I am starting to gain confidence and speed.

At the sign near the start of the race. This is just before the race start during a few moments when I took off my gloves.

I was ready for running a sub-10 hour 50 miler, I had my Garmin set, was in my lucky outfit and had my game face on.

I was very excited about running the race and was trying to have a positive attitude. I did have a few moments when I got depressed about missing my mom but I resolved to do well and honor her memory. I know that she would have been thrilled with what a great day I had.

In my opinion, ultramarathoning consists of the 4 F's: Fun, Friends, Fitness and Food. And Rocky Raccoon consisted of these items in spades!

Rocky Raccoon is a really nice and well run ultra. Last year I ran the 50 miler and ended up with a new 50 miler PR of 10:27. This year I set a new PR of 9:50. While the course is not easy (it's 50 miles of course). Relative to other 50 milers it is manageable. There are lots of roots on the course, but realistically the hills are pretty manageable, the roots while present are not present along 100% of the course and the 3 laps makes it easy logistically. You know every 16.67 miles you will see your "stuff". And of course the volunteers at the aid station, the spectators along the course and the cheering runners as you go along many miles on out and backs makes this a fairly fast 50 miler.

This year I almost missed running this race. My flight from Baltimore to Houston TX was the last non-stop flight before a 30 inch snowstorm hit the mid-atlantic. My flight did take off without any issues and on my flight were several other runners (100 mile shirts, Ironman Shirts and even 50 mile shirts tend to give away runners). My friend from MD (I forget his name but will look it up), was on the flight and running his second Rocky Raccoon. I also met a new friend, John from MD who was sitting right behind me. He was running the 100 mile for the first time.

After my uneventful flight, I ended up heading up to the race site but apparently did not read the race brochure indicating a new packet pick up location. But I did get to walk around Huntsville State Park a bit (successfully avoiding the "gators in the lake"). Once I figured out the proper place to pick up my packet, the Walker County Storm Shelter. I learned a TX storm shelter is not just a gazebo in a park but actually is a sturdily built building. I guess it makes sense but initially I missed the turn because I was looking for something different.

After arriving at packet pick up I ran into a bunch of friends. Although I did not recognize as many people at the packet pick up as I expected. This race has doubled in size since last year, so I believe there were many new ultra runners participating. During the race I was fortunate to see lots of friends and of course make new friends!

My packet was given to me by my friend Sue Norwood. She is so sweet and what a wonderful person. She was volunteering at so many places during the race. We caught up briefly then I headed in for the pre race briefing. Luckily the course had not changed and as a lap course you just need the first lap to remember where it goes. Sadly even with this in lap 3 I actually tried to get lost when I was chatting with my friend Devin. And both of us have done this 50 mile race before! Although it is not an ultra until you fall and go off course, so I guess by the strictest definition this race was an ultra. Luckily our little attempt at getting lost only added 10-15 feet to our race!

After listening to the pre-race briefing, I decided to head to my hotel after picking up dinner from Schlotzsky deli. Although I had a dinner ticket the 300+ runners in the auditorium intidimidated me since I wanted to head to bed early since I had been up since a little after 4 a.m.

Most of my running stuff was set up prior to flying to Houston, but I still had to set out my clothing and accessories. I also needed to set up my drop bag for the main aid station. I had a change of shoes including a spare pair of sneakers, gaiters, socks, glide and feet cleaning items. I also knew I wanted to have some layers available as well as lighting in case my sub-10 hour finish did not occur. I also needed to put in some "sunny" stuff including my hat and sunglasses. Realistically other than dropping off my jacket after 1 lap and picking up my sunglasses at that same time, I did not use anything from my drop bag.

Once my drop bag was set up and my outfit was placed on the bed, it was time to go to bed. Since I had a bunch of friends running the 100 miler, I wanted to get to the start at Hunstville State Park by about 5 a.m. so I could see the 100 start.

Waking up at 4 a.m. I got dressed pretty quickly and checked out of my hotel. Then it was time to drive to the park. I knew I needed a really early start because the speed limit is ~20 mph and it is several miles from the entrance to the race start parking lot. Additionally, with up to 700 runners in the 50 and 100 milers, I was worried about parking. I got a pretty decent spot not too far from the showers. Sadly I did not realize the showers were not operational until after the race when my good parking spot became a mediocre spot at best!

Once I arrived, I headed to the starting tent. I checked in and started milling about. I knew my friend Frank from VHTRC was running the 100, as well as my friends Jenny & Nathan from Umstead and other races, my friend Paige and Geoff from the VT100 were running as well as my friend Jamie who I hoped to see. As I loitered I ran into Jenny and Nathan. We talked about running and how we wished the race would just start. Then suddenly my friend Jamie came up from behind me and gave me a huge hug! We chatted briefly but she had a bit more to do before the race start. I saw my friend Mike Broderick from MD who was pacing/coaching a runner doing her first 100 and we chatted briefly. Pretty soon it was 5 minutes to start. I headed out on the course to the first turn at the street crossing. This is a good place to see and cheer on runners. Once the race started I was lucky enough to see my friend Jamie, Paige, Geoff and several others. Then it was time for me to get ready for my race.

Once all the runners passed, I headed back to the start line. At the starting line I saw my friend Dane. We caught up and chatted about running. Dane will be running Umstead 100 in 2 months as well as a 207 mile race in ~3 months. Dane was just getting over a bout with the flu earlier in the week and was hopeful about his recovery enabling him to be competitive in the race. After a bit I realized I needed a potty break. After my break I came back and ran into more friends. I ran into my friend Mike from the VHTRC who was running the 50 so we chatted for a bit. Pretty soon the 5 minute warning came. It was time for a final visit to my drop bag. I could finally get rid of my headlamp and took off one layer which worried me a bit. It worked out okay and I never was chilly during the race. I did end up keeping my gloves which I wore a vast majority of the day.

With one minute to go, I moved into the back of the pack of runners and did a final mental check. Everything was operational and I was hopeful about my ability to break 10 hours for the 50 miler.

Success at Running but not flying home at Rocky Raccoon 50 mile

Today I am washing my stinky running cloth. This is not unusual except I am doing this at Houston, TX, not my home, where I should be. Sadly, snow-pocalypse 2010 made it so my flight(s) all have been cancelled. Hopefully my flight home this evening does not DNF!

I had a great time at Rocky (well except for not getting home). And surpassed my goal of breaking a 10 hour 50 miler. It was a goal I was not sure I would make, but I did with a bit of wiggle room. My gun time was 9:50:30. I imaging my chip time is about 1 or 2 minutes faster. I am so excited and proud of this result. It was really difficult to stay focused and I tried very hard to ensure my aid station visits were brief and productive. But I think my friends, the volunteers at the aid stations knew how much I appreciated them even without standing around socializing for 5 or 10 minutes.

After finishing I volunteered overnight at the main aid station. This was alot of fun. The runners are so nice and kind and every ultra runner has my utmost respect. Running 50 miles or 100 miles is REALLY hard!

My first lap was pretty fast (around 3 hours), my next lap I think was over about 3:30 and my final lap may have been faster than my 2nd lap (the splits have not been posted yet). But my lame excuse for my slower lap 2 is my repeated spills. I stumbled a bunch of times (particularly in the last 2-3 miles from the mardi gras aid station to the start/finish). And in fact fell all the way to the ground at one point. While lying down I considered for a few moments just staying there. But I knew that would not finish the race effectively. My positive thought after this spill was that the pain in my wrist, which started to swell up a bit was that my wrist pain was taking my mind off the pain in my legs, feet and toes. Although the toe that caught the root was really painful as well.

Running the course I knew my mom was with me in spirit. This gave me lots of energy. Many of my friends along the course, particularly when I mentioned she was the person with a cat on a leash in 2009. I do miss my mom very much but during the race I remembered last year when she was at many of the aid stations and even popped up along the course at unexpected locations (the big hill was a real treat that many people including myself remember from last year). I also was able to sit on the chair that we sat and watched runners in the evening. Sitting there I was so proud of my sub-10 hour 50 miler. I know she would have been so excited and proud.

I will write a more comprehensive race report. I have so many friends who I saw before, during and after the race. I am so incredibly lucky to be able to do something I enjoy so much and to have so many great friends I get to see, run and volunteer with.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Sneak Preview of the 2010 Rocky Raccoon 50 miler

Here is my second to last picture of my mom and I from last year's Rocky Raccoon 50 miler. My mom was so happy for me and really helped contribute to my PR for the 50 mile distance.

She showed up at numerous aid stations along the course and even ended up cheering from the top of one of the hills at a GREAT location for all the runners. From her experience as a track coach she knew where runners started to need a little extra motivation during events.

She was my hero, biggest cheerleader and just a wonderful person. I am so glad I got to see her during the weekend at Rocky Raccoon last year and am so thrilled she was able to share in my victory. It meant so much to have her there.

I wish so much I had said this to her while she was still alive. I do miss her so much and know I was incredibly lucky to have such a wonderful mom.

Tomorrow assuming the massive storm about to hit the Mid-Atlantic does not strike until sometime after my 10:10 a.m. flight to Houston I will be running my second Rocky Raccoon 50 miler in Huntsville State Park. Although I will be running with a slightly heavy heart (since this was the place I interacted with my mom last), I am looking forward to this race.

I hope to break my last years time of 10:25 and even surpass it with a sub-10 hour finish. I am feeling strong and know what to expect from this race so am pretty optimistic.

I have many friends running both the 50 miler and the 100 miler that I know of (like Jamie, Dane and Frank). But I also expect I will run into a bunch of friends from last years RR50 as well as a bunch of other surprise friends (some runners I only know by face, not name).

Finally, I am really looking forward to volunteering overnight. I love the energy of ultra's. Runners are always so kind to volunteers and it feels so good to give back to a community that is so supportive, encouraging and just so great in general. I am so proud to call myself an ultra-runner!

I know my mom will be with me in spirit and I hope she will be smiling down on me from heaven and that my performance will make her proud.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Race Report: 2010 Cloud Snapple Half Marathon

Approaching the packet pick up location near the start of the half marathon.

Notice while the sky is overcast, there is no snow on the ground. This is dramatically different than the finish of the race when there were several inches of snow and heavy snow coming down.

The race was very well organized. I believe there were several packet pick up times on Thurs and Fri before the Saturday race day, but all competitors had to pick up a chip the morning of the race.

Other than being parked at the furthest parking lot, the mechanics and logistics of this half marathon were very easy.
Here I am approaching the finish of the half marathon.

Although the weather was perhaps even worse than the Disney Half Marathon I did not set another PR. Although realistically during this race I was pretty warm and my feet never got wet. My face did get pretty chilled and by the end of the race the snow did pile up on my neck gaiter, hat and face but overall it was not too bad.

This picture is right before the finish line (you can see the time of 2:23:53) and is facing north/west on the C&O Canal. This is the same towpath the JFK50 miler goes along from mile 17 to mile 42.

After the finish I got a picture with my new friend Naomi. I met Naomi along the course. She was really positive, upbeat and was a friend of an ultra running friend.

Naomi and I ran about 11 out of the 13 miles of this race together.

We both agreed had the snow started prior to the race we probably would not have shown up. In fact without the positive weather reports alluding to an inch or two of snow primarily occuring in the afternoon, I would not have started this race

You can see from this picture the continuing snow as well as us being moderately snow covered. In fact on Naomi's shirt you can see the snow piled up. Because I had Goretex material on (both jacket and pants), I think the snow simply fell off my jacket.

Here is my friend Rosy.

It was Rosy's first half marathon and she did really well.

Her goal was to run 14 minute miles consistently throughout the race. I believe her time was ultimately 14 minutes and 6 seconds per mile.

Considering the challenging conditions with the snow (and some patches of ice), I think Rosy did exceptionally well and definitely was a trouper considering the challenges we all faced throughout the 13 miles along the course.

After finishing the race, I came home to shovel our driveway and sidewalk. My supervisor for this chore was Gilligan.

As you can see he really exerted himself by lying there for a long time. I think after about half an hour he shook off his first cover of snow. This is after about another 15 minutes.

It cracked me up that he seems not to care when he gets covered by snow. He just sort of lies there and becomes one with the snow...

My second half marathon of the year had worse weather than the first (the Disney Marathon which had a bit of snow/sleet and rained the remainder of the race). Sadly this was not supposed to be the case since the predicted storm in the mid-Atlantic was not supposed to arrive until the afternoon.

And the county I live in (and the race was in) had a prediction of 1-2 inches of snow when I left my house. However, within a few miles of the race, the snows came. And by the time I finished there was 4 inches of snow on my car.

Other than the snow, the inaugural Cloud Snapple Half Marathon was a huge success! My only comment is that for those of us in the "last" parking lot had an 800 meter walk to the packet pick up and race start. For me, the extra mile warmup each time I headed back and forth to the packet pick up or the race start/finish was not a big deal; however, I imagine for those new to the half marathon distance were not thrilled with this extra mileage.

Also, luckily I had arrived just after 8 for the 9 a.m. start time just so I could hang out with other runners and leisurely head to the start. In fact due to the extra long hike to the packet pick up I had minimal time loitering, but I did get to hang with other runners. After picking up my packet I headed back to the car to put on my bib and my chip. Then I slowly headed to the start by way of the ladies room. Sadly there was a very long line. But ultimately when runners starting being willing to use the doorless stall, the line moved quickly. Since the tree's were starting to look like an option to me (except for the fact that it was about 15 degree's and I was afraid I would pee then get stuck to the ground, a fear which apparently others found amusing) I happily used the doorless stall.

I arrived at the start line just before the star spangled banner was sung. And was able to start running with only a brief moment of waiting. I started my run with a very nice lady Rosy who I had walked a bit of the 800 meter trip from the car/bathroom. We ran a bit together but ultimately I got a bit chilled so moved forward.

At some point I joined a group that was going my preferred pace. While running along I would sporadically chat with runners. At some point I started chatting with a young lady Naomi from Alexandria. She mentioned that she was trying to keep a solid and steady pace but not go too fast as she was 2 months pregnant. Her pace was really strong and consistent which made it very easy to run with her.

Somehow races and events came up and she mentioned that she crewed for someone at Badwater. Once she mentioned Kiera's name I said I knew Kiera. She is a friend of my friend Tony and she ran both Rocky Raccoon and VT100 last year which I ran. In fact I ran a mile or two with Kiera at last years VT100 which was fun. Naomi commented that ultra runners seem to know each other and that it is a small community which I would definitely agree with. After our introductions, we then spent the next ~11 miles chatting about marathons, ultra's, crewing, pacing and running in general. Realistically this was one of the fastest feeling half marathons I have run. Naomi was great fun and made the miles fly by.

While the miles were flying by the snow started flying as well. About 2 miles into the half, a few snowflakes started falling. But by mile 4 it was snowing quite heavily. The runners who started coming back towards us after getting to the turn around, were covered in snow. Heads, faces, shoulders all were snow covered. And not just a few flakes but nearly covered with snow. I imagine we looked like the other runners however until the finish I did not realize how snow covered I was. My neck gaiter was covered in snow and was frozen solid with either condensed breath, drool or snot (I am a little unsure because after about mile 1 I stopped having feeling in my face).

Running along the C&O Canal and the Potomac it was obvious that the river was quite high. Recently there has been alot of rain here but the river was exceptionally high and the banks even looked a bit like the bayou of Louisiana.

Pretty soon Naomi and I passed all the various locks, buildings and passed under the bridges leading up to the turn around. At the turn around there was about 1-2 inches of snow. This was shocking to me considering the prediction was the entire snowstorm to be this deep. I became a bit concerned that I would be trapped at the Carderock parking lot; however, I tried to comfort myself with the knowledge I had 4 wheel drive.

Heading back to the start/finish, I knew where the icy spots were (which sadly there were) as well as where the towpath was a bit rickety. But soon enough we were approaching the finish line. Although the time on the clock said 2:23, but it felt faster than Disney because I had such a great time chatting with Naomi.

After finishing and grabbing a piece of pizza, I headed back on the course to cheer on some of my friends. I had a few friends I had met early on during the race as well as in the doorless stall bathroom (which is apparently a good bonder). I then continued on course cheering on runners until I ran into my friend Rosy. It was her first half marathon and I figured if she was up for some company, I was happy to build up my mileage. After finding Rosy, we then ran the final mile to the finish line. She was running along and while perhaps struggling a bit was quite a trooper. She continued jogging the entire time we were together which was very impressive considering it was her first half marathon and she had never run more than 12 miles.

After finishing I started going home. However before doing this, I had to clear off my car. There was at least 4 inches of snow. While scraping the snow off the car, the weather forecasters admitted that the new prediction for snow totals was 6-8 inches. Hmm!!!!

Once the car was clear of snow I started heading home slowly. And by slowly I mean REALLY slowly. The 12 mile trip that took me less than 15 minutes getting to the race took over 1 hour to get home. Even worse, there were many cars that were fish tailing and even spun out on the main highways I used (I-495 or the beltway and I-270). It was a bit frightening but I kept my speed to value I was comfortable having a wreck in (25 mph). Although I had 4 wheel drive many other cars (including the majority of cars that were facing 180 degree's from what they should have been), I figured if I was hit I sure wanted to be able to walk away and shake it off. Nothing (other than possibly getting to the hospital for a critical issue) is worth going fast in unsafe conditions.

Once I got home it was time to start shoveling. Having had the 22 inches of snow fresh in my mind I shoveled our sidewalk, the cars and our driveway regularly to stay ahead of the storm. Considering that the storm was predicted to be 1-2 inches I had no idea what the final total would be.