Because the important moments in life just don’t fit in a status update! I started this blog when I was training for my first ½ Ironman, (70.3 miles) to record what I hoped would be growth and progress but ended up being a huge learning experience. Although fitness is one of the key ingredients to a happy life, it certainly isn't the only ingredient. My blog has evolved to document growth, progress and setbacks in other areas too. From my surprise proposal in Rome and wedding in the fall of 2013, to Mom's devastating stage IV cancer diagnosis and death 2 weeks after I found out I was pregnant. Who knows what shape it will take, but thanks for being along for the ride.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ready or not, here it comes: My 1st ultra marathon

When my alarm went off on Saturday and I hit my snooze for another 10 minutes it hit me: this is the last time, other than race day, that I will have to get up early to run until February! An ultra marathon is anything beyond the distance of a marathon. This weekend, I will attempt my first at the North Face Endurance Challenge on trails on the Marin side of San Francisco. It's a 50K, so it's what I consider a 'baby' ultra when compared to the 50 or 100 milers that "real" ultra runners do. But, it still counts! Although it is the shortest distance as far as ultras go (33 miles), here's what really has me nervous: the 6,000 foot elevation gain, resulting in a 5 out of 5 difficulty rating. Especially since El Morro Canyon, where we did the majority of our hill and trail training, only has about 1,000 feet of total elevation gain.


Maximum Elevation - 1,360 ft
Eleavtion Gain - 6,331 ft
Elevation Change - 9,750





COURSE OVERVIEW:

Situated in the visually stunning Marin Headlands just north of the city, The North Face Endurance Challenge Championship course has surprised runners with both its scenery and amount of elevation change. Participants are encouraged to train for repeated uphills and downhills of several hundred feet at a time. A majority of the course covers a runable fire road (very little technical single track) overlooking the Pacific Ocean with occasional glimpses of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Elevation Change: 5

Technical Terrain: 2

Overall Difficulty: 5

Scenery: 5


There will be aid stations approximately every 5 miles. For this reason, I'm not bringing anything new with me - just my normal 1 water bottle pack that I carry with me during most marathons.


Here's the aid station menu:

The following food and beverage items will be provided:
• Salty Snacks (Chips, Crackers, and/or Pretzels)
• Cookies and/or Brownies
• Assorted Candy
• Chicken Broth
• Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches
• Potatoes
• GU Energy Gels (Vanilla Bean, Chocolate Outrage, Strawberry Banana, Jet Blackberry)
• GU Roctane Ultra Endurance Energy Gels (Roctane Blueberry Pomegranate)
• GU Electrolyte Brew (Lemon Lime, Raspberry)
• nuun Electrolyte Tabs
• Soft Drinks
• Water
• Salt
• Assorted Fruit


Some of the aid stations are unmanned, so I hope they don't run out of food or water! I'm bringing at least 5 GU packs just in case.



I'm also really nervous about getting lost on the course, which is marked by different colored ribbons.Although Delia and I plan to stick together, I bought a case to clip my cell phone onto the belt of my running pack...in case I get lost. While I may not have cell reception, they should be able to find me based on cell tower pings. Get lost??? It can happen on ultra runs. I actually run with a girl who got lost, along with several other runners, while attempting an ultra. They were following what they thought was a trail, and it dead-ended into a stream. Unsure if they were supposed to cross, they back-tracked and saw a ribbon tied to a tree, a signal to go a different way. This ultra is sponsored by North Face, and should be both better supported, and better staffed. But I can get turned around on our normal runs in the hills above Irvine, so I'm not taking any chances! I really don't want to end up on that show I Shouldn't Be Alive.


From the website:
COURSE MARKING:


Ribbons: At The North Face Endurance Challenge, each distance will follow a unique color of marking ribbons. The color of the ribbon your course follows will match the color of your race bib. The colors associated with each course are as follows:
Gore-Tex 50 Mile: ORANGE
50K: BLUE
Marathon: PINK
Marathon Relay: RED
Half Marathon: YELLOW
10K: RED
5K: PURPLE
Images 1 and 2 show an example of the ribbon used to mark the courses, and typical placement of ribbons. In this example, the runners in 50 Mile (orange), 50K (blue), Half Marathon (yellow) and 10K (red) races would be following the trails marked with these ribbons. If the course was only for 10K and Half Marathon, only red and yellow ribbon would be placed. Anytime runners do not see their race color among the ribbons hung on the trails, they should take it as an indication that they are no longer on their race course. They should return to the last place they saw ribbon matching their race.



Image 1


Image 2

I imagine us out there, any mile after mile 20, not noticing the ribbons! I get spacey when I run farther than 20 miles, and the photos above are from their website! Can't they make them bigger? I could easily miss the ribbons shown here!


The last major thing I'm worried about is making the 10 hour cut-off time. I just want to finish. Our 'easy' 10 mile taper run on Saturday wasn't easy, and this has been playing on my mind all week. Part of that was due to the almost 80 degree heat, and it will be much cooler outside of San Francisco (expected high of 60), but it was still more difficult than I expected, given how high our mileage has been. You would think it would get easier, but those 10 miles still felt like 10 miles. If I don't finish, all that training since August - all those back-to-back weekend runs have been for a good attempt, a good try, but not a finish. At this point, I've done all I can. We finished our last run - a short 3.7 miles tonight with a beautiful sunset and now it's time to rest and carbo load. And stay away from sick people! There's a lot riding on this, and I desperately want to finish, so I can cross doing an ultra off my list! 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Santa Barbara Marathon Recap

When Mom, Dad, Glen and I left for Santa Barbara on Friday afternoon, rain was looming. By the time we got to the very small expo to pick up our bib numbers, it was sprinkling. After we did our food shop at Vons and were headed to dinner, the sky opened up and it was pouring down rain. The kind of rain that an umbrella doesn't really protect you from because it comes at you sideways.


Having all just completed the Surf City Distance Derby the previous Sunday in the freezing cold rain, we were all worried what Saturday morning would bring. After dinner, we went to CVS and bought the last two emergency ponchos. But I knew that these wouldn't work for very long if the rain continued. I have never ran a marathon in the rain, but have heard horror stories of blisters and falling. And, I worried about Dad and Glen, feeling somewhat responsible for encouraging them to sign up. We had fun at dinner, as we always do, but it was definitely overshadowed by worry of what tomorrow would bring.
Dinner, the night before.



















I dropped Mom, Dad and Glen off at their place, and headed to my bed and breakfast. I fell asleep to the sound of rain, and just knew that when I woke up, it would still be raining. I didn't sleep well, afraid I would oversleep and woke up several times during the night.


To my surprise, I didn't hear any rain when my wake-up call came. I downed a red bull, ate a clif bar, and called mom for the weather report because they were staying closer to the start, 10 miles away. No rain there either! But it wasn't light out yet, so I didn't know if it was still going to rain. I got dressed and left to pick up Dad and Glen (Mom was to take a cab to the finish later). We headed to UCSB for our shuttles and met Delia in the parking garage. We snapped some pictures, and said goodbye to Glen and Dad, who were taking different shuttles to their 1/2 marathon start. The sun was rising, and there were dark clouds in the distance. Still, I worried about the rain.


In the gym, before the start.
We were dropped off at a high school  and met up with the rest of our running group: Tim, Gabby, Jeff, Kathy and Andra. Finishing touches: stretching, banana, sunscreen borrowed off someone we didn't know, group photos and bathroom. When we left the gym and headed to the start, we could see that the threat of rain was almost gone. 
Much smaller marathon.


Delia, Andra and I started together and ran for a mile or two before Andra asked "Are you Megan?" It was then that I realized she was the one person who I had never met who donated quite a bit to my NAMI walk. "Oh, you're Andra!" was my response and the conversation flowed. With marathon running as the common denominator, you almost have instant friends, across any age, gender and occupation. But I found that Andra and I had a lot of other real-world, non-running things in common too. Around this same time, Delia picked up the pace, (or we slowed a bit) and it was just the two of us running. The miles flew by as we chatted and got to know each other.


Until about mile 7, when I noticed that my legs were already starting to feel a little bit heavy. That's an unsettling feeling, when you have 19 more left. I took a gu and continued on, realizing that I should have brought my own and taken it much sooner. Talking to Andra helped the time pass and I have to say it was one of the most interesting conversations I've ever had during a run. Around mile 15 or so I felt good; floaty and even a bit giddy. Not the elusive runner's high that I've read about, but pretty close. I saw a caterpillar crossing the bike path we were on, the most unusual one I've ever seen: short, fuzzy and black/bright yellow. I imagined that it would turn into a bumble bee, not a butterfly, and I bent down to pick it up before it got squashed. This put me behind, and I lengthened my stride to catch up to Andra.


We were commenting on the beautiful weather and how lucky we were to not have the rain that all the weather reports said we were sure to get. It was right about this time that it hit me: I had spent all that time and energy worrying about something I couldn't control: the weather. I was spending time worrying about rain, when we were going to have beautiful weather anyway! How completely useless that worry was...and how it robbed me of being in the moment and enjoying my time with my family to the fullest extent. It sounds silly, and even a bit trite as I sit here now writing it: but in that moment, I actually felt what I've always known to be true: worry doesn't help, prevent, or change anything. I had been so worried about the rain; how it would affect my performance, my Dad and brother walking the half, and my Mom waiting at the finish. In fact, I hadn't just been thinking about it the night before, but the entire week before...ever since I knew it was in the forecast! When there really wasn't any rain in the cards for us.


Looking at the bigger picture of life, I started thinking about those things that I periodically worry about while we continued our 10-ish minute per mile pace, talking less now because that same pace was becoming more difficult to maintain. I started thinking of those re-occuring things I worry about and imaging that, just like this rain, maybe I really don't have any reason to worry: my Dad's health, not finding someone in time to have children, even death. Just like perfect weather was really in the forecast on the day of the marathon, what if my Dad's leukemia never needs treatment and never gets worse? What if I will definitely be a mother someday? And, the big one: what if there really is something, anything, after this life? And, even if there isn't...does worry ever help? It was going to rain that day or it wasn't, plain and simple. So, why did thinking about it even matter? I felt a calmness and a peace about everything I have ever worried about in life. I felt like I now knew that just like that day, everything was going to work out just fine. Maybe I was experiencing a little bit of that runner's high, but even now, almost a week later I still feel that that calmness and comfort is with me.


Her pace remained steady, and I felt myself start to slow. We were almost at mile 20 when it became even more difficult, which is usually when it happens. I remember reaching mile 20 in my 1st marathon back in 2003 and I was so excited to only have 6 more miles left. But then, my next thought was 'oh wait...that's over an hour more of running.' Sharing this with Andra, she helped me re-frame it by pointing out that we really only had 3 more miles to go, because the last three would be so exciting. That helped me a lot, and as she continued on and I walked a bit because my fingers were tingling (electrolyte imbalance?), I kept telling myself that. There was a fairly steep hill at mile 23 and I decided to walk the whole thing, telling myself that I would need to walk a lot in the upcoming North Face Endurance Challenge 50K.


After that walk break, it was hard to get going again...mentally as much as physically. I didn't have my iPod, because I thought it would rain, and that is usually the time when I rely heavily on Lil Wayne. My hip flexors were sore and tired, and my feet didn't seem to come very far off the ground. I rescued another cute bumblebee caterpillar headed into traffic and certain death, and thought of how beautiful and precious life is. I thought of my brother, Dad and Mom waiting for me at the finish line and how I was now on the same path that they had just been on for their race. I felt so proud of my brother for completing his first 1/2 marathon and I felt so lucky to be there with him. Concerns from the past, of the health of him and my Dad melted away. I started smiling.


At mile 24 I saw a woman shuffling along like me, struggling. This was a small marathon with only a few thousand participants, so there weren't runners all around me like in Chicago or LA. I asked her what number marathon this was for her, and she said it was her first. "How exctiting!" I said, and we struck up a conversation. She had a thick accent, and I asked where she was from. She was from Ethiopia, and came here for a better life. Now enjoying an ocean view, and the finish within our reach, I asked who was waiting for her at the finish; her husband, and three children. I told her that she could put her iPod back in if she wanted, and that I was missing mine, but she said our conversation was exactly what she needed. It was what I needed too. About a mile out, her husband and children appeared, and started running alongside us. Her husband was videoing us, and her excitement and energy were contagious.

By this time, I realized my face was actually hurting from smiling so much. As we ran into the finish line together, I heard my Mom yell my name and went over to give her a kiss. Less than 100 yards from the finish, I heard Glen say my name and made a sharp right turn, over to him. I stopped and hugged him, telling him how proud I was of his accomplishment.
Smile







































An observer called out 'don't forget to finish!' because my chip time was still ticking, and I crossed over the finish, with an official time of 4 hours, 46 minutes and 12 seconds... an average pace of 10:55. I met up with everyone from my running group, and my family. We sat on the football field of Santa Barbara City College and compared stories, and shared our experiences.


In all, this marathon was one of the best I've done. Not because of my time, or the course, but because of the experience. Maybe if I had been sitting at home I could have had the same revelation and shifted my perceptive, but I doubt it. It seems to only be when we push our physical limits and boundaries that we get some distance and out of our head enough to gain true insight into ourselves. I hope to carry the experience of that day with me for a long time and use it as a point of reference...remembering that tomorrow may or not bring rain, but today, it is sunny. 
Glen, finishing strong!


Second 1/2 marathon for Daddy!

Andra and I, at the finish.

Delia

We've bonded over many long training runs.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

October Mileage

October
Run distance:      150.6 miles
Run time:      28 hours, 25 minutes, 32 seconds

Sticker in my office: Running is a Love/Hate relationship.
My monthly mileage is up from 104 miles in September and 80 miles in August. The biggest change in this ultra training (when compared to marathon training) has been the back-to-back long runs, which will continue all through November. In marathon training, I never run the day after a long training run, so this has been a completely new experience for me. At first, I dreaded the second day, because running on tired legs 1.) isn't fun and 2.) seems counter intuitive: it is during rest/recovery that your body rebuilds and becomes stronger. But, the ultra training plan states that they're necessary, and so it began.

At the start of this month, I was worried that doing this would be too much. When I ran 16 miles on Oct. 8th before the Long Beach 1/2 marathon on Oct. 9th, I was worried that my annoying, lingering, hip-flexor injury would get worse. I remember being at mile 4 in the race thinking  'if I weren't in an official race, I would stop. Right now.' Fast forward to two weeks later, and I'm running 20 miles of hard trails with Delia through beautiful El Moro Canyon on Saturday, and right back out there on Sunday for 10 more. Surprisingly, I wasn't injured after this. Sore, yes - the steep inclines and drastic downhills were new for me...but injured, no. My annoying hip flexor pain has even almost disappeared. My body seems to be adapting and responding well to the higher demands I'm placing on it, supporting the idea that the more you do, the more you realize you can do! This upcoming weekend is a bit of a taper because I have the Santa Barbara marathon on November 12th. And the day after the marathon? Back out there for 10 miles!