Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Preparing for Plitvice (Croatia)

As I sit here drinking my karlovacko pivo (beer) I have some thoughts regarding my next marathon.  We arrived here in Bosnia Sunday after a little bit of an arduous journey due to traveling with 2 young kids and maybe 1 or 2 too many complimentary wines from my good friends British Airways ;-).  Oh well I had a nice first flight.  Anyway I always love coming here.  All of Emir's family is here except for his brother who lives in NYC and we have many friends here.  Plus it's so beautiful here.  Not only are there cute little European cities such as Bihac which is where my husband grew up and we usually stay when we are here but there are gorgeous mountains surrounding the cities that take you to another world.  Emirs family has a beautiful house in the mountains just outside Bihac so we get the best of both worlds.  The other piece is the culture.  I love the people, the food, the drinks and lifestyle.  It's just so relaxing and beautiful.
Anyway 2 years ago when we were planning our annual trip here I found via Internet the Plitvice Marathon.  It takes place in the gorgeous Plitvice National Park which is only about 30 minutes by car from Bihac.  As you may or may not remember that is the first ever marathon I ran.  Not that anyone's first marathon is easy but Plitvice is pretty challenging with significant elevations.  I was more than happy with my 4:30 plus the course is just absolutely stunning. 

So now here I sit just 5 days from running Plitvice again.  I have very mixed emotions.  I'm very excited just because I love running marathons and I love Plitvice.  But this is the first time I am repeating a race.  I feel like if I don't improve my time, I will be disappointed. Last week I was feeling terrible during runs.  Tired, stomach problems (yes I pooped in the woods twice!) and cramps.  It was humid but still.  Then today Emir and I ran here up in the mountains and I felt great and we had a great pace.  It's hard to remember exactly how Plitvice compared to other marathons we have run.  I know it's harder than Philly and OD but is it as hard as Blue Ridge?  Is it reasonable to think ill beat 4:30 since that's what we did at Blue Ridge.  I really don't know.  Emir didn't run the full marathon at Plitvice with me so this is his first time.  I know it's only me putting pressure on but I can't help but feel nervous.  I guess the only thing to do is relax ( we are here on vacation) and carb up with pivo! ;-). 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Bear Mountain 50K

I don't even remember how long ago at this point, maybe 5-6 months ago it was when Emir and I signed up for the North Face Endurance Challenge Bear Mountain 50K.  It was timed nicely a week or so after our 9 year wedding anniversary, so we thought what better way to celebrate than stay up at Bear Mountain for a couple days and cap it off with our first 50K Saturday morning.  In the mean time, the two marathons we ended up running this spring just kind of ended up happening and really it was the 50K that our training was focused on.  We didn't taper for the OD Marathon (which I PR'd in anyway!) or for the Blue Ridge Marathon which despite the insane elevations we still finished pretty respectfully.  So FINALLY the two weeks between Blue Ridge and Bear Mountain were a taper!  As much as I have grown to absolutely love and maybe have developed a slight addiction to running, it was nice to have this "break".  It's not even really the running itself.  It's more the hecticness of life when we have a ton of long runs.  Work, kids and anything else going on that week so it was nice to have a couple weeks with just a few short runs.  By Thursday when we were making the trek up to Bear Mountain, my legs felt good.  No aches or pains to speak of and I felt fairly rested.  We dropped the kids off at school (my mom was picking them up and they stayed with my family for four days.  Thank goodness for my awesome family or none of this would ever happen!!!) and we headed first to NYC to pick up our race stuff at the North Face Store.  Turns out we should have just picked it up on race day at the event.  It was a total waste of $13 (yes $13!!!) to go through the stupid Lincoln Tunnel.  All that happened at the pick up was they gave us our bib, shirt and smart wool socks.  So I'm going to complain a bit here for a second.  Up until a week or two before the race, it was advertised that 50K and 50 miler runners were getting North Face arm sleeves.  I know it seems a little silly but I was EXTREMELY excited for these.  That's one piece of gear I have yet to own.  I mean I know they aren't really necessary which is exactly why I have never spent the money to buy them but I always wanted to try a pair.  So anyway last minute they switched it out for the smart wool socks.  Ok yeah they are descent socks but I WANTED MY ARM SLEEVES!!!  Ok I'm done ranting now.  ;-)  Anyway there was really nothing to see or do that made it worth the trip plus as it turns out our hotel was literally steps away from the starting line and the races were so spread out that only the few hundred doing the 50K were milling about which would have made getting our bibs a cinch.  Oh well, you live, you learn. 

Going into this 50K I was feeling pretty confident.  At this point I have finished 5 marathons comfortably, 4 of them since just this past November.  So I felt pretty good about my endurance.  Elevations I was not nearly as scared of anymore after running Blue Ridge just a couple weeks ago.  That race really helped me to become comfortable with walking when necessary up the impossible inclines and switching back to running as soon as its possible.  For the longest time I never wanted to stop during a run even to pee because I was so afraid of not being able to go back to running after stopping or walking.  Therefore I felt totally fine with all the elevations that would be in this race.  The last piece would be the terrain.  Bear Mountain was my first trail race so that was a bit of an unknown for me.  I had done some training on the upper trails here near our house.  There definitely are sections of fairly technical terrain that reduce those of us "normals" to walking but then there are sections that are completely runnable.  So I felt like ok I have a descent idea of what it will be like and I should be fine.  Apparently we should have noticed that North Face rated bear mountain 5 stars for technical terrain and all the other races in the endurance challenge series are 2 or 3.....  

We had a wonderful 2 days exploring Bear Mountain and the surrounding area.  The Bear Mountain Inn was very nice and everyone was super friendly.  Found a few great places to eat and drink (of course!)  Gotto carb up!  It was nice and relaxing.

Race morning wasn't what we really wanted.  Usually we like to gorge on eggs, bacon, sausage, bread but the hotel we were staying at only offered a continental breakfast which only had danishes and individual cereals.  Unfortunately we were on a mountain with nowhere nearby to grab anything so we bought sandwiches the day before and put them in the fridge.  I ate one and my stomach just wasn't feeling it so I didn't eat anymore.  I still had my coffee but I was just feeling weird in the stomach.  I know I was super excited for the race so that may have had something to do with it as well.  We took care of business in the comfort of our hotel bathroom before heading out to the race area.  Since only the runners for our distance were around it was really nice.  Easy access to gels, bars, pottys, fire pits, water, whatever you wanted really.  The temperature that morning was perfect, really.  It was very slightly cool but in my singlet I didn't feel uncomfortable at all.  I decided to wear my salomon running hat since I knew we would be out there for a long time.  I had lathered up in sunblock and glide before we left the room.  Oh and Emir and I decided to don our trail runner tattoos that our good friends at Tailwind sent to us with our first purchase.  They looked awesome, if I do say so myself! There were a couple differences I noticed from a marathon start area.  Pretty much everyone had hydration packs like us, everyone was lathering themselves from head to toe in glide and almost no one was running around warming up.  I mean really when you will be out on the trails for god-knows-how-many-hours, pretty sure you don't need to run around warming up. 


 Dean was there of course so he said a few words to us and next thing we knew, we were off!  In the beginning couple miles there was a descent amount of running however it was mixed with stopping on hills due to the single file of runners all bunched together.  A little bit of a traffic jam a few times but it didn't really take too long for that to get sorted out.  I was thinking "ok this is cool.  I'm having fun.  We are running, we are walking.  We are doing what everyone else is doing.  Things are good"  It didn't take long for that to change!!!  After the first 2-3 miles, the terrain changed drastically.  It was long, very steep inclines but it wasn't just that, it was rocky, like giant boulders that required you to basically rock climb them.  It was crazy!  So we would walk/climb our way, finally make it to the top thinking ok just make this then we will coast down the downhill.  Boy were we wrong!!  Every time we made it to the top of a climb, the descent was even worse.  It was either ridiculously steep that literally if I leaned forward I would have fallen right off the mountain or the terrain was so unstable/difficult to negotiate that you basically were crawling down.  I was a little shocked the first couple of times we encountered this.  I mean I really did expect parts with difficult terrain that would be hard to run but I was not expecting rock climbing to be part of the race!  After a while, it was just like ok here we go again.  Occasionally there would be a runnable portion for maybe a half mile to a mile if we were lucky but that was few and far between with the exception of the 7 mile stretch in the middle of the race between two of the aide stations.  There were a probably about 2 miles worth of this stretch we had to walk however we were able to run a big portion. 

I was feeling my shoes rubbing my left big toe a lot so at the second aid station I stopped to get it wrapped up.  Then during the section that had a lot of running, my left ankle kept giving out.  I had turned it a couple times already and now it was weakened and kept giving out.  At one point I slipped trying to avoid a giant mud pit and it gave out and yes I landed in the mud pit.  I actually enjoyed that because I was feeling hot and it cooled me down.  Then next time I felt I was lucky enough to land mostly in a bunch of leaves so no real injury there.  A girl who was running this section with Emir and I helped me up and said her ankles were doing the same thing to her so she had them wrapped at a previous aide station and that it really helped.  So it was decided that's what I would do at the next aide station.  Before I go into detail about that stop, I do want to just say that everyone at the aide stations were AWESOME!!  So upbeat, so helpful, so encouraging, food and hydration were totally on target.  However when I stopped to get my ankle taped unfortunately I probably ended up with the one EMT who just seemed a bit overwhelmed by this whole ultra running spectacle.  People were puking, bleeding, dropping like flies out of the race so if you weren't expecting this type of thing I could understand why she was so overwhelmed.  Anyway when I said I wanted it taped, she was like why don't you drop out of the race?  I couldn't believe what she just said!  I told her no I would like to keep going and could she just wrap my ankle.  I had to talk her through the whole thing (luckily I know how it's supposed to be done!)  But anyway the important thing was it definitely helped me through the last 9-10 miles of the race that we had left. 

At one aide stop, the sign said it was only 2.5 miles to the next one.  Up until this point most of them were in the 5-7 mile range.  At first we thought "oh good!"  But then immediately after we thought "Oh no!!"  We knew that meant that section was going to be HARD!!  And boy was it!!!  I'm pretty sure it took us at least an hour, probably longer to navigate that section.  It was like someone took a dump truck full of boulders and poured them down this incline, ridiculous.  And the descent was even worse.  I can't remember but I think this was the section we encountered a rattlesnake.  Emir was slightly ahead of me.  There was a guy just in front of him that almost stepped on the rattlesnake!  Luckily it started rattling just in time so everyone was able to avoid it, after I took a picture of course! ;-)  I'm pretty sure this was also the section were I just started getting mentally a bit beaten.  It was a mix of emotions.  One hand I was mad at myself for not realizing the intensity of this race.  I was thinking that I was stupid for thinking I could just do trail racing.  I mean I did some trail running but now I was feeling that the training I did was idiotic.  I might as well have just not done any trail training.  But then at other times I was just frustrated.  I am a runner and I just really wanted to RUN.  So much of the race was walking, rock climbing and hiking and taking forever.  I was tired of it, I was here to RUN a race and I was mad that I couldn't really do that.

Eventually the last two miles came around and were generally runnable.  And I say generally runnable because there was still a few small sections mixed in where I had to cautiously creep across rocks so I didn't break my neck.  Eventually 8 hours after we had started that morning, I crossed the finish line.  I was pretty dirty, tired and mentally drained.  For a while after the race, I didn't even feel that happy.  I felt like I had failed for some reason.  I was thinking we did awful in this race.  I knew obviously that time in this race really has no relevance.  I mean you can't even begin to compare trail races to each other let alone road races but  we walked ALOT and I think I had myself almost feeling embarrassed.  I was embarrassed that I didn't know that trail running entailed all this craziness and that I thought I could come out and do this with all these other ultra trail runners.  Emir however was pumped.  He kept saying "we did awesome!! I'm so proud of us!!"  I was thinking "really???" 

As we took off our shoes, socks, hydrated ourselves and got some food I was listening to other runners.  It was the same conversation all around me "this race was insane!  Those race directors must just sit there and laugh when they map out this course.  I would love to see how some of those elites could even attempt to run some of those sections!"  I also noticed how almost everyone was covered in dirt or had blood and gashes all over them. Then I also began noticing how many more 50K runners were coming in 30 minutes, 45 minutes to an hour after us.  Just then they started the awards ceremony.  They started with the marathon relay, then the marathon, the 50K and 50 miler.  As I listened to them call out the places and the times, I was struck by the thought " wow these times are not that fast!"  I was also surprised by how far apart some of the top finishers were.  We are talking 40+ minutes between 1st and 2nd places in a couple of the categories.  Emir was saying "see this WAS a HARD race"  Slowly I began to perk up.  After we had our tasty lunch, we went and got our complimentary beer from the beer garden (big plus in my book!!).  We sat up on this hill by the finish line and watched finishers.  To my surprise there was even more from all the categories even 50K.  There was great music, they had a really fun kids race with characters plus all the kids got medals.  And the other runners in general were awesome.  All congratulating each other, discussing falls, how many times they puked, etc.  We met this awesome couple from Canada (Runinpieces).  Heather told us of her ultra running exploits.  Seems like she travels a lot and has run a descent number of races.  She assured me that the race we had just done was by far one of the hardest and that there are many other ultras that are more runnable.  That was just that little bit of extra encouragement I needed to get over that negative feeling I had going for a bit.  This WAS a VERY HARD race and it was our first 50K.  Not only did we FINISH but we finished pretty much in the middle of the pack.  At the end of the day, I was very proud of what we accomplished and that even though I myself had some negative thoughts, we never actually gave up.  I really want to run another 50K and I mean RUN, hehe ;-)  Emir and I already have our sights on one in Reading in early October that seems like will be a more runnable race (hopefully!) 

I want to thank our awesome friends at Tailwind once again for fueling us!  Our only regret was not having more in our bag to refill during the race.  But now we know!  I also want to thank the North Face for putting on a great event (despite not getting the arm sleeves ;-)  )  Everyone was awesome at the start/finish, aide stations.  Food was great during and after and great party atmosphere at the finish.  It was awesome to just hang out with fellow crazy runner people and have a couple drinks.

So I guess I'll take a couple days off now??? I guess...hehe  However not too many.  Next up for us is the Plitvice Marathon in Croatia on June 4th.  Plitvice was my first ever marathon.  I ran it in June 2011 in 4:30.  It's in Plitvice National Park which is GORGEOUS!!!  When I ran it, I felt that it was pretty challenging due to some elevation in the course however now I'm thinking it's not going to seem that bad to me anymore....we shall see!!!  I just can't wait to get over there!  It's definitely become my second home and I can't wait to spend time with our friends and family there :-)