Thursday, May 5, 2016

C & O Canal 100

There's so much emotion going through me, it's hard to know how to start and what to say.  Actually I do know what to say:

 I JUST FREAKING RAN 100 MILES!!!!!!!!!!! 

Literally that's all I want to keep saying over and over BUT I'm sure people would like to hear more details about the race so I will happily share my journey with you all.
Getting my bib Friday afternoon
As most of you know, this race was SUPER important to me.  I DNF'd my first 100 attempt in October and have been dying to try again but I needed time to recover and build my training again to get ready for another.   I not only have been working hard at my training from coach but I made some changes since the fall.  As I mentioned in My Run to Lose post I put on a few lbs training for TARC, therefore I did what I said I would and have been using Myfitnesspal since December and I lost a solid 10lbs.  Not only that, but I definitely cleaned up my eating.  Of course, I allow myself a couple of beers on the weekend and a meal out here and there but I cut out the snacks after dinner and the crap at work.  It's hard when there's always stuff sitting around but I wanted my buckle more than the chocolate.  I also went back to more strength training as I had done previously but kind of got away from it training from TARC.  I think I thought I didn't have time plus I was SO TIRED all the freaking time.  This training cycle was so different.  Of course it wasn't easy but I felt good.  I had some good training races, I didn't feel nearly as tired and I felt strong.  Therefore, if I wasn't successful this time around, I was going to be seriously devastated and not know what else I could have done.

Emir and I drove down to Maryland Friday afternoon.  We picked up my number and my sweet Patagonia jacket and then chilled at the hotel for a bit before meeting with my friend Carolyn from high school for dinner.  I was feeling so excited/nervous so it was great to distract myself by catching up with her and just in general made me so happy as we haven't seen each other in years.
Me and Carolyn!
We went back to the hotel, I got my stuff ready and our 3rd crew member Emily arrived.  Our good friend MO who was part of our crew for Eastern States was helping us out again and had invited Emily to join us.  The more the merrier!  Then it was time to sleep, well at least try.  I definitely fell asleep on and off but it was very restless.  Other than being annoying, I wasn't worried as obviously this isn't my first race night bad sleep and I knew it was good enough.  Morning arrived, we got ready, hit up Sheetz for coffee/breakfast and off to C & O we went. 
view from at Camp Manidokan
The main race HQ is Camp Manidokan.  Some people had camped , others were just arriving like us.  Handing in my drop bags was super easy and well organized with a couple volunteers helping out.   It made me feel very confident about my stuff.  I checked in so they knew I was still definitely running the race and utilized the facilities.  By that time MO had arrived.  I was getting pretty nervous so it was great to have MO to lighten the mood. 
goofing off with the #teamdedic crew
I geared up and we headed over to listen to the RD Lance's pre-race talk.
getting ready
While standing there, I felt like I needed the potty again.  I waited for him to finish then hopped in line.  Luckily it only took a couple minutes since it was almost go time.  I said bye to my crew telling them I would see them again at mile 28 which was the first crew access point.  Emir gave me my extra special hug and kiss, telling me he knew I could do this. 
The BEST :-)
Right at 7am, Lance sent us off.  We started by doing a loop around the grassy fields of Camp Manidokan before heading down towards the canal. 

can you tell I was excited?!
I had read about the less than half mile section leading down to the canal but it was slightly worse than I had pictured.  It was steep, with rocks, roots, mud and stream crossings with slippery rocks.  Of course I fell crossing the stream the first time.  .3 miles in and already a fall, woo hoo!  Also, of note, thank goodness they had installed some wooden steps at a few spots of the hills otherwise there was NO WAY you would have been able to make it back up on your way back to camp because it was just a mud slide.  Anyway after that little adventure, I was really looking forward to having to climb back up at mile 59 and 99 after all the flat miles.

I really enjoyed the day on the canal.  It was probably 60 but overcast so really perfect running weather.  I was very comfortable in my singlet and shorts.  I listened to music on and off.  Talked to runners as we passed each other.  I had asked coach Caleb for some advice about run/walking since I never ran a mostly flat ultra before.  All my other races had hills or technical areas that force you to take walk breaks.  He advised me to walk for a couple minutes every 20-30 minutes even from the beginning for physical and mental reasons which really all did make sense.  I seriously did have good intentions to follow coach's advice but once I was in the moment I couldn't help myself.   Literally before I knew it, I was at 20 miles and it was at this point at the aid stations, people started screaming for me by name and telling me "you are second female!!  keep it up!! go go go!!"  How could I possibly take walk breaks at a time like this when I didn't even feel like I needed them?!  I did though make sure to walk into/out of the aid stations and stop for a couple minutes in addition to eating and drinking.

(PC Kevin Sayers)
I had a general idea that I was running a good pace but I wasn't sure exactly because my watch, once again, was acting up.  I knew the battery was going to be an issue because it was 100% charged when we left our house to drive to Maryland and by 7 or 8 that night it was already down to 50% and that was only sitting in my bag on time of day, WTF?!  We had brought our charger so that I could charge while running because we knew even before this that there was no way it would last the entire race so I just said that if I have to run most of the race with it plugged in so be it.  But now while I was actually running, I could tell that the pace and mileage was getting more and more off.  There were also numerous times that it lost satellites all together.  It was so annoying but at least I knew my overall time and the aid stations were well marked with the mileage so I had some idea of my pace. 
(PC Kevin Sayers)
I knew when I was almost at the Brunswick aid station which was mile 28 and the first time crew had access to me.  I was excited, however I had a strange feeling inside me.  I was on pace to get there around 4:30 or so which is amazing but very unexpected.  I was hoping my crew would just be so excited to see me that they might get there extra early.  As I approached I heard people screaming my name so I thought "oh good, they are here!"  But once I actually got there and was scanning the crowd, nope they weren't there!  I was disappointed because I was so looking forward to seeing them but I didn't let it get me down.  Also the volunteers wouldn't let it get me down.  I CANNOT say enough about these people at the race.  I am really not exaggerating when I say they were all absolutely amazing.   Someone was already standing there with my drop bag in hand for me when I got there.  They had written down all the runner's names with their numbers so they could tell everyone the runner's name and everyone could give encouragement and cheer.  They took my pack off me, emptied my trash, filled my pocket back up with gels and honey stinger chomps, they refilled my liquids, helped me lube back up with more 2TOMS, got me some PB&Js and fruit and had me out of there with all that done in minutes.  AND they weren't even my crew!!  I was just so blown away.  This was the case time in and time out all race long.  I've never felt so well taken care and so well supported at a race not to mention the aid stations had anything you could have needed or wanted, hot or cold, gear, batteries.  Emir saw a volunteer give a runner the sweatshirt off his back.  Truly incredible. 
Paul helping me out since my crew was MIA! (PC: Shannon Murphy)
So off I went back to the race.  My phone had died a while back because I was listening to music so I plugged that into my charger and shoved it back into my bag for a bit, hoping when it came back to life I would have some kind of service to text Emir.  About an hour and a half later my phone was charged and I finally had service.  This whole time I had assumed that Emir would have asked at the aid station if I went through when they didn't see me.  When I pulled out my phone I saw a text from him that was about 50 minutes ago saying "how's it going?"  Which made me realize, they were still there waiting for me.  I wasn't mad at them at all for missing me but I wanted to give them a bit of a hard time so I wrote "WHERE were you guys?!?!"  He immediately wrote back "WHAT?! We missed you?!?!"  Which made me laugh but I could tell he felt REALLY bad so I made sure to tell him it was ok and I felt good.  We told each other that we would see each other at mile 50 which was the next crew access spot and at this point I was at mile 35 so only 15 more until I would see them. 
(PC Shannon Murphy)

The next 15 miles went by fast and smooth.  Not much to report other than my stupid phone somehow got stuck on repeat and kept playing the same song over and over.  We had a fight for a while and eventually I figured it out however it went through my Pitbull playlist(um hell yeah) and then started repeating again.  I got so pissed I tore off my headphones and into the bag it went.  My watch also said low battery (shocker) so I had to get out my cable and charger.  I wasn't sure where to put my watch but I realized I could still wear it on my wrist even when it was hooked up.  I'm sure it looked a little weird with wires coming from my watch but who cares. 
only selfie I took of the day
I saw Emir coming towards me as I was approaching the 50 mile aid station.  He reached me and was like "you are in second place!!!! and really high up in the overall pack!"  I replied "No I'm in 3rd, hot pink pants has been in first all day and yellow jacket just passed me a few miles back."  Then he informed me that hot pink pants dropped.  I was dumbfounded.  There's a couple of turn arounds in the course so I could see everyone that was ahead of me and she looked GOOD, like so good and so happy and friendly.  I thought for sure she would win, hands down.  But apparently she began having major IT band issues and had to drop.  So my crew got to work. 
Emir helping me at mile 50
I think they were way more excited about my place in the race than I was.  They were running around like chickens with their heads cut off and whispering to me "if you leave the aid station before her you are in first place!"  Don't get me wrong, it was VERY exciting and I felt really special as the volunteers and spectators were all cheering me on so hard and made sure they told me I was in second or where ever I was at that moment.  I've never really had that experience before and it was definitely SUPER fun.  However, I didn't know how realistic it was for me to expect to stay in this position for the full 100.  Was it possible?  sure I mean it was totally unexpected that I was in this position at all anytime of this race but I did not want to feel disappointed by not coming in top 2 or 3 in the race.  This would be my first 100 mile finish so just finishing is a REALLY big deal and I didn't want anything to take away from that.  I also had made a "far reach" goal for myself to hit sub 24.  But again, I wouldn't be upset about not reaching it, it would just be icing on the cake.   I said bye to everyone and did indeed leave the aid station in first place.  I would be seeing them again at mile 59-60ish back at Camp Manidokan. 
seriously had a great time
About a mile or so into this stretch, I started feeling nauseous.  I thought "oh no!  this is not good.  Am I going to feel like this the entire rest of the race?"  I was worried but also trying to figure out why.  While I've never completed the 100 miles before, I did run for almost 24 hours at TARC and no nausea.  I've done some other REALLY grueling ultras in severe heat and no nausea.  But I did go faster than in any other ultra, was it too much?  The next aid station they insisted I take some quesadillas.   I tried to take a bite and almost puked.  Ugh so awful.  It took about 5 more miles before I could take a few bites.  I was able to take sips of liquids the whole time but I definitely was not fueling properly for that 9-10 mile stretch. 

I was actually glad to reach that crazy climb back to Manidokan so I could just power hike and take a little rest.  My stomach was finally settling and I was happy to be almost back at camp to see my crew and pick up a pacer.  Girl in yellow jacket had passed me somewhere around mile 56-57 so I knew I was in second.  Which of course everyone announced to me as I summited that last giant hill to the top of camp.  I told them about my nausea and everyone was concerned until Emir realized something.  He asked me if I drank Tailwind while at the aid station with them and I said yes then he said AND you ate watermelon.  I was like "um yeah so what, I was hungry!"  He laughed and said "no it's just that I read recently a few places that people said mixing Tailwind and watermelon makes you nauseous or even sick."  Wow, I had no idea.  Ok, lesson learned!  They insisted I put on a long sleeve shirt even though I wasn't cold because they were cold and thought it was getting windy which I tried to explain camp is literally like 500 feet above the canal and it wasn't windy down there but it was fine, it didn't make me too warm and I refused to take my jacket yet.  They took care of all my stuff, I pottied and off I went back down the treacherous climb with Emily who would pace me for 20 miles.  I left once again in first place. 
mile 60 back at camp
The first 10 miles with Emily were still pretty good.  I ran most of them with only a couple short (maybe 2 minute ) walk breaks.  It did rain lightly on/off but nothing awful.  My watch was so off at that point that I stopped charging it and let it die.  I honestly was getting to the point where I just had to run/walk how I felt.  When I started to push too much, I would feel really bad so I needed to just make sure I stayed within myself and be able to finish. 

We saw Emir and MO again around mile 69.  It had become a slightly more steadier rain so I did agree to my jacket at this point.  I also took my Altra hat so I could put my head lamp on as it was now pretty dark.  I told them my quads were starting to hurt but otherwise I was ok.  They encouraged me and took care of all my stuff.  Emily and I set off again now in second place. 

This stretch was a bit rough for me.  I was still running but much slower.  Emily was still running the same pace we had done early on in our journey together but I could just not keep up.  I definitely took more rest breaks this section but usually only for 2 minutes at a time.  The rain was becoming harder but my jacket is good and I was not cold at all.  It just felt like forever to get to mile 79 where I would pick up Emir.  It was really the only time I got slightly upset in my head, "WHERE IS IT?!"  I didn't want to quit, I actually never had that thought for a single second the entire race but I just was so ready to be on the homestretch which would be signified by getting to turn around and picking up Emir. 
random pic since I have no night time pics ;-) (photo credit Hai Nguyen)
Eventually we made it.  I know my crew was expecting us sooner but I just couldn't move that fast anymore.  I told them my quads were really starting to hurt.  MO massaged them a bit for me which did help a bit.  By this time it was POURING with some crazy wind on some sections of the canal.  I really didn't care, I was so happy to have Emir with me.  I think just having him with me automatically made me feel better coming out of that aid station.  The first few miles with him went much better than some of the previous ones in the last section with Emily.  I even felt like chatting and joking for a bit.  Emir had me do run/walk segments.  He made me run 6-8 minutes and then walk for 2 minutes.  For our first 10 mile segment together, this went fairly well.  I wouldn't necessarily say I was really running because Emir was keeping up with me just power walking but it was definitely faster than a walk, let's just say it was an ultra shuffle. 

Then things started to really deteriorate physically for me.  My quads were just shot and I really couldn't try to run anymore.  We still had 9 miles from the last crew access point to the finish and the rain was really pretty brutal so Emir decided to run to the car and grab an umbrella while MO and Emily took care of me.  I sat for a few minutes while waiting for him, MO rubbed my quads some more and then someone says "Is that Amy?!"  I said "yes" and he said "it's me! from TARC!"  I couldn't believe it, it was the same volunteer from TARC who sat with me when I dropped, still wearing his Western States buckle.  I couldn't believe he recognized me, let alone remembered my name.  It actually was a pretty special moment because he was there at TARC at the very moment I DNF'd and now he was seeing me off on my final 9 miles of my first 100 finish. 

Emir and I spent those last 9 miles avoiding ankle deep puddles, frogs, mud and fighting the torrential rain and wind.  At least all these distractions made the time go by faster as I was going nowhere fast.  I had given up on changing speeds and Emir tried to keep me on a steady walk pace that would still get me my sub 24 hour time.  He said "I know you, and I know how upset you will be if you miss sub 24 especially if it's only by a little bit.  I know you can do it!"  I really can't say enough about what a great job he did managing me during his pacing duties.  He was tough, firm but understanding and caring.   He also held an umbrella over my head for 9 miles which I'm pretty sure was at least 2.5 hours.  That's a long time to hold an umbrella!  Finally with about 2-2.5 miles to go the rain started letting up.  Emir told me that I could definitely make sub 24 but I needed to just speed up a tad because that last technical, steep climb might take a bit.  I knew he was right.  I'm sure it was not running but I was moving my legs faster than I had in a few hours.  I kept that up until we finally reached the turn off for the climb back up to camp.  We crossed the street and started up the trail.  I successfully crossed the stream twice without falling but saw my race running friend looking really bad.  I had talked to this guy many times before the race and throughout.  We kept passing each other and we had the same pack, so we bonded.  I felt so awful for him but there was nothing we could do.  His pacer was taking care of him and his wife was making her way down to him as well.  So I wished him well and continued to climb.  At this point, MO was making his way towards us.  He was SO EXCITED which at this point I was too.  It hurt like hell climbing those rocks and steps but I was literally minutes away from my first 100 finish.

MO ready to catch me if I fell back down the steep climb

 We finally reach the base of that last hill leading up to camp and I was grinning ear to ear but also feeling tears in my eyes.  All that hard work for this moment.

coming up that final hill to the finish
 It was truly AMAZING!!  Next thing I knew, I was shaking Lance's hand and he was handing me my buckle.   My official time was 23:45 and I was 4th place female OA. 

Me & RD Lance
There's nothing much else to say other than I had an incredible experience.  I set 4 PR's in this one race.  50K by about 1.5 hours, 50 miles by 2 hours, 100K by about 2 hours and of course by default my 100 mile time.  Even though running so fast through about 65 miles definitely was a major factor into my quads totally breaking down for the last 30 miles, I have completely no regrets.  I felt good and comfortable running that speed.  I had no idea I could do those distances in those times so the fact that I did them in the setting of a 100 makes me not only feel great but gives me confidence that I can improve them even more when I run those actual race distances.  It's a huge boost for me after having kind of a down year last year.  And I'm just a competitive person by nature so when I was feeling good hanging in there with the top ladies, I had to just keep going for it until it was too much for me.  You never know what you can do until you try and now that I've run this distance, next time I will feel better longer into the race just as I have been finding out lately with the 50 mile distance.  Plus, what is there to feel bad about or regret when you finish your first ever 100 miles under 24 hours and get 4th?!   Absolutely nothing!

As for the race itself, I can not say enough about what a wonderful event it is.  I could go on forever about the volunteers, organization and the runner support.  It definitely made my race that much better.  When I met Lance at the end, I could see why it was such a great event.  He really cares about the race and the runners and wants everyone to have the best experience.  I HIGHLY recommend this race and would definitely run it again in a heart beat.  Of course it will always hold a special place in my heart, being my first 100 finish but even if it wasn't, I would definitely still love this race. 

Check out this video of the race put together by Paul and watch me fall at 2:17 into it ;-)

And that's the end of my first 100 mile finish story.  Thanks for reading!

PS   I JUST RAN 100 FREAKING MILES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  :-)