Thursday, May 28, 2009

Haunted by Camp 10 Bear

I just signed up for the VT 100. Yikes! My plan is to more-or-less pace my friend, Susan, for all 100 miles. We will take our time, use frequent walk breaks, eat smartly, keep drinking, trundle along, and finish when we finish.


But, man, the idea of 100 miles is still scary. It's The Great Unknown.

I must admit that I am haunted by last year's race. I ran VT last year and got pulled out by the medical chief at Mile 70 (Camp 10 Bear).

The first 50 miles were great. I ran with Susan for twenty miles, and then a guy named Mark for about 20. I gabbed my head off, laughed, enjoyed the day. I walked the uphills, sprinted the downhills (bad idea; don't do that), and kept up a moderate pace through the flats. I did not love the course, as so many others do. Too much road for me, not enough trail. And the day was muggy and dark. Thunderstorms passed through all afternoon. The sky loomed and threatened. The sky was frightening.

Sometime after Mile 50, my stomach went south. First mild nausea, then more intense nausea. I never threw up. I seem to be constitutionally unable to throw up. But all of that nastiness has to go somewhere. Alas, it persisted in making hasty exits out the other end all afternoon.

Camp 10 Bear comes after a long climb and then a long descent, first on roads, then on a rocky horse path, then back on roads. By this time in the race, my entire lower intestine felt like it was on fire. My brain was addled, and I kept thinking, "If I could only rip it out, I'd be fine." I imagined pulling out my lower intestine, loop by loop. Odd image, I realize, but at the time it helped. Each downstep on level road was uncomfortable, and running downhill was excruciating.

I came into Camp 10 Bear and my pacer, Grace, was all ready to go. I can still see her, arms out, hopping from foot to foot, ready to take off at a moment's notice. My husband, Brian, and my 7-year-old daughter, Nell, were also there. The sight of them almost broke my heart. I felt like I was failing them. They had driven all the way up to Vermont to see me finish 100 miles, and that possibility was quickly becoming remote.

"Grace," I said. "I need a minute."

Brian and Grace got me into a chair and Nell sat next to me. As soon as I sat down, it was all over. All mental toughness left me and I started to whine. "I don't know what to do! I don't know what to do!" I felt sick, but I had expected to feel sick by this point. No one (or almost no one) feels totally chipper at Mile 70. But was I dangerously sick? Was I damaging my digestive system? Or was I being a big baby?

A volunteer brought me some soup and asked how I was doing. I said I wasn't sure and she brought me over to a cot. Lying down was uncomfortable, so I sat on the cot with Nell next to me, holding my arm with a vice grip. She was very quiet through this whole thing.

A man in a black tee shirt (all the medical people wore black tee shirts) came over to ask me what was going on. I told him and he looked at me for a long time. "Are you okay?" he asked. I told him I didn't know.

Brian started working on my blisters and Grace ran around getting me more soup, more water, more crackers. My stomach felt sicker and sicker.

The medical person came back. I told him I wanted to go. I said I would head down the road for a mile of so, and if things were bad I would come back. He said, "Why don't you walk around the aid station a couple of times and see how that feels?"

I had never heard such a silly idea. Walking around the aid station was a waste of energy. It would get me nowhere. I slumped on the cot and tears started into my eyes.

The chief medical guy came over five minutes later and ripped off my number. Unceremoniously ripped it off. No going back. I was out. I sobbed. Grace held me, Nell held me, Brian half carried me to the car. I was done.

Later I had all kinds of second thoughts. I had been about 5 hours ahead of the cut-off time. What if I had sat for an hour or two until I felt better? What if I had walked out before the medical people got to me? What if I hadn't sat down? What if, what if.....

This year I signed up for the Grindstone 100 the day it opened. This seems like more my kind of race. Single track in the mountains, big climbs, October race date (train all summer while my husband is not working as a teacher), 6:00 p.m. start. Everything about it spoke to me.

But it turns out that I cannot let Vermont go. As the race gets closer, the memories from last year get fonder, the pain more remote, the lessons more obvious. So I am going back. Susan and I have unfinished business (she dropped shortly after I did). We are so much older and wiser than we were last year.

It's going to be great!

That's my stand and I'm sticking with it.

Monday, May 25, 2009

4.5 Hours of Bliss

After a solid month of mind-dizzying nausea my stomach is feeling better. I started taking Nexium a couple of weeks ago for my ulcer and it is finally kicking in. No more morning blehs. No more bloaty fullness after eating. No more yuckiness.

I am being much more careful with my diet. I'm trying to cut down on carbs, no tomatoes, very little dairy, low wheat. I have not had any caffeine whatsoever in three weeks. Dwaaaaaaaaaaa. I have never been a caffeine hog, but I do love a cup of mostly decaf in the morning, perhaps a black tea in the afternoon. I miss the little jolt, but overall I feel much more even. I'm not crashing in the afternoons quite as much. And if I do crash, I close my eyes for a few minutes rather than reach for the tea.

I got out early on Saturday morning for a much anticipated, solo run on the trails at Bluff Point. My plan was to run for 4 hours and carefully monitor what I ate and drank. Systematic monitoring is really not my thing. I am a fliberjibbet when I run, especially when I run by myself. My mind wanders all over the place and then it quiets down and I zen out for unspecified blocks of time. I love this. I don't want to have to think about such mundane things as water and food.

But I need to start coming up with and eating/drinking plan that works. Most gels and sports drinks make me queasy during races (not so much during long training runs). So I am trying to find a regimin that keeps me going but does not leave me fighting nausea mile after mile.

Perhaps I have found it.

Saturday I ran with 2L of water in my Wink hydration pack which I sipped constantly. I also carried a handheld bottle of Nuun which I dipped into when I needed a shot of flavor. I took an S Cap along with 2 peanut butter crackers (carbs, salt, protein, fat) every hour on the hour, and I slowly ate a Cliff BLok every hour on the half hour. No stomach problems, no bonking. All good.

I found some nice singetrack between the main fire roads at Bluff Point and cobbled together a nice 1-hour loop. I repeated this loop twice, fiddled around on some hitherto unexplored bits of the part, and then ran home. The whole thing took 4.5 hours. I have absolutely no idea how far I went.

Today (Monday) I ran two hours with Brian at Cockaponsett (rocky, rooty, hilly -- just what I need!). The kids went to the Memorial Day Parade with Grandma and Grandpa, bless them down to their boots. Brian is a freaking goat. He is a downhill running machine. Cresting a hill right behind him, I look down for a second and he's gone. He's down the hill, round the bend, and out of sight. He is a fearless downhill runner. If he ever falls, he's toast. But so far he hasn't.

2 hours is a long run for Old Brian. But he's a good sport. And now he's upstairs sleeping it off: a tired old goat.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Training the next generation of trail runners

Things are looking up. When I proposed last weekend that we all head over to Bluff Point for a little hike, no one cried! This is an all time first. The kids always have fun on our little hikes (once they finally get going), but getting them out of the house and transported to the trailhead can be a bit of a struggle.

Actually, "struggle" is an understatement. By the time I get all of the hiking shoes located, snacks packed, water bottles filled, children dressed, screamers calmed (you'd think we were taking a little trip to Guantanamo) and carseats buckled, I am usually exhausted and more than ready to give up on the whole hiking idea.

But the persistence seems to be paying off. All three got into the car with little (Ben) or no (Nell and Simon) resistance. Bleeding, freaking miracle!

We had fun. Nell ran the whole time, with Simon and Ben in hot pursuit. They stopped only to climb rocks and downed trees. With the big backpack on my back, I actually had trouble keeping up with them. Especially on the downhills.

These children are fearless trail runners. I cannot tell you how thrilled I am at the prospect of actually running with them in ten years or so (assuming I am still ambulatory by then). They will surely keep me hopping.

Streams and vernal pools presented no obstacle whatsoever. The kids absolutely love barrelling through water.

We played in this pool for almost an hour. All of us. We were careful. We looked for eggs and frogs and bugs.

This is one of the great things I have taken away from homeschooling this year. I am no longer in such a rush. Being with kids 24/7 has forced me to slow down. It has forced patience into a very impatient person. And this has been such a gift. We spent an hour splashing around in the water. No reason not to. No reason at all.

We tried to get a group photo, but this is the best we could do.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

100 Miles, 100 MIles, 100 Miles, 100 Miles

I have been following the progress of the MMT 100 here and here since Saturday morning and I am amazed. These folks started in the dark yesterday morning, ran through muggy heat all day, through two major thunderstorms late afternoon and all through the evening, and many of them are still out there. Some of them won't finish until later tonight.

The MMT is a tough, rocky course with tons of climbing and descending. I imagine the rocks are treacherous and the night is long. As I sit here typing in Connecticut in Sunday morning darkness, I hear the rain. This is the rain they had last night. This rain is not trivial. I'm wondering if I even want to go out and run 8 miles in it.

They will all be so happy to see the dawn in an hour or so.

I have 100 miles on the brain. In the soul. I have decided that I am going back up to Vermont. I was going to pace my friend Susan for the last 30 miles, but I think now I am going to try to pace her for the whole thing. We trained for the race together last year, and neither of us made it to the finish. We have unfinished business. We learned so much from that experience, we need to go back and try again. Our friend, Chuck, will pace us the last 30. We plan to stay together and take it slow! Walk 10 minutes out of every hour and walk every hill. Last year we barrelled down the downhills (we got some misguided advice there). We won't be doing that again!

Here we are at the start last year (Chuck is in the middle).

Susan and I ran together Friday night and talked about the race for hours. It was a lovely evening, temps in the 60's, clear night sky. Too much to wish for in Vermont in July, alas. Last year the conditions in Vermont were much like what the MMT runners are going through now. Muggy and wicked hot with crashing thunderstorms. Tell me that won't happen two years in a row!

I am very much looking forward to Pittsfield Peaks in three weeks. I hear that the course gets progressively more difficult as the day wears on. Many of the big climbs come in the last 10 miles. Note to self: start slow and then taper off.

My stomach is getting better. I went to my GI doc last Monday and he thinks my ulcer/reflux medicine simply stopped working. This is a bit disconcerting, as I was only on it for a year. But he started me on something else (Nexium). This is the med I was initially prescribed a year and a half ago, but my insurance would not cover it back then. Now it does. Weird.

These proton pump/acid preventing meds take a few weeks to fully kick in. I feel my stomach slowly getting better. Mornings are still a bit rough, but by lunchtime I feel perfectly normal. Each day is better.

I need to do a bit more research on diet. I haven't had any caffeine in a week and a half and I'm starting to get used to it. So there's a start.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Making lemonade

Ah, when life hands you lemons....

Despite NOT running 50 miles on Saturday, alas, Brian and I did manage to eek out a nice little weekend for ourselves. The kids were all set to go to Grandma and Grandpa's house, to see the circus no less, and the idea of disappointing them simply could not be borne. So off we went, just the two of us, up to our idyllic cabin in the New Hampshire woods.

Or, as it turned out, our haphazard plywood hovel in the middle of a trailer park.

No matter. No matter. We were only six miles from Mt. Monadnock, and the trailer park people were very nice. It looked like a kids' paradise to be perfectly honest. Hordes of kids on bikes zipping from campfire to campfire on a pleasant Friday night. Our kids would have been in heaven.

Early Saturday morning we hiked up Monadnock. It was chilly and foggy. Lovely weather to my mind, though Brian prefers a bit more sun on his weekend getaways. We went straight up the White Dot Trail, because the ranger at the Park Headquarters intimated that it might take us 3 hours to get to the summit and we were a bit pressed for time. Thanks to my overwinter forced marches up and down the big hill on Clift Street and Brian's general goatlike proclivities, we summitted in just over an hour. This gave us ample time to wander about in the fog at the top, get a bit lost, and slide on our bums across the wet and treacherously slippery rocks (actually I slid on my bum; Brian refused because he is an Experienced Mountaineer, though he did LAND on his ass a couple of times).

We made it to our Wapack Trail Race Volunteer Post -- the Binny Hill Aid Station -- around noon to start handing out water and food to the runners. Wapack has three races: a 21-mile point-to-point, a 42-mile out-and-back, and a 50-mile out-and-back plus 8. Our aid station was at mile 17 for the 21-milers, and mile 38 for the longer racers. 50 milers came through our station twice again during their last out-and-back stretch.

Needless to say, we saw quite a few tired folks coming through. The other Binny Hill volunteer was a fantastically friendly, twenty-something ultrarunner from Southie named Keith. I just love ultrarunners. I cannot stress this enough. There is definitely something endearing about our little community. The kindred-spiritedness transcends age, gender, class, race, everything. I have never encountered such a consistently decent, interesting, quietly driven and yes, weird, wonderfully weird group of people.

At this point in the race most of the runners were weary and we did our best to keep them going. We filled water bottles and hydration packs, we pushed electrolytes and snacks, we cut up oranges and bananas, made endless peanut-butter sandwiches, and tried to send everyone off with a smile.

We closed the aid station just after 6, and packed everything back to the start/finish. This involved a hair-raising downhill ride along a bumpy backcountry road in Grandma's Suburu. I did my bit, stomping my imaginary passenger-side emergency brake during the entirety of the descent. Over in the driver's seat, Brian was having the time of his life.

By the time we got to the finish line, most people were long gone. We hung out and chatted with Bogie, the RD, and Steve P, Chief Volunteer and something of an Ultrarunning Legend, while we waited for the few remaining runners. It was great to finally meet Steve in person. We have been online buddies for quite a while (he always gives me excellent running advice), but he's even better in Real Life.

By this time, the hours and hours of being cheerful and encouraging were starting to get to me (my face was feeling saggy-baggy), so I offered to trot out onto the course and sweep for the few remaining runners.

Here I am running in a few great folks at the end of a long, long day on the trail (photos by Bogie)

This woman was the last 50-mile finisher of the day. She ran a great race. Her husband (first picture) ran 42. They are both going out to Leadville this summer. I wish them all the best.

We broke down the finish line, redistributed the remaining aid station food (Nipmuck Dave took a carful for the Trail Marathon next month), scooted the last gallons of water into the back of Steve's truck, and then the skies opened like freaking Armageddon. You would not believe this rain. We missed it by scant seconds.

Brian and I woke Sunday morning in our quaint little cabin (um, shotgun shack) to clean air and blue skies. We went up Monadnock again, this time from the other side. I took a few photos to document the day.

This is Brian at Fairy Spring. He fits right in. He looks just like a spritely woodland nymph, does he not?

This is the view of the Monadnock summit from (damn, I forget the name of it). We'll call it Grasshopper Rock. Why not? It kind of looks like a grasshopper. Or an elephant tusk, perhaps.

This is Brian at the summit. It was godawful windy. Such wind as I cannot begin to describe. It was enough to take your breath (and your footing) away. Enough to hold up Brian's full 180 pounds as he leans out over the precipice.

Here we are at the top. Fetching couple. (Check it out: I'm wearing my Wink pack. I love that thing!)

And Brian descending. Because that's what Brian likes to do. These rocks are nice and dry in this picture, but Saturday they were wet and slick. You see what we were up against.

All in all, as I said, it was a lovely weekend, with a couple of excellent, quad burning hikes. The three-hour drive home seemed endless, however. After almost 48 hours away, we both desperately missed the kids. The little faces. We live for those little faces....

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Tapering Doesn't Agree With Me

The Wapack 50-Mile race is the day after tomorrow and all week my stomach ulcer has been acting up. Heartburn. Nausea. Bleh.

Yes, I have a stomach ulcer. I know what you're thinking. How can such a calm, mellow, loving person like me have a stomach ulcer? Honestly, I don't know. My GI Guy says it's just one of those things. I'm sure it must be related to the two bouts (one rather serious) of Post-Partum Depression I went through. My stomach was in knots for most of 2005. Dark period indeed.

But I'm all better now! Why this lingering malaise?

I was so looking forward to this race, but I must say that I'm a bit frightened to go out and run 50 miles in this condition. Not terrified, but certainly taken aback. Grandma and Grandpa are going to watch the kids so Brian can drive up to the race with me. He'll drive to the aid station at Mile 9. I think I should know by then how my stomach is going to fare. If I'm in bad shape at 9 miles, I'll call it a day and go for a lovely hike up Mt. Monadnock with Brian. If I'm okay, I'll go on. I'll make sure to have 50 bucks in my pocket for a taxi, though.

Often running makes the ulcer better. Go figure. I'm hoping it will work itself out on the trail. (HA! I inadvertently typed TRIAL for trail. That old Freud dies hard. Let's hope it doesn't turn into a trial....)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Car Pool

Spring swim season in is full bloom. Simon, Nell and Brian are all swimming right now. Simon started this week. He's in Lane 1, right where Nell was two years ago. I am coaching Lane 1 on Monday and Wednesday nights at least until he gets a bit more comfortable with the routine. I love coaching Lane 1. It fits right in with my new life philosophy: Anything Worth Doing Will Take Lots of Patience and Hard Work and Time. The swimmers are all 6-years-old and very eager. Most of them can barely make it from one end of the pool to the other. But when they do, they are tremendously proud of themselves. Makes my night every time.

We still have just one car, and the schedule on Monday and Wednesday nights is nuts. Simon swims and I coach from 4:30 - 5:30. Nell sits in the bleachers with her Harry Potter on the iPod and watches or sometimes walks up and down Lane 1 with me. Nell gets in the pool with her swim buddies at 5:30. I hustle Simon through the locker room and drive him home. Then I run back to the pool (quite literally, run), hitting all the hills I can find. While Nell is showering I sit for 10 minutes in the sauna to build up my heat tolerance. No sense wasting that opportunity! The Other Mothers in the locker room think I'm weird, and with good reason, of course.

Brian and the boys pick us up at 7 in the trusty minivan. Brian drops himself off with his bike, swims with the Master's Group for an hour or so, and rides home. I drive everyone home, get the boys in bed and make dinner for myself and Nell. Crazy, but so far it's working.

Anyhoo. I'm going to run 2 hours with Susan at 2:00 this afternoon. This is my absolute worst time of day. If I sit down at 2:00 in the afternoon, I fall asleep like a narcoleptic old man on a park bench. Doesn't matter where. Kitchen chair, toilet, sofa, floor: I'm out like a light.

This will be my last real run before Wapack next weekend. We're staring down a week of rain to make the trails up there nice and muddy. More mud=more fun!