Monday, March 21, 2011

Race Report: Brazen Mt. Diablo Trail Half

No, you're eyes are not mistaken, this is a race report from a half marathon.  After last week's Shamrockin' Half PR, I was advised my many people that if my sights are truly set on running a great race in Eugene, it was probably wise for me NOT to do the 50K.  Sure, I've been training like crazy to cross the finish line of my first ultra, but I have my sights on running a huge PR in just six weeks, and doing what I don't normally do, I listened to those around me who know best and decided to sit it out.  It was a hard decision to make, but as soon as I made it, I knew that I had made the right choice.  A huge weight was lifted off of me - I made a decision that I was actually o.k. with.

Thankfully, my heart was even more settled with my decision when the weather report for race day had 100% chance of rain.  The thought of running 31+ miles in the mud and rain did not appeal to me, and now hindsight is glorious, because as you will see, the mountain was not good to us that day my friends.

I had the pleasure of joining my buddy Punky for the Mt. Diablo challenge.  Just a week out from his first 50K, Punky was also signed up for the half.  As we drove to the start together, it was pouring rain.  Both of us second guessed our sanity as we arrived at the starting area to a giant, muddy mess.  Thankfully though, Brazen always puts on a good show and we knew that no matter what the day held, we were in for a real treat.

I'm of the thinking that ignorance is bliss.  This may or may not have come back to bite me in the butt on more than one occasion, and Saturday was one of those days.  I had studied the elevation and maps in detail for the 50K, but as soon as I downgraded to the half, I thought anything else would be a piece of cake!  Yeah, mistake #1 of the day - I should have looked.  I had no idea what was in store for me - actually, if I had, I probably wouldn't have even started!

As we stood at the start line, Punky urged me (once again) to go to the front and attempt for a podium spot.  I wasn't eyeing the competition too much, but I was ready to run.  In all reality though, I just wanted to finish in one piece - I didn't want to trash my legs too much since I still had a long run to do for the weekend.  But, like true "Katie" fashion, when the gun went off I didn't think twice and began running with the front running men.

Right away the trail was a muddy mess, but I soon learned that if I followed where the men in front of me ran, I would at least know where the sure footing was.  We were slip-sliding right away and a muddy mess within a half mile.  And as luck would have it, it began to pour even harder as we ran.

I don't remember too much from the race itself - I was in full on survival mode.  Every step I took felt like I was going to slip and fall on my face.  And so the race went on, I followed the three men in front of me and we soon became a band of brothers as we attempted to survive one of the most difficult trail courses I have ever ran.  The mud was relentless, it stuck like clay to the bottom of your shoes, making it feel like your feet were an extra 5 pounds heavy!  I often found running on the side of the trail in the grass was the best place for footing, but I soon found out around mile 6 as we were on the back of the mountain that it was not necessarily the best place to be.  A giant gust came up at one point and slammed me into the side of the mountain!  I couldn't believe I was running in such conditions!  Who does this? FOR FUN?  I had many low moments out there, times I just wanted to sit down and cry, but I kept pushing forward.  Of the three guys I was running with,Tim, knew the course like the back of his hand.  He kept us up to date on what to expect next.  These guys were like mountain goats going up the hills, I did all I could to stay with them. 

At around mile 8 and the final aid station, the guys all stopped for some liquids but I decided to keep going.  Not to beat them necessarily, but because I was afraid if I stopped, I wouldn't start again.  Mistake #2 of the day - I should have stayed with them.  As I ran by myself, it was hailing - sideways.  At one turn in the course I saw a guy up ahead climbing up yet another mountain, so I followed him.  Mistake #3 of the day - not every runner goes the right way.  Turns out I had missed a turn, but thankfully Tim saw me in the distance and stopped to yell at me!  I ran a 1/2 mile out of my way!  My only saving grace was that it meant I got to start the decent and FINALLY start going downhill.

The final 3 miles were all downhill and I wanted nothing more than to be done.  I knew I was doing pretty good on time as I caught up with the guys again and even passed one - my final three miles were all sub 7!  I flew down the hills, ran straight through all the rivers and finally crossed the finish line in 2:12:46 - FIRST PLACE FEMALE!  I couldn't believe it!  The entire time I was running, I had no thought of coming in first or even placing.  I was so focused on just surviving I hadn't even stopped to notice that there were no other chic's around me.  Crossing the finish line first, made it that much more sweeter to be done!
Garmin stats: 13.70 miles (1/2 mile out of my way + long course)
2:12:47 - 9:41/mi pace
Official stats: 13.1 miles
2:12:46 - 10:08/mi pace
1st Female overall, 1st AG
5th overall/94

When I crossed the finish line just a few seconds behind the guys, Tim gave me a big hug!  I was so grateful to him!  I owed him big and the rest of the guys.  We tackled that mountain together and without them I don't think I would have done as well.  It was a hard, challenging day, filled with some low points and some highs. 

I also got to hang out with my buddy Ann who had ran the 10K.  She did awesome too, and together we waited for Punky to cross the finish line (mistake #3 1/2 for the day - always take the keys if you plan on finishing first - just sayin')

Finally crossing the finish line!
My buddy Ann & me - thanks for waiting Ann!

Thanking Tim for saving me!!

My running buddies and me for the day ;)

I'm so glad I ran this - I learned a lot from the day.  I was more than physically challenged, I was mentally challenged.  There were a few points during the race where I just wanted to sit down and cry in the fetal position.  But again, I ran an awesome course, with some awesome people and got to hang out with some pretty badass trail runners.  Thanks Sam and Brazen for putting on a great day in not so great conditions.

After I got home for the day I decided my legs needed some easy miles, so I jumped on the hamsterwheel and made it an even 22 for the day.  My legs really liked the easy pace and soft surface and I got off feeling a ton better.  Ann warned me though, that my legs might not feel so great the next day - and boy was she right.  I had 20 scheduled for the day on Sunday and with the weather crappy again, I hit the treadmill.  I lasted 14 miserable miles before I called it a session.  I was disappointed that I was feeling like garbage, but decided to leave the run behind me and went and hung with my family for a few hours.  When I got home later that afternoon the treadmill was calling my name again, and I jumped back on.  Thankfully, my legs once again felt good.  I ran another six and called it day.  That was a run I really needed - both for my legs and head.

The streak, as you can see, is still going strong.  I finished off the week with 117 miles, my 4th week in a row of 100+ miles.  My legs are really thriving on the high mileage, and I actually can't see an end in sight any time soon.  I'm still doing double days, an easy run in the morning, followed by an evening run with some speed work.  Today was day 74, I ran 20 miles, my 3rd day in a row of 20+ miles and my legs felt awesome.  I split the runs up, 10 each, and felt like I finally had my legs and spirit back.

I have my sights set high for Eugene in May.  I am working towards a really big PR, but more than anything, I want to hit the start line fresh and as prepared as I can be.  Thank you to all of you for all the kind words from last weekend's half - it was a surprise but I can finally say all these crazy miles and training are finally amounting to something.

Congrats to all of you who raced this weekend, especially my running twin Denise who had a huge PR at her marathon, and to all my buddies who survived the LA Marathon this weekend - that was a wet & crazy race!  And thank you to all of my new followers!  Leave me a comment so I know who you are and can thank you!  It is all of you that keep me coming back ;)

I'm off to catch up with all of you!
Happy Monday (evening) & Happy Running!

Monday, March 14, 2011

What...A Weekend! Race Report(s): Shamrockin' Half Marathon & Spectator Report - Way Too Cool 50K

Where to start, where to START?!?  This past weekend was filled with racing...once again.  I know that I had informed all of you that I had planned on running my first 50K this weekend at the Way Too Cool 50K, as my friend Stacey had offered to let me use her bib.  I had emailed the race director a few weeks ago and she informed that bib swapping was not ok, and if either of us tried anything funny, we would BOTH be BANNED from any future races.  Well, with that piece of information, we both thought it wise to ditch that idea and for me to find a new 50K of my own.  Being banned from the #1 50K in the country was NOT something either of us wanted, and really, in the end, I wanted my name to be on the official finisher's list, not my friend's.  Luckily, next weekend is the Brazen Mt. Diablo 50K challenge so I have signed up for this and am sooo excited to be apart of that race, as Brazen Racing holds a special place in my heart.

So, without further adu, my spectator's report from WTC on Saturday & my own race report from Sunday's Shamrockin' Half Marathon.  Grab yourself a drink, this might be long - sorry!!!

Even though I wasn't racing the 50K, I decided to still go and cheer on my buddy Punky for his first ever ultra trail run.  I was honored to be apart of his first 50K and be the support crew that is so essential to runners when they take on the awesome challenge of an ultra run.  Friday I headed up to Sacramento to stay with my family so that it would be an easier drive to the early start on Saturday morning.  I got to hang out with my favorite 8 year old nephew, get a run in, stuff my face with quesadilla's and make some tasty banana muffins for Saturday - a perfect way to start out a fun weekend.

I got to bed a little late on Friday night, and soon my alarm was going off at 4:30.  Punky and I made plans to have me drive him to the race, as it was easily predicted that he probably wouldn't be in any shape to drive home after the ultra.  So right on time, at 5:15 a.m. Punky was at my door step and we headed off into the dark morning to beautiful Cool, CA.  Yes, you read that right - the town was called Cool.  Just off highway 49 in gold country, it was the most perfect and beautiful setting for a fun, challenging race.  Punky seemed calm and collected, but he later informed me he was more like a duck sitting on top of the water, all calm, but below the surface his little feet and heart were going a mile a minute.  I am sure this is what everyone feels when they are on the brink of tackling 31 challenging miles. 

We arrived with plenty of time to check in and begin the process of gearing up for a 31 mile run.  The race officials did an awesome job in organizing everything.  The whole race area was decked out in fun frog theme decorations, including a giant 10 foot blown up frog that greeted you as you entered the parking area.  One thing I did notice: ultra runners are their own breed.  They just "look" & "act" different than your average road runner.  Their clothes are little more flashy, they are calm and collected looking forward to the day's challenge, and they consume lots of food and water while waiting for the race to start.  I also noticed, most every car had a sticker of some sort of past race on their bumpers or window, showing the world that they are inducted into the world of ultras.  Also, there were lots & lots & lots & lots of Subaru's - take from that what you like ;)
What...have I gotten myself into?!?

Pretty soon it was time to send Punky off to the starting line.  If you don't know Punky, he's kind-of a "celebrity" in the running world.  I have yet to attend a race with him where no less than 5 people come up and say "hey", either personally knowing him or having known him from his blog.  I guess I was in the presence of someone great, or at least someone who is good at personal P.R. ;)  The whole vibe at the start line of the beginning of the race was of excitement - but a different kind-of excitement than at the start of a road race.  Everyone had confidence, everyone had a smile on their face, and most everyone was ready with a kind word for their fellow ultra runner - not the typical game face that you can encounter in the start corrals of competitive road running.  I actually liked it a lot and made me excited for my very own experience into the ultra running world next week.  I snapped a few pics of Punky with his friend Rachel who was also tackling her first 50K and soon the gun went off and I said good bye to Punky.  I was a little sad for a second that I was on the spectator's side and not joining him, but soon enough I was filled with excitement for him - he was finally taking the challenge of becoming an ultra runner ;)

Waiting for the start - his friend Rachel is in the blue ;)
And...their off!!
My plan for the day was to hang out with the other spectator's, get a run in, and then when it got close to his predicted finish time, I would run out to the end of the race and try to meet him around mile 27 or 28 and pace him back to the finish.  I soon found out though, that I would have the opportunity to see him on a loop back at mile 8, so I gathered around the aid station and waited and cheered as fellow runners came in.  I think the first runner came in right around 50 mins - smokin' time!  And pretty soon I got to see Punky, looking strong!  I was so excited to see him, check in with him and send him on to the next 23 miles.  The good news was, he had a giant smile on his face and looked like he was enjoying the whole thing and soaking it all up.
Punky looking strong coming in at mile 8
After I saw Punky and sent him on his way, I headed back to my car to get my own run on.  Cool, CA is not very big, and it has the major highway 49 running right through it.  There isn't much to it, and if you blinked you would probably miss it as you drove by.  But none the less, I laced up and headed out to the road.  Within a half mile of running on a two-lane road though, it became clear to me (thanks to the many angry looks of driver's passing me) that running there was not an option, so I turned back a bit deflated.  How was I going to RUN?  A bit of panic set in as I walked back to my car.  I had 7 hours to kill and couldn't run?  What would I do?  But then, God sent me a sign, I looked into the "shopping" center right next to the race area that held the local liquor store, pizza parlor...AND there was a GYM!  WHOO HOO!  I was saved!  I ran right over to the gym and asked them if I could buy a day's membership and they more than happily said yes!  So, for $8 (the BEST $8 I have ever spent) they let me run on one of the TWO treadmills they had.  It was a cute little gym, nice and clean and even had a TV.  So for an hour I ran on the hamsterwheel, knocking out another 9 miles and looking out the window at the beautiful Golden hills of California and wishing Punky all the best for the day.

The "gym" that saved the day!
I didn't want to run too much though, as I knew I would still be pacing Punky later and...I had a little race of my own the next day.  So after 9 miles + that mile from earlier, I called it a day and went back to my car, ate some lunch and got ready to hit up the finish line and cheer Punky and some friends in.  Sam, the race director from Brazen was also out there running today and he was hoping for a sub 5.  With just over 4:45 into the race, and the winner's already crowned (the first male came in at 3:20!!) I began cheering for all the racers.  Cheering is so much fun, and not something I get to do very often since I'm usually the one racing.  It is such an honor to see someone cross the finish line of their first or 100th ultra.  My voice was almost horse from screaming and clapping my heart out - such an awesome and humbling experience.  Soon Sam came in looking strong and I got to pick his brain about what I should do with pacing Punky.  He told me the course was muddy and a bit difficult, but I should head out soon and begin looking for him.  I got my trail shoes on and began heading up the course backwards.  I stopped often because the course was single track and I didn't want to get in the way of the runners.  I also loved stopping to cheer, as they were all so grateful to finally see a smiling face after running 6+ hours.  It took me just under an hour to go 3 miles, and pretty soon I found Punky.  He was looking tired, but I do believe that is to be expected with you have been running that long.  He was just as happy to see me, too.  I won't share his story here, you'll have to cruise on over to his blog to share that experience with him, but let's just say it was good I came when I did.  It was fun to walk and run with him, keep him motivated and cheer him on to the finish of his first ultra - a true honor.  It took us about an hour to get back and when he got to the finish line it was so awesome to finally be able to call him an ultra runner ;)

Getting Punky to the finish!!
The race organizers did a fantastic job with everything at the finish line.  Everyone was helpful, encouraging and they even handed out little cupcakes with frogs made out of icing.  You can bet Punky ate a few of those!  After chatting with a few fellow runners and congratulating some peeps, we made our way home.  Punky did fantastic!!  He ran strong and smart and I am so lucky he did this BEFORE me, now I can pick his brain for my own this Saturday ;)  Congrats Punky for an awesome day on Saturday - you did amazing!  I'm so lucky (and honored) I got to share the experience with you and can't wait to see what's next!

We got home around 4:30 and I was lucky enough to stay with my sister once again.  She had a big dinner of spaghetti and salad waiting for me to carb load for my own race the next day.  My good friend Layla also came to stay with me and my sister as she was running the race the next day, too.  We got to chat and fill our bellies with pasta and soon enough it was time to hit the sack and prep for our own race.  Thanks (or no thanks) to day-light savings time, we were loosing an hour of sleep that night, and once again the alarm went off at 4:30 (I felt like I was in that movie Groundhog day!). 

When I got up that morning, I.was.exhausted.  I felt like garbage, and I questioned my sanity as I got ready.  I had no idea what the day would hold, I was really just hoping to get the monkey off my back that was qualifying for New York - sub 1:37.  When I thought about that time and the mile average I would need (7:23), I was a bit overwhelmed.  I had 89 miles on my legs for the week on race day, I had slept a mere 8 hours in the past two nights - total - and I was just mentally drained.  As Layla and I drove to the start, in the dark, I was really doubting what I could do.  We arrived with plenty of time to get Layla's bib and rest a bit in the car.  It was a bit chilly out so we stayed in the car as long as possible.  I may or may not have told Layla more than once, "I don't want to race today!"  "I think I'll just stay in the car and take a nap while you run, come and get me when you're done."  All week Punky and the hubbs kept telling me that I had the NY qualifier in the bag and that really I had sub 1:30 in me if I played my cards right.  I really attempted to not let either of them sway me emotionally, I just wanted to race well, get my sub 1:37 and ENJOY the day - anything else would be icing on the cake ;)
Layla & me before the start ;)

Finally we made our way over to the starting line and I stripped myself of my throw away clothes and stood in the cold in nothing more than a sports bra, shorts and some arm warmers.  It was chilly, but I could tell right away this was a smart move.  I had decided to also use a pacer for the race since they had a 1:30 on hand.  He was almost at the front, so I positioned myself between the front line of runners and the pacer.  I was feeling like maybe the 1:30 guy might be a bit fast but I would at least try a shot at staying with them in hopes of banking some time.  All of a sudden it was go time and the gun went off!

I began sprinting with the lead pack.  My legs felt awesome.  I started chasing a chic who was also in a sports bra and I had over heard her say in the starting corral she was shooting for a 1:25.  She became my target as we bobbed and weaved through the little bit of crowd that was ahead of us.  She was moving well, and when I looked down at my watch we were already running sub 7's.  This made me a bit nervous.  I have never strung together more than 7 or 8 sub 7's before, but in that instant I felt like going with it.  The 1:30 pacer was right behind me at this point too, so I just went with it.  At mile 1 my Garmin beeped a 6:41 mile and I panicked for a second.  Whoa!  TOO FAST!  Or at least that is what I was fearing.  I decided to try and scale it back and actually stick with the pacer from then on - I was really afraid of bonking too soon.  Mile 2 I tried to run with the pacer but my legs did not like holding back and when my Garmin beeped at mile 2 a 6:51 mile I knew I had more in me and I began to let go and let my legs take over.  Thankfully the girl in the sports bra was not too far ahead at this point and I began to chase her down once again.

By mile three I could tell my legs were feeling strong and I just went with it hoping for the best.  I finally caught and passed sports bra girl and never looked back.  I kept checking in with myself as I ran, hoping that I would know the signs to look for in case I started to bonk and would need to scale it back again.  But it never happened.  My breathing was in control, my kick felt great and my legs felt like they were on FIRE!  And so the miles kept going by and each one was faster or as fast as the last.  At mile 5, a spectator yelled at me that I was the 3rd female!  WOWZA!  How did that happen?  I didn't know I was running that well but it really lit a fire for me.  When I reached mile six in 40:15 I knew something awesome was happening and I just let it take me away.

Along this point also, a shorter chic came up and started drafting off of me.  I could hear the clap of her foot steps behind me, matching my every stride each time I pushed a little more.  It was so annoying.  I even turned my music up but I could still "feel" her on me.  Any time we had a hill, she would over take me, but I would recover quicker and take her over again.  It continued on like this for the whole race and there were quite a few hills and bridges we would cross.  She was playing the game well.  I attempted really hard to zone her out, but she just kept on me.  I also gu'ed around mile 6 or 7 - without water, but I never wanted to stop long enough to grab a cup and attempt to get it down.  I was running well and I finally felt the gu kick in and just kept at it.

I couldn't believe how well I was running, and for the first time, in such a large race, I had spectator's cheering for me and reminding me how close I was to the front.  Around mile 10 one woman spectator told me the second female was only a few seconds ahead of me and to go get her!  Again, it was just the fire I needed and my tenth mile was 6:33!  Every time though, that I would push and kick that short chic would match me.  It became apparent she was waiting to take me over - she knew my kick and could respond.  She knew what my weakness was now and it was now just a matter of time before she would attempt to capitalize on it.  I had to stay strong though, because I was feeling emotions I have never felt before.  I was in the lead pack at a pretty major race.  I wanted to cry, I wanted to run faster, I wanted to shout to the world how awesome I was feeling.  But I had to keep my emotions in check as the race was still unfolding.

Finally, with about 1.5 miles left, we hit the final bridge - and it was a rather large one.  This time the chic over took me quick and found her own kick and took off.  I tried to recover quickly but she just took off.  She found my weakness, let me do all the work for the race and finally made her move.  I tried to respond but I couldn't.  My legs were moving as fast as they could and I didn't want to get out of breath in case she herself bonked and I had a chance to take 3rd back.  But...she didn't.  She ran strong.  She was so close I felt I could reach out and touch her.  And each time I responded she found another gear and pulled away.  The final 3/4 mile was around the baseball stadium we started at.  As we rounded around I heard them say the first female had just crossed the finish line and I do believe that lit a fire for all of us.  I attempted to run faster but the parking lot and area they had us running on was all torn up concrete.  It was hard to find my footing.  At this point I was just holding on for dear life.  The finish of the race is right inside the baseball stadium and as I entered chasing that chic I saw woman #2 cross.  I put my head down and ran, seeing the clock read 1:27:xx.  I finally crossed the finish line in 1:27:54!!!  I couldn't believe it!  I put my hands in the air and screamed loud!  I was soooo excited!  I couldn't believe I had just raced as well as I had.

After I grabbed my medal, the chic who had drafted over me came over and congratulated me.  She ran a great race too, finishing just 13 seconds ahead of me.  I had tears rolling down my face - if I had only know it was 13 seconds, what would I have done differently?  It didn't matter in that moment though, my reaction made the whole crowd go nuts for me!  They all were excited for me!  I had every volunteer handing out medals trying to put a medal around my neck :)  I found my sister in the crowd and the tears just kept coming - I couldn't believe what I had just done, I couldn't believe how good I felt - it was so surreal. 

As I climbed up the top stairs I had many of the runners in front of me congratulate me.  I do believe that many of them are used to running this fast and are a bit jaded, they were happy for me and my happiness, it felt really good.  The second place woman also came over and gave me a hug - she finished a mere 40 seconds ahead of me. 

I quickly found my sister and cried in her arms.  I don't think I have been that overwhelmed from a race before.  Sure I really felt awesome after CIM, but this was new.  It was so unexpected, and I felt so fantastic afterwards that I was so overcome with joy.  I had ran well, I had ran smart and felt oh, so good!

We waited for Layla to cross the finish line, who by the way, had a PR day herself!  Go and check out her story, I won't ruin it here for her, but she should be proud!  She ran a great race also - just three months out from injury!  I also found out my official stats as we waited for Layla - turns out I came in second in my age group!!  I couldn't believe that either!  I had some more bling to gather!  The only kicker to that was though, the woman who came in first - was the chic who drafted off me, the one who beat me by 13 seconds - damn!
Official stats:
13.1 miles 1:27:54 - 6:41/mi pace
2nd in AG (30-34)
4th woman over all
My favorite and best cheerleader Buggy & me ;)

I am still on cloud 9 today.  I am beyond thrilled with how my race turned out.  But I will be honest, I'm left with a lot of "what-if's?"  What if I hadn't ran 16 miles the day before?  What if I hadn't had 89 miles on my legs for the week prior?  What if I had a decent night's sleep?  What if I had kicked sooner and not let that chic draft off of me for so long?  What if I had been able to kick at that last bridge and not let her get away?  What if...  I almost can't let myself go into too many of those, I know I ran well.  I know I ran as well as I could with what I had given myself.  It was my first major race to run in where I actually raced it like I could really win it.  Dealing with all the emotions while out on the course was a new experience to me, and I think learning to respond when someone is right on your heals is also something that will get easier and strategy will present itself as I get more races under my belt that are of that caliber.  Right now, I am just enjoying the fact that I can finally say that all my crazy mileage and training is actually paying off.  I am proving that what I am posting and running is for real and that when it comes down to, I can deliver when I want to - the possibilities make me excited, makes me excited to now ask..."what's next?"

To say I'm not nervous about this weekend would be a lie.  I'm a bit overwhelmed, especially after seeing what happens at a 50K - but I would also be lying if I said I wasn't excited!  I can't wait to see what it feels like to cross the finish line of my very first ultra, I'm sure it will be nothing short of amazing.

I need to say a big shout out of thanks to my sister Suzie - she made this weekend possible for me.  She fed me well, she took good care of me and she was the best cheerleader I could ask for.  Thanks Suz, you mean the world to me!  And thank you to all of you for your encouraging support.  I thought about many of you as I ran yesterday ;)  Yesterday was day 66, I ran 19 miles yesterday (came home and ran another 6) and I ran 108 miles last week.  My legs are feeling great, fresh and ready to tackle the week and my first ultra.  If I don't check in here again this week, I will next Sunday, hopefully with a race report.  Good luck to all of you racing this weekend - run strong, run fast, ENJOY & believe in yourself!  You've got it in you!  I'm off to catch up with all of you!

Have a great week!
Happy running peeps!