Monday, March 10, 2014

Way Too Cool 50K March 8, 2014 Race Report

This is a long race report, but I wanted to remember as many details as I could. I wrote it for me, but maybe you will get something out of it, too. So if you make it to the end, leave me a comment if you're so inclined.. I'd love to hear your feedback!

Leading up to the 25th Way Too Cool 50K in Cool, California was three months of wishful thinking that started after Thanksgiving. I wish it would snow, I wish it would snow, I wish it would snow! But it just didn’t snow much and so the trails were dry and we ran. But when it snowed, we skied. And it has snowed maybe 4 times this winter for a total of maybe 5 feet of snow, about 40% of normal. Our preparation for Cool was grounded in the firm belief that the intensity of mogul skiing as much as four times per week was good enough cross training to get us through 50K. Running always comes in second after skiing until mid-February when I realize that I had better get some quality running in to prepare for Cool, March 8. So me and Ron stuck a few 20 milers in there and I did some quality tempo runs. I think my longest week was 60 miles a few weeks before Cool. There was one week where I only ran 10 miles but skied 5 days in a row!
My last race had been the Apple Hill 8.5 mile run in November, 2013 and my last ultra had been the Dick Collins Fire Trails 50 Mile run in October, 2013. Cool would be my first race of the 2014 season and I was a little anxious to get back in the game after taking a break from focusing on running for the 3 months from November to February.

I did this race when it was
The Cool Canyon Crawl in 1991
The Day Before
My long time training partner, Ron, his wife Carol and I drove to Georgetown to stay at the American Inn the night before. A quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast where the beds are way off the floor and the d├ęcor is late 19th century, the American Inn is classic. Betty, has been the Innkeeper there for 25 years. She took great care of us even accomodating our need for an early morning race breakfast with a nice spread at a neatly set table in the dining room near a fireplace. We were only 10 minutes from the race start so being in Georgetown, only 10 miles away, we didn’t have to get up at 4 am to drive down the mountain to get to Cool. Friday evening, before we drove into the American River Canyon and up the windy road to Cool and beyond to Georgetown, we stopped in Auburn to pick up our race packets at the Auburn Running Company and eat at MonkeyCat, a wonderful Italian restaurant where I indulged in a pesto tortellini with grilled salmon. A glass of red wine went nicely with it.
Desert was frozen yogurt at Tango, a little place down the street. It was so warm we stood outside and listened to two kids playing saxophone near a fire pit while we indulged in our desert.
When we arrived at the American Inn in Georgetown that evening, Betty had open bottles of wine ready for us. We sat in the living area near a wood burning fire and enjoyed the ambience of Georgetown’s rich Victorian past. I didn’t drink anymore that night – one glass of wine at dinner was enough.

Kicking back at the American Inn in Georgetown
thanks to Michael for the intro in 2012
I woke up race morning at 5:45 am before the alarm went off and got up. I felt good having slept very well the night before and then a solid 5 hours before I woke up that morning.  I drank 4 oz of ASEA before I headed downstairs for breakfast. Race morning breakfast was blueberries and melon slices covered with yogurt; a hard boiled egg, orange juice and coffee. I was amazed that I could eat. No butterflies! I felt strangely calm and relaxed. I practiced reduced breathing drills, nose and belly breathing to stay relaxed as we drove to the start.
We drove to Cool and parked on the road near the start. My dad was there with Emily (his hyper Golden). Dave would drive down later to see us at the finish. Start time was 8 am and of course, the porta potty lines were very long. Ron and I found bushes nearby – the men took one side of a bank of brush and the women were on the other.

the short line - Ken Katserko photo
Carol held our sweats as we waited for the start. The weather was supposed to be sunny with a high of 68 for the day. It was around 50 at the start. I wore a ChiRunning tank with black sleeves for warmth during the first miles and lycra shorts. My trusty Altra Superiors were my wheels. A 22 oz water bottle was held in my waist pack and I carried my iPhone, S-Caps, a 4 oz bottle of ASEA and some dried fruit in the zipper pouch.

Ron and I at the start
Race Strategy
I had given some thought to my race strategy and was excited and anxious to see if it would work for me. I felt that I was fit enough and experienced enough as an ultra runner to carry it out. But I was anxious because my training had been so haphazard with skiing taking a priority over the last few months. I had also suffered a minor right hamstring strain about 4 weeks earlier while skiing and was a bit concerned about that. Ironically, my left hamstring had started talking to me Thursday morning and I had no idea where that came from! I couldn’t identify a situation that would have aggravated it and I rarely have issues with my hamstrings. (I did run a very fast run with hill surges the Sunday before, but had no pain or issues with my legs that day or in the days following.) Trigger point massage on both legs for the two days before Cool seemed to relieve the tenderness. But I was a bit worried. Was this just an annoying niggle, or something I really needed to pay attention to and not run?

For the last two months, I had scheduled my training around the good skiing conditions, or trained when the skiing was poor. I was excited about this race because I knew I was fit and knew it was possible to run a good race if I felt good. I also held the possibility that I would use this as a training run if I didn’t feel good and my body wasn’t ready to push. I would work it all out in the first 5 to 8 miles where I would body sense how the hamstrings felt and how my overall energy was.
The last time I ran Cool was in 2012, I went out too fast and paid dearly but still finished well despite having to walk for 3 miles. This time I wanted to hold back for the first 8 miles which is a loop that takes you back to the Start/Finish line. After the 8 mile loop my plan was to keep my effort and pace steady and push through perceived fatigue through good ChiRunning technique so that I could really run the last 20 miles at the edge of my envelope – third gear, race pace, not survival pace. My plan was to gain every advantage I could by running mindfully fast downhill, which is where I excel, run a strong third gear whenever I felt good, stay steady on the flats and during low points focusing on relaxation and form, and efficiently transition back and forth from ChiWalk to ChiRun on the uphills. Also, I wanted to waste no time in the aid stations. I planned to eat salted potatoes, PB&J sandwiches, bananas and orange slices and refill my 22 oz water bottle as needed. I also had 4 oz of ASEA with me which I planned to drink somewhere around mile 18 to 22.

The Race
Timing was chip time so Ron and I ran across the start line about 2.5 minutes back of the leaders. Our pace was somewhere around 9:30 min/mile and it felt very easy since it was a slight downhill. I could feel the jolt of pain in the knot in the middle of my left hamstring and hoped that it would work itself out as it got warmer. We knew it was a fast start, but let that thought go and eventually eased into the 10 min/mile range. My hamstring eased and the legs felt good. Bottlenecks leading into single track further kept my pace in check and I resisted the urge to bolt around people as they slowed on up hills or crossing creeks.

Ron and I less than a mile in
photo by Kathy Duarte

Cool is famous for its mud and multiple creek crossings. The first creek was at mile 2. It was hilarious watching some runners pick their way across the creek over the rocks in an effort to keep their feet dry. Knowing that dry feet were an impossibility for today Ron and I ran through the water feeling the icy cold splash on our legs and soaking our feet cold for the first time that day. By the end of the day, I had crossed at least 20 creeks or drainages, and ran through so much mud and mud puddles that I just really didn’t care anymore! And that was so cool not to care how muddy I was! My feet were never dry. Once they got warm after a dousing in a cold creek, there would be another mud puddle or 20 foot stretch of muddy trail again or another creek crossing and the feet would be soaked. It would take more energy to avoid the water and the mud than just run through with a relaxed stride and steady cadence. My Altra Superiors were fine, but did get a bit heavy with all the mud and water.

 Ron Nageotte took this after we crossed our first creek at mile 2

The first mile or so is on road and then it funnels into single track. For the first 3 miles, my thoughts were all about how long a day this would be; did I really want to do this? How was my body going to do? Were my hamstrings going to flare up? Could I relax enough into my form to prevent issues? Could I really do 6:30 again? And on and on and on in an endless stream of mind chatter!! Clearly not in the present, I struggled with answers to my mind’s questions for the first hour. Finally, by the fifth mile, I had settled in, warmed up and realized that yes, Cheryl, you are a runner and this is what you are doing today. My focus on relaxing and positive talk about my strength and confidence as a runner began to connect with my body. I listened to music in one ear and smiled and chatted briefly with other runners and Ron as we ran. I began to feel good and my legs were fine. I was in the present and thoughts of the past and future were only brief intrusions. Soon, they would disappear or change into happy thoughts about a strong finish.
At the end of the 8 mile loop is the first aid station (and the finish line) and I was pleased with my time of 1:30. Slow enough to start and yet fast enough to meet my goal to run under 6:30.

Running through that first aid station at mile 8 was quite a boost with the music, all the people and the finish line right there. I barely stopped as I glided past the tables, thanked volunteers for the first time of many times that day, filled my water bottle, and put a piece of banana in my mouth, some PB&J sandwich in one hand and a potato dunked in salt in the other. I smiled at my dad, glanced behind me to see Ron at the aid station and decided that it was time to go. I left knowing that Ron would either catch me or not, but also that he would want me to run my race and he would be ok with me going ahead. Ron has been my ultrarunning mentor, training and skiing partner and friend for several years. His experience and wisdom around ultrarunning has been a gift. His friendship is one of the most valuable I’ve ever had and I owe him much. I hope he knows how much he helped me get to be the ultrarunner I am today and how much gratitude I have for him that he has been there with me as I've progressed. Thank you Ron. I wrote about Ron a couple of years ago when we first started running together. A Running Partner - the Essential Element

As I left the 8 mile aid station I began to feel a growing sense of confidence. I settled in and began the middle portion of the race. I crossed Highway 49 at mile 11 arriving there just as the aid station volunteer had stopped all the cars and allowed all the runners waiting there to cross. Great timing for me! There was Carol, Ron’s wife, cheering for me and snapping pictures.

Feeling great at Mile 11
photo by Carol Nageotte
I ran down the hill to the aid station, stopped briefly for water, another PB&J sandwich, potato with salt and orange slices. The next miles were run on the gravel/dirt road next to the American River and I relaxed into a comfortable steady pace focusing on relaxed feet, engaged core and a nice easy second gear. The air was warming, the sun felt warm on my skin. My legs felt fine without tension or tightness, but I was wary and hyperfocused on relaxing my ankles, engaging my core and keeping my stride out behind me. As we moved over rolling hills and through single track, runners would pass me going up hill and I would often pass them running down hill or on the flats. I reminded myself that a steady efficient pace was important this early in the race and that I would make up time later. A primary focus I used during a few low points from miles 14 to 18 was y’chi where I focused my eyes on a point about 30 yards ahead and allowed the energy of my focus to pull me towards it. The few low energy points quickly passed because I was forced to put my mind into the present and focus on energy outside of myself. I observed myself running smoothly following an endless energy stream ahead of me.
As mile 18 approached, I realized I knew I was doing well. I was able to stay steady and run the runnable uphills and fly down hills without losing my quads. I wasn’t hungry and felt I was fueling and hydrating well. I decided that I would take my 4 oz of ASEA. As mile 18 rolled into 19, I began to realize that this was my day to do the race I wanted. I chuckled that maybe ASEA was just a placebo, but 20 to 30 minutes after taking the ASEA and starting the long rolling climb up to the base of Goat Hill, I realized that my energy had been kicked up to another level! I felt a stability and uncanny feeling of unshakeable power that I just can't explain. I knew ASEA helped with fat burning. And because I had stayed away from pure sugar at aid stations, and hadn't felt hungry I figured I was burning fat for fuel instead of sugar and that my insulin levels must be stable. I wasn't experiencing roller coaster energy and that was very very cool. I cautiously began reeling people in and found myself leading long lines of runners at a respectable speed. No one wanted to pass me. Transitioning back and forth from ChiWalking to ChiRunning on the uphills, my pace was steady and efficient. My nose breathing training kept my breath steady, efficient and aerobic. I felt invincible, like I could run as hard as I wanted to the finish.

Photo by UltraSportsLiveTV
The base of Goat hill is about mile 25.5. The next half mile is a brutal 500 foot climb that goes straight up. I met a man my age trucking along fairly well. We celebrated our achievement together noting that age makes one appreciate the finer things in life like finishing ultras! We chatted about how extreme fatigue forces you into the present where there is only the trail and your feet on it and some weird thing that drives you to keep moving. We parted as I started up Goat Hill ahead of him, grateful for the brief meeting and bonding as kindred spirits. Thankfully the trail was dry, but I’ve heard tales of it being so wet and slippery that runners had to pull themselves up by the branches! In the last few hundred feet of the climb, volunteers cheered and cajoled runners up the hill. Inspiring signage marked the trail and one in particular hit home for me. It said something like, “Don’t give up. Don’t sacrifice the gift.” I knew I would never have this moment again in my life. I vowed that I would run as if it were the last time because every time is a gift. 
As I crested Goat Hill, I looked at my watch and incredibly saw 5:15. I could break 6:15 if I could run the last 5 miles in an hour. Could I do it? YES! I spent only a few minutes at the aid station and succumbed to the sweetness of drinking 2 small cups of sprite. I downed some more orange slices, another potato, and a piece of banana and took off.
The downhill out of Goat Hill is steep in places with off camber technical turns so requires a bit of concentration and a lot of relaxation. It’s followed by some gently rolling hills before dumping out onto Highway 49 again, the last aid station. Dave wasn’t there and no one I knew was there, so again, I made a short stop and got out of there quick. Only about 1.3 miles to go and I knew I could break 6:15. I turned again to a focused relaxation and constantly checking in with my legs for tenseness and keeping them aligned (I have worked on my duck feet forever). My legs were fine and my mind was screaming to be done, but it wasn’t up to my head anymore; the chi was flowing, it was all about this day, this race, this moment – because I would never have it again. I climbed out of the aid station pushing hard, my breath coming faster now. I needed to keep giving it everything I had. Only 20 more minutes of running left. 

Running around the corner only 200 yards from the finish, it is a slight up hill, then down steep, then slightly up hill to the finish. I cruised down and focused on arm swing and letting my legs swing out behind me as I ran the last hill and straight section to the finish. Cheers from spectators brought a huge smile to my face. Carol screamed my name and cheered me in. I crossed the line with my heart full of happiness! The most I can remember since the last time I did an ultra! I looked at my time in astonishment. It slowly dawned on me that it was only a few minutes slower than I had run it in 1991 when I was only 32 years old. Wow. What a testament to ChiRunning and a mindful focus while racing. 
Moments after crossing the finish line and right before I gave Chris a big hug!
photo by Chris Jones
After hugging Chris and my dad, I walked up the road to find Carol and Dave waiting for Ron near the trail. He finished in 6:35 looking strong and happy that he had finished 25 minutes faster than last year. 
And thanks to the race organizers and all the volunteers! Julie Fingar and NorCal Ultras put on a first class event with first class people. Awesome job as always!

In looking at my Garmin data, I see that I ran some very fast sections and averaged about a 12 minute mile which is pretty great for me for an ultra with nearly 4200 feet of elevation gain. I also spent very little time stopped in aid stations which I'm very pleased with. My official time was 6:07:50, only 3 minutes slower than 23 years ago.

Lessons learned
Race strategies work. Visualization and mental rehearsal and self talk works.
This race reinforced my tapering strategy – less is better. My last run was Wednesday – a short 4 mile tempo run. My last intense run was the Sunday before – a 10 mile hilly surge run. My last long run was 21 miles about two weeks before which brought my mileage to a modest 44 miles that week. Skiing moguls is good for running. Danny Dreyer, the Founder of ChiRunning, describes this learning process as the “Upward Spiral of Chi” – building on what is learned and starting the training cycle all over again.
ASEA works. Drink sooner - around 12 miles and every 10 to 12 after that when racing. Drink ASEA immediately at finish line. Thanks David Stretansky.
Skiing for cross training is great training for running.
Never give in to the mind. Always check in with the body first.
Primary focus: Relax, relax, and relax.
Run my race.
Don’t sacrifice the gift.
Dad, Emily, me and Ron post race
Ron and I with Dave enjoying the best beer we've ever had!
Thanks for bringing the beer to the finish line Dave!
photo by Chris Jones

the famous WTC frog cupcakes

We skied the next day and it felt GREAT!

You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream. 
C.S. Lewis

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Confession Time, a Review of 2013 and Owning TRT100

Last year was a breakthrough year for me in my progress as an ultrarunner. I had some races where my performances surprised and delighted me. Little did I know where it would lead me in 2014. So I'm fessing up and owning what's next for me. The journey that leads up to my confession is my 2013 running story:  brieflly for each race, but long for this post, and a poor substitute for race reporting which I rarely have the patience to write about. (One of my New Year's Resolutions is to blog more frequently though, so I'm going to get better at writing race reports.)

There was the American River 50 Mile race on April 6; a relatively easy 50 miles that takes runners along the American River bike trail in Sacramento for the first 28 miles until it begins to climb out of the Folsom Lake area and up to the Auburn Overlook Dam on beautiful single track trail. The last 3 miles is a brutal up hill climb out of the American River canyon to the finish. At mile 42 I knew I could beat 11 hours and I did, qualifying me for the Western States 100 mile race. I PR’ed the course by a full hour and felt strong and comfortable at the finish. It was a brilliant running day for me, the day before my birthday!
single track trail next to the American River
The Miwok 100K race was four weeks later in May. The race was shortened at the last minute to 60K due to severely dry weather and a high risk of fire in the hills above San Francisco. The start of the race was delayed 3 hours. I had a very tough day and was thankful that I was only running 60K! It felt like a 50 mile race and my finish was dismal and uncomfortable. I attributed the difficult experience to a lack of adequate recovery from American River and too much mileage between the two races. Lessons learned.

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Miwok 60K (100K) trail

June was ushered in with big training weeks of 45 to 70 miles depending on when we did our long runs. The Tahoe Rim Trail training runs on Father’s Day weekend were finished well and the anticipation of a strong finish at the July TRT 50 Mile race was beginning to build.
The Tahoe Rim Trail endurance Races (50K, 50Mile and 100Mile) started on a Saturday morning in late July with comfortable temps before dawn at 7600 feet in the Sierras – an ominous warning of the record highs all the runners would endure that day. Ron, my training partner, and I cruised through the first 13 miles at an alarmingly fast pace, yet we felt comfortable and within our abilities; we knew that the potential for a great race was within our reach that day. Without going into too much detail, Ron and I got separated very early on and I ran most of the race alone. As unexpected as that was, I dug deep into my own mental and emotional strengths and finished strong, once again taking more than an hour off my previous year’s finishing time and winning my age group. Another lesson learned – I can drive my performance with my mental strength and confidence.

Marlette Lake from Marlette Peak on the Tahoe Rim Trail
with Lake Tahoe in the background

At the finish, my exhaustion was profound. As I tried to eat a little chicken noodle soup at the aid station, and relax into the realization that I didn’t have to run anymore and what I had accomplished, I watched the 100 milers coming in and then leaving again to run their second 50 miles. I tried to read their faces – some showed exhaustion, but would light up as friends and supporters tended to their needs and acted as if finishing the first 50 miles of one of the most difficult 100 mile races around was a normal thing for a human being to do. Others sat huddled under blankets trying to get warm and get some food in. Pacers and family whispered worriedly about the conditions of runners – dehydrated, cold, hungry, weak, mentally spent and begging to quit at 50 miles. Some did. Cajoled and coaxed by their pacers, others trudged out of the aid station to embark on the long night ahead with only their thoughts and pacers to keep them motivated.
I remember talking with George Ruiz, the Race Director for the TRTs, while he watched the runners come into the aid station that night with a trained eye. His concern for every runner is evident in every detail of the race. You can feel it when you talk with him and watch him observing and anticipating. His comments to me about finishing 100 miles on this course have stayed with me to this day. But more on that later.
As I recovered at the finish, I called my friend Mary, a Master ChiRunning Instructor, my good friend and mentor. I always call her when I finish an ultra because she gives me such great kudos for finishing and makes me feel like a champion. It’s good to have people like that in your life! She congratulated me on my finish as usual. I told her how hard it was, but how strong I felt over the last miles. I also told her how I had been watching the 100 milers coming in to the aid station and how difficult it must be to realize that they had to go out into the night to start a second 50 mile loop!
And then I made her promise that she would remind me how I felt at this moment so that I would never ever ever consider signing up for the TRT 100. She promised.

August arrived and I was recovering nicely. The Run on the Sly 50K near Placerville, CA, is a fun and hilly trail run with a lot of single track and the usual warm temps. Smoke from the Rim Fire hovered in the trees and the woods were silent - the birds were as unhappy breathing the stuff as we were. Ron and I ran well although I kind of tanked in the last 8 miles or so maybe because I fell twice and the second time scraped myself up pretty good. Ron had a good day and finished a few minutes ahead of me.

18 miles into Run on the Sly 50K, I crashed.
Then it was September, I think, when, on some training run high on the beautiful Tahoe Rim Trail near Marlette Lake, Ron and I were trotting along enjoying the perfection of the running day, when he suddenly said, out of the blue, “I’m going to make a commitment.” 
“Ok, I said”, thinking, this should be interesting. I wonder what he’s going to say.
“I’m going to do the TRT 100 next July,” he said.
“Oh, really?” I said. He went on to say that he wasn’t expecting me to make a decision about it and he would be happy to have me as a pacer again, or not because he knew I’d probably want to do the 50 miler again. I reminded him how I promised myself I would not do the TRT100…. Too too big and scary. I must have gone on about it for a while as we trotted down my favorite part of the TRT, from Snow Valley Peak into Spooner. But I have to admit I was thinking again about it. A little. I was certain that I wouldn’t be racing 100 miles on the TRT. Ron just listened to me jabber away. Or maybe not. His ear buds were in.

October 12 was Ron’s 64th birthday and we celebrated at the Dick Collins 50 Mile race at Lake Chabot in the southeast Bay area of northern California. With the same elevation gain as the TRT 50 miler of around 9,000 feet, but at a lower elevation, I was pleased with my faster time and strong finish at Dick Collins. Three weeks later we ran the Apple Hill 8.5 mile race near Placerville and I was astonished at the speed in my legs after only 3 weeks of recovery from the Dick Collins 50M.

A much enjoyed beer after finishing the
Dick Collins 50 Mile October 12 2013
November showed up with the anticipation of all the lotteries for ultra races opening up in December. Western States 100 was one of them and I put in my registration knowing that the chances of being pulled were slim, about 7%: some 4,000 entries for less than 300 spots. Relieved when I didn’t get pulled, Ron and I turned to Plan B. If I didn’t get in to WS100, then it would change our training plans with the focus on the TRT races.
And of course, the question rose again, gently from Ron and anxiously and surprisingly from within me – should I sign up for TRT100? Why was I even thinking of considering it?
I struggled with the question. Like a woman who swears she will never get pregnant again because she never wants to experience that pain again, and then forgets about it and decides to have another child, I found that the profound fatigue and exhaustion I had experienced only a few months earlier seemed to have faded from my memory. How could I possibly want to run 100 miles? By running it, I guessed.
I talked with Ron a lot about it. His answers to my persistent questions and expressions of doubt were simple and short – “you know you can do this, you’re ready, you know how to run an ultra.”
And I kept remembering George’s (the TRT RD) comment to me at the aid station that night when I finished my 50 miler. I had asked him how people continue after that first 50. His answer was simple, too. He said something like, “it’s all mental – you have prepared yourself knowing that you will do another 50 and you just do it.”
And I remembered my insistence that Mary promise me that she would talk me out of doing the TRT 100. Oh dear. I didn’t want to talk with her about it. I realized that I didn’t want to get talked out of it!
Two days after the TRT100 miler registration opened in December, I talked with Ron again. What is the one reason why I should do this, I asked him.
Smilin Ron on the TRT
“Because you can. You’re not getting any younger, you never know what will happen next to you and you are ready and able to do this now. Don’t pass up the opportunity that may not happen again.”
That was probably the best reason I’d heard yet. So I registered. And on December 31 Ultrasignup charged my credit card for the registration fee of around $277.
I’m in the TRT100!
While everyone announced their excitement about getting in to TRT on Facebook right before Christmas a few weeks ago, I held back. I’d told a few people, but was reluctant to make it public. I just didn’t feel like I owned my commitment to do the race, yet. I wanted to be fully in because of me not because of something else. I also wanted to feel worthy of such an effort, that I deserved the opportunity and that others would respect my confidence and ambition whether or not they agreed with my decision.
And I hadn’t confessed to one of my best friends, Mary that I was in. I felt badly that I hadn’t included her in my deliberations because I didn’t want her to talk me out of it as I made her promise. A huge loss on my part and something I’ll never ask a good friend to do again. Her input has always been important to me. Silly that I wouldn’t talk with her about it because of my own lack of confidence and commitment; and grateful for Ron’s counsel and friendship without pressure while I journeyed to the decision to finish a 100 mile foot race, I resolved to be joyously and fully in before I told everyone else.
And I did tell Dave, my husband and unconditional supporter. It hardly fazed him. He looked at me like, “Of course you would run 100 miles some day.” Duh.
Yesterday, I finally called Mary and confessed that I had registered for TRT back in December and that I was in. She laughed lightly –who knows, perhaps she even forgot about how I made her promise me to talk me out of it last July. Such a huge commitment on my part, she genuinely congratulated me on my decision and let me know that she knew I could finish it, too.

Me and Mary Lindahl at ChiRunning Instructor Weekend
November 2013
So this morning I awoke to write this story as the final piece to owning my commitment to finishing the TRT100 miler. It’s mine. It comes from my soul, that deep desire to reach for something that seems unreachable. Like leaning from my dantien, my center to increase my running speed effortlessly, my soul is at the finish of the TRT100 celebrating the accomplishment with an “of course” nod to my body that carried it there.
I’ll start on July 19, 2014 at 5 am. My goal is to finish that first 50 miles and get out of that aid station feeling well and confident that I will finish that second 50 the next day without injury, without huge distress and with complete soul satisfaction.
And that’s the end of this story for now. Bring it on 2014!

 "Until you commit your goals to paper, you have intentions that are seeds without soil." - Anonymous

Friday, December 6, 2013

Discovering my Right Big Toe

So it’s been a while since I’ve written for my blog. April 2012 to be exact. But today I discovered my right big toe. And I got inspired to write. It’s been there all the time, of course, my right big toe, but I felt it there in a different way today - fully weighted under my leg taking its share of the load as I ran. It was a significant moment for me because for the first time in my life I felt like I might be able to fix my duck feet. So that excitement was enough for me to write again. My duck feet have dogged me (how’s that for a mixed metaphor!) my entire life, so that’s a good reason to write about it. Linda Barsi and her video blog about writing inspired me too. Check her out here! She’s an aspiring creative writer and the daughter of one of my best friends, Mary Lindahl, a Master ChiRunning Instructor.

But I better back up because my big toe is way ahead of the duck feet and I have to tell the story to connect them. I know it’s complicated, but stay with me here.

As a ChiRunning Instructor and ultrarunner, I’ve been working my form for several years now with the intention to stay injury free and continue to enjoy running even as I age. I’ve made large, significant changes in my running form that have allowed me to run long miles and actually at a fairly decent speed for my age. Enter, the antagonist (how am I doing Linda?): my right foot splay (everted, turned out, duck foot) has been with me since way before the first time it was pointed out to me as a runner in my first Ironman in February 1982. My dad followed me around the course at Kona with an 8 mm camera and went through enough film to document much of my 11 and a half hours out there. It was the first time I saw my duck feet and he was the one to point them out to me. Horrors. I didn’t even look like a runner, let alone an Ironman!

Since those Ironmans, I pretty much accepted the fact that I couldn’t change my duck footed running and left it at that.  I mean, after all I had finished two Ironmans – so why change what wasn’t hurting me. I couldn't have been more wrong. Three knee surgeries later from snow skiing injuries and 20 pounds heavier and I arrived in 2010 feeling old and unable to run more than 3 miles. Then I learned ChiRunning. By improving my feet alignment a bit and relaxing my lower legs to reduce the effect of my everted feet, I was able to fix the knee pain. And I began to run again. Joy!

Right foot eversion in the air with wide arms
My first 50 Mile race October 2011
14 months after learning ChiRunning
I started racing in 2011 and have since completed six 50Ks and the same number of 50 Mile races as well as shorter events where my speed continues to improve. And I’ve remained uninjured despite my noticeable right foot eversion. I’ve just accepted it as something I can’t do much about because of my anatomy and knee surgeries.

Right foot April 2012

Three weeks ago, mid-November, I attended ChiRunning Instructor weekend, along with 62 other instructors from all over the world. We met to learn from each other and work with Danny and Katherine Dreyer, the founders of ChiRunning and ChiWalking. It was an extraordinary weekend and I learned so much! For me, the highlight of the weekend was the work we all did around video analysis – learning more about how to film students and each other; technology, angle analysis, causes of form problems and most importantly, how to fix them.

Lean Angle on right foot Asheville 11-2013
I ran with Danny several times that weekend and he definitely saw my splayed foot and my overstride on hills. He graciously pointed out my form problems to me. About 3 days ago, I had a long conversation with two Master Instructors about how to fix my right foot splay. Mary Lindahl has been a Master since 2006 and David Stretanski has been one for just a couple of months. Both are my friends and brilliant teachers of ChiRunning. There are only 10 Master Instructors out of the over 200 on the planet, so working with David and Mary is like having the best of the best to coach me.
Stride angle Asheville 11-2013

After a beautiful run in the hills near Asheville, NC, we all filmed each other on the road. These are shot through Coach's Eye, a fantastic application that doesn't cost much through the App store.
Right foot splay in air on fully weighted
 left leg (with less splay) and left
arm winging out more than right to
compensate 11-2013
After talking with David and Mary, I went for a run yesterday for a couple of miles after skiing. I focused on keeping my right foot relaxed and straight forward when landing. Mary had commented that my left arm pops out easily so I should focus on bringing it in next to my side – nix the chicken wing. This would compensate for my right sided weakness/imbalance that was causing the right foot to splay. I wasn’t convinced when we had talked the night before, but when I focused on a relaxed arm swing and keeping my left arm in, it worked! My right foot seemed to come in more readily. I was cautiously optimistic and hopeful.

Then today, I ran 6 miles and focused on my arms staying close to my sides, especially the left one, just as I had done yesterday. As I brought my left arm in and focused on feeling pigeon toed (which makes my feet point straight) I suddenly discovered my right big toe. There it was waiting to be weighted! So, I continued to focus on weighting my right big toe while I landed with my foot straight. I felt strength and stability from my hip to my knee that I rarely feel and probably only by accident, not through intention.

I could see it in the shadow as I ran with the sun behind me. I couldn’t see the shadow of my foot splaying out to the side. Happy dance! Happy runner!

My right big toe. I e-mailed Mary the news that I had discovered my right big toe with the same excitement I had after I first met her when she taught me ChiRunning in August 2010 and I was learning pelvic rotation and relaxation. Mary e-mailed back to me: “MarkCuccuzzella (very fast runner and running physician expert) said ‘I understood Chi Running, but I didn't understand my big toe...’ Wow. I wasn’t alone. Maybe I really can fix my duck feet with one of my focuses being on my big toe.

Ok, here’s the serious part. Correcting my feet, and actually it’s my whole leg alignment, will take much more than just focusing on my running form. Strengthening exercises will continue with focus on hip stabilizers. Yoga and skiing are part of the mix to strengthen my quads and hip extensors. I’m also going to check out Rolfing for some deep tissue realignment work.

Ultimately, this challenge has re-focused me to a new level of excitement about improving my running. I can spend the next few months working exclusively on my running form in time for what could be a breakthrough running season next year. I can get better. I can stay healthy and still run long and fast. I can run until I die.

So, here I am at the end of writing for my blog for the first time in over a year. It feels good to get something out there about my running life. 2013 was kind of a bomb year, good running year, but challenging in other ways. How did I do Linda? Dramatic question answered? And from draft to final. yay! here's to 2014 - it will be a great year!

Hey look! they're straight!









Monday, April 23, 2012

Recovering from AR50M - Trigger Point therapy

Recovering from the American River 50 Mile Run on April 7 has been a great experience for the most part.  I experienced little fatigue, no exhaustion and very little soreness EXCEPT for the front of my right ankle.  In a nutshell, I began having pain on the top of my foot in front of my ankle at about mile 12 of the run. I managed to deal with the sharp pain for the remaining 38 miles with max doses of Ibuprofen and some serious focusing on ankle lift and relaxation. I’d never had this pain before so really didn’t know what to think except that I had some serious dorsiflexion issues exacerbated by my right foot splay.
Right foot splay as seen from the rear - the foot is relaxed, but does not hang straight down
My experience dealing with this pain for the last two weeks has been an interesting journey for me providing me with some valueable thought I would write about it. 

I iced the front of my foot for 4 days after the race with little relief. I was seriously jonesing to run, had normal energy and felt great within a few days after the AR50M except for my foot.  I was getting desparate to recover from the pain. I had been talking with Mary Lindahl, ChiRunning Master Instructor and one of my bestest friends, about my recovery and she encouraged me to consider that trigger points may be the problem and not necessarily injury.

Trigger Point Therapy Book
I knew Mary had had a great deal of success with trigger points and she was the one who referred me to the book a while back.  I found the chapter that applied to my pain area and discovered the obvious dorsiflexion muscle to be the source of the problem… Trigger points in the muscle belly of Anterior Tibialis are the number one culprit for referred pain to the front of the ankle.  So I started massaging the belly of the Anterior Tibialis, found an excruciatingly tender point (trigger point by definition) and followed the guidelines to massage it.  As I massaged the area, the referred pain on the front of my foot flared!  It was like an electrical current traveled directly from the muscle belly to my foot.  The Trigger Point Therapy Book described this to be exactly the sensation I would feel if the pain was a result of a trigger point.  In general, trigger points are usually in a muscle above the point of pain.  The key is to find which one radiates to the painful area.  Clearly, I had found it.

Within 24 hours the pain in the front of my foot had lessened significantly.  Enough so that I was able to do a hilly 13 mile training run with little, if any pain only 36 hours after I began massaging the trigger points.  I haven’t iced since.  I have continued to massage the trigger points which I’ve discovered to be in the entire length of the Anterior Tibialis muscle.  I’ve also discovered the same ones on the left side so I’m massaging them, too as preventive maintenance/therapy.

Trigger points in Anterior Tibialis Muscle of right leg (that's trail dirt tan)
As a Registered Nurse and believer in traditional medical cures, the use of trigger point therapy is a big shift to believing in something that could work that is not part of that paradigm.  I'm intrigued with the possibilities for me and for others who might be willing to be open to them.   Wow, ice didn't work, but massaging a muscle above the point of pain did.

I know that we’re supposed to be pain free with ChiRunning, and I'm a ChiRunning Certified Instructor.  What could admitting that I have pain or am possibly injured do to my reputation as a credible Instructor?  But I think it would be disingenuous to say that ChiRunning has solved all my problems for someone who wants to run long miles for many hours per week.  I also think that anatomical dissymmetry can contribute to biomechanical problems that eventually lead to pain and injury despite good technique especially if someone is running long distances every week.  I don't know anyone who is anatomically perfect on one side let alone both sides.  As a result of the “tibial torsion” (thank you David Stretanski, CR Certified Instructor, for identifying the problem and assisting me with some corrective exercises), my body is now showing the effects of dorsiflexion after putting in many miles.

ChiRunning has given me the gift of running.  Learning about Trigger Points is keeping me running while I sort out the anatomical problems and focus on the Chirunning focuses that can keep me injury free.

This pain has a message for me and that is to:
  • focus on rotating my pelvis more on the left side so it's equal to the right,
  • focus on a full foot landing directly underneath me and my center of mass,
  • don't over stride by doing the above,
  • relax the lower legs more, and allow ankle lift to happen consistently especially on hills
  • focus on movement from my center
I'll be running the Escape from Prison Hill Half Marathon on April 28, in 4 days.  It has about 2500 feet of climb.  Most of the uphills and downhills are barely runnable, so it will be challenging to keep relaxed lower legs.  The following weekend on May 5 is the Lone Pine 50K, another hilly trail race. 

So, I'll keep massaging and focusing.  The process and learning is fascinating.  And I get to run and be grateful for concepts like ChiRunning (for focuses), Trigger Point Therapy (for resolving pain) and western medicine (for ibuprofen). 

On my short trail run today, I once again thanked God that I am able to run. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

American River 50Mile Race Report April 7, 2012

The American River 50 Mile race is one of the oldest ultras around.  The race is the reverse of the Rock ‘N River 50 Mile race that I finished last October.   

AR50M starts at Sacramento State University and ends at the Auburn Overlook Dam.  The first 27 miles are on the paved American River bike trail where you can run on dirt next to the bike path.  The last 24 miles are on beautiful single track that runs along the banks of Folsom Lake and then parallels the American River and its dramatic cliffs.  The run is a gradual climb from start to finish with rolling trails through oak forests typical of the Sierra foothills.  The trails are rocky, are sometimes deep trenches through meadow areas, and rise and fall suddenly making it necessary to use all the hill running technique you know to lessen impact and improve efficiency. The poison oak is green and lush stretching its healthy green vines right into the trail at hip level! 

It was my second race at this distance and a memorable one for sure.  Each ultra has a theme with many sub plots that create a story making the day unforgettable.  Today's theme was about being surprised and delighted with unexpected outcomes that brought tremendous satisfaction above and beyond the accomplisment of finishing a long run. 

The start was 6 am.  It was pleasantly cool and I wore my lycra/cotton blend shorts, a white sport tech ChiRunning t-shirt, arm warmers, light gloves and a Patagonia long sleeved shirt over all that.  My waist pack carried a nutrigrain bar, 22 oz of half strength NUNN solution, my ipod for use later, my phone and a baggie with ibuprofen and S caps. 

Ron, my training partner and good friend, and I began the run towards the back middle third of the pack, passed a lot of people and ran through the start line nearly a minute and a half after the official start time.  It was dark and some people wore headlamps.  The moon was full and low in the sky over the American River.  It was a beautiful morning.  Soon the light of the early morning revealed white steam rising off the river and a big orange sun sat in front of us as we ran down the bike trail.

Our first ten miles didn’t go by well.  Both of us felt achy.  We couldn’t get in a good rhythm.  We were running too slowly and walking too much.  Ron talked about not even being able to finish – he had been worried that he was seriously undertrained compared to the several previous times he had run this race, and now he was feeling badly way too early in the run.  Around 12 miles, I picked up the pace hoping that he would follow and that it would make us feel better.  He didn’t follow and I slowly pulled away.  I didn't even say good-bye.  I paid for that later!

The first few miles on the AR bike trail
I began to feel better and by the 14 mile mark at Sunrise aid station I was in better rhythm through improved focus on my form.  My dad was watching for me on the bridge just past Sunrise, but missed me going through.  Dave and Carol also missed me.  I had hoped to give them my armwarmers and long sleeved shirt and gloves, but instead had to stuff them in my waist pack and tie the shirt around my waist.  No big deal, but I was disappointed not to see my crew.

A few miles later, I saw Dave and Carol in their cars on the road.  They waved and my spirits rose.  I called Carol and asked her to tell Ron I was sorry for leaving him and not saying good bye.  I knew she would understand because earlier she had reminded me to “run my own race.”

Around mile 19, I recognized Kathy Griest, a Master ChiRunning Instructor.  We had never met in person, I knew her from Facebook and being on the ChiRunning DVD and videos, but we hugged each other like we were old friends.  I invited her to meet me at the finish to celebrate.  An accomplished ultrarunner herself, she made the trip up to the Overlook and greeted me at the finish line.  Wow.
Kathy Griest, Master ChiRunning Instructor, at the finish
I moved through the aid station at Negro Bar, mile 22.4, in good shape barely making the cut off time.  I was feeling pretty good except for the nagging ache in the dorsum of my right foot between my ankle bones.  I had noticed it around mile 14 and knew it would probably be an issue for the whole run.  I took some ibuprofen and focused on a relaxed ankle lift.  

Beals Point is 26.53 miles and I arrived there an hour before the cut off point in about 5 hours, 23 minutes.  Walking through the aid station, I grabbed more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, orange slices and bananas.  It was definitely going to be a PB&J day!  I felt low despite seeing my dad, Dave and hearing Carol’s “WAHOO!” when she spotted me trotting in.  I knew I might be alone for the next 24 miles and wasn’t looking forward to that.  Dave walked a half mile with me as we left Beals and then slowly trotted up the trail a bit.  He told me Ron was only a few minutes behind.  I was hopeful that he would catch me.

Leaving Beals Point at 26.5 miles

On the trail at last out of Beals around 27 miles
Granite Bay was the next aid at 31.7 miles and like Beals Point, is another spot along the edge of Folsom Lake.  Nearly there, I spotted Dave on the side of the trail.  He told me that Ron was right behind me.  Suddenly, there he was bounding ahead of me on the trail!  Where did he get that energy?  We were glad to see each other.  He obviously had begun to feel better and had picked up the pace to catch me.  We arrived in Granite Bay in 6 hours, 38 minutes, which was only a few minutes slower than my 50K time 4 weeks ago.  Less than 20 miles to go, Ron and I felt the best we’d felt all day.  We ate heartily – chicken soup, lots of 7-up for me, PB& J sandwhiches and orange slices.  More S caps.  Carol brought us Mango/watermelon popsicles and we relished in their sweet, cold moisture as we walked down the trail out of the Granite Bay aid station!  There were some envious runners around us.

Ron and I running in to Granite Bay around 31 miles
Once finished with our popsicles, we began to run.  Ron was feeling good and our pace felt normal and strong.  We were on dirt and it finally felt like the run we’d been waiting for all day.  In fact, Ron took off at a blistering 10 minute pace powering up hills and cruising easily down hill and on the flats.  The trail was rocky and technical and amazingly neither of us tripped.  We slowed at one point.  He looked back and saw I had hung on despite passing many people and running hills that I probably would have walked had I been alone.  “I’m proud of you”, he said, “you’re doing well.”  I told him he was killing me and promised I’d never ditch him again!  He laughed, but I think he was glad that he’d proven to himself and to me that he was strong.  I was happy to be following him because I trust his pace and know his rhythm.

Buzzard’s Cove is the aid station at 34.6 miles.  The volunteers bring food and fluids in by boat on Folsom.  This time they had ice cream cones.  Wow.  I didn’t feel like ice cream, but orange slices, 7-up, coke and of course, PB&J sandwiches were gobbled   We thanked them and left around 7 hours and 35 minutes.

The next miles were fast.  Ron pushed the pace several times and I hung on, inspired by my body’s ability to focus and respond despite my fatigue, the pain in my ankle and the long hours on my feet.  I was running in the present moment;  the trail and moving over it was my universe.  We joked that he was still making me pay for ditching him!  He couldn't believe how good he felt despite his usual achey knees and back, and I was grateful to manage my ankle pain and keep going.

At Horseshoe Bar I called Mary and gave her an update.  She thanked me for calling surprised that I would use the energy.  But her voice energized me and after grazing heavily on, you guessed it, PB&J sandwhiches, orange slices and more 7-up, filling our bottles and downing more S caps, Ron and I took off.
Running down the trail into Rattlesnake around mile 40
We met Dave at Rattlesnake Bar aid station, 40.94 miles.  Dave would run with us to the finish.  We had to drag Ron out of there.  He loves to eat at the aid stations.  I started walking up the trail and Dave continued to coax Ron out of the buffet.  As he left, he turned back to Carol, who was taking video.  He said, “I love you”, then paused and turned again and said, “Will you marry me?”  She said yes and then about three other women’s voices said, “I will!”

With less than 10 miles to go, our spirits were good and Ron again picked up the pace when a couple wanted to pass us.  The five of us stuck together at a pace that I was pretty sure I couldn’t hold and sure enough after about 20 minutes I asked Ron to slow.  The couple passed us and we continued on at an easier pace.  I swear I'll never ditch him again! 

Last Gasp aid station is a mile or so up the start of THE HILL and only about 2.5 miles from the finish.  Its volunteers are shirtless young male runners with gorgeous bodies.  They would run down the hill towards us, take our bottles and run up the hill and have them filled and ready for us when we arrived.  An enormous source of chi, oh and did I mention they were gorgeous?  Ok, it was a great distraction from this 15% plus hill we just climbed!

We had more climbing ahead of us, not as steep and we started at a fast walk as we left Last Gasp.  For me to keep up with Ron’s long strides I had to ChiWalk at a high cadence or even run.  Ron wanted to go faster and asked me to dig deep and pick it up.  He wanted to pass people in front of us.  I told him ok, but I needed to focus just on my running.  No conversation except to talk about focus.  We picked up the pace.  I ran fast enough that he had to keep focused to keep up with me.  He began to sound like a ChiRunner as he coached me, the Certified Instructor: swing your arms more, chin up, y’chi.  And I chanted, “relax” as I focused on running from my center, rotating my "cotton around the needle".  We zoomed up the hill and passed many people.  Both of us surprised at our speed and power and delighted that we would finish under 12 hours and even break our last 50 mile time of 11:42.

After a steep 50 yard uphill, we turned the corner and there was the finishing chute, loud speakers announcing our arrival.  Our pace picked up to a normal run.  We crossed in 11:40:43.

My dad, Carol, sister and her family were at the finish.  Steve Mackel, another ChiRunning Instructor met me there, too, with Kathy Griest.  I had never met Steve before either, but the three of us hugged and chatted like we were family.  It was so great to see other ChiRunners out there besides me and Ron. 
Cool jackets! And Alaskan Amber!
Ron, me and Dave minutes after finishing

What a memory this day made!  Better yet, the whole weekend ended in a way I least expected.  We all went skiing the next day at Heavenly, proudly wearing our new AR50 finishers' jackets and skiing moguls on the famous Little Dipper.  The Comet Kats were out in force, the sun was bright and the snow perfect!

Skiing Litter Dipper the day after AR50
Ron works the soft moguls on Little Dipper

Dave shows some knee action on the bumps