Saturday, September 29, 2012

Fat Ass At The Farm

It was during the Medoc Meltdown Fat Ass that it came to me. I should run 32 miles for my 32nd birthday and I should run it with friends. The day after Medoc, I went out to my parent's place in Smithfield with my training partner, Gene. He was there to help me map out a potential course and to give me feedback on whether my idea could work. Using his Garmin because I had forgotten mine, we walked around the big hay field and then down towards Swift Creek and back. It came out to a nice 1 mile lollipop shaped course. With my parent's skeptical approval, I sent out a Facebook invitation to some  running friends inviting them to the Fat Ass At The Farm. I planned to do 32 one mile laps to celebrate my birthday and reach my goal of 32 miles. The Friday night before the run, I drove to my parent's place to put up a few directional signs at the mailbox and a couple of other turns to the farm and to get ready for the next day's fun. Around 9 PM, I headed out into the darkness with my head lamp to check the mileage and put up a turn around sign and a couple of other signs to guide runners around the course. It was just a little eery, very humid, and there were huge spider webs across the spur part of the trail. I had to laugh when my Garmin showed the length as not 1 mile, but 1.24. So much for a perfect 1 mile lap but I was not about to try to change it at that point!

The morning soon arrived and I got up at 6 AM to set up the canopy, table, water, and Gatorade. The start/finish was in a shady spot close to the house where there was plenty of room for runners to set up their chairs, tables, canopies, and gear. Friends began to arrive around 7 AM and I put mom in charge of getting runners to sign a waiver and to let them know about their runner sheets. I had printed out lap sheets for participants to check off each lap as they came around. It seems like a simple thing to count laps without paper, but personally, I knew I would lose track at some point during the long day.

I gave a few last minute instructions including a warning about the hornet's nest near the course, the location of the restroom inside the house, and that runners could go either way around the loop and could switch directions at will throughout the day to keep things interesting. We started off a few minutes after 8AM. We followed the hay field around to the left, trotting through the freshly mowed grass (thanks to my dad who had mowed for us on Friday). This was a section that would be sunny later on in the day and quite warm but it was short and soon we were winding through a couple of trees with minor roots, nothing much to worry about for seasoned trail runners. Next was the Swift Creek spur section and we turned left down a shady path which flowed slightly downhill for a quarter mile until we reached the turn around sign and headed back up what was now a slight incline going the other way. My favorite part of the course was next. It was a wide shady path through some large Bradford Pear trees with the pretty field now to our right. It was a gentle slope up and at the top, we turned to the right to run next to some old round bales and one more turn to the right down the driveway and back to the start where a feast of junk food was waiting for us. As I had promised my friends, the course was runnable with all of it being dirt or grass and the majority of it being in the shade.

Throughout the day, friends trickled in to the event to run their laps or just to hang out and relax. We had our two dogs, Bogart and Amelia, and a few other fur kids. Ben brought Yoda, Candace brought Peanut, Jim W. brought Canyon, and Jim P. brought Sara and Wilbur the ultra pups. It was great having so many pups out to enjoy the day too! All were well behaved...including the humans. I was able to run a lap with my sweet Bogart, a lap with  hound dog Amelia, and another lap with Bogart before they got tired and spent the majority of the day chilling in the fenced yard enjoying the beautiful weather. It was a little humid, the high was in the upper 70s and though warm, there was a nice breeze to help keep things manageable.

My good friends and training buddies, Gene and Mo, were the first male and female to finish 32 miles. Chris K. covered the longest distance of the day, 35 miles, and went on to complete a trail 50K the following day. He's only a little nuts but we like him. ;-)

I kept plugging away until I was almost to my goal of 32 miles (No way in hell was I going to do my originally planned 32 laps since it would actually have been 40 miles). Ironically, I started to feel pretty ill half way through my last lap. I got dizzy and felt nauseated and trudged back to the finish where I forced myself to run in then promptly sat on the ground so I did not pass out. It was likely due to not taking in enough salt. I had been drinking dilute Gatorade all day, but I am a sweaty girl and I had not used any additional salt tabs, electrolytes, or anything. Anyway, my calves cramped a bit and I didn't feel great for a little while, but salty chips, a comfy chair, and a beer made it all better. Those who were still there enjoyed relaxing, snacking, and drinking beers or soda. Mo had brought corn hole and that was set up and a couple of people played. It was a great end to a long, but fun, day.

So, now that I am 32 you may wonder what I will do with the name of this blog. Well, I am not changing anything because I started this to try to capture my running experiences and I started it when I was 31. 31 Years and Running is therefore accurate. Here's to running friends and at least another 31 years of running! Cheers!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Blue Ridge Relay 2011

It all began with an email I received from my friend Jim Wei. His team for the Blue Ridge Relay needed a replacement as one of their members had torn her ACL in a motorcycle class. I had wanted to try a relay since seeing the documentary Hood to Coast last summer, so I agreed.

We drove up the Thursday afternoon before and were fortunate enough to be able to stay Elizabeth and Tripp's charming renovated farm house in Galax, VA. Early Friday morning, we rose and drove the 45 minutes to the start at Grayson Highlands State Park. It was completely dark and quite chilly, but we were excited. We took photos as best we could in the dark while wearing our kilts, team shirts, and headlamps. Our team was Road Kilt, a play off the term for when a runner is passed by another runner during a race. Since we expected to be "road killed" plenty during the race, it was an appropriate name. The race covered 208 miles from the Grayson Highlands to Asheville, NC. As you may guess, it was a hilly and scenic course.
The gals
The guys

Our start time was 6:30 AM, the earliest available, since we figured to be one of the slowest teams. The fastest teams would start at 1:00 in the afternoon and the amazing thing is, they would later pass us in the early hours of Saturday morning. The race started and our runner #1, Dominic, was off  running down the mountain with his safety lights flashing.
Runners 1-6 (Jim, Jade, Sheri, Christy, Marc, and Dominic) were in Van 1 and runners 7-12 (me, Tripp, Elizabeth, Bob, Tina, and Shannen) were in Van 2. I was runner 11, second to last in the lineup and had a long wait until I would start my first leg. Van 1 went to the first exchange zone to wait for runner 1 to arrive and the slap bracelet to be handed off to runner 2 to start the second leg while Van 2 headed off for breakfast. When we came out to the parking lot after eating, we found we had been "muffined" by another team, Runner's Dozen. They had drawn their symbol - a muffin - on one of our back windows. We painted a circle around the muffin with a line through it and vowed to have a stencil and extra paint next year to tag other teams. We were relay virgins and it was obvious since we didn't know enough to bring supplies to tag other vans.
Van 2 relaxing while we waited to start our legs 7-12
 One by one, the runners in my van got to do their first legs. It was finally time for my first leg around 4:00 in the afternoon and after all the anticipation, I didn't even really want to run anymore! I was just not used to waiting around that long to start a race.
Shannen handing off to me at the start of leg 11
 Nonetheless, I exchanged with Shannen and started leg 11 which was almost completely on the Blue Ridge Parkway and covered 6.3 miles. The views were outstanding, but the hills were long and relentless.  I pushed my pace beyond my comfort zone, running it like it was a normal 10K and not a mountain one. I got road killed by a couple of guys who flew by me on a downhill and there was nothing I could do to stop it. As I neared the exchange zone, I had to climb one more evil hill that had me almost puking in front of the other teams gathered at the exchange zone. After heaving a couple of times, I walked a bit to stop the urge even though I felt everyone's eyes on me. As much as I wanted to run up the hill, I figured it was better for them to see me walk than to see me puke! Once over the crest, I did trot into the finish. I completed my first leg at an average of 8:34 pace. After I had a chance to rest and catch my breath, I actually felt pretty good.
Handing off to Elizabeth after leg 11

 After Elizabeth's leg, our van had a long break and we sat down to a delicious dinner at a restaurant in Blowing Rock, NC.

The view during dinner at Canyons in Blowing Rock

My next leg was #23 and it began at nearly 2:00 AM.  The temps were in the 40s and it being early September I wasn't used to the chill yet, so I wore a long sleeve shirt and capris. When I saw Shannen running strong up the hill to the exchange, I handed my Umstead hoodie with my gloves in it to Bob, got the bracelet, and took off down the road. This leg started with a run on a country road with an open valley below the dark outline of the mountains to my left. I frequently looked up while running this section to take in the perfectly clear sky and bright stars. The course then turned onto a dirt road which wound deep into the dark woods and felt quite isolated and a bit creepy. I was glad I had my small flashlight with me as my headlamp just wasn't doing a sufficient job of lighting the ruts and changes in footing of the dirt road on its own. This section was also a long downhill and I flew down it in the dark with my arms raised for balance to catch me if I tripped, my breath steaming in the cold air in front of me, and my handy flashlight shining on the path before me. Several vans passed me on my right and most all of them rolled down their windows to encourage me, including my own Van 2. I got road killed again as a few runners, all male, passed me on an uphill section. They were moving swiftly, but at least one told me "good job" as he flew by. The last 3 miles of this leg was a winding climb. My team told me later that as they drove it they were talking about how hard a leg it was. Luckily, I didn't think it was all that bad, thanks in part to the fact it was so dark and also because the climb was gradual and winding. That is one good thing about running at night, the hills don't seem near as bad as they do in the daylight. I was glad when I reached the exchange zone as I was spent and completely out of breath. I had been following a lone female runner for the last couple of miles and I almost road killed her as we approached the exchange, but I didn't have it in me. I managed to complete the 5.6 miles at a 9:23 pace. As I caught my breath, Bob broke the news to me that he didn't have my hoodie and that it was left behind at the last stop. Apparently, I had handed it to a complete stranger at the exchange, not to him. For the rest of the relay, I tried to locate my hoodie, but to no avail. I hope whomever has it is enjoying it as much as I did.

 After Elizabeth finished the 24th leg, we drove to the next exchange where we planned to sleep for a bit. On the way there, a deer ran in front of the van. Tripp was driving and suddenly screeched to a halt while the deer stared back from the middle of the road and just a few feet away. This was despite a long day, no sleep, and windy mountain roads - definitely some skill full driving on his part. I'm pretty sure I would have hit the deer if I had been driving. We arrived at the exchange which was at a church and a few of us caught a few hours of sleep in our sleeping bags laid on a tarp on the wet ground while the others slept in the van. It was very cold, but I was exhausted and slept soundly under the stars. After a few hours, I woke up on my own and went to buy some pancakes, sausage, and coffee the church was selling. I think it was 5 bucks for the meal and it was delicious. While eating, I learned from other runners that every team but ours was sleeping in the warmth of the church while we were sleeping in the dewy grass just a few feet away! We were so tired when we arrived that we didn't realize this was an exchange zone where there was an indoor place to sleep. Oops.
Starting leg 35
 My third leg didn't start until 1:00 PM and was also mostly on the Blue Ridge Parkway. But first I had to climb the steepest hill of my life. I could tell by the elevation profile the race provided (the grade it showed was as high as 11%) and by looking ahead while waiting for Shannen to arrive, that this was going to be tough. It started on a long incline and just kept on going up for 2 miles. I was grateful that the road was mostly cool and shady as it was now quite warm, about 70 degrees or so. I tackled this steep section by jogging easy as much as I could and incorporating intervals of power walking. Early in the climb, I was lucky enough to witness a group of wild turkeys crossing the road in front of me. The road was made up of several switch backs and there was a lack of shoulder in places, so I stayed alert for traffic. There was really no good place to run safely and I switched from side to side with the curves and at times ran in the middle of the road so I could see any cars coming. There was very little traffic and so I luckily managed to not end up as real road kill.

When I arrived at the parkway and the top of the brutal climb, I was pleased to see my Garmin showed an average pace of 12:20 per mile, pretty good considering what I had just conquered. The course profile had made the remaining 2 miles look like it was all downhill, but there were devious uphills stuck in there and just when I thought I was home free, I found myself facing a bit more climbing before the truly flat and downhill stretch. Though the parkway was beautiful, it was exposed and warm and I was ready to be done with my part in the relay. Motivated and smelling the barn as I like to say, I kept up a good pace while looking ahead to spot the last exchange. I got road killed again by a fast chic within a mile of the exchange. When I arrived, I gladly handed off the bracelet to Elizabeth and walked some to cool down before hopping into the van to ride to the finish in downtown Asheville. Incidentally, I just barely escaped some swarming yellow jackets we had disturbed by the shoulder of the road where the van was parked. My final and third leg was completed at an average of 10:29 pace.

We arrived in Asheville and changed into our team shirts and kilts and headed to the finish. We found our Van 1 team members who had already enjoyed beers and a meal in Asheville while they waited for us. All team members from both van 1 and 2 were now together and we would join Elizabeth at the end of her leg for a team finish. Soon enough, Elizabeth came into sight and we all cheered her up one last hill and then ran beside her for a short distance and across the line. Our final team time was 31:44:52 for an average of a 9:21 pace over the 208 miles. We took some team pictures and then made our way to a pub where I had nachos and a beer or two. It was heavenly.
Road Kilt at the finish in Asheville
 The BRR is a well organized event and I would do it again. The race swag was a long sleeve cotton T shirt in nice colors and a cool race logo magnet that I have stuck on my car. The course is both beautiful and challenging. If I were to run it again in the future, I'd like to be part of a 6 person ultra team so I can spend less time in the van, more time running and the whole team can be together and not split in two vans.