Monday, August 25, 2008

Wow, Wow, Wow and Ouch

I contemplated using that title as my full race report from the Lost Lake Breath of Life Run this Saturday, because it sums up my experience in four words.

I had not run the whole trail before the day of the race. I had never even been up above the tree line before Saturday. And I'm glad I didn't because this was the best run I have EVER done. The first 5 miles is in the trees and seemed to take forever, because we just kept going up. I actually did very little real running in this section because of the hills. It was more like a shuffle, run, power hike.

My plan was to take it easy on the first 5 miles so that I could get to the top of the climb fresh and be ready to run. Being 16 miles from start to finish, this is the longest race I have run, so I wanted to be sure not to push too hard at the start even though I felt great.

Finally around mile 6 I rose above the trees and this is where I started to hear the word "wow" come out of my mouth over and over. Rolling green hills, dotted with purple flowers, pristine blue lakes and waterfalls trickling down the hills as far as I could see. And a line of hundreds of runners spaced out and winding along the trail in front of me.

I ran across the top 5 miles with a huge smile on my face happy to be running at an even pace. I wanted to yell out something, anything but I didn't want to scare the other runners or look like a big dork. I briefly contemplated spinning around and singing with my best Sound of Music impression, but it's really hard to sing, spin and make forward progress on a rocky trail with out falling on your face. Julie Andrews is truly talented. So I kept it to myself and I thought about how lucky I am to be able to run in a place like this.

Around mile 9 there was a long slow gradual hill with a small crowd of people at the top. They were holding signs and cheering. As I got closer I realized their purpose. Their signs said, "You are at the top", and "All downhill from here". I flashed them a huge smile and said, "Thank you!" as if they had created this trail and made the rest of it downhill just for me.

Coming up over the hill, I could see all the way down to Seward and Resurrection Bay. In my excitement I just let my momentum take me downhill. I still felt really good and worried that maybe I could have pushed a little harder on the way up. I took off downhill passing many people along the way. I thought it was only 6.5 miles to the finish, it would take less than an hour and I should be able to endure any pain for less than hour.

I think I went too fast. With 4 miles to go I got an excruciating cramp in my side. I tried to fend it off with breathing techniques but it just wouldn't budge. My race inexperience was showing itself now. I slowed a little, but it was hard to do because my legs felt great, aerobically I felt like I could run another 20 miles, and I had no pain in my hips or back. It was just this tiny side stitch that I felt growing with every bounce.

I stopped to walk a few times and put my arms over my head. It went away. As soon as I started running again, it came back in full force. I knew there was nothing I could do at this point (or at least nothing I knew about at the time) and I had to just run through it.

Brian has been talking about his mantra lately that is to abandon all conventional wisdom and to "Train through Pain". He goes as far as to say you should not eat or drink when training in the mountains to get your body used to not having food and water. I thought of this as I was running down and started repeating it in my head, "Train through pain", "train through pain", "train through pain". It actually helped! Although I think his methods are bogus!

Once again the pain subsided and I began to pass. I recognized how cautious most people are on the downhill rocky sections and took advantage of that. I ran strong across the finish line and finish in around 3:15. I actually was so preoccupied with my cramp that I forgot to look at the clock.

After a race, I like to think about what I did well, and what I could have done better. A few things I did well:

1) Downhill running. I feel super comfortable running fast downhill over all kinds of terrain, even really steep downhill.

2) I kept myself hydrated and fed with Hammer Gel throughout the race, so I never bonked. In fact, if I wouldn't have cramped I think I could have done a full marathon yesterday. It would have hurt, but I feel confident I could have finished it.

3) I had fun, didn't get too wrapped up in my pace, and got to take in the scenery as much as possible.

What I did not do well:

1) The whole cramp thing. There are a few things that could have caused this but most likely it was that my body wasn't used to running that fast for that long. I think I can prevent this by doing more tempo runs. Another cause could have been that I was chasing Hammer Gel with a sports drink instead of water causing an electrolyte imbalance. I still don't have my nutrition dialed in. Need to work on that.

2) Hills. I lose a lot of momentum when I walk and it becomes harder and harder to start running again the more I walk. I have officially declared 2009 the year of the hill. Hills of Anchorage beware. I'm coming for you.

Other than that it felt great and am ready to move on to longer races next year. Marathon? Definitely. On the road? No way. Crow Pass? They say I'm not fast enough. The Equinox? Tempting. Too hard for a first marathon you say? Whatever.


OneMoreMile said...

Run the Equinox. It was my first (and so far only) marathon and I loved every step, no matter how painful.

Jill said...

Congrats, Julie. Sounds like an amazing run. One I might like to try myself someday.

What do you mean you're too slow for Crow Pass? Don't they allow you six hours to finish? I hiked it once - walked every step - and finished in eight. I would think if you can run 16 miles in three hours and change and feel mostly great, finishing Crow Pass within the time cutoff should be a breeze. If you focus on the race, I think you could finish really well. It seems like you're a naturally strong distance runner, evident in how fresh you felt (besides the cramping) at the end of the race.

Marathons are great but trail running is where it's at (is Equinox a trail marathon? If so, right on!) One of these years I'm going to move back to Southcentral and spend one summer aspiring to mountain running. Someday.

Julie said...

Jill - That's what I think too! But you have to run Lost Lake in under 2:30 to qualify for Crow Pass. They say it's not for "recreational runners", whatever that means. Most of us are not running professionally, right? Anyway, I'm still going to try to qualify for Crow Pass again, but my other option is to run a half marathon in 1:45. For me that's going to be really tough, but doable if I concentrate on speed.

Catherine said...

Hey Julie,

I tried to leave a comment several different times but it wasn't working, so sorry if you end up with like 14 of my attempts somewhere.

Nice work on Lost Lake! I am still limping around and, needless to say, did not qualify for Crow Pass either. I might try to train for a speedy half since my miles are high enough -- now I just need to add speedwork!

Good luck with it all

Anonymous said...

The Equinox is a great race and lots of people (mostly Fairbanks residents) have done it as their first marathon. It is hard, though.