Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Brazos Bend 100k

Drop Bags and Packet Pick Up:

I learned so much from my first Ultra. I packed the same, but this time I relied more on my drop bags so I could lighten the load in my pack. And it really helped!
My biggest lifesavers on the trails are my Orange Mud hydration pack, a change of shoes and socks, and my Houdini jacket from Patagonia. 

Fortunately I decided to get a hotel near the race for the night before. I headed down to check in before packet pick up. Nadia, whom I met at the NYC Marathon thru Michelob Ultra and became fast friends, was in the lobby! She invited me to tag along with them to the park. 
 We dropped our bags! 
And we met the race director Rob Goyen. 
We got our bibs and took some pics!
So happy these ladies included me in the fun!
I had no idea how MANY alligators there were at this park!!
So excited to be here!!
After packet pick up we explored the park a bit. And then we headed to dinner. I ate a salad and potatoes. It was yummy, but I ended up with some tummy troubles. I don't typically have tummy issues pre race or during so I wasn't too worried. 

The Course:

The race takes place at Brazos Bend State Park which is a little over an hour away from where I live.  
The 100k was a 5:30am start and consisted of four 15.8 mile loops. There were 5 aid stations that were very well stocked and the volunteers were seriously amazing! It was cold, rainy, and super windy and they were out there with smiles the entire time! Many of them even stayed after at the finish line to cheer us in! Seriously amazing!!
I ate things like sandwiches, pringles, quesadillas, and mashed potatoes! Best mashed potatoes EVER lol!! I drank Powerade from my pack and a couple oral IV's. And at each aid station I drank water and a shot of Coca Cola.
At the start it was dark and as you peered out over the water you could see MANY red glowing eyes in the water. To be honest I started off pretty intimidated. Animals are unpredictable and I don't know a lot about the nature of alligators.
I saw quite a few alligators from little babies to big monsters. They all minded their own business, so I did the same. The temps dropped and it was even too cold for them, so they went back under water to keep warm.
The course is 99.9% flat, and the only hill is 10 feet. The trails are mostly soft trail or crushed rock. Because of the rain there were some muddy portions, but nothing too terribly bad. The biggest challenge was the weather and the winds. There are a lot of portions that are open and the 20-30mph winds definitely made for a challenge.
Rise and Shine:

I got up about 2:30am after very little sleep. My stomach was still bothering me, so I took a pepto and couldn't eat. I got ready and headed out at 3:30.
And I got pulled over by a police officer!! I never get pulled over! In fact I was pulling to the side thinking she was trying to pass me! I apparently ran a red light, which I did not even notice. I don't think I was what she expected at this time of night/morning decked out in my running gear and headlamp. She ended up being very gracious and only gave me a warning! Hallelujah!

And so it begins:

I was worried about the parking situation, but I got there so early I got a prime parking spot! So I walked around, went to the porta potty twice, and talked to some other runners. Time passed quickly and we were ready to go. At the start I was emotional and teary. I prayed for strength and courage!
And off we went!
I'm not going to lie, the first couple miles were hard and I had some doubts. And then I was a little worried that doubts were creeping in so early. I knew a long day was ahead of me. But fortunately I got into a bit of a groove. I started with a run 2 miles walk .5 mile and kept with this. 
The sun came up and I was feeling more optimistic. I was smiling a lot and really enjoying myself when I rounded a corner and came across this gator! And I screamed bloody murder! And then realizing it was a blow up, I couldn't stop laughing at myself!! They got me!

Nadia, Lorena, and May were running the 50k and I was so happy to bump into them at their Mile 13 and my mile 22. We were all in great spirits! We were having so much fun! On my second loop and still felling pretty good. Still keeping up with the run 2 miles walk .5. 

There were people running 100k, 50 Mile, 50k, 25k, 10k, and 5k. It was fun seeing so many people out there!
 Being on the trails makes me so happy!
 I get to do this!!
When you're told you shouldn't, when you're told you can't, all you can think is I WILL! I feel like I have so much to prove out there. I'm not trying to prove others wrong, I'm trying to prove to myself I CAN! I am fighting a battle that one day I may lose. One day I may not be able to do this. But until then I'm fighting and WINNING!! And I'm doing it with all my heart and so much gratitude!
When people ask me for advice, I often find it hard to give because I am no expert. But one piece of sound advice I feel I am qualified to give is SMILE. Smile thru the pain and you can get thru it. Smiling has been shown to reduce blood pressure and release serotonin and endorphins. It just feels good! Haven't you noticed smiling is contagious? You can see signs of fatigue and pain in my body and if you look closely you can probably see it in my eyes. But you'll find a smile on my face!! It's because I love being able to do this and I am filled with gratitude for the opportunity and experience. Behind that smile is a whole lot of pain, but in my heart is a whole lot of happiness. So my advice is SMILE!!
At this point I am experiencing severe hematuria (blood in the urine). I am noticing bloating and swelling. And I am stopping at every bathroom and even had to make a stop behind some trees. But I'm still smiling. Because I am doing this. I WILL do this. 
It was really cool bumping into a fellow Team Zooter!!
And this is where it got even harder for me. The temps dropped into the 40's with winds 20-30 mph. The cold is my nemesis. It creates an even bigger challenge with my Rheumatoid Arthritis. And from here to the end I was in a significant amount of pain. I was into my third loop and I started off continuing with my run 2 walk .5.
The shorter distances were finished up and there were quieter stretches, so I turned on some music. I have a really great playlist on Amazon music. The only problem was service was pretty spotty out there, so I kept losing it. I did find some saved music on my phone.
I was now running 1 mile walking 1 mile.
 And boy was I happy to bump into these ladies. This was probably my lowest point of the race. There are a lot of highs and lows when your running for 14 plus hours! I had to squint to be sure it was them! We exchanged hugs and encouraging words and it was just what I needed! They were about 3 miles from finishing. I was still on my third loop!
It was here I told Nadia I was doing this! But I told her I was also done with these long races. That I had proved enough to myself. You know we all have these moments at some time during a race. It never lasts! Lol!
My fourth and final loop was pretty painful. I was really cold. My joints were screaming. I was still stopping at every potty with hematuria. I had hand warmers that were amazing, but I dropped them in one of the porta potties and no way was I picking them up! Lol! So my hands were hurting pretty good from Raynaud's and RA. And I was finding myself walking more than running. But I was still smiling! I was going to do this! Nothing was stopping me now!!
If you ever think about quitting just think about who is watching! I think about this often. Even when I'm running out in my neighborhood and cars are driving by, I think I have to look strong because someone may be watching that needs a little motivation, someone may be watching who wishes they were doing what I am doing. And I felt the same way out here. You are setting an example when you think no one is watching. 
And you know who is always watching? Children. My four children are always watching. And I hope I am teaching them to step out of their comfort zones, to risk failure, and to never give up. I want to teach them anything truly is possible. 
Every finish line it's not just me crossing the finish line, but my entire family. So how awesome was it to cross the finish line of my 100k with the help of my two youngest. They were so proud and so happy for me!! Remember you never know who's watching!!

When Rob Goyen, the race director, put that buckle around my neck and gave me a hug I was overwhelmed with relief and gratitude. I not only did it! But I BEAT my 50 mile time!!
Nadia is that friend. You know the one who you can count on, the one who is so happy for your achievements, the one who makes it about you and doesn't compete or compare, the one who finishes her race and waits in the rain and wind and freezing temps for hours to watch you finish yours! The one who supports you when you say this is your last and still supports you when you turn around and tell her you're not done yet. The friend who makes you feel like you are a WINNER after a very long, hard race you didn't even know you could finish.
And May and Lorena are just as amazing! This was the first time we all met and they included me and supported me, and cheered me on as if we had been friends forever! I am so very grateful to have had these ladies out there! They're seriously the very best!! And I am so thrilled and appreciative of all the amazing photos taken by May's husband Gilbert of M&M Photography!
While hubby and the big boys were at a baseball tournament, my mom and dad brought the little guys out to cheer me on and help me finish! My mom has always supported my dreams no matter how big or how seemingly crazy they may be! She is at just about all my finish lines only missing them when I travel!!
"I am invincible, unbreakable, unstoppable, unshakeable
They knock me down, I get up again
I am the champion
You're gonna know my name
You can't hurt me now
I can't feel the pain
I was made for this, yeah, I was born to win
I am the champion." - Carrie Underwood & Ludacris
This song got me thru training and it motivated me and brought me to tears more than once on race day.
I wish I could say I break tapes and stand on podiums. I wish I could have a unicorn placed around my neck. I wish I could cross the finish line at Kona. I really do! I am in awe of those who do!
But rather than dwell on the fact that these dreams may not be within my reach (right now), ya'll I am celebrating what I CAN do! I am an Ironman. I am a marathoner. I am an Ultra Runner. I ran a 50 mile race and a 100k race. I am a freaking CHAMPION! Be your own champion. Keep dreaming big!!
Ya'll no matter what your goal is - whether it is a time goal or a distance goal, maybe it's going out for your first race or getting back into the sport, etc., it's not easy. But YOU are a CHAMPION!! Believe in yourself because anything is possible! And I'm living proof!

There are three major things that contributed to my success at this race and helped me finish my 100k in a faster time than my 50 miler!!
1. The course - Both race days were inclement weather - cold, rainy, and windy. But at Rocky Raccoon, the 50 miler, the mud was insanely challenging. This led to a pretty big fall, landing on my hip pretty hard. The course at Rocky Raccoon was also more technical - some trails had large rocks, many had lots of roots, and some were almost impassable due to mud. 1 mile in, in the dark, I rolled my ankle on a root. This led to a lot of stops and time in the medic tent. The trails at Brazos Bend were packed dirt or crushed gravel, so it was much less technical. Also at Rocky Raccoon the elevation gain was 3,428 ft and at Brazos Bend it was 525 ft. So the course definitely played a part!
2. Physical condition - Going into Rocky Raccoon 50 miler I had 6 weeks of training coming off 8 weeks of zero physical activity post surgery. So I was not at my optimal fitness level, nor did I have an ideal training cycle. Going into Brazos Bend 100k I was coming off training for my 50 miler, so I had a solid base. 
3. Mindset - Because I had cut it so close at the 50 miler, there was a lot of pressure to be able to finish faster and stronger. I believe my doubts helped fuel my fire and motivated me out there! 

After coming in last place and barely making it in by the cutoff at my last race, I had my doubts going into this one. I'm not gonna lie. I crunched the numbers over and over in my head in the days leading up to the race. It seemed nearly impossible. I honestly didn't know if I could do it, but I had to try. I put everything I had into training and I was as ready as I would ever be!! And ya'll I DID it!! I exceeded my expectations out there!! I had something to prove to myself and against all odds I showed myself it could be done! So don't let your fears, your past races, your illness, a person, or anything else keep you from taking the risk! Success or failure - it's worth the risk every time!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Rocky Raccoon 50 Miler

Shortly after Ironman Texas I was looking for my next challenge. This journey began with my love of trails 5 years ago, so I thought it was only fitting to return to the trails. I have aspirations to do a 100 mile race, so I thought it would be great to start with a local 50 miler. Rocky Raccoon was the perfect choice! So I signed up! And race day came.......

What to Pack:
I have to say knowing what I would need and packing drop bags gave me the most anxiety. I had no idea what I was doing. So I wanted to be sure I shared what I did pack in case it could serve to help someone else. Also I stuffed everything into ziploc bags because of the rain! But honestly I didn't need to do that because my Orange Mud drop bags did a great job keeping everything dry! But the good thing about the ziplocs is it was organized and easy to grab things I needed!
I didn't end up needing my heavier jacket because temps turned out to be moderate. But I did need my rain shell! It was a lifesaver! I used all four pairs of socks during the race! And at the halfway mark I got a fresh pair of socks and a new pair of shoes and that was heaven!!
I ended up using everything pictured above except the handwarmers!! The biofreeze and bandages were a lifesaver! I used the headlamp AND a flashlight! I liked being able to point at what I needed to see as well. And there was a long, lonely stretch I used the headphones to give me a beat to keep going to!!
I used the Orange Mud Adventure Pack and it was awesome! I was able to carry everything I needed, had my bladder filled with powerade, and everything stayed dry! And it was super comfy!
My hydration and nutrition went well. No tummy troubles. Though I think I should have consumed more. At aid stations I got water, pringles, grilled cheese, and COKE! I never drink caffeine or soda, but every aid station I had a shot or two of coke and looked forward to it each stop!

Packet Pick Up:
Never having done an ultra before I was having a little anxiety about the unknown. After check in there was a briefing and I felt so much better going into this race. I was so excited to just get to the start line!
I packed two drop bags - one for the start line/halfway point and one for Damnation. Out at Damnation my most precious items ended up being candy bars, socks, and Trail Toes. Oh and I lent someone duct tape.
It was wonderful seeing Megan and Meredith there! We all completed our first Ironman together and now we would be attempting our first 50 miler together! A familiar face is always reassuring! And here I had double the reassurance! 
The weather has been weighing heavy on my mind. We have been having some really cold spells and I do not do well with my RA in the cold. Fortunately temps were moderate. But then there was the rain! Overall the weather for the day wasn't so bad. There was rain in the morning, almost a constant drizzle, and rainshowers throughout the day. It actually felt pretty warm in the trees because the humidity was so high! By the evening the rain picked up a little and the temps dropped 20 degrees! The hardest part was all the mud from the rains. And the course was pretty mucky from the 100 mile race the weekend before. And oh the roots! It should be called Rooty Raccoon! Lol!
Race Morning:
I only slept about 3 hours. I got up, got ready, ate a protein bar, banana, and cheese stick. I left at 4am and the roads were a mess! When I got to Huntsville State Park, I stayed in the car until right before go time. I dropped off my drop bag and waited under a tent until gun time. No pics because it was so dark and pouring rain. I wasn't there long before we started.

Race Start:
We all started in a tight group. It was really dark, raining and slippery. I would say most stayed together until the sun came up. At mile 1 my left foot landed in a deep puddle and I was soaked. My right foot hit a root (they were hard to miss!) and my ankle rolled. It was the same one I broke a year ago. It hurt but I could keep going. It would just progressively get worse throughout the race. 

Damnation aid station was a little over 9 miles in. I stopped there and a volunteer helped me dress my blisters that were already formed and giving me trouble! Spirits were high and I was having a blast!
This is the only pic I have from the course. It was just too technical to have my phone out much and I didn't have time to spare to stop. So I tried to take video as I could, but that didn't last either. I didn't want to risk losing any more time! And there was no course photographer! Sad I have no race pics from such a big race!

 And seeing as I am a triathlete, I thought I would go for a swim on the course! Lol! Totally fell in one of the many mud pits!! Ended up busting my hip and knee and tearing my favorite pair of Under Armour tights! But ya'll I was still having a blast! It was just getting harder! I did end up earning the nickname Mud Butt! Ha!!!

At mile 25 you cross the finish line as your halfway point and the 50k runners are finishing. Here I ended up spending quite a bit of time in the medic tent. She redressed my blisters and did an amazing job! Cleaned them, put on ointment, covered with blister protection, and then covered with duct tape. She wrapped my big toe in KT tape bc it was raw. She even powdered my foot and toes before putting back on my socks. Then she taped up my ankle for me. This took so much time, but I am sure I could not have made it without all this help! A new pair of socks and shoes was a game changer! It felt amazing!
At 26.2 miles in I took my last video. After that is was all about survival and getting it done! I focused on getting from aid station to aid station by each cutoff. I was trying to run as much as I could but it was excrutiating. But there was no way I was giving up! And ya'll I swear as hard as it was I was having so much fun and I was so happy to be out there!
I walked/ran with a lady named Nancy for awhile. She is seriously the master of speed walking! I could not keep up with my "running". And then a guy named John and I ended up doing the last 10 plus miles together! And I am so grateful for that! Because it was only getting tougher out there! As people were passing us coming the other direction we would ask how far until the next aid station, and I swear for over two miles everyone we saw said a quarter of a mile. So this became quite the joke! And ya'll it's a whole other ball game out there when the sun goes down and you are alone out in the wilderness! It was cold, pitch black, and the creatures were so loud! I definitely learned and my biggest recommendation is to have a pacer for after dark! Plus fresh legs and a fresh spirit would do wonders! Well John and I had a good ole time out there! We were pushing so hard, felt like we really were moving and out pace would be just short of a 20 min pace! So while we thought we were speeding we were obviously just shuffling! But we were working so hard! Lol! We at least could laugh at ourselves! Seriously running in the dark after running all day is quite the challenge! But each aid station we celebrated as a victory until we were at last victorious!!

There is nothing better than your hubby, four kids, and mom and dad screaming and cheering you in as you are the very last finisher on the course!!!! They were so proud! I was tackled in a hug and there were smiles and tears all around! I did it ya'll!!
I CAN do hard things! This became my mantra out there as I completed my first ultramarathon. 50 miles baby! It was one challenge after another from start to finish!! Between the rain, the ridiculous amount of mud, the tree roots, rocks, climbing (4500 ft - which is a lot for me!!), blisters, chafing, turned ankle that swelled up and caused me lots of trouble, a complete fall into a mud pit, busted knee and hip from the fall - those darn roots, running in pitch black, cold, dark, rain....oh my gosh the obstacles! Lol!!! Ultrarunners are a tough breed! I have so much respect for them!!
Oh wait I am one of them! I am an Ultrarunner!! Eek!!
Let me tell you despite all those obstacles it was so much fun! It's so beautiful out on the trails! And there is something about trail running that makes the miles fly by! Even 50 of them!!
I did it ya'll I CAN do hard things!!
I am the luckiest girl alive! I have got FIVE!! Five guys who love and support me in all I do! Five guys who are just as proud of me when I come in first as they are when I come in last!! Every medal I earn they have earned too! I am so very grateful for their sacrifices and for their support!! 
I don't have a pic that turned out of my mom and dad, but they were there too! From the beginning they have always been my cheerleaders!!
This guy!! He may not understand my crazy but he supports it anyway! He always worries about me and takes such good care of me!! Even on my darkest days with RA he never asks me to stop even though I am sure there are times he thinks it would be in my best interest. He just supports and encourages me to go for it!
Earning a medal motivates me! I know to some the actual medal is meaningless, but it really does drive me. I work hard to earn them, they serve as a reminder of all my hard work, and each one has a story! I feel such pride when it is hung around my neck and then on display in my workout room. I have won 1st in my age group and placed often when I was healthier, and I have been dead last in races as I battle Rheumatoid Arthritis. Both mean so very much to me! Both are a victory!
My first 50 miler and I was the very last finisher! It was close ya'll! Only 6 minutes left on the clock! I gave it all I had out there! And I did it! And I am so proud! I am a fighter and I fought for it!! I earned this medal!
Rocky Raccoon was everything I had hoped it would be and more! It challenged me in unexpected ways. It tested me. It chewed me up and spit me out over and over. And I loved every minute of it!
5 years ago I ran my very first race! It was a 10k trail race in Huntsville State Park! And 5 years later I returned there to run my first 50 mile race!
In that time I have raced 5k's, 10k's, an 11.5k, 10 mile races, the Under Armour Copper Mountain half marathon, the Houston Marathon, and the NYC Marathon!
I have raced super sprints, sprints, an Olympic distance, an Ironman 70.3, and an Ironman 140.6 in triathlon!
I am a Marathoner, an Ironman, and an Ultrarunner!!!!
I have placed 1st in my age group and I have been the last finisher in a race.
I have found a strength in myself I never knew existed.
I replaced insecurity with confidence.
I have faced adversity and persevered.
I have taught my four boys that it takes hard work and dedication to achieve your goals and to never give up.
I accomplished more in 5 years than I ever thought possible!! I DID it!! And so can YOU!!!