July 31, 2014

Hotter n' Hell: when it actually was

Hotter 'n Hell lived up to its name this year. Last year, we got a little bit of a break when temps dipped into the not-so-hellish 80s. Unless you're in southern California, where 80s counts as hellish. This year, not so much on the near-heavenly-for-Alabama-summer weather. The high got to 94 that day, and according to me, it felt like 204.  

For the past two years, I've done a multiple-week summer road trip with my kiddos, and for those same years, I've been registered for the Southeastern Trail Series, which happens to schedule this race for the day after I return home. Or I decide to return home the day before in order to participate. Either way, what happens is I'm undertrained for racing yet overexcited to be out of my car and taking a break from four kidlets making extremely loud demands in the five square feet of our VW Jetta. 

I was so happy to see my trail people again on race morning.

David Christy of David Christy Photography puts down his camera to sign for a hellish loop.

While everyone was prepping for the race, I was sweating already because I was nervous about the fact that I forgot to bring my Skin Sake, a race day must-have for me. Luckily, I found a sample buried in my bag. Thank you, swag bag samples.


You'll notice that most people are geared up for hydration. I myself went with a pack and a handheld bottle on the first loop because my pack was completely frozen from taking it out of the freezer only ten seconds before I left for the race. With 9-mile loops, it was completely melted without a trace of its former coolness remaining by the end of my first loop. 


I knew that my time from last year was about 3:44, and I was hoping to match that. In the beginning, I felt better than last year, plus unlike last year, I had managed at least one 13-mile run on my road trip. That run was thanks to my brother-in-law Randy who mapped out the run and said he would bike it with me and carry supplies. I had high hopes of sitting on the couch endlessly, but when someone makes it that obvious that you could easily run, you just go do it. 

The people at the front who mean business. 

I finished my first loop in around 1:45, and I knew that that meant I could even slow down a little on my second loop and still match my time last year. But somewhere around mile 5, that giant climb, I started to feel symptoms of heat exhaustion.


For those who haven't visited the blog in a while (no surprise since I've only been writing once every million years lately), I almost died from what I now believe was heat exhaustion/stroke at Run for Kids. And although I am prone to exaggerate (see previous sentence for reference), I am not exaggerating when I say that I firmly believe that I was right at that point where you lose consciousness and fade away from life. My body was shutting down. Once you have experienced heat exhaustion, you are more likely to experience it again, and I'm pretty sure that running 18 difficult trail miles on a 94-degree day would be a perfect recipe for heat exhaustion soup. 

At Hotter 'n Hell, I became nauseated, sluggish, and didn't want to eat/drink. For a few minutes, I thought it was just the hill that was getting to me, but as I summited, the flat felt just as hard as the 35-degree (guessing there, but it felt like million-degree) elevation of climbing out of Peavine Falls. My heart was racing and my breathing was labored with barely any effort at all. That's when I knew that something was wrong. People started flying past me like speedy bullets compared to a slow motion three-toed sloth, and all I could manage was an awkward clumsy walk. That's when my buddy Dean Thronton bopped by with a ziploc bag full of goodies like ginger chews and s-caps. Thankfully, he stopped his own race and kindly offered my choice of items from the bag, and I took an s-cap. 

As usual when I get into a down situation, I thought I was hydrating/salting/eating enough. Maybe I was and maybe it was just the heat getting to me. I am not sure how many minutes I spent walking, but it was definitely over a mile and included some steep declines which are usually my favorite part of a trail race to barrel through with abandon because rocks somehow do not scare me on a decline as much as they do on level ground. But no barreling down hills that day. I just hiked it knowing that any running was going to make the situation with my body worse. 

And then about a mile or two from the finish, something just clicked. Maybe the s-cap kicked in, maybe I cooled down enough to recover, maybe that last banana (surprisingly not disgusting) Hammer gel worked its magic. I am not sure which of those things it was, but one or the combination of them fixed whatever was going wrong with me. And from there, I pushed forward and ended feeling like a normal human being. 

Right before I sat down to write this tonight, I read this quote from Olympian Roland Schoeman. It's the perfect summation of Saturday's race for me. 



My time was 4:07, and I was 13th of 22 women in the race. Last year I came in 4th. Was I disappointed with my time? Yes. But I finished the race feeling excited that I knew I could overcome sickness in a race. That almost dying stunt at Run for Kids scared me pretty badly, enough that I am not willing to take any risks in the heat. When I know something is not right, I know that I immediately need to back off. And this race taught me that if I back off and let my body recover, it can give me more eventually and even within the same race. So overall, great learning experience. 

What I didn't learn from last year was that you probably shouldn't volunteer yourself to sweep the course when you are already completely spent from the race. But I had already planned to meet some extra helpers out there, and I figured I could handle it if I just went slowly. My helpers ran ahead picking up trash, and I lolly-gagged picking up flags and taking pictures. 

Some of my sweeping thoughts:

Here's a picture of ... me and a trail. My standards for interesting photo ops were low when I had extra energy at the start of sweeping. 


Blood Rock, the almost-end of the first long hill. I also found the perfect hiking stick to make my climbs easier. 


Thank you, David Tosch, for making this race course painfully obvious. 


If you got lost during this race, you deserved it. Not sure I've ever run a race with better marking, and I heard of zero people getting lost. 


Sweeping, sweeping, sweeping, overlook (ears perk up, tail wags). Sigh, I heart Alabama so much at overlooks like that one. 


Sudden mood swing to sweeper rage at the person who threw their cigarette butt on the trail. And photo evidence of the dirtiest hands I've ever had. 


This rope was either 106 or 160 feet long. Either way, I felt like I was on Survivor trying to untie the knots as fast as possible to win immunity. This is the point in the race where you could go down the rope (shorter route) or follow the trail (longer route) to the bottom -- a new feature of this year's course and my favorite part of the race. During the sweeping, I had good timing in that a family hiked by and agreed to help me pick up all the blue flags along the trail while I coiled up the rope. Thank you, random family, for your help! 


By the end of the day, I was so dirty that my clothes and body could probably have used a double washing. This is why you wear black at trail runs, e-peoples. Never white, never anything you are afraid to get dirty. 


And according to these photos, I was already asleep before the race started. 

Photo by David Christy Photography.

I like BUTS tanks and I cannot lie. Thanks, Sonia, for helping us get these!

After 27 miles of run/hike/sweeping, maybe more than the distance I had run combined over the previous two weeks, I slept like a rock that night.

What was the last big lesson you learned during a race? 

Did it take failing to learn that lesson?

July 25, 2014

You better run like a girl

We just arrived home from our 14-day tour of the East coast(ish). Driving through Amish country in Ohio (remember that I added -ish to the coast part) two days ago reminded me that life can be a lot simpler than we make it. We can get by with less than we are. We can make things from scratch, and we can try to build the new things we want from old things that we have.

The other thing that inspired me recently is this video. Have you already seen it? If not, watch now.


What would you have done if they asked you to run "like a girl"? I hope I'm not accidentally, because of subconscious societal norms/customs, giving the impression to my daughter that I expect less from her than I do from our sons.

**More to come on our East coast tour! Plus I'm racing an 18-miler tomorrow. Fingers crossed that I run like the kick-butt girls who live around these parts. 

July 14, 2014

Run or Die: 13 lessons I learned from Kilian Jornet

If anyone was surprised that Kilian Jornet won Hardrock 100 this weekend, it wasn't me. Ever since I read his book Run or Die, I've thought of him as a fiery ball of intensity, ready to blow the top off of anything that he attempts. At least that's the impression he gives in his book. 

If you're not super into reading, getting as far as the title will clue you in to his intensity. It seals the deal on his over-the-top-ness about running. Like my kids are with snacks. Probably a million times I have already heard on my current road trip (we are on day three) that some U10er is going to die if they don't get the z bar that they so desperately need/want. 


But Kilian's intensity isn't the a-hole, arrogant type of intensity, like the sort that Lance Armstrong emitted in It's Not About The Bike, which I read before he admitted to doping. Nope. Kilian's intensity is like the time you put Mentos in a bottle of Coke to impress all of your friends and the soon-to-be millions of viewers on youtube. It's an intensity that's directed, not missed by anyone in the vicinity, and worth trying to copy.

Kilian didn't just win Hardrock. He beat his nearest competitor by over two hours and set a new course record. So the lesson here is to do whatever you can to be like Kilian. 


Based on his book, I've collected a few ideas on what you're going to need to do to achieve being like him, i.e. a total wicked awesome unstoppable yolo legit off-the-chain sad-that-I'm-having-a-hard-time-extending-this-list-into-slang-from-this-decade champion.

Since 13 is my lucky number, here are my top 13 lessons from Kilian. 

1. Don't focus on the past. Make the best of the choices you made, but don't spend time worrying about the things you can't change. Missed three runs because you were sick last week. Oh well, move forward. This also applies to bigger things in life like marriage. You made your choice, now focus on making that choice work. 


2. Being addicted to signing up for races is OK. I am so guilty of over racing, but this made me feel better about it. Even the best are itching to test their limits over and over again. 


3. Discover energy cake. So now you're wondering what it is too, right. He mentions it several times in the book, and I'm sure something got lost in translation here because I have never come across energy cake in my life. But now I must have it. Someone help!


4. It doesn't matter how cool you are, you will accidentally choke on water during races. Don't you feel better about yourself now?


5. You be you. There are general running principles to consider, but your run can be great without being like someone else's. Just watch the Olympics to get a feel for that. People run differently and still kick butt. 


6. Follow your instincts. Which is great advice in racing because usually all powers of logic shut down around two-thirds of the way through any race. 



7. Don't worry if you get lost. Just pretend you are discovering a new part of the woods.


8. Eat, by gosh, eat! So I wouldn't really recommend eating five apple fritters and not exercising at all like I did today, but don't starve yourself. We need fuel! Especially that energy cake mentioned above. Seriously, who can tell me where to get that?


Eating and reading simultaneously is another solid option. 


9. Nobody likes to be held up by an injury. Runners can be the biggest bunch of fakers when it comes to injuries. "No, I'm totally fine. I'm sure it's nothing," as their left big toe falls off. 


You'll have to get the book to see what he decides to do for this one. 

10. Make your body an extension of the terrain. This is actually a really solid piece of advice that I use regularly when I'm running trails, especially downhill portions. Make yourself one with the land, and be bold with your moves. 



11. Music is good! 


12. Being creative can make you great. I like that he acknowledges that genetics aren't the only important thing in creating a champion.


13. Each race is its own work of art; find joy in creating it. So if you don't win one, no big deal. You'll have fun creating the next masterpiece. 


July 9, 2014

Standing Stone State Park: the family reunion edition

This week is all about the run. Why? Because last week was all about the family. Plus the couple of weeks before that were all about being sick and barely scraping by keeping up with my classes that I teach at the gym, much less adding in my personal running schedule. I am finally completely well and feeling like running like a mad woman every day. Part of that is panic that I have an 18-mile race coming up during one of the hottest months of the year in choking humidity of Alabama. And on a trail. Plus I am road tripping solo (parental-wise) with the kids for the next two weeks. This should be fun. 

But I am genuinely refreshed from having just returned home from a week away from everything technology and everyday life. This year, my husband's family reunion (biannual) was at Standing Stone State Park near Hilman, TN. Near because it is not actual in anything, other than the woods. One day I asked about the town 30 minutes away having a Wal-mart, and that question garnered a generous round of laughter. I'm still not sure where the nearest Wal-Mart is, but you can buy worms for fishing at the gas station that is 20 miles away. 


With ten kids plus all of their offspring, my husband's family requires a significant amount of space for gathering. Turns out that an entire state park does the trick. Some of us (my family included) stayed in the lodge that had 40 bunks in it, plus a common area and kitchen for the most important things that families do: eat and play games. 


Although those beds were some of the most uncomfortable I have ever slept on (not better than sleeping on the ground at a campsite), I loved the idea of all bunking together. It was a lot like camping, expect that I was much more nervous for my kids to touch the floor. Why is a giant mount of campsite dirt less scary than a really dirty lodge floor? Some questions are not meant to be answered. 

Other folks stayed in cabins that had anywhere from 8 to 16 beds each. Yes, we require a lot of space. 

Below are just the grandkids and great grandkids who were at the reunion. Picture taken with their grandpa in the middle. This picture slowly warms you up to the idea of how many people were actually there. Think 1/4+ more than pictured. 



Here's the schedule that keeps all those people from killing each other for a week. 


Food is obviously the highlight (and it was all so good that I couldn't stop eating for four days straight), but I like that they threw some running in there to appease me. We only completely skipped one of those runs, when we were so sore from lake swimming, playing soccer, and plank competitions that we could barely lift our arms parallel to the floor. Special thanks to my family members who acted like they wanted to run so that I would have to act like I wanted to run too.


The state park roads are the ideal path for runners: canopies of trees shading us from the blazing sun with a creek trickling just off the side of the road and no traffic for hours at a time. Perfection.

But even with that amazing backdrop, running seemed kind of unnecessary with all of the other activities we had going on. 

On the first day of the reunion, we spent half a day jumping into Dale Hollow Lake from the top floor of a pontoon boat. 

He'll be captain of the pontoon in no time.

The boat also had a slide. I'm not a huge boater, so maybe this is everyday stuff, but for me, it was so exciting to be out on a not-totally-disgusting lake (the water was really clear on the shallow ends!) with a slide, plus a roof from which we could do back and front flips, probably not condoned by the boat rental company.





We also had some family members who were cool enough to bring canoes and paddles so that we could canoe around the lake right beside the lodge. 



And my husband brought the project he has been meaning to get around to for three years: the mounted Spirit of America sidecar. Sidecars work much better with partners than they do hanging out solo in the corner of our garage. Those same roads that were perfect for running were also perfect for cruising around with the sidecar. Sidecar bikes are also ideal for students new to bike riding because it's impossible to drop the bike with a sidecar balancing it out. Who wants lessons?


Even with all the distractions, the best part of reunioning is catching up with everyone. You can't put it on a schedule -- well, I guess you technically could -- but talking and laughing is the most essential part of the reunion. Wait, maybe it ties with food.





Also with a state park comes trail running. I had been determined to run the trails the whole week but kept putting it off to eat more ice cream. On the final day of the reunion, I got up now fully determined to run the trails near the lake. "Fully determined" means that I ran a few miles on the road at 6:30 a.m. and then sat huddled in a sleeping bag and shivering by the lake trying to absorb sunlight for about four hours, swearing the whole time that at any moment I was going to get up and run more. What time did I actually go running? 5 p.m. The art of procrastination at its ... hold on, I need to go eat a sandwich. 

There was an 8-mile trail that I thought I would enjoy (you know, eventually), but when I finally made it out there, I discovered that it was very overgrown. At one point I was running through poison ivy taller than my knee socks on a virtually invisible trail on a hillside that was crumbling beneath my steps, so I turned around and decided to take the shorter but much more distinct and runner-friendly lake trail. 

I like trails that you can actually see! Makes it easier to get back to eat more ice cream.

There was still a ton of poison ivy on these trails, which made it feel like home.

Can you spot some poison ivy?

What I don't have at home is this sparkling lake view.


And also at home I wash my hair more than once a week. But, hey, it's vacation/camping, personal hygiene optional. 

We were loaded down for the ride home. In case you are wondering, and because it matters to my husband, we only trailered the sidecar home because my husband was riding home on another motorbike, which he rode up a few days prior to the reunion for a family bike trip to the Tail of the Dragon. He doesn't believe in trailering bikes in general. 


Stay tuned for part two of our summer road tripping: the Maine edition.