Em oi! #428: Male Bonding

This is based on actual conversations I had back when I was still going to aikido (something I did up to about 20 weeks). It surprised me when I was talking to guys about pregnancy–and I mean guys who have kids–the two things they know about pregnancy are 1) there is a lot of puking, and 2) get an epidural.[1] Actually, after making this observation, a friend pointed out that most people don’t spend as much time with their spouses/significant others as I do on a day-to-day basis, so the vomiting and labor may be the biggest parts of what most men remember about pregnancy. That and cravings, I guess. But just like I didn’t actually throw up until I got the stomach flu in March, I didn’t really have any exciting cravings beyond granny smith apples with peanut butter.

So when I originally drew this comic, I messed something up–I drew and inked another comic on the other side of the page, and the ink bled through. Fortunately, B was able to save the art with Photoshop. He also produced this version, which I actually think is in many ways much better than the original, betraying a good sense of comic timing as well as an acute awareness of, well, Em (Em qua character and Em qua me):

I’m filing the first comic under HM1161 L86 2017, for Sociology–Social psychology–Interpersonal relations. Social behavior–Interpersonal attraction–Friendship. The second comic will be filed under BJ1491 M48 2017, for Ethics–Special topics–Hedonism and asceticism. Renunciation.

I wanted to add a few notes about running during pregnancy, since I have pretty much finished running[2] (though not working out) at this point, and since I anticipate that in a few weeks, the topic won’t be of too much concern for me anymore but that I may want to retain the information for posterity.

I have run seven races while pregnant[3]:

Race / Distance Date Time Place
New Year’s Day Dash (5 mi) 1-1-17 45:09 54th of 144 in age group
Freeze for Food 5k 3-4-17 29:15 5th in AG
Freeze for Food 10k 3-4-17 (directly after the 5k) 59:21 15th in AG
44-Furlong World Championship (about 5.5 mi) 3-18-17 54:15 11th overall (of 18 women)
Donald Dash (12k-ish trail race) 5-6-17 1:36:18 25th in AG
Ice Age Trail Half Marathon 5-13-17 DNF DNF
Blue Mound Trail Race (10k) 6-3-17 1:32:30 20th in AG (of 20)

I think this kind of paints a picture. The weather is always a major factor for any runner, but it’s especially a big deal during pregnancy. For example, the Ice Age Trail race was extremely humid–in another year, I would have finished, although slowly (I was on pace for a three-hour half–significantly slower than I’ve ever done on that course–but of course in another year I would have probably been a little faster too). But this year, I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and ended the race after the first 6.5-mi loop.[4] In fact, “more” is basically the watchword for running during pregnancy–you need more water, more calories for a given distance, more bathrooms,[5] and eventually, more time.

The situation is not quite as 100% clear-cut as I’m making it sound here, though. Here’s a chart of my pace from November until July (click to embiggen):

As you can see, I have gotten slower, but things are uneven. On the other hand, this is skewed by the fact that I moved my training inside as of May and took to the elliptical only as of mid-June. The moving average is set to a period of five because typically I run five days per week, although since I switched to elliptical only it has been 4 days / week elliptical, 3 days / week swimming.

So here, briefly, is a list of my advice for running during pregnancy. Standard disclaimers apply–this is basically what worked for me, but it may not work for you, or even be feasible.

  1. Read Exercising Through Your Pregnancy by James Clapp.
  2. During the first two trimesters, running was a lot easier when I was running with others. The further along I got, the more true this became. Getting up in the morning in time to meet my running groups got harder and harder though.
  3. Bring water. Also, bring more snacks than you would normally.
  4. You can get a support belt that will help prevent your uterus from bullying your bladder. This belt was most helpful between about 13-20 weeks.
  5. Eventually, moving the workouts inside, where there is climate control and easy access to bathrooms, is a good idea.
  6. Expect recovery to take longer than usual.
  7. Don’t run down a mountain–you will eventually have to run back up. This might be good advice for any time, honestly. I did this around twelve weeks, at altitude (in Colorado), and nearly passed out later that evening because I didn’t refuel well–just downed a coffee and a bagel and took a nap. So if you do decide to do something stupid like this, eat two bagels.
  8. Just because people often compare going through labor and running a marathon doesn’t mean that you have to show up for labor ready to run 26.2 miles. Similarly, it’s okay to switch to elliptical when your joints/organs can’t take the impact anymore. Just keep moving.
Photo courtesy of Blue Mounds Trail Race.

The funny thing about this photo is I remember feeling so victorious as I crossed the finish line. But in reality, I look incredibly toasted (and covered with mud). And eight months pregnant. Some things are unavoidable.

[1] It is perhaps unsurprising that men who have watched their partners go through labor both with and without an epidural will say, “Get the epidural.”

[2] My current workout regime is ~25 mi/week on the elliptical, 3,000-5,000 yards of swimming, and 3-4 days of lifting weights. I can still deadlift 115 lbs at this point, but I’m getting some funny looks from various gym bros (suck it, gym bros).

[3] Technically I was pregnant during the 2016 Burbee Derby, but I didn’t know it yet, so I’m omitting that here.

[4] I’m still kind of disappointed in myself about this. I’d never DNF’d a race before. (For those who aren’t runners, DNF = Did Not Finish.)

[5] One highlight of the IAT race was stepping off the course to pee in the bushes and discovering I’d chosen a thorn bush to crawl into. Good job, me.

Super Belated 2016 Round-Up

Books read:

  • The System of the World, by Neal Stephenson OMG
  • The Two Towers and The Return of the King, by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Texts from Jane Eyre, by Mallory Ortberg
  • The Princess and the Pony, by Kate Beaton
  • Cecil, the Pet Glacier, by Matthea Harvey
  • “The White Album,” by Joan Didion
  • Angels in America, by Tony Kushner (reread)
  • Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir, by Roz Chast. Reviewed.
  • Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel. Reviewed.
  • Are You My Mother?, by Alison Bechdel
  • Tomboy, by Liz Prince
  • In the Blood, by Suzan-Lori Parks
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Parts One and Two, by Jack Thorne, based on a story by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne
  • Alan Mendalsohn: The Boy from Mars, by Daniel Pinkwater
  • Equal Rites, by Terry Pratchett
  • Wyrd Sisters, by Terry Pratchett
  • The Wee Free Men, by Terry Pratchett

It got a little escapist there at the end. I should note that this list is somewhat incomplete–it doesn’t contain, for example, several nonfiction reference books I read, nor the three times I re-read HST’s obituary of Richard Nixon.

Best book I read: Probably The System of the World, which is itself the third part of a trilogy. Is it 2,400 pages of fanfiction about Isaac Newton, Gottfried Leibniz, and the invention of the calculus? A treatise on globalization and economics? An in-depth look at the difficult political transition between Queen Anne and King George I? A joyful romp around the world with the Royal Society? All of the above? Totally worth reading, whatever it is. Someday I want to meet Neal Stephenson so I can give him a high five.

The 2017 reading list can be found here, and my theater reviews are here.

Races run:

Race Date Distance Time
New Years Day Dash Jan 1 5 mi 39:49
Freeze for Food 5k / 10k Jan 23 5 km / 10 km 26:57 / 49:14
LMR 20k May 7 20 km 1:48:47
Ice Age 50 half marathon May 14 13.1 mi 2:01:23
Blue Mounds 18k June 4 18 km 1:55:24
Dances with Dirt July 9 13.1 mi 2:11:13
Madison Mini Marathon Aug 20 13.1 mi 2:07:22
Safe Harbor Labor Day Dash Sept 5 10 km 55:24
North Face Endurance Challenge Sept 18 13.1 mi 2:18:19
Indian Lake Trail Race Oct 1 12 km 1:07:49
Fall 15k Oct 16 15 km 1:19:17
McCarthy Park Trail Race Oct 30 18 km 1:39:46
Wolf Pack Trail race Nov 13 29 mi 5:29:30
Berbee Derby Nov 24 5 km 36:47

Best finish (in terms of pace): Freeze for Food 10k (7:56 pace); New Years Day Dash (7:58 pace); Fall 15k (8:32 pace)

Best finish (in terms of place): Wolf Pack (2nd woman [of two], 8th overall); Fall 15k (3rd in age group, 4th woman of 27); Freeze for Food 5k/10k (6th in age group in both).

Lessons Learned at the Wolf Pack Trail Run

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At the start.

I ran 29ish miles on Saturday at the Wolf Pack Trail Run. 29.28 according to my watch. When I signed up, I thought the race would be 28 miles–it was billed as two 14-mile loops, but there was some overlap between the loops and some extra so it worked out weird. It took about five and a half hours. I was the eighth finisher overall out of fourteen. I was also the second woman finisher…out of two. There were several other women who started the race but dropped out (at least three, possibly more). So really, I was one of only two female finishers. That’s not bad, right?

Here are some things I learned during this time:

  1. Miniature Snickers bars are better than miniature Three Musketeers. Potato chips are not as good as boiled potatoes dipped in salt. Hammer makes a peanut butter gel that is kind of gross–definitely inferior to the GU gel.
  2. I should eat more when I’m running a distance like this.
  3. The Richard Bong Wilderness Recreation Area is a huge prairie area in southeastern Wisconsin. It was once slated to be an airport. I don’t know why it didn’t become one. But it has miles of trails.
  4. Trails that are frozen in the early morning are hard on the ankles. Once they thaw, they get kind of squishy and are hard on the hips.
  5. Mud can pull your shoes off. Oops.
  6. After a while, it’s not going to hurt any more than it already does, so you might as well run because you’ll get done faster. I had a real low point from about mile 19 to mile 24ish. But I rallied during the last 4-mile loop and even passed two people during the last mile (I only passed about four people all race, so this was significant). Looking at the results, one of the people I passed went on to finish about three minutes behind me, so it made a difference.
  7. Running where hunting is going on can be nerve-wracking, but hunters tend to be pretty methodical. Also, I think bullets are expensive, so they don’t want to waste them on you, because you’re not a pheasant.
  8. The hooded sweatshirt I got for this run is awesome and I’m not taking it off until spring.
  9. Driving home right after an ultra sucks. I cramped so badly. But listening to this interview of Lorretta Napolioni on Travel with Rick Steves was REALLY INTERESTING. One of the best interviews I have heard in a long time.
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Some of the trails.

Although I am inherently an angry liberal, I’ve decided to try to talk to more people about politics lately because why not try to understand things outside of my liberal bubble. I had a nice conversation about politics with a woman I ran with for about seven or eight miles. She came from a more conservative part of the state, although she wound up voting for Clinton because of Trump’s statements about women. She was upset about the outcome of the election, but described Trump mostly as more transparently corrupt than Clinton. She wondered if he would be impeached.

Wouldn’t that be interesting.

My longest run for this race was the 18 miles I did last weekend while pacing at tBunk. Before that, I did 16 a week or two ago and 19 at the beginning of September. Otherwise I was busy racing on the weekends. I have gotten faster over short distances, but this wasn’t the best strategy for building the endurance needed for this kind of race. Oops.

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A few minutes after finishing, before I staggered to my car.

Whatever I did right or wrong, I feel good today. I had a little light blistering on one foot (caused by my foot striking the uneven ground in a weird position) and some chafing and whatnot, but my muscles were back to nearly normal twenty-four hours later. I went down and watched the finishers at the Madison Marathon on Sunday and thought, wow, they look like hell. Do I look like that when finishing a race? And also, races are much more fun when you’re spectating instead of running them. And then Monday morning, I went out and ran five miles. Maybe I’m finally getting decent at these longer distance races. On the other hand, I don’t see myself doing any more this year, and next year is a big question mark, so maybe it doesn’t matter.

The Election, and a Few Notes on Pacing

My blog got a bunch of hits the day after the election, as though someone was hoping I’d have something to say. And– I don’t know that I have anything to add to the ongoing fury, but I do have one observation.

In 2008, I went to an Obama rally in Philadelphia. It was October, not long before the election, and after eight years of Bush I didn’t feel especially optimistic that he was going to be able to bring us the change he was promising. My friends and I walked a long way through Philly to get to the rally, and then waited in line for a long time.

I live in a liberal area, but also a very, very white area. So while I knew Madisonians were enamored of Obama, it wasn’t quite like it was in Philly. As we waited under the hot noontime sun, I looked at an array of t-shirts featuring the senator dunking, the senator in African colors, the senator looking senatorial in that iconic HOPE image, Obama as Lincoln, Obama as a Russian comrade. They were different aspects of the man, different avatars. I began, dimly, to realize that all of these were ways in which the community–of democrats, but also of African Americans–were projecting themselves onto the man who was shortly to become president, convincing themselves that he was one of them, that his concerns were the same as theirs. This is like the imagined communities that Benedict Anderson wrote about. People imagine themselves into the political community of the nation; regardless of what the politician actually says, they find the ways in which it’s relevant to their lives.

It wasn’t until the current election and the selection of Hillary Clinton for the democratic nominee that I understood what was going on. The job of a leader is to lead, but to really inspire the populace, a leader has to provide a somewhat blank canvas for people to project something of themselves onto. I realized this even as I was doing it myself, feeling moved and significant to be voting for the first-ever woman who had a ghost of a chance of winning. I even own a magnificent t-shirt similar to those I saw back in 2008; this one features Hillary as George Washington and Bill as Martha.

The flip side of this, of course, is that we project our fears onto the opposition. Notwithstanding the fact that our current president elect has done and said some terrible things (for which, G-d willing, he’ll answer someday), I think the current hysteria in the liberal press is a bit overly dramatic. Trump is not the Antichrist; he’s just some guy. Are bad things happening? Yes. There have been some hate crimes committed this week. But those are still illegal. Let’s not lose sight of this fact: we are not living in a dictatorship. This isn’t the Philippines, people can’t just walk into your house and shoot you for free right now. He is not going to dismantle every liberal advance of the last fifty years. I don’t think he can. Is he going to be embarrassing and tone-deaf? Yes. Is he going to start a nuclear war? I don’t believe it.

We’ve had good presidents and bad presidents, and the country has always survived them. In fact, the country has pretty consistently alternated between liberal and conservative leadership for the last forty years at least. The majority of Americans don’t make their decision based on much more than how they feel they’re doing when they step in the voting booth.

We may not be happy with the results–those protesting are justified in doing so, in my opinion, and I think we need to abolish the electoral college–but running around shrieking (and reading five hundred think pieces about how this happened) is not going to help anything. Instead, try to be kind to each other, and continue to speak truth to power wherever you can, stand up for the downtrodden wherever it is necessary, and consider getting involved with local politics. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching Parks and Recreation, it’s that being an angry person at a local committee meeting can sway the motion of the wheels of power.

For the majority of voters, this was not a referendum on the state of the soul of the nation. It was two crappy politicians making half-believable promises. I desperately want to believe that it is not the case that 50% of the (voting) country is composed of racists, sexists, bigots, anti-Semites. They’re just people who are frustrated with the current administration. I’m actually willing to place a bet that most of them did not vote against Clinton because she was a woman, or because they have some complex view that boils down to reasons why women cannot be president. If anything, the handful of liberals who have confessed, “I wasn’t that happy with Hillary” is the reason for why she lost–she was inspiring to me, but a moderate neo-liberal isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and a lot of them would just rather not make the effort to go vote for her. Hillary will always be president in my heart, and let me be clear–I cried when I realized she was going to lose–but the truth is, a lot of people think about the whole situation and shrug.

And that’s all I have to say about that. Stop reading the news, you’ll be happier. Get off social media and go outside. The moon is nearly full. Look at the stars and think about how small we all really are. And also this.


Okay, who wants to hear about pacing?

Last Saturday I joined my friend Sandy in Kettle Moraine State Park for 18.2 miles of fun after dark. For four and a half hours, we hiked, jogged, and occasionally fell down over wide trails that occasionally grew rocky and hard to navigate. The stars were magnificent, the temperature was chilly, and the woods are dark and terrifying.

pacing1

I tried not to let on to Sandy the tenor of my thoughts, but it’s basically like being in every horror movie ever made. When you’re pacing, the person you’re running with has been running for 50+ miles, which puts one in an altered state of mind. It falls to the pacer to try to create reality for them, specifically by not introducing weird ideas about the terrible things that could just jump out of the woods at you.

pacing2

Foxes make noises that sound like screams. A whole bunch of foxes can sound like children screaming. It’s a really weird thing to hear in the middle of the woods. Coyotes sound like you’d expect. And then we came around a bend and realized we could hear a sort of humming noise, like traffic at a distance. But we were in the middle of the woods out past Whitewater, not a spot known for heavy traffic patterns. In fact, when I looked at a map later on, I was fairly sure that we weren’t even near the meagre one-lane road that ran past the park. I told her I thought it was traffic anyway, because all my other ideas about what it could be ranged from the outré to the mildly macabre.

pacing3

In the dark, it’s hard to get clues from the environment in the way you normally would. For example, you can’t see the horizon or in many cases tell if you’re going up or down a gentle slope. Your internal proprioception can begin to fail and you find yourself running in all sorts of weird positions.

pacing4

As I was leaving, Sandy got her hiking poles out and went off to spend the next seven hours hiking alone through the woods (and then another six hours with her next pacer). I am staggered by the amount of commitment and mental fortitude that an event like this requires. It feels superhuman. I shivered halfway home, eventually stopping to buy decaf coffee, chocolate milk, and cheesy popcorn at the only 24-hour gas station I could find. Then I stuffed popcorn into my mouth the rest of the way home. #noregrets

Occasionally I’ve been asked if I was going to do a longer ultra–something 50+ miles long. I always say “maybe.” It’s certainly daunting. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel up to it. Pacing for a 100-miler was awesome though. I’d totally do that again.

Tomorrow I’m off to the Richard Bong State Recreation Area to try and run 28-ish miles and not get shot by hunters. I am overly enthusiastic and under-trained. Should be fun!

Running

proteinbarsatdawn

This comic panel is the result of me 1) drawing a seven-panel comic about a race, 2) inking the first four, and then 3) deciding they were lame and this was the only salvageable one. I’ve actually done a bunch of comics lately, then discarded them because not funny. Maybe because the looming election is taking up such a large place in my thoughts. We’ll see how soon I can get my act together.

Here are all the races I’ve done since August, in brief:

  1. Madison Mini Marathon (13.1 mi). Normally I wouldn’t do this race, but a coworker asked if I wanted to run it with him. He did it in 1:30ish. I did 2:07:22. First race back after being off for more than a month for a poorly diagnosed IT band-related injury. 93/256 in my age group.
  2. Safe Harbor Labor Day Dash (10k). Did it on impulse when I woke up in time to bike to the starting line. Took the first three miles to really warm up. 55:24. 26/56.
  3. North Face Half Marathon (13.1 mi). Hilly course, wasn’t feeling it. 2:18:19. 14/15.
  4. Indian Lake Trail Race (12k). Supremely hilly course, and I ran it better than I’d ever done it before. 1:07:49. 17/32.
  5. Fall 15k. Ran far, far harder than I expected I would. 1:19:14. 3rd in age group, 4th woman overall.
  6. McCarthy Park Trail Race (18k). Spent a lot of the race trying to figure out how far 18 kilometers actually was (spoiler: about 11 miles). It was cold and rainy. 1:39:46, which although a good deal faster than the 18k I ran in June (Blue Mounds, 1:55:24), was only good enough for 9/14 in my age group, or slightly more hideously, 28 of 35 overall. Oh well.

With the exception of my exciting finish at the Fall 15k, I haven’t been placing well (and annoyingly, the Fall 15k only did prizes for the top person in each AG rather than top 3). But my times have been good and my races have felt fairly strong.

I wanted to race five different distances this year. So far, I have raced one 5k, one 5 mile, two 10k, one 12k, one 15k, two 18k, one 20k, and four 13.1 mile races. This coming weekend, I am pacing a friend through about 18 miles of her 100 miler, and then the following weekend I’m doing a 28-ish mile trail race as the finale to my season. After that I may take it easy for a while.

Andre is totally over listening to the builders knock out drywall downstairs.
Andre is totally over listening to the builders knock out drywall downstairs.

Em oi! #417: Poor Bastards

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Ooh name that book. Or film. The film was also excellent.

Anyway, TWO COMICS IN ONE WEEK? I should pace myself better. Oh well. This actually happened–I didn’t hear the woman’s explanation to her offspring. I do wonder what she said. Okay, let’s bad segue into a quick discussion of the 2016 LMR 20k! (Link to last year’s race report.)

Results

Year Time Pace
2009 1:53:39 9:09
2010 1:41:24 8:10
2011
2012
2013 1:56:41 9:23
2014 1:45:53 8:31
2015 1:50:45 8:53
2016 1:48:47 8:46

LMR20K 2016 micro race report: I ran in a circle that started at the Monona Public Library and went around Lake Monona. My 5K splits were pretty even at 27:11, 26:57, 27:31, and 27:08.

Finish line
Finish line. Those women behind me threw up their arms and shouted “woo” at every photog we passed and honestly I think I could have like punched them and been justified in it.

I was faster than last year, which was my goal. I didn’t beat anyone else in my running group, which was my other goal. This coming week, Saturday May 14th, I have a trail half marathon (the Ice Age half marathon) in La Grange, WI. I was hoping to use the LMR20K to predict my pace for the next race. If the two courses were similar, I would expect a 1:55:xx based on this performance. But they’re not–the trail race is a seriously harder course. And the weather may be quite a bit warmer. So we’ll see.

It was nice to race, though. I put off signing up for many races this spring because of stuff going on in my personal life and I have been missing it. In addition to the upcoming half, I’m also in for the Blue Mounds 18k and the half at Dances with Dirt. Depending on how things go health-wise, I would also like to do something crazy in the fall–maybe an ultra of some sort. Earlier in the spring, I was having some ankle pain after running distances farther than about 16 miles, so I’m going to wait and see if that has cleared up. Surprisingly, swimming helps keep my ankle tendons flexible when these things flare up.

We’ll file this under GV1062 L86 2016, for Recreation. Leisure–Sports–Track and field athletics–Foot racing. Running–Distance running–General works.

In Which I Don’t Really Win Much But Am Still Happy: Tyranena Beer Run Half Marathon 2015

Post-Haunted Hustle with Kristi
Post-Haunted Hustle with Kristi

To preface this story, let me say that two weeks ago I did a local Middleton race called the Haunted Hustle. It wasn’t an “A” race, and though it was fun there didn’t seem to be much point in writing it up other than my friend/running companion, Kristi, getting to see her name in “print” here. Since it’s marginally relevant, I’ll just give the tl;dr version here: Hilly course, cool day, lots of costumes to look at, ran a 1:55:55.

That was, at the time, my fastest half of the season, although to be fair my other half was a trail race, and I also did a 20K in 1:50:xx, which is only about 4 seconds/mile slower. Anyway, since I’d signed up for the Tyranena race only two weeks later, my plan was to use the Haunted Hustle as a hard training run and then really race Tyranena hard, with the goal of running a faster time.

The races were only two weeks apart, so my training was unremarkable. The HH was on a Sunday; I ran 54.19 miles over the next week (October 26 to November 1), with one day off for swimming. That week included one day of dreadmill intervals and a 15-mile long run in the rain. The following week, November 2–7, I lifted legs on Monday, then hobbled through 8-milers Tuesday through Thursday and was completely off except aikido on Friday, for a total of 24.4 miles before the race. No taper, that’s me.

Running along the river in Philadelphia
This is getting dull; here’s a photo of where I went running in Philly a few weeks ago. Jealous?

Tyranena starts quite late—11:30. I got up early (well, okay, I got up at 7:30) to eat my pop tart, drink a small cup of coffee, and loiter around working on my novel until it was time to go pick up Kristi. Last year we hit real traffic on the beltline and it was very tense, so this year I actually left a bit early. And of course the beltline was empty. We arrived in Lake Mills, WI, about 40 minutes away, by 10:20 and picked up our packets, then stood around chatting for the next 40 minutes or so. At 11, I went out for a warm-up jog, just a mile out at a relaxed pace and then some telephone pole intervals on the way back. I got back with just enough time to find everyone, then jump in the line for the port-o-potties and lose them again. Oh well.

We took off at 11:30 and I fell pretty quickly into an 8:30 min/mi pace. Running with the crowd to break the wind, this definitely felt like a comfortable speed, and I decided to hold onto it as long as I could. A bit before the first mile marker, I bumped into Kristi again, but when she took off (aiming for a sub-1:50 race), I made the decision to let her go and try to stay with what I had. This proved to be a pretty good decision.

The hills on this course are all on the first half, with the biggest coming right around mile four. However, none of the hills is really too difficult; my Garmin clocked 248 ft of elevation gain, compared to 362 ft at the HH. Watching my watch on the uphills, my pace occasionally dipped as far as 8:45 or even 9:00 min/mi, but I always recovered on the downhill. At around mile 5.5, I took a gel, another big change from the HH when I didn’t have anything for the duration. I hit the 10k mark in 54:28, according to the chip, and the halfway point about two minutes later. Up through mile 8, everything went really well. Then I noticed the people I’d been pacing off were gradually moving away from me; I didn’t feel like I was slowing, but my watch was suddenly reading 9:00 for pace.

The Eastern State Penitentiary in Philly
The Eastern State Penitentiary in Philly; I’m just including this because it’s cool.

At this point, I made a very conscious decision to push the pace, to leave everything I could behind and do my best to finish in under 1:50. I ran a few intervals using the trees along the path as markers, and gradually brought my pace back toward 8:30. Mile 8 seemed to last forever, but as I hit mile 9 at 1:17:xx, I did some mental math and realized that with 5K left to go, if I could just maintain my current pace I would finish under 1:50 comfortably.

Then, a few minutes later, I remembered that 9+3 is 12 and 9+4 is 13. So if I could run the next 4 miles at 8 minutes/mile, I would be done in 32 minutes. But what are the chances of that happening? Pretty much 0%. But if I ran strategically, it might be pretty close, so I decided to keep on it.

By mile 10, I was definitely beginning to feel the effects of a sustained 8:30 pace, especially in my right hip flexor. Every mile felt like I was making a bet with myself that I could sustain the pace I was running. If I had been smart, I would have brought another gel for this point in the race, but I didn’t really expect I would be doing as well as I was. Also, I didn’t have any other gels at home that morning. Tant pis.

I had a feeling that if I could hit a little better than an 8:30 pace for the actual last 5K, I would hit a sub-1:50. It was at this point that I fell back in with the group I’d been running with earlier and exchanged a few words with them, so I wasn’t looking at my watch and assumed later I just hadn’t been hitting the pace. But looking at my watch splits, I had this:

Mile Pace
10 8:15
11 8:06
12 8:27
13 7:57
.1 (.26 on my watch) 7:30

I ran a 1:51:40 officially, which is about 100 seconds over a 1:49:59—meaning that even if I’d managed 8-minute miles for 10 to 12, I still wouldn’t have made it.

Last year, I ran a 1:53:13 on the same course, so I improved by about a minute and a half. I also managed my goal of beating my HH time. Part of this involved running strategically rather than stupidly, which is what I usually do. The biggest change was to find a pack or at least a tall guy to draft behind when running into the wind. Normally the decrease in perceived exertion in this position makes me speed up and puts me back in the wind; by biding my time, I was able to conserve some energy I really needed. I also didn’t take off with Kristi, which allowed me to save energy I would have spent very early trying to keep up with her (she’s fast). I took a gel at a good moment, about 5.5 miles into the race, with 7.5 miles on my legs. And I reengaged with my race mentally when I started to slow down and actually pushed myself. So I’ll call that a success, even if I didn’t hit my time goal.

Post-Tyranena Selfie with Kristi and Alex
Post-Tyranena Selfie with Kristi and Alex

St. Paul or Bust: The Surprisingly Weird Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon

This marathon, you guys. I don’t know what to say about it. It has been a tough couple of weeks for me. And so . . . this is my blog, let’s talk about it.

Training

My training for this race was pretty consistent. I logged 208 miles in June, 221.5 miles in July, 253.8 miles in August, and 229.4 miles in September. My longest run was 23.5 miles, which was our running group’s trek out along the planet path from the Monona Terrace to Mount Horeb. That run happened August 29, and it was basically my last long run of the training session. I had an 18-mile run toward the beginning of August too, and a bunch of runs in the 15–16 mile range. There were some weekends where I meant to do 15/15 or 13/13 across Saturday/Sunday, and typically the second day’s run was not as long as planned. But then again, there were a lot of weeks where I took a random day off on a Tuesday or Wednesday to deal with aches and pains preemptively and then ran on Friday, so my legs typically weren’t as fresh going into the weekend as they might have been.

I also did some speedwork for this race. I did mostly 800s (working up to 10 x 800), 400s, or in the last two weeks, strides (15-second sprints with about 45–60 seconds of recovery). These were always as part of a run with warmup and cooldown on normal terrain, not on a track. My pace on these was usually around 8:00 min/mile plus or minus; in fact, the goal for each run was to do the intervals (not the strides) at 85% to 90% of max HR. I made this decision based on the strategies suggested by Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas in Road Racing for Serious Runners. The book is more geared toward races up to the half marathon distance, but I do so little speedwork that it seemed like a good (and unintimidating) starting point. Eighty-five percent of max HR or 8:00 min/mi works out to be about a 5K race pace, which is slow enough that I’m not (or don’t seem to be) in danger of injuring myself doing it.

Finally, my running group was doing our long runs at close to race pace, often in the 8:50–9:20 min/mi range, which basically turned my long run into a long tempo run every week. This was quite helpful; I started out this training cycle just after the 50K feeling like a 9:20 was very fast, and finished able to do a half marathon distance run at an 8:48 min/mi pace, which required some pushing but felt generally comfortable. As a result, I decided my goal for the race—contingent on having a good taper—was going to be 3:55:xx.

Marathon Week

So on the 26th of September, I tested for 4th kyu in aikido. The last weeks prior to the test were for me filled with a lot of aikido classes, so I was feeling a bit bruised by the end of it and ready to taper. Then, on the 28th, Bryan had knee surgery.

The Knee Surgery Thing

Back in the spring, B had his knee scoped. I think the technical term is a knee arthroscopy. The idea was to get a good look at a small defect on the femoral articular cartilage that has prevented him from running for, at that point, a bit over a year. At the time, the ortho shaved down the edges of the defect, and B decided to see how it went. But after rehabbing it, he found that while he could do short sprints during a game of ultimate, he couldn’t really run farther than about a mile and a half with me (on grass-covered trails, specifically) without pain. And then a day came when he went to frisbee and ran too much and the pain didn’t stop for over a week. So he got put on the list for a cartilage transplant.

The thing about being on the list, besides the awesomeness of medical technology that this is an option and the creepiness of having someone else’s cells in your body, is that you don’t know when exactly they’re going to call and tell you it’s time to rock and roll. So B got the call two weeks before my marathon, and possibly because of the aikido test (plus a play we were going to that weekend), he scheduled the surgery they told him Monday the 28th was go day. I’m glad he was able to come to my test, which meant a lot to me, and able to enjoy the play, which would have been difficult if he’d had to try to manage APT on crutches. But it did leave us a rather slender window for him to recover enough for a four-hour car ride.

After the first surgery last spring, he was back on his feet almost right away. Not an exaggeration: We went out to dinner that evening, and I had to glare at him to get him to bring the crutches into the restaurant. The surgery itself was very non-invasive, and they encouraged him to get back to walking as soon as he could. The second surgery ended with a four or five inch incision down the front of his knee, and he’s now on crutches with orders not to put any weight on the affected limb for the first three weeks, with another three weeks of gradual buildup to follow. So not only was his mobility a good bit different, his pain levels were as well; after the first operation, I think he took a few Tylenol, whereas after the nerve block for this one wore off, he needed serious painkillers. And then he developed some other side effects that I’m not going to get into, but suffice it to say that it was kind of an unpleasant week for him.

The thing about the running industry, such as it is and such as I interact with it, is that it is always telling people they have to make running a priority. Going out for a jog, being fit—if you want those things, you have to prioritize them. But the thing is, running is not really a priority for me in that sense. Running is a thing I do in order to stay sane and manage my stress levels, just like brushing my teeth is a thing I do because I have a horrible fear of my teeth falling out like in Tommyknockers to maintain dental hygiene. Race preparation, on the other hand, is something I have to prioritize or it doesn’t really happen.

Over the course of the week, watching B’s health/comfort levels wax and wane, it became clear to me that there was a serious question about whether or not he was going to be able to make the drive up. And I wasn’t ready to leave him to anyone else’s machinations; either we went together or I wasn’t going.[1] So it may be obvious here what I’m pointing at—my taper did not really happen, or not very well.

The Personal Becomes Political

Monday was also when the race organizers sent out an email informing us runners that a protest by the group Black Lives Matter was being planned to disrupt the race at mile 25. Apparently they (BLM) had first announced their plans on the 26th or so, but I wasn’t following the issue then.

At first, I was quite disappointed. After a really long, stressful summer, I had been really looking forward to going up to see my brother and his wife, hanging out, doing the race . . . it sort of belatedly dawned on me that this was a very privileged way to look at things—they’re ruining my relaxing vacation, my race, and so on, when what they’re asking for—justice for police brutality—is both an extremely reasonable thing to request and something that it’s unlikely I’ll ever have to deal with. Which is to say, anyone in the BLM crowd would also like a relaxing vacation weekend, but they weren’t going to get it.

By, I guess, late Wednesday, I was reconciled to the fact that I would run twenty-five miles to where the protest was, symbolically turn off the course, and then jog back to my brother’s house about a block away. And then do, you know, another 1.2 miles on my own. But I wouldn’t be officially finishing. (I came to this decision in part because of discussions with a number of very smart friends and in part because I read some of the comments on the marathon’s Facebook page and realized which side of the issue I thought I wanted to be on. But also, to be honest, the whole thing also felt kind of secondary to the rest of the stuff that was going on in my life, like something I was watching from a distance.)

Thursday, the city of St. Paul and the marathon people announced that a deal had been struck and the race would not be obstructed. Instead, the protesters would be given 1) a meeting with the mayor, and 2) a place near the finish to hold their protest.

Kickoff

Pre-race
Pre-race selfie. It was cold. I was tired.

So, spoiler alert, B was able to make the drive up. Friday afternoon and all of Saturday were spent in Daniel and Claire’s most entertaining company, doing things like drinking Pimm’s and grapefruit soda, eating curry, and watching episodes of Sherlock. Then, Sunday morning, we got up early for the race.

Starting line crowd
The crowd at the starting line.

Well, the race was at 8:00; I got up at 5:00 because B got up at 5 to take some pain meds. So it goes. Daniel and Claire kindly dropped me off at a few blocks from the starting line around 7:40, just enough time for a quick warm up and a stop at the port-o-potty. Actually, the PoP I found was right where a bunch of the pros were lining up, so I got to pee within ten feet of the person who actually won the marathon.[2]

The beginning of the marathon was a bit of a problem. The race typically hosts about 8,500 people or so, and we were divided up into four corrals. However, as I jogged along the sidewalk, I could see pacer signs but no indication of where each corral started. I also noticed that the numbers of the runners in the corral I was passing (corral 1) were a different color than mine, which made me anxious that I’d accidentally stumbled into the 10-miler starting area instead.[3] Eventually I ducked in and a woman in a bright yellow vest told me to move back to the 2nd corral (where I was assigned to start).

20151004_084037
The palatial estates around Lake of the Isles.

I had jogged about 0.27 miles at this point. For some reason, I decided to just hit lap on my watch rather than clearing it. This had a few unintended consequences. First, during the first mile plus, there were a lot of tall buildings that messed up the distance tracking of my watch; since the time was also off, I couldn’t rely on that to estimate my pace. Second, I didn’t realize that the corrals were going to be released as waves, with several minutes between each. So not only was my watch off from the time on the mile marker clocks by an unknown amount, our wave time was also. Basically, I was pretty lost.

The route starts out downhill for the first mile, then turns up as you run past the Walker art museum (a beautiful building; I’d love to see the collection there sometime) at mile 2. The best sign spotted during this section said “Keep running! . . . Unless you’re Donald Trump!” Then it’s on to circle three lakes, Lake of the Isles, Lake Calhoun, and Lake Harriet from around the 5K mark. This part of the race is great—the houses ringing each lake are easily some of the priciest properties in the city, and there was a good crowd out to watch and cheer us on, too (and all of their dogs).[4] I felt very strong and relaxed through this section, and I was making pretty good time, clocking low 9s and even some high 8s (8:58, 8:46, 8:48). I came through the 5K in 28:xx and the 10K in 56:xx. Around mile 8, we left the first three lakes and entered a long, fairly flat part that went beneath some underpasses and eventually left us near Lake Nokomis around mile 11. I had originally thought I was going to see Daniel and Claire during this part of the race, so I stayed occupied looking for them in the crowds. Later I found out that they missed me in several places by only a few minutes. Crumbs.

Lake of the Isles or Lake Calhoun
Panorama around Lake of the Isles (or possibly Lake Calhoun).

I came through the half marathon point in what I thought, after considerable mental calculation, was about 1:58:xx. I was still moving well, and I knew if I could do the second half in that amount of time, I would wind up very close to my goal. At this point, I decided that I was going to take it easy until I reached Summit Avenue, and then really hammer it home on the last 10K. Just really leave it out on the course.

running mi 22ish
Approaching mile 22 or so. Photo by Claire.

Of course, there were some complications. Aren’t there always? Somewhere around mile 17, my left knee began to ache. At first I thought it might be my IT band, since jogging with Daniel the day before he’d mentioned his own ITB issues. I slowed considerably because of the pain, and the four hour pace group was suddenly right behind me. I managed to gap them briefly, only to be caught when I stopped to stretch. I told myself I’d catch them back up, but I didn’t see them again for the rest of the race. Of course, the problem wasn’t my ITB—it was my hip.[5] So there wasn’t really anything I could do. I tried to just relax and enjoy the day, since I quickly came to the realization that my goal time was not going to be met. At one point, I saw a lady with an orange tabby cat on a leash. The cat was lying in the grass, looking pretty chilled out, all things considered. I shouted at her, “That’s a funny-looking dog.” She seemed confused and shouted back, “Thanks?”

running mi 22
Around mile 22. Photo by Claire.

Around mile 19, there was a considerable hill near the University of St. Thomas that I’d forgotten about. At the top of it, a friend from my running group, Julie, was spectating, and she jogged about a block with me. That gave me a big boost. Then I finally got to turn onto Summit, which was kind of a bummer because the first two or three miles are one gradual hill. I don’t remember noticing it last time, but this time it was both obvious and hard. But I got to see Daniel and Claire in there (I think around mile 22), so that was another exciting boost.

Summit Avenue is another really nice section of town with really expensive old houses to gawk at. As I recall from 2008, the stretch between miles 23 and 24 was the longest ever. Although I kept hitting the lap button on my watch when I passed a mile marker, it was never registering a mile when I got to the next one, so everything seemed interminable. I was also having quite a bit of pain in both knees by this point. Then I got to see not just Daniel and Claire at mile 25, but B as well—he’d managed to crutch down to see me hobble by. What a rush!

mile 25 kiss
Mile 25 meeting. Photo by Claire.

I did reflect, as I left him, that if the protest had gone off as planned, I would be stopping at that point. And, to be honest, I would have been totally okay with stopping. But I was so close.

As I approached the finish line, I remembered the protest again. I had planned to symbolically raise my hands in the “hands up” gesture as I ran past them to express my solidarity for the protesters, since I thought from what I’d heard from the race that it was unlikely they were going to give runners the option to exit the course.[6] But I didn’t actually see the protest. I did see, off to the left behind a chain-link fence, a bunch of people holding signs, but they were mostly white, and also standing in a circle facing inward, so I couldn’t really read any of the signs to determine what group they represented. And I was actually in some not-inconsiderable pain and very focused on just getting through to the finish line, so I decided not to stay and look around and just kept going.

I finished in 4:03:36, about eight minutes off my goal time. The first time I ran the TCM, in 2008, I finished in 4:41:10, so I’ve made considerable improvements in the last seven years. I’m not quite where I want to be/think I should be, but I’m somewhere other than where I started. And that’s sort of the idea, I guess.

The Aftermath

As I mentioned, I crossed the finish line with pain in both knees. Fortunately, there was no permanent damage. With B’s help, the joint got shifted back to its proper position, and I am now again pain-free. I have already been out and run a few times this week, with no noticeable problems other than my quads being tired. I also felt pretty beat up generally at the finish; I think I have done so many trail races lately that I had kind of forgotten how running so far on concrete makes you feel like you’ve been beaten. My next two races are on a combination of cement and gravel, so we’ll see how that affects me.

Post-race selfie.
Slightly crazed post-race selfie.

I also finished with some pretty bad chafing on my back—it seems the belt I was carrying my phone in bounced around a lot, to the point where I had several kind of ugly, bloody scrapes on the small of my back. Those are still healing—yesterday at aikido, I noticed the top piece of my hakama occasionally digging into them when I fell. Ow.

Other than those, life has been pretty decent. And B’s recovery has been going pretty well.

When I told the story of this race to a friend, she asked why I didn’t just stop when things started to hurt. I don’t really have a good answer. I guess I just didn’t feel like anything was bad enough to warrant stopping, so I didn’t. What kind of what would warrant stopping? I don’t know the answer to that either. I do know that I have one more big race (ultra) and a half scheduled for this year, and possibly a 5K or 10K on Thanksgiving, and then I’m going to take it a little easy for a while. Easy meaning nothing longer than a half, maybe doing some weird trail race distances that are, you know, 15K or whatever. Maybe doing some more swimming. I feel like I say that a lot after marathons. I guess time will tell if I actually mean it.


[1] Not to sound too noble. I was going to run 26.2 miles on Sunday regardless of where I was, but if I was at home, I was planning to do 5 x 5 mile loops with a break for an ice cream sandwich after each.
[2] Okay, that was one of the weirder sentences I’ve written.
[3] I found out later that the 10-mile race had already been won by the time we set out. The winner finished in about 56:xx. Holy cow.
[4] Best dog: a husky who, when he heard the crowd shout “Woo!,” started howling. Also spotted a small bear-like beasty (possibly a chow puppy) being held and bounced like a baby by its owner.
[5] My SI joint slips, and then one of my legs becomes longer than the other, putting pressure on my knees. I’ve started doing more plank/dead bugs/half bridges to try to prevent it, but it still happens.
[6] So for liability reasons, races don’t want you leaving the course without telling anyone. There have been cases of runners getting eaten by bears and so forth—of course, an unlikely outcome in a big city marathon, but still.

Em oi! #408: Kierkegaarding

em_408
You will probably have to click to embiggen, I’m afraid.

I am forced to begin this week’s lengthy and possibly unreadable commentary on the comic with an apology: I am somewhat misconstruing Kierkegaard here.

Here’s the deal: Kierkegaard wrote a book called The Concept of Anxiety, which is the basis for the ideas that form the underlying framework here, but in the book, Kierkegaard is actually not talking about how difficult your problems are. Instead, he was talking about the responses of different religions to the idea of original sin.[1] That is, he seems to be making an argument like this: 1) Original sin happened, but there were/are people who don’t know about it because they’re not Christian (pagans) or they’re Jewish (??). 2) These groups experience anxiety in different forms (turning outward, in the case of the pagans; turning inward, in the case of the Jews, which is more correct but still unable to come to any resolution, which can only be reached by Christians because Jesus. 3) The angst as freedom of choice is still in there.

If all this sounds a little weird, well–Kierkegaard was kind of a strange guy and his philosophy is a little bit aphoristic. And this is one of his most difficult books.

These anxiety-to-outside/inside relations were distilled by another fellow, Stephen Dunning[2], into the framework that underlies the first three panels (anxiety-in-itself, anxiety-for-itself, and anxiety-in-and-for-itself), and then further distilled by another writer (whose book I cannot name yet, since it hasn’t been published) into yet another form that I’ve adapted here.

In other words, this is based on some secondary materials that somewhat (in my mind) misconstrued the original argument. Le sigh.

Also, I hadn’t used these markers with this type of paper before, and I am disappointed by how it absorbed them. It doesn’t look really as nice in person; I had to do a lot of fixing, some of which is sadly visible. Tch.

I’m currently trying to taper for the Twin Cities Marathon, which is coming up in just over a week. But B is having knee surgery on Monday, so we’ll see how well that goes. My training has been pretty average, but consistent, including consistent speed work, and my ankles are holding up really well (knock on whatever), so I’m guardedly optimistic. If I can get a good taper and decent weather, I hope to hit sub-4. I’ve been running sub-2 hour half marathons in practice, so I have a feeling I can do it. If I don’t get a good taper, I’ll see what I can do. The goal is 3:55:xx, which requires an average somewhere between 8:50 and 9:00 minutes/mile (okay, 8:58 to be precise); of course, the fact that I can sustain that for 13.1 miles is rather meaningless when we’re looking at twice that distance.

Until then, I’m sort of swamped with work, but I will still try to have a new comic up next week as well.

For the nonce, let’s file this one under B4377 L86 2015, for (deep breath) Philosophy(General)–Modern (1450/1600-)–By region or country–Scandinavia–Denmark–By period–19th century–Individual philosophers–Kierkegaard, Søren, 1813-1855–Criticism and interpretation.


[1] Side note: He says, among other things, “Jewish anxiety is over the possibility of guilt, rather than ‘the positing of an actual [guilty] relation'” (Dunning, 153). This is clearly false; Jewish anxiety is over many things, but most of them involve the possibility of disappointing your mother and whether or not this tickle in the back of your throat is going to turn into pneumonia or not.

[2] See Stephen Northrup Dunning. Kierkegaard’s Dialectic of Inwardness: A Structural Analysis of the Theory of Stages. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985. Retrieved from Google Books: Link

Doing Something Stupid at the Kettle Morraine 100

My training cycle for this race was an exercise in restraint. Or laziness. I ran 20 miles only once, and did only a few runs in the 16–18 mile range. Instead, I focused on keeping my overall volume high (about 50 mi/week, with my peak weeks hitting 60+) and doing longer runs on both Saturday and Sunday, trying to get 25–30 miles across two days. Since the KM 100 is a trail race, I also tried to get out and do trails at least once per week if not more frequently, and I did my hill work on trails at a park near my house. It was kind of an experiment—in the past, I’ve experienced injury when running a lot of runs over 18–20 miles, so I wondered if there were a way to avoid that. If only there were a way to do such an experiment without, you know, actually putting down all the money for the entry fee and training for and running the race. But at least my point has now been empirically proven. Sort of, anyway.

I should note that I did a two-week taper for this race. I usually hate tapering, and this time was no different. Somewhat amusingly, I decided to use my extra time from running less to go to aikido three times in the week before the race. By Friday night I was wondering why I was so sore. Oops.

Fruitless Pre-Race Nattering

Okay, so the morning of the race, I got up late and kind of hung around, reading and having a cup of coffee. The race actually started at 14:00, but I had to arrive at the Nordic parking lot (the finish line) by 12:15 in order to get a bus to the start. I had toast with butter, peanut butter, and a banana a bit late in the morning, then dithered around for a while before finally leaving a bit before 11. When I arrived in La Grange, one of the two race directors recognized me, which was really nice. Seriously, if you ever want to flatter/impress someone who is face-blind (and while I’m not as bad as some, I’m pretty bad), just recognize them.

From the bus ride into the Scuppernong trail head.
From the bus ride into the Scuppernong trail head.

The bus to the start was a good chance to rediscover how school buses have no shocks. I sat quietly, listening to the guy next to me talk about how he treated his plantar fasciitis, his knee issues, how he had never run farther than a marathon but was expecting to finish the 50K in time to run the 38-mile fun run or at least pace a friend doing the 100 miler. He had brought with him, among other things, salt caps filled with Himalayan sea salt, pills filled with hydrolized collagen[1], pickles, smoothies, and venison sausage. I had brought: five salt tabs in a small plastic baggie and a Clif bar (as well as some sunscreen and bugspray I wasn’t bringing on the run).

The starting line was at the 31.6 mile aid station, which marked the turn-around/halfway point for the 100K runners and the almost one-third of the distance complete point for the 100-mile runners. We were starting eight hours after they were, and a lot of the middle-of-the-packers were trickling in. Actually, it looks like most of the people who finished the 100K finished in 13–15 hours, so these would have been the back-pack 100K people and the mid-pack for the 100 miler. I was both nervous about the race and kind of unsure of how to time my pre-race eating for such a late start. I had brought a bag with sunscreen, bug spray, body glide, and other similar sundries with me to the starting line; I put my race shirt in and tied the top. I was told that it would be treated as a drop bag and taken to the Emma Carlin aid station (at mile 15.9) and then to the finish line provided that I remembered to move it to the “done” pile at Emma Carlin. Okay, well. Mental note.

Cooling my heels before the race. I think my phone did something funny to this picture--my arms aren't that skinny.
Cooling my heels before the race. I think my phone did something funny to this picture–my arms aren’t that skinny.

After all the sunscreening and bugspraying was taken care of, I still had an hour to wait, so I ate my Clif bar and read a short story by Salman Rushdie that was in last week’s New Yorker. Highly recommend it.

Clif bar and Salman Rushdie.
Clif bar and Salman Rushdie.

Shortly before we took off, the aid station played Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” which was pretty awesome.

The First Half

At 2pm (plus a few seconds) we took off. I had discovered a few minutes before the start that my watch was claiming it was low on batteries (despite being charged for a full 24 hours before the start!). I decided to use the stopwatch setting on my cell phone to time my progress between aid stations. This meant that while I had a general idea of my pace, I didn’t really know from moment to moment how fast I was running or how far I had gone, which is an interesting position to be in when you’re running 31 miles. Probably as a result, I took off going quite fast. After a while I fell into step with a woman from northern Illinois named Shelly, who was using the race as her last long run before Western States in three weeks. Wow! She was really moving, and pulled me along and provided awesome conversation for almost the first 20K. We hit the first aid station (mile 5) after 48 minutes, a 9:41 pace (it felt much faster than that). I was pretty aware that I was paying a lot up front that I might not be happy about later, but I really wanted company, so I pushed. It was probably a good idea, because after some rolling hills, the race headed out over some meadows, which were 1) grassy 2) beautiful 3) humid 4) unshaded and hot. Getting through those as quickly as we did (I lost Shelly right toward the end, before the Antique Lane aid station, which was mile 12ish) probably helped me a lot in the long run; left alone, the monotony and heat would probably have reduced me to a walk.

The meadows. Pretty to look at.
The meadows. Pretty to look at.

Antique Lane was an unmanned aid station, meaning there was just water jugs and some other necessities, like ice and a big tub of Vaseline I used on some chafing spots. It was only three miles from Antique Lane to Emma Carlin, but it felt like more, especially because I was beginning to develop some hot spots on my feet.

Kismet!

There were a ton of people at Emma Carlin—it was a big trail head with good access roads, so there was a little party going on. I ate some (M&Ms and boiled potatoes dipped in salt, I think) and found my drop bag. Originally I’d been just intending to move it to the “done” pile so it would get back to Nordic in time for me to leave, but I remembered I had body glide in it and put some on my feet. Amazing. I didn’t have problems with them the rest of the race, and when I got home and took off my shoes and socks, I found only one blister.

I spent a good nine minutes at Emma (I got there at 16:46, left at 16:55 or so), just trying to get as situated as possible. Up until this point, in an attempt to control my body temperature I’d been putting ice down my sports bra, and here I rolled some up in a wet bandana and tied it around my neck too. On the whole, ice down the bra cools one much faster, but it also melts faster. Ice in the banana lasts a surprisingly long time.[2]

The Second Half

After Emma Carlin, some single track.
After Emma Carlin, some single track.

Between Emma Carlin and the finish line, there were three aid stations: Horseriders, Bluff, and Tamarack, with legs of 3.1 miles, 5 miles, and 2.7 miles. The section between Emma Carlin and Horseriders was not too difficult to run; it was nice to be out of the meadows and on to some shaded single track. I have actually started to quite enjoy running morraines, which are both pretty and runnable if you’re in pretty good hill condition. The sun was starting to sink here, so I wound up taking off my sunglasses and stowing them. I knew that there were three women ahead of me, and I hadn’t seen anyone in a while coming up behind me—and also, on such a hot, humid day, you don’t make a move at mile 18. Thus it was with some shock that when I stopped to take off my shoe and clear some brush out of it, a woman in a pink shirt doing the 50K passed me by. No fair!

I put my shoe back on and sped after her. It didn’t take long before I caught and passed her.[3] Then I had to put a gap in between us to prevent her passing me back, so I started to run up the smaller hills and run/walk the bigger ones. Every few minutes, I’d hear something and think it was footsteps, or look behind me and think I saw pink, but after a while I decided I was hearing/seeing things. At any rate, you can’t run at mile 18 like you’re sprinting for the finish, so eventually I reconciled myself to possibly getting passed by her. I passed some people in here (mostly 100K runners), and made it to Horseriders 48 minutes later. I had been running for 3:34, making it just after 5:30pm.

The Tough Bit

I knew that the section between Horseriders and Bluff was going to be the hardest of the race. I have run it before as part of the Ice Age 50K, and it involves some stuff that is technical (i.e., roots and rocks you have to watch out for), some stuff that is sandy and unpleasant to run in, and a long hike up Star Mountain (also called Bald Bluff), which has somewhat old, rocky, difficult to descend stairs on the other side of it. Initially I figured I was just going to take my time with this section and that the 5.2 miles would take me an hour. Although the technical sections were not as bad as I’d thought they were the first time I ran this section during my first trail 50K (I have learned something about trail running!), it was still pretty slow going in parts. A guy in a yellow shirt cheered me on briefly as he passed me. Actually, I leapfrogged with Mr. Yellow several times during the second half of the race; other than him, no one passed me after I left behind the lady in pink. And he somehow passed me three or four times.

Sandy horse path from between Horseriders and Bluff. Not good running.
Sandy horse path from between Horseriders and Bluff. Not good running.

It took me 1:10 to get from Horseriders to Bluff, and I was so stunned and excited to be there. I came around a corner to be greeted by a pink lawn flamingo, and then walked into a party. The song “I’m Only Happy When It Rains” by Garbage was playing when I came in, which seems entirely appropriate for an ultramarathon. Before I left, the song “Sister Golden Hair” by America came on, which would stay in my head for most of the rest of the race. I got yelled at for grabbing the ice here (“We’re trying to keep it clean!” the lady said). Maybe she was actually speaking quite reasonably, but I felt like that time in the second grade when I tried to touch a sculpture at the Art Institute and got caught by a docent. Yikes.
Bluff was actually a pretty intense aid station to be at because there were a bunch of 100-mile and 100K runners trying to collect themselves. The 100K people had as far as I did left, while the 100 mile people had nearly 50 miles to go. While I thought I was suffering here—my hip flexors were sore, my core had gone entirely to hell, my back hurt, and my quads were just done—seeing them reminded me that while my suffering might feel like a lot in subjective terms, it was probably objectively not that bad, comparatively speaking. I don’t know, maybe most people don’t find it necessary to remind themselves in the middle of a race that they’re not doing that much, but it kind of put things in perspective. Anyway, I should note that in a race like this, where I was pretty tired and out of it, having actual people and music and so on at an aid station made a big difference in psychological terms. If you ever decide to volunteer at an aid station for an ultra, know that you can really make a big difference in psychological terms to the runners. (This is probably true for long-distance tris too, like the half or full IM.)

The top of the hill just before Bluff.
The top of the hill just before Bluff.

The Last Bit

The Nordic trail--a big difference from the Ice Age stuff.
The Nordic trail–a big difference from the Ice Age stuff.

Bluff was mile 24, meaning I had about 7.6 miles to go. The first leg, Bluff to Tamarak, was 2.5 miles. Here we finally got off the Ice Age Trail and onto the wide, piney trails of the Nordic Trail, basically the same area I ran in a month ago when I did the Ice Age Trail half marathon. But nothing looked too familiar, either because it was starting to get dark or because we were running it backwards from the direction I did at Ice Age. Or we were on different trails, I don’t know. At this point, I was focused entirely on just running the distance to the next aid station. I pushed up a lot of the hills, passed some more runners doing the longer races, and eventually made it to Tamarak in 34:08, or at 7:21pm. I had originally hoped to be finishing the race at 7:30pm (and Shelly, my companion from earlier, actually did!). Oh well. I was still pretty confident that as long as I held my place, I was going to finish in the top 10 (my overall goal). I also really wanted to finish before 20:30, because that was when the sun set, and I didn’t have a lamp except the flashlight on my phone.

I was a bit dismayed to see at Tamarak that I still had 5 miles to go. My grasp on time and distance were pretty ephemeral here, even though I was sort of ostensibly tracking both. A mile outside the aid station, I passed a number “4” written in marker on a little ground sign. Four miles to go? I was excited. I started to run faster. (Or, really, “faster.”) This section had a good number of rolling hills that I had to walk all or parts of, but I still made good time. I had reached a point where stopping running and then starting again was much more painful than just running straight through, so that is what I did.

Coming into Tamarak. You can see it was starting to get to be twilight.
Coming into Tamarak. You can see it was starting to get to be twilight, so the exposure was blurry.

The signs seemed way farther apart than I thought they should be, so I tried to forget about distance and just focus on how pleasant it was to be running in a pine forest in the gathering twilight. The temperature was finally dropping, and I didn’t feel terrible except for the pain. I crossed the finish line to a gigantic cheer at 8:17pm, after 6:17:03 of running, and shook hands with the RD.

Somewhat amusingly, I stopped just past the finish line to stop my phone timer and try to take a screenshot, and while I was standing there, the woman who tracks results came over and said, “Emily, you were the first woman in the Masters division” (masters: ages 40–49). I was baffled, because I’m not 40, and told her so. Then I looked at the plaque she was holding out. “That says ‘open division’ ” (open: 39 and under). After some confusion, she confirmed that I had actually won the Womens Open division. This was a shock—remember I knew that there were at least three women ahead of me, so I figured at least one of them was young. As it turns out, there were actually four women ahead of me. One of them won the race overall (her name was also Emily![4]), and she was slightly younger than I am. The other three women were all Masters. Races typically don’t double up on prizes (you win either overall OR your age group, not both), so I got the Open award. Nice!

I won.
I won.

Aftermath

At the point I crossed the finish line, the drop bags had not yet returned from Emma Carlin. I wandered around a bit, felt dizzy, had a cup of Coke, and then realized I was freezing (all the ice down my bra all day had left everything I was wearing wet, and when I get done running my body abruptly stops generating heat). Luckily, I had my warmups in the car, so I changed and went back to the Nordic aid station for a cup of coffee with hot cocoa mix in it. There were at this point a lot of 50K finishers (as well as some 100K folks and a really chipper guy who had dropped from the 100 mile after 100K) who were all milling around, looking for their drop bags. The aid station actually closed at 8:40pm (so about 20 min after I finished), and a truck with the various supplies came back around 9pm—but no drop bags! Rather than hang around complaining, I got up and asked him if I could help unload the truck. Movement helped the shivering die down.

The finish area after dark.
The finish area after dark.

Finally, around 9:30pm, the drop bags arrived, so I helped unload those too, then headed out around 9:45pm. Yikes, what a long day. I called B to say hello, and he was a little worried that I would run into trouble driving when I was so tired, but I had The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett by the Eels to blare as I went. And the dogs were happy to see me when I got here. The cat also wanted to be fed.

This is already way too long, but to summarize, a few notes:

  1. Moving steadily in the later stages of an ultra is important. Even slow jogging is superior to hiking it in.
  2. You are passing a lot of people who may be having a rough time, so try to be happy and cheerful—tell them they’re doing a good job and looking good, even if they’re not. Also, be nice to the volunteers. They’re so important.
  3. Helping is better than sitting around when you’re freezing your arse off, even if you’re sore. I would not have thought to jump in and help if I hadn’t spent some time volunteering at races earlier this spring, but I’m glad I did.
  4. Gear: I had a 1-liter hydration pack, which proved to be a good size, and there were enough pockets to carry everything I needed to carry. I eventually got really sick of water though. I didn’t carry any food and probably didn’t eat enough.
  5. Food: This is what I ate: one-half a Hoho, some potato chips, one-quarter of a pbj, a handful of M&Ms, two or three boiled potatoes dipped in salt, possibly a piece of peanut butter cookie (I remember looking at them but not eating any), a cup of Coke, a small piece of watermelon. I think that’s it. Rather unusually, I drank a ton of water (probably three liters). In retrospect, I wish I would have started drinking calories as fluid earlier, because I wasn’t really hungry and I would have gotten some more in. (Post-race, despite how sick of fluids I was: a cup of Coke, a cup of coffee with cocoa mix, another cocoa from a gas station.)
  6. Clothes: I had only a little chafing and didn’t feel too warm. Didn’t get sunburned either. Probably would have chosen a different pair of socks in retrospect, but I survived fine, no big foot damage.
  7. I need to plank more. My core was a mess after 24 miles.
Post-race (pre-shower) selfie.
Post-race (pre-shower) selfie. I’m exhausted.

[1] He claimed that his chiropractor, who was also into ultrarunning, had recommended the collagen pills and that he take a bunch hourly during the race (he had settled on two per hour, which he said was a lower number). I didn’t lean over and tell him what I thought of the whole idea, which smacks of pseudoscience, but I’m hoping he learned something about that during the race. Hydrolyzed collagen, also known as “gelatine,” is the “active ingredient” in marshmallows.

[2] The downside is that it’s hard to gauge one’s perspiration level with all the ice melting all over. I was taking one salt cap per hour, and eating some salty things in each aid station, and that seemed to be enough. Although I had a headache when I finished, it was from caffeine withdrawal, not hyponatremia, despite having drunk probably three liters of fluid over the course of the race.

[3] I am almost totally sure this incident occurred between Emma Carlin and Horseriders rather than Horseriders and Bluff, just because the terrain of the second leg is so much harder to run. But I want to admit, in the spirit of transparency, that I was in a little zone and don’t quite remember.

[4] A total of three Emilys finished the 50K. Only one of the three of us was young enough to have been named during the whopping fifteen years (1993 to 2008) that the name spent on the “Top Five American Names for Girls” list. Actually, my suspicion is the woman in pink who nearly passed me was also named Emily. Or at least, the next woman to finish was also an Emily and was about 45 minutes behind me. Late edit: The next woman to finish was not the woman in pink–I couldn’t find her when looking through the race photos. She may have dropped; although 96 people signed up, it looks like only 76 finished. Or I suppose I could have hallucinated her.