Northshore is not my favorite trail, but it's fine and it's familiar and pretty consistent and runnable. So it felt pretty natural to attempt my longest race yet on familiar turf.
I calculated that the distance would take me about 5 hours to complete, and the longest I'd ever run/walked was about 3.5 hours stumbling around Isle du Bois. So I had to train. For the most part, my DRC half marathon training was good enough. I tacked on some extra mileage here and there, and did some weekends of back-to-back longer runs on Saturday and Sunday to bump up my mileage and run on tired legs.
Once I felt like I'd done enough of that, I knew I needed to get at least a 4 hour run in, so I set out to loop the lake twice a few weeks prior. I bought Scott Jurek's book Eat and Run from iTunes, and set about my business on a cool October morning with nothing but my hydration pack full of Tailwind and a sense of adventure. Sure, it was just looping the lake, but for me, this was kind of the deal or no deal run.
My hip flexors and pelvis had been getting more and more sore during and after runs, so I knew it was going hurt. But when? And how much? Well, about 3 hours in, they were quite tight and by the time I got back to my car at 4 hours (actually 3:57, so I had to trudge around for 3 more minutes to get my 4 hours), I could barely lift my legs to walk. It was one of those "hurts so bad, you're laughing at how ridiculously immobile you are" things.
I knew then that I needed to get into the PT, pronto. So I set about doing the doctor visits and whatnot to allow that. He showed me a couple of things (rolling hip flexors on a lax ball, and then a good stretch) and I did them religiously until it was time for the Rumble.
Because I'm so slow, even though I had faith in my Tailwind (seriously, if you're running trails and don't use this stuff, you're missing out... I'll have to do a review at some point), I knew I needed to have glycogen stores out the ying yang. So I carbo loaded pretty much all week. It was AWESOME. :)
Then race day came. Rosie drove me to the lake and volunteered at the turnaround aid station while I ran. The 30k route is Rockledge to Murrell and back twice.
Side note: For the life of me, I do not know why they don't just make it a 20 miler and let you run the full length of the Northshore trail once. That would be so much more appealing than being 100 yards from the finish and then having to go back and do it all over again.
|The spot I always take a picture when I run Northshore, basically as an excuse to recover from the only rocky climb on the course.|
In fact, that midpoint turnaround was totally in my head before the race. I really thought I was going to get there and feel like shit and have to drag myself back out on the course. But it ended up not being an issue. Recognizing it as a potential weak spot prior to the race helped me prepare for it mentally, I think.
I did, however, have to get my drop bag out and put some Aquaphor on the arch of my right foot. I've never had this happen before but a hot spot was rapidly developing there, and it definitely would have gone blister if I hadn't had something to put on it. Yay Aquaphor! Yay throwing Aquaphor in my drop bag on a last minute whim!
Renewed by the discovery that the Aquaphor was indeed going to prevent a pretty gnarly blister, I felt pretty good midway. It wasn't long, though, before I was Over It. I recall at one point, as a gust of wind blew through the forest, that I'd be sorta okay with a tree falling on me because then I could stop moving for a while. I know. Crazy talk, right? Imagine the crazy shit I'd think doing a longer distance! There are several emergency access roads you cross heading out to Murrell, and one is right before the aid station, so every. single. one. I crossed, I was like, "Oh, maybe the aid station is right up he... nope. Ugh. Keep moving."
This was not the best mental state to be in. By the time I got back to Rosie at the Murrell aid station, I was WAY over it and WAY ready to be done. None of the food looked good, though I grabbed an Oreo anyway because I'm an addict. It was too sweet. Bleh. I thankfully had them add water to my hydration pack (but not more Tailwind), because I sucked it dry the minute after I crossed the finish line, so I certainly would have run out without that little top-off.
I asked Rosie if she wanted to run back with me, but she told me to go on and she might catch up with me. So, onward I trudged, grateful to be on the home stretch but also feeling pretty tight and desperate for the signs on the trail that tell me "you're close to home." But of course, it was 4 miles of trail, so those didn't come for a LONG time.
In the meantime, Rosie the Speedster decided to join me. She said she was worried she wasn't going to catch up to me, but she really would have had to loaf it to not catch me. Tina had texted me to "run like a deer!" and I thought, "Yeah, I'm running like a three-legged, blind, and deaf deer, but sure, I'll run like a deer."
I was really happy to see Rosie because I knew it would boost me to have some company and get me out of my negative mindset. And she was SUPER excited for me and proud of me, which was awesome. But in the moment, oh man, I was just not excited about anything and I wasn't having any of it. Pacing a grumpy runner is a thankless task, I tell ya. You're the wind beneath my wings, Rosie!
I thought a lot on that final leg about why I was so grumpy and how worthless it was to spend the whole race wishing I was someplace else. I never understood before why distance runners get into meditation, but now I do. It's hard to be "in the moment" when you're suffering. Here I was, the weather lovely, the trail pleasant and easy, my good running buddy with me, about to accomplish something new and awesome, and all I could think was, "GET ME OFF THIS TRAIL." How silly.
This is why I run though... to learn these life lessons because I never learn anything the easy way. Be in the moment, Heather. I practiced this thought process the whole way back to the finish and I'm looking forward to working on it more. It really is a skill, especially for someone like me who, true to my Taurean roots, craves creature comforts and is stubborn! Sometimes my sense of discomfort just completely overwhelms me and I can't even think straight.
|Slightly sunnier view from my picture spot on the second loop.|
In the midst of all this, I'm getting texts from Tina asking me if I'm still running ("Well, it's more like walking now") and how close I am to making my 12:30 (5 hour) goal. I get the sneaking suspicion that she is planning a surprise appearance at the finish line, which would be incredibly sweet of her but I don't want to get my hopes up.
Finally, we get back to where we can see the lake, we start hitting my mental "I'm close now" milestones. My energy and positivity come back when we are heading around the cliffs toward the parking lot. I'm still saying, "Fuck it" a lot when my legs just decide they would rather be walking for a spell. We get on the pavement toward the Rockledge aid station, which is just down the hill from the finish, and Rosie says, "There's Tina!"
And I BURST INTO TEARS.
|*sobbing* *running* *Rosie wondering what the hell is wrong with me*|
I'd been fighting back tears the whole way back. I was just so tired, and so emotionally overwrought, both positive and negative. I'd already told myself that I was just going to let myself cry at the finish line. I never have before, but I am ALWAYS fighting back tears at the finish. This time, I said to myself, just cry. They're all runners. They'll all get it. It will feel good.
Well, all those tears I was saving up came out. Tina was there with the famous jalapeno cheddar biscuits from Whataburger, our post-trail run staple. And she was just so sweet to be there and I was overwhelmed by the support from these great friends who are so proud of me. I gave her a huge sweaty, sobbing hug, got myself together, and then carried on the finish by myself.
|On my way to the Pavilion.|
|Oh those steps....|
|Up the stairs and heading for the Pavilion. Thank goodness! Photo credit Shama Sattar|
I stumbled over to an empty table with my new medal and my empty hydration pack. Found some water. Was told there was beer, so Tina helped me figure the keg out. Ate my delicious even though it was a couple of hours old and cold jalapeno cheddar biscuit. The ART guy freed up so I jumped on his table and he worked on my hips, which had no pain beyond what I would expect for a race this distance. I ate some more and soaked it all in for a bit. I even got to see the 50k winners get their plaques. The both beat me by 15-20 minutes, despite doing an additional 20k past what I did. Beasts!
Anyway, it was an amazing experience. I learned a lot and I put my heart into it and I came within 8 minutes of my 5 hour goal, and when I think about the 8 minutes I might have wasted... putting Aquaphor on my foot, spending a moment or two with Tina or with Rosie at the aid station, checking on a hurting runner, etc. I'm okay with that.
Plans were to recover from Rockledge, and then use it as a long training run as part of building up to the New Year's Day Marathon in McKinney. I had my training schedule all planned out, I'm doing my PT work like a good girl.
And then... I ran 10 miles with my group yesterday morning and I was dreading it. And it hurt and was hard, and all that not-hurting my hip flexors did last weekend came back with a mighty vengeance. I could barely walk when I got home and for the rest of the day. It still hurts today. I've never had to lag behind my group on a long run but for the final 4 miles, I was having to take walk breaks and drop back. I ended up finishing with them, but while we were out there, I realized... I don't want to spend the rest of the year doing this. I don't want to do 13, 17, and 20 mile training runs. Hell, I don't even want to run this marathon.
So... why do it, then? Well, that was it. I emailed Libby and asked to drop to the half. I don't even care about the medal. I'd mostly just signed up for the cool shirt anyway.
The new goal is a half marathon PR, which, on this flat course, I feel is very doable. And I'm actually excited to aim for that. And that's how races should be. So while I feel like sort of a jerk for being all, "Hey, I'm running a marathon!" and now "Eh, never mind. Too hard" I 100% believe it's the right choice. I'm looking forward to running again.
This weekend, I'll rest my legs and volunteer at Big Cedar 100, which I'm very excited about, and then look forward to some great runs that don't leave me injured and haggard through the end of the year.
Run happy, friends!