North Face Endurance Challenge DC 50k: RACE RECAP

FINALLY – I’ve gotten around to writing my race recap for my first ever 50k at the North Face Endurance Challenge. As many of you know, I did not have a good lead up to the race. After my last 20 miler in my building phase, I developed perineal tendonitis in my right ankle. I had to take off for the remaining three weeks leading up to the race, except for a few attempted runs sprinkled in there. I went for a lot of walks (as long as they were not painful), started physical therapy, and I also ran on an underwater treadmill a few times to keep my legs moving.

Eventually race weekend approached and I needed to make the decision whether to attempt racing or not. I saw my orthopedic doctor the day before the race and he gave me the go ahead to race, as long as the pain didn’t keep getting worse as the miles piled on. So, the day before I made the decision to go pick up my race packet and give it a try.

Here’s how it all went down!

DAY BEFORE RACE: Friday

On Thursday night, Erin surprised me by flying in to see me race! I knew my mom was coming, but I had no idea Erin would be there until she walked through the door with Dave. It was a surprise for my mom as well, and we all had a really nice dinner before heading to bed early. I did a little bit of packing for race day but I was trying not to stress too much about what I was going to need. Race day promised to be hot and humid – it was supposed to get up to 92 degrees midday. I knew my hydration and nutrition plan needed to be on point.

After my doctor’s appointment, Erin, my mom and I went to the grocery to pick up last minute snacks for race day. Afterward, Erin and I went on a short and slow shake out jog for about 3-4 miles, and I was excited to not have any pain in my peroneal at all. We stretched for a bit and then headed to packet pick-up to get my bib.

On the way home we made a quick pit stop at the running store so I could buy my mom some new running shoes for her birthday (yay!) and I could grab some extra gus, even though I already had PLENTY. Once we got home it was around noon and Erin advised I stay off my feet for the rest of the day. So we all just snacked, watched TV and finished getting my race bags ready for tomorrow.

I drank PLENTY of water all throughout the day and made sure to include extra electrolytes for the hot forecast the next day.

RACE DAY:

My alarm went off at 3:45 AM, but I was already awake. Surprisingly, I felt more excited than nervous even though I had no idea how the day was going to go. I prepared all my tailwind mixtures (filled my 70 oz bladder in my Nathan race vest) and made an extra Nalgene full in case I needed it. I stuffed some ankle braces into the back of the pack in case I needed them out on the trail, got dressed and we were off for Algonkian Park!

I took a salt pill first thing after waking up and Erin told me I should plan to take another right before start and then every 45 minutes until I finished. The first time I ever took salt pills was during our ultra Ragnar relay and they helped me A LOT, so I completely trusted Erin’s plan. She’s an Ironman after all and has raced in 100+ degree heat, so I knew I was in good hands and felt so much more comforted having her at the race.

We got to the start a little earlier than I expected, but that’s okay – earlier is always better than late. Erin and I walked around a little bit to get my ankle warmed up and the sun rising over the Potomac was incredibly beautiful. Everything felt surreal. Even though I was unsure how far I was going to get/if I was going to finish, everyone else believed in me. I hardly felt nervous – just ready to get the day started.

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pre-start!

As we neared start time, I got my vest situated on me, sprayed myself with bug spray and sunscreen and lined up. It was a 7 AM start, so the sun was still coming up and there was plenty of cloud coverage. I wore a hat anyways because I knew it was going to get sunny later and I didn’t want to forget to put one on during transition.

My start was slow. I had no idea what pace to go out at and I didn’t want to pull my peroneal from pushing it too fast. The race director let us know the path would single track early on, but I felt comfortable with the group surrounding me. My breathing felt very easy even though it was incredibly humid, and my ankle felt fine. I carried on with them for a few miles until the trail abruptly narrowed and I realized I should have gotten myself out much faster.

For a few miles I got myself stuck in this long line of runners with no ability to pass. It wasn’t until one of the first uphills when everyone started to walk was I able to speedwalk/jog past them. It was around these first hills where I could see all the runners ahead of me zig zagging up the next hill in the cover of the tall trees, and I felt this overwhelming sense of happiness. I was doing it!

Around 5-6 miles into the race I finally settled in to a pace comfortable for me. I have no idea what it actually was because the tree coverage definitely screwed with my Garmin, but it felt between 9:00-10:00 min/mile. At this point the trail was familiar to me from the many, many times I ran here before. It was pretty muddy but not unbearable and I was happy – I seriously couldn’t stop smiling.

Going out to Great Falls, the hills didn’t seem so bad. I power hiked most of them and because I had run them so many times before, I knew exactly what was coming next. When we detoured around Riverbend Park, we had to run alongside this road before hopping back into the woods. It was here, right around mile 11 that I hit a tree root hard and stumbled forward for a few violent steps before I caught myself with my hands on the ground. I didn’t fall all the way, but the jolt was hard on my bad knee/ankle. I started jogging tentatively after I brushed my hands off and was surprised there was no pain. I told myself not to think about it anymore and I carried on until I made it to Great Falls Park.

Mile 13 was the big aid station where Erin, Dave and my mom were allowed to wait with my bags and help me. From some of the slipping and sliding on the trail, my shoes were rubbing me the wrong way and I could feel blisters starting on the inside of my heels. Even though I had did all my trail runs in these shoes/socks, I decided to switch out of my shoes at the aid station and put on a brand new pair I just got the week before. They felt amazing. I decided it had to be my shoes giving me the problem and didn’t change my socks (IDIOT!). Other than the shoe change, I took a few more gus from Erin and hurried on my way. I still had PLENTY of tailwind in my Nathan even though I had been sipping it every mile and drinking with the gus/salt pills I took every 45 minutes. My quads were starting to feel a little fatigued but I knew I was going to feel it early, given I hadn’t run for 3 weeks prior.

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around mile 18!

Miles 13-19 were several loops in Great Falls. It started off with a pretty big hill and I walked most of it, taking some time to hydrate and eat a Gu. My feet felt much better and I didn’t have rubbing on my heels anymore so I thought I was all set.  Around mile 17, I felt my perineal starting to hurt a little bit so I slowed it down. There were a lot of rocks on this part of the course so I focused instead on not turning my ankle instead of going fast.

 

Mile 19 put me right back at the big aid station and I stopped to eat a clementine, drink some tailwind and take a few more gus. I decided not to change my socks because I thought the problem was gone…and I really regret this. I was feeling pretty good mentally/physically – I was hydrating well, eating well and my legs felt as good as they could for not running 3 weeks beforehand. I said good bye to my fam and told them I’d see them back in Algonkian Park. The sun was fully out at this point and I was started to feel hot, so we squeezed some ice sponges on my quads, neck and back before I headed out.

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making sure I have everything I need…wish I changed those damn socks!

Miles 19-31 were challenging. And it’s not just because of fatigue in my legs – honestly I didn’t feel NEARLY as bad as I thought I would – it’s because of the mud and blisters I developed. I think the two go hand in hand, honestly. The mud was SO BAD that I couldn’t run at all, let alone walk without almost wiping out. My blisters fully formed on the inside of my heels and it was so painful every time I took a step. I fantasized about taking my shoes off and running in my socks. But I kept my spirits up – kept smiling and told myself to just get to the next aid station.

At one point, probably around 25 miles, I felt this building sensation in my right heel and then it was FIRE. I think the blister popped. It hurt for the next 5 minutes or so but then the pain went completely away. About 20 minutes later the same happened on my right heel and even though it hurt like a bitch, it made the rest of the race so much more bearable. If it wasn’t so muddy, I think I could have made it through this part of the course 5x faster.

There were a few other runners around me and we were all so frustrated with the mud. I saw a lot of them wipe out, and then we would commiserate together with how shitty the course was left for us. It wasn’t until mile 28-29ish that we finally steered away from the flooded trail and got some better footing. But it took us out into the sun and it was BRUTAL. I didn’t realize how hot it actually was until I had the sun bearing down on me and I got frustrated I had to walk again from the heat, especially since I had finally got through the mud.

As we neared the finish, I didn’t even know how close I was until I was practically upon the end. In my head, I visualized having to run the same loop in the field next to the finish line that we made when we started in the AM. It wasn’t until I saw Erin and Dave and they let me know it was right around the corner, and then I got super excited.

When I made the turn and saw the finish line right there I had so many emotions. Excitement, pride, and gratefulness. I was so happy as I ran across that line and was handed my medal. Half of me couldn’t believe I was able to do it. I think the other half always knew I was going to make it to the end, given the tendonitis or not.

I tore my shoes off right at the end of the chute. It was instant relief. I have pretty calloused heels and it looks like all the slipping and sliding in the mud created friction against my heels and caused the inside to blister. I’ve never once gotten a blister on the inside there, even wearing the same sock and shoe combination on the same trail. Oh well.

POST RACE:

After enjoying a much deserved beer, me and my fam headed home to relax for the rest of the day. I thought I was going to be crippled my tendonitis, but I was actually walking fine and the pain didn’t flare up like I feared. Actually, the worst part was when we got home and I sat down after my shower and my knees were throbbing constantly. After some icing of both my knees and ankle, Erin and I went for a little walk and it helped my legs feel a little better.

So, there you have it! It took a little longer than I would have liked to get this post up, but that’s how it always goes for me. These past two and a half weeks have been very easy going for me as I’m still dealing with a little bit of peroneal pain. I’ve started running up again, but it’s very slow and careful. I know it’s time to start ramping up my training again, but with the tendonitis still there in the shadows, I’m trying to incorporate more cross training in than usual. Hopefully it goes away soon!

Once my training is more consistent, I’ll definitely start some weekly training logs. My goal now is to get to my 57 mile run healthy and happy, so I can make the most of the day and make my donators proud!

As always, if you want more consistent updates on how my training is going, you can always follow me on Instagram @amd022.

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All done – YAY!
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Fighting Self Doubt

I haven’t updated in awhile. Not my weekly training updates, not a fundraiser update…NOTHING. And I’m feeling a little guilty about it. Because when I’m hurting I have a habit of shutting myself off from the world.

For the past three-four weeks I’ve been battling a sprained ankle/peroneal tendonitis. I felt the first twinges in my peroneal the week leading up to the Tennessee Ultra Ragnar, but during the race only felt twinges of pain during my first leg. After ragnar, I took an easy week and didn’t think anything of it. But as I began building the next week I noticed my peroneal was increasingly tight. After I did my last 20 miler out on the flooded trail, I could hardly walk the day after. It’s then I knew I was in trouble.

I took a week off. I didn’t do a damn thing except a few walks here and there and I could tell my peroneal was feeling much better. But when I went to run after a week of rest, the pain came right back. Once I finished my 10 miler on Good Friday I was in the same boat – I couldn’t walk right without pain. Immediately, I felt like a failure. I’ve been training for this 50k for so long, just to get injured in the final stage. So I shut down. I refused to leave the apartment all weekend except for work, and I disconnected from life. I had tunnel vision and I could only focus on how my 50k dreams were out the door.

This was about two weeks ago. and I’m doing much better. I started seeing a physical therapist, running on an underwater treadmill, and taking long walks to ease my anxiety and pent up energy. It’s hard to go from 50 miles a week to zero. But at some point between PT and waking up at the crack of dawn to run on the underwater treadmill, I started feeling better about my impeding 50k, even though my tendonitis still bothered me. I faced reality. My goal this year is my 57 miler in November – not the 50k, no matter how much I trained for it.

Once I stopped stressing, my body started recovering. The inflammation in my peroneal went down and I stopped having pain walking. This past week, after my last PT appointment, I made the decision to try and race. I went for a short jog on the treadmill and had no pain, so I decided I could at least start the race with the option of dropping out if the pain built up too much. I was nervous about toeing the line without any real training/running for three weeks prior, but I also trusted myself. As long as my peroneal didn’t hurt, I knew I could finish.

I’ll have a real race recap later on, but I made it and I am so happy! I couldn’t have done it without the constant support of my friends and family, and I can’t believe it’s already over. Once the race started, I was so excited to be out there running again nothing else mattered. I took in every little moment: the sunrise over the foggy Potomac, the determined forms of runners zig zagging up a steep hill before me, and the sound of my own breath breathing steadily in and out, in and out.

A little bit of ankle pain set in around mile 18 but I started incorporating more walking and the pain never got any worse. Honestly, the course was so muddy in the last 9 miles or so it was IMPOSSIBLE to run. Every person I saw who tried to run through on the trail wiped out in front of me, and I knew if I went down I’d probably have a real rough time getting back up and going with the pain. So I did some speed walking with super-duper short steps cursing the mud under my breath every time I felt my feet lose traction beneath me, causing my already-sore muscles to tense with the thought of falling down.

When the finish line was finally in sight, you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face if you tried. I was excited and so happy to finish with relatively little peroneal pain. It was 92 degrees out (seriously, what the HELL was up with this weekend’s weather?!) and I still felt relatively fine hydration/nutrition wise. The most painful part of the day was the two blisters I formed on my heels in the last 10 miles – probably from the slipping in the mud and friction caused. No lie – my heels are STILL pulsating and I’ve never had this problem with my shoes/socks before.

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So, now what? I saw my doctor the day before the 50k, and he checked my ankle/fibula for any stress fractures and I’m good. He recommended taking some down time after the race to let any inflammation in my peroneal to go down, and I’ll be starting more extensive PT tomorrow. I still have my eyes on my 57 mile charity run in November, and I’ll be starting training back up in June. This month, I’d like to get back into a routine of not only running, but cross training and strengthening CONSISTENTLY. If tendonitis has taught me anything, this diversity in my training is going to be vital. I’m also looking for a coach to help get me through this summer/fall healthy for my event. But I guess we’ll see. And of course (because I always say this), I’ll try to update my blog more regularly.

Look forward to my 50k race recap soon and once I begin training regularly again, I’ll try to post updates every week or so. For now, it’s rest and recover time. And believe me, my legs need it.

 

Finding my Stride.

Ah, it’s been awhile.  I owe an update of sorts, although I feel as if I’m running the same circles.  Thanksgiving has come and past and my Florida travels are over.  I’m exhausted, to say the least.  But things are just beginning for me.

In my last post, I announced my decision to run the 57 miles from Penn State to Bucknell at Homecoming 2017 to raise money for Lyme disease research and awareness.  While I still haven’t decided if I’ll be running November 2 or 3, I have decided I’ll be raising money for the Global Lyme Alliance.  Not only does GLA fund Lyme disease research, but they also raise awareness of lyme and its complexity among the public AND doctors.  The first blood test I ever had when I began feeling sick over a year and a half ago was for lyme but my physician told me it was negative, despite several flags.  Had she been more lyme-literate, I could have saved thousands of dollars and saved myself from plenty of pain.

So, training begins.  I’d like to say I’ve built myself a pretty decent base, but I’m always hesitant.  Last week I hit my highest mileage week since my stress fracture and I feel great.  (Ok, I’m a little sore from over-doing it lifting weights for the first time in many months, but that’s besides the point).  I’m being super flexible with my runs right now.  Everything depends on how I’m feeling from my medications, and I’m trying to learn how to slow myself down.  This is imperative, and I’ve been failing on my own at this.  I had my twin sister, Erin, pace me for my first 10 miler this past Sunday (she’s an Ironman and her pacing for endurance events is ON POINT) and although it was difficult for me to stick to a slower pace at first, it was nice to finish with some fuel in the tank.  Practice makes perfect, right?

Around lunch today I headed out for an 11 miler even though I’d been feeling sick all morning and I wasn’t sure what to expect.  It’s been a few days since my last run and as I started out in the much-colder-weather-than-Florida, I wasn’t feeling good.  Within the first two miles I thought about turning around and calling it quits.  But as I ran down the C&O canal in complete solitude, something changed.

My breathing slowed.  My shoulders relaxed.  My stomach didn’t seem to hurt as much.  In the silence of the tow path I let my mind wander, tentatively allowing myself to reach into the past and think of long-gone runs on the Princeton Delaware & Raritan canal with Erin and my dad.  It’s always the chilly mornings I remember, the ones where we were so cold we ran the first mile too fast, just to warm our bones.  I remembered looking across the Millstone River at the great Princeton mansions and my father saying maybe one day, if I became a famous author, I could own one of those houses.

Today, the bare, shivering trees and deserted tow path reminded me of those early morning long runs in Princeton and it gave my mind the fuel to continue.  I didn’t know it then, but those runs with Erin and my dad were special.  There was a magical feeling running down that tow path, chattering about nothing and everything, urging each other along, I’ve yet to be able to reproduce.  And while I’m grateful I was able to run with both Erin and my Dad again this past thanksgiving – it wasn’t the same.  Change isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I know we could all feel some of the magic was gone.  When we used to run, we let everything go so we could be free and happy.  This thanksgiving no one could let go.  I felt our worries, anxieties, precautions hanging over us with every step in the Florida heat.

I’ve come a long way since my early-teenager days running in Princeton, but I had something back then I didn’t know to appreciate: innocence.  No one had told me yet I needed to lose weight to continue being a competitive runner.  No one was judging me.  Life hadn’t sucker-punched me yet like it would in high school, and all I knew was the happiness running with my dad and twin produced.

So today, I let go.  The miles ticked by as I zoned out and listened to each soft footfall, and my even breath in and out.  My aches and pains didn’t matter, and I pretended I was plodding down the tow path in Princeton, making my way back to the car with Erin and dad so we could head into downtown and get hot chocolate.  Today, I only cared about being happy during the short portion of my day I have the privilege to dedicate to nature and running.  When I finished 11 miles I wasn’t surprised.  FINALLY – I found my stride.

And I’m excited for my runs to come.

This morning I committed and signed up for the DC NorthFace Endurance Challenge 50k, April 29.  It’s going to be my first ultra (if you don’t count the ultra Ragnar Relay about a month before) and I’m so excited.  It feels good having a few races on the calendar again, even if they’re a long way off.  Since deciding to run the 57 miles to Bucknell, I feel my running has purpose again.

So stay tuned!  I’m still sorting out when I’ll actually launch my fundraising campaign with GLA and I want to get better at posting more frequently.  I’d like to do some vlogging for you guys one of these days but yeah, not sure how it would exactly go.  If you’re ever looking for more frequent updates on my training, I like to update my Instagram a lot more than this blog – @amd022.

‘Til next time!

 

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