I came. I ran. I fell down.

If you want to get a workout, go for a run.
If you want to feel accomplished, run a marathon.
If you want to question your existence, run an ultra marathon.

Technically a 30K isn’t really an ultra marathon. An ultra marathon is anything over marathon distance (26.2 miles or 42.2k). So my race on Saturday wasn’t an ultra marathon, even though they had ultra distances. You could have fooled me. It was, hands down, the hardest race I ever ran. With more than 80 races under my belt including obstacle runs and actual ultra marathons, that is quite a statement.

Let’s start at the beginning. Wednesday of last week I boarded the plane and jetted off to Poland. 8.5 hours later we landed in Warsaw hopped into a cab and drove around seeing the city. Then back on a plane for a short ride to Krakow. We spent the night and explored a bit of the city the next day. Nothing crazy, just about 5 miles of exploring.

Friday we took off on a train to Rzeszów to meet with our contact and get all set for the race. He was an awesome guy, named Wojtekand explained to us that we were meeting with 4 Ukrainians who were also participating in the race. Apparently there is another sister city in the Ukraine. Together we walked about 2 miles to the sports complex for our numbers and final instructions. After listening to the race coordinator speak in Polish for half an hour I still had no idea what to expect from this race. Wojtek assured me that no matter what, I wouldn’t get lost and it would be fine. It would be roads and hilly meadows and I would be fine. Just in case, I stuck an extra map in my bag. It would be fine. FINE! My mother in law promised to get a car or taxi and meet me at some places on the course to check in. I should have guessed from how hard they tried to assure me that it would be fine, that it definitely wouldn’t.

Fast forward to race morning.

We walked the two miles back to the sports complex to get the bus to the start line. I am now alone with a bus full of strangers who don’t speak English. No problem. I’ll just run through my game plan. Start slow, walk hills, conserve water, pay close attention to trail markers. Pretty solid plan. We got off the bus, took care of the essentials (ahem porta potty), and toed the start line….at the back of the pack. I’m no dummy. Speed is not my thing. That is why I run long distances.

My watch decided as the gun went off that it was not going to track today. It just didn’t feel like it. Off to great start!

We started off going up and down 3 pretty severe hills through a little city. Then we took a turn to some cute little farm lands. Just like I expected the climb was up, Up, UP. It wasn’t so bad. Just some back fields and deep ruts from 4-wheelers. It was tough to get footing so I ended up walking quite a bit. Nothing worse then hurting yourself early in a race. All the other racers disappeared. I was sure I could catch up on the downhill later. It was quite pretty. Breathtaking even – but that could have been the hills.

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Beautiful view from the top (not my pic, my attempt at this photo sucked)
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Go into the creepy tunnel. Perfectly safe I swear.

I ran/walked along the rough trail and noticed we were skirting around some woods. Until the trail abruptly turned into something that looked like the beginning of every “Into the Woods” horror movie. Pay no attention to instinct and follow these little yellow banners into the deep dark woods.

Well it didn’t take long for me to get lost. The markers on the trees were pretty spread out and when the path forked into two directions with a marked tree in the middle I picked the wrong way. I made it about 2K before I realized I had to be on the wrong path. I got myself straightened out and spent the next 10K struggling up and down mud slicked, steep ledges covered in black beetles that made me think of the Mummy movies.

After stumbling through some weird chapel gathering in the woods (no blood stains anywhere, so I don’t think it was a horror movie set) I began a pretty steep climb to the top of a ledge. Reminded me of hiking trails, expect without ropes to help you up. And then a very dramatic fall down to the bottom. I can still feel these awesome bruises on my legs. I fell once more in the woods but less dramatically. There were only a few curse words uttered.

Eventually I left the woods to see a taxi hanging out on the side of the road. An angel in the form of my mother-in-law refilled my water bottle and told me I wasn’t far from the first checkpoint. Of course I had spilled most of my water during one of my falls. I checked in some time later and luckily one of the volunteers spoke English. I refueled and headed back out. It was downhill from here right? RIGHT?!

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Moo to you too.

Not so much. I ran down into a nice little valley and into some cool farm lands. I even saw this cute cow chillin’ on the side of the pasture near the road. I snapped a quick picture and yelled out “Hey cow!” as I trotted past. Because I talk to animals. Because I love animals. Because I am an idiot. Big mistake.

The cow got up and started walking over to me. I slowed down because I noticed it had horns. I REALLY didn’t want to be charged by a steer. Not on my to-do list. So I panicked and started walking super slow. This fella followed me for about half a kilometer, giving me mini heart attacks the whole way. Then it turned into a pasture on the right and left me be. It was nice to breathe again.

There was not much happening after that until I reached the river. Just more terrible terrain. For some reason every time we got on road and I felt comfortable picking up the pace, we managed to veer off into the woods again. At this point I started using swear words to make entire sentences. I could have given the Wolf of Wall Street a run for its money on swear words per minute. Especially as I scrambled through an ACTIVE QUARRY with construction workers and over these “bridges”. Needless to say my shoes got soaked and I didn’t have extra socks.

After crossing the last huge bridge that looked like the rope bridge in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, I was checked in by medical staff that said something like 5KM. I was so excited! 5km and I was done!!! AWESOME!

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You did this on purpose. Jerks.

Just kidding. It was 5km to the real aid station. I still had 12km to go. So back onto my single track trail behind farms and around the river. I swore to myself that next time I would bring a horse. Then I ran smack into this 6 ft bull dozed wall. I was extremely unhappy to have to climb this monster because there was no way around it. The little yellow marker waved over it, mocking me.

Once I was over it, I ran into a few more interesting bits of wildlife. A black dog that scared the crap out of me and some really annoyed birds. Nothing too serious. I exited the woods and must have looked like hell. A little old lady blew me kisses from a bus stop and made me smile again as I headed back towards the city. I ran into the check in spot and only stopped for water. I was running close to the wire on time now and didn’t want to miss the cut off. Luckily the trail emptied me on to the river path which was paved and blissfully flat. Too bad I was so shot at that point I could barely appreciate it. I had felt the pull in my leg on the last fall I took and knew there was something not good going on in there (later discovered the groin pull, nothing serious, just enough to slow you down). I struggled to hit my stride for the last 5k, but a nice medic on a bike kept me company. He was enjoying practicing his English on me and asking me tons of questions about the states. Medical staff and volunteers are truly amazing under-appreciated gifts to runners.

Triumphantly I ran up the hill by my hotel and headed into the city’s square. I hit the mats at 1 minutes and 29 seconds over the cut off time. Not that anyone cared. There were still other runners on the course from the other distances. Luckily it wasn’t a strict cut off race.

For the first time in a long time I cried. Yup. At a race finish. I was so glad to be done. I took off my favorite Tifosi sunglasses (which I left on a bench and cried about losing later) and used baby wipes to try and make myself look human. Luckily they let me shower before the award ceremony. They brought the Sister Cities participants on stage to present them with trophies.

Funny enough, I do appreciate the local Sister Cities rep inviting me back for the “normal marathon” in three weeks. I wish I had ran that one to begin with! In parting, I would love to visit Poland again, and possibly run another race. But I will be finding someone who ran it first and find out what kind of race it REALLY is before I sign up.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger right?

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Thanks for reading this small novel! 

It’s all uphill from here.

Literally.

So in my last post I mentioned that I wrote a letter to try and run a very special race. Most of you probably thought I was trying to beg my way into the Boston Marathon. HA! The only way I will ever get into that race is by donating millions to charity. I hope I win the Powerball someday…..

Anyway, let’s start at the beginning. A few months ago (January) I got one of those lovely notifications that I had been tagged in a post by my mother. Not unusual. The woman loves her some Facebook. Her friend was looking for runners from the Buffalo area that had completed an ultramarathon, so of course she showed off some motherly pride and tagged me (love ya mom!). Well this person was a gentleman involved with a group called the Buffalo-Rzeszow Sister Cities Committee. Apparently they were looking for Polish runners from the Buffalo area that could run considerable distance. If you were interested you needed to write a letter to the committee explaining what is wrong with you why you love running and your background.

Somehow on the plane back from the Arizona I was convinced I was invincible and could conquer anything they threw at me. So I wrote to the committee and explained my crazy history with running.

Then they wanted a meeting. They are selecting individuals to compete in the Rzeszow Carpathian Ultramarthon. In Poland. In May. This May. And they are paying for you to go.

As in you have 3 months to train your butt for this once in a lifetime chance.

Fast-forward to one breakfast meeting later and some awkward photographs (did I mention there will be media coverage) and here I am signing up to go to Poland in a few short weeks to run a 30K. Luckily for me it wasn’t really an ultramarathon. They have a special division for us and it is only in the 30K race. Yeah. Lucky. But here is the kicker. There is a 5.5 hour time limit. No sweat right? WRONG. Someone (meaning me) should have read the website before agreeing. Two little things that can make me miss that time limit?

  1. It is a trail race. 2. The elevation chart……

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HAHA. Have I ever mentioned how much I hate hills?
Needless to say there has been some serious panic coming my way. And I have been working my booty off to get myself up and down that mountain in the time given. Including some seriously painful hill workouts on some of the most notorious hills in town.

Guess we will find out on May 7th what I am really made of. I hope it is something stronger than pierogi. If not, well I am the only runner that got selected so I guess I will just make my city look bad. No pressure.

Wish me luck!

Riding the Rollercoaster (without a seatbelt)

This is going to sound like a bad country song. “I been away for far too long, I just can’t seem to give you what you want….” yadda yadda. I have been away, and yes friends, I am sorry.

Truth be told, I have been riding the roller coaster of life. With my running, my health, my career, and my personal life.

The short run down goes a little something like this:

  • I completed the Goofy Challenge, and two weeks later completed the hardest race of my life. The Beast of Burden 50 Miler.
  • My combined injuries and laziness have put me about 30 pounds over my first marathon weight, which I consider to be my “happy” weight.
  • My asthma is back with a vengeance that probably has something to do with the above mentioned fact.
  • Dealt with a personal crisis that made me not want to leave the house for a solid week and had me bursting into tears at a moments notice.
  • My fiance is moving in with me and we have decided to wait a few more months before trying to buy a house.
  • We are however adopting a puppy who will be arriving this weekend or next.
  • I have been half-heartedly searching for a new full time job that will give me regular hours. Half hearted is true because by and large I do love my job. At the same time I have been taking on more freelance clients that I adore and push me to levels of stress I haven’t experienced since college.

So that is the short of it. I will be putting up recounts of what really happened during those hellish 16 hours in the snow and my encounter with the melting streets of Disney. After all I will have a bunch of time on my hands. For the first time in a long time I won’t be racing for a full two months. I have cancelled all my races for March and April in an effort to really focus on getting my goals laid out. I need to decide what I really want out of life, out of running, and out of my future.

Just two weeks after completing my 50 mile ultra, I started training again towards the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach in March. Wanting to do this race for almost 3 years now, I decided this was the year to do it. Geoff and I were going to travel and run it together (well, at the same time at least). Seeing as we only had a month to train and I was coming off a 50 miler I decided that my first long run was going to be an easy 10-12. I had starting running earlier that week and was eager to get back up to the higher miles I was more comfortable with. When you don’t warm up for 5 miles, anything below that feels like torture. I headed up to the hills with 90 of my closest friend from my running group. Heading down the first hill during the second mile I felt something snap in my knee. A pulling sensation finally turned into a sharp pain. I walked down the rest of the hill to the water stop. After chatting a bit and taking some water I tried to start running again. I nearly crumpled under the pain and immediately starting walking again.

I knew. Something was seriously wrong. But I wanted to keep going. I wanted to push through the pain. My former running partner’s words floated back to me on the wind “live to run another day……” Deb was suddenly in my head and practically screaming at me to go back. I turned off my music and silently walked up the frozen hill. Going back into the lodge I was frozen and sad. I faced the facts the whole way up that I had done something wrong. My body had finally let me know that I have limits and I needed to listen. Waiting for Geoff to finish his run I talked to some of the other runners as they came back. Most offered comic relief or condolences, along with wishes for a quick recovery. Some of them shared injury stories and of course urged me to a doctor. Taking it all in, I realized that I had done this to myself. Blame the hill, blame the shoes, blame the wind…..but I knew it was me. I had convinced myself that I could run anything at anytime as long as I could walk part of it. My head kept telling me over and over that I was a fool.

I left the lodge at Chestnut Ridge and had Geoff take me to immediate care. Two hours and one set of X-Rays later they confirmed nothing was broken except my spirit. Strapping me into a horrible knee immobilizing brace the nurse told me to make an appointment with UB Sports Medicine so they can find out how bad the damage is. MRIs would probably have to be done. She then provided me with a set of crutches and sent me on my way.

So here I sit, the same seat I have been sitting in all week. Butt in a chair, fingers on a laptop, trying to fill my time and catch up on all the back projects in my “when I have time for it” folder. Wednesday I visit the doctor. Hopefully, I find out if my Patella Tendon is ripped a little, or torn so much that I need surgery. More importantly I get to find out what my life will look like for the next few months.

Will it be a woman on her expanding bottom playing computer games? Will it be a woman blazing a new trail in a new environment? Will it be some crazy injured lady on a stationary bike?

I have so many races this year beyond April that are milestones for both myself and people I care about. My mother will be doing her first 10K and hopefully her first half marathon. Geoff and I will travel to the only other place I have called home for a brand new race. I will be with my aunt in her first half maraton. I have a new puppy that I want to train into a running dog.

I tend to measure my years since I have become a runner in the number of races completed and the new challenges I take on. 2013 has already been a year of amazing highs. Completing my first Ultra and the Goofy Challenge in the same month was incredible. But obviously it has been followed by a series of incredible lows. My only hope is for a quick recovery and some type of motivational epiphany that will set me on the right path. I have come to count on intuition and a type of “divine intervention” to get me through tough times like this. I can only hope that answers are coming…..either from a doctor or otherwise.

Run on my friends! I hope to be running again with you soon.

The Beauty of the 13 Minute Mile

runnerOOBThere is something interesting about conversations with newer runners…..and even slower runners….ask them how they feel about walking.

I have had the conversation with many runners over the past few years. There seems to be a very stark line between people. Of course you have the people who honor walking as a legitimate activity. Those people who walk marathons and half marathon. But lately there seems to be a growing number of people who seem to equate walking with failure. I have heard things like, “My goal is to do this whole race without walking” or “I would have done so much better if I hadn’t stopped to walk.” or even “I was doing great until I had to walk”……Since when does walking equal failure? Even my beginner people that I mentor in the No Boundaries program set goals that involve never having to stop and walk again. People seem to get genuinely upset when they have to stop and walk during a race. I’m all for setting goals to push yourself further, but why the stigma about walking? Even with the increasing information suggesting that walking while running is better for you then straight running. Then of course there is Jeff Galloway’s programs that promote walk/running.  So why the snickering when people admit to walk/running? Why is this looked down upon and suggested that it is not “real running”. Tell me, is not the 10 mile distance the same?

Truth is, walking does make running easier at time. For example, this summer I completed a 5 mile run around a standard loop that I use regularly. I ran the entire time and ended up with a time of about 56 minutes. I completed the same run the following week at run 10 and walk 1 minute intervals. I ended up with a time of about 53 minutes. It turns out that I actually run faster when I know I get a rest break at regular intervals. What a concept!

I’ve been faced with a new set of questions lately. Upon challenging myself to complete the winter Beast of Burden 50 Miler I knew that I would have to embrace walking even more then I already do. Coming off a new half marathon PR I had to face the music that I could not maintain that pace for 50 miles. I had to slow down. I had to start walking more. Now, as I have been slowing my pace to actually hope of completing the distance it seems to bother me more and more that people are so biased towards walking. In Vegas last weekend I passed spectators who shouted at me to “get moving because you are almost there”. Several encouraged me that I could do it if I just started running again. A little girl even ran up along side me and told me to run like her. She was adorable so of course I did, even though I was on a scheduled walk interval. I had never realized before that even spectators (who may or may not be runners) equate a walk break as something negative.

I did a long run yesterday from my house to my fiance’s house and passed many things I probably wouldn’t have seen if I had been running my normal pace. I didn’t freak out when I had to stop to use the bathroom in Tim Horton’s (or again at Walgreens, still working out fueling issues!). I embraced the journey and the slowness of it all. Yes, it took me much longer then normal to complete 31.5 miles this weekend. Yes, I walked A LOT (I’ve been working with 5:2 run/walk intervals). But it didn’t bother me as much as it would some people. I get frustrated that I may be loosing speed, sure….. what if I finish my ultra and it takes me forever to build back up my speed? I’ve always focused on distance because I’m not a particularly fast runner. 11 minute miles are a thrill to me. Anything below that is a miracle. Running a 2:19 in Philadelphia sent me through the roof. Now, just as I was getting faster I take on a new challenge that slows me down. I found it to be beautiful that I still had something around 13 minute miles yesterday when I spent so much time walking. It may be strange, but I was damn proud of an average of 13 minute miles.

Now I ask you…..what is your opinion on walking? Do you hear negativity about it? Do you think it is more about the journey or the speed? What do you think of people who walk entire marathons and half marathons (not necessarily for charity, just for “fun”)? I’m really curious to know people’s thoughts.