Race Reports

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tarawera Ultramarathon – Part 1

 
On Saturday, 19 March I set out for the biggest challenge of my life, but first let’s back up. A little more than a week before I had traveled to New Zealand with 6 friends from WOOT (Women on Okinawa Trails). Five of us were coming from Okinawa, one was meeting up from Alaska, and Tiff was starting from Illinois. We’ve all run together for about a year and 5 of us had made the journey to Mongolia last July for a trail marathon. We have a wide range of runners in our group, including multiple Boston Qualifiers and more average runners like me – a 4:30 marathoner.
Maybe I was just cranky or maybe I’m just used to being on my own a lot since Chris is often away, but by a few days into the trip I was ready for some alone time. I was really looking forward to my 10 hours alone in the woods.
We lined up in pre-dawn hours with the goal of completing 60K through NZ terrain. Anna and Andrea originally signed up for the 100K and had completed some incredible training – extremely long back to back days of running.
We started at the Redwoods Visitor Center in Rotorua. I loved this starting point because it reminded me of my summer vacation’s at my grandparent’s house in the Bay Area of California. On parts of our drive earlier in the week I spied eucalyptus, but I didn’t smell any of that distinct, crisp smell as I waited to start the race. The Tarawera Ultra is in its third year and had over 200 runners split between the 60K, 85K, 85K relay, and 100K.
Daylight broke just in time for the start and no head lights were needed. The start was a good climb out of the visitor center with both steep inclines and stairs added in for fun. There was kind of a weird rhythm of running the downhills and flats that might last 20 seconds and then everyone would walk the uphills and stairs. I knew I was near the back of the pack and I was ok with that. I didn’t know what to expect from this race. I’ve never gone this distance and I wasn’t sure how to pace. I do know that once we got to the top it opened on to a beautiful landscape with a lake and the town of Rotorua in the distance.
 
The sun glimmering off Blue Lake made me smile and the fun descents had me giggling out loud. I loved this portion of the race. The first section was about 12km before we hit the aid station. The aid station was fully stocked with jelly beans, chips, ginger, endurotabs, water, coke, and heed. The volunteers were all lovely and after a quick chit chat I was off again.
The second and third aid stations came up quickly because they are on the only road portion of the run and they are close together. I believe the second aid station was around 17km and the third at 20km. The second aid station had a timing mat and I clocked in at 63rd place, 22nd among women. I had gained a little speed on the road portion, but the last K up to the third aid station was a steep uphill and I took advantage of the walkortunity. There was a photographer right before the aid station. I asked him if I should pretend to run and he said that might be a good idea. The result was the best race photo I’ve ever had!
I had studied the race map and knew that the next aid station was a long way away so I took the time to refill my 2L Nathan hydration vest. Also, for those who like running details, I was eating 3 Clif Shot Bloks about every 45 minutes. I would also eat a couple jelly beans and a couple potato chips at the aid station. The weather was perfect – low 70s and even though it was sunny the trail was shaded for the most part.
While running the first 20K I stayed in very good spirits and was mentally strong. There were parts on the road that I knew I could push faster, but I wanted to be able to have something left at the end. Being so new to this kind of distance made it a little tricky to know how much effort to put out. I wanted to give 100%, but I wanted that 100% to last the whole race. It was hard to know where the balance was.
Between aid stations 3 and 4 there were about 17km. I saw an older gentleman on the course with no hydration pack or bottles. I don’t know how he did it. They told us we could drink out of the creeks or lakes, but I didn’t want to chance it. I was rationing out my water for this long section, but I was constantly thirsty. I had started hydrating a couple days before the race so I don’t think I was dehydrated, but the longer I ran the more chips I ate at aid stations. I was definitely craving salt.
There were lots of steep climbs in this section and I would walk when needed. The website describes this section as “a test of fitness it is superb”. During the entire race I was able to run all the flats, downhills, the rollers, and some of the not so steep inclines. I was really happy with that. This race really alerted me to the fact that I need to work on climbing. I trained on hills in Okinawa, but we’ve got nothing like the mountains in NZ! My legs would actually feel ok on the hills, but my breathing became labored and my heart rate would sky rocket. The entire race took place between 400m and 1400m above sea level. I know that doesn’t seem like a lot, but it was constant ups and downs. At some point in this section I passed Kathleen who was slowed down with abdominal pain.

(Please continue to part 2 because blogspot won’t let me upload more pictures to this post).

 

Tarawera Ultramarathon – Part 2

 
During this section I had a lot of time to think and was drawing inspiration from many sources. I could hear my mom saying, “you go girl”, my BFF telling me “si, se puede”, Monica cheering me on with “you are a champion, and Chris’ facebook message of “keep moving forward”. Keep moving forward became my mantra. I also thought about Dean Karnazes. For some reason his line “sometimes you’re the fish, sometimes you’re the fisherman” kept running through my head, even when it didn’t fit the situation. It all worked for me.
I came into the 4th aid station at 37-38km feeling strong physically and mentally. It was a great surprise when I popped out of the woods and saw Anna and Jannine’s daughters, Laura and Jade, and Jannine’s dad there cheering us on. It was a great pick me up. There was another timing mat at this point and although my overall pace had slowed down, my placement had moved up to 54 overall (a 9 place improvement) and 18 for gender (a 4 place improvement).
As I was coming in Tiff was leaving. She wasn’t feeling great and mentioned she was power walking, but let me tell you that tiny lady is a crazy fast power walker. I refilled my water again and ate more chips. The salt tasted great. I overheard someone say that we had finished the worst part and I asked race volunteers if that was true. One kind volunteer told me that “shitty” parts were coming up. I asked him his definition of shitty and he said it was going to get extremely technical with rocks and roots. He was not lying! Although my trail experience is admittedly limited, I have never seen trail like this. The first couple kilometers out of the aid station were very steep, but not yet technical. About 43km in I was starting to feel the effects of the race and turned on my ipod for the first time. I quickly had to hit shuffle since the first song to come on was Elton John’s “I Guess That’s Why They Call it The Blues”. I definitely wasn’t feeling that! Thank goodness for a little Cake – it always gets me running.
From about 40-52km the trail was a crazy, technical mess. There were parts where I was literally using my hands to crawl up a root mass or to get up the trail. This section forced me to pocket the camera because I was truly afraid that I was going to face plant. Shockingly, I did not fall. The thought I kept having as I timidly navigated this area was that I would love to just sit in the woods and watch as the front runners come through just to see how they run it. At this point I can’t even imagine how to run on terrain like that. When I get back to the states I’m definitely volunteering at some ultras to see how it’s done.
Although I did not fall, I did slip down a loose gravel edge once, but nothing major. I don’t remember exactly, but maybe from about 45km or so we were back to running beside another gorgeous, crystal clear lake. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take my eyes off the trail for long to take in the beauty.
Somewhere in here is where I really started to hurt – my quads, a weird place in my right shin that has never had problems, and the insides of both my knees – maybe my bursas. When the pain came I still thought of Dean’s book “Run!” where he talks about how hard the runs can be and how you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone. From 45km on my mantra became “it’s not supposed to feel good”. Even though it’s not overly positive, that mantra really worked for me.
I don’t want to make it sound like it was all sunshine and roses. There were some definite low points. Around 50K I teared up and started thinking this is so hard, but I quickly told myself to suck it up and got over it. Somewhere in this section I passed Steph, a very strong runner from our group who was having some major IT band problems.
The next to last aid station was at about 54km. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven because there was cold watermelon. Not only did watermelon sound good because I was racing, but the watermelons on Okinawa are well over twenty bucks so this was a real treat. I didn’t stay long at this station because I knew the end was so close. As I was going out, Kathleen was coming in and she begged the volunteers to “please tell me the rest of the course is flat as a pancake”. Apparently they don’t have pancakes in NZ because those liars said it was downhill. There were still plenty of steep inclines and some very cruel sets of steep stairs.
Luckily, the scenery made up for it. We were running by a strong flowing river that opened on to beautiful waterfalls.
The views really were stunning, but I was trying to push the last 5K and give my full effort. At the aid station around 47km I had taken an endurotab (basically electrolytes). I don’t know if it finally kicked in or if I just knew the end was near, but I really picked it up the last 5km.
Right around the 55km point my breath was taken away yet again. This time it wasn’t a steep incline, but a wallaby jumping across my path that did it. I just stopped and watched the speedy marsupial hop away. It was incredible.
Just after the wallaby I came across Tiff power walking her way through the pain. I’m telling you – one speedy little lady. I told her she could do it and she tucked in right behind me until the end. This is always how we run. One of us will lead, the other will follow. The leader just all depends on the day.
Within the last 2km racers are treated to the incredible Tarawera Falls. They were amazing, but I didn’t have time to dilly dally.
After the falls I was still trying to push hard because I was ready to be done! I thought I had about a kilometer to go so I was pleasantly surprised when I popped out of the woods and saw the finish line! I was even happier to see Jannine’s dad there waiting for us and cheering us in! It was great to see a familiar face. Here’s Tiff, Kathleen, and I at the finish:
From the 38K mark until the end I moved up another 9 spaces (54 to 45) and 2 more gender spots (18 to 16) and had a finish time of 10:25. Our WOOT runners who are 3:30 marathoners finished around 8:30. It was one heck of a course.
I am extremely happy with my effort and feel like I did all I could on the day. I clearly need to train more for climbs. After a few days of hobbling around with sore quads I was back to normal and went for a couple easy runs within 5 days of the race. Tiff had these great necklaces made for us to remember Tarawera.
I’m pretty sure this is an experience I’ll never forget.
 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Naha Marathon

 

Last Sunday I ran the Naha Marathon. Considering my finish time, “ran” might be too generous of a word. The Naha Marathon wound up being my slowest marathon by 50 minutes (I came in at 5:24)! Yep, 50 minutes. At this point you’re probably wondering what went wrong. In all honesty I can say on race day nothing went wrong. The race actually came together quite nicely.
However, about five weeks before the race I started to have hamstring issues. For those of you who don’t run marathons yet, that is just about the time you should be getting in your longest long runs. I didn’t want to cause lasting damage so I wound up cancelling my 20 mile long run and cutting short the 18 miler the following week. Yeah, when you cut out two of your longer runs it’s not going to make for a pretty marathon.
For a few weeks I kept up a debate on if I’d run at all, but after a couple weeks taking it easy the hamstring felt better and I figured I could at least finish. Plus, I had committed to this marathon and people had sponsored me in support of Girls on the Run. I didn’t want to let this great organization or my sponsors down.
I knew I was going to be slow, but I still found it funny when I realized the earrings I had decided on were turtles. I didn’t even think about it when I put them in at 0530. I really don’t have a lot of post earrings and I like turtles. They turned out to be an accurate predictor of the day. There was also a turtle sign beside me when I got in the corral. Hmmm…
This race was huge. There were over 26,000 runners and it felt like it for the first 40km (a marathon has 42 kilometers for those of you mile folks). Here I am looking nervous before the race start and with crowds like this there’s no wonder I was feeling a little anxious.
It took me over 7 minutes to reach the starting line after the race began. It was packed!
This race might have had the best crowd support that I’ve ever seen. People of all ages were out there cheering, beating on drums, passing out salt, sugar, water, and snacks. I think I ate at least 6 or 7 mikan (local, sweet, delicious, mini oranges) during the run. While I loved the crowd support I really did not like having that many runners around me. I think in the future I’ll have to find smaller races.
My race plan was to run the first 5K until things thinned out and then use the Galloway Method the rest of the run. Galloway is a run/walk system that new runners, runners getting over injuries, or just people who like having little breaks implement. I used a 7:1 ratio where I ran for 7 minutes and walked (or stretched) for 1 minute. Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans. There was no way I could stop at the 5K – it was just too crowded. I wound up running the first 13-14K and then switched over to the Galloway. It still hadn’t cleared up at 14K, but I just started moving over to the opposite sidewalk and running there.
I did have some good distractions as I ran slooooowly with the mob. There were lots of costumes:


(Yes, the third picture is of a person dressed up as a poop head and no, the cow was not passing out milk, just water).
Entertainment:
Cute animals:
And ridiculously tall Americans with extra petite locals:
I’ve got to say physically I felt pretty good. The mental aspect of this race was a whole different story. I really struggled through the first half. I kept questioning why I was out there. I didn’t have anything to prove, I didn’t really want to be racing, and I’m pretty sure my sponsors wouldn’t have minded if I postponed the marathon until the one in February. I was definitely in a funk. I really didn’t enjoy running in such a tight crowd and felt like I could never find my groove. It was frustrating. I’ve never run that slow and my brain did not like it. Here are some pictures showing how crowded the race stayed. Here’s the 15K:
And the 20K:
Luckily for my psyche, I got to see Chris around the 23K mark and he told me to keep on going. He did a great job biking around and meeting me at points along the course. It was just the pick me up I needed.

The course was still crowded at this point, but I felt like after seeing Chris I picked up the pace. I know I did because I had a 19 minute negative split. Here we are at 25K:
30K:
With some Avatar fans:
The 40K:
Sorry for the blurriness, but I had been running for 5 hours at this point.Trust me there were still a lot of people around.
I saw Chris at the final 2K and that really got me going. I passed tons of people in the last part of the race. When I got to the park entrance (about 1K from the finish) I really picked it up. The path was lined with high-fiving kids and a band playing “Oh When the Saints”. I high-fived as many as I could and smiled my way all the way to the finish. The last 2K was definitely my favorite part of the race.
I was glad I had stuck it out because we received sweet glass “medals”.
Things I learned from this marathon:
-42K really is a distance you should train for
-the Galloway method works
-you really need to put deodorant under both arms if you don’t want to stink. I forgot my right pit and I was ripe!
-I need to work on my core – my hip flexors yelled at me for the last 15K
-ice baths and sports massage work – I was already out running a few, slow miles on Wednesday. I usually take at least a week to recover.
That’s 3 endurance events this year: Mongolia trail marathon, Izena Triathlon, and Naha Marathon. That’s the most I’ve done in a 6 month period and I’ve got to say I’m feeling pretty good. Next up: Okinawa City Marathon in February and a trail 60K in New Zealand in March. Bring it on!
 
 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Izena 88

 
Sunday was the big day. The day I had been training for for months. OK, not really. I had registered months ago with the intent of training consistently, but then got distracted with things like a trail marathon in Mongolia and going back to the states to visit family and friends. Now don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t just sitting around doing nothing for the last few months. I actually exercised a lot, just not for a long distance triathlon.
Exactly how long, you ask? Izena 88 consists of a 2K (1.2 mile) swim, a 66K (41 mile) bike, and a 20K (12.4 mile) run. With those distances you can understand why I was getting a little nervous. Before the race I completed exactly 5 bike rides with my clip-in pedals and 2 recent open water swims. I just had this belief that I would finish the race. My friend Kathleen and I joked that no matter how hard it was that nothing could be harder than Mongolia. She had completed Izena multiple times and I just kept hoping she was right.
Along with general nerves for the race, I was also nervous about the ferry ride between islands. It’s not like the ferries I took in the Philippines that were so overloaded I was nervous the boat would sink, but a ferry that was out in the ocean where the rolling waves would be mocking my tendency towards motion sickness. Seriously, I could get sick on the backyard swing if Monica pushed it crooked.

So it was with some trepidation and a dose of Bonine that I boarded the ferry. I was actually feeling pretty confident because every time I get on a boat I am able to convince myself that something has changed and I won’t get sick (I also convince myself that I’m totally going to win the lottery every time I buy at ticket). Well, we’re still not lottery winners and I still chum the waters on ferry rides. The water was not rough, but there were big, rolling waves that had me running starboard. Luckily, as soon as I’m on solid ground I’m good to go again. Plus, I had the bonus of a great reception when we reached the Izena port.

I know it’s obvious, but triathlons take a lot more planning than a road or trail race. There are three events to plan for and when you’re going to a tiny island in the middle of nowhere you really can’t afford to forget anything.

Like I mentioned in the last post, I had made a list and obsessed over it for days. It absolutely worked! I had everything I needed and all of my transitions went smoothly on race day. The only thing I would have done differently is I should have applied more sunscreen to my shoulders before the run portion. Live and learn.
After the ferry ride and packet pick up Saturday was spent relaxing. I rode one lap of the bike course, attended a friendship ceremony with local kids at the gym, drove the run course, and ate a fantastic pasta dinner. I hit the hay early because Sunday’s wake up call was at 0430!

My bike’s slot in the transition area.

We woke up and had a great breakfast, took our second transition bag (everything we would need for the run portion) down to T2 (transition 2), got dressed and took our bikes and T1 bags down to the swim start.
After racking my bike and laying out some of the gear I would need to go from being a swimmer to a biker I headed to the check in. In triathlons you get your number drawn on your arms. So 242 was written on both biceps, I handed in my questionnaire stating I was healthy, and received my timing chip that I attached to my ankle.
Amazingly, I was pretty calm before the race. I don’t know if it’s because I realized there was nothing I could do at that point or if I am just getting more comfortable racing, but I love the feeling of calm that I’ve had lately.

All race photos are courtesy of my friend Christian who cheered, supported, and made the race so much easier!
For the 2K swim we did two 1K laps. I found a rhythm right away and had a great count going on in my head. The water was calm and I felt very even. I was one of the few without a wet suit and while I know it helps your buoyancy I really like the freedom of just wearing a suit (and I don’t know if I’m into tris enough to make that monetary commitment). The course was like a big triangle and it was pretty good except on the turns. At the turns things would get congested and people started running into me, over me, onto me. It was crazy and it made me want to kick someone in the face, but Kathleen had told me to conserve my legs for the bike and run so I just mentally let them have it.
I was more than happy with my swim time. When I’m on my own swimming in the pool I usually swim 1600m in around 40 minutes. Somehow I swam the open water 2K (really more than that because I got way off course the second lap) in 42 minutes and change! Yeehaw!

My transition times were a little slow because I was trying to be thorough and didn’t want to forget anything. I think T1 was about 6 minutes and T2 was about 5. I’m still pretty happy with that though because on the course there was never anything I wish I had taken (besides sunscreen).
The bike was the scariest part for me. I am pretty inexperienced. I was scared of falling, but maybe even more scared of getting a flat tire. I know that sounds crazy and Chris had given me multiple tutorials, but it wasn’t something I wanted to face on race day. Luck was with me. I had a pretty perfect ride.
The 66K ride consisted of 5 loops around the island. The views were spectacular, but I really tried to focus on riding. I was told by more experienced triathletes that the bike is the place where I should focus on getting some calories in. During the 41 mile ride I ate 3/4 of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and 2 fig newmans. I also drank over a liter and a half of water and about 32 ounces of the G2 Gatorade. I loved the grape flavor and was impressed at my ability to drink and ride at the same time.

The bike was the most painful portion for me. While I’ve ridden a little over 30 miles before, I usually stop midway and look at the scenery. I’ve never ridden 41 miles at a good clip with no breaks. My lower back and in between my shoulder blades definitely felt it. I finished the bike in about 2:33 and averaged 16.4mph. Again, I was happy because I was planning on closer to 3 hours.
At this point I might have started to get a little cocky. You know, not out loud, but in my head. Izena has a 7 hour time limit. Originally, I was just hoping to finish before the cut off and if I had to I planned on being an unofficial finisher if it took me more than 7, but then something amazing happened. Even with my slow transitions, I was starting the run at about the 3.5 hour mark. Officially finishing was in the bag. Instead of accepting that, my mind started calculating a 6 hour finish. Why not? I had 2.5 hours to complete a 20K. That distance usually takes me 2 hours or under and I figured even with tired legs I could do it in 2:15 or 2:20. Sounds good, right?
The run is two 10K laps. The first 2K of each lap is uphill. I’ve got to say when you get off your bike after 41 miles that is a pretty rude introduction to the run course. However, it wasn’t the hills that got me. My legs felt ridiculously strong. What got me was the heat. Holy moley, the heat was brutal! The temps were around 90 degrees and the humidity was high as well. I’ve never run in heat like that. The only thing I could think of to compare it to was when Chris and I played a frisbee tournament in Savannah and the temps were over 100. It just knocks the fight right out of you.
Somehow, despite the heat, I still felt good mentally. I knew I would make it through, even if it involved some walking. The folks of Izena know how to run a race. They had aid stations every 2K stocked with bananas, oranges, salt, snackies, water, cola, and Aquarius (Japanese Gatorade). I don’t know how many times I said “mizu o kudasai” (water please). The best part of the aid stations were the water buckets. Each station had huge trash cans filled with ice and water. They were manned by kids with huge ladles who would pour beautiful, glorious, life-saving, icy water over your head. It really did keep me going. They also passed out sponges dipped in ice water to take with you. I traded out a new one at every station and kept it tucked in the back collar of my shirt.
Speckled throughout the bike and run course were spectators. Izena is a small island and this is a big event for them. I would bet that 90% of the locals were out cheering on the course at some point. They especially love seeing American women competing so I got many enthusiastic “Ganbatte!s” (You can do it!). I absolutely loved the spirit of Izena.
The running course was inland and a lot of it wound through fields of crops. Wind and shade were limited. I was a little frustrated that my legs felt so good, but I was still limited by the heat. I actually ran more of the second lap than the first. Every once in a while there would be a few seconds of cloud cover and a little breeze. It made a huge difference.
Just as my energy started to dip, it was boosted when “You Know I Like My Chicken Fried” came on my mp3 player around the 16K mark. This song has special meaning for me and my running partner Tiffany. Just hearing that song put her there with me and I could hear her say “shuffle if you have to”. It kept me going for the next couple K.
Then just as I made the final turn that would take me into the track to the finish line Bon Jovi’s “Bad Medicine” came on. My running partner from England, Mandy, is the world’s biggest Bon Jovi fan and I could feel her there next to me helping me push out the last couple hundred meters.

By running a 2:38 20K I missed my secondary time goal by 5 minutes and came in at 6:05! I am completely satisfied with that! Booyah!
It was hard, but I finished and more importantly I stayed positive the whole time. Somehow I knew I could get it done.
Anyone wondering what your feet might look like if you dump water on your head every 2 kilometers for 20 kilometers? Well, here’s your answer:

Pretty, huh?
Besides a couple minor blisters, sunburned shoulders, and mild underarm chafing from the swim, I feel incredibly good. I took Monday off, but Tuesday I took Rana out for a slow 2 miles and everything seems to be holding together.

I got some sweet tan lines and I’m pretty sure that 4th toenail is going to fall off, but it was completely worth it.
I know I look slightly crazed in the next picture, but I’d like to remind you that I had just competed for 6 hours. I really just wanted to point out that, according to the poster, I had competed in the 23th Izena. I love Engrish!

I’m also happy to report that the ferry ride back was smooth like butter! So smooth that these guys were sleeping like babies:

I think Chris telling me to approach the day as “Amy’s Big Day of Adventure” really helped. I was calm. I was focused. I knew I had the best husband in the world to come home to. He proved it once again. When I got home he surprised me with some gorgeous flowers and an ipod nano! Woohoo – marathon training here I come!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Sunrise to Sunset

 
Our main goal in Mongolia was to complete the trail marathon, except for Anna. She was crazy enough to sign up for the 100K (um yeah, that’s 62 miles). Months ago Kathleen sent out the link to the race kind of as a joke. I think she was surprised when multiple people wrote back that it sounded like a great idea.
We all loved Mongolia when we got there. As you know from the previous post the country was stunning. We also liked the camp and the other racers were great, but the sanitary conditions left a little to be desired. The bathrooms were a little sketchy, there was no refrigeration, and electricity was available when they turned the generator on between 9 and 11pm. None of us really minded these primitive conditions until early Monday morning when Avery (Kathleen’s 17 year old daughter) got sick. We thought she just had a virus because the rest of us felt fine. However, after dinner Monday I got majorly sick, Andrea got moderately sick, and others also didn’t feel well. I’m pretty sure my food poisoning came in the form of the packed lunch that just sat out all day until you were ready to eat it. The camp directors and race doctor wouldn’t admit it was food poisoning, but at least 10% of the camp went down that night – pretty much everyone who ate the lunch with meat.
Yep, that’s right. The Monday night before the Wednesday morning race I was losing fuel at both ends. It wasn’t pretty and Anna can vouch that it didn’t sound good either. So I eliminated all of my Monday fuel and on Tuesday I wasn’t feeling like eating, especially anything from the camp kitchen. I was able to keep down 6 ritz crackers and forced myself to have peanut butter on 2 of those. I also ate a few pringles and Sprite tasted heavenly. My main focus for Tuesday was staying hydrated and not tossing my crackers. I think I was pretty successful.
So, if you’re keeping track, at this point (less than 24 hours before the race) we have 3 folks with food poisoning. To top it off Kathleen was walking in flip flops, slipped on wet grass, and her foot went over the top of her toes. She broke her fourth toe. We were starting to look like quite the motley crew.
On Wednesday morning a horseman rode through camp playing a flute for our 3 am wake up call. This horseman would go on to take second in the male division of the marathon. My stomach was still not quite settled when I woke up. It felt like maybe I could use the bathroom, but that wasn’t happening. I ate a quarter of a pita with a smear of peanut butter, but that didn’t stay with me long.
With little food and a queasy stomach I was unsure if I would be able to finish this race. I’ve never DNFed (Did Not Finish) and I didn’t want to start now. I knew that I would leave everything on the race course.
We lined up and at 4:30 the race began. About 75 people started the race for the 42 and 100K. We started in the dark and immediately went in to a forested, rocky, rooty section of the course. Most racers speed walked this first couple kilometers because nobody wanted to get injured and taken out of the race so early. After this treacherous bit we popped out on to a road that hugged the lake until we hit the first aid station at 12K. It was still low light, but headlights were no longer needed.
I was still feeling pretty crummy at this point, but I knew I felt better than Avery. That poor girl was flushed and pale at the same time. I was a little nervous for her. Kathleen was running with her broken toe and this flat part might have been the least painful section for her. Luckily, her 15 year old daughter Corinne had a lot of pep and kept us all going. She was the youngest female competitor to ever attempt this race.
Trying to “fake it ’til I make it” with a smile and wild horses behind me.
At the first aid station even though we were all attempting to run we were still near the back of the packers, some of who were walking. It was going to be a long day. We all had enough water in our packs that we didn’t want to chance a refill. We were told the water at the aid stations had been boiled, but after getting sick I was less willing to chance anything. At the aid station I did grab this little apple and it was deliciously sweet, but again, that didn’t stay with me long.
Me and Tam at the first aid station.
Kathleen at the beginning of the climb.
Once we left the first aid station we started the first big climb. This is the climb that made me question my sanity when I saw it on the elevation profile. We climbed about 2500 feet over 5K (about 3 miles). It was brutally steep with a lot of switchbacks. I also took myself out of this climb mentally. There was a thick fog that was suffocating. I felt so claustrophobic and I hated not being able to see the top.
The fog beginning to roll in.
However, when we got to the top the fog lifted and the views were spectacular. I thought to myself that those fast suckers at the front missed this by getting over the mountain so quickly. Sometimes it’s good to be sick and slow at the back of the pack.
Slopes are just a wee bit steep, eh?
Top of the World – I am a champion!
After the climb we got to a great pass and realized that we were now the absolute last runners. How did we know this? Because at this point the local horseman started following us. It was kind of like the sweeper van, but more up close and personal.
When the downhill started I kept thinking about Kathleen and her poor toe. It was steep and made up of loose gravel. My toes were taking a beating being pushed into the end of my shoe. I couldn’t imagine how it felt with a broken toe, but then I remembered what Kathleen told me before the race. She had talked to her husband, a Navy doctor currently serving in Afghanistan, before coming to Mongolia. He told her that he had just sent a young man home who had lost both his legs and one of his arms. We’ve got it so easy.
The Lennard Family
We continued on over some pretty easy terrain for a few miles and then slogged through some wet, mossy areas near a beautiful clear river. Our shoes and socks were soaked, but my stomach was starting to feel better. The cold water was numbing Kathleen’s toe and Avery was getting a second wind as well. Things were starting to turn around.
The second aid station was at 25.5K. My camelbak was dry at this point so I chanced the water. It tasted slightly funny, but like water treated with purification tablets. This is also the point in the race where I decided to try eating my Clif Shot Bloks. These were the first calories that I actually kept in me. At the aid station it was our group of 4, our new, Australian friend Tam, and 3 runners from Hong Kong.
Aid station at 25.5K
Avery and I decided to push it a little at this point and with that push we never got passed again. Corinne and Kathleen stuck together a little ways behind us. This section was beautiful. There were meadows with flowers as far as the eye could see. A lot of this section was run near the river and was fairly rolling. The course was well marked and I was glad Avery and I were together. Neither of us talked much, but it was nice to have company. I wasn’t sure how I’d like running an entire marathon without any crowd support because all of my road races were huge, but I loved it. I had my mp3 player, but I never took it out of my bag. I’ve never run for so long, but I was in this strange, zen place. I felt calm and at peace and after the first mountain I knew I was going to accomplish my goal.
The second hill was also a beast, but it was shorter and steeper. The fun part was that it was all this mossy, spongy terrain that was soaked from recent rains. Our feet sunk in water up to our ankles with almost every step. With all of this water I was worried about blisters, but my shoes treated me well. The steepness of this hill was brutal. Whenever I would stop to catch my breath I could hear my heart trying to beat its way out of my chest.
The second big climb was basically through a creek bed. There was no way to avoid soaked feet.
The downhill was almost runnable. It was long grass and would have been fun if it wasn’t wet and slick. I only fell once and the only injury came in the form of a few scratches on my camera. Yes, I ran with my camera the whole time. During this downhill was our final water station before the finish. It was just one local man and his son. In exchange for water I gave them a Clif Shot Blok. They seemed to like the raspberry flavor.
I definitely took time to enjoy the scenery. The race director told us to expect to double our road marathon time and despite being sick and stopping for photos I was right on the money.
After this station the ground flattened out and we only had 10K left. This is where I started to feel really good. We had some rolling hills and instead of single track we had more of an established trail and then a dirt road for the last 5K. I had some shooting pain in the bottom of my left foot, but felt good otherwise. I tried to pick up my pace, but still took a couple walking breaks during the last 10K. Avery pulled ahead of me a little and I had to let her go. I just couldn’t keep her pace. The finish was tough because you could see the finish forever, but had to go around a lake before crossing the finish line. I was so relieved to finish this race. I was out there for 8:39. Yep, over 8 hours of fun were run on 200 calories worth of Shot Bloks. I’m amazed at what my body can do.
Overall, I really loved this course. I wouldn’t do the race again because staying at that camp and eating that food holds no appeal, but if I could just be dropped on to the trail I would gladly start running.
 

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Tour de Okinawa

 

This weekend Chris and I participated in the Tour de Okinawa. This is an amazing series of bike races and rides that attracts participants from all over Asia. Looking in the catalog and counting the headlines, I believe there are 20 races. These races range from a pre-school age tricycle race:
to a multi-day 313 km (195 miles) island tour. Along with the touring division there is also the more serious race division:
These guys are looking pretty intense as they line up for their 200 km (125 miles) race.
 
On Saturday we headed up to Nago to pick up our race packets, but not before doing a little produce shopping:
That’s right, we’ve discovered that it’s cheaper to get our apples at the Subway on base than it is to get them at the grocery store. So far we’ve been very happy with the quality.
 
The race packet pick-up was very well organized, but that didn’t stop these stupid Americans from getting in the wrong line. My English students had translated some of the brochures that we got in the mail and said that all foreigners needed to go to a certain line. We did that, but found out quickly that we were in the wrong place. Since we have an Okinawan address we simply went to the line that had our race number listed. It was very easy after that. We walked around the expo area and I was happy to see a marching band:
It’s probably not a big shock to any of my blog readers that I was a major band nerd in high school. Low Brass kicks a$$!
After a quick look around we headed home to prep for the next day. We had to be back in Nago by 6:30 the next morning so it was going to be an early start.
I started by putting on some awesome socks that MaryBrown sent me:
They’re power socks and make me feel good.
Then we loaded the van:
This van is awesome. It’s got tons of clearance and the trunk door opens really high so you don’t have to stoop when putting things in and out. Chris is already trying to figure out how to get this baby back home with us.
When we got to Nago the sun was just coming up, revealing a gorgeous Okinawan sky.
Here’s Chris all ready to go:
 
Chris had a little more to do to get ready so I started making video clips:

http://www.youtube.com/get_playervideo

While we were looking for Chris’ friends, I couldn’t help but snap another shot:

This is a little closer to the start line:

http://www.youtube.com/get_playervideo

I loved this starting arch. Here’s a picture of Chris and his riding partner BJ and another picture of me:

Before every race the taiko drummers would play. I love Okinawa!

http://www.youtube.com/get_playervideo

After a little searching we found the third and final bike partner, Sha:

These 3 guys were ready to ride. Chris, BJ, and Sha were signed up for the 100km (62 miles)Challenge Ride. I think the key word here is ride because it definitely wasn’t a race. They were riding directly behind the riders with “STAFF” shirts and believed they weren’t allowed to pass them. At mile 15 there was a fueling station where people stopped and grabbed some grub. Just after this when the riders started up again they saw someone blow by the “STAFF” riders. Uh-oh – the challenge had been issued and now the real race began.

They quickly caught the breakaway rider and decided they were going to keep their position. They would only stop at aid stations long enough to grab some fluid and maybe something they could eat as they rode. They were burning the course up! It would have been easy to quit since the turn around point was less than a half mile from our house, but they pushed on. While they admit that other participants might not have known they were racing, they were happy to come in 1,2, and 3. They beat all other riders in their group by 45 minutes!

I participated in the Onna Family 70km (44 mile) ride. Again we did not know that ride would mean we would be lolly-gagging out on the course. Before the race started I figured I was in the right place because no one in my group was wearing clip in shoes.

Everyone was wearing sneakers just like me. My bike came with clip in pedals, but I haven’t bought the shoes yet. One reason is it’s harder to find shoes here, but the main reason is I’m afraid of eating asphalt when I can’t get my shoes unclipped fast enough when coming to a stop.

I just want to preface this race with the fact that I just got a bike since we’ve moved to Okinawa and I haven’t ridden in months because I was focused on running for another event. With those two factors, and the fact that I’ve never ridden more than 30 miles, I was pretty nervous.

I found out by mile 4 though that I had nothing to worry about. It was at this point that I had caught up with the pace car! That is just plain crazy, but here is photographic proof:

And videographic proof:

http://www.youtube.com/get_playervideo

It was ridiculously slow. On the straightaways I barely had to pedal and on any downward slope, no matter how slight, I was braking. It actually got a little frustrating, but it did give me time to play with my camera. I love this shot:

I really can’t complain because it was a gorgeous day – maybe upper 70s and not overly humid. It was a perfect day to be biking. It also helped that we were on a flat coastal road with absolutely stunning views:

This shot doesn’t even do justice to the amazing shades of blues and greens of the water.

Besides riding slow the Family Ride also included a LOT of stops. We stopped every 7 miles or so. At the first stop they had some great mikan (local, sweet, seedless tangerine-like fruit) and yummy chocolate. I wasn’t sure what this candy was going to be since it was wrapped in a golden wrapper with kanji writing, but it was heaven:

You can’t go wrong with chocolate and peanut butter!

After another 7 miles of not-so-strenuous riding we stopped for an extended (30 minute) break. Despite getting a little testy that we were going so slow, this was my favorite stop. Why, you ask? Because they were giving out free icecream! I got the ube (local, purple sweet potato) flavor:

We reached the turn around point (22 miles) in just over 3 hours! That is about 7 miles/hour. I can run that – maybe not for 22 miles, but I can definitely hold it for an hour. It was crazy slow. Our turn around was Ryukyu Mura – a tourist attraction that shows traditional Okinawan life. Apparently our group was supposed to go in and watch a show. I couldn’t believe it – this ride was going to take all day. I knew Chris was going to be waiting and I knew I didn’t want to be out for another 3 hours so I busted out on my own.

I loved the second half of the ride. I was trying to push myself and I really enjoyed being out on the road. It was freeing. I was pumping my legs and having fun and really trying to challenge myself. I wound up completing the second half in under 1 hour 26 minutes. It was exhilarating! This ride made me realize that I really enjoy biking.

Once I got back and we met up, Chris and I saw kids doing unicycle relays. It was awesome. Maybe that will be our next challenge.

After our long morning, we were tired but happy:

Here’s one final shot taken during my ride. What a great day!

 

 

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