trail running

A year ago today, I listened to my running mentors, took a leap of faith, and signed up for my first ultra marathon. The idea of running for 50 kilometers (31 miles) seemed nearly impossible, but I figured I could always walk my way through the course and still spend some quality time with my runner friends … once I met up with them after the race.

I not only survived the Run Woodstock 50K and had plenty of company, but it was one of the most fun events I’ve experienced since I started running in 2012. Aid stations stocked with cheese sandwiches, potato chips, M&Ms and regular Coke aside, the event showed me that I could reach an insane goal just by doing a few very basic things. Basic, yes, but not always easy.

Six months later, I find myself perusing the Run Woodstock website and pulling out my credit card. Again. Perhaps running ultras is like childbirth: If we remembered the pain, we’d all just have one kid (or run just one).

I learned a bunch of things (8 lessons, in fact) from that first ultra that I plan to follow. I’m adding a few more now that I’ve had the benefit of a few months to think back:

  • It’s all about the base. Running in the Michigan tundra in the winter is plain hard. As with all things running, it’s all of those miles leading up to race day that really count. So I’m making sure that I put in the time now. To do so, I’m following the Hal Higdon Half Marathon Intermediate training plan so that I’m ready for my first half of the year: the Gazelle Girl Half in Grand Rapids. Starting early means I will have a strong base before full-blown ultra training begins.
  • It’s also about the experience. Sure, the race was a fun event. But what made it memorable — and worth repeating — was the time I got to spend with my runner friends. A bunch of us made a weekend of it, including camping at a local park, a Friday night dinner at a local restaurant and a potluck dinner after the race.
  • Think about the time immediately after the race. I spent months and months plotting out just about every detail of my race, including packing my drop bag, buying the perfect hydration pack and breaking in a second pair of trail shoes (in my case, the Brooks Cascadia). But I never planned for the time immediately after we got done. I now know to pack a small bag so I can take a HOT shower immediately. I would have given up a kidney for a lukewarm shower after all that time on my feet. Because we (gladly) waited for our friends to finish, I had to wait a couple of hours before showering. Not bueno.
  • A trail race requires that you train on trails. A lot. A group of us run on local trails most Sunday mornings and I certainly ran on trails whenever we were on one of our camping trips. Both truly helped. But I need to increase my trail running significantly this year, plus do a lot more hill work. While I finished upright after 10-plus hours on my feet, working on endurance will make for a more-pleasant experience.
  • Don’t expect anyone to understand. Why spend that much time training for such a long race? Are you crazy? Who does that? All questions I’ve been asked and, frankly, can’t really answer to the asker’s satisfaction. I no longer expect them to understand.

This all said, I haven’t actually signed up for the Woodstock 50K yet. I certainly want to and am hopeful that my friends will be by my side. What do y’all say Ultra Sole Sisters? (You may have to click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)

There is very little time to do anything but run when training for a long race. Four or five runs per week, including a three or four hour long run on Saturdays means less time for … (insert just about any activity here). Now that I’m not running quite as much, I finally feel like I have a bit more time.

So after listening to my running friends’ advice, I’ve decided to do a few things:

Cross training. Yoga’s not my favorite thing, but it is a necessary one. I’ve spent some time on my Gaiam mat with Rebecca Pacheco’s videos on the Runner’s World magazine site. I like that she focuses on moves specifically for runners. I also rode my bike with el husbando last week and we plan to do so again more often. Mental note: Need to buy a more-comfortable bike seat. (Yup, old-lady seat, here I come!)

Someone thought yoga looked like fun.

Someone thought yoga looked like fun.

Core work. I keep telling myself that I would dust off the Jillian Michaels DVDs I already have, but I haven’t quite yet. I did find a 30-day plank challenge you can do in your PJs. If the personal trainer who developed the videos can do them in her pajamas, then I figured I could give the thing a try. A thunderstorm kept me inside on the treadmill for a couple of miles tonight, so I did day one on the yoga mat and didn’t die. We’ll see what my bum shoulder thinks of this tomorrow.

Plan. I’ve been poking around one of my favorite Michigan runner blogger’s sites, looking for race reviews. So far, I know I want to do the Gazelle Girl Half, Grand Island Half, Two Hearted Trail Half and the Detroit International Half. I haven’t decided whether I’ll be doing another long race, but there’s talk among my runner friends of heading back to do another Run Woodstock event. (Translation: If they jump off a cliff … I’ll be signing up for the 50K with them again.)

One thing I’ve learned about myself is that I need a goal (or 12) to keep putting in the work. It’s been fun to have more time to do things like watch the Rome series with our favorite teenager, or to support my friends on their long runs because they needed company.

But I do know that I need to start signing up for some events to keep myself running through the winter months, even if I do look like the Michelin Man.

To that end, I’m considering doing at least a half marathon each month next year, including several on trails. What do y’all think? Do you have any Michigan races you think I should consider? Have you signed up for any 2017 races already?

tuesdays-on-the-run-1

You’ve spent a season training for your big race. You’ve put in hours and hours on the road or trail, you’ve run your race, gotten your medal and posted your accomplishment on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Now what?

First, it’s normal to have a bit of a letdown after achieving a big-deal-whoopie running goal. So much of your time and energy has been focused on getting to the start line that few of us spend much — if any — time thinking about what comes next.

What’s a runner chico or chica to do? That’s why I’m writing about the most challenging aspect of running right now for the Tuesdays on the Run link-up hosted by runner bloggers MCM Mama Runs, My No Guilt Life and Marcia’s Healthy Slice.

For me, it’s figuring out what to do after meeting a big audacious running goal, so I turned to my runner friends. Here’s what they said:

Kari: I’m new to running as of last October so I have some hefty goals ahead of me. With that being said, I started small and my race distances just keep growing. Is there really a limit? I truly don’t think so. Only thing that is limiting is our imagination and belief in ourselves. If a new runner sees a 100 miler in their future, I’d say “you got this” and encourage. Setting a new goal (signing up) is what has kept me motivated to succeed.

Erinn: Set another goal. A smaller goal — but still a challenge goal. Like best 5k (work on speedwork) or another fitness goal like pull ups, more paddle boarding for core strength, and all the while looking at other options. Word of mouth is the best way to ultra. If another runner tells you that “you’ll like this race,” heed their advice.

Shannon: I’ve both taken time off and just ran for health. I’ve also gone bigger and longer. Currently, I’m racing a lot, and I look forward to late November when I don’t have any more planned races. But the reality is that in November I’ll feel like I have no direction and I’ll feel lost, just like the last time I didn’t have any goal race scheduled.

Emily: I kind of just keep training for the next thing, even if it’s smaller than the big goal race, it helps keep me moving. Though, in autumn I don’t really need to extra motivation. The perfect weather is usually enough to get me moving because it’s just so beautiful.

Barb: I make a new goal after a big race. I already know what my next goal is, speed. I now know I can do the distance but now I want to get faster.

Janet: After the big goal, relax, enjoy the time and then get back to running. I run because I’ve experienced life when I couldn’t run and that sucks! So run because you can.

Corey: I’m typically depressed and irritable and eat non-stop until I sign up for the next big race. Running Grand Rapids marathon Oct. 23 which will qualify me for marathon maniacs, a goal I set for 2016. I’m looking now for my next big goal after that though, otherwise I’ll fall into winter holiday hibernation and gain 10 lbs.

Samantha: Bringing down the miles and giving our bodies a break is healthy. But … I’m scouring the Internet for upcoming races because I’m feeling crazy.

As for me, I haven’t yet decided what I’ll do next, whether I’ll be focusing on distance or speed, for example. But what I do know is that I’ll take a cue from my mentors Brandess, Janet and Shannon: I’ll be focusing on helping my friends reach their goals. Because that’s what I love the best about running: other runners.

What’s the most difficult aspect of running for you right now? Feel free to share your own blog posts below. (Click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)

Running advice roundup

by lachicaruns on

totr-running-advice-roundup

I’ve been very fortunate that running has brought many gifts, including a plethora of runner friends. In particular, I’ve been blessed with very experienced runner friends who’ve mentored and encouraged me.

Thanks to them, I’ve learned a bunch of lessons, often without going through the pain of making too many mistakes. As part of today’s Tuesdays on the Run link-up hosted by runner bloggers MCM Mama Runs, My No Guilt Life and Marcia’s Healthy Slice, I am sharing some of the best running advice I’ve gathered. Be sure to click on the hyperlink to read more:

I can no longer say I’m a newbie, but I continue to need my runner tribe as I continue on this journey. Hopefully, you can learn a thing or two as I do.

What’s been some of the best running advice you’ve gotten? Feel free to share your post here if you’ve written about this topic before. (Click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)

lessons-learned-at-my-first-ultra-marathon

This 44-year-old just ran for more than 31 miles through trails so muddy that moving forward felt more like skating than running, hills steep enough to leave her winded and for so many hours (more than 10) that just about any GPS watch would have died. Just a week after doing the Run Woodstock 50K, I’m still a bit shell shocked but pretty darn proud of myself and my runner friends who took on this challenge.

lachicaruns-mud-vicki

Rain = muddy trails.

Through all of that, I learned a few things. Things that I hope will help anyone new to running longer distances or even someone training for their first ultra marathon:

Trust — and follow — the training plan. I happen to have a one-track mind, so printing off a training plan or putting all of the runs on my calendar and scratching them off helps me stick to the plan for weeks on end. This was probably the most important thing I did to prepare to run such a long distance, just four years after I began running using the Couch to 5K app. I was tired and sore for a few days after the race, but I also recovered quicker than I have for previous 26.2 mile runs.

Run Woodstock map.

Run Woodstock map.

Ultra-marathon aid stations are the bestest. My ultra runner friends pretty much dangled the promise of potato chips, soda and M&Ms as the incentive for us newbies to sign up for the race in the first place. The spread (which also included cheese sandwiches, pretzels, fruit and other yummy food) did not disappoint. This particular race had aid stations every four miles, allowing us to break the 31 miles into more-manageable goals, which makes for a great head-game strategy.

The Run Woodstock utra marathon aid stations served as a huge incentive to keep going.

The Run Woodstock utra marathon aid stations served as a huge incentive to keep going.

The volunteers are even better. Aid station volunteers are more akin to a NASCAR pit crew. They approached us, immediately helping us find just the perfect treat to give us a boost, talking about the course and in one instance, even giving their socks off their feet to a runner who was struggling with blisters.

Charlotte, an experienced long-distance runner, raised our spirits.

Charlotte, an experienced long-distance runner, raised our spirits.

Your body will rebel. Rain and mud can leave one’s feet soaked, meaning a high chance for blisters. Water retention was pretty common, giving several of us the tell-tale sausage fingers. I’m not sure how to address this in the future, but I suspect I need to take in more salt and fluids, both.

Sausage fingers.

Sausage fingers.

The drop bag is better than CatsTo get the full 31 miles, this race had us run the same loop twice, meaning we could have a drop bag at the beginning and also halfway through the loop. I was fortunate enough to have Brandess’ tips for packing a drop bag, so I was prepared. When we found out we could have two bags, we included a fresh pair of trail shoes and socks in the bag halfway through the course, allowing us to switch out shoes for the last five or six miles. My feet and mood were both grateful.

I cut up plastic binder dividers, wrote my information on them with a Sharpie, and tied them to my drop bags so I could find them.

I cut up plastic binder dividers, wrote my information on them with a Sharpie, and tied them to my drop bags so I could find them.

Runner friends will see you through anything. Not only did I get to run with the best runner friends in the universe, but a couple of our friends who didn’t even have a race traveled with us, cheered us on, took lots of pictures and video, and even helped one of us change out of her shoes after our ultra. Yes. Seriously.

Our friend Michelle helps one of our runners change out her shoes after the race. Not pictured is our friend Janet who cheered all of us and recorded the day's events for posterity.

Our friend Michelle helps one of our runners change out her shoes after the race. Not pictured is our friend Janet who cheered us on and captured the day’s events for posterity.

You are stronger than you thought. I may have felt better than I thought I would, but running for more than 10 hours took a toll on my body. I was tired and hungry. I just wanted to take a hot shower, eat all the food and go to bed. But my body did carry me through 31 miles without failing me. Our friend Vicky got hit by a falling branch. Shannon was stung by a couple of bees and picked up an unfortunate case of poison ivy. We saw 100K and 100-mile runners who were barely shuffling along. But we all kept going and met up at the finish line.

My friends Shannon and Vicki finishing the 50K, even after getting hit by a branch, stung by a bee and getting poison ivy.

My friends Shannon and Vicki finishing the 50K, even after getting hit by a branch, stung by a bee and getting poison ivy.

Our friend Corey stuck with Melissa to make sure she finished her first 50K.

Our friend Corey stuck with Melissa to make sure she finished her first 50K.

There’s no miracle recovery cure. I rested a lot the day after the race, but made sure to stretch, use the foam roller and put my legs up the wall. I also drank tons of water and took Aleve on the second day, typically my hardest post-race muscle-pain day. The closest thing to a cure, however, is a sports massage, which inevitably gives me fresh legs. Ahh, relief.

While most of my familia and friends thought I was nuts for attempting my first ultra marathon, the whole event was a huge success. I’m not yet committing to my next one, but I am certainly glad that I got to this one and hope it inspires you to sign up for your first 50K if it wasn’t on your radar before.

What have you learned from running your longest distance? Feel free to share a blog post if you’ve written about this topic before. (Click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)