Wednesday, June 19, 2013

I'm Running!!! From couch to 52 miles…..

"I'm Running!"

I'm running! I had a grin on my face the whole way!
This was the exact phrase I yelled at a couple of my friends volunteering at a local 5k two weeks ago. I was just so happy to finally be running again and couldn't hide my excitement. I'm not sure those friends knew I was injured, so they were probably thinking "Yep, you are running. Cool. That's what you do in a race." I wasn't really planning to race, only 2 days prior I did my first 15 minute run after almost 10 weeks off. My plan was to walk/run the 5k to support the cause (Heaven Can Wait…aka Cancer Sucks). In fact I started a ways back from the start to not even tempt myself. As soon as the gun went off and I started running I realized that I felt good. Like really good. So I weaved my way through the masses of people and started running pretty fast. Fast enough in fact to win the race in 18:30. Not too shabby :)

Ok, maybe it wasn't the smartest thing I've ever done, but you have to test the waters sometime, right? Well it gets better…..

Zach was planning to race his first 100 miler at Bighorn the following weekend. I had agreed to come along to crew/be moral support. We decided to make a road trip out of it, so we took 3 days to drive over to Sheridan Wyoming. One of the days we spent in Yellowstone. It was great! We saw a lot of wildlife, everything except a Griz which, honestly, I was ok with. 

Buffalo fording the river. Oregon Trail game anyone?

Yellowstone River Canyon
 We camped just outside the park, on the Wyoming side. I was a bit nervous because the first 3 camp sites we stopped at wouldn't allow us to camp with a tent because of Grizzly bears in the area. I guess the fish are spawning right now and the area we were trying to camp was full of bears. So excited to be tenting! We were careful about storing our food and didn't have any issues. It sure was beautiful!
Camping near Yellowstone
We arrived in Sheridan on Wednesday, two days before the race start on Friday. On Thursday we went for a run to explore the race course. It was beyond beautiful! The trail was a rocky single track winding up a river canyon in the bighorn mountains. Above the trees the alpine fields were covered in purple and yellow flowers. So beautiful. It was then I realized that I ran 60 minutes with no pain. Woohoo! I was so excited. But that meant I had a decision to make. Technically, I could help pace Zach for part of his race. He didn't have anyone helping him except me, and I was only planning to crew. We contemplated the options and decided that I would try to pace him for part of the run. I could join him at mile 48 and then have 3 different options of places to drop out, depending on how I felt. It seemed like a safe way for me to help pace without the fear of running too far. 

The morning of the race was totally relaxed. The race started at 11:00am, which I LOVED. No waking up early! It was awesome. I went to the race start with Holly Gellin, who was crewing for her husband Gary Gellin. We watched the race take off, then got in the car to drive to the first aid station. None of the aid stations were easy to get to. In fact, many of them were only accessible by horseback. Pretty incredible! We saw both Gary and Zach go through mile 13, both looking great. Zach was hanging back quite a bit, in 20th place or so. I was so happy to see him taking it easy early on- smart for his first 100. 

After crewing/cheering for a bit, Holly and I got back in the car and drove to Jaws, the turnaround point. From here we had about 7 or 8 hours to kill. We went for a walk, read books, took a nap, etc. And waited. And waited. I was a little worried about starting so late in the day, especially since I've never run through the night before. 
Around 8:30 Zach surprised everyone by coming through the halfway point in 5th! I was beyond excited! Pretty sure I was jumping up and down (ok, maybe I was also trying to stay warm because the sun was going down). After refueling and grabbing some warm clothes, we were off! Zach was in such good spirits and I was so happy to join him running. I think I got a little too excited because I face planted about a half mile in. Zach made fun of me because it was totally flat ground and I tripped over my own feet. I forgot how to run, ok? It had been awhile! Anyhow, I did a nice barrel roll and got back up on my feet. Nothing hurt, except my pride :)

Starting to Pace
We rolled along the course chatting and cheering on fellow racers. It was a beautiful night and we got to see an amazing sunset over the mountains. I can't think of a better way to watch the sunset with my boyfriend. Yep, I'm different. 

We kept making our down the trail, cranking out miles. I was feeling good, so I decide to keep pacing. Plus, we hadn't seen anyone for hours, so I really didn't want to leave Zach alone in the middle of the night. At some point, around 3:00am, it started to get really dark and cold. It hit both of us like a brick wall. I'm taking like single digits with a wind chill. My face was so cold that I had trouble talking and my hands were totally numb. About that time I decided that this wasn't really fun anymore. And then it became even less fun because I fell again. This time it was worse because my body was totally frozen and I fell on some rocks. Damn it. There were a few tears, but I was ok and we powered on. We could see the next aid station glowing in the distance, still about 3 miles away. It seemed to take FOREVER to get to the glowing light. Once we finally made it we spent about 15-20 minutes trying to warm up. I put on two more jackets and got some hand warmers to put in my mittens (yes, mittens). It was cold! I'm pretty sure the aid station crew had to kick us out, we wanted to stay in there forever. I wan't too excited to go back out in the freezing cold exposed trail. Plus we still had about an hour until the sunrise. Somehow we got our butts out the door and continued on. We had just passed mile 82, which was also the last place I could drop out before the finish. Despite how much I wanted to stay in the warm tent, I couldn't leave Zach now. I was in it for the long haul…..

The sunrise was a much anticipated event. And it didn't disappoint. Warmth flooded over us like a blanket and the sunlight illuminated the high alpine meadows and rocks. It was maybe even more spectacular than the sunset. How often do you get to see both sunset and sunrise in the same day? Pretty cool! 

The last section of the race was a steep 6 mile downhill section followed by 6 miles on a flat gravel road. Brutal. Zach was hurting a bit on the downhill, but stayed tough and kept running. He also managed to save me from fall number 3 (seriously?) going down a steep rocky section. At this point in the race Zach was in 4th and really wanted to hold that position. There were a few runners close behind Zach at some of the last aid stations (or so we thought) and we really didn't want anyone to catch us. Once we hit the last 6 miles of gravel I cracked the whip. We started cranking out 8-min miles with the goal of making anyone who wanted to catch us REALLY work for it. I'm pretty sure Zach hated me at the time, but I told him he would thank me later :) 
High Alpine Wildflowers
We made it to the finish line in 20:16 in 4th place, with no one in site behind us. I guess we didn't have to push those last few miles so hard, but hey it was good practice :) I was beyond words proud of Zach! His goal was sub-24 hrs and he annihilated that! I was also so impressed that he didn't really have a rough patch. He was smart with pacing and did a phenomenal job with nutrition. I watched him put down a gel every 20 minutes. It sure paid off! 

Fast forward a day. I was a total wreck. My legs were so destroyed from running that far with literally no training for months. I had done exactly 4 runs up to that point, none of which were longer than 5 miles. I ended up pacing for 52 miles, which I'm slightly embarrassed to admit is the furthest I've ever run before. I'm pretty sure I was more sore than Zach. Funny. I wouldn't recommend attempting to run 52 miles after a 10 week hiatus from running. But I'm known for doing crazy, type II fun-like things. I would have dropped out if I needed to, but my calf was totally fine. It was just the rest of me that was hurting. In a way I was psyched to be that sore. It's been a long while! 

For the next couple weeks I'm back to cross training. I don't want to push my luck. Just because I ran that far doesn't mean I'm ready to fully immerse myself in running. I'm hoping to be back racing in late July and want to be smart (ha) with my training until then. This weekend definitely gave me some confidence though!

I'm so excited I was able to be a part of Zach's first 100 mile race and even more excited about how well he finished. I think he may become a 100 mile specialist…. :) I'm also excited that we are both in need of some recovery time…aka movies and ice cream. Sure feels good to be back!!