Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Chainrings and Spittoons

I got spit on in the group ride today. I don't mean a little side sneeze wetness, I mean a hawk it up from your toes, suck it together in a nice ball and let it fly spit on.  I wish I could say it was my first time to get slimed by a mentally competent adult but, alas, it was not.  The reality is that if you run or ride with people on a group eventually someone is going to let a snot rocket fly and you'll be hit by friendly fire.
I remember the first time it happened.  The rider in front of me launched one.  As the mucous ball landed on my knee, my mind instantly grasped that I could not let go of the handlebars and frantically brush it off-that I probably shouldn't touch it at all.   I ignored it until the pace slowed to a point I could wash the glob off of my poor appendage with my water bottle.  The accidentally offending cyclist was an experienced rider that I admired.  It was sort of crushing and sort of great.  Let me back up and say that while it is NEVER great to get snot jockeyed, it's also reality that at some point in life you are bound to experience it so you may as well get it over with.

Years passed and I successfully dodged congested cyclists, questionably frothy people in the pool and phlegmy runners.  And then it happened.  This time I was third in a small pace line and directly in the line of fire.  I felt it hit my face.  Worse, I felt it hit the skin around my mouth.  I've been grounded from cycling and running since July with a sort of mystery hip problem.  I wasn't cycling much before that.  This was my second ride back.  I didn't recognize the the cyclist behind me nor the Super Spitter ahead of me but it was immediately apparent that he was horrified.  He was so horrified I couldn't even revel in a moment of self-pity.  Things happen fast on the bike.  You're either in or you are out.  I did my best to assure him that I understood it was an accident.  He disappeared to the back and the pace never dropped.  Keep pedaling.   He probably doesn't have The Ebola.  It's not going to kill you.  Just a few more miles and you can douse yourself with your water bottle.  Show no signs of weakness.  Do not lick your lips!

It's not like I've lived life so perfectly as to never gross someone out or offend.  It was more than that;  he was so sincerely apologetic in the split second after that everything in me wanted him to be okay.  We're sort of a family on the road.  We work together.  We struggle together.  We try to protect each other from cars and potholes.  We sweat on each other, occasionally accidentally rooster tail each other with roadkill-things just happen.  It was the most sincere of adventitious phlegmings and this stranger was my fellow cyclist.

As we neared the turn off road to get back to where we all park, I looked back for him but couldn't see him.  I turned toward the parking lot as the small group rode on a few more miles. I pulled into the parking lot and immediately decided to write this blog.  It's gross and funny and honest.  It's life as a mediocre athlete and that's what this blog is all about. I got a few sentences in before another cyclist showed up.

"Hey, remember my first time in the group when it was 100 degrees and you sweated all over me?" he recalled.  I barely remembered the incident but he did.  "Yeah, I moved here from Tennessee, found the group and you were slinging sweat all over me."  I tried to deny it.  I declared that I barely sweat but everyone sweats in Texas summers, when the temperatures near a 100 degree with 100% humidity.  Two words-heat index.  If you don't know what those mean you are living wrong.   Fish sweat in the summer in Texas!  Really you should move here.  It's God's country.  I asked, "Are you sure that was me?" as if you forget the complete stranger perspiring all over you and your beloved bike.  It was me and it sort of made the moment even better.

Then I saw him, my sweet little drooler.  He pulled into the parking lot with a bouquet of yellow wildflowers in his hand. He had stopped to pick apology flowers.  A complete gentleman, a rare breed, not at all afraid to own up to his completely unintended offense.  While I stick to my preferences about not getting spit upon, it was almost worth it.  I saw a real hero in his eyes.  I saw a man.  I saw a great human being.  I saw grace and kindness.  I saw the kind of person that made me love the athletic community in the first place.

Maybe I'll invent the world's first bike spittoon but then again maybe I won't. Maybe every once in a while the world needs to get spit on so it can remember the grace of an accident.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

My Doctors Have Always Been Athletes

I sat in the office of very nice doctor.  I was there to support my friend. My friend was there for what could have been bad news.  Everything was fine.  We were both very relieved!  The conversation turned to running.  We're both runners.  The physician my friend was being referred to is a runner.  My friend's doctor stood there in her lab coat, very trim-figured with sensible shoes.  I pegged her for someone with a positive view about running.  I was wrong.   She spoke the words that made my head want to explode, "Just speed walk for thirty minutes three times a week," she smiled, "That's all you need."

I couldn't help myself, I listened as politely as I could.  I was a little exasperated as this was the second time I'd heard physicians speak unfavorably about running. I controlled my voice and cautiously said, "I think a little tendonitis is a lot less serious than a cardiac episode, don't you?"  She puffed out little gasps of air and stood there silently for a moment as she thought.  She had a retort and I clamped down on my thoughts, reminding myself that I was here to support a friend, not argue with her doctor about running.  
I actually listened to what she had to say but she didn't offer any facts or quote any studies.  She just went on to tell me that people get injured from running and that recreational speed walking is a much better, safer exercise.  I respect her right to her opinion.  I respect her medical degree.  I even like her as a person but I was a little frustrated with her response.

Washington Post
 I'm not denying that there is a certain sense in what she had to say.  Athletes do get extreme, especially runners and sometimes that gets us injured.  It's a strong part of our mental makeup. Push, achieve, push harder.  It's what makes us who we are. Maybe it also makes us a little bit responsible for the attitude of some members of the medical community.  This doesn't mean we should stop running.  It does mean that there could be a lesson to be learned.  In my experience, mature athletes have learned that along with push, achieve, push harder comes rest, being in tune with the body and nourishing the entire entity.  That process has kept them in the running game for a long time. But are there any studies that actually prove running is detrimental to health?  That runners suffer more injuries than other sports players?  Are we truly at an increase risk for injury over sedentary people?  I really don't know since I can't find any studies comparing sedentary peoples' injury rates to those of athletes but it's a fairly basic assumption that it's pretty hard to get injured sitting on the couch. What I can find are studies like this one in the Washington Post. A study that indicates the more sedentary you are the more likely you are to die.

The Wall Street Journal, "Why You Should Step Up Your Workout"

Some studies show an increased health benefit from running more mileage.  Dr. Paul Williams studied over 100,000 runners for nearly 20 years.  He made some interesting discoveries.  He claims that surpassing the federally recommended exercise guidelines can positively impact the risk of several preventable diseases such as glaucoma, stroke, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.  Not only does his research demonstrate the benefit of increased weekly mileage, it shows a strong impact on the body's ability to ward off certain conditions.  We're not talking about small margins.  We're talking about significant health gains.  

 So besides our own hard-headedness why does it seem that a large majority of healthcare providers are of the opinion that running is not the best choice for exercise?  A clue is quoted from the same Wall Street Journal piece.  Author of the article, Kevin Hilliker writes"Chief of cardiology at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut, Dr. Thompson notes that vigorous exercise regimens can lead to injury. And he also observes in many patients a fragile motivation to exercise. Among those currently meeting or slightly exceeding the guidelines, a daunting new challenge might prove discouraging, he says. 'And if you make them run more and they get injured, then they wind up running less.'"  

I don't disagree with Dr. Thompson.  With the incredible obesity and cardiovascular incident numbers in this country it is easy to see his point of view.  A lot of people are starting from an older or no athletic background.  I just don't agree with his direction.  The answer is not to discourage or limit.  The answer is more education and encouragement.  The answer is to evaluate people that are happily active runners and support their progress.  The answer is to work harder to help runners understand what causes injury and how to avoid it.  The answer is to help patients find the running programs that will allow them to sensibly increase their mileage and draw on the experience of people that have been running for years. The answer is to work harder to start children in athletics at a younger age and to retain and utilize physical education time.  We must teach our children how to exercise for a lifetime.  We all stand to benefit when we set goals then persistently and intelligently obtain them.  The answer is education all around. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

13 Super Useful Trail Running Tips

1.  Never pass up a chance to get potable water.  Failure to heed this warning may find you cruising Etsy for a "Kiss me, I've had Cryptosporidium" tee shirt

2.  Never pass up a chance to use a potty with walls.  It's going to take you a minute to struggle your wet bottoms back up your sweaty rear power quadrant.  The people you run with have camera phones.

3.  Runner in the front clears the spiderwebs.   Don't be a spider weenie.  Take a turn in the front.

4.   Enlarge the hole in the mouthpiece of your hydration pack or run the risk of developing buccal hypertrophy.  If that's not a real term it should be.  

5.  Never say no to bug spray.  Saying no means you will spend the run reminding yourself how much you love nature as you slap horseflies to death.

6.  Always slap horseflies to death.   They deserve it.

7.  Bring the stuff you've gotten in race packets and stored away for years. You'll eat a lot of things you don't think you like when you can't get to food.   Suddenly a peanut butter lobster bar sounds pretty darn good!

9.  Roots hate runners.  They'll do anything to bring you down.  Never take your eyes off of them!

10.  Be careful where you sit.  Stick, puuulllll, Stick, puuuullll, stick puuuulll. Gum, tree sap, mystery gunk- Your inner short liner can and will adhere to your leg and pull free with each step.  

11.  Be prepared to feed, water and possibly take home stray animals.  Big, watery, lonely dog eyes are hard to resist.  Bless your heart.

12.  Trees look a lot alike.  Create a better return navigation plan than tree memorization.

13.  Things move in the woods.  Offer it a peanut butter lobster bar and hope for the

Friday, March 28, 2014

Galveston Mardi Gras Half Marathon 2014

This was a race I've been wanting to do!  The stars finally aligned and it was going to be a great weekend with Tara, Erin, Jeremiah, Rich and myself all in this race together.  Tara, Erin and myself even coordinated a subtle Mardi Gras theme to our outfits.  One thing you should know about me is that I LOVE a low hassle race.  Some people go for the big expo, lots of people on the road sort of thing but I dig a race that gets me in and out of packet pick up, has easy parking and has just enough people on the course to make it interesting.  This is one of those races.

I was fresh off of my 50, well 34 miler the weekend before but I was really looking forward to this race.  Tara and Erin are two of my absolute favorite people.  We all run together well.  No drama, no complaints if someone is having an off day, no one holding anyone back that is having a on day-we're just friends and it works.

We lined up and took off.  I already had to pee.  How does that happen?  I was determined to ignore it and thoroughly enjoying the candy colored gingerbread houses along the first part of the route.  Galveston is full of interesting architecture and history.

On my legs were the new and looser calf sleeves I bought to try.  HUGE mistake.  For some reason anything on my calves makes the muscles burn.  As we reached the seawall, I jumped onto the sidewalk, laid down on my back and begged Erin and Tara to strip them off of me.  They did.   God bless them.

Soon my calves were feeling better but my need to make wee was not.  Oh I really have to go!  We spotted a public portajohn on the boardwalk and decided I should go for it.  As often happens when you really need to go, it wasn't empty.  Tara and Erin patiently waited with me even though they didn't have to.  Have I mentioned that they are the best people in the world?

Ah!  Much better.  Now I can get on to the business of running before I completely lose the skin on my already blistered and taped toes.  It was just one of those days where we weren't all matching paces.  It happens.  As always no one minded.  I ended up separated from the group trying to get to the finish line before my toes could stop me.   I saw a lot of my friends along the seawall then again when we looped through a newer neighborhood.  My friend Cecilia actually took the picture.  She's a better runner than I am and everything in me wanted to stay right there and enjoy my time with her but I knew anything other than the pace I had going would be a mistake.

The race loops back into more historic homes.  I was passing people with the funny little running form I'd adopted to keep as much pressure as possible off of my toes.  It honestly didn't dawn on me that something was amiss until the fifth or sixth person I passed gave me quite the odd look.  Oh well, to the finish line with me. 

The best part of this race was the camaraderie .  We ate together after the race, talked and told stories.  Richard and I host or volunteer at a lot of our local races so we don't always get to be on the course with our friends.  It was so good.  Good course, good memories, good friends-a true homerun.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Rocky Raccoon 34

Rocky Raccoon 50 2013 was hard.  Somehow I forgot that and on a bright, sunny day in June I signed up for RR 2015.  It made perfect sense at the time.  I'm a hypothyroid patient with stage four endometriosis and frequently recurring ovarian cysts, pushing my body through a 50 miler one more time sounded like something I wanted to do.  As silly as that sounds I am actually 100% serious.  You see the thing that ticks me off the most about whatever is wrong with my body, medical science doesn't fully understand so I don't either, is that it comes with limitations.  I'm not willing to accept limitations.  The nursing diagnosis for this is known as Ineffective Denial.  I signed up and decided to take my training much more seriously this year.

Step one was to figure out why I blistered so badly the first year.  The blisters started at mile 16 and had a very negative impact on my run.  They were intense enough that they lifted off the toenails on both of my pinky toes and split the skin down to the meat. This year, I was determined to conquer them.  I bought four different pairs of trail shoes.  Some people say you don't need trail shoes for Rocky.  We went to store after store explaining my issue and no one had an answer.  I changed socks, I tried lubes, I tried powders, I tried antiperspirants, I tried tape-reconfirming my horrible tape allergy, I tried double socks, I even read the book "Fixing Your Feet".  No success.  Nothing I tried got me over 16 miles without blisters, except for my New Balance testers and I had to send those back before the race. Fatal move, as NB generously agreed to let me keep them for the race but I sent them back because of my stubborn feeling trail runs should be done in trail shoes.

Step two was to strengthen my gluteals and ankles as the 17,652,854 roots on the trail are probably the biggest terrain challenge.  No turned ankle was taking me out the race if I could help it!  I went to the gym and did embarrassing, weird movements in order to challenge myself and make useful neuromuscular connections.  Good news, it worked!  Not one sprained ankle.  Everything I semi-tripped over was answered immediately by my body with minimal effort.

Unfortunately the blisters were not good news.  My problem reared it's ugly head again.  I just didn't have the strength to soldier through them this time. My friend Sandy was tearing up the course and looking strong  My good friends John and Willie tried to encourage me but my body was simply too tired to handle the pain.  They both went on to finish their first 50 miler.  I did not.

Somewhere around mile 26 I realized my chances of finishing this race were slim.  Both of my pinky toes felt 5 times bigger than they were.  I was altering my gait to compensate and it was causing all kinds of hip and low back pain. On top of this, the debilitating fatigue I'd developed at the end of January was crushing my will.  I'd never DNF'd a race before.  Could my ego handle it?  If this had happened a few years ago the answer would have been no.  It would have embarrassed me and bitten into my sense of self worth.  But here's the thing about running, it teaches you to fail without failing.  During the long miles of training, the races where I performed well and the ones that I didn't, the shared journey with other runners in the trenches, the deeper understanding of myself that came with every physical challenge, I had begun to change.  I was no longer defined by how far, how fast or the comparison of other runners around me-I was just me, just running because I love it.

I'm not fast.  I'm not impressive. My body is never going to operate normally.  No one is ever going to want to know my training secrets.  Somehow though, all of that was pushed aside and running belonged to me.  I was no longer looking for someone to tell me that.  I was owning it.  It was the most remarkable feeling of freedom and connection.  I was free from letting anyone else ever define my running again.  I had taken on a challenge and passed it.  I didn't feel like less of a runner and something inside of me was excited about sporting a RR 50 shirt with a giant Sharpie DNF on it.  I earned that DNF.  At mile 34 my race was over but my running was not.

 Running has done something else for me too.  I learned that antihistamines disrupt my hormones  causing even greater ovarian cyst/endo issues.  Symptoms have made it pretty obvious that this was the cause of the debilitating fatigue that began in January.  We thought it was allergies and it probably did have an allergy component.  Unfortunately my issues tripled on antihistamines instead of resolving.    Without running I might downshift my life to meet my energy levels. I might have gone through the motions of what needed to be done in a day and then laid on the couch in my downtime.  Not anymore.  Running has given me a great tool to know when something is off.  It still befuddles me but I'm learning.   I'm recognizing patterns and I'm fighting back.  I earned that DNF!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

2014 Austin 3M Half Marathon-Where the Body and Mind Split

     Pretty much up until my legs touched down on the start line I was lying to myself about making this a competitive race.  Most of my races are run for fun but every now and then I like to see what I can do.  I can't do much.  I'm not a great runner and with the endometriosis and hypothyroidism how I feel is somewhat unpredictable.  That doesn't mean that I let myself off the hook or that my goal isn't important or just as hard won.

    It started out with an expo and a chiropractor there poking at the swelling in my hip that has been there for over a year and saying "Does it hurt?"
"No, it doesn't bother me much."
"Yeah, you probably have a high pain tolerance because that should hurt."
Super.  He both complimented me making me want to work harder and brought up an injury giving me a valid excuse to take it easy.  I like to take it easy.  It doesn't take much of an excuse to get me to kick back on a course and daisy-pick my way through the race, but it's been a long time since I'd run a half for time instead of enjoyment.  Maybe it was time.   Besides the Austin 3M had a reputation for being a mostly downhill course.  I'll take all the help I can get.

    Race day was chilly.  Jeremiah, Rich and myself arrived way too early so we didn't have to battle over parking.  Turns out there's pretty good parking around the race start but it's always nice to be there and relaxed instead of hurried and harassed.  The boys sat in the car while I did my typical pre-run mile and bathroom trip.  Everything was shaping up nicely.  I ran back to the car and soaked up some heat so I didn't waste unnecessary calories shivering in the cold.

     Finally it was time to line up in the start chute.  That whole process was pretty uneventful and easy.  The boys went to the smoking fast start line and I debated between the 2 hour and 1:55 pace group.  I've never run a sub 2 hour half.  I think the best I've ever run was a 2:05ish.  I know should know that but I don't.  I just know it was over 2 and that I've always wanted to break 2.  I settled for somewhere in-between the two, still not fully committed to pushing myself through this run.

    Bam!  We're off!  Somehow I found myself trailing the 2 hour pace group.  How did this happen?  My breathing is ragged and my heart is pounding!  Legs, are you still under me?  The course has changed from what I understand and I don't know all of the changes.  It continues to be a net effect of downhill but the course actually starts uphill.  Uphill? Okay, I can still do this.  I like uphill.  If the net effect is downhill how bad can it be? Bad.  It turns out that it's bad when your mind is not in agreement with what your body is willing to do.  The 2 hour pacer was suddenly well ahead of me and I was losing ground.  As much as I like to daisy-pick I do not like to lose ground.

    I started the self-assessment.  Do my legs hurt? No, no they're fine.  Am I working too hard?  Well my breathing is ragged and my heart rate is fast but it's not so fast I can't sustain the pace.   Are you standing tall like Scott Meyer told you to do?  Well he didn't actually tell me to do it.  He just said in passing conversation one day "I don't know how people can run when there all bent over and sitting down like that."
"Yeah, yeah me neither," looking around like I would never do that.  Well I would and sometimes I do.  Especially when I get tired and it actually just makes me more tired, but not this time.  I was standing up straight as an arrow.  Go me!  So what was the problem?  My mind.  My mind was the problem.  My mind hadn't accepting that was going to happen.  It was still hanging out back in that warm car thinking about pancakes.  Tough biscuits, mind.  We're doing this!

    I looked down at my watch and saw that I was 1.5 miles into the race.   Alright, no need to panic.  Sometimes it takes a good 2 miles for my body and brain to sync over this running thing.  Mile 2 found me gaining on the 2 hour pacer.  Are you really gaining on him?  Oh, he looks like a good runner.   You should slow down.  In that moment I reassessed, found out I was fine and decided to ignore my mind.  What does it know?  It still wanted pancakes and now a foot massage.  I caught the pacer and passed him.  Did I celebrate that I was running past someone that could clearly wipe the floor with me in a race?  Of course!  I may never have this chance to run past him again!

     Still physically feeling good but mentally fighting every step, I stripped off my gloves at mile 4 or so and dropped my water bottle.  I run with a water bottle filled with Powerade because liquid calories and I agree in a race.  If I have them I can pace them out instead of gulping them at a water station.  Ah fudge!  I have to go back and get it because it's my favorite bottle but darn I may not have the willpower to make my mind run again.  Oh well, I'll do what I have to do.  I ran back and quickly scooped up my bottle.  Luckily, it hadn't caused any issue or been kicked around on the course.

     One mile led to another and the feeling that my mind and body were not in sync never changed.  I just kept running and reassessing.  There was quite a bit of uphill on that downhill course.  I enjoyed it though.  What's race without a challenge?  Around mile 6 it sunk in that I was more likely to PR than not PR.  I decided at that point I was sticking with it even if my body decided to join my mind for pancakes.

     I'll spare you the details about the course other than to say the longest climb came somewhere around mile 9 and it made me wonder what more was to come.  Around mile 10 I knew I was starting to fade.  I was ticking off small increments on a watch I had pretty much ignored most of the race.  10.2, 10.3, 10.4, alright, we're getting closer! That is never a good way to spend the last 5K of a race.  If you want to make a race seem infinitely longer start counting down tenth of a miles.  Still, I wasn't counting down hundredths so there was hope I could hang on to this PR.

     Around mile 11 I started ticking off hundredths.  Oh dear.  My body had decided to join my mind for pancakes.  I had only taken in my 12 ounces of Powerade and not a calorie more.  I knew it was hunger.  My body was caving but my soul wasn't giving in.  I was too close to a PR.  The finish line was creeping into sight. One more uphill, a left turn and a sprint home.   I can do it!  I did.  1:55   Good enough to break 2!

    Inside I was celebrating.  Years of struggle with physical health and I did it!  I couldn't even talk to anyone around me because I was completely inside of myself congratulating me for not crumbling to my mind and later my body.  I stumbled up for water and the photographer yelled out "Get your official picture here," to myself and a couple that had passed him.  No one was in line so we stood to his left.  They took their photo then I waited since a line had formed to his right by this time.  I waited through 7 people then stepped in feeling like it wouldn't be an issue since I had actually waited well beyond my time in line.  As I stepped in a man with a female hustled in, pushing me out with his words "The line is over there!" his face formed into an ugly scowl.  I was caught by surprise and stammered "I know but there was no one in line so I passed the photographer with another group and he yelled out so we stopped here and waited.  I waited for several people and it's well beyond my turn, sir."  Just like that my moment of victory was crushed under his hateful glare.  I said "Forget it," and turned away.  I was working hard to hold back my tears.  I couldn't stand the idea of letting him see me cry.  Rich touched my back as he spotted me and I shrugged him off not realizing it was him in my upset.  I despise crying, much less in front of others, but between the low blood sugar, the physical effort, the highest of highs then the lowest of lows I wasn't controlling the emotion very well.  I sat down and got my hurt feelings under control.  It's a small thing but I included it in this blog for a reason.  You never know what someone has gone through to race.  I spent years of my life sick.  I pushed through life because that's who I am but I struggled.  I've advocated for myself with physicians, even firing one that wouldn't listen and I've trained through times of extreme pain and low energy.  That doesn't make me special.  My point is you just don't know what someone has gone through and on race day we should be celebrating each other.  We should be saying "You first.  You're amazing.  I'm so proud of you, complete stranger."  Not shoving each other around with ugly words and selfishness.  He hasn't stolen my joy but he did mar it.  I'll always have that memory first instead of the one where my husband hugged me and told me he was proud of me.

We quickly loaded up on the bus and were driven back to the race start.  On the bus, someone recognized us as the organizers of the Exygon & Baptist Hospitals Gusher Marathon, SETMA Half Marathon and Kinsel Ford 5K and told us how much they loved the race.  They complimented us on the work we've done.  Once again I smiled inside knowing they were complimenting the whole community and everyone that's been behind this race.  It was almost enough to wipe out my finish line experience.  It felt like divine intervention.  What an emotional roller coaster!  One minute someone is yelling at me and the next, two complete strangers were saying some of the kindest things I've ever heard. I was reminded once again that I don't really do any of it for me.  I do it to be the things I want to see in this world-grit, courage, determination, strength, kindness, connection and pancakes.  Maybe my mind isn't so split from my body after all.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Wild Azalea Trail Challenge-A Race Report and A Love Story

Aid station
     You never know what you are going to get when you sign up for a race you've never done which is one of the reasons I was excited to register for the Wild Azalea Trail Challenge.  I opted for the 27 mile distance over the 50 knowing I'd be one of the slow rollers on the trail.  I didn't want to hold anyone up while they waited for me to daisy pick my way through the darkness.  Part of me was hoping it would be rustic and barely supported but the other part of me, the part that likes reclining on a couch and digs a well-stocked pantry was less sure.  Lucky for me this trail would have both



     The pre-race meeting was the night before the race.  We learned 10 people were registered for the 50 miler, 40 for the 27 miler and an additional 50 for the 27 mile mountain bike.  This was an increase from the 20 mountain bikers that did the race last year, always good to see a race grow. They offered to put anything out on the trail that we wanted.  We were encouraged to think about it and let them know.  Quite a bit of the meeting was spent going over the trail.  We were told to look for yellow diamonds.  "Always look for yellow diamonds.  You should see one every 50 feet or so."  Alright, that sounds easy enough.  As the meeting went on we learned that some areas would be marked with green tape. "Oh and you may want to look for brown paint on the trees.  In places where they changed the markings to the updated diamonds they painted over the old areas with brown paint, so if you see brown paint you're good!"   Oh dear, this was starting to sound scary.  In Southeast Texas you know pretty quickly when you are off trail because you have to push through thicket to get there.  You pretty much have to deliberately go off trail to get off trail.  In all my trail naivety it honestly hadn't ever occurred to me that in other parts of the world you could wander off trail because the rest of the woods didn't contain a natural Brillo pad barrier.   At this point in the meeting I raised my hand and asked for rum. 
Sofa that marks a turn.  See the yellow diamond?

     Back at the hotel that night I continued to check the Accuweather forecast trying to convince myself that it wouldn't be that a real feel of 29 degrees wouldn't be all that cold.  Two weeks ago when I signed up for this race I thought the hills and terrain would be the big challenge.  I'm a flat lander with a serious lack of training trail.  That was part of the appeal of this race for me.  I wanted this challenge.  I knew we would suffer going into it and I was okay with that.  I was starting to feel a little less okay.  By the time I was 2 hours into the race it would be 20 degrees warmer.  How does one dress for that?  Like a trooper, I real set my alarm instead of faking it.  Since Rich set his there was no use in pretending it didn't go off in the morning causing us to miss the race. 

        In the morning, I opted for my warmer Under Armour tights, a lightweight short sleeve shirt, a long sleeve shirt over the short sleeved shirt, gloves, a neck buff and a baseball hat (a hat with a brim is very useful when you go from shade to light in the woods) with an ear band over it.  I can go a long way if my ears, neck and hands are warm.  I also wore Gore X running gaiters.  Even though they promised to have supplies every 4-5 miles I opted to run with my Nathan four bottle hydration belt as well as my Amphipod belt.  In my Nathan belt I carried emergency Tylenol, Pepto Bismol, bandaids, Amino Acids, four gels, a packet of lady wipes, (trust me, always carry lady wipes) and two ginger chews.  In my Amphipod I carried my trusty iPhone.  I like having it in a separate pack so I can pull it out without worrying about losing anything.  On my feet I wore my favorite pair of Asics socks.  They're made of nylon and function like anti-blister superheroes! (You can get them at On The Run locally.)  I also wore my brand spanking new Nike Wildhorse trail shoes that I bought from Running Warehouse.  Never, never, never, never, never, never wear brand new shoes on a long trail run.  Sure it worked out okay for me but you don't want to be miles away from civilization with jacked up feet.  This happened to me at Rocky Raccoon last year and for a searing moment I had a vivid idea of how hard it would be to crawl three miles.  

     A van transported us to Woodworth where our trail run would start and the race was off.
The first mile and half or so of the race is on the road.  We ran to the trail to make up some distance since the trail is 25 or so miles long.  In the meeting we tried to nail down the specifics.  Even the official sites seem to vary in their information.  This is no big deal.  If you understand small ultra races you'll understand that distance precision isn't a big deal.  Maybe 27, maybe 29.  We knew it would be under 30.  It's an unspoken, universal ultra run rule.  If you ever sign up for an ultra, carry extra supplies for this reason.  Maybe your distance will be right on target, maybe you won't get lost, chances are it won't and you will.  You'll be glad to pull out that extra gel at some point.  

     Onto the trail!  Oh boy.  Rich told me a story about his dad taking a rural road in Louisiana and corn brushing both sides of the car.  This was something similar, only it was grass against my legs  and not corn against a car.  The first 3-4 miles was extremely narrow.  This side of the trail seems less utilized.  In a way that was quite lovely.  I managed to evert my ankle in the first half mile and cramp my calf so I was alone.  The last lonely soul on the trail.  I wasn't lonely though.  I was absolutely delighted to be there.  I was all by myself, relying on me and it was perfect, minus the rebel calf.  I stopped about four times trying to find the perfect tightness to the laces of my new shoes.  I stopped and stretched the calf.  I took a natural break.  Race nerves.  

     Around mile 5-6 things were looking up and my calf finally let go.  The yellow diamonds were easy to spot and the trail was well-marked.  I had to pay attention at this point as I no longer had the tall grass to keep things tight.  I encountered a lovely couple, Keith and Carol.  Keith rolled his ankle and the damage was slowing his progress.  He was still handling it like a champ but cautious.  
Keith and Carol-31 years of love!  

      I ran the rest of the race with these two wonderful people.  They were celebrating their 31st wedding anniversary. I inquired over the long hours and many miles about their lives and shared stories of mine.  I wish I had paid more attention the exact mile but somewhere in here were the most difficult miles of the race.  Hills so steep I could have climbed them on all fours, boggy creek crossings, paying constant attention to stay on trail and not tripping over roots.  The roots aren't bad. Compared to Rocky Raccoon it's smooth as glass but they're there.  It's a twisty piece of work but once you get past it the trail opens up to some nice terrain.  Scenic, serene.  At each road crossing we found bottles of water, gatorade and other items.  See the picture above.  Twice they were completely out of fluids.  We all carried fluids so we were okay but we were running low.  A guy rode up on a mountain bike checking on us and we informed him of the low fluid issue. He promised to take care of it for the runners behind us.  Eventually got what we needed and everything was fine.  The race staff worked hard.  This is the reason I pack my own fluids and food on the course.  Anything can happen and it's just smart to be prepared                                                        

Keith stumbles into a nap
     Little creeks crossed all over the trail. They were crystal clear and cold but we had been warned not to drink from them.  All creek crossings had either some sort of concrete, branches or they were narrow enough to cross.  Our feet stayed dry but if I did this run after a good rain I'd think about the potential for wet feet.  We got lost once or twice.  Nothing major but we did have to pay attention.  One crossing involves going across a road to what looks like the trail and has a shelter with a trail map but isn't the trail.  We had to cross the two lane highway to pick up the trail.  Always look for those yellow diamonds.  We were able to navigate back to the trail quickly because we were looking.  The second sneaky section was down a deep ravine that didn't look like the right path.  It was.  The rest of the trail is pretty normal trail.  The end of the race looks like an old asphalt path that has been allowed to decay.  The hardest part of this race was the leaf coverage.  It was thick! The leaf coverage made the roots tough to see and the trail slightly slick under my shoes.  Keith took a couple more stumbles because of this.  He ran that race on all heart.  Carol was the steady determination behind him.  It was truly a pleasure to run with them.  
  Love birds at the finish
     I kept going back to one question though "Why do you think you've been successful in your marriage?"  The answer was much like running the trail.  "Perseverance," they answered, "We are committed.  We've had our hard times but we don't give up.  We believe in each other.  That is the reason we love to do things like this together.  Trust has been invaluable.  Trust has been the guide during the rocky parts of our marriage."  They were a team.  Trail running is hard.  It zaps your strength.  It leaves you hungry, dirty, tired, lost and doubting.  They crossed the finish line holding hands and smiling.   It was a lesson on the trail within a lesson on the trail.   

After losing his way and running an additional three miles Rich was still there at the end smiling and taking my picture.