Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Race Recap: Burning River 100 Mile 4 Person Relay

Let's just get this one revelation out of the way: 25.72 miles on trails is NOTHING LIKE 26.2 miles on a road. I found this out the hard way this weekend at the Burning River 100 Mile Race, sponsored by Western Reserve Racing.

This is my third year running Burning River with the Mother Runners, and this year I decided to try for a new goal: I ran in a 4-person team instead of an 8-person team. After all, I thought, I've already run 4 marathons, and this is just under marathon distance. I got this.

Anyway, I trained for this in the same way as I would for a marathon, except my long runs were on trails. Another difference in my training for this event was that I tapered for three weeks instead of my usual two weeks, but I'm not sure that made much of a difference since I spent two of those three weeks on vacation where I was on my feet for 10-15 miles a day.

I wasn't really worried about the racing factor; my team is usually around last place.  I don't consider Burning River to be a race; I look at it like a great big community event where I see every runner I have ever known either on the course, at the finish, or at the aid stations. It's a tremendous party. . . that involves a tremendous amount of pain and suffering.  Speaking of parties:

Mother Runners Intersect with Trail Sisters: Me, Marta, Jennifer, Melissa
Photo Credit: I don't know, but it's Melissa's phone.

Trail Sisters at the Pre-Race Dinner
Photo Credit: Steve Pierce

I chose leg 4, which consists of  legs 7 and 8 (25.7 miles) of the 8 person team,  for several reasons: 1. I love night running, and this would be an all-night run. 2. I've already run leg 7 in the past, so I would be familiar with this part. 3. It would be nice to come into the finish.

I predicted that each leg of our team would take roughly 6 hours, so I thought I'd start around midnight and run until 6 AM. That would give me plenty of time to fuel properly and rest before waiting for the previous leg. Of course, in my world, things never go as planned. My daughter had her wisdom teeth out the Thursday before the race, and by early Saturday morning, she was screaming in pain from a reaction to the combination of ibuprofen and antibiotic. That was fun. So, no rest for Stephani. (Punkin is fine, by the way.)

As for the fueling, I did a pretty good job EXCEPT that I didn't drink any water at all for the three hours I waited for my team mates. This turned out to be a big mistake.

Anyway, my partner Tamra and I took off from Pine Hollow at 1:07 AM when Amy and Erica came in. I was able to see Marta come in from her legs 5 and 6, and I saw Jen off for her legs 7 and 8.

Marta, Me, Renee after Marta's finish
Photo Credit: Steve Pierce




I had spent the last hour in the heated bathroom fighting sleep and questioning my life choices.

This is EXACTLY how I look when I am in a bathroom at midnight questioning my life choices.
Tamra and I settled into an easy rhythm, taking lots of care not to fall or trip, and chatting as we ran. In retrospect, I realize now that Tamra had asked me a few times if I was drinking water, and I said I was but I wasn't thirsty. When we pulled into the first aid station at the Covered Bridge, my water bottle was full, but I rationalized that by saying that it was "only" five miles and I was drinking ginger ale at the aid station. I ate some grilled cheese and babbled to my friends Kelleigh, Marta, and Nick (who was dressed as a pirate). I yelled a thank you to the awesome volunteers at Covered Bridge I, and we were on our way.



Nick is a pirate. Or an admiral. Or something. Photo Credit: Marta Pacur


We went out for our second loop through the woods, and I felt awesome by then. Again, I wasn't drinking enough water, but I thought that I had drunk enough at the aid station. We showed up again at the Covered Bridge, and I ate another square of grilled cheese and drank some Mountain Dew. At this point we were at 11ish miles, and I felt really awake and happy. We thanked our awesome volunteers and started out for the next aid station.

Kelleigh is a great volunteer! Photo Credit: Marta Pacur
This section took us past Hale Farm into O'Neil Woods, and as we ran in the dark and fog past the graveyard, we could hear a pack of coyotes howling at the big, full moon. I had never heard so many coyotes in my life! It was so cool and also a bit eerie.

These five-ish miles weren't as scary as I had remembered them to be; maybe it's because I was so jazzed from night running, or maybe I have better training under my belt this year. Anyway, we pulled into the Botzum aid station, and I was a little bit delirious at that point because I remembered that I wasn't finished this time. I still had 9.6 more miles to go. The volunteers there were amazing. One woman took charge because I looked confused, and she asked me what I wanted and if she could fill my water bottle. "I don't know what I need," I said, "and my water bottle is full, I think."

"Then you aren't drinking enough water," she replied. Then she got me some warm ramen broth, and that was perfect with a piece of watermelon. It gave me liquid, salt, and sugar: the three very things I needed at that point. We thanked the volunteers and ran outta there.

As we ran, the sun started rising. We were now on the Towpath, and I was able to turn off the headlamp and Knuckle Lights, which was a relief. We passed my friend Felicia, running the Back 50 with her boyfriend Michael, and my friend Ken, also running the Back 50. They all seemed in remarkably good spirits.

We arrived at the last aid station, Memorial Parkway, and I got a nice surprise seeing my friends Sydney and Teresa. They took pics of us.

I have food in my hand, of course. Photo credit: Sydney Chinchana

Tamra and I are a bit dazed, I think. Photo Credit: Teresa Sroka
At this point we had about 4ish miles left, and I was ready to get 'er done. I was super-tired and ready to sleep.  I didn't care that I was running towards the beer and my friends. I didn't care about anything; however, I made sure to keep my negativity to myself as much as I could because Tamra was amazingly positive for this whole run, and I didn't want to scare her.

We ran through The Chuckery with some wicked steps and uphills and then some flat parts up until mile 25.

I'm running away from the previous 24 miles!
Photo Credit: Tamra Harrison
As we ran towards Front St. and the finish, we caught up with a young man running the 100. Tamra wanted to perk him up, so she asked me how far we had to go, and I said, "About 2 miles." At that point, he suddenly started running again, and he continued UPHILL to the finish, running and grunting very loudly the whole way. That dude was an incredible BEAST!

Anyway, we made the turn onto Front St., and my heart sank when I saw that we had to run uphill toward the finish line. I ran about half of the hill, and then I saw Angela and Melissa, Mother Runners, waiting for us to run us in, and that is when Tamra and I let it out. It felt good to finish strong.

Renee meets me at the finish line. I'm too emotional to talk.
Photo Credit: Marta Pacur


Tamra, Me, Lisa, Melissa: Mother Runners!
Photo Credit: I forget, but it's Melissa's phone. Sorry!


After I changed my shirt, I joined the Trail Sisters for a beer (or two).


Which picture do you think is post-beer?
Photo Credit: Michael Szloh
When I got home, I took a shower, drank some water, took some ibuprofen, and dared anyone in the house to disturb me for the next three hours. And I slept. When I woke up three hours later, I had a whopping headache, and now that I think about it, I'm sure that I didn't hydrate properly. Lesson learned.

I'm pretty sore even two days later, and it took a while for the headache to subside. I've managed to swim, walk, stretch, and even run a little bit since the race, but I admit that these trail miles took a toll on my body. I told the Trail Sisters that I thought it was stupid on my part to run a 4 person relay when I could have stuck with one leg and volunteered at the aid stations. . . But the reality is that race amnesia has already set in, and I'm thinking about doing it again.

This is such a fun race. The route is gorgeous and the volunteers are amazing. I will definitely run the relay again. . . but which one?

How's your running? I hope that no matter where, when, and how far you run, you run happy, Peeps!

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Sunday, July 22, 2018

Trails Everywhere!

For the past two weeks, I have been on a family trip. Mothers, you know what the difference is between a trip and a vacation, right? Here is a short tutorial:

This is a trip:

This is EXACTLY how our family looks when deciding where and what to eat.
This is EXACTLY how our shared hotel room (4 people!) looks.
This is EXACTLY how I look while trying to make everyone happy for two weeks.
Now, this is a vacation:

Relaxation. No kids. Nobody at all.


Dinner
You understand the difference, right? I need a vacation to recover from my trip!

Anyway, my alone time was between 6 and 8 AM when I would work out. For most of those days I tried to run like the locals, and boy, did I get lucky!

For the first four days we were in Portland, Maine. I was lucky enough to stay in Munjoy Hill, which is less than half a mile away from at least four different running routes, including real trails in real woods. Most of the trails led to the coves, so I was able to run along the water without running on sand (very few sand beaches in Maine). Here are some pictures of the Back Cove Trail and the Eastern Promenade (which leads to the harbor front):





Beautiful, right?

Then we traveled to Quebec through the mountains and forest (we saw a moose by the side of the road!), and I thought maybe my trail running days were suspended, but I was wrong! I chose to run through the Plains of Abraham toward the St. Laurent River, and I actually discovered trails running through the woods down to the river! It was great to run in the woods again, as I am currently in taper for the Burning River relay (100 miles of trails, of which I will run about 25.5), and I thought I'd have to run busy sidewalks. I don't have any pictures of where I ran in Quebec. . .and I don't know why.

After four days in Quebec, we drove to Montreal. We stayed downtown, so I was absolutely certain I would be running streets, but. . . on day one I followed some runners who passed my hotel door, and they led me to Mont Royal and more trails! I had great choices here among single track dirt trails with steps (very steep), crushed limestone bike and hike trails that wound steadily up the mountain, and paved trails leading both up the mountain and down to the river.  I was able to take a different route each day, and I still got in my trails and hills! Here are some pics of Montreal runs:

Running by the monuments across from the river.

The Percival-Molson Stadium at McGill University. Pavement.
This is the Kabyle Chef and Punkin climbing the steeper trails up the mountain. I made everyone climb the mountain after I found the trails. My family might speak to me again someday.

View from the top of Mont Royal
I had a great time running in other places; it was the best way to taper. It was also nice to come back home for my last long run before Burning River. I ran with some Trail Sisters this morning:

Trail Sisters at Brandywine Falls
Guess why I'm smiling in this picture:

A. I'm happy to run with my Trail Sisters.
B. This was before I realized that I left my water bottle behind a half mile back and I had to go back for it.
C. This was before I fell on the trail.
D. All of them, of course.

Will I see you celebrating after Burning River? I hope so, but in the meantime, whatever you do, run happy, Peeps!

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Monday, July 2, 2018

Running a Marathon is Like. . .

The Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon is my fourth marathon, and it's the second time I've run the Cleveland full. I feel like I am still a newbie when it comes to marathons although I have officially run more marathons than some "real" runners I know.

I love the marathon; I hate the marathon. Much of this has to do with me personally, and this post is where I might try to sort it all out.

I have known intense pain in my life: 1) the birth of my first child and my second child and 2) when I  broke my right foot. Both times I knew that something in my body wasn't right, and my mind could not just ignore or correct it. The four times that I have run a marathon and the one time I ran a trail ultra relay have also met those criteria.

I have written that I did not have a runner's high after I ran the marathon. In fact, if you read all my other posts about running a marathon, like here and here and here, you will see that I have never felt good when I finished a marathon. On the contrary, I almost always feel powerful and happy when I finish a half marathon. I think I can pinpoint the reason for this; it is all due to time. You see, it took me more time to run any one of my marathons than it took for me to birth BOTH of my children.  Together.

Punkin and Butterbean

Akron Marathon. It took me longer to finish this than to birth BOTH Punkin and Butterbean.


So what? you ask. What does this have to do with anything?

Well, I think it has to do with our relationship to pain. For both of my children, although I was in labor for days before entering the hospital, I did not feel extreme pain until my water broke, and that was minutes before I actually delivered. (Here is my gratuitous bragging: My daughter took five pushes; my son took 3.) When I finished delivery for both, I was ecstatic as a result of adrenalin, endorphins, a beautiful baby to hold, and various drugs being pumped into my body to compensate for my pain. I distinctly remember saying to my sister-in-law after my daughter's birth, "God, I could kick down a tree right now! I am SO POWERFUL!!!"

This is EXACTLY how I look when I feel like I could kick down a tree.  I did NOT look like that after  birthing Punkin and Butterbean, though. Or this morning. Or, well. . . at all, actually.


I repeat that any one of my marathons took longer than it took to birth both of my children TOGETHER. So, let's take it back to pain management. Many people run long distances with the promise of the "runner's high." I am one of the lucky people who almost always experiences that high after the second mile. Here is the problem with a marathon or ultra-marathon distance: The endorphins and the adrenalin go directly toward your will to survive this run. They no longer make you high; you don't even feel good. Their only purpose is to get you to the finish because you are out there so f-cking long.

As I ran three marathons before the 2018 Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon, I knew that I would not necessarily be a happy runner for this race. I was worried because I was running with Marta, who is possibly the kindest woman I know, who signed up for the race to RUN WITH ME, and whose feelings I did not want to destroy around mile 18. I decided that the best strategy for this race would be steadiness: no highs, no lows. I didn't want to be elated at mile 15 only to decide to list everything I hate about life and people two miles later.

I wasn't pleasant to be around Saturday, when I took a few pictures with Marta and her mother at the expo. I was less pleasant to be around at dinner with Marta and her mother on Saturday evening after my volunteer shift. I was trying to fake some happy excitement at the starting line on Sunday morning. The truth is that I was just trying to hold on to some human decency at that point.

I think I did pretty well. Marta is a fabulous running partner; when I wanted to talk, she listened. When I wanted to listen, she talked. When I wanted to be left alone, she left me alone. And after all that, she even agreed to train with me on my long runs for the upcoming Burning River.


We ran with Kelly and Carolyn on Sunday. Notice my smile? It's before we started.

I'm still smiling after 18 miles. Actually,  I think I'm squinting because we are facing the sun. I dunno.



So, I guess my next goal is going to be to try to feel better at the finish line. This means I may have to figure out how my head deals with pain that lasts more than two hours. Or it could mean that I develop super-powers which enable me to finish a marathon in two hours or less.  Either way.

Whatever your relationship is to pain-management, I hope you (at some time) run happy, Peeps!

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Thursday, June 21, 2018

Running while Scoring (Nope, not what you think)

Last week I was in Kansas City, Missouri, to work for College Board. College Board is the company that creates and scores the Advanced Placement Tests for high schoolers. Each year they hire thousands of teachers, at both the high school and college level, to score those tests, and after 16 years of teaching Advanced Placement Literature and Composition, I finally was able to get in on this.

Each day I started work at 8 AM, which is a half-hour later than I usually start work, so I figured I could get up at 5 AM to run at least 4 miles each morning. The city was beautiful, which makes for an interesting run up and down Main Street, but the weather was hot and muggy each day, starting in the mid-seventies in the morning and climbing to the mid to high nineties in the afternoon. This made for some slow runs.



My morning view on my run into downtown Kansas City

The run started at my hotel and took me into the River Market District, which is a cool residential and shop area based around an open air market. During my daily runs, I saw several other runners from the surrounding hotels, but very few cars and other people, something I still find very unusual since there is rarely a quiet street in Akron, even at 5 AM.  It felt a bit like the Twilight Zone.

I was remarking on this to a colleague on the bus ride to the convention center, and the bus driver said, "There is a good reason why there are no people out on the streets."

Me: "Really? What is it?"

Bus Driver: "This is a super-shady part of the city. You shouldn't be running here. Please be careful."

What????  Let me say this: I didn't have one person approach me at all while I was running there. The place was well-lit, and it was really nice and clean. If that is the shady part of town, I really want to see where the rich people go.

Because I was scoring essays, I was sitting on my butt for long periods of time. Actually, I alternated between sitting, standing, squatting, and rocking back and forth as I read essays. Then, after each folder of 25 essays, I would get up and walk .25 mile. During official breaks and lunch, I would walk longer. Then I would walk the mile back to the hotel at the end of the day. Each time I walked, I would set my watch so that I could keep track of my mileage. My daily average (without my four miles in the morning) was six miles. So, I had a fifty-plus mile week!

I also walked around the city as much as possible, if I wasn't too tired after work.

This is the performing arts center. 

Catching some music (with mandolin!) at the Record Bar


Hanging with my buddy B. Shakes before watching Much Ado about Nothing
 I spent a lot of time on my feet this week, but let me remind you of something that you have definitely read/heard before: Losing weight has to do with what happens in the kitchen, not the gym. This is what I remembered this week. When I started running, I thought it would be the "cure" to my struggle with weight loss. The truth is that no matter how active I am, I will always struggle with my weight. This week I shoved every bit of food into my piehole; whatever was in front of me, I consumed. For God's sake, I ate dessert at lunch! Who does that????

So, I'm coming back with five more pounds than I left with.  Ok, I know how to take care of that.

It's back to the training, too. True to my word, I have taken to the pool as cross-training, and even though it should be too soon to tell, I really think it makes a difference in my running.

Today I ran 8 humid miles in my old stomping grounds, Sand Run Park. I promised myself that if I ran to the very end, I would allow myself to run back on the road so that I could cross the stepping stones.

And I did!
My next step is to figure out how to incorporate strength training into my week instead of just substituting it with swimming and biking. I've got to do some planning.

In the meantime, I hope you are enjoying your summer runs and you run happy, Peeps!

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Sunday, June 3, 2018

Race Recap: Medina Half Marathon

This is the fourth time I've run the Medina Half Marathon, and (spoiler alert!) it gets better every year.

I teach in Medina, so I like to use this race as a transition from my school year to summer, a sort of goodbye for a while. Usually I see lots of former students there, but this year the race was on the same day as Commencement, so there were fewer people around. I was a little bummed that I couldn't read names for Commencement, but sometimes the race needs to come first, Peeps.

This is EXACTLY how I look when I'm saying goodbye to the school year. . .in front of a gazebo. . .at 6 AM.


One of the reasons I like the Medina Half Marathon is the price. I sign up at the expo every year, so it costs me $30.  For a half marathon.  With beer. And pizza.  And a shirt. And a sweet medal. Whatta deal, right?

Here I am in front of that gazebo again, showing off that sweet medal.


A second reason why I like the Medina Half Marathon is the location, which is just 25 minutes away from my house. This means that I can get out of bed a little later than with some races. More importantly, the race starts at 6:45, but I can roll into town by 6:00 (or later if I weren't so nervous) and always find great parking (for free!) and use the bathroom as many times as I would like.


I also have time to take selfies with my friends in the corral. This is Jennifer, and she KILLED it.
The weather was a bit humid, moreso in the second half of the race. I ran with Jennifer for the first four miles because she claimed she wanted to run slowly and I needed to be gentle with myself after running the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon just six days ago.  By the way, she is a liar. We averaged a 9:20 pace for the first part. At mile four when the rolling hills started, I told her to leave me because I knew I needed to conserve my energy.

I decided to fuel at Lake Medina because it's nice to eat your GU when running around a beautiful lake.

Isn't it nice that I mustered up a smile here?

See the lake?
Coming off the lake, we entered into the residential areas. This is where in the past I have had serious fears. In the first few years, there were some people who completely ignored the fact that there was a race going on in their neighborhood, and they would weave in and out of runners with their cars and completely ignore course marshalls, even policemen. I know for a fact that the Race Director works very hard to integrate this race into the community, and her communication with people living in those neighborhoods is top-notch, so I used to get very angry when I saw how dangerous drivers were there. I am happy to say that there were ZERO PROBLEMS with drivers this year, even at the busy intersection at the finish. Bravo, Medina. You are showing us your best face, the one I often see year-round but other visitors to your city weren't seeing in the previous races.

It was getting muggier and muggier in the race, and I was very thankful for the hoses and sprinklers that friendly neighbors were using on the course. I also have to compliment the Race Director for having ample water on the course. There were water stops at least every two miles, and I stopped at just about every one of them to drink some water, swish some electrolyte drink in my mouth, and dump a cup of water over my head.

The finish was the same as in previous years, on bricks (which I don't like), but without the drivers busting through the intersection before the finish line.  I managed to kick it into high gear when I saw the finish line.


This is my favorite picture: Kicking it to the end! Photo Credit: Marta Pacur
After the race, Marta, Angie, and I took some pictures, drank some beer, and ate some pizza.

I'm modeling the Medina shirt here.


Then Marta and I had breakfast on the Square at PJ Marley's.

This was a great race. It meets every requirement I have of a race: ample parking, good bathrooms, post-race beer and pizza, and interesting and safe course. Oh, and did I mention FREE pictures??? I signed up for next year at this year's expo!

Thank you to all the volunteers and those who worked so hard behind the scenes to make this race happen. I really appreciate you, and I plan to see you next year!

A special thank you goes to Marta, who drove to Medina early in the morning to cheer on Angie and me. We are Trail Sisters, and we support each other, but Marta really goes above and beyond.

What are you training for? For me it's Leg 7/8 of Burning River. I hope that no matter what your running plans are, you run happy, Peeps!

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