Off-Season

At the beginning of 2021, I had somewhat structured my training out through the summer. I planned to build up for a marathon (Dallas, which was postponed – again) and then run an ultra in May. I had also penciled in a couple of triathlon events through the summer to shift to more swimming and biking, and less running.

After Possum’s Revenge in May, I was just plain tired. I didn’t want to spend the money on races, so I decided not to do an official triathlon. But I did want to continue to train that way to build strength and speed, and get rid of the “work from home weight gain.”

I have always done best (mentally) with races on the calendar to guide my training, but for most of the summer my schedule was wide open. On purpose. And you know what? It was kind of nice – to have an open schedule and not worry if I didn’t fit it all in.

This laid-back approach really helped when we went on vacation. 🙂

This relaxed approach to an off-season gave me the time to get some things done on the house, and that’s when I decided it was time to makeover the gameroom. So instead of Saturday or Sunday outdoor bike rides, I was running early (8-10 miles) and spending the rest of my day with a paintbrush in my hand. The project is taking triple the amount of time I expected it to when I decided to reclaim the room from kids who don’t use it anyway. It will be a nice spot to relax when it’s finished, though. I’m pretty excited about it.

For the off-season, it took a bit for my brain to adjust to less activity. And to be honest, some days it was hard. After pushing for months training for an ultra, running 3 miles on a Monday instead of 6 was a bit different. But it was the break I needed, both mentally and physically, and now I’m looking forward to the structure of marathon training going into the fall.

Dallas Marathon is coming up in December!

Possum’s Revenge

Sometimes I don’t make the smartest decisions when it comes to choosing races, but over the years I’ve learned that every race provides an opportunity for growth as a runner. That’s exactly what happened with Possum’s Revenge.

Humidity is my nemesis. I can deal with the Texas heat, I know to slow it down, but humidity is the sneaky villain that is kind of like “hitting the wall” in a marathon. I’m fine until I’m not. It will suck the life right out of my run and shoot my heart rate sky-high. So I know better than to expect my best results on humid race days, especially in April or May. Knowing this, I still chose to register for a super long race in our typical “humid season.” It was a trail race though, so it would be different.

The week leading up to the race was full of rain. Lots of rain – the flash flooding kind of rain. We’ve had so much rain in Texas that the grass in our yard couldn’t dry out enough to mow, and the trees leading into our driveway started to look like a jungle. Everything is so green! Thank goodness I was tapering for the race, and didn’t need to run much. But I was starting to worry about slipping and sliding on the trail Saturday. I really didn’t have a clear picture of what the trail was like.

My friend and I left Friday and drove down to stay in a hotel in Graham, about 30 minutes from the race site. We found a local Italian restaurant in a town along the way, and I had the best chicken parmesan. We made it to the hotel early in the evening, and I went through all my gear to make sure I didn’t forget anything. Newsflash: I always forget something. This time I forgot my charger for my Garmin and it was at 49%. I am so thankful my friend and I have the same Garmin, and that she brought her charger.

On race morning, I woke up about an hour before my alarm went off and couldn’t go back to sleep. My brain was wired with the logistics of running a long race. I finally just got out of bed and started my coffee. We checked out of the hotel and got to the race about an hour before my start. She was running a different distance, and her start was 30 minutes later than mine.

The skies were overcast with the threat of rain, and the temps were in the low 70s. I wore longer shorts that have saved my legs from chafing on several long runs and Cowtown, and I wore short sleeves. My running vest with a tank top doesn’t jive well. Learned that lesson the hard way.

My race distance consisted of two 17 mile laps. Each lap had a 4 mile loop, then a crossover and about 13 miles before coming back to the start. I would do this twice. The first loop had a lot of sand, and some rocky places. I didn’t remember the rocky places the first time through, but boy it got me the second time. More on that later. I felt decent going through this section. I don’t feel like I took off too fast and I walked the uphill portions. (That’s a tip I learned from another runner in my first long distance trail attempt.)

The next 13 miles had a few places where runners were passing in both directions. It would get a little crowded at times as the races that started later with shorter distances merged. It was tough to tell who was running what distance, but since I’m only competing with myself, I tried to get out of the way especially for those who bomb the downhills.

Then the big rocks showed up. There was at least one place to climb through, that required the use of my hands because of the height of the rocks. This may be really hard on round 2, I thought. (It was) I also found out that we got to come down through it on the way back to finish the loop. So I hit this place a total of 4 times (2 up, 2 down).

The humidity was starting to take its toll, but I stayed on top of my hydration, electrolytes, and fuel. I have a timer set to go off every 45 minutes to remind me to take a gel or eat something, and I took Endurolytes every hour. I tend to sweat a lot, and often have salt streaks on my clothes after a hot/humid race. I walked the tricky sections, and ran where I could. I apologized to a guy stuck behind me on a downhill section. “I’m sorry, I’m the world’s most cautious downhill runner.” He said ” Just tuck and roll.” Well, I still have kids at home who need me, and my bones are probably about 20 years older than yours, so nah. (All in good fun.)

I made it back to the start/aid station completing my first lap in about 4:15. At this rate, I would hope to finish around 8 and a half to 9 hours.

I started the second loop, and noticed all the cactus flowers that were closed up on the first lap had bloomed. Oh my gosh, how long have I been out here?!?

So Pretty

This was the toughest part of my day. That first 4 mile loop that I didn’t think was too bad the first time just about took me out. I started stumbling through the rocky sections. I probably displaced about a thousand rocks over the course of my day from kicking them around. Then all of a sudden I stumbled on a rock and went down, landing on my left backside. I looked down at my Garmin to make a mental note. 18.1 miles. There was no one around me, so I probably sat there for at least a minute trying to figure out how to get up. “If I fall in the woods and no ones sees me, did it really even happen?”

I finally got up and started walking. My butt was hurting, but as I walked I started to feel a little better. Thank goodness I went down on my butt and not face forward. It could’ve been a lot worse. As I stumbled and almost fell again, I decided I needed to walk for a bit. I was getting cranky and mad at myself. It was going to take me a lot longer than I expected. As I walked this area of the trail, a really tall guy caught up to me. We chatted for a minute while we walked- he was doing the 69 mile distance, which I cannot even wrap my brain around. His legs were so long, I couldn’t keep up with his walk for very long even when I was run/walking.

I made it to the next section of the trail, and I had about 13 miles to go in the race. I broke it up mentally by aid stations. At one point, I had about 30 minutes where I saw no other runners. It was mentally tough, and I may have cried a little when I came across more rocks.

Smile for the camera (through the pain)

I didn’t linger at the aid stations, because I was ready to be done. So I filled my bottles, grabbed ice when they had it, and took my snacks to go. Oranges at an aid station in a warm race are the absolute best, by the way. I also had some pringles and pretzels at a couple of the stops. The rest of my fuel through the race was from stuff I had brought: gels, shot bloks, and gummy bears. I went back down through the tough rocky section and had one of my slowest miles of the day. I can’t tell you how ready I was to be done.

I got behind a guy who had just seen a fox on the trail, and my friend saw a deer. The only wildlife I saw was a dead raccoon. Of course.

When I hit the last aid station, I had about 2.5 miles to go, so I texted my friend to let her know. One of these miles was a lot of sand and I’m sure I looked like a fool trying to get through it, but at that point I didn’t care. The last mile was mostly runnable, and then you come out of the trail onto the road for the last quarter of a mile or so. Running on asphalt after all the sand and rocks felt strange, but I sure felt like I was moving at a pretty good clip.

There were people lined along the road and they would cheer as someone came through to finish. I’m zoned in on the finish, trying not to ugly cry, and ready to stop moving.

Then, out of nowhere, a girl goes flying by me like I’m standing still. It’s kind of funny, because in the video my friend took, I look over at her, like “what was that?” She was sprinting! Now, good for her having that kind of energy to finish, but I sure as heck didn’t have any gas left in the tank.

I came across the finish mat (right behind her, by the way) and I was done. 54 km (33ish miles) in 9:27:37.

Proof I ran through the finish!

My initial reaction after the race was that was the hardest event I’ve ever done. It definitely took the place of Running the Rose, my first ultra, in my top 3 hardest endurance events. The trail was tougher and it was about 20 degrees warmer. But when I looked back at my pace/results from Tyler, I actually feel I was more prepared for Possum’s and ran it better even with the warmer weather and humidity.

But now, I’m going to take a break from the long stuff. I have some other (non-running) goals to work on through the summer. I’ll definitely enjoy the break.

Cowtown ’21

Cowtown was the next half marathon in my spring series of races. Once Dallas changed (postponed) their race date, a couple of my friends and I decided to register for it. Typically this race is at the end of February, but with all the changes in place, they moved it to May for 2021. Even though I am training for an ultra, I wanted to continue supporting some of my favorite local races.

Basically, the Cowtown is the first larger race I’ve run, well, since Cowtown in March of 2020. I think I was more excited to see a bigger race go off successfully (finally!) than I was about racing a half marathon in May.

The day before the race, I picked up packets for myself and my friends. It was a pretty efficient system, that had me in and out in a flash. I didn’t even have to get out of my car!

Since we’re in the last month of school, of course my kids had their spring band concert the night before the race. I have a freshman and a senior this year, and I guess I’ve forgotten how crazy the month of May can get – especially with a senior. The last time I had a senior in high school, I was training for my first half Ironman. I don’t always think through the timing of my decisions.

Because of the concert, and getting the dogs’ energy out after we got home, I crawled into bed way past my bedtime! Thankfully I wasn’t the one driving race morning, since we left around 4:00 am. It was super early and I was super tired, but I took my full coffee cup with me and I was ready for a race.

One advantage to an early arrival is no stress parking. Our bibs had assigned start times, and they wanted you to wait in your car until right before your start time. There were plenty of porta potties in the parking lots, so we just hung out until go time. Then we made our way to the start line, walking and weaving through the cones set up to spread us out. It was a nice little warm up.

Once we got to the start, we just went across the mat and headed out. I actually liked this because there was no weaving around people in the first mile or so. There was a nice little cheer section at the start too, to get the energy up. It wasn’t the same as past years, but it worked.

In all my years of running Cowtown, I’ve always run the marathon – with the exception of the icy year when they had everyone run the half. But this year, they changed the half course to accommodate the start/finish line moves, road closures, etc. There was no marathon or ultra this year.

If you’ve ever run Cowtown, you know all about the Main Street bridge around mile 9. I think part of what makes this intimidating is that you can see the hill way before you even start up it, and it’s a good stretch of a hill. Well this time, we went down the bridge instead of up and what a fun, different perspective that was. It was a lot earlier in the race too.

Another change was running through the stockyards from the opposite direction. These two changes especially just made it feel like a different race.

But then I started to falter. I told my friend as we were running the first few miles together that I just didn’t feel great. Temps were in the mid-60s and it was sunny. But I hung on and kept my effort manageable. My friend pulled ahead and I even though I could see her, I didn’t have the energy to catch her to stay with her. My legs felt heavy, I was tired, and it was heating up. I used the cold towels from the aid stations to cool myself off. I thought about how thankful I was there was no marathon this year because my stupid butt would’ve probably signed up for it.

Around miles 10-11 my stomach started complaining. As an added bonus, the last couple of miles were straight into the wind, which had picked up, with some big hills. It was tough. I took a few walk breaks to settle my stomach and focused on making it to the finish. My legs were toast when I came through the finish in 2:10 – about 8 minutes off from my last half marathon in April.

Regardless of my finish time, I enjoyed my day. I had a good time with my friends, enjoyed the atmosphere of a bigger race, saw so many people I know, and had the chance to chat with one of my RunRelated athletes.

Oh, and Cowtown has the best medals and shirts. Hands down.