other sports, people who find runners annoying, probably a bad idea, racing, White Rock Marathon, yoga

Race report: Cross Timbers trail run half marathon

Don't know that these Go Runs will see another run, but I thank them for hanging on.

I have this reoccurring dream where I am running, but I can’t move. Like I am running through water or mud and in the dream, I grab the ground and roots and trees and anything I can to propel myself forward.

Yesterday, I lived that dream at the 2012 Cross Timbers trail half marathon.

As I mentioned earlier on the blog, I signed up for this run as part of my resolution to not take running so seriously and to do fun new things. It was an amazing remedy for the symptoms — self-doubt, feelings of inadequacy, self-pity — that have been plaguing me since my November marathon.

Because of some chaos at home (nothing unusual) I sleep only about three hours Friday night. It rains all night long. Wake up at 4 a.m., drink about 40 ounces of strong coffee — this and adrenaline gets me through the 2 hour (dark and drizzly) drive.

Hari and Steve at the finish.

This will be my first trail race ever and it is going to be rainy and muddy. The difficult and unprecedented conditions mean no expectations. No pressure. Just go have fun. Perfect.

I love the trail race mentality compared to the road race. So low key. Get your number, line up, follow the little white flags. Seems simple enough. The race starts out on the road so runners can thin out according to speed.

I position myself behind the fastest two women and three high school boys who are holding a funny conversation. During the first 30 minutes or so of the trail it is all fun — people  joking, we are moving along, though there is a heavy layer of mud. On a downhill very early on, the leading female tells me to go ahead. I had planned to follow her for a while, but I can’t physically go slow on the downhills at this point, so I pass her and fall in behind two guys.

There is a lot of climbing up and down hills, but I manage to stay upright. We go through the first aid station at 2.5 miles and I take some electrolytes in the form of some terrible liquid called Heed.  At about 40 minutes in, one of the guys I am following looks back at me and goes: Have you run this before? And I go, No. And he says, It is a really difficult race and usually really slow.

Me and Hari at the finish.

So I have heard, I say. I know what he is trying to tell me: that I am going too fast and that I won’t last. Maybe so, but I need to follow someone; I am really scared of getting lost. I back off a little, knowing they are probably right, but I keep them in my sight.

Along the route there are short stretches where you can actually run and I run those at what I felt is a tempo pace (I had no watch, no mile markers, so I could only go by feel). Following the lead of others, I power walk the really steep uphills. Some of those I crawl, grabbing trees and roots in order to pull myself up. The downs are tricky — some I literally ski down, like I am on snow.

I don’t look up from the ground much, but at one point I glance out over the ledge and catch a great view of Lake Texoma. It is surreally gorgeous and I smile — I am so genuinely happy to be here! I begin passing some of the warriors such as Dallas runner Libby Jones who started the marathon version of this race a half-hour before us.

This, I think, is the Cross Timbers race director.

About an hour to an hour and a half in (still no concept of time) I am thrilled to see the frontrunners coming back through. The leader — a sinewy guy with a long red beard under a knit cap — embodies the competitive trail runner.

At the halfway rest station, there are all sorts of goodies — sodas, Gatorade, bananas, candy, cookies. I am loving trail running more and more. I try not to linger too long. As I shoot out of the tent, I see four or so girl runners who aren’t too far behind me. I tell them great job and tell myself You are OK. You don’t need to be first. If they catch you, there’s no shame in it.

Then, I have to add, But, since you happen to be in this position, you DO have to try your best to keep it.

Also at the turn around I see a familiar face, Hari Garimella, my friend from the White Rock Running Co-op, who also decided on a whim to come do this thing. I give him a big hug and take off.

Here's a portion of the muddy trail shot by runner Bryan Moore.

So, the way back is trickier than the way out. The mud has gotten muddier and slippery-er and thicker. Keeping my shoes on becomes a problem. I have to try to tighten the laces or else I will be barefoot. I fall hard one time — I rise with a thick layer of mud covering my butt and the backs of my legs. From trying to catch myself, I’m wearing mud gloves. I try to wipe my hands on the trees but just wind up getting an added layer of damp moss.

On some of the uphills, I begin to doubt my stamina. My knee is throbbing. I feel really tired, but then something such as falling or sliding down a wall of mud, or having to reach down with my hands to pull my shoe from a mud puddle takes my mind off of my fatigue and pain.

A few times, I laugh out loud or yell Whoa! as I slide down the side of a hill — I really am just playing in the mud. One guy passes me and says, You know, we are mentally ill? I laugh and think, Well at least we have a fine ensemble of enablers to organize  events for us. I also figure we are only moderately sick considering there are others in our midst doing 50 miles of this sh*t.

Another trail shot borrowed from Bryan Moore via Picasa.

There are about two guys who pass me on the way back, but I pass a few people myself. One might be the buddy of the guy who implied I was starting too fast. The last hill is an absolute joke. It is so steep and my legs are so tired that I am bent at the waist, holding the ground with one hand and with the other hand, physically lifting my other leg. I’m talking to my legs at this point too: Come on legs, move! Please!

A guy beside me here, doing about the same thing, says: So close to the end and I can’t move. I leave him. It is the words close to the end that launches me up the rest of that hill. Sure enough, I hear bells and cheering in the clearing. Then I see the clock and the finish line — 2:49 is good for first overall female in the half. Not a typo — a 2:49 half got me a first place!

The race director congratulates me and gives me a wooden plaque and a sweatshirt. And I head into the tent where wonderful volunteers serve hot soup, drinks, burgers and all kinds of goodies. Covered head to toe in mud, barely able to walk, eating delicious potato soup, feeling victorious for the first in a long time … life is just about perfect in this moment.

There was one guy about a minute ahead of me that seemed to be easing through the whole race (taking photos of the lake and then taking off as I approached) turned out to be another WRRC friend, Steve Griffin. Trail racing must be his forte (this was only his second ever). He never even looked tired. As I was lounging, I saw another friend Dave Renfro come through the finish line, but he — the 50-mile race leader — was only half done. Dave ended up winning the 50 miler.

I don’t think I will ever forget this race. I know dreams are symbolic of life’s deeper issues, so what does it mean to live out a reoccurring dream? I’m not sure, but it must be meaningful and therapeutic.

Also, my gluteus maximus, quads, back, shoulders, hips and knees won’t forget it for several days. #$%^, Ouch!

Boston, ET Full Moon 1/2 Marathon, inspiration, marathon, Peter Snell, Philly, racing, running, training, White Rock, yoga

2011 running highlights

I had some great experiences in the past year. I meant to post my 2011 gratitude list closer to the new year. I got sidetracked. Better late than never.

January 2011—Went to the 3M Half Marathon with my buddies from the White Rock Running Co-op. It was hot. Someone had told us 3M was all downhill. Now, we should have known that was too good to be true. Oh, and did I mention it was hot (and humid)? Nonetheless, we had a fine time and most of us had a decent performance, despite the day’s unwelcome sauna-ness.

3M Half in Austin, January 2011

February 2011—I’m injured, but I discovered Bikram Yoga, which I wrote about here. Continue reading

cross training, healing and recovery, yoga

Bikram yoga: not a waste of time if you hope to keep running (and improving)

Blocking out the overwhelming sweat stench and the slow-and-painful-death noises emitting from your neighbor, who might be mere millimeters from you, are but a couple of the myriad challenges you will face in Bikram. Oh, but it's so worth it.

A year ago I thought yoga, and stretching for that matter, was a waste of time, sitting relatively still while I could instead be logging miles. All it took was hearing Dean Karnazes say once in “UltraMarathon Man” that he never stretches, and I swore off even the little I did do.

But as the miles of 2010 added up — 50-, 60- and more-mile weeks and aiming to keep building for a stellar performance in NYC 2010 — I started feeling more-than-minor aches and pains and eventually I incurred some full-fledged injuries including runner’s knee (patellofemoral pain syndrome), tarsal tunnel syndrome and eventually the dreaded plantar fasciitis. Needless to say my November marathon wasn’t the 3:20 I originally was training for, but rather a somewhat disappointing (considering the goal) 3:33.

I knew I needed to reset, find balance and healing if I were to keep running and get to the next level. A couple times on my job at Advocate magazine I had interviewed local athletes who found physical strength and healing through Bikram yoga. Joseph Encinia was a sick kid with rhumatory arthritis. He took so much medicine for the condition that he had a heart attack at age 13. He started Bikram and is now healthy and pain free. He has a trim and strong physique and is a three time National Asana Yoga Champion.

Melisa Christian, a local elite marathoner (with whom I also attended grade school), also told me that one of her secrets is practicing Bikram a few times a week. I hesitated to commit to Bikram because it is rather expensive ($99/month at Bikram Dallas) and it is quite miserable — a 90-minute routine performed in a 105-degree room at  40-percent humidity.

I took a $40 intro month in December while recovering from the various injuries of the season and slowly my body began to heal. One of the most interesting things was that even though I took an entire month off of running, when I returned in January and February – alternating running days with Bikram days – I actually ran a personal best in the 5k (20:38) and ran just at my personal best for the 10k (43:00) and even the half marathon (1:35), and that was in nasty heat/humidity at the 2011 3M in Austin.

My only lingering injury is the plantar, but even that is moderate and almost benign following a hot yoga class. My knees, hips and shins feel great. I find my recovery from long or intense running efforts is way faster than in the pre-yoga days. I breathe more efficiently and I think I handle heat better (the next few months will be the real test). I’ve also lost about five pounds. By the way, there are 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises in Bikram. 26.2. Coincidence?

On Saturdays I usually do a long run (10-18 miles) in the morning and Bikram in the afternoon. Same thing Sundays but with a shorter run. Then I work one in on Wednesday or Friday. I practice at least three times a week and, for what it’s worth, the instructors say it’s more beneficial to clump yoga days together than spread them out.

Bikram is not easy or relaxing. In fact it can be soul crushing and nauseating. It’s hot. Sweat stings my eyes and goes up my nose. I sometimes think I am going to throw up. My heart sometimes feels as if it is coming out of my chest. I occasionally get bitchy during a tough session. (Sound familiar my running friends?) The teachers can be militant (they will push you, chastise you for leaving the room – I’ve never left the room, by the way – and correct you when you are off course). But when I finish, especially if I’ve done something I’d previously figured impossible, I am left with this sweat-dripping euphoria. A sense of confidence that touches other areas of my life.

It’s why any athlete (save the professionals) grinds it out in any sport. That feeling. It’s nice that I can find it in the Bikram room (though it’s not quite as great as finding it on the road, only in my opinion).

Oh, and did I mention? Dean has recently taken up Bikram too.