Wednesday, October 18, 2017

For the Fresh Meat

 I don't normally blog about my training because I think it's boring. I like to train. When I'm done training I'd much rather chat or write about something other than how fast or slow or far I ran or rode. That said, I've had a lot of "how did you train?" type questions so here's a quick little summary of my Marji training.

I mostly just ran slow a lot. Really. Nothing fancy. Just lots of aerobic zone stuff with some drills thrown in to keep the leg turnover when the miles built up. My biggest week was 91.5 miles, which was an accident. We came up to train on the course and I ended up running 52.5 miles in two days, which was a little more than I'd planned so it pushed me over 90 miles for the week. I had a couple of other 80+ mile weeks and lots of 70s. My body loved 70 mile weeks so I went with it. I did a few 20 mile runs before the big weekend of 52.5 and then did another weekend of 45 miles in two days three weeks later. On big weeks I focused on hiking uphill fast because I knew I'd need this toward the end. I ran hilly trails as much as possible. I'd guess close to half my weeks were over 100 feet per mile of elevation. The last month or so I started practicing my night running. I probably should've done more of this, but when you live near a trail where a dead body was once found, it's hard to convince yourself to run a lot at night. Not to mention the fact that I frequently find condoms and bras on this trail and I didn't really want to spoil anyone's fun...

All that said, I think there are a lot of things other than the physical training that are important if you're going to finish Marji. So here are my tips to the newbies, who Todd affectionately refers to as "fresh meat".  These aren't meant to scare you off, because if you're crazy enough to sign up after seeing that picture of my inner thighs, you're probably not scareable. So here you go, my "How to Finish This Bitch" tips.

Prepare for this to be a team effort. As you'll be warned over and over and over on the Facebook page, there are no add stations at this race. If you're running, there are also no trail angels. That means it's you and your crew. You will not finish this race without them so be nice and appreciate what they're doing. Tell them exactly what you need ahead of time and then let them do it so you can just run.  By mile 80 you're not even going to know what you're doing anymore so it's best if your crew takes over all decisions at this point. To help them out, make sure you're organized, because what crew wouldn't love a food tub with cardboard dividers!

Adding on to that thought, learn to be low maintenance. You're probably going to be running for 24+ hours unless you're crazy fast. You'll have to poop. You might have gas in front of your pacers. You're going to get blisters. Something will probably chafe. You're likely going to fall down at least once. Your headlamp will probably run dim at some point. Your shoes will get wet at least twice, more if you fall in any of the endless trail-blocking puddles in the last 15 miles. When this stuff happens, you're going have to accept it, deal with it the best you can and keep moving forward. If you freak out every time something isn't perfect you'll never finish and your crew will probably hate you.

Be ready for weather. Every kind of weather.  It could be 60 and sunny. It could be 90. There could be a monsoon. It could snow. Heck, this is the UP. That could probably all happen in 24 hours. Add that to the fact that when you're exhausted your body won't respond as well to weather changes as you think it will.  You never know what you're going to get and how your body will react so just put your whole running wardrobe in the support vehicle. (And don't bring 4 pairs of the same running shorts. YOU WILL GET CHAFED!)

Don't count on anything flat. Seriously, the easiest part of the course this year was the 6 miles of false flat to Ishpeming from miles 59-65. Yes, the easiest part of the course is UPHILL. That said- don't let the first 18 miles fool you either. They're significantly easier than the next 82. Don't let this ridiculous picture fool you either.  It's either photoshopped or Ryan Stephens found an easy section of trail I apparently slept-ran through.

Be prepared to be out there. When you look at the course map, it seems like you're never really that far from a road, but trust me, being just a couple miles from a road in the UP is out there and you'll feel it. Couple that with the fact that Danny Hill seems to be able to build 2 miles of trail on an acre of land and you'll discover that you'll sometimes even feel "out there" when you're 1,000 feet from Ishpeming. Case it point:
Because it would be too easy to just let you run through town...
Respect the course. If right now you're saying to yourself, "It's just Michigan," rest assured that in 11 months you be saying, "Holy shit, THIS is Michigan?"  Seriously, 12+ hours after it stopped raining, I was still falling on my ass on wet rock. I finally resorted to sitting down on wet slabs of rock and just sliding down. This was at mile 80 something when sitting down was about as painful as running, but since it was that or fall on my ass, I sat.  I won't even try to describe the roots. Let's just say I face-planted more than once, usually on a section that said, "Blame Todd." You learn quite quickly at this race that if says "Blame Danny" along the trail, you're about to go uphill and if it says, "Blame Todd" well, you're probably going to face plant, fall on your ass or curse.

On that same note, understand that this course is not made for fast times. On the contrary, it's made to make you see just how tough you are. Instead of going into it thinking a buckle will be easy or you're going to get a certain time, go into it understanding that this is all about seeing just how gritty you really are.  So, if you find yourself hoping they'll actually cut the course back to only 100 miles next year or not make it any harder so you can go fast or get a buckle, you've probably signed up for the wrong race. Remember, the thing that makes this race so unbelievably cool is that they don't give into the pressure to make it easier so if you finish you get to feel like a badass.

Don't make excuses for yourself ahead of time.  Quit saying "what if" or "I wish" and go train. When life throws the 100's of curveballs at you that it inevitably will in the next 11 months, take them as a challenge instead of an excuse. Instead of saying, "But this happened, so I couldn't finish," be prepared to say, "All that happened, and I finished anyway," when you cross that line.

Be prepared for this race to haunt you, even if you finish. Case in point, this is me with the race director of the Mohican 100 at the finish line. He's offering me a free entry into the race, to which I replied, "But then I'd have to run 100 miles again."
Two days later (ok, maybe 5 days later when the chafe started healing) I wasn't just thinking about running 100 miles again, I was already thinking about coming back to Marji in a couple years to try to run under 30 hours, despite the fact that I was still having nightmares about the course. There is something about this race that will get in your soul and you won't be able to let it go.  You'll know that you could go somewhere else and run or bike faster, but you won't care. You'll want this one for some crazy reason that is probably Todd and Danny's fault.

Finally, don't forget to smile as much as you can. In training. On race day. In life. It makes every thing easier. Remember, you chose to do this. Plus you get to run or ride for a whole day, likely more. How often does that happen?

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Aftermath Part 2

This arrived today:
My very own special, "Perseverance and Endurance" award from Todd. It came with a letter that finally brought out the inevitable post race meltdown. This was perhaps the longest I've ever held off a full meltdown. There were a couple of mini-meltdowns, but I knew the big one was lingering, waiting to blow. Today was a the perfect time.

I spent the morning getting new tires, which really shouldn't be a big deal. However, despite the fact that I can run 100+ miles, post concussion syndrome still sometimes brings on unbelievable anxiety at the thought of driving even a few miles in traffic. So, despite the fact that I slept great the night before Marji, I tossed and turned all night last night at the thought of driving 25 miles in traffic to get new tires installed on my car.

Anyway, I'd made it to the dealership and back without major incident, despite an attempt by my chimp brain to throw poop and create a meltdown at a stop light. I was having a little lunch when Big E waltzed in with a box.

I knew from the return address it was from Todd. I gave it a shake and made some sort of comment about how it better not be a buckle since I didn't go under 30 hours. Big E gave me his knife to open it, which I promptly stabbed into my own thumb instead of the box.  I'm pretty sure I was already trying not to cry so I handed over the knife and box and waited for Big E to open it.

Inside was my very own non-buckle award and the nicest letter ever. Big E asked me to read it. I made it past my name before I started bawling my eyes out. The morning's driving anxiety coupled with this incredibly nice gesture was just too much to bear.

So Big E read while I cried. Not because I was sad, but because I'm just plain overwhelmed. Because the real world calls and it is oh so much more complicated than my peaceful little "put one foot in front of the other" world that is endurance racing. Because something that I put my entire heart and soul into is over and I'm not quite ready to embrace what's next.

Thankfully, Big E understands these meltdowns. He gets that I'm so much more comfortable riding all night on gravel, pushing through a 24 hour race or running 100 miles than I ever will be driving a car and dealing with the real world. He is also probably the one person who can truly understand that Marji was about so much more than running 100 miles.

It was a huge F-you to 7 months of dizziness. It was the biggest middle finger ever to a neurologist who thought drugs would be a better solution than fighting back. It was a way to show the eye doctor, chiropractor and whole lotta friends who helped me fight back that it was worth it.

So Big E gets it when I cry. He knows that it's part relief, part sadness, part happiness and part "holy shit what do I do now." I should hang on to him just for understanding this odd dichotomy that probably makes me look like a complete crazy person every time I race. This dichotomy is especially evident once I start laughing at myself while I cry, which is usually when he snaps a photo. We won't share that craziness here. It's scarier than my chafed crotch.

Anyway, once my meltdown was under control, we posed the award with Trophy,
which I believe is now technically Big E's, but will always be near and dear to my heart.

Then I did what any person in mid-meltdown would do.

I signed up to ride the 50 next year. On my single. Because it was that or a fat bike. And I don't want to push 29 pounds of bike through the last 15 miles.

Two weeks ago, I swore next year I'd just cheer, yet somehow Marji sucked me in again.

This is Todd's fault. He made sure this award would show up on registration day. He knew I wouldn't be able to resist the lure of Marji.

He'd better be ready for another sweaty hug next year.

I'd better get my ass back on the bike. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Aftermath

Warning: There are graphic photos. If you can't handle pus and a seriously chafed coochie. Don't scroll down. Really. Don't.

There's running a 100+ miles and then there's the two weeks after running 100+ miles. They're equally painful.

Wait. Who am I kidding? The two weeks after is more painful. 

At least I can finally put my legs together, which was impossible for about 4 days.

I don't even know where to start. The muscles? The chafing? The blisters? The nightmares?

Actually the muscles weren't so bad perhaps that's a good start. I'm going to venture a guess that had I not had those three IVs, I'd be much worse off in this department. In fact, I had so little muscle soreness that I thought it would be a good idea to ride my bike around for 30 miles on Sunday to cheer for the other half of Lisa Lisa during her marathon.
This seemed like an awesome idea at the time. Later that day when I could barely walk it seemed like maybe driving to the finish the cheer would've been a smarter idea. Apparently there was some sort of deeply buried quad pain that I had yet to experience.

Thankfully, most of the trauma has gradually gotten better instead of worse. Take my feet, for example.
While that fourth toe seemed quite "legendary" as an old running friend put it on Sunday, once Big E applied his surgical skills, it's healed quite nicely. It may not ever be exactly the same shape and the nail will likely fall off, but at least the pus is gone.

Unfortunately, while the other foot faired better on blisters, that foot, ankle and shin are still numb.  I'm not sure I want to feel what this is going to feel like when they're finally not numb.

If the pain is anything like that I had from the chafing, it will push me over the edge.
Want to know what that chafing feels like? Imagine crashing your bike and somehow getting road rash on your inner thighs, private parts and in between your butt cheeks. Let's just say I learned to apply Tegaderm on places I was hoping to never apply Tegaderm. The whole thing was made worse by the fact that my inner thighs also swelled to about five times their normal size so walking without them rubbing together was nearly impossible. Big E had to sleep on the couch for 3 nights so I could sleep spread out without them touching each other. Thankfully, when I finally started peeing normally again on Wednesday, the swelling went down and I could walk without looking like I'd ridden a horse for 300 miles. Not that that was the end of the discomfort. When stuff like that heals it's itchy. Really itchy. Hopefully someday this will stop. Hopefully someday soon.

More importantly, I'm hoping my running nightmares will end someday soon. As of last night, I was still stuck running the last 15 miles over and over in my dreams. There's no finish. Just running and running and running. Marji will not leave me alone. Even whiskey cannot kill him. He continues to stalk me. I have no idea what he wants.

Maybe Todd knows. Or Danny. This is all their fault anyway.

(Update: a few hours later that entire fourth toenail and most of the skin around it came off. Maybe this sacrifice will make the Marji curse leave me alone.)