Now What?

The Tucson Marathon and The Pemberton Trail 50K have come and gone.

Now what?

A part of me is relishing the break from long runs, and being free from a scripted running schedule. Unfortunately that “part of me” is really small. In fact, I’ve run 5/7 and 4/7 of the days in the two weeks since the 50K.

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Back on the trails (2/16)!

Why can’t I enjoy this break more?

To explain why I should, let me rewind a bit. The 6-race Flagstaff Summer Series was wonderful, but running three of the six races in August was a lot for me (even if two of them were my favorites). August is when I started my marathon training for the Tucson Marathon. I followed a 5 days/week Intermediate Training Plan from Hal Higdon. I also injected a #RWRunningStreak from Thanksgiving – January 12. I was incredibly sore after the marathon (December 7). I gingerly tip-toed through a couple of runs early that week, finished the week strong, did a shorter long run that weekend, and then not-so-gradually worked my way into 50K training near the end of December. In January I ran a grand total of 222.5 miles (long runs of 17, 10, 22, 22, and 24 miles).

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The general plan:

  • Monday – Off
  • Tuesday – Usually 4 miles
  • Wednesday – Usually 8-10 miles
  • Thursday – Usually 6 -8 miles
  • Friday – Off
  • Saturday – See long-run list above
  • Sunday – Usually 10 miles (once it was 8)

Those longer mid-week runs wore on my enthusiasm. They wore on my body. Finally, though it seemed it would never come, February 14th arrived. The Pemberton Trail 50K was one of my favorite races ever. I wish I could line up and experience it again from start to finish. As I said above, I’ve continued to run since that race. My longest run has been 6.2 miles. During that run my Garmin told me I ran my “Fastest 10K”  so apparently I’m not ready to stop pushing it. In February I ran 131 miles.

Why, if I was exhausted and ready to be done with 50K training, am I itching to put something else on the calendar right away? Why am I anxious over the weekend when I don’t do a long run (and it’s only been two weekends, folks)? Why do I worry about losing my mileage base? Will I continue with ultras or back off and wait until the kids graduate and go off to school before I try to tackle another one due to the time commitment? Should I keep myself in Marathon-running shape? Half-Marathon running shape? What do I want to do with my running life?

Am I a little obsessed?

Do I just love running that much?

Maybe it’s a little bit of both.

The truth is that I’m probably experiencing a normal let-down after such a substantial physical and emotional undertaking. The truth is that I don’t know the answers to the questions I’m asking myself. Finding these answers will require thought and reflection.

Up until tonight these thoughts have been rolling around aimlessly in my head. They bounce off of one another like bumper-cars. It’s nice to finally have them roll to a stop so that I can try to focus and think them through.

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** Thank you to all who shared loving words or sent me positive, healing thoughts about Phoebe. I appreciate your kindness.**

Do you sign up for races right after you finish a big training period?

Tell me about YOUR pet(s)!

Tell me about YOUR next big race ~ plan ~ life change.

Goodbye Miss. Phoebe (“Phoeeebs”, “Girlfriend”, “Sweet Girl”)

…or, as my dad spelled it – Feebee.

Reminding me of a “Frisbee” – which Phoebe would never have bothered to fetch.

In August of 2006 I finally convinced Glenn that we should get a dog. This was a big deal since the boys and Glenn were all a little afraid of dogs (Gabe – 5, Andrew – 7). With a “yes” from Glenn and the fear that the “yes” could be revoked at any minute I set off with the boys and my mom to find the perfect dog. A family dog. After trips to multiple shelters and visiting with many dogs we landed at the Humane Society in Detroit: the headquarters for Animal Cops Detroit on Animal Planet.

We saw Phoebe’s sad face. No reaction. Perfect! That’s not scary at all!

We took her to the side yard. She wouldn’t look at us, come to us, or acknowledge us. Perfect! That’s not scary at all!

And she was ours. My mother thought I was crazy – she kept asking me, “Are you sure she’s the one?” “She doesn’t seem to be making a connection with you, do you think that’s ok?” My mom is very wise and these are the right things to think when adopting a pet, I’m sure. We’ve tried as a family to adopt and bring home scores of pets since – and they’ve all been relocated after short or long periods of time spent with us. Phoebe, however, rose above that wisdom and is the one pet that “stuck.” I brought her home and introduced her to Glenn.

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She wasn’t much to look at right away. Her fur wasn’t fluffy, her belly was shaved for surgery allowing all to see proof she gave birth to at least one litter of pups – most likely more – which made some people uncomfortable to see, and she didn’t make eye contact or wag her tail. She was pretty pathetic. But she was ours.

Phoebe played with a toy on two occasions that I can remember over the course of the almost 8 years she lived with us. These occasions lasted all of about 45 seconds total. Phoebe didn’t chase a ball, catch a Frisbee, or chew on a Kong.

Phoebe just was. That meant:

  • She followed me from room to room. I was her person. In the last few months this almost became an obsession.

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  • She wagged her tail, when she was younger, at the sound of her name or even just the sound of my voice.
  • At Christmastime she liked to sleep under the Christmas tree.
  • She stood in the kitchen, sometimes in the middle, and would stare at the cupboards for long periods of time. My brother Chris said recently, “If you ever needed to hire someone to watch paint dry Phoebe would be your girl.”
  • As she grew to realize she was loved and that she could enjoy life she would occasionally do a happy dance when I came home from work: running in circles, and bounding around, with her front left paw almost “waving.”
  • She loved to sunbathe in the backyard – until the last year or so when it was harder for her to relax outside.
  • For years she would lie down and patiently let me groom her and even cut her toenails in the backyard. As she grew older she would stand still and quietly endure me lifting each paw to do the job.
  • One of her few dog-like traits was to chase squirrels through the backyard like a bat out of hell in Michigan. The squirrels would haul through the grass, up the fence, and into the trees nearby where they would bark at her furiously.
  • She tolerated other dogs – she did not interact with them. If they were well-behaved and left her alone she was willing to maintain an apathetic coexistence.
One fleeting moment of doing more than tolerating Suzie.

One fleeting moment of doing more than tolerating Suzie.

Andrew spontaneously made up and sang a not-so-nice song about Gabe years ago. There’s no way for you to know that we don’t talk like this about one another regularly. There’s no way to guarantee you know this was funny only because it a) came out of nowhere b) was sung with crazy sass and volume, and c) was sung so perfectly on key that we couldn’t help but laugh. I’m taking the risk you won’t be understand and I’m sharing the story anyway. One afternoon years ago Andrew belted out, “Gabe is so annoying! We all know that for sure! He thinks he’s really cool, but he’s really not cool at all. Yeahhhhh…” We tried to tell Andrew, “That’s not nice! Don’t say things like that!” but couldn’t do it through our laughter. Gabe had to laugh, too. When Phoebe would stand in the way while I was bringing in groceries or trying to do another job it became the song I’d cheerfully sing to her. “Phoebe’s so annoying! We all know that for sure! She thinks she’s really cool, but she’s really not cool at all. Yeahhhhh…” Her tail would wag.

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First trip to get groomed – March 2007

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Gabe and Phoebe in 2007

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Halloween – always looking her best for the kids out trick-or-treating – 2009

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Hugs!

About two years ago I mentioned to the vet that I thought her back toenails were scraping the pavement every now and then when we took walks. Neuropathy.

I’m grateful it took a long time for her to get to the point she was at last week. We took her to the vet on Wednesday night hoping for a “fix.” On Thursday we realized that things weren’t going to get better and took her back to the vet to say goodbye. She went peacefully.

I look for her face by the window in the kitchen where she would wait for one of us to let her in. I expect her to be standing outside the bathroom door when I come out (I told you she followed me everywhere). I look for her in the morning when I come out of my room.

She was a good dog. A sweet girl from the “D”. A wonderfully loyal pet. I will miss her.

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Pemberton Trail 50K Race Recap

A week ago I finished the Pemberton Trail 50K.

That’s right… I’m an Ultramarathoner!

Mental Toughness

During the weeks and days leading up to the Pemberton Trail 50K writing about running did not appeal to me and, in many ways, neither did running. The training for this 50K was more than I bargained for in time and fatigue.

In typical Stephanie fashion, I started to dread my long runs very early in the week. One of the three week stretches required Saturday/Sunday combinations of 22/10, 22/10, and 24/10 mile runs. Unfortunately,dreading these runs did NOT make me a very pleasant person to be around.

I sat with Glenn one night and told him that I wondered if I could finish the training. I was very concerned I wouldn’t be able to finish the actual race. While I pretended to ignore it, doubt had taken up residence in my mind and had begun to make itself very comfortable – spreading out, taking up quite a bit of space, and trampling all over the confidence that used to reside there.

Thankfully, as we talked, all on my own I started to shoot down that negative voice. While Glenn was honoring my thoughts about not racing and weighing the pros and cons I found myself negating any and all suggestions that I might not race. It was then that I realized how much I have truly changed since my second marathon. Though I allowed myself to wallow in self-doubt and self-pity for some time, doubt hadn’t set up as permanent a shop in my mind as I thought!. The athlete I am becoming is sick and tired of anything other than (whenever possible):

Making. Shit. Happen.

So, even though I spent some time after that not wanting to do my really long runs (or my mid-week kinda-long runs, for that matter), and the night before the race I wondered what in the world I had gotten myself into and was nervous and afraid… I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I was going to do everything in my power to finish the race.

Race Week

The week of the race, my concern was the heat in Scottsdale – it was expected to be in the 80s and sunny for the race. Even some of my badass friends voiced their concern about the heat and that I take it seriously. I bought extra Gatorade (but was pretty sure I wouldn’t drink it since I didn’t train with it), salt tabs, and made a hydration plan. For the Tucson Marathon I drank lots of water during the week and a LOT of water the day before the race. That became the strategy for this race as well (stopping the drinking extravaganza an hour before the race began). I also planned to drink at least once a mile from my backpack and take Heed to drink at each of the aid stations.

Friday I packed up, made sure I had a boatload of podcasts downloaded, created a “Pemberton” playlist on my iPhone, hopped in the car, and headed down to Fountain Hills, AZ. After checking into my hotel I went over to Denny’s for dinner (pancakes!), Target for ibuprophin, and Fry’s for sunglasses (I don’t even want to talk about losing my sunglasses for this race in the desert). I settled into my hotel room for a night of snacking, laying out my race gear, and reading. One particular quote resonated with me from an article Kara Goucher wrote in Runner’s World Magazine, “When I catch myself projecting ahead or concerned about the pain, I say the mantra, “Run the mile you’re in.” I let the gratitude for what my body is doing pour in.”

Race Day

My alarm went off at 4:40 AM. After hitting snooze a couple of times I stumbled out of bed.

Drink the coffee, make the PB&J bagel, pack up the race gear, pack up the hotel room, pack up the car, start the navigation, stop for water at the gas station, start to eat the bagel. Robotic motions.

After my Garmin tried to run me off the road (thank God a car passed me with runners in it heading to the boonies like me) I made it to McDowell Mountain, paid the cheerful attendant and headed into the park. The beauty of a small race (100 runners from – if I remember correctly – over 20 different states, and 10 relay teams) meant I parked in a lot that starting line was in and there were bathrooms right there!

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I picked up my packet and sat in the car to get situated: finish my bagel, lube up “potential to chafe” areas, apply sunscreen, text Glenn and my parents, and make sure everything is ready to go in my hydration pack. I hit the bathroom one more time and then headed to the starting line.

The race director gave instructions before the race. These chats are awesome at small races. We got a brief history (this was year 15), learned the aid station volunteers’ names, and were told what to expect on the course..

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Time to line up

7:00 AM – Let’s do this!

Lap One

I spent time feeling out the course and taking note of what to expect on lap two when I would be tired. There were rolling hills but the trail was mostly uphill from mile 2 – 9.

Pemberton Elevation

The course was only rocky in certain areas and was otherwise pretty clear and flat. My feet drag when I’m tired so I was glad there weren’t going to be many places for me to trip on lap two when my legs were fatigued. I tried to get a “feel” for how far apart the aid stations were – not just in mileage, which I knew going into the race – but how far apart they “felt.”

The views were gorgeous. I thought about taking pictures and then decided that I’d wait until lap two. If I was a mental mess and completely drained taking pictures might help to distract me from the pain.

I spent time being thankful. Thankful for my body being able to try to accomplish this feat, thankful for my family, thankful for the beautiful sunrise, thankful that the sun was at my back during the uphill climb.thankful for each and every mile that it wasn’t terribly hot and there was a nice breeze, thankful for the aid station volunteers filling us up on water, Heed, snacks, and good spirits.

I listened to my body, remembering to drink water, and take in fuel every 4 miles. I also worked on settling myself into a comfortable pace that I thought I could maintain for the long haul. My goal for this race was to finish, and besides hoping to finish in under 6 hours, I didn’t have a pace in mind.

I found my pace!

I think this shows I found my pace!

When I finished lap one I was still feeling good and, though I was tired, I wasn’t exhausted. “Great job! You’re making it look easy!” someone shouted at me from the aid station set up at the starting line/halfway point/finish line. Sometimes people know just the right thing to say!

Lap Two

I knew more about what to expect this lap and began to prepare myself for miles 17-24. At mile 17 I turned on my music. Mentally I felt fine, but a lot of work had gone into trying to get my computer to add songs to my playlist and I felt like I owed it to Glenn to at least listen to my songs for awhile! I passed a few runners and was still feeling strong before the first aid station on lap two. There were mountain bikers on the trail (many of whom were polite, cheerful, and encouraging) and one of them called out to me, “Your running form is the best I’ve seen so far! The people behind you are shuffling!” Again, sometimes people know the right thing to say! I was shuffling, too, but I was willing to believe the lie!

Miles 20-24 were tough, but not unbearable. I had a silent celebration when my Garmin read 21 miles knowing that the number of miles left in the race could be counted in single-digits at that point (9.9 miles!). Every time I started to get tired I just thought, “One mile at a time. One mile at a time.”  The mantra worked and eventually I started the decent from mile 24 to the finish line. I waited for the pain to become unbearable. It didn’t. I waited to be so mentally exhausted I wanted to give up. I wasn’t. Another silent celebration after my Garmin read 26 miles. In a few tenths of a mile I’d be running further than I had ever run before! I pulled out my phone during this lap to take a couple of pictures because I didn’t want to miss having them for my blog – not because of pain and fatigue. I did I was, again, thankful.

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My Garmin warned me that it was low on batteries. “Me, too!” I thought. At the last aid station the volunteer added water to my pack (my first refill) and I headed out for the last 5.5 miles of the race. I wasn’t miserable. I felt strong.

A gentleman passed me, then a pair of ladies did. That’s ok, I thought. I’m not out here to break any records. Then… with about a mile and a half left I heard another set of footprints behind me and I thought, “Oh, hell no. Not again.” I sped up and tried to run as strongly as I possibly could. The sound of footsteps subsided and I passed the gentleman that had passed me. I tried to keep my strong pace through the end of the race… and I managed to make that happen!

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Glenn surprised me at the finish line! I didn’t expect for anyone to be there. My father-in-law, Tom, went to Gabe’s soccer game to be with Glenn and to cheer for Gabe that morning. AT the game they both decided to hop in the car and drive over to watch me finish. I’m so incredibly thankful they did!

IMG_8937 IMG_8939Standing at the finish line I was amazed at how good I felt. Completely, utterly drained? Yes. Ready to pass out and die? No! Glenn grabbed my Muscle Milk and Gatorade from the car, I had a sandwich from the awesome spread of sandwiches, chili, chips, soda/water/beer at the finish line, and waited for the awards.

IMG_8940Ian Torrence (another TRF board member and a legend) won the Masters Men’s division.

IMG_8941My official time on the website – 5:18:06 (5/9 in my age group). The Master’s (40+) winner for the women came in at 5:05:57 and the next 40+ woman (winner of the 40-49 age bracket) finished in 5:21:04. I wish I was already 40! I was only a few months shy!

What a day. I have so much more to say but I think I’ll stop for today. I’m grateful for the ongoing encouragement I received from family and friends. I’m thankful I can say I finished this race. More reflections are sure to follow!