Category Archives: Ultramarathon

HOLY CRAP I RAN 50 MILES

50 Miler End

I mean, can you think of a more fitting title? You read that right, my tens of readers- I, the Rum Runner, ran a 50 mile Ultra Marathon, The Indiana Trail 50 (actually it’s officially called the Indiana Trail 100 and all the merch had that printed on it despite there being a 50 mile and 100K and I found that super annoying).

“But isn’t that what you’ve been training so hard for since early January? Why do you act so surprised?” you are probably thinking to yourself (as well as “Why do I care? I have things to do”). When I look back, running for a very long time is what I trained to do. Actually FINISHING a 50 mile run for the first time is almost next to impossible to prepare for properly. I almost quit dozens of times. I was in immense pain. I felt angry. I felt frustrated. I felt hysterical. I sobbed into the arms of a complete stranger. It was miserable and horrendous and I can’t wait to do it all over again.

I won’t try to give a play-by-play of 14 hours of running. What I will do is break my experience down only the most important facts:

  • Poops taken? One
  • Shoes worn? Two, of course! One for each foot!
  • No smartass, I meant pairs of shoes! Only one pair, my Salomon Speedcross trail shoes.
  • How many blisters did you end up with? Only about two mild ones, despite wearing the same pair of shoes AND socks the entire run
  • Areas chafed? Surprisingly none, not even the usual offenders like the thigh chub rub and butt crack. The one application of Body Glide held out the entire run.
  • What the hell do you eat when running 50 miles?! For me, lots of cups of chicken noodle soup and flat Coke. That’s about all my stomach would tolerate. Once it let me eat a small piece of PB&J. My stomach did NOT like anything sugary, however, like candy or fruit. I also drank too much Tailwind in the beginning of my run which resulted in horrible tummy distress and eventually to my singular poop.
  • Tell me about the course! Okay! It was a very pretty state park with rolling hills and trails in the woods that were pretty technical without killing yourself. You only had to look out for the odd roots and rocks. But oh, was there ever MUD. The dirt in this park was mostly clay and the rain in the preceding days had turned most of the second loop of our run to a muddy, slippery, mess. There were at least five straight miles where running was just not an option.
  • Speaking of rain, how was the weather? Looking back, the weather was kind of perfect in terms of running. The temperature stayed around 50-55 the entire run which made it easy to dress for. There was some rain in the middle of our run but it wasn’t a downpour. However, towards the end of the 50 either it got colder or my body just quit functioning properly and I began shivering uncontrollably. Thank goodness for my rain coat.
  • Tell me about the aid station and volunteers! Let me tell you, The Indiana Trail 50 was more like a strolling buffet in the woods than an Ultra Marathon. Just kidding there was nothing easy about a single moment but those aid stations were STOCKED with goodies I couldn’t eat. Burgers, pierogis, bacon, donut holes, chocolate covered coffee beans…all that was missing was pizza and a nacho bar. The volunteers were amazing people. After about mile 30 the pain and fatigue pretty much turn you into a toddler unable to walk steadily or speak full sentences. Thankfully, the volunteers treated me as such. “Hi there you look so strong! Do you want me to fill up your water? Do you want a cookie? Does someone need a nap?” Okay I made that last part up but my point is they were super attentive and I couldn’t have made it to the finish without them.
  • Why the hell did it take you so long? Hey! Did you read the part about the mud? Also, from mile 39 until the end, every step became a small battle with my mind. At that point I was mentally exhausted and hating life. When my mind betrays me like that, it’s difficult for me to overcome and think positive and move fast. The last five miles of the race were pure hell. That’s when my anger turned to despair and I began randomly crying. At this point I was the last of my friends left on the course and I was feeling sorry for myself on top of the pain. I shuffled along in agony until Shawn found me a quarter mile away from the finish line, held my hand, and ran me in to the finish. It also took me so long because my lying-ass friends told me this was a FLAT RAIL TRAIL COURSE so there was no need to train on real technical trails. LOL!!!!!!! Fuck my friends. Also I’m just slow and dumb to begin with.
  • Why the hell would you want to repeat this hellish experience? Because I know what to expect now. Everyone tells you it will be hard but you won’t know how freakishly painfully hard it will be until you do it. Remember your first time running a marathon and you swore never again and then the pain went away and then you became determined to run another one faster and now you’ve done 13 and you’re not getting any faster but you just keep signing up for marathons like an idiot? Oh wait that’s just me. Now that I know what to expect in a 50 miler, I can plan better to prevent those rough times and, I don’t know, maybe run on a trail or two with some hills. Also, I kind of have no choice since remember that I am registered for the North Country Trail 50 in August.

Not to sound too corny, but I became a different person after running my 50 miles. I feel a certain confidence in my every day life I didn’t have before. My brain is probably thinking, “Well she went to hell and back, maybe giving a presentation in front of 50 people isn’t the worst that can happen.” I am actually looking forward to training for North Country and hopefully shaving a good hour off of my Indiana finishing time. I think 50 milers, if life allows, will not be a two-and-done occurrence for me. But nothing longer, that would just be stupid.* On that note, I’ll leave you with this joke:

How does a runner get through the woods?

On the psychopath!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

*I once swore I’d never run a marathon too

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My First Ultra: The Kal-Haven Trail Run

Kal Haven Finish

Emil Zatopek, winner of four Olympic gold medals, once said the following: “If you want to experience a different life, run a marathon.” I love this quote because it’s impossible to run a marathon and not learn something new about yourself. You will find strength you never knew you had, tenacity to push through pain that once would’ve made you quit. Marathons are a beast that will change the way you feel about yourself forever. Ultramarathons are a monster that will cause you to experience about 3 different lifetimes and even cause you to fantasize about a life where you never have to run again.

On Saturday, April 8th 2017, I officially completed my first ultramarathon, the Kal-Haven Trail Run. This race is advertised as 33.5 miles but according to my watch and everyone else I asked, it’s technically over 34. The entire run is held on the Kal-Haven Trail, a pancake flat rail-trail which runs from Kalamazoo to South Haven, Michigan. In terms of ultramarathons, it’s an easy one. I already mentioned it’s pancake flat, and pretty much the only terrain you have to look out for is sticks and branches on the trail. I knew going in to this race it would be flat, but good Lord did I underestimate how flat it was. You would think that would make the run easy, right? Well 34 straight miles of using the same exact muscles with not even a rolling hill to help break up the monotony tore up my leg muscles more than I would’ve imagined. But, more on the pain later.

I arrived in Kalamazoo the night before and stayed in a hotel for free thanks to my Hilton Honors points, the one perk of travelling so much for work last year. I enjoyed dinner at a new brewery in town, One Well Brewing. It had been written up as one of the best new breweries in Michigan, and in a state where breweries are getting a bit out of control in my humble opinion, that was enough to get me through the door. I ordered a flight and there wasn’t a bad beer in the bunch- a delicious IPA, amber ale, even a jalapeno flavored beer. I also ordered a pizza with no cheese because, duh, I didn’t want my stomach to be upset for my run. Jalapeno beer is totally fine before an ultra though.

One Well

Pictured: Carb Loading

I woke up the morning of the race feeling oddly well rested and ready to go. I ate a gas station Clif Bar and horrible hotel room coffee with powdered creamer, grabbed a banana from the lobby breakfast, and went on my way to the Kal-Haven trail head. As I picked up my packet I was oblivious to the daunting fact that I was about to run the longest distance of my life up to that point. At least the weather forecast was looking perfect- chilly to start but warming up to the 50’s and sunny for most of the day.

The first few miles of the race were like any other run on a rail trail similar to the ones back home, such as the Paint Creek Trail or the West Bloomfield Trail. It was very pretty and full of trees. And it stayed like that, for miles and miles and miles and miles. What I’m trying to say is it was a bit monotonous. Oh yeah, and did I mention no hills? By mile 17 I was surprised at how sore and beat up I felt. Luckily there was a huge aid station marking the half way point full of pretzels, fruit snacks, bagels, bananas, and PUPPIES! Yes, I met a beautiful pit bull puppy named Beans, just like my baby kitty. Receiving puppy kisses from Beans gave me a burst of energy that lasted until mile 24.

It was at this point that I ran out of motivation. After 24 miles of running a straight line through trees, with no friends to talk to and no music, I was just plain bored and couldn’t find the mental strength to run through the pain. I texted my husband while fighting back tears letting him know how tough this run was. He told me to stay strong and keep going, and of course texted a photo of our cat Beans cheering me on like he does for every race. With his encouragement in mind I hobbled along for two more miles then ended up walking most of mile 26. Mentally, I was done with this race. I questioned why I was a runner. I beat myself up for my lack of speed. I told myself no way in hell I was going to run the 50 miler in April and that I wasn’t good enough to be a runner so I was going to just quit and start taking spinning classes. I was excited imagining a life of sleeping in on Saturdays and having toenails.

Then, magically at mile 30, a third (or fourth?) wind came upon me. An inner voice appeared and actually started pushing me along instead of keeping me down. “Don’t think about how far you have to go, think about how far you’ve come.” This random thought became my mantra as I pushed along for the last four miles, going from over 13 minute miles to 10:50’s. Yes, that is super slow, but at that point I felt like I was flying. “You are going to finish, probably not as fast as you wanted but you will finish and no one can take that from you.” I really wish this encouraging inner voice would show itself more often, like at work meetings. I guess it only shows up when I’m under tremendous physical stress.

Well, I did finish, but not before cursing the course for putting the ONE HILL right before the finish line. Bastards. After grabbing my medal I looked for my friend Angie who I was sure finished long before me. By “looking”, I mean I sat on the ground in pain and waited for her to find me. When she finally did I learned she had finished AN HOUR before I did. She is truly a beast and is going to rock her upcoming 100 miler. I was just happy to finish 34 miles in 7 hours and 10 minutes.

Despite the miles of agony that plagued me during the Kal-Haven Trail Run, overall this race motivated me even more for my upcoming 50. Despite how happy I was to be done running I actually felt like I could tackle another 16 miles. Kal-Haven proved that I can push through extreme pain, fatigue, and boredom and finish with a smile on my face. The miles may not be pretty or fast but they will be my own to be proud of forever.

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Unlucky #13: The Ann Arbor Marathon

Way back in 2014, I was in great shape and setting PR’s like a champ. It’s been nothing but a sharp nosedive from greatness since, but I do marvel at my accomplishments three years ago. In March of 2014 I set my half marathon PR of 1:50:10 at the Ann Arbor Half Marathon, a very hilly course that in no way should have inspired record-setting speed from me. To this day I have no idea how I pulled that off; to put things in perspective, I returned to run the Ann Arbor Half in 2015 and finished more than 35 minutes slower. Hoping to redeem myself, I did register again in 2016, but after a fun night out with Shawn I woke up race day morning with a hangover, looked at the freezing temperature, said “fuck that”, and got back into my warm bed.

I had never skipped out on a race due to laziness, and guilt inspired me to do something pretty stupid at the end of last year- I registered for the FULL marathon in Ann Arbor as my penance. Never mind that the full was a double loop (ew!) and in March (when Michigan’s weather goes on the rag). Not only would it make up for my misdeeds, but training for a March marathon would inspire me to get my butt out the door during the most miserable months of the year.

As you’ve read in previous posts, I joined up with friends who were training for a 50 miler on their weekend long runs to train for Ann Arbor. A gentle twist of the arm saw me signing up for the 50 miler as well, and now Ann Arbor went from “Early Spring Marathon to Keep me Motivated” to “A Mere Training Run”.

The weather leading up to Ann Arbor wasn’t terrible- pretty mild and no snow or ice. In fact, the Friday prior to the marathon was set to hit 75 degrees! Oh but in typical schizophrenic Michigan fashion the temperature would drop to 40 the next day. The forecast for race morning called for just shy of 40 degrees with a 90% chance of rain. Lovely. I kept checking my weather app hoping that through sheer positivity I could change the weather, but alas, I don’t have X-Men capabilities after all.

The night before the marathon my parents came over to see the new house and of course no visit from mom and dad would be complete without a visit to a local dive bar. Long story short, I ate a lot of bad food and drank a lot of rum. I could barely sleep thinking of everything that would surely go wrong the next day- I wouldn’t make the cutoff. I’d get drenched. I’d have to poop 50 times. When my alarm went off after a solid two hours of actual sleep I almost began crying, that’s how little I wanted to run. Thankfully a friend from the ultra training group was using the marathon as a training run as well, and accountability saw me make my way to the starting line.

Conditions the first half of the race weren’t bad- I even took off my gloves and rolled up my sleeves. As horrible as weather conditions are for Ann Arbor, you can’t deny that it’s a lovely and scenic course. It takes you through the University of Michigan’s campus, through riverfront parks, and through the Arboretum. Thankfully my tummy was on it’s best behavior and the Tailwind Nutrition was keeping my energy steady. Dare I say it, I was enjoying myself! Then, magically on cue, as soon I started my second loop of the course, the rain began to fall.

The rain started as a mist and I thought, no big deal. Then Mother Nature laughed at my arrogance and it began to pour. Areas of the course became nothing but puddles which aren’t as easy to hop around after 17 miles of running. The Arb was nothing but mud. And remember how I said it was not even a high of 40 degrees? I was absolutely miserable. At one point the Five Hour pace group leader ran up to me and asked, “You’re running slow, are you okay? Taking in enough calories?” First of all, fuck you for asking such a condescending question. Second of all, I answered a bit more diplomatically, “I’m running a marathon in the rain, I’m as good as I can be.” Mr. Happy Asshole replied, “Well I’m running a marathon in the rain too! Stick with me and we’ll finish together!” UGH. I had really wanted to finish in less than five hours but the prospect of having to listen to him for the next seven miles was enough to make me walk and accept defeat.

When I finally finished I was a soaking and shivering mess. The Mylar blanket handed to me was soaked as well but I took it anyway. In all, I finished marathon #13 in just over 5:11, which given the weather and course conditions and the fact I had run 31 miles in the week leading up to this marathon (and it was just a training run after all), I was pretty satisfied. Thankfully I was smart enough to pack a change of dry clothes and my training buddy had an office in town where we could get changed.

To put it in perspective how cold I was driving home, it took me 20 minutes to work up the courage to leave my heated truck and walk into my house. When I finally did, I spent most of the rest of the day on the couch watching comedy specials on Netflix. I treated myself to a victory Bloody Mary and lots of peanut M&M’s.

A2Marathon

My penance having been satisfied, that night I swore off running Ann Arbor ever again. However, an urge to return and break five hours has been nagging me since. I never claimed to be a quick learner.

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I’m Alive!! And Stupid

Hey there kids! I can’t believe it’s been over a year since I updated this vibrant and widely-read blog. Actually, I can believe it- I pretty much decided to abandon it after taking on a very travel-intensive job last year. Well, I left that job and after leaving a pretty crummy year behind, I’m actually optimistic for the year ahead. When I’m happy, I feel like writing about it.

I guess last year wasn’t that crummy. I did after all marry the love of my life. However, as previously mentioned, I had to plan our wedding through many business trips that took me away from home, friends, and running. I spent most of my year as a resident of Hilton hotels all over Michigan, Wisconsin, Connecticut, and Texas. I also lost my grandma, that was pretty shitty! Oh and a reality television star was elected president. As John Oliver said, f*ck 2016.

Let’s not dwell on the negative and turn to the positive instead. I recently took on a new job where I will be in ONE PLACE ALL THE TIME. I love my new team and the work I will be accomplishing with them. Soon Shawn and I will be closing on a new home in New Hudson, MI! We will be living within running distance of so many parks (Kensington and Island Lake!) and trails (Huron Valley Trail!), as well as living within running distance of a few breweries. I tell ya, life doesn’t get much better than that.

Thank goodness I will soon be living in a quiet and runner-friendly neighborhood, because I certainly have some running to do. At the end of last year I registered for the Ann Arbor Marathon to keep myself motivated throughout the winter. I decided to tag alone with some friends who were training for a 50 miler on their long runs in order to train. Well of course I soon got talked into REGISTERING for the 50 miler, The Indiana Trail run in Albion, IN. Oh and I’ll be doing the Kal Haven Trail run (around 34 miles) on April 8th to train for it. Oh haha and did I mention I had already signed up for another 50 miler, North Country, at the end of August?!

So yeah, I’m stupid, but I’m also excited. After trying unsuccessfully to train for speed for two years now I decided if I can’t run fast, I’ll run long. I’m looking forward to posting more about my Ultra adventures as well as all of the awesome places to run in my new city. Also, I need to break out my old bathing suits since I’ll be really close to Island Lake and really have no excuse not to do a T Rex Triathlon this summer (because I’ll have so much time, right?!).

In addition to my upcoming running adventures, I’m also looking forward to embracing a healthier lifestyle. Actually I’m not eating healthier at all, but I’m looking to drastically cut back on drinking. After a booze-soaked cruise last week, I’m determined to drink as little as possible in the coming month. This may not sound like a daunting task to most people, but I am the Rum Runner after all. Getting used to sparkling water instead of red wine with dinner and giving up shower beers after a long run will be tough. However, I know my life and running goals will be easier to achieve without them.

Thanks for reading! Happy 2017 and happy running!

 

 

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