Posts Tagged ‘#run’

 

With my Trail WhippAss team mates and friends. L-R: Matt Gerowitz, Juliette Ciacca, Stalina Gibson, Moi, and JC Sta. Teresa.

With my Trail WhippAss team mates and friends. L-R: Matt Gerowitz, Juliette Ciacca, Stalina Gibson, Moi, and JC Sta. Teresa.

A week ago today, around this time, I was in the Appalachian Trail, either run-walking up or flying down the beautiful downhills.

But before that even happened, I must say, I came to JFK 50 with fear. I have run and finished 2 50-milers before and I knew I CAN FINISH 50 miles. But then, as the cliché goes, no 2 races are the same. JFK 50 has a 12-hour cut-off for those starting at 0700 and 14 for those toeing the line at 0500. So far, one of those 2 50 miles I’ve done, I finished under 12 hours. But that was at Beast of Burden, which was flat as a runway. The other, TARC 50, I finished at 15 hours and 50 minutes of running, after I got lost at mile 48.5 or 49, sat, cried, and then given the chance to finish. So technically, I didn’t have a good history to bank on. On one hand, I thought that while BoB was flat, it was cold, I had my period, and went to the bathroom a million times. So maybe, there was hope that I can actually finish under the cut-off.

Still, the assurance was not enough. I freaked out.

And then, there were the whys. Why did I let Stalina talk me into this? Why did I even think I could do it?

My husband ran it last year and finished under 9 hours but that was him. Why did I even think I could do it? Or may be I could. But then, wait, was I even trained enough? Not in my opinion.

Since TARC in June, I had 2 DNFs. Two 50Ks— what would’ve supposedly been “training runs.” One, a week after TARC (who was I kidding?) and the other, in October. So talk about confidence. Then, I guess all the other “trainings” involved running some “hills” in Central Park, walking on 35-40% incline in our treadmill, probably 1 back-to-back 16- and 11-milers, and Steamtown Marathon followed by a 10-miler the next day. The only other essential part in my so-called training was trying to train/run on empty. So far, I’ve only managed running without nutrition or hydration for the longest distance of 10 miles. So was I ready? Not exactly. But I had to convince myself I was.

Fast-forward, November 21 came. With my family, we packed 2 more runner-friends, Stalina and Juliette, in our car and headed to Hagerstown. I was thankful the husband came because I could not imagine driving a day after the race. That Friday, we picked up our bibs at a hotel after eating Thai food. Then at dinner, we headed to Ledo’s Pizza (and their pizza was awesome!) where I had the quasi-mandatory dinner of vegan pizza and pasta. I swore I’d never eat that much before. Following dinner, we readied in our room. I skipped the FlatKat, the “traditional” laying down of race attire for photo-ops. I was scared as f#ck that might jinx me.

Then fast-forward race day November 22.

I had a good night’s sleep. When I woke, I had coffee and a wonderful bathroom visit.

That's my best poker face at the bib pick-up.

That’s my best poker face at the bib pick-up.

It was a cold morning. There were frostings on cars at the parking lot. I was wearing shorts. I had settled on a long-sleeved tech shirt with my Trail WhippAss (my running team) singlet over it. But I’ve also a loose tech running shirt over it for throw-away, then my Ultimate Direction Jenny vest.

After a quick stay in the gym for some last minute race announcements, we were heading out to the start. Jun’s (the husband) last words to me in our dialect “Don’t DNF.” Boom.

Gun went off just right after I used the porta-john, where I actually tripped and hurt my ankle.

Just as expected, it was crowded, but that was good. With over a thousand (?) runners, I figured I could never be the last person.

The first five miles were just relentless uphill on pavement. As soon as I heard a volunteer say “last uphill and you’ll be in the AT,” my eyes lit up. That trek uphill ate up so much of my time.

Soon enough we hit the AT.

I had to make a mental note about what how my ultrarunner, badass friend, Elaine Acosta told me to go slow in the AT, because per her experience, she was fascinated with it that she ran too fast and bonked in the towpath. But that wasn’t a problem for me; I can’t run fast, anyway.

But yes it was beautiful. I managed to run smarter, walking the uphills mostly. (I have been warned by a random runner and Jun to not run the uphills because they burn me out but I feel I can run better uphill than walking uphill.) Then I made up for time by running downhills, even in the most technical ones and along the switchback. At one point I twisted my ankle really bad and heard a snap and I was worried for a while but that didn’t do harm.

The AT was a beauty. Unfortunately, we only had about 9 miles of it. I have memories of the picture-perfect scenery but only in my mind because I turned my phone off to fight the temptation to take pictures.

It was sad when the run along the AT ended. I especially loved the view that overlooked the river when we started the switchbacks and the AS by the rails where we actually had to stop for about 5 mins for a cargo train to cross. But I didn’t really stop long in these ASs as I was constantly making sure I had enough time. I breezed through them just to get water to mix with my Drip Drop and a spare bottle to drink. Other than that, all I picked up at the AS spread apart were 2 PB&J Uncrustables and 4 pretzel sticks. Other nutrition only composed of 2 dates and 4 or 5 V-Fuel, which I took along the way.

Finally, we hit the 26-mile stretch of the towpath, almost flat as a pancake. Contrary, however, to the Beast, at least, there was some fall foliage to see. Fine. I’ll take that.

So it was the most boring part of the race. I was dragging my feet. I was only thankful I was wearing my Hoka One One Clifton as they were the lightest bunch. I also had to make sure I relaxed my hips because more than the legs and feet, they are the first to give up. But boy, did that hurt. Same muscles for 26 miles. But then again, if there was one thing I learned from pacing Gerald in Badwater 135 in the middle of the night going up Cerro Gordo, pain has its limits. You can always push past the pain. Because if it didn’t have a limit, the pain scale that we often use at work would not be a scale of 1-10.

A lot of things go on in your mind when you’re running 50.2 miles. Especially for a back-of-the-packer like me. Because that’s a verrrry looongg time. But the goal is to stay away from surrendering.

On the towpath, mind wandered from where my ovaries are relative to the fact that since they’re no longer anchored to a fallopian tube and/or uterus, where could they be? Are they bouncing like me? That question kept me going for quite a bit. Then there were thoughts of inspirational words I had received days leading up to the race like “Believe” and “Have Faith” from 2 of the best ultrarunner friends I know, Stephen Bandfield and Paul De Nunzio. And everytime my mind went off on a tangent, I had to override it with some thought I had from Michele Yates’ interview: stay focused.

I would also discover, my GPS was off by close to a mile at this point. And I had 2 Garmins on. My old 910xt was the one I relied on, as my 620 stupidly did not start until 8 minutes into the race. I had calculated my pace to never exceed 14:11-min/mi if I wanted to make it to the cut-off. But with a GPS reading that was skewed, it was hard to say what my actual pace was. So I mostly relied at elapsed time.

And of course, there were cut-offs I had written on my arm and covered with tegaderm. They came in handy. And yes, I only looked up and found out about the cut-offs the night before. And that’s when I freaked out. This is one bad habit I need to overcome: I don’t read instructions.

I had about an hour of buffer on the first cut-off time, even with all the walking that happened the first 5 miles. But the numbers just thinned out as the day went on.

Then boom, we were nearing mile-38, where, in my opinion, the strictest cut-off was. For some reason, nearing it, my GPS said we were close to mile-38, even with the GPS being inaccurate. But behold, we almost didn’t make it past that Aid Station.

The volunteer there blurted out “even if you continue now, you will not make it to the next cut-offs.” This, even with 3 hours to spare to finish 12 miles. For some reason unknown, or may it was exhaustion, I almost quit and call Jun to come pick me up. But for some reason, as well, I felt lazy about taking my phone out and thought that if I stayed, I would be cold. Stalina, my Russian friend, was feisty enough to talk me out of it, so we, along with 2 others went for the last 13.2 miles. Of course, I was a bit miserable when we left because I didn’t realize until later that in our haste, we had not gotten water. I only had about 6 ounces left. Good job.

And then, Stalina left me. And I couldn’t find her. Without looking at the cut-off chart on my arm, part of me thought that I may not make it to the next AS on time. I only remembered Stalina saying the night before that the last 12 miles of the whole 50.2 will be like doing negative splits, aka running for your life. While you are exhausted.

So I took my time, took my dates from the back of my pack, and ate those 2 dates. “Ahhh… Real food, finally.” In my not-so-hasty trek, I was surprised that after only 2.8 miles, there was another AS not far ahead. In my mind I was saying “Wait, what? 3 miles with an hour to work on?” I crossed that AS with about 10 minutes to cut-off and that was with walking. This time, I had more FAITH and I BELIEVED more that I could actually do it. My friend, Stephen, told me to have the same faith when I ran Steamtown Marathon where I PR’d by 15 minutes. My faith resurrected and I knew at that point finishing was possible.

I was just 9 miles away and I think it was when we were donned the “vest of shame,” the vest that was to protect us in the next 9.2 miles because we were running on a road with actual traffic. But I didn’t mind that. I figured way before that if wearing the vest of shame meant I would finish, then so be it. I wore it with pride. And well, with my headlamp.

Again, I was reminded by what Elaine had said about how the last 9 miles are helpful because while it was rolling, you gain time in the downhills. So that was what I exactly did. I walked some incline and just ran the downhills. Ran some inclines and ran some downhills. Repeating the pattern in the next miles.

Along the line, it got a bit tricky staying safe. Because we were in a highway or main road, there were no shoulders to work on. In some areas, I actually had to stop because there were trucks coming and there was nowhere to run. But then knowing there were other runners made me feel safer. And I met John the Irish (I would find out his name after from Paul Grassie). He kept on giving encouraging words about how we were almost there. This went on for a few miles. And finally, when we hit the mile-44 (or 46?), I heard someone say “boiled potatoes.” I found that ridiculous because I have been looking for potatoes all day and never saw any. Now seriously, what will boiled potatoes do for me at the end of the race? So I brushed it off.

Finally, I hit the last few miles and there were mile markers, counting down. I could already smell the finish. And my family’s stench of fear that I may not have finished. Haha. It was also at this point I heard Mr. Incredible, on his bike, playing a boom box. “September” was playing. My heart was racing and when he was finally beside me, I asked him if he was the sweeper. He laughed at that and said “No! There are actually about 25 runners behind you” and he biked along.

I lost John the Irish somewhat and I had a sudden surge of energy as I passed some runners infront. I finally caught Stalina, who I saw had to do a double take and say“Oh, my god. I’m happy you made it.” I went and ran and at this point, I saw my pace was still under 14. But I knew that was no longer accurate because when we almost stopped at Taylor’s Landing, I paused my watch and we stayed there for 5 minutes. So literally, I didn’t have much time left. So I just ran, passing a few more runners. Until that final left turn on the highway where I was finally told the finish was waiting.

Sure enough, I saw the blown-up arch that said finish. It was slightly under 12 hours at this point but I was happy. I heard my name as I was approaching the finish. And I heard one of the announcers congratulating runners. The same announcer I heard talking last year, when Jun and finished.

I found myself making the sign of the cross and thanking God and thanking the Holy Spirit for helping me through it. The same way I had been praying so hard to just be guided in the past 50 miles, to know when to run, to pause, and to run again.

And with the intention to be photographed with my Trail WhippAss singlet, I took the vest of shame off about .1 mile away. And a few feet from the final timing mat, I saw Jun and Mariska and I jumped what was supposedly my jumping pic (unfortunately Jun missed it). And in Maggie Guterl’s words, I “pranced” to the finish.

Oh, my Lord. The clock read 11 hours 48 minutes something. I survived JFK 50. I finished under 12 hours!

With Herman Nichols Gilbert Gray and Paul Encarnacion.

With Herman Nichols Gilbert Gray and Paul Encarnacion.

It was one of the happiest finishes in my life.

I was ecstatic. I received my medal and then ran to the side to see Stalina finish and some other runners finish. Just like we all do in Ultras. But we had to walk out of the finish before the 12-hour mark sounded off. It was cold and I didn’t think I could handle seeing runners not making it to the cut-off. That would break my heart. But I’m not quite sure if anyone did not.

So I survived JFK 50. My thoughts and fear of having bought a JFK 50 hoodie and magnetic car sticker dissipated.

Sure enough, by the time we reached the public school cafeteria, there were no more ramen noodles. Back-of-the-packer problems. But who cares? I could very well survive the next days with just the runners’ high.

In retrospect, JFK 50 was a journey, a reflection. This is why I run ultras or why I sometimes DNF ultras. In my own twisted thinking, it is the experience that matters. When you’re happy or in pain but are able to digest things in life. Because if you can’t do that, then what’s the point?

Run careless. Run free.

Say "RUN!!!"

Say “RUN!!!”

I will never be a fast runner. But I can be faster, relative to how slow I am. That may sound confusing but it really isn’t. Simply put, I will never be fast like Boston Marathon-fast. I hate speed work. And it doesn’t help that I only started running 2 years ago.

Lately, however, I’ve been trying to push better at some of my runs and tried not to settle with a comfortable pace. So I think setting a PR in Philly’s Dirty German 50k is a testament to that.

Flashback August 2013. I ran my first 50k at the Wildcat Ridge Romp’s under Rick McNulty’s NJ Trail Series. That was a horrifying experience that I swore I will never do again. That took me 11 hours 6 minutes. I was close to being dead fucking last. And almost hit the cut-off. This first attempt at running an ultra came only 3 months since running my first marathon. Who was I kidding?

I ran Dirty German 50k on May 18, 2014 on a whim. More like unplanned.

I was off that weekend, supposedly, because I was going to bandit a race in Minnesota on a course where my first attempt at running a 100 was going to be. But because I am broke from all these races, I opted to stay. Instead, I agreed to go to Jun (the husband’s) race in Virginia for the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100. But as fate would have it, we would argue over license plates  and I declared I was not coming to watch him.

So I decided to do the Dirty German. Luckily, while the online registration was closed, there was a race day sign-up.

Race-day sign-up was not something I am used to. I was nervous about driving to Philly and not being guaranteed to run. So I emailed the RD, who assured there would be same-day registration, just minus some swags.

Fine by me.

Thank you, AS volunteers!

Thank you, AS volunteers!

Now, I think I may be lucky that I have races almost every month. I had just finished running The North Face Endurance Challenge’s Bear Mountain 50k 2 weeks prior to Dirty German. I kinda figured, my legs may be capable of running the same distance, minus the highly-technical stuffs, the climbing, the scary decents. Also, I quite figured that since I had also run Bear Mountain 6 days after pacing NJ Marathon, this might be something doable.

And so I went to Philly, drove alone on race day. It was not something usual I’d do. I thought about inviting some other friends to go but I also decided, I wanted to give this my best shot, so I didn’t want to run this alongside anyone. I also decided to run this as a marathon and not an ultra; not quite sure if you get what I mean but what I am trying to say, I thought I was not going to hang around and chit-chat and take my time.

So off I went. Thankfully, a friend agreed to watch the kiddo. I drove, got to Philly early enough to have some spare time in case I get lost. And get lost, I did.

It was in a park called Pennypack Park. Its just funny how you go to one side of Philly and see signs that would say Pennypack Park and actually fail to find the entrance there. I must have a driven a good mile more on another side of town when I saw another sign that said the same: Pennypack Park. I needed to pee so bad at this point that I could barely stand when I got out of the car to ask a stranger  in a parked car for some directions. He didn’t know, either. Then decided to call my friend, Ken, who finally directed me to the right address. Note to self: read race instructions on addresses. Siri doesn’t know everythin

Beauty!!!

Beauty!!!

So I finally found the entrance to the park. I couldn’t hold my bladder so soon after I parked on the highway, I ran down a semi-ravine and peed right there. My logic behind this is I am a trail-runner; I could pee anywhere.

It was so great to finally relieve my bladder. Soon enough I went to where the race would start and saw my friends, Violet and Maria, then Talisa. Then Ken and Christine and Evy and Lisa. Somehow, I didn’t find Maggie, who was one of my missions in coming to Philly (note: an autograph signed by Kara Goucher that I needed to give her). It was going to be a beautiful day of running with friends, I thought.

I had some time to go back to the car about .2 mis away to retrieve my drop bag with Talisa.

I barely finished fixing my hair— aka my bangs— when the gun finally went off.

And so we ran. Into the woods.

It was beautiful. I felt good, I think.

The race description was, in fact, right in saying that it would be a race within the city limits, but that runners will not be seeing cars or traffic. Spot on.

The first few miles went fine. The race followed a loop that formed an 8 and you had to do that twice for the 50k. A couple more for 50milers.

It was beautiful to see streams along the course, some random strangers. I do not have much memory from what I saw mile to mile to mile. I remember running through some mud. I remember seeing runners trying to avoid them while I just plunged into the them. I figured, whats the point? That was when I finally decided, I love some mud. Not TARC 100 2013 mud but yeah, some mud. It makes running fun.

Mile 7-ish, however, after I hit the 2nd AS, I felt my stomach cramp. It was not a bad cramp, but I’ve never had an abdominal cramp before while running before. I thought it must have been the Hammer or Heed that I took at the AS or the combination of that and my secret electrolyte drink that messed me up. I dashed to the porta-johnny, thinking I may just need to poop it out (that was a scary thought because I have never pooped in a porta-potty) but it wasn’t. All I had was gas. I made a mad dash out of there and ran. Then I had the cramp again, that I had to stop one more time.

I decided this might actually be my first DNF.

This was painful aka The Pavement.

This was painful aka The Pavement.

Somehow, however, I decided to go back and run. It wasn’t helping that I also had other GU (read: genito-urinary, not GU the gel) issues going on. I ran, paused some, and just continued running. It was also around that point that I felt something weird, something painful on my L knee, where I had surgery on for a torn meniscus in 2010. I was almost, almost, almost convinced I was going to DNF it. I texted my “little brother,” Dylan, to tell him about the knee pain.

I guess somewhere in that state, I just decided to push past the pain.  And intermittently heard Tom’s voice in my head, asking me, “why? are you bleeding?” My answers were no. That must have been what made me just run and suck it up.

It was not a perfect run. Especially not in those sections of running pavement. That was AWEFUL. I decided to run off the concrete road and into the grass or sidewalk with gravel whenever they came up on the course. It was horrible. It was one of those times when I confirmed I belong on the trails. Apparently, I wasn’t alone. This is what we talked about during dinner after the race.

But you learn to suck it up.

Like I said, no race is perfect. You do not always find satori in races. But you need to learn to overcome the negative thoughts. There were times when I actually walked little uphills, just to get through it.

And I tried to enjoy the downhills, which I think I have become quite good at. I even tried to enjoy that part of the course that formed a crazy spiral in the woods, the switchbacks, where you actually feel like a little mouse, trying to find the cheese at the end.

I tried to live by what Otto once said, run it “aid station to aid station.”

I finished the first loop and started my second loop pretty soon. At that point, I was a bit exhausted. I assumed I ran my first loop too fast for my standard. Regardless, I decided to go out right away after retrieving some nutrition from my drop bag. (One of the things I learned and did on this race was actually pack a set of nutrition and electrolyte supplements in a small ziplock bag just so I can do a grab-and-go and not have to scramble).

I went out for my second and final loop and yes, got lost on the way out. Thankfully, someone guided me to the right way. Sigh.

I think somehow I forgot about the abdominal cramp. Somehow, the knee pain disappeared. And after being in this course once before, I kinda knew what to expect.

Now, let me say that before I came to run this race, my goal was just to finish. Then to finish within 8 hours. At that point, I thought my 50k PR from another course was 8:06 or something (at the Greenbelt Trail Ultra 50k, which, by the way, still does not appear on my Ultrasignup race results). So I figured I wanted to beat that PR. Apparently, as I learned few days ago, my 50k PR is prior to Dirty German was at Badwater Cape Fear 50K at 7:48, which also, does not appear on my US race results. Ugh.

The Maggatron, finishing her 50-miler at an awesome 7:40ish time.

The Maggatron, finishing her 50-miler at an awesome 7:40ish time.

So at some point, I finally decided I actually have a shot at finishing under 7.

There would be times when I doubted that I would. The biggest shadow of doubt came when, few miles nearing the finish, I felt that it took forever to see the last AS. We passed it on the first loop, which had a sign that said “1 mile to finish.” I ran and ran but could not seem to reach that final AS. I doubted more and more that I would I actually finish under 7 hours when I failed to get to that AS soon enough. But then the course became so familiar and reminiscent of the final approach to the finish. A stack of horse manure eventually would prove that.

 

Soon enough, I could hear the noise and cheering from the finish. I gave it a mad dash. It was probably a mile away or less when I just ran for my life. I was dry-heaving. And I had not taken a puff of Albuterol that morning to fight some allergy-induced asthma that I self-diagnosed myself with, which I often get during the allergy season. I thought while I was gasping for air that this must be how runners struggling and fighting for their lives to qualify for Boston must feel.

 

 

Failed jumping pic. Not setting up to kick someone.

Failed jumping pic. Not setting up to kick someone.

=I just ran like I’ve never run in Ultras before. I saw my Garmin and thought I didn’t want to just finish under 7 hours; I wanted to finish under 6:50, otherwise it doesn’t count. It was cutting it close.

So through my heaving, I sprinted to the finish. My mad dash led me to a 6:45:08 finish on my watch. And I didn’t forget to stop my watch this time.

I crossed the finish line under 7 hours. No, under 6:50, my lofty goal. Right on.

By fast runners’ standards, thats not fast enough. But considering how my first 50k had turned up the year before, I figured I did so well. I was happy.

And then it was time for  a jump. I always have the energy for that.

I went home back to Jersey that day after some beer with friends at the race venue and late lunch at a Cracker and Barrel. I had a great time with everyone that day. I knew I was happy. To know all these great people that have become friends and who were actually proud of me for finishing with a good time.

 

In retrospect I think of Dirty German and say my stars have aligned.

Post-race dinner selfie with Talisa, Mary, Maria, Violet, and Eric @ Cracker and Barrel.

Post-race dinner selfie with Talisa, Mary, Maria, Violet, and Eric @ Cracker and Barrel.

  • Teeny-tiny eyeview of where the run started.

    Teeny-tiny eyeview of where the run started.

    This one is for the record. Writing about a race two days after the event is, in fact, a record for me. In fact, I have not even    arrived New York but I am already tip-tapping on my phone. Just taking off from Phoenix! Bravo. I guess I owe that to the levels of hormone that somewhat contributed to the outcome of my adventure in Utah, running Grass Roots Event’s Moab’s Red Hot 55k.

    Okay, enough about hormones.

        Let’s talk Moab.

         Where do I even begin?

    Perhaps on the fact that I wasn’t supposed to run this race, which is all the way in Utah. It was my team mate, Joe Delano (or JD, as we would call him), who planned to run this months and months ago. I was just an accidental runner. Somewhat. JD had incessantly talked about “Moab” and invited us to run with him since forever. Since forever that, in fact, I managed to schedule this post-Valentine weekend off of work, thinking that I may actually decide to run it. But as it would turn out, I signed up for NJ Trail Series’ FebApple, instead. This was scheduled a week after Moab.

    Photo-bombing my team mate and travel buddy, Joe Delano, who talked non-stop about running "Moab." Taken a day after the race.

    Photo-bombing my team mate and travel buddy, Joe Delano, who talked non-stop about running “Moab.” Taken a day after the race.

    Honestly, part of me was a bit hesitant about traveling all the way to Utah to run a 55k. I mean, I thought that if I were to travel, anyway, it may as well be for a 50-miler or longer.    Then again life happened and I would end signing up for Moab 55k Tuesday, the week of the race. And– a day before race registration closed. When I met the cool RD for the race (who JD and I would call Chrick because we weren’t sure whether his name is Chris or Rick), he would tell me they recognize me somewhat as the runner from Jersey. “Usually, its runners from Colorado who would sign up last minute… not from Jersey.” Yup! That was me. In Moab. From Jersey.

        I’ve always been in love. But not like this.

    Oh, my god! Utah is beautiful. Moab is even more beautiful!

    The place just mesmerized me. I was transported into that state again where I would declare “I want to live here.” And I think I could. Now that I don’t eat seafoods, I will not miss what the sea would offer. Besides the sea itself. So maybe.

    Moab is a small town. Quaint yet not the usual quaint town I have seen in the east coast. As I would learn from a 711 cashier, for you to live in Moab, you have to either have money, be artsy, or have a business. So I asked “Is there a hospital?” Yes. There was the other unspoken option. Ha!

    I could really live in Moab. The dream will live.

        Clueless.

    Before I came to Moab, I only had a faint idea of the race I was running. I only found out about the elevation profile days before the race. I would also only find out how “big” (aka popular) the race was few days before February 15, with Anton Krupicka, Karl Meltzer, and Jenn Shelton (sorry, I had to throw her name in there) as among the guests/runners.

    Package pick-up was at a restaurant-bar called McStiffy’s. Yup, that’s no typo. No pun intended, but it was kinda tight and packed a venue for the packet pick-up. I was expecting more like a JFK50-ish expo. The line was long and extends from a nook in that resto-bar to the entrance. But I couldn’t complain. I was in quasi-fugue state.

    I can't complain; they have vegan pizza!!!

    I can’t complain; they have vegan pizza!!!

    One other important thing I missed or misread were the “rules.” For some reason, I was a bit complacent taking the race seriously because I had somehow misread the “12:30 pm cut-off for mile 18 ” (before they declare you as having DNF’d) as a 12:30 (read 12 hours, 30 minutes) cut-off for the whole race. My thought process was “yeah, that’s easy-peasy.” Count on me to finally read the whole race rule the day I flew to Salt Lake City; it was only then that I found out that there was an 18-mi cut-off at 12:30pm!

    The race was to start at 8:00am. Sonofagun! 4:30 to finish 18miles. Thank goodness for gogoinflight services! That’s when I started to freak out. By my marathon time, I knew I would be done with 18 miles before 4 hours and 30 minutes, I figured. But that was marathon! On a flat surface! JDC, another friend who encouraged me to run Moab, would over and over try to appease me and say “Its all in your mind.” I would use that as a mantra although sometimes, admittedly, it failed. But on race day, I would hang on to these words.

       Running Slickrocks. 

    So what ends up when you’re mostly unprepared and without expectations? You get a good beating.

    The race was in the canyons of Moab. Over slick rocks and mountains and loose dirt.

    It would start at in a valley and all you did from when the gun would fire was climb. Or run on some elevations. And run on some more elevations. And climb. And climb for many miles. And yes, uphills are not quite my friends yet.

    Now to begin with, Utah already has some altitude. Put that in the context of actually running with an elevation. I was gasping for air. I hate runners who make those heavy breathing sounds but I knew that day, other runners probably hated me because I just panted. For good 4 miles or so.

    I would also meet an Instagram friend, Francesco, from Salt Lake City at the race.

    I would also meet an Instagram friend, Francesco, from Salt Lake City at the race.

    The course was point-to-point, except for one AS that repeats at miles 13 and 18. This only means no going back for anything I may need like shoe change, nutrition, etc.

    The markers for the 55k were in pink! Brilliant against the orange dirt and lime-colored rocks.

    The scenery was beautiful but I think I was done and beat and exhausted by mile 11.

    However, all I could think of at that point was beating the 12:30 cut-off. I thought I did not come to Moab to DNF. And DNF IS NOT AN OPTION. I had other things that would motivate and push me to push on that only I know personally know. “Push past the pain” is another.

    Running the course was just brutal. Being in the back of the pack proved difficult when the markers became few and far between. Most often, I ran the course alone and in those instances when I could not find the markers, I would end up in another hill by the time I finally retraced the course. Time lost.

    But if there’s one thing I figured running trails lately is that I have developed a penchant for getting lost. Of course, it is imperative to find my way back. Duh. But I loved the solitude. Of being able to tell myself I am the master of my own destiny, literally.

    Some of the climbs through slickrocks.

    Some of the climbs through slickroc  On one hand, one great thing about being a back-of-the-packer in these ultras, too, is that it is easy to pass gas or pee behind the shrubs when there is hardly anyone near you. If you’re on vegan diet (and eating a lot of  beans because Mori emphasized the importance of beans to powering legs), you’ll understand how much gas I passed.

        Finally!

    At 11:53 or 3 hours 53 minutes or so on my garmin, I crossed mile 18. I could not be happier enough that not only did I make it to the cut-off, I also managed to cross it before 4 hours. I was exhausted and dead, by then. However, I knew I only have to endure the remaining miles (although I honestly didn’t know and still don’t know how many miles I was supposed to finish at 55k).

    One of the AS's, manned by absolutely wonderful volunteers.

    One of the AS’s, manned by absolutely wonderful volunteers.

    So I ran and walked. And I not ashamed, at all, to admit I walked many uphills. But then  what’s weird about running elevations is that you realize even walking hurts and that running would hurt less. So I braved some uphills and actually ran some.

    What got me through those difficult moments running or walking was the idea that with uphills came downhills, although not always in that fashion. Some climbs through slick rocks were just succeeded with more climbs over some cactus-infested hills. At mile 24, I remember going up a slick rock (not a boulder but a rock the size of a hill, I should say) so pretty in pink with the marker on top, but what the fuck?! There was nothing to hang on to to climb it! Going up that rock took a lot of thinking.I finally realized that going over and through it meant crawling and positioning one foot on this tiny crevice on the side, that one slip could mean my death. Thankfully, my analysis of the situation was right and my Hokas didn’t fail me and I managed to reach the apex. I think it was at the same point that my hormones peaked because I remember crying at mile-24. All the emotions in my life just poured out.

         Downhills, I Heart You!!!

    Then there were many steep but lovely downhills from there. Somehow I knew and figured out lately that my quads and overall, my legs, have become pretty good and tolerant with downhills. I was flying. If only uphills loved me the way I loved downhills.

    But it was also around that point that I decided to stop looking at my watch. I just ran and sucked it up. There was no doubt that I can finish. It was just a question of when.

    I would finally reach the last AS, manned by elderly men and a woman. They would tell me that there will only be 5 miles left. I looked at my watch and saw 28miles. That couldn’t be 5 miles, I thought. Still I gave them the benefit of the doubt and told myself “These seniors couldn’t have travelled so far to man this AS, so its probably just 5 miles.”

    Some of the climbs through slickrocks.

    Some of the climbs through slickrocks.

    And thus I ran and brisk-walked and peed and ran again. At that point, there were a lot of flats yet running on a flat terrain hurt, too. I prayed for downhills but there were barely any. Yet, towards the end, part of what  motivated me to push on was not wanting to be “chubby chick’d” or end up DFL, if I, in fact, ended getting “chubby chick’d” and all the others behind me didn’t make it to the cut-off 12:30 pm cut-off at mile-18. So I made a dash for the last remaining miles. Eventually, I would see a runner infront of me being met by a friend. That’s when I figured we couldn’t be far from the finish. I would also see more people, kids included. And ATVs that looked fresh.

    Finally, as I would see one more downhill that runs on a zig-zag pattern, I would hear a white man sitting call out some name. Oh! My name! It was JD! Already in his sweatpants and– taking pictures. I would pause to ask to have a jump picture taken. He obliged.

    You know I just had to jump in the end. Still need to work on that facial expression business.

    You know I just had to jump in the end. Still need to work on that facial expression business.

    He would pace me in the last few stretch.  I would finish at 8:21 (on my watch). And I wouldn’t forget to stop my Garmin this time.

    Then it was time to do the traditional jump again. This time, at the finish line.

            My take on this race?

    me and chris

    With Grass Roots Events RD, Chris Martinez. Such a cool guy!

    Beautiful, beautiful course that any runner should have this on his bucket list.

    Great race to meet new friends. Moab Red Hot 55k reminded me again why I have learned to love ultra/trail/ultratrail-running: it is the sense of   community.

    Few of the wonderful people I met were Lisa and Bruce W., Maureen H., and Julia L. from Colorado, Rachael B. from Idaho, and Francesco P. from Utah.

    Cool, cool, new friends from Colorado and Idaho.

    Cool, cool, new friends from Colorado and Idaho

    Enjoying the company of a team mate in a new land, who can actually make you cry and takes your crying in stride (I hope).

    Meeting really cool RDs, who would take you running trails the next day.

    Above all, experiencing the beauty of Moab. I will forever be thankful to you, JDC.

    The final take is that some friendships may have been severed during this trip, new ones formed, but memories (both painful and wonderful) will forever be cherished. But that some words that were uttered and feelings felt in the journey towards finishing a 55k in Utah, will have to remain in Utah.

    Now I dig this trucker's hat.

    Now I dig this trucker’s hat.

Lovely addition to medal collection.

Lovely addition to medal collection.

I wanted a 5mm David Yurman ring for my birthday. Bought by my money. Not expecting it from anyone.

But no. I had decided otherwise. I wanted to let go of all non-essentials because I wanted to save to see more, travel more. Run more races and see how racing is in other parts of the country, the world.

For now, lets talk Scranton. Particularly, Steamtown Marathon.

My friend, Philip, said and I quote, “If you wanna see the spirit of marathon in small town America, come to Steamtown.”

And, in fact, he was right.

Before Sunday, all I thought of Steamtown was that it was or is a race that promises some PR. Apparently not. Or apparently, there is more to that.

So here’s how it went down.

We arrived Scranton Saturday, the day before the race.  Because when you are married with a child, running out of town no longer means just packing your bags and taking the first flight out. Or drive at the earliest convenient time. Rather, running out-of-town becomes some sort of an extended family-to-friend affair: friends-with-kids come along. They are there to act as quasi-babysitters and it becomes somewhat a play date. And it is most (even though it really isn’t) covenient to arrive on a Saturday.

At the finish line, Saturday. I know the police was near. I was actually a bit nervous breaking into the area.

At the finish line, Saturday. I know the police was near. I was actually a bit nervous breaking into the area.

Thus, Saturday, like any other pre-race days Saturdays, was highlighted with the expo and then a side trip to kid-friendly destinations. (If you know me, I do not quite have the patience for children’s activities. Take me to an expo that sells novelties then I’m in!!! Kid-friendly spots in an out-of-town trip? Try to count me out.)

So whatever kid-friendly activity Scranton had to offer Saturday, any day, I was thankful my good friend was there. She took care of that.

One of the landmarks in downtown Scranton, near the finish line.

One of the landmarks in downtown Scranton, near the finish line.

Thus, off I went with the husband and Philip to see what we can of the Electric City.

Fair enough, it was beautiful downtown. A quaint town of many Main Streets. The architecture on some buildings from when, I surmise, Scranton was big and mighty, when electric lights were introduced and when it first started production of rails, was astounding. I had to take pictures. And Instagram them.

But you don’t see more than that when it is Saturday night and its pre-race day. It didn’t even seem fun on a day or night when it was supposedly your birthday.

So what has a person nearing twilight got to do when its her birthday and she is out of town and it is the day before a race?

Hit a Chinese buffet and burn (!!! lol) $55 for 5 adults and 2 kids! Yes! And no kidding! After all, this wasn’t New York. Hit a Krispy Kreme store for a donut on the premise that it is justified because “carbs are needed for the next day.” Then hit the bed. Surely, no alcohol.

Thus, all you have left is a blur of what and how that birthday on a Saturday in Scranton had been.

Race day and you wake up early. Still in a blur. Or a fog. Whatever its called, seeing the beauty in a town, a borrough is probably not on top of your agenda when you have 26.2 miles on foot with only yourself to rely on.

But then, you drive to downtown Scranton, hop on the bus that would take you to Forest City, where the race starts.

And there is where it starts to hit you.

nice

One of the architectural beauties of Scranton.

Because it is fall, a bus ride to the start means a blanket of darkness. While you are wrapped around with anxiety over what might transpire in the next 2 or 3 or 4 or, in a worse case (like mine) maybe 5 hours that would take you to finish 26.2, you cannot help but wonder what scenery, thus, unfolds in your journey.

You see, Steamtown has the reputation of being a “quad-buster.” What this means is that there is a significant elevation drop. Quite profound, especially at the start. Assistant Race Director Jim Cummings kept on reiterating that 955-ft drop. What this also means is that whe you drive up to Forest City, your bus goes up and up and up. In return as you look out and down from your window, you see lights. Lots and lots of them.

For me, it reminds me of a city in northern Philippines called Baguio. Whenever I went there, I was in heaven.

That bus drive was reminiscent of the few times I have been there.

Anyway. The moment you arrive after that 45-minute bus drive with your bladder so full and about to explode because you had coffee to drink earlier, thats when you start to actually feel the beauty of this marathon.

Again, I have not been to many marathons or races, thus, my points of comparison are quite limited, admittedly. And this is where that David Yurman dream comes into the picture. You know, that wanting-to-see-more agendum.

And just when you thought your bladder couldn’t hold any longer, the bus finally halts. You step off the bus, you are greeted by young kids (high-schoolers, I think), and they, in uniform shirts, guide you to either the porta-johnnies or the school auditorium, where you can take cover from the cold. But wait. Before you even enter the school, you are greeted by cheer-leaders!!! Full of energy at 7-ish in the morning!!! You just know you are up for something wonderful.

Inside the auditorium, runners are gathered on the floor, against the wall, all over. In retrospect, while I felt security may have only gone as tight as implementing the “universal” plastic bag thing, the atmosphere seemed relax and friendly. Don’t get me wrong; you still see the over-achievers and the elites. But there is the absence of the snotty-ness of big-city races.

It was at that point when I decided I miss those days when running was simply a free-for-all, smorgasbord of fun, sportsmanship, and shared experience by families. And knowing how I haven’t been running that long, the memory of that is not from long ago. F@#k those Boston bastards!

Stepping out into the start line, where you await the start, the unassuming-ness of the Steamtown Marathon can be seen from the akward lack of corrals that I have, somewhat, become accustomed to in NYRR races. Or the absence of pacers. But then when I think about it, that becomes spectacle in itself. No “stiffness” or rigid rules, where runner 1 can only go to blue or where 4055, slacker that you are (and yes, that was my BIB number at one point) can only go to the pink corral (or was it purple?).

So off the cannon (yes, cannon) blew in lieu of the gun. And out and about the runners went. Down the downhills of Forest City towards Scranton.

But before all the finish line revelry happens, a lot of other things happen.

Runners who made a mad dash down course blow their quads. And yes, you see many of them. Ouch!

But that aside, other lovely sights unfold before you as you balance enjoying them and avoiding crapping in your pants or bonking or both.

Picture doesn't do justice to how fun this neighborhood really was. They made me take beer and I said I was coming back.

Picture doesn’t do justice to how fun this neighborhood really was. They made me take beer and I said I was coming back.

People are just everywhere!!! Kids are everywhere— from the high-schoolers who hand you water at fluid stations to children giving you high-fives.

A personal favorite was a young boy that had a sign that said “Push button for more horse-power.” I saw him once earlier a few miles from the race start then again, perhaps, past mile 22 when I was close to dying. What has a girl with no leg power that day to do? Yes, she “pressed” the button on the sign and ran. At that point, you just want to try anything to avoid hitting the wall.

But just when you think you felt like sh#t and had no muscle power, you see more lovely people along the course.

You see elderly men and women in wheelchairs, outside some nursing home or assisted living.

You see blocks and blocks of houses with residents gathered outside their homes, beer in hand at 10am, 11 am on Sunday, feeding on BBQs.  They cheer you and give you the biggest lie ever told (and a lie youv’e heard more than a thousand times if you’ve been running): LOOKING GOOD, RUNNER!!!

No matter how you know how shitty you look at that point, you actually try to believe it and go on a smile, talk, or high-five with them.

It makes you go on. It gave me a renewed sense of envigoration even when I felt like I didn’t have strength.

And you take your strides. And I took my strides, little as they were at that point and saw more lovely faces of Steamtown. They are nameless and faceless at that point. Faceless at this point. But they were faces that gleamed and beamed, passing on those gatorades and water set up by the race organizers. Passing on slivers of oranges, plates of pretzels, bottled waters. Yes, bottled water.

As we would find out a day after, those residents in the “unofficial” aid stations apparently pooled some funds to set up everything. Now thats the spirit.

And there would be more. The fall scenery of leaves turning the color of autumn. The mom, who I’d always call from hereon as “Megan’s mom,” as she had screamed from mile 1 to another and another and another for, who I supposed, was Megan, her daughter. The bands playing “Cotton-eyed Joe” to the other band of elderly men taking a break, violins on-hand to the lone man by the bridge with his cassette player blasting  “Charriots of Fire.” So appropriate.

Then there were the runners. And when you are among the back-of-the-packers,

you see a lot of the spirit, which, to me, can only be surpassed by the camaraderie I’ve seen, so far, in ultra races. Where runners helped other runners. From as little as passing on a cup of Gatorade (because he didn’t want that cup and wanted water, instead) to asking for a pack of salt to giving away some gel to just running along, side by side to the finish line.

I finished at a dismal time. I honestly felt disappointed when my half-marathon split did not yield a number I was looking at. Especially when it displayed an even more “off” of a target number.

I tried to make up for it and pushed on. But I guess, there comes a point in running those 26.2 miles when you are forced into introspection and figure where you went wrong. I wasn’s spared that state. And then, resignation. Be resigned to the fact that you did not meet your expectations.

Was it the 3-hour sleep the night before? Was it the lack of sleep, leading up to the race, which is ironic because I was supposed to be on my 9th day out of 12 days of hiatus from work? Was it the ginseng bottle that broke when it fell off my pocket that morning? Was it nutrition? (Though I doubt it was, as I had been eating well on days prior). Or was it the other marathon 3 weeks ago that still left me battered, physically yet unknowingly?

Then, even in the middle of that immense period of introspection, you eventually snap out of it and just decide and say “F#ck it! As long as I finish.” And you push and walk a little and run again and push again and run like you’ve never run before with your legs dead and tired.

Then you come out of that fugue state that consumed you for several miles.

And you just see the people of Scranton (or Steamtown) cheering you on. Like they know you. As though you know them. And you cross the finish line.

Volunteers, serving coffee, pasta, and pizza!!! And they tasted good!!!

Volunteers, serving coffee, pasta, and pizza!!! And they tasted good!!!

The unassuming finish line marker, void of any of the frills of big-city marathon finish line markers. Arms to the side, not quite high as that of the Marathon Goddess’ but enough to make a statement during that brief photo-op moment to say “I made it.” And you cry inside.

And you stop your Garmin. Then you figure that is the end. At least, the running part of it.

Because the beauty of Steamtown doesn’t end.

Awaiting you are volunteers bestowing you your medal. And they serve you pasta and coffee and pizza and fruits and massage for your legs that surprisingly, still had strength to make you try do a jumpshot.

And you pause.

And say, wow. Beautiful Scranton. I will run you again.

Food!!!

Food!!!

The beautiful lake. Beautiful being an understatement. Can you go wrong?

The beautiful lake. Beautiful being an understatement. Can you go wrong?

adk medal

Beauty! All that’s missing is a bear.

(September 23, 2013)- I should be doing or starting my graduate school paper now (or was it last night?) that is due tomorrow. However, I felt the need to nap. But then considering the coffee I have had shortly before hitting the bed after my 2-mi “recovery” run this morning— and, all the other things I needed to do today— I could not seem to fall asleep. I am somewhat crazy that way; my mind wanders about even when the physical me is dead.

My thoughts lingered, as well, on some introspection and retrospection. On some year it has been. For me. Phew.

Well, honestly, nothing much happens in my life. Its a blah. An almost-blah, highlighted only by some fleeting moments that trigger momentary excitement captured on either Instagram or Facebook or both.

But that particular “year” that started September 22, 2012… That’s another story. So far. In my own terms. And you guessed it right. It talks of running. After all, thats almost all that I care about these days. Everything else (besides family and work), everything else is dealt with with some degree of nonchalance.

jump 2

My friend, Vivian, and I. We both intended to run Adirondack as a long run, thus, all the jumping and rolling on the ground that led us to a 5:34 finish.

Time travel.

A year ago yesterday, I ran my first half-marathon in Jersey City, where I finished a dismal time of nearly 3 hours on a flat course in what I consider  as my hometown for the past 9 years. It was a beautiful September day, by the Hudson River.  Yet I swore while struggling to reach the finish line. And I wondered. ” Why the f- did I sign up for another half-marathon the month after?” At the Runners’ World Inaugural Half at that.  On hills! On hills?! Lotsa hills! I questioned my sanity back then. No, not really. But it was an hour or so of self-doubt while finishing those 13.1 miles in downtown Jersey City. I questioned my ability to do another half-marathon; I thought I could not do any more run that will last almost 3 hours. But of course, as soon as I finished that September day, I felt great, more than anything. I was proud of myself.

Thus, fast-forward October 2012, I ran Bethlehem (aka RW Half, which is what I prefer to call that half-marathon). I PR’d by about 12 minutes. On hills! It felt great and I was high, but it was hell. All I could think of running those hills in Pennsylvania was “Why? Why the self-flagellation?” It seemed like the only thought that kept me going was David Willey’s smile when and if I crossed that finish line. (Oh, that smile.) But as history is sometimes meant, yes— I finished and I PR’d and I was proud of myself– again. I still wasn’t fast but I knew I could do more. From then, Bethlehem was my point of reference, in terms of degrees of difficulties for any given race course. It was like singing Sinatra: if I could make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.

In fact, that was precisely the same thought that persisted when I ran Philly Half the next month, where I PR’d yet again by about 2 minutes.

And it was also in Philly that I registered, on impulse, for another half-marathon. Well, supposedly, for another half-marathon— the New Jersey Half-Marathon aka Long Branch Half in May.

Little did I know that that was flood gate of insanity for me.

Back home, I caught myself signing-up for more races.

I registered for NYC Runs Half, ran it, and PR’d about 26 minutes. Then slightly after that,  I ran Manhattan Half on a cold day. Note that before Central Park half, I had only run that place for the Joe Kleinerman Classic 10k. Thus, I hadn’t had any “hill” training of some sort besides that. Let alone run Harlem Hills.

Of course, running both halfs in Central Park, I figured my Sinatra mantra could work. Yes, if I made it in Bethlehem, I could make it anywhere.  And so I did. PR’d in the Manhattan Half by another 4 minutes! To this date, that remains my personal best in half.

I thought my affair with running would stop at half-marathons.

You see, I came from and grew up in a country where, in my time, did not quite value physical activities within the boundaries of educational institutions. Nothing much was presented to students, except to those who were not vertically-challenged like me. For some reason, schools in the Philippines placed more leverage on games like basketball. Basketball!!!!!!! Basketball when our “tall men” could not even keep up with what real tall men are really like come Olympics.

So there I was growing with no talent in sports, whatsoever. Well, I played varsity for badminton in high school, but thats about it. And I can barely even swim!

That’s how lame a duck I am.

So when I started running a 5k last year, 2012, it was all new to me. I knew from the last time I went home to the Philippines in 2006, I could barely run a track. Yet I figured, if I bought enough gadgets and more than one pair of shoes, I would propel myself out of the couch and the computer and just bust my bazinga. Build the train tracks, before the trains come! Yes, that’s how things almost always work for me!

Thus, out I  went with my first two 5ks in June and August. (Note: the husband can vividly remember how I almost brought hydration bottles for those 5ks.)

trophy

Cute, little things called… trophies!!!

Then, went out of my way to start the half-crazy deal in September.

And remember that Half-Marathon I signed up for Long Branch, supposedly for May this year? I upped the ante, put down a few more dollars, and registered for my first full marathon.

Looking back now, I think I owe myself some pat in the back for having come this far— far being subjective, on my own terms.

Yesterday, I finished my 3rd marathon (4th, including a 50k in August… and by marathon, I mean, 26.2 miles, okay?). In a course that can now give Bethlehem a kick in the butt. In the beautiful, quaint town of Schroon Lake— with its hills, and hills, and hills. A run that I had signed up for, again, on an impulse after running my 2nd marathon in Vermont. A run that was meant to be a training run for the two other marathons I have lined up for October and an Ultra in November.  A run that was literally a pain in my behind but one that promised wonderful memories of friendship, scenery, and good food (note: visit Mr. P’s if you’re ever in Schroon Lake).

Now as I contemplate, I know I want to run more. Work more to pay so I can run more. And I know I will never be fast. I will never be Kara or Shalane  or Desiree. I can only be me, who will— knowingly or unknowingly— try to inspire my friends and some strangers, who can barely run like me… who, like me, will remain the backest of the back of the pack. The 99.9%.

As I often say, I can only endure. I can only endure  and, to borrow Ms. Tuff’s words, push past the pain and past the mantra along.

jump adk

At the finish line. Of course, the husband almost bonked but still managed to finish at 3:36.