Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Travel, Ray Miller 50, and Recent Training...

My Ray Miller 50 report....way past due, but I started it so might as well finish it.  And maybe more of a multi-month synopsis with some trip pictures and training updates. I think that's why I never post anything on here.  My blog entries turn into mini novelas and never get finished.

December and January were busy. Training was crap. Add that to the fact that I really rested more than I ran in September, October and November (5 month average of hitting about 210 miles/month--running, but not really training, although I was actually trying to in December and January).  So, I was kind of scared to jump back onto the ultra wagon, but sometimes you just have to jump. Last year's Ray Miller 50 Miler was what I would argue one of my best races last year. I trained fairly hard through last fall/winter into Hellgate 100K in December and Worlds in April, so late February had me in decent shape.  In contrast, this year I last raced in late August and took a really light fall/winter training schedule leading into 2 busy travel months for work in December (3 weeks in Iraq) and January (2 weeks in Ethiopia).  I always find a way to train on the road regardless of where I end up, but it is often less than ideal, and it's hard to get in big mileage weeks.  Oddly, in neither recent case did I have access to a treadmill, so could only run early morning because of either security (Iraq), human congestion (Ethiopia), or air quality issues (Iraq and Ethiopia).

Views on a drive in Northern Kurdish Iraq. The mountains are inviting.  
I wasn't sure I would even be able to run in Iraq, but our security guys assured me it was OK, just to avoid small streets off the beaten path. Advice you might be wise to follow anywhere. But they were all road runs, and had to be done early morning before the smog got too bad, and I wasn't technically supposed to leave the apartment compound after dark alone. Which meant that if I ran in the evening I had to run loops around the apartment compound.  Mind numbing. Technically it was dark in the mornings when I left the apartment compound to run, but morning darkness seems less threatening.  People don't get kidnapped before noon, right?
Running in Iraq wasn't all bad. One weekend, the driver dropped me off in the mountains, and let me run home.  "Home" was the city down in the valley (Sulaynamiah).  Had I run the other direction I would have ended up in Iran.  It sometimes doesn't end well when Americans wander over the border, so I resisted the urge to run higher up into the mountains.

A bit of a contrast, but indeed, this is a picture taken on that same run while window shopping my way back through the city. Hard to believe I didn't bring this one home.
Technically there was a treadmill in the hotel in Ethiopia, but it was set with a 10km/hr governor (10 minute miles--hello, this is Ethiopia!), set to turn off every 10 minutes, and was only accessible until 6 p.m. And there was always a line-up of middle-aged dudes looking to get on for a stroll, who glared at me after I'd exceeded my 10 minute window. They'd let it slide for a second 10 minutes, but then they'd report me to the staff.  In my defense, the sign on the treadmill (which I can only assume said "Please limit your training to 10 minutes") was in Amharic and I can only assume that's what it said being that I don't read Amharic, but could make out the "10").

Suffice it to say, I opted to run outside most mornings rather than slog through painfully slow negative energy on the treadmill. And while I hit 70+ mile weeks in both Iraq and Ethiopia, I also hit 30 mile weeks coming and going due to the 30+ hours required to get to either place. Training on the road just reminds me how easy it is to train at home in Oregon. I can run at any time of the day (morning, noon or night), don't get gawked at (Iraq), and don't feel like I've just smoked a pack of cigarettes (Addis Ababa).  And, I can easily access trails right out of my front door (+ 2 minutes).  There are trail options in Ethiopia, but they weren't accessible for a weekday morning run, so most mornings I ran uphill from my hotel to try to escape the smog.  And running uphill in a city where you're starting elevation is around 8000 feet and you're enveloped in smog (lots of wood-fire cooking and lots of really old cars, including a lot of blue Lada taxis which were brought in during the Soviet-backed Derg regime in the mid 70's to 80's--let's just say that I was in at least 2 taxis that required running push starts, and emission testing is either completely or severely lacking).  And the number of people out on the street in Addis can be a bit overwhelming, so if you're not out running before sunrise, it's going to be a gawk-fest. At least in Ethiopia they are used to runners, and their comments are overwhelmingly positive, it's just a lot of attention during a normally solo/meditative activity. And I always feel like they're thinking, "Oh look. How cute. The giant white girl is trying to run."

But there are lovely places to run up above Addis at Entoto, which I've blogged about before. Running up at Entoto makes the weekly slogs through smog worth it.  And I do love visiting Ethiopia.  Great food, friendly people, and Addis is a really hopping place--lots of people in a small space--but safe, unlike Nairobi which is frenetic and unsafe.
A room with a view.  Addis is the smoggy area down below. 
A typical dirt path/road. Climbs are gradual, but up around 10,000 feet, I felt them.  Where some elites in Ethiopia train, so you do see some fast and potentially famous runners cruising by.
More lovely views up on Entoto.  Addis is down in the smog.
Boys who chased down the "faranji" (foreigner) and were happy to pose for a picture.
On my run down from Entoto, I ran into the Epiphany street parades.  It was a little awkward--sweaty girl in short shorts running through a religious dancing/chanting street parade of 1000s of people. 
So to make a short story rather long, while I tried to train in December and January after taking much of September through November off, life got in the way. Travel, hamstring/glute strain (from racing a half marathon with an already unhappy hammie/butt), the holidays and more travel.

So, Ray Miller found me in less-than-desired 50-mile shape, but I needed a boost to jump start my 2013 training, and spending 8+ hours on beautiful trails is a good way to do that. Ray Miller was on Feb 2 this year. Last year it was on Feb 25, so the first panic came when I realized that we'd have about 3 weeks less light. Not a big deal, except that the first climb is semi-technical, and would be much darker this year.  Last year we needed lights for about 5 minutes, so getting by without was pretty easy.  This year I would have liked one for about 45 minutes.  I don't see very well in the dark/dawn and I struggled without one.  So, while last year, I felt like I ran a really fast first 20 miles, and was somewhat cooked after that, this year I had a slow clumsy start, which transitioned into a slow first half.  I did go into this race with a different mindset, knowing I didn't have the miles on my legs, and that many of the fast chicks had chosen to do the 50k this year, whereas last year, Meghan, Shawna and Angela were all with me in the 50 miler. Not to say that there weren't other fast women in the 50 miler, just that the 50k race was a bit more stacked, with a close race for the 1-2 and 3-4 spots.

The first climb in Ray Miller is pretty (a little dark), but once you get up on the ridge, the sun is starting to come up and the views with the sunrise are breathtaking--a treeless ridge line, with ocean views off to the left. I'm not sure I even noticed it last year, but this year I did.  There are payoffs to easing into a race.  All of the 50k'ers dropped me quickly (Meghan, Jen B, Kate, Bree, Allison).  Last year I was in the lead for both races until the turn-off at mile 20'ish, but definitely not this year.

The first 20 miles of Ray Miller are my least favorite part of the course, but that's only because I like the last 30 so much. There's a decent but runnable climb to start up to a ridge, which is lovely as mentioned previously, and then you go up and over the ridge to some field and dirt road running. Some nice descents on switch-backy trails, but otherwise I'd describe the first 20 miles as fairly unmemorable. I wasn't suffering as much as last year, but I'm guessing I was a good 25 minutes slower in the first half than last year.
Somewhere in the first 20 miles. Photo by Jayme Burtis. 
I'm not sure I'd ever opt for the 50k, because the best part of the course is really the part where you turn off from where the 50k'ers continue on and do a 20 mile out-and-back on parts of the Backbone trail. There's a solid climb up and past Butt-crack rock (that's the rock behind me in the photo) and then a nice descent to the aid station down off the ridge. From the aid station, there's an additional out-and-back to a smaller aid station, which climbs a bit, but is runnable, and provides a good chance to see where people are at. Plus, once you hit the turn-around at about mile 31 or so, you know you're homeward bound. I calculated that the next female (who was not far behind at this point) was 10-15 minutes back, and realized that I needed to think about moving faster. Plus, AJW was maybe 5-10 minutes ahead, so I decided to make catching him my goal.

Butt-crack rock in the background. Mile 24 or so on the course, and up on the Backbone Trail.  By far my favorite part of the course.  Photo by Jayme Burtis.
I made my way back through the mile 28/34 aid station for the second time, and felt pretty strong climbing back up and out of the aid station.  I ran/walked and started to reel in several guys, including AJW up on top. He looked like a salt lick, and seemed to be struggling a bit, so I passed quickly (it was a secret goal to kind of bury him--sorry AJW) and I was moving well at this point.  What goes up must come down, and coming down off of the Backbone trail is a fun, long descent.  I passed a couple more guys and was feeling fairly good. I definitely felt (and was) slower in the first half of the race this year, but had gone slow enough that the second half wasn't so bad.  I had begun doing some math in my head, which was sketchy, at best, but decided a good goal would be to try to stay ahead of Shawna's 2nd place finish time from last year. I'd run 8:10 the year prior, and I thought Shawna had been around 8:45 (8:44 was her actual time).  I also feared that Ultrasignup's stupid predicted time--I really hate the time prediction part of Ultrasignup and don't understand its utility besides annoyance--would be accurate.  In this particular instance, it predicted I would run an 8:38, which annoyed me when I'd run an 8:10 the year prior on the same course.  Screw you Ultrasignup Genie!  How do you know I'm out of shape?

I turned back onto the shared 50K/50 mile course, which means less than 10 miles to the finish. Uneventful--felt good enough to run, and I pushed a bit. I really just wanted to get to the last aid station, which meant one more big climb, and then probably one of the sweetest descents on a really memorable piece of single track--the Ray Miller trail.  I accidentally left my Shuffle at the last aid station (like, permanently), but its loss is not such a great one, being that it's been stuck on the same damn album for the past several races I've used it in, and it's more annoying than helpful.  Finally, the final climb, which seemed shorter than I had remembered it in my head, with the reward of that beauty of a trail, the Ray Miller.  I ended up finishing in 8:38. Crap. Cursed by Ultrasignup.

I highly recommend this race to anyone wanting an early season 50 miler.  I don't necessarily like to repeat races year to year (although I am again and again this year), but Ray Miller may be an annual pilgrimage. It's warm and sunny, so a nice break from the PNW winter, and the race is really well done; Keira and crew do a great job. Beautiful trails and views, and a fun way to jump into another year of racing.
I didn't fall once during the race, but managed to face plant on the boardwalk the next day. At least it was a soft landing.  

Next up for me is Lake Sonoma 50 this Saturday, followed by the Iznik Ultra 80K in Turkey the week following. I'm not sure I've ever run 2 50 milers back to back. Vamos a ver. I felt good coming out of Ray Miller and have put in a good block of training, averaging 80 miles/week over the past couple of months, with highs in the mid 90s and a couple of down weeks thrown in.  For me that's big mileage, so Lake Sonoma will be a good chance to see where I'm at. I've also done more speed work than I've ever tried to incorporate (usually I do a speed workout every few months--I'm actually trying to incorporate a couple of planned sessions a week).  Some days I love it (long marathon-pace efforts) and other days I hate it (whenever it suggests I visit a track, which I have yet to set foot on).  March was my biggest training month ever at 363 miles.  I think my previous high was 330. Maybe that's why I'm anemic.

In other news, it turns out I'm mildly anemic (ferritin at 10 and hemoglobin/RBC/hematocrit levels below normal). To be honest, I've been anemic, or borderline anemic maybe every time I've had levels checked--I rarely get it checked, suck at follow through, and end up taking iron supplements for a few months and then forgetting about it. The last time I was checked was at least 3 years ago, being that I was living in DC at the time.  This time, my doctor recommends IV iron transfusions.  So, tomorrow I'll get my first, and another next week before leaving for Turkey on Wednesday, with a few more to follow in early May once I'm back.  I'm also Vit D deficient, but I guess that's no big shocker. The Vit D supplements I just bought are yummy, so I'm trying not to overdose on them.  I'm hoping that replenishing my iron stores and OD'ing on Vit D will light a fire under my ass, which I didn't realize had been put out.


Anonymous said...

Great travel photos and the race report was fun. Thanks for posting

Anonymous said...

I'll bury you when it matters, in June.

Olga said...

This giant white girl is doing a darn good job trying by local (non-African) standards. And I loved the part about Ultrasignup prediction, that is really eery and funny. I need to look up what I am supposed to run at the Mac, but for SD100 I saw 24:18, and I am like "WTF?". Too close to the time I want to break! Anyway, good luck this Saturday, Amy!

Chris said...

Love the stories about running abroad. I ran in Dubai years ago and it was amazing. Best of luck this year Amy! Maybe this Dad will get back on the trails this summer and see you around.

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