Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Jungle Marathon Revisited

My mother called this morning to tell me she watch Nightline last night. One of the featured stories was about the Jungle Marathon, a race I did in it's first year in 2003. The race director, Shirley Thompson, was a fellow competitor (and unknown financier) in the inaugural race. Enjoy the following report to get a sense of what such a race entails. The eight minute video sure brings back memories!

ABC Nightline story: Jungle Marathon 2011

My book, "Under an Equatorial Sky" is my story of this race, version 2003. It can be purchased online at Amazon or any of the book sellers or from http://rebekahtrittipoe.com

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Just one more day: Days 51-57

Day 51 - February 20, 2012

I love waking up and finding a white world outside my windows. The first snow storm of the season dropped about eight inches of heavy snow. The white stuff clung to branches like a child to its mother. The sun made tiny prisms out of the flakes, streaks of light darting across the fields. I was anxious to get out and run nearby trails. And so I did. . .but not until the snow was melting faster than an ice cube in a fire. Still, my footprints were the only ones out there. Good stuff.

Total – 5.5 trail miles

Day 52 - February 21, 2012

It wasn’t the practice I was hoping to have with my team. But a new girl showed up that required a bit more personal attention. New to running, I spent a good part of practice walking and talking with her. Sweet girl who has to start somewhere. I know she was embarrassed but did not wish her to be. I led her for 30 minutes and then resumed my run, looking for the other kids scattered around campus.

Total – 4 road miles

Day 53 - February 22, 2012

No team practice today so I was on my own. Hit my familiar 6 mile loop and actually felt much better than I have in a long time. Almost felt like I was running rather than slogging.

Total – 6 road miles

Day 54 - February 23, 2012

What a gorgeous day! Sunny and near 70. Doesn’t get much better than that. So off to the trails I went before practice, scoping out the route for my team. It’s one way to get s few miles but I was pooped at the end. I think I needed more calories. Horrible on the climbs!

Total – 11.4 trail miles

Day 55 - February 24, 2012

Best laid plans of mice and men. . .and ultrarunners. What I hoped to be a good 20 miler in the mountains was reduced in half. I can’t remember when I was so out of breath and puny-feeling. I drove back into town and scheduled a physical for Monday morning. I guess it was incentive to schedule what I’ve needed to do anyway.

Total – 9.2 trail miles

Day 56 - February 25, 2012

Still feeling puny so I sneeked a few trail miles. Just enough to say I ran. Check.

Total- 3.5 trail miles

Day 57 – February 26, 2012

A beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon. About 48 degrees and just right for a short run down our country roads. Felt a little better than the last couple of days.

Total – 4 miles
Year-to-date- 325.6 miles

Monday, February 20, 2012

Snowy Trail Running 101: Top 10 lessons

Top ten lessons learned when running narrow trails after eight inches of wet snow.

10. Run early in the day before the temps climb into the high forties.
9. Be prepared to get wet and muddy if you choose to run in the afternoon under a bright sun. Don't think about breaking any land speed records.
8. Understand that gortex shoes keep the wet out only for so long. Submarining them in puddles shortens the dry-feet time considerably.
7. Running without sunglasses gives you a new appreciation for snow blindness.
6. Look ahead for easy-to-grab trees at switchback corners. Melting snow mixed with mud accelerates downward motion. You will need help slowing down.
5. Overhanging branches are sadistic. They dump snow on your head at the exact instant you pass beneath them.
4. Snow-laden trees always fall across the trail, never away from the trail.
3. View your run as an opportunity for trail work in service to your community. Consider carrying a chainsaw and loppers to make things easier.
2. Look ahead and see no footprints. Look behind and see but one set. Smile.
1. Thank God for the snow and your ability to be out there.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Just one more day. Days 44-50

Day 44 – February 13, 2012

No practice today. Yeah. I love my team but even a dedicated coach needs a break. Besides, I am frantically preparing for a big consulting job this week.

Total – 6 road miles

Day 45 - February 14, 2012

I made a stop on the way to the market; the nearby park with new (to me) trails to explore. Time was limited but I will certainly return. Beautiful, single track created by a group of mountain bikers. Good stuff.

Total – 4.5 miles

Day 46 - February 15, 2012

There’s nothing like a “follow-your-nose” run in a new city. Having work in Bethesda, I took off down a busy street, delighted to find signs for “Georgetown Branch Trail” after about a mile. I followed it to the left, ending up in Silver Springs. The dirt and gravel path cut a quiet path through expensive neighborhoods, crossed high above a bold stream, occasionally crossing a road. By the time it was all over, I logged about 11 miles, arriving back at the hotel pleased with the miles and thankful for my run.

Total – 2 miles road, 9 miles gravel path

Day 47 – February 16, 2012

After doing professional teaching all day to a group of medical professionals, I was looking forward to visiting the trail that headed to the right. But alas, other responsibilities interfered and before I knew it, it was dark. I decided to ride the hotel elevator to the top floor and hit the treadmill. Bad idea. I forgot headphones, had nothing to watch and was relegated to listen to my feet scuffing along the moving track. It was torture. And what made it worse was the conservative pace seemed much more difficult than it should have been. Ugh. I put in my 10k and went and ate a burger, fries, and ice cream. YES I DID.

Total – 6.1 treadmill miles

Day 48 - February 17, 2012

Driving in the DC area makes me nervous. But not nervous enough to avoid a stop at IKEA on the way home from Bethesda. That put me getting home a bit later than expected so I cheated on the miles, getting in a quick run and returning home to a visiting son. I guess I should have gotten up early and run before I traveled.

Total – 4 road miles

Day 49 – February 18, 2012

My run had to wait. Our wood pile was vanishing and needed replenished. That meant cross-training by hauling logs out of the woods and splitting about a half a cord. Gary and I worked for several hours before I headed out for Falling Creek Park, a new found sweet system of single track trail. Running is a skirt, short sleeves, and enjoying the 60 degree weather, it was hard to believe a big snow storm was predicted to be in place in another 24 hours. Still, running with ear buds delivering a variety of music to encourage, motivate, and uplift, the time passed quickly.

Total – 13 trail miles

Day 50 - February 19, 2012

Let it snow! For the first time this year, I got to run in snow. I love the watching the world turn white. The only thing that could have been better is that I would have felt swift and deer-like. It was anything but. I felt old and tired. But, at least it was another day out there.

Total – 4 road miles
Year-to-date: 282 miles

Monday, February 13, 2012

UltraGirl Speaks

My first Ultra: Holiday Lake 50k by Sarah Quigg

The literal meaning of the word ultra means, “going beyond the usual limit, extreme.” I experienced this definition first hand during my FIRST ultra on Saturday, February 11. Coming around the last bend to see the finish line in reach was the most beautiful sight my eyes had every witnessed. But I should back up and describe the journey it took to reach the end. 

I had never set my alarm clock at 4 a.m. before, but that morning I awoke ready to go and conquer this day. I dressed in the clothes laid out the night before; a careful and meticulous process, because I knew that each article could hinder my success. Finally ready to go, my thoughts were focused on asking God for strength and wondering what the day would bring.

The start at 6:30 a.m. was slow and it felt strange to start at that pace, but I knew the day would be long and I would cherish that beginning feeling of strength. I felt rested and smooth, my body wanting to take off and be pushed, but I trusted in the wisdom of my Trail Mama and knew that the test would be during the second half. I tried to enjoy every aspect of my first ultra, the friendly smiles and encouragement at aid stations, the chatter of runners all around me, and especially having the ability to appreciate God’s creation in such a unique and often overlooked way. Needless to say the pain soon set in and thus came the true test of an ultra-runner.

Arriving at the second to last aid station I still felt strong, but my knees and ankles were beginning to throb with every step. I knew that with the journey this pain was to be expected, and I had previously made a mental commitment to not let physical pain deter my progress. Needless to say I was not prepared for the nausea that overwhelmed my body. I slowed down to a walk, hoping, praying that it would soon fade. I soon realized that this pain was here to stay, and so I tried my best to continue on. Alternating between running and walking the chorus, “Never once did we ever walk [run] alone, Never once did you leave us on our own, You are faithful, God you are faithful” ran through my head, and I begged that God would carry me to the finish line. No longer did I worry about my time goal; reaching the finish was my only desire. 

Those last four miles were the longest of my life. Climbing the last hill and entering the paved road my hope was renewed. With each step my heart overflowed with the realization that I had finally conquered my first ultra-marathon. After dreaming, reading, and watching it was finally my turn to experience the end, the finish, the moment when all you have worked for is accomplished. I crossed the finish and, yes Coach T, got my first Horton hug, received my first finisher shirt, and became exactly who God created me to be, a runner for His glory.

Although I often questioned my own sanity during those painful last eight miles, I awoke on Sunday morning ready to conquer the next race. The pain has been erased from my mind, and although right now stairs seem to mock me as I struggle with each step, there is nothing like running an Ultra-Marathon, and that’s probably a good thing. 

Thank you, Coach T, for always believing in me. You let me tag along on long runs, answered every question, explained each minor detail, and provided insight into the mind of the toughest runner I know. You have inspired me to be the best runner I can be, and no matter what happened I knew you were a proud Trail Mama. I can’t wait for the day when we run our first Ultra together!   

   "Run Silent. Run Deep. Run Long. Run Strong." (RTrittipoe)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Just one more day: Days 37-43

Day 37 - February 6, 2012

With repeat 400s on the track at a specific pace, I knew I had to act like a coach today and stand there with my stopwatch. So, I ran some trails before practice and then ran the warmup with the team. I actually felt decent. Note to self: The new pair of shoes I finally pulled out of the box and started wearing may be helping my aches and pains subside just a little. Duh.

Total – 7.5 trail and road miles

Day 38 – February 7, 2012

This was going to be the last trail run of the season for my indoor track distance runners. With the state championships just a few days away, I wanted a run that wasn’t too long, not too short. A run that was just right. With a loop in mind, I set off to run it before practice before going down the mountain to meet my team. Together we ran those trails, some of which has been cleared of leaves with a leaf blower! First time for everything. When we finished the tough and predominantly uphill run, we enjoyed a time of thanksgiving prayer, circled up as a group who truly loves each other. I am so blessed.

Total – 7.6 trail miles

Day 39 – February 8, 2012

I got punked today when I got to practice. My entire team decided to play hide and seek, only I didn’t know it. They hid until I finally found them. Good one! But it set a nice stage for a fun run and a little section of pickups on smooth grass.

Total – 4.0 miles road, gravel, and grass

Day 40 - February 9, 2012

This was our last day of practice before the state indoor track meet. With all the work behind us, practice was a simple run to the outdoor track, a couple 200s at 1000 m pace, a run back and then a rousing game of kickball. Knowing it was going to be a light day, I hit the trails for a jaunt before practice.

Total – 5.2 trail and road

Day 41 – February 10, 2012

It was with mixed emotion that my little car sped toward Holiday Lake. My mission was to run the trails and check markings for the 50 tomorrow. I am not able to run because of conflicts with coaching responsibility tomorrow at the state championship meet. But as I ran along hanging additional streamers, I thought and prayed for my neophyte runner, Sarah Quigg. Sarah ran for me last year and was staring in the face of her first ultra. I wondered what she would be thinking, how she would be thinking. I suppose we’ll know soon enough.

Total – 9 trail miles

Day 42 – February 11, 2012

Please don’t laugh at my meager mile. It was all I could squeeze in. I was up at 6 am, on a bus at 7, spent the day at the state indoor meet, and finally got home at 10:30 at night. Somewhere between the 300 meters races, I escaped to the outdoor track and put in four laps immediately post- freak snow squall. And that’s all she wrote.

Total – 1 track mile

Day 43 – February 12, 2012

In any good experiment, observation is key in data collection. So far, in my 366-day running experiment, I am finding two things. 1) I am much happier about running, most days looking forward to logging some miles. That’s a good thing as I have often viewed my running as a burden in recent years. 2) The flip side is I think I could easily let the experiment take on a life of it’s own. Though the number of miles has not been impressive thus far, I find myself contemplating the need to add huge miles because I know people are following my progress. Miles that can be counted on one hand are scoffed at by some. So, I will need to be very careful not to let this get out of control. Balance is key.

Total – 4 road miles
Year-to-date: 233.4

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Stolen ultra baby

I feel that the child I just birthed has been stolen from my arms. No one brings her to me. She cannot be seen in her bassinet behind the huge panes of safety glass. Instead, I am left to wonder how she is, what she is feeling. Is she scared? Is she happy? Does she need me? How I wish I could be with her to comfort, console, and encourage.

Sarah Quigg is my baby. Sure, she is eighteen and a college freshman. She was my top high school runner last year. When we first met she didn’t know anything about ultramarathons. But she learned. She learned well, in fact, deciding to name herself “UltraGirl.” Long races along ribbons of trail became her passionate quest. The miles were logged. Trails traversed. Now at this very moment, she is in the process of legitimizing that name—and I am not there with her.

Rebekah and Sarah the night before the big race
I was able to run part of the race course yesterday when checking the markings. With every step, I wondered how Sarah would feel when her feet imprinted the very same dirt my shoes kicked. Would she be smiling? Would she be hurting? Would she be embracing the pain and the effort? Where would she be in the pack of runners? I could only surmise. I was not going to see it for myself.

I almost hurt from not being there with her. It’s not fair. I was there when Sarah’s aspirations were conceived, a mere speck of an idea hidden within the neural pathways of  her brain. I’ve seen that speck grow invasively, no longer able to be ignored. I’ve watched her strength increase as the miles added up. And when I look in her eyes, I see behind the veil and into her very essence. She is a runner. She is an ultrarunner just waiting to be born.

My coaching duties required I be two hours away come race time. Now I anxiously await her phone call as I prowl the confines of an indoor track field house. I need to know every detail of my ultra baby’s first race. I wish I could have been there. Why doesn’t she call?  I muse when I glance at the wall clock. She should have finished two hours ago.

Finally, my phone sounds that familiar ring. It’s her. “So, talk to me.

“Oh Coach T. It was so hard but I finished.”

The details began to unfurl. The first loop of the course flew by, Sarah arriving at the turn-a-round feeling strong and capable. She continued on, pleased with her progress until a mere eight miles remained. But those eight miles were nothing like the first twenty-six. Her stomach ran in the opposite direction. Though she tried to fight her way through it, the nausea soon overwhelmed. She struggled to maintain progress but nothing seemed to work. “I thought I was going to die,” she later told her mom. But with her sights set on the finisher award, a neon green Patagonia shirt, Sarah crossed under the banner and gladly accepted the embrace of race director, David Horton. She shed a few newborn tears out of relief, exhaustion, and joy disguised as pain and suffering.

Sarah’s goal was sub 5:30. She ran 5:37. She’ll take it. I’ll take it as any proud mama would. My baby took her first ultra steps today. She did it without me but that’s okay. It feels good to know I had the privilege of giving birth.

Sleep well, Baby Girl, sleep well.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

From one arena to another

I’m in the middle of preparations for a big teaching day. The topic is peri-operative blood management and a room full of medical professionals will be the audience. Even with a quarter century of clinical experience, lecturing for eight hours is nothing I should attempt on the fly. Hence, hours have been logged with my nose back in the books and my fingertips doing gymnastics across my PowerPoint slides.

The texts, charts, figures, diagrams and pictures all remind me of days gone by. Phone calls in the night, harried drives to the hospital, changing into scrubs quicker than Superman can burst out of his phone booth. I remember the adrenaline rush of assessing the situation and responding without missing a beat. I can still feel my own quickened pulse as I ripped into sterile packaging, tossing it over my shoulder and out of the way as I readied the complex life-saving equipment. I strained to catch the report given as one service passed off the patient to those of us in the operating suite. And yet, as helter skelter as it may have seemed at times, each person in the room worked in concert, brilliantly orchestrating the saving of another life—or at least giving the patient another chance at a bettered quality of life.
I no longer live those medical dramas much more worthy than a scene from Grey’s Anatomy. Gone is the beeper, the on-call weekends, the routine and the emergent case. There is no grateful surgeon. There is no feeling of camaraderie, each medical professional contributing his piece of expertise. No patient’s family comes forward to thank me for my service. I carry a longing for those things once more. It’s a beautiful thing to help save or improve a life. Little can top that.

But, wait. Perhaps I have just traded the surgical arena for another. My sporting arena includes a team who comes together every day to rehearse their skills. Most days are routine. You need routine to prepare you for the challenges. Some days take more effort. Team members have to pick up a flailing athlete, make up for his weakness with their strengths, and nurse him back to health. It can be difficult. But come race day, they are ready to perform in perfect harmony.

I’d like to think my role as a coach has something to do with the strength and efficiency of the team. Now I get to play the role of surgeon; the captain of the ship, the one who oversees, the one who decides what, when, and where. It is my responsibility (and privilege) to assure the team trains well and functions better. It’s my job to see that each person contributes his special qualities to the whole. And when trouble comes, it’s my duty to lead us, the team, to a successful solution.

Bouncing along on a lengthy bus ride with my team, it occurred to me that I’m still involved with saving lives—or at least helping to make them better. Stronger athletes, faster runners, yes. But my work helps develop mature individuals, young people who are focused and channel dedication and devotion. And when you see a kid embrace his God-given talents and shine like Cirrius in the night sky, well, little can top that.

Just one more day: Days 30-36

Day 30 – January 30, 2012

It was a busy day in the office but it was a beautiful day outside. I gladly abandoned the keyboard for some country roads. It was a good run with the last two miles tackled with hard effort. It was good to get the run in since I had to play the role of “keeper of the stopwatch” at practice.

Total – 6 road miles

Day 31 – January 31, 2012

Another day in the high 60’s, sun shining, birds singing. It was perfect—except that I felt like a bloated toad and torqued my leg again in the first five minutes. This long-term injury is killing me! Anyway, given that, I was glad my kids ran off on various trails. I walked, limped, and gimped along for about five miles. The redeeming value was finding a newly cut trail.

Total – 5 trail miles

Day 32 – February 1, 2012

I just can’t get over these spring-like conditions. The woods were calling and the prospect of a running a recently cut trail could not be ignored. Besides, I was having the kids do a speedy track workout today that would do my leg no good. So off I went to explore, having to pick up the pace (no easy task) in order to make it back to practice on time. The trail is beautiful and will be our team destination tomorrow.

Total – 7.5 trails and road

Day 33 – February 2, 2012

The kids loved the new trail, “Burnt Biscuit” just as much as I thought they would. “Apple Flappel” was a hit as well. I am so fortunate to have such a wonderful, playful group of kids who love the woods as much as me.

Total – 5.1 trail miles

Day 34 – February 3, 2012

This was a busy day with travel to a weekend track meet. My only opportunity to run was as soon as we arrived at the track and had a lull before the competition began. It wasn’t much but at least it was something.

Total – 3.5 road miles

Day 35 – February 4, 2012

It seems odd that traveling with a track team would make it difficult to run. But, long hours at the meet meant that I needed to get in an early morning run if it was going to happen at all. Running the concrete sidewalks of a city is a great reminder of how much I love my country roads and trails.

Total – 4.5 road miles

Day 36 – February 5, 2012

I exhausted. Not so much from miles run because mileage was moderate at best this week. I’m exhausted because travel with teenagers, late nights, and long bus rides take their tool. But to keep my little streak alive, I had to venture out into a cold drizzle for a few miles on country roads. The dream lives on.

Total – 4 road miles
(Year-to date miles: 195.1)

A walk in the park and a pink finish line

By the time I finish most races, I've figured out at least the first paragraph of my post-race story. This was one of the few where the ...