A DNF Story

I don’t really know how to start this story, and I have a feeling it’s going to be messy and wandering and potentially not very chronological. But here we go…

2:45 a.m. is a really early time of day to wake up. My usual race anxiety appeared to be missing, probably in part becuase I had managed 6 hours of solid sleep. We ate breakfast, had some coffee, and got dressed. I was anxious, but there was a layer of calm in between the nerves. We had packed our gear the night before, so we were on the road by 4 a.m. for the short hour drive to Cassoday, KS.

We checked into the race, said a few hellos, double checked our gear, made a last trip to the bathroom, and then headed to the start line. It was still dark at the 6 a.m. start but the sunrise was coming.

We started our 50K journey just like all our other long runs with a warm-up walk. We knew we would catch up with everyone who started running from the gun. We enjoyed the morning sky, noted the windmills, said hello to cows. It was in the mid-60s and humid with a breeze. I was worried about the rising heat and made a comment to Noel that I was planning on breaking from our usual hydration plan and drinking extra when I felt thirsty. My heart rate was high from race nerves, so we talked to distract me and calm me down.

Mile 90 Photography was there and got these fun shots of us around mile 7. The scenery was amazing. So much green, rolling hills, and the footing was better than I thought it would be. Early in the race, we decided to take a selfie and a view shot every 5K. Thinking of the 50K as ten 5Ks stacked on top of one another helped me to mentally break up the distance.

I knew there was going to be hills, but I hadn’t given much thought to the strategy of them. Initially we attempted to maintain our 3:1 walk run, but then realized we could hike the inclines and cruise down the declines. We made quick work of the first half and got to the turn around way above our “goal” pace. And there were cows!

We refilled our water bottles at every aid station and made sure to eat every 3 miles or so. Around mile 19, Noel started complaining of cramping in his quads, and it quickly made it challenging for him to even walk let alone run. My back started cramping as well and my hamstrings were tight from all the hiking up the hills. We took stretch breaks and just kept moving forward towards the Battle Creek manned aid station. Once there, Noel was able to sit and drank over 40oz of gatorade and ate some salty pretzels. The temperature at this point was over 80, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and the wind was easily 20mph with gusts in the 30s. Summer had come early to Kansas. I saw later someone describe it as “blowdryer conditions.” We considered stopping there, but we didn’t know how long we would be there before someone came along to give us a ride back.

The 30 minute break at Battle Creek seemed to rebound Noel. However, after a couple more miles, the quad cramps returned, and I could tell he was not ok. We were about 3 miles from the finish with still two more turns to make before we were back in town, and Noel decided he was done. He laid down in the grass on the side of the road for fear of passing out from the pain of the cramps. Thankfully I had cell service and was able to get a message to a friend who knew the race directors. She said she would reach out and let them know what was going on. Right at that time, a guy on a dirt bike came our way. We had seen so few cars and vehicles…mostly just a couple of farmers moving equipment. I flagged him down, and he said he had just seen a car head the other direction and he’d go flag them down.

Soon a family arrived in an ATV. They were amazing. So gracious. So kind. The wife immediately got us two ice cold water bottles while the husband helped Noel into the back. They were on their way to camp and fish at a nearby lake and were more than happy to drop us off back in town.

I entered survival mode. I was worried for Noel, although having seen him at his absolute worst after Ironman Boulder, I knew this was different. The heat was the culprit. We hadn’t had time to acclimate or heat train at all. His electrolytes were way out of whack. My focus was getting Noel rehydrated. Not finishing didn’t even really enter into my thoughts. I was glad to be out of the heat and glad that Noel was going to be ok. That man is my entire world. Despite his urging, I was not going to leave him to finish the race. I didn’t care about anything but his health and safety. There is no Hannah without Noel.

Later, when we were showered, fed, and headed towards rehydration, we did have the conversation that I could have probably finished. I may not have been in great shape when I did since I would have had at least another hour in the sun and heat. The day happened the way it happened. I accept that. We are still alive and still happily married. The hours and miles we put into training for this 50K were not wasted. Those miles gave us time together and gave me reflection time to process the last year of my neurodivergent diagnosis.

In the end, we ran 29.6 miles. Longer than we have ever run before. We almost finished a 50K, a feat few humans even attempt. I admit that I do want another crack at Heartland 50K. Noel has already volunteered to crew me. I think he secretly just wants an excuse to ride those roads on his gravel bike.

I have no idea what I’m doing, but it’s working.

Here’s a rundown of my 18 week 50K training plan and log:

Week 0: 40.73
Week 1: 34.69
Week 2: 38.30
Week 3: 17.75*
Week 4: 36.71
Week 5: 40.72
Week 6: 42.40
Week 7: 47.55
Week 8: 47.76
Week 9: 43.78
Week 10: 38.15
Week 11: 53.65
Week 12: 50.86
Week 13: 19.56*
Week 14: 46.79
Week 15: 46.79
Week 16: 33.47
Week 17: 32.33
Week 18: RACE!

YTD Distance: 664.21
YTD Time: 148:40:02 – approx. 6 days!!
WHAT?! I don’t typically hit that kind of mileage until August or even October!!

*Week 3 was the start of runner’s knee issues in my left knee. Week 13 was when allergies morphed into a nasty case of laryngitis.

In week 0, I started with a 9:1 walk run and then quickly moved to an 8:1 and ended the week with a 5:1. In week 1, I kept the 5:1, but also tried a 4:1.5 which felt really wrong. On Sunday I gave 4:1 a try, and it felt sweet spot-ish. At this point, the runs were about a 10min pace and the walks were about 15:00/15:30. By week 2, the runs had dropped down to right around 9 minute pace, while the walks stayed at 15:00/15:30. In week 3, I made an error. I tried to drop down to a 3:1 walk run without switching back to my trusty Saucony Guides. I had been wearing Altra Paradigms for distance walking in the second half of 2022 and just kept wearing them for this training cycle. Big mistake not moving back to a support shoe. I developed a weird stabbing left knee pain. In ten years of distance running, I developed my first case of runner’s knee. I immediately stopped running, added in PT exercises, and wore a patella strap for several hours of the day. I also started using a wobble board at my standing desk at work for balance and core strength.

Between PT exercises, being back in my Saucony Guides, and sticking faithfully to the 4:1 walk run ratio, I cruised through weeks 3-9. I added a 3:1 attempt at the end of week 9 and had no knee pain. From this point on, I used a 4:1 ratio for anything longer than 15 miles and a 3:1 ratio for anything 15 and under. The runs started moving closer to 8:00/8:30. I never felt like I was pushing the pace. I was just running smoothly and naturally, focusing on short strides for the walk and the run and being conscious of my transitions between the two. No quad braking when the Garmin beeped. Just smooth transitions, like I was running strides at the end of a run workout. Essentially I was doing insanely long fartlek workouts, which appeared to be good for my legs and my cardio fitness. In week 15, I started throwing in some 2:1 walk run ratios on my shorter mileage days as well as playing around with skipping a walk here and there and running for a full 4-5 minutes.

For most of this training plan, I averaged 13:30-12:30 on all my workouts. Considering I started my running journey by shuffling at those paces, I am thrilled with this progress. I am most impressed with my legs ability to recover. I can honestly say I never experienced any quad soreness or DOMS. This was night and day compared to my half marathon training cycles when I was in a constant state of soreness. The biggest issues I had this cycle was being bone tired until I adjusted to the weekend doubles and some feet soreness after the long Saturdays. The Sunday runs were easily my favorite. My legs felt equally trashed and jazzed, and my Sunday pace was almost always a bit quicker than Saturday. When I was half marathon training, 15 miles was generally my peak long run distance. 15 miles became my favorite distance to run for this cycle. Needless to say, training for a new distance in a new way has been fun for this runner coach.

Am I training correctly for an ultra?? I have no idea. It’s what worked for my legs and my body. I’m excited to see what I can attempt next Saturday. 50K or bust!

Speed bump

A runner’s worst nightmare…random knee pain out of nowhere.

Training was going great. I had a rhythm to each week. Long runs were going great. I was even figuring out nutrition and trying out solid food while running. (More on that next week.) I had settled on a 4:1 walk run ratio.

And then stupid me decided to change it up. I switched to a 3:1 walk run ratio for my 4 mile Tuesday run. The run felt fine from beginning to end. I went inside after my run, made a smoothie, and then went down to my office to sync my Garmin and update my training log. When I stood up from my desk chair, my left knee had a sharp stabby pain around the knee cap. I instantly knew it was runner’s knee (a.k.a patellofemoral pain syndrome). I have had it before, but it surprised me. The last time I experienced it, the pain was a gradual build up and was accompanied by IT band pain and tightness.

I haven’t been doing much strength training or stretching, so that was mistake number one. And mistake number two was not switching back to my trusty Saucony Guides as the running increased and walking decreased. You’d think after nearly 10 years of running that I would learn my lesson. Nope…runners are stubborn and inherently forgetful when it comes to injuries.

I took Wednesday and Thursday off and then tried a 2 mile treadmill run on Friday. There was still a lot of pain and discomfort. I got a soft brace to wear at work. And of course, I pulled out my PT exercise arsenal and started doing exercises and stretching twice a day starting Tuesday evening.

I was sad to miss my long run today, but my knee feels much better. Mr. Neon and I went on a 2 mile walk with minimal pain and virtually no pain since. PT for the win! I think I’ll try for a longer walk tomorrow. Sadly my next week’s worth of run/walks will be on treadmill because it’s going to be COLD in Kansas.

Fingers crossed my knee continues to improve and I continue to stick to a routine of strength exercises.

Ultrarunner in Training

Remember when I said I was going through an identity crisis and was considering changing this blog’s name? Remember what I said my screen name no longer felt relevant because my running motivation was waning? Yeah…about that…forget I said it.

NeonRunnerGirl is BACK! Sort of… I haven’t talked about it on here at all, but I’ve mentioned it IRL to a handful of people. Starting on January 1st, I started training for my first ultramarathon…a 50K! That’s 10 5Ks stacked back to back. At least that’s how my brain sees it. 31 miles. The best part is that walking is still a huge part of my training. All of my runs so far have been done as a walk/run. I went back to my Galloway roots and started with a 9:1 walk run and progressed to my current 4:1 walk run. My average pace is around 13:30. I think I’ll play around with cutting down the walk to 3 minutes and again to 2 minutes, but running for 1 minute seems to be my happy place. At least for now.

I’m excited to see where this takes me. I feel better, stronger, taller. I’ve been doing yoga, balance work, and meditation on my rest days. I’m putting down mileage numbers that I never have before with less wear and tear on my body. Even after Saturday long runs, my legs just feel tired. Sunday doubles are becoming my favorite thing, because they force me to keep the muscles moving and keep the dreaded DOMS away.

I’ll share my training as I go, but I still don’t think running will dominate this blog. I’ll still be writing a lot about my mental health journey and my self-discovery following my ADHD diagnosis.

Stay tuned.

Am I actually an introvert?

When I was a college freshman at K-State, I took Intro to Leadership Studies. I can’t remember why I took it. I think it was part of my scholarship requirements. I was briefly interested in pursuing the leadership minor, but other courses got in the way. Anyway…as part of the course, we took the Myers-Briggs Personality Test (MBTI). Not an online one, but the actual paper-and-pencil fill-in-the-bubble test that you have to wait for the results in the mail. I remember the professor being very adamant that we needed to think seriously about our answers and not answer with how we want people to see us. We needed to be honest with ourselves about our responses. That’s a lot to ask of a room full of 18 and 19 year olds.

When I look back on those instructions from the professor, I realize I was full of baloney. I definitely did not answer those questions with how I truly felt about myself and my interactions with other humans. But I know I wasn’t fully aware that’s what I was doing. I realize now that I was masking my neurodivergence…my ADHD, my social anxiety, my sensory issues. To hide the true way that my brain functioned, I acted like an outgoing, confident, smart young woman ready to take on the world. Inside, I was insecure, lost, and always anxious.

As a college freshman, I tested as an ENTP. This personality is what 16personalities.com calls The Debater. At the time, it made sense. That’s how I wanted to be perceived. When I take any of the online versions of the MBTI now, I test as a INTJ or The Architect. This makes a lot more sense with how my adult life has progressed and with the discoveries I have made about my mental health.

Am I really an introvert that has been masking as an extrovert most of my life? I have often referred to myself as an ambivert since I tend to share traits from both types.

It’s incredibly unnerving, but at the same time, enlightening to realize these things about myself at the age of 39. I suppose that’s why I feel such a sense of hope for 2023. I am finally coming out of my shell and embracing my “oddness” rather than try to hide it or avoid it. Or argue with my family members when they point out how “weird” I am.

I’m not weird…I’m not odd…I’m neurodivergent. And it may be corny to say, but I do think my neurodivergence is one of my superpowers.