Sunday, March 26, 2017

North Park Loops, UGH

Most people from Pittsburgh know about running loops around North Park, and quite a few of those most would agree that UGH is the best word to use to describe it. See, North Park has a wonderful lake that has a 5 mile on the dot loop around it. It has running and biking lanes, and *mostly* enforced low speed limits. It is used by a massive variety of people; walkers, runners, bikers, Rollerbladers, and everything in-between. Local races like to say it is a "flat course", which of course in relation to the rest of Pittsburgh may be true, however it is also a big fat lie. It is five miles of rolling hills, some with bigger rolls than others.  It also has this wonderful camber that has you running on an angle for all 5 miles. And whereas it does have some pretty scenery, you have seen it all after one 5 mile loop... so longer courses are often described by runners as quite boring. HOWEVER, it is very popular among race directors because they don't have to pay to close down roads and there is no course to mark.

So knowing that running loops at North Park is UGH at best, why in god's good name did I decide to sign up for not one, but two races out there...two weekends in a row....

Race One: JC Stone 50k- 6, I repeat 6, loops around that damn lake. Race Two: Just a Short Run Half Marathon (the next weekend), a 3 mile loop around the ice rink and then 2 loops around that damn lake.

So after doing these races here is how it rolled( pun intended for the rolling hills), broken down by each race.

Race One: JC Stone 50k put on by Lou D'angelo. Like most ultra marathons, it is friggin awesome when it comes to the the organization and the community of people.  There are aid stations at mile 2.5 and 5 each loop, so you have an appropriate spacing between stations and a great way to mentally break up the race. The stations are manned by enthusiastic volunteers who are ready to meet your every need. The finish line has pizza, beer, and a catered meal made by the fantastic Audrey (strawberry stuffed french toast and  home potatoes). It comes with a sweet medal and if you make top three, a fantastic trophy (more on this later!).

Now lets talk about these 6 damn loops.

Loop one: I am running with my buddy Dan. This is his first 50k, because in true Dan fashion, since he was running 15 miles with me, he went ahead and signed up for the whole thing. I caution him that going out to fast will be a MAJOR error, so we start at a nice and chill 8:30 pace. It is 20 degrees and foggy. Perfect 😀. The camber of the road is okay so far and Dan and I watch as all the lead dudes and a bunch of ladies come roaring past us. I hold Dan me Dude, going out too fast is a big mistake. And, truth be told, my legs are heavvvvvvvy. I am already starting rethink my decision to run this. Oh well, too late. I am here and going. I don't have a DNF yet... and today is not the day. We spend the 43 minutes or so of this loop chatting about random stuff, catching up on our training and races...we haven't seen each other in a few weeks. Aid station 1 comes and goes and then we are back at the parking lot. One great thing about his race is you run right by your car so you can grab anything you need. I have my stuff there, but don't need anything yet. Dan's girlfriend Cacie is there and cheering, always a nice boost!

Loop two: Dan starts asking how I keep the runners fog out of my mind. He is also now talking about how tight his legs are (he has been killing it lately with races and such). I told him to "suck it up  buttercup and lets go", and by lets go I mean keep it nice and easy with another loop at 8:30 ish (although truth be told it may have been more like 8:20 ish....but oh well).  Legs are getting less heavy, so that is good. Camber is okay so far. I am telling Dan about the art of "plinking" during races... When you "plink" someone is when you have picked them as a person to pass and then you pass them. Then when you do, you quietly *hopefully* say plink! Just don't get plunked! He just laughs at me, and we start playing the plinking game.  Once we hit the aid station at the half, Dan admits he is having some "issues". I mention Kate (our other running partner who is coming out) said she might be able to get there for the start of the third loop, Dan begins praying for Kate. However, once we get to the parking lot, sorry...No Kate. I tell Dan I can manage a loop just fine on my own, but he isn't hearing it. I believe the exact words were "No, I said I would get you to Kate and I will!" At this moment I realize what awesome running partners I have. Off to loop 3

Loop three:  The fog is still hanging around which makes for a really pretty setting. Dan, however is not a fan. and he is not feeling real well.  So of course this means I get to spend the whole 5 miles telling ridiculous stories about the shit I see at work and the the funny story of W and his trip to the vet  (my 85 lb Labrador LOVES the vet and turns into a friggin maniac when he goes). Every time we come upon someone running from the opposite direction or standing at the side of the road, Dan chimes in with a "Is that Kate?" "No Dan, that is not Kate".  "No Dan, that is a dude tying his shoes". This loop I have picked us up to 8 min miles and we are trucking along just fine. I am talking about my plan for the rest of the race. Dan's new mandate becomes "That is Kate's job". Literally, everything is Kate's job. Mile 4 of 5, Hallelujah, there is Kate. I think Dan might cry. She joins in and gives an update on where some of the lead ladies are. Not to far ahead.... hmmmm.  As we hit the parking lot at the end of the loop I quick stop at my car to restock my gels. Good to go. Half way done.

Loop 4: The fog is starting to lift, and I am feeling okay, however the camber of the road is starting to impact me. Especially since I made the grave error of wearing my Saucony Freedoms. They do not have the support for this race. Truth be told, by the end of this loop my feet are hurting pretty bad, especially my left foot. But oh well, it's running... it hurts. That is just a basic running truth. Kate and I have gabbed the whole loop and it flies by. Oh, and PS: We totes have passed the third place lady. I now have my eye on the prize! As we roll into the parking lot I stop to take salt tabs... my fingers are now the size of not so small sausages and with some recent low blood pressure issues, I know I really need to be cognizant of my sodium intake. 2 tabs down and off we go.

Loop 5: Well this is starting to suck. But we have picked up the pace and we have passed the 2nd place lady. One to go! We are rocking out some nice 7:50's and are now singing songs. Now, when I say singing songs I mean the ones special education teacher's sing.... the preposition song, the presidents song, the polyhedron song and a few more. I am quite sure that everyone around was either highly entertained or just thought we were nuts! Half way through the loop we come upon a guy who is struggling. He runs with us for about a half mile before he falls back, it may or may not have been because he probably wanted us to shut up. Two chirpy females when tired and sore may be a bit much. hahaha However, the time and miles are flying by. The bottom of my feet feel like I have been running barefoot and are extremely painful, but it is only one more loop. So I turn my own "motivational quote" on myself, Suck it Up Buttercup. 

Loop 6: LAST ONE!!!! Thank the lord, because my feet are killing me and my legs are sooooooo tired. As we cross over to start the guys tell us that the 1st lady is only 30 seconds ahead of us. Oh yeah baby! As we run past Cacie I hand her my hair tie that I forgot was on my wrist and with it being a little swollen from the need for sodium, it is cutting off circulation. No biggie, hand it off and away we go. Now at this point, I really would like that first place spot... so I tell Kate since she isn't too far ahead of us I want to slowly catch her. The goal is by the half way aid station. So we slowly start picking up the pace and sure as shit, we catch her exactly at the aid station. I tell Kate we are blowing through it, we have 2.5 miles to go. It is time to dig deep and get it done. So I tune into my race day focus, where literally I get this tunnel vision in front of me, I see or hear nothing around me, and I GO! I finish out the last 2.5 miles with 7:45 average miles. Cross that finish and THANK YOU GOD, I am done and not dying! My feet hurt and I am tired, but I am okay!

I get my trophy from Lou which is this incredible solid bronze sculpted plate that is GORGEOUS and we wait for Dan. Then comes the drinking of beer (I had bought good beers to celebrate Dan's first 50K) and then the food. Overall, it was a fantastic race and one I was very proud of! Not a terrible first race for the 2017 season. Now off to rest and recover. I have another one next weekend.

Race 2: Just a Short Run 1/2 marathon... IE: The Shit Show

Well, in case you didn't figure out from the title of this race, this DID NOT go as well as last weeks! My poor left foot is KT-taped for both my ankle and the not-feeling so great tendons on the top of my foot. Fingers crossed it helps! I really want to do well.

So this race has a 5k, a 8.1 mile, a 1/2 marathon and a 30k. I am signed up for the 1/2 marathon and I have a time goal. I get there early (ish) and manage to nab one of the few parking spots left by the start, go me! I get my bib, shorts, and socks and get ready to go. The temperature is the exact opposite of last week, it is 60* and climbing. This is going to be tough! I hang out, chat with friends, and eventually go out to warm up.

My 2 warm up miles should have been my BIG RED FLAG! Man, my legs felt like they were made of lead, with blocks of concrete on the bottom. But no, I figure I just need to shake out the heaviness, I should be fine. I get lined and here we go!

Loop 1: This goes UP UP UP the big hill for a mile, then loops down around the ice rink and back to the start. A 3.1 mile loop. I go out with the lead pack... so far so good. I fall a little behind them on the uphill, NBD. I mean, I am a good negative pacer. I know not too push to hard up the hill, I can carry it on the down. Welp, it is true I ride behind the pack all the way through the 3.1 loop. We are rocking out in  the 7:20's .... And this is also about the time I realize, yeah... legs are still made of lead and there is probably steel reinforcers in those concrete blocks. But I am pushing!

Loop 2: So begins the looping of the lake,  the opposite direction from last weekend. Which means you go UP the "flat" course hills first. Yeah... 2 miles in... there is no way I can hold the pace today. Not only are the legs lead and concrete, it is also hot and humid. I am already down to short shorts and a sports bra and dumping water on myself because my body is heating up. My body is telling me NO, and I need to listen. So years of experience push their way through my stubborn competitive brain, and I listen. I slow down. I am not doing 7:20's anymore. I scale it back to the 7:45 range. Now, this just happens to also be the moment that I meet my new friend Bob. I see this guy whose face I recognize from Fleet Feet, so I inquire of him if that is indeed him. It is.  I have now met my running partner for the rest of the race. Bob and I power through the rest of loop 1, getting to know each other and sharing our life stories. ( I genuinely believe the best way to get to know someone is run with them, you have nothing to do but converse! I think I will start taking my first dates on runs... boom, perfect way to see if we click!). But anyways, back to the run. As we hit the back half of the first loop I am really feeling last weeks race and am thinking about slowing down a little bit more. Thankfully Bob had the same idea. Woohoo, I keep my new run friend.

Loop 3: Bob and I joke about stopping and only doing 8.1, but my stubborn competitive brain won't let me. I signed up for the half, I am doing the half dammit. So we trudge along. We continue to chatter away about life, talking about the things we have done and want to do, and we are both struggling. I feel like death, but I am trying to stay positive. I want this thing done but there is not point to being miserable. As we get around to the first aid station, Bob and I agree we are going to walk it, take a gel, and get Gatorade and water. At this point in time Joe and Brit (my long time running partners and friends) come through. Brit yells at me to get moving and I tell her I just can't. She offers me a salt tab (which probably seriously saved me for the rest of the race) and they keep going. I dump a few cups of water on my head and shoulders, take some Gatorade and off we go. We pick it back up and even though we are dying, we are still managing 7:50 ish paces. Not too shabby. We continue to gab away and I continue to douse myself in water. I can feel my blood pressure dropping, I know I need to get cooled off and get done with this race. Now, I know I have given up all hope of any sort of placing, I tell Bob I am bound and determined to get him an Age group award. We come upon the last aid station and he says he is going to walk. I  promptly tell him no he isn't because we have 1.5 miles left and lets go. I then tell him he can tell Bob S (the owner of fleet feet, his boss, and my good friend) that he has officially been bullied by Ambyr! **Although, I prefer the term "assertive encouragement". hahaha. ***

So we finish it out and keep a nice pace. We finish with a respectable 1:43. I make a beeline for the Gatorade where luckily I come upon Joe and Brittany who immediately notice I don't feel well and get me hooked up with Gatorade and a banana while I stabilize myself. I take five minutes or so, then my buddy Jon helps me over to the curb to sit. Am I happy with my time? No, I'm not. Am I realistic that I didn't recovery properly from my 50k and therefore shouldn't be surprised. Yup. Lesson Learned! ✓ But I got to see so many people I know and that in itself made it a wonderful day!

This race didn't go well, but I am hoping this gets my bad race juju out of the way before my next set of races comes up!

Overall, not a terrible weekend of races. Now I finish out the last of my few weeks of training for Boston, Then comes Pittsburgh and my yearly trip to Cleveland to pace a few weeks after that. So, I am ready to keep moving, and hopefully continue to make progress!


  1. Girl you are crazy! I'm so glad we could finally meet and that you crushed that 50k! I need to really find out more about salt tabs!

    1. Salt Tabs save my life!! They are so helpful, especially in the heat!!