Lisa Runs on Ramen

— running 26.2 and having foodie adventures too!


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A Windy and Wild Beast of Burden Winter 50

We have had a heck of a winter here in NY this year! Maybe it’s because the last two winters here have been pretty mild, but this year’s polar vortex weather was rough for many runners. As I’m writing this, it is already spring, and I am so glad to be looking forward to the spring and summer (ultra) running season! I’m proud to say that this winter has been productive training-wise. I was inspired to sign up for the notoriously cold and snowy Beast of Burden Winter 50 in January, in no small part due to Shane and his crazy ultramarathons in the snow, but also due to my friends Otto, Violet, and Joe who were running the Winter 100.

First, some background about the race–the Beast of Burden has both a Summer and Winter version, and the Summer 100 was where I completed my first 100 miler back in August 2012. I had only great memories (it’s amazing how I can’t recall the pain) of the awesome people I met in Lockport, dedicated volunteers, and my friends Jim and Beth who hosted us for the weekend. If you do both the Winter 100 and the Summer 100 in the same calendar year, you get a Double Beast Buckle. See? I told you this race was crazy.

Our adventure began on 1/17, when Ken drove me and Violet up to Lockport, stopping at Rolando’s Diner in Binghamton for lunch.

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The place had prices from the 1970’s–seriously, eggs for like $3.50 or something ridiculous. The city itself was a bit gray and depressing–we enjoyed our omelets and were on our way.

We arrive at Lockport after a 7 hour drive from the city–thanks so much to Ken and Kino who were our crew/pacers for the weekend! We met up with some folks at DeFlippo’s, an awesome Italian restaurant/bar where most runners carbo-load before the race. I reunited with Jim and Beth, and also Andy Thomson, who was my compatriot during our first Summer 100 together. We had a large contingent from NYC: Kat and I were running the 50, and Otto (from NJ), Joe and Violet were running the 100. I was feeling nervous–I hate being cold and I was starting to question how I was going to stay warm through 12+ hours of running. I had a very reasonable starting goal of sub-15 hours, since I usually am not in the best shape in January (I blame the holidays), and I was going through all sorts of stress that didn’t enable me to train well in December. But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to make my goal even better, and I aimed for sub-13 hours. I made sure to eat lots of pasta, mozzarella sticks and garlic bread so I would have appropriate fuel!

The gang at DeFlippo's

The gang at DeFlippo’s

Several of my friends and I stayed at the Pease’s place, where I settled in comfortably for the night, packed my drop bags, and got a good nights’ sleep. I was ready for my adventure!

Some of the special gear I ended up using for this race included:

1) A Cold Avenger  classic fleece face protector. It it sort of like a balaclava for the lower half of your face, with a plastic cup that had vents for breathing. I don’t look nice with it on. In fact, I look like Bane or Darth Vader. This thing saved me though–I highly recommend using a Cold Avenger on your runs of 25F or colder! It’s really important to protect your face from windburn.

Me with a Cold Avenger on during BoB50

Me with a Cold Avenger on during BoB50

2) I used an Ultimate Direction hydration belt that I got from outdoor gear discount retailer TheClymb.com. I had heard good things about their water bottles, and I was not disappointed. It was ergonomic and had a special nozzle that prevented leakage, plus the belt itself didn’t bounce much during my run.

3) The usual GU energy gels, Vi Fuel (vegan gel), SaltStick salt tablets, and granola bars for sustenance

4) I also packed 3 different jackets/windbreakers, including a ski jacket for waiting around at the finish line. Layers were key, since the weather was expected to be 17F!

5) I brought Yaktrax snow spikes for traction, just in case there was snow on the ground.

6) Grabber Hand warmers–I put them in my gloves so my hands would stay warmer longer

7) I wore my trusty Skechers Nite Owl running shoes–I had broken them in the few weeks before, plus they were quite comfortable. They also glowed in the dark! (at least for a few hours)

Race day, 1/18

Ken drove us to the race, but before we did all that, we took a pre-race photo in front of Jim and Beth’s home:

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We were ready to get this show on the road! The start line at Wide Water’s Marina was only a 10-minute drive away, with plenty of parking. It was abuzz with activity as people picked up their race bibs and goodie bags. I must say, the goodie bag for this race was awesome–all runners got a white hooded sweatshirt with the badass race logo on it, plus a fuzzy Buffalo horn hat and fuzzy brown mittens. I can attest to the fact that the hat and mittens were super warm and made me feel awesome at the start.

Lisa at the start of the Winter 50

Lisa at the start of the Winter 50

The runners gathered at 9:50am for a brief pre-race meeting, where the mayor of Lockport made a few remarks and wished us luck, and we learned that the conditions on the course were snowy (1-2 inches) but not too bad. The race directors, Bob and Ken, introduced everyone to Sam Pasceri, who was the founder of this race and had come to see us off. Sam is an awesome athlete and his wife, Ginny, is an all-star volunteer and supporter!

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Start: 1 to 12.5 miles

At 10am, we were off! It was pretty cold, but not windy yet so it wasn’t bad. I was looking forward to seeing Kino and Ken at Mile 7 (Gasport aid station), where they would be volunteering for a bit before crewing and then pacing Violet. I ran with my Yaktrax and immediately regretted my decision, as they were useless on very light snow (1 inch, no ice). I ran a little bit slower due to the friction of the spikes on the ground, but I was relieved that I could hand them off to Ken since he was volunteering. The towpath was beautiful. The snow served a purpose–it made everything look prettier. I felt great when I hit the first aid station. There was Heed, pretzels, M&Ms and some other snacks. I made it quick, said hi to Kino and Ken, and headed out.

The next 5 miles before the turnaround at mile 12.5 (Middleport Aid station) always felt long. I started seeing some of the faster runners (like Joe!) turning back, and the early miles are nice because people are still happy and smiling. My body felt good, although it felt a bit weird to run with so many layers on (3 layers, with merino wool IceBreaker baselayer), a hydration belt, PLUS a Nathan hydration vest. I kept my hat and gloves on at all times.

Miles 12.6 to 25

I started incorporating walking breaks early. I still felt fresh, but I didn’t want to crash and burn, so I walked for 2-3 minutes for every 30 minutes I ran. I made sure to eat real food (PB&J, fruit, chips, granola bars and more), drink soup at aid stations, and drink lots of water. However, once it got to mile 16 or so, I started encountering a problem. The hydration pack in my Nathan hydration vest had a frozen tube and nozzle! Uh-oh. That meant I couldn’t properly access my water, unless I tried to drink from opening of the pack as if I was pouring a Ziploc bag of H2O into my mouth. That wasn’t good!

I was really glad I brought a back-up water bottle! It was around 20F most of the time, but at night it dropped to around 17F. It doesn’t take a genius to know that water will freeze. Luckily, the aid stations had heaters (the Middleport one was indoors, but the Gasport one was tented and had heaters) and great volunteers that would use hot water to try and defrost bottles. I drank from my Ultimate Direction water bottle normally at first, but then, I couldn’t suck the water out from the nozzle because a frozen ring had formed UNDER the cap. Crazy! I had to use my frozen hands to unscrew the bottle to drink from it. It didn’t seem like a big deal now, but the later it got in the race, the more difficult this became.

Another thing that drove me crazy was that my nose started running almost non-stop from mile 10 onward. It was super annoying, and it was just due to the cold.

I think my first 25 mile split was around 5:30, which was perfect.

 Miles 26-50

There were a lot of talented runners in this race–I felt cold, my face started burning from the wind, but some of the lead runners appeared to be unfazed by the elements. On the out-and-back portion, people were still smiling and yelling words of encouragement. I made sure to cheer especially loudly for the 100-mile runners and of course, my friends. I saw everybody–Otto, Joe, Violet, Kat….it was great.

The wind really picked up both times I came from Middleport (mile 12.5 and 37.5) back towards the start, just the way it was blowing. I had to close my eyes or throw on my sunglasses certain times because the wind was so horrible. I later learned that it was 20-30 mph winds for the 50 mile runners, and the 100-miler sustained 40-50 mph winds!! Imagine running a 50 mile race and an invisible hand is trying to push you back. That’s exactly what the wind felt like. Just brutal!!

The things that really lifted my spirits were:

1) Seeing Beth, Ken, and Kino at the aid stations

2) Hot lentil soup or chicken broth. There are no words for how heavenly this is in 17F.

3) Seeing the wooden pirate ship/slide that was next to the towpath.

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I was passing all the familiar landmarks, and I remember passing the bridges and a paper mill. It was dark and I had a headlamp at this point–I knew I was going to reach my goal of sub-13! My legs were getting tired, my nose was still running, and frankly I was ready to be done. It was one of the toughest races I have done in recent memory just due to being in the elements for a long time. I had a ton of respect for the 100-mile winter runners.

I approached the finish line and it was pretty quiet. The finish line was moved inside the tent because the awesome volunteers needed to stay warm. That was just fine by me! Who wouldn’t want to finish an ultra in a warm tent??

I crossed the finish in 12:40:05, and the race directors hung the medal around my neck. I was so so cold, and my first priority was warming up, then pictures next. There were chairs set up, a torpedo heater, and a table full of food to help the runners recover. The medal was pretty sweet!

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Ken was in the tent–he was helping Kat, who had finished earlier, and he handed me a bowl of mac and cheese.

It was the best post-race mac and cheese I have ever tasted. My life was complete.

I wanted to give a huge thank you to Ken and Kino for staying up pretty much all night to crew and volunteer for us. Also, big thanks to Beth and Jim for volunteering and hosting us. Thank you to Skechers Performance for sponsoring my footwear, and Team Refuel/Got Chocolate Milk? for my race gear and support! Finally, thanks to the race directors and ALL the volunteers for putting on a fantastic event.

After my race

Pretty soon after I finished, ate a bit of food, and defrosted, I got a ride back to the Pease’s place and took at 5-hour nap. I was determined to see my friends Otto, Ellen, and Violet finish their 100-milers (amazingly fast Joe finished around 4am for 2nd place overall). I saw Otto come through, and I saw Ellen, but I missed Violet heading out for her last loop.

I took a brief lunch break to see my cousin Heidi, who lived in the area with her husband. We got lunch at Panera and some coffee, and I finally ate real food. Yummy!

After all of that, I got to see Otto finish, and I got to see Violet finish her first 100-miler ever. It was pretty emotional seeing Violet at mile 98; I had a vantage point from the marina across the canal and I could see Ken and Kino coaxing her along and trying to block the wind. The wind had picked up to 40-50mph, and they even had to take the finish line tent down and move everything inside the public restroom building. It was insane!

It was amazing getting to see a bunch of 100-miler runners finish. I will never forget seeing everyone huddled outside the finish line, eyes squinting in the horizontal snow blowing across the canal, just to holler and cheer as Violet crossed the finish line with Kino and Ken behind her. The camaraderie and warmth amongst ultrarunners is a huge part of why I choose to do these things. When I think of the Beast of Burden Winter 50, I will not think so much about the cold, and the wind…what I will think about is how I spent an unforgettable weekend with a team of runners who will do anything for each other.

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Beast of Burden Summer 100, Marathon #28, first 100! (8/18/12)

Just a week ago, I was on my way up to Lockport, NY, nervous for my very first attempt at the 100-mile distance. Now, I can proudly say that I achieved my goal, finishing the Beast of Burden Summer 100 in 28:23:48. However, it was not as simple as getting from Point A to Point B. It required about eight months of training and running three ultramarathons in two months to give me the confidence to toe the starting line with a whole bunch of hardcore ultrarunners. I was so inspired in recent weeks by my friends’ finishes in the IronMan NYC US Championships (Warren, Steve and Leong) and sub-24 hour 100 mile runs (Otto and Michelle) that I wanted to bring my A-game on race day.

On Friday, I took a day off from work to take the 8-hour bus trip from NYC to Buffalo. Marco’s friends Jim and Beth hosted us in their beautiful home a short drive from the race’s start. Jim designed and built the home himself! I could feel the good vibes around this weekend already. Jim is an ultrarunner too, and both him and Beth volunteered for this year’s race. FYI—this race has the best volunteers and aid stations ever. You’ll see why in a moment. We had an informal carbo-loading meet up with other runners at DeFlippo’s, where I had their spaghetti and meatballs and garlic cheesy bread. Can’t go wrong with that!

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Marathon Maniacs and me at the start line.

I had a good night’s sleep and at 7:00am I was up preparing for the 10:00am race start. Since I wasn’t planning to sleep during the race, I needed all the rest that I could get! There was a lot to prep—organizing my two drop bags with favorite foods, Nuun, Gatorade, sunscreen, Vaseline, etc. for availability at the start/finish and the 12.5 mile turnaround point.  I picked up my goody bag and discovered it had awesome stuff–a sling backpack, a full-size jar of almond butter, a headlamp, lip balm, ankle light, and some samples. The lights will come in handy for future ultramarathons and Ragnar Relays! The course was 4 loops of a 25-mile out and back course along the Erie Canal towpath. The surface was crushed limestone and you had views of the water the whole time.

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Here’s the beautiful Erie Canal towpath. Although the pic doesn’t show it, it was sunny and shade-free the whole way. We lucked out with the weather–76F the first day and about 80F the next day.

I said hi to Carol at the start, and was happy to see Benny was a pacer. Good to see a friendly face in these parts. I also got to say hello to Valmir Nunes, the Brazilian ultramarathon phenom who is a world-class runner. We conversed a bit–he understands some English and my Spanish and I understand some of his Portuguese, lol. He was very nice. Turns out my coworker knows his daughter too–what a small world! Since the race is so long, I figured it’s best told in bullet points and feelings by loop. Brace yourself.

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Ahh, the first loop. Those were the happy times. (Photo credit: Ben Tam)

The first loop (Miles 1-25):

-My body was feeling good, since this was just a marathon, right?

-I was cheering on each runner I saw, including the 50-milers.

– Still noticing how beautiful the scenery was. There was NO shade on the course though. It was 76F but felt like 80F.

-Aid stations were stocked with sno-cones (from a legit Sno Cone Machine), grilled cheese sandwiches, Heed, Hammer gels, and watermelon slices. Aid Station 1 was at Gasport, mile 7, and the second Aid Station was at Middleport at the 12.5 mile turnaround. Station #2 was staffed by Beth (nice to see a familiar face!), and there were Little Debbie snacks like Pecan spins and zebra cakes. My favorites were the frozen watermelon and strawberry kebabs. Yummy!

-Indoor bathrooms at Mile 12.5. Amazing!

– Ran a bit with my friend Jackie O. and her friend Caroline.

– My 25-mile split was about 5:15. It was a little faster than 5:30, my planned split.

The second loop (Miles 26-50):

          I was starting to settle into a rhythm, running 25 minutes and taking 5-minute walking breaks, or running 15 minutes and taking 2-minute walking breaks when I was particularly tired. I ran around a 11:30-12:00 easy conversation pace.

          Halfway into this loop I started running with a Marathon Maniac named Andy and my friend Marco. We started playing word/mental games to pass the time, like “First World Problems.”

– about mile 40, bugs started coming out en masse (mayflies, moth-like things, gnats galore). Couldn’t talk much anymore because we needed to keep our mouths shut.

– It started to get dark. Good thing we had our headlamps (Marco and Andy) and flashlight (me).

– I ran a personal best for 50 miles, about 12:10! My previous personal best was 12:44 for a 50-miler on road.

– I had Jim (our host and volunteer extraordinaire) take this photo of me at mile 50 when I reached the aid station. He shook his head in disbelief at my energy. I was feeling GOOD.

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Halfway done and feeling good! PR for 50 miles! 

Third Loop, miles 51-75. Utter darkness.

– It was so dark that I couldn’t see anything beyond my headlamp, except stars.

– Marco patiently walked with me. We walked most of the loop, not gonna lie.

– Stomach issues at mile 55. Uh-oh. Time to lay off the GUs. They’re not made to sit in your stomach beyond a marathon. I was taking one an hour, no wonder I felt sick.

– We reach Gasport at mile 57 where I got warm pizza and food. And warm lentil soup. It was the best thing I ever tasted.

– At the turnaround point, I really needed a stretch-out massage because my hip was stiffening up. It was an awful feeling. I could barely run. The massage therapist stretched me out and it helped a little.

– I needed any kind of motivation at this point. This was the lowest I had been all day. We were in the aid station for almost 15 minutes due to our food break and stretching. Marco very kindly waited for me.

– At mile 63, Marco and I started feeling SUPER tired. It was about 2am at this point. We sang Disney songs loudly to keep ourselves awake. “Tale as old as time…true as it can be…la la la la la…” It was silly but it lifted my spirits so much. I remembered feeling triumphant that all the knowledge and lyrics of Disney songs I stored away came in handy in a life-or-death situation. (okay…it wasn’t life or death…but it was about survival!)

– After about 20minutes of Disney songs, we were silent, and then I started blanking out/sleepwalking. It was so scary. I would have no idea how long I blanked out for. This happened to Marco at the same time. Not good. We didn’t fall into the canal at least.

– Cold. Temperature at night was probably 55F, felt colder.

– We saw a couple of frogs. Marco didn’t like frogs. This was my chance to be the knight in shining armor instead of the damsel in distress.

– I started hallucinating, seeing things in the dirt like monster-shaped creatures. I wasn’t scared because I knew it wasn’t real. It was a bizarre feeling though.

– I was shivering ever since the sun set. I just had a thin SmartWool long-sleeve shirt on. At Gasport I borrowed a sweatshirt. It helped, even though it was bulky. I was grateful.

– Our goal was to not fall into the canal at this point. We walked real slow. The third loop took maybe 9 hours, or close to it. Major, major props to Marco for sticking by me to make sure bears didn’t come out of the woods.

– Sun finally started to come up around 5:00-5:15, when we almost reached the last two miles. Marco gave me a pep talk and told me that I needed to run with it, that we only had NINE hours left before the 4pm (30 hour cutoff). He knew I wouldn’t fail but I needed to pick up the pace. I ran the last mile into the aid station at the finish. I told Marco to take off and not worry about me, that I was a good “closer.” The middle miles suck but I can make up ground at the end.

Final lap, Miles 76-100, Run Lisa Run!!

– I reached the aid station about 6:45am, stuffed some food in my mouth, and got out of there as fast as my legs could possibly carry me (which wasn’t fast by normal standards).

– No time to take pictures or think of ANYTHING except the growing pain in my hip flexor. This could potentially end my race. I started to breathe deeply so I wouldn’t panic.

– I caught up to Andy around mile 76. We started chatting. I told him I had a bad hip and he told me he had awful blisters. We tried not to grimace too much.

– We tried different strategies, running for 30 steps, running to the next sign post, speed walking, anything to bring our legs closer to the finish.

– When we reached Gasport, I asked for ibuprofen. I was in a lot of pain. I never took ibuprofen during a race before and hoped that it wouldn’t upset my stomach. I downed a Little Debbie Snack cake and a banana and I was on my way.

-At mile 83 the ibuprofen starts working. Andy and I keep speedwalking together until about mile 86. I told him I had to take off or I might not finish if the pain got worse. He totally understood and told me to go.

– The sun is really hot at this point. It felt like 80F. I could feel my nose and shoulders start to burn. No shade anywhere.

-I’m starting to see runners heading for home. “Someday that will be me,” I think. It felt like FOREVER until we reached mile 88, the turnaround point. Longest few miles ever. I jam some headphones in my ears and it almost makes the pain go away.

– I reach the Middleport aid station the last time, thank the wonderful volunteers again, and then turn around for home. I am almost free!

-I reach the Gasport station again, mile 93. I mouth a silent prayer that I am so so close to being done. I eat a tiny bit of food but don’t want anything to upset my stomach.

– Several minutes after I leave the station, “Use Somebody” by Kings of Leon comes on my iPod, and I start crying. I KNOW I’m going to finish at this point. The enormity of it all hits me, with 3 hours left on the clock and less than 7 miles to go. No matter how much pain I am in, I can crawl to the finish line if needed.

– The last few miles are absolutely brutal. Every bridge and house looks the same, and the finish line doesn’t seem any closer!

– Finally, I spot the marina where we have almost 2 miles left until the finish. Marco waves and shouts at me from across the water. My spirits pick up a bit.

– Two boats pass and the bridge goes up, darn! Luckily, by the time I make it to the bridge it is down again for pedestrians. I am doing a brisk run at this point, with minimal walking. The last mile, I reflect on everything that happened in the last 28 hours. I almost start to cry again, but then I remember that I don’t want to be a babbling mess when I cross!

– The finish line is within sight. I see the numbers–I’m finishing under 28:30!! I hear cowbells and cheering.

– I cross in 28:23:48. Best moment ever, money can’t buy.Image

Photo credit: Beth Pease

I see Rick, Jim, Beth, Shannon, Valmir (the champion), Marco and many friendly faces cheering for me. I am smiling from ear to ear, all pain forgotten. I take a photo with Sam Pasceri, the race director, and shake his hand as he gives me the silver buckle. Feeling the weight of the prize in my hand is amazing.

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Me and Sam Pasceri with The Buckle.

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Shannon, myself, and Valmir, the champion. He set a course record of 14:58 and cheered for all the runners afterwards! He stayed until the last person finished in 29:50. Major props.

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Never have I ever worked so hard for a finisher award!

It was awesome seeing Rick before he had to head to the airport. Shannon made sure I elevated my feet on a box and got some ice for me. Everyone was asking me what I needed. I didn’t really need much–I had my pride and my buckle, what else could I possibly ask for?

Thanks SO much to the race volunteers, to Jim and Beth for hosting us, and to Sam P and his family for putting on a stellar event. Thanks to Valmir and everyone who cheered at the finish. Most of all, thanks to Marco for sticking by me for 30 plus miles, making sure I didn’t lose sight of the goal and keeping me safe. Thanks to Maniac Andy for keeping me company for 15 plus miles. Thanks to all my friends and teammates for believing in me!

Epilogue:

Post-race, Jim and Beth took me to Duff’s Famous Wings in Buffalo. We got the medium spicy wings, gravy fries and root beer, and it was the perfect post race meal. I could barely walk the first few hours after the race, but then I took a bus and taxi home, stayed in bed and ate my meals, and then I was fine. Monday was especially tough (could barely use the stairs at home), but I was glad to take the day off. I took the 10pm bus that left Buffalo and got back to NYC at 6:15am. I didn’t care, I just took my time and tried to stay relaxed the whole day, after all I put my body through!

Would I do another 100 miler? Ask me in a few months!