Plowing through the Snowstorm

PC: Bodies Race Company – Omaha

Itching to return to racing, I, for the first race of 2019, decided on the Resolution Run 10K, taking place on January 12, 2019, starting in Omaha, Nebraska, and crossing into Iowa. The weather app and websites showed no sign of snow when I registered the week before, but then, just the day before, I found out Omaha would receive one to three inches of snow. (I laugh people so confidently predict what Earth will look like in millions of years when they can hardly ever predict tomorrow’s weather correctly.) I became nervous driving from my hotel in Bellevue, Nebraska, to the event location at 6:30 AM, still dark with heavy snow that refused to yield anytime soon.

Due to the weather ordeal, many 10K runners switched to 5K, and I do not doubt some registrants could not even participate. At the starting line, I felt nothing but gratitude that the race was not canceled, for which I profusely thanked the race organizers. (On my way back to Kearney, just from Omaha to York I spotted nearly fifteen car accidents, which reemphasized the severity of the weather.) Currently, in training, I run much faster than when I set my 10K personal record of 00:48:42.8 last summer, so I had in mind to be greedy and slay that here; however, once I saw the degree of snow, especially in the first mile, exacerbated by powerful wind and hills, I thought, “Nope! Not happening!” To make matters worse, my right earphone would continue to slip out due to the freezing temperature of 29 degrees. I slid multiple times and even fell once, after which I needed 30 seconds to find my rhythm. For most turns, I practically jogged in place while shifting the direction of my feet. Concerned about landing on my butt, I could not even attempt to speed up in most parts of the course; regardless, when I saw how much more slowly I was moving than I had planned, I decided to “sprint” the final mile, shaving off six seconds per mile on average during that one mile, implying I could not give my 100% effort because of the icy trail and concrete.

PC: Bodies Race Company – Omaha

Prior to the start of the race, a 10K participant, looking at how I was dressed, commented I must be accustomed to the cold. I have indeed noticed for some time my body copes with the cold much more efficiently than with the heat, probably since I grew up in various unusually cold regions, and I prefer my running temperature to be in the low 30s and do not mind the 20s or even 10s.

Considering these brutal conditions, I cannot be too upset with my finish time of 52:07.2, first place in Age Group 20-29 and seventh place overall. My first race in the snow and first time falling in a race, at least I experienced something new in my 40th race. My resolution? Simply obey Jesus.

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Two States in One

Legends Bart Yasso and Jane Serues!

Days prior to my three-week business trip to Korea, I received a voice message stating my name was drawn for a free massage from Essentials Natural Family Health in Papillion, Nebraska, from a raffle at my most recent running event, Beat the Heat 10K. Upon my return to the United States, I sought another race around this area because I refused to drive three hours out and three hours back solely for a massage. I signed up for 13.1 miles in the Heartland Marathon, beginning and ending in Omaha, Nebraska, but taking place mostly in Iowa, on September 23, 2018, only a few days before the event. I felt slightly concerned about my only having run on the treadmill several times while away and not having fully overcome jet lag.

I arrived in Omaha a day early for the Expo, where I met many inspirational runners, including legends Bart Yasso and Jane Serues, guest speakers, and an elderly man who had completed 405 marathons, seven times in all 50 states. Come race day, I had no expectations but simply hoped to score another sub-two-hour half marathon in this beautiful weather for running. I also did not anticipate to run mainly uphill the first three to four miles, at which point I dropped any desire for a strong performance. Nevertheless, as the course, comprising both roads and trails, flattened out on mile five, my body swiftly recovered and I increased the pace and stayed near the 1:55 pacers, which told me I could still potentially break my personal record (PR) of 1:56:55 from over a year ago on a far-less technical and slightly-shorter course. 8 miles in, still full of energy, I passed the pacers and did not see them again until post-race; a new PR seemed almost inevitable.

With a mile to go, I climbed my way up on the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge that divides Nebraska and Iowa from the Iowa side, which, maybe due to chugging water right before, made me feel nauseous; approaching the finish line, I came close to throwing up four or five times, which prompted me to pray to God dearly not to let me vomit in front of all these individuals cheering. Especially considering the consistent hills and my just having come back from a lengthy overseas trip, I was pleasantly surprised with the new mammoth PR of 1:53:05, beating the previous by three minutes and fifty seconds and enough for 54th place out of 248 runners. I wonder how I would have performed on a less difficult course, whether I would have run faster or I deal with hills efficiently. Thank You, Jesus!

H3: Hot, Humid, and Hilly

Committing to my fourth ultramarathon and second 50K in Kansas on July 27-28, 2018, I sought one more 13.1-mile race early in the same month as part of training. Seeing the Brownville Freedom Run as the only option on the Fourth of July, I signed up for the event for the second consecutive year, initially hesitant because I did not want to drive a minimum of seven hours out and back for a half marathon. Again, the temperature was projected to significantly peak on race day, but, having run multiple times in the 90s and 100s in training, I presumed my body would be accustomed to heat by now.

This 9-year-old girl ran 13.5+ miles in these brutal conditions!

Remembering the course from a year ago as mostly flat on a combination of road and trail, I did not prepare for hills. Nevertheless, before the start, the race director announced that the crew had to alter the first/last one-mile section of the course with hills and a bridge due to the flood on the original, and a runner next to me said, “I do not like hills.” Because I was conversing with other participants and missed this information, I asked, “How big are the hills?” somewhat implying, “How hilly could this possibly be?” The race commenced, and I thought emphatically, “What the heck is this?” as the first half a mile led straight uphill with the pinnacle hardly visible due to steepness and then the next half a mile straight back down; runners would repeat this in reverse order to the finish. Around mile seven, the clouds moved away from the sun, taking the feels-like temperature to the mid-90s; I felt I was running in the sauna and that I may have to vomit with all the fluid bouncing around in my stomach.

One lady passed me on my way back up the brutal hill towards the end, and then I passed her on the way down. Here, she really pushed herself to try to pass me again and finish before I, and, wherever the energy came from, I probably ran the fastest pace here out of the entire race as if being chased by a bear. As soon as I crossed the finish line of 13.54 miles (although some GPS watches read closer to 13.7) in 2:20:04, I barely held myself from vomiting, simultaneously thinking, “I cannot puke in front of all these people.” (I did so big time twice on my way back to my disgusting hotel.) Seeing this terrible time place 24th out of 63 runners, I realized others were just as negatively affected by these conditions as I. I actually often feel excited and grateful when I struggle so much in the heat, as the more I do so the more I am reminded I did not run 102 miles in worse conditions alone; thank You, Jesus. Since my upcoming ultramarathon starts at 9:00 PM without the interruption of the sun, I remain optimistic I will perform.

2018, First of Many

Not necessarily by choice but more so due to Nebraska’s lack of races from December to February, understandably so with the brutal cold and wind, I patiently recovered from the overwhelming race schedule of 2017 and waited for upcoming running events in 2018. Due to the inconsistency and unpredictability of the weather in Nebraska, I ran each day the temperature felt semi-bearable.

I decided to commence the new race year on March 10, 2018, with a brief Run for the Gold 10K in Springfield, Nebraska, with Freedom Running Company, with whom I set my half-marathon personal record (PR) last summer. I normally do not race a 10K, and my decision to participate had more to do with getting a breath of fresh air outside Kearney with the generally humble and friendly running community. Running into two familiar faces from a previous race excited me even more.

Familiar faces!

I did have in mind to try to break my 10K PR of 51:44 from two summers ago until I saw the brutally hilly course entirely on gravel. Adrenaline? Cool windy weather? Rolling hills? I do not know, but I kept my first mile mostly in the upper six-minute and lower seven-minute mile, which concerned me slightly because I hardly ever run at that pace. I remained fairly consistent until the final 1.2 miles of mostly steep uphill, where I, and probably every other runner, slowed down drastically.

This race did not utilize chip timing; my Garmin reads 54:51.97, so I could guess my race time by subtracting a couple of seconds. I do wonder where I placed, as I came in front of the majority of 10K runners and passed a few 5K runners towards the end, but I simply came here to have fun, which I did.

Hill Yes!

Following the not-so-pleasant experience just over two weeks ago at the Hot Cider Hustle Half Marathon, where I was led astray multiple times, I immediately looked for another upcoming half marathon, as I refused to let the former be my last race of 2017. Nebraska compared to last year is becoming colder quite early this year, and because I am thinking of traveling over Thanksgiving, I signed up for the Beer & Bagel Off-Road Race Series ½-ish Marathon in Ashland, Nebraska, on November 11, 2017, only a few days prior to the race. (I did not know if I would be required to drink beer while running a half marathon, in which case I would not have participated, the main reason I waited until the last minute and I knew the answer to this to register.) The event website spoke of letting Mother Nature take care of building extreme obstacles rather than humanly building them. The course varies every year and is remained a mystery until running; nevertheless, in spite of people’s commenting on the typical brutal hilliness of the event, I who lived in Georgia for five years continued to think, “How hilly could Nebraska possibly get?”

No, I did not place third. 😉

The course in Quarry Oaks (golf course) repeated the same loop three times, out, back, and back out. Continuously running up and down (and hardly ever running flat) on untrimmed grass and trails, I thought half-jokingly two miles in, “What the heck did I get myself into?” Before this experience, I had never walked in a half marathon, so I remained adamant in the first loop of roughly 4.5 miles to keep running. The unending immensely steep and long hills, so steep I had trouble seeing the peak running uphill and slowing down running downhill, forced me to start mixing in power-hiking (for the first time ever) and walking with running at the midpoint of the second loop; I thought this wise as most runners began walking long before I did. Understanding this would most likely be my worst half-marathon time ever by far, which should be the case considering the massive leap in technicality from all of my previous races, I stopped looking at my Garmin several miles in to avoid being demoralized. Cardio-wise, I felt as strong as ever, but I could not push my legs to go faster because I had not been training for hills, let alone hills to this extreme. If I had any anticipation about this course, I would have prepared more specifically and efficiently and for certain performed better, although Kearney does not offer an ideal ground to train for a terrain like this.

My average mile pace read significantly slower than that of any of my marathons, testifying to the difficulty and technicality of the race. For some reason, I thought “half-ish” meant slightly less and not more than 13.1 miles; one runner’s GPS gave the distance closer to 14 miles, while mine read 13.17 with an elevation gain of 1,916 feet and loss of 1,903 feet. I believe, to some runners, this particular Beer & Bagel Off-Road Race Series ½-ish Marathon would be more physically demanding than a flat marathon. I can confidently claim this course the toughest and hilliest I have ever run on without a close second, and my time of 2:38:13 accurately illustrates that. I still enjoyed this unique experience and eating a slice of humble pie.

Beat the Heat with a PR

Having run four races in sum of roughly 142 miles already this year, I registered for a fifth at the Beat the Heat Half Marathon, with Freedom Running Company that supports wounded warriors’ families, in Bellevue, Nebraska, on August 12, 2017. Minor soreness in my left hip and right wing for weeks leading up to the event told me my body is finally asking me for some rest, but, aside from God, nothing distracts me from loneliness more effectively than running.

I did not put too much thought into my finish time, unless well past the two-hour mark, because I knew nothing about the course other than being on a trail. However, when the race commenced and I began my mile pace in the six-minute range and maintained the seven-minute for a while, I shifted my focus to securing my first official (and second technical) sub-2:00:00 half marathon. (Something about race day always makes me overperform drastically compared to training.) I sprinkled my throat with Powerade from my hydration pack every three to four miles to stay hydrated and “beat the heat.” I tried not to look at my Garmin for distance, as thinking about how much farther I have to cover drains my mentality and somewhat defeats the purpose of running; I should be running because I enjoy running rather than simply to finish. I did consistently check my mile pace, and I knew around mile 9, as long as I did not bonk substantially, I would finally break two hours in the half marathon.

My body abruptly felt the overwhelming pace and slowed down significantly with 1.5 miles to go, around when the finish line became visible. Half a mile left, in my 25th race, I finally experienced what “hitting the wall” meant. My entire body went numb, and I had to pour every ounce of my energy to keep running. I completed the 13.1 miles in 1:56:55, 8:55 per mile, and I consider this my most impressive running performance to date in terms of time. Speaking to the race community after, I arbitrarily and repeatedly had trouble inhaling and talking, but, hilariously, I found this amusing rather than being intimidated by this unprecedented reaction. With a nearly four-week business trip to India, Nepal, and Korea coming up, I will finally have an excuse to give running a break, but will I? Honestly, I don’t know.

Be Stubborn and Overcome

Still undecided if I will attempt a 100-miler in the near future, but in case I do, I continue to sign up for appealing long-distance races for motivation to consistently train. Following the Nebraska State Fair Marathon in late August 2016, I eased down on running to recover and then went on a three-week business trip to Korea; thus, I remained inactive in running for a month. Upon return to the US, I immediately picked up running, in addition to swimming and technical muscle workouts, and pleasantly surprisingly took merely two runs to regain the speed I had vaguely lost from the time off.

In the second week of October, noticing how rapidly colder Nebraska was becoming and I may not be able to participate in another race in the state until winter passes, I hastily and almost instinctively signed up for a trail half marathon at The Ranch Run, taking place on October 29, 2016, in Elkhorn, 15 miles west of Omaha. I even convinced a friend who had never run outdoors to run a 5K in the same event, assuming the trail to be flat. Unaware the event website provided an elevation chart, I had no information on the conditions of the racecourse; “Is it flat? Is it hilly? Is it entirely run on a trail?” I wondered. The race director answered me the course, with the exception of one immense hill in each of the two loops, would be relatively flat, which proved to be utterly false from my perspective.

Always smiles!

Always smiles!

Crossing the finish line!

Crossing the finish line!

The weather stayed ideal for running, with no significant rain or cold, for several weeks prior to the event. At the starting line, the director announced, “The course will probably be a little over 13.1 miles,” after which he shot the pistol to commence the race. I, along with fellow runners, immediately disappeared into the wilderness. I was caught off guard by the technicality of the course, as I hardly saw any set trail meant to be walked on. I had not imagined the vast majority of my running to be done on steep hills, untrimmed grass, uneven trails and gravel, and occasional mud. Kearney, where I currently reside and work, holds mostly flat concrete; I, the mother of generalization, therefore supposed all of Nebraska to be flat, but I no longer think this after weirdly joyfully suffering physically at The Ranch Run. Due to the hilliness and difficulty of the path, I pounded my legs to the floor more powerfully and overwhelmingly than I had in any of my previous eighteen races in the past four and a half years. Temporarily losing my way around mile four did not help ease the pain that had kicked in early on, although, thankfully, drivers passing by and a runner behind me instantly led me to the correct path. Consequently, I only thought about covering the entire race without walking, even on the brutal uphill, and did not obsess myself over achieving a personal record or pushing my body to the brink of injury. I felt I was running on a mountain but continued to remind myself, “This is supposed to hurt,” and find reasons to suck up the torment.

Congratulations to my friend Jordan on his first 5K finish!

Congratulations to my friend Jordan on his first 5K finish!

I sprinted to the finish line, with sufficient energy remaining to cheerfully pose to the photographer simultaneously, in 2:08:58. Taking a sip of Powerade that tasted like a drop of Heaven, I saw salt covering parts of my face and arms, reminding me of my 51-mile experience in Needville, Texas, in December 2015. I can confidently accept The Ranch Run as my hilliest and most technical race to date, and I thank God for protecting me once again and my semi-proud result of 17th place out of 45 entrants.