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Calgary Marathon & Chattooga River 50K

I have been tremendously blessed by the past two fun-and-adventure-filled running weekends: Calgary Marathon on May 27th and Chattooga River 50K on June 2nd.

This is my second year to join Team eMi to run this fundraiser marathon. Together we raised over $11,000 for two of our projects, designing an orphanage in Tanzania and a senior home in Haiti. Going into the marathon, I didn't have much expectation. My estimate was a 3:45 marathon, if the altitude wouldn't affect me too much. In best case scenario, I might be able to run a 3:40. The dilemma was that there was no 3:40 pace bunny! It's either 3:45 or 3:30. When race morning came, my heart leaned towards 3:30 even though I wasn't confident that I could keep up the whole 26.2.  Yet, I wanted to see what I could do and that's what I did. Most of the first 22k (13 miles) was a gradual uphill, with a few short steeper hills. I followed the bunny as much as I could while keeping in check that I wasn't pushing too hard. There's nothing worse that going out too fast and collapsing at the second half. The hills towards the mid-way point were wearing me out. During a couple of them I turned my gaze from the bunny to the road and told myself that it's alright to let go of the bunny. To my surprise, the bunny was never too far off.

Objectively speaking, the second half of the course was significantly easier than the first. It was mostly flat and downhill. However, it didn't feel that way and my quads attest to that. It was first a relief to break from going uphill, but soon the pain and fatigue kicked in. The repetitive motion of road pounding also took a toll on my calves and Achilles tendon. Since I was reluctant to stop and stretch, I tried changing my stride and it helped! I alternated between kick my knees higher, my legs further back, and flexing my foot up when I felt pain at my Achilles. I was very afraid that I'd repeat what happened at Charleston, where I injured myself so severely that I had to walk the last four miles of the marathon and subsequently banned from running for almost two months. Perils of the monotonous of road running.

Mile 22 to 25 were the toughest. At that point, it was all about mental fortitude to keep going and finish well. All I had left to "suffer" was 40 minutes and I knew there was an end. I kept running, but had lost a lot of speed. For most of the course, I averaged just below 8, but these couple miles were down to around 8:15. It's still a little surreal to think that I have qualified for Boston, something which I thought was so far fetch that I didn't even think much about. 3:30:33 is my chip time and no more road marathon for the next little while.

Cabin at Oconee State Park
After visiting the new eMi office on Monday, I flew back home on Tuesday with sore quads. Chattooga 50K was four days away. Once again, I didn't know whether I could run it. However, I do know that I could take as much time as I can and just enjoy the course. It's a trail race and I don't mind loosing myself in the beauty of the woods for a couple hours. With that mindset, I drove up to Oconee State Park Friday evening and was immediately glad that I stuck with the plan. As much as I love trails, I'm not a camping person. I'm a city girl at heart and like to be clean, warm, and cozy at the end of the day. It was a no-brainer to go with the cabin when I saw that it was available. It was perfect and I needed that quiet, unplugged (from internet, not electricity) evening.

There weren't a lot of people at the start Saturday morning. I thought there were only 20-something people, but Joe and Bo said there were more than 40 on the list. Terri Hayes, the ultra series director who offers first-class ultra-races on donations, didn't want to turn down runners after the race had reached its cap at 74 runners and offered the race on both Saturday and Sunday. I am in awe. This is a 70-year old lady offering free races, managing all the volunteers, and organizing all the aids needed for over 100 people spending six to ten hours on trails.

Chattooga River is such a beautiful course and I got to experience a couple of new trails, including the infamous Foothills Trails. The course consists of  7 miles on the Winding Stairs Trails to aid station #1, a 10-mile section along Chattooga River which follows part of Foothills and Big Bend Trails to aid station #2, then a four-mile out-and-back to now aid station #3, and finally back to the finish through the 10-mile section  again. There were some very runnable sections, some very rooty and rocky section, some unrunable (by me), plus a couple fallen trees, some shallow stream crossing at low points, and a lot of up and downs. Our Garmins all have different readings on elevation gain, our guess is about 6500'. 

I went out in a comfortable pace and tried to stick to it throughout the course. This was the first time I actually ran most of the course all by myself. Needless to say there were quiet a few "I must be lost!" moments. All is well except for one time I did turn back too early. It was the four-mile out-and-back section and I came back to the aid station having only ran half of it. They graciously let me just run the mileage I missed instead of covering the whole way again. Another embarrassing thing happened during the last 10-mile stretch with no aids. I had only my handheld which only has a small pocket enough for a gel.  A couple of miles in, I started to feel absolutely depleted and completely ran out of gas. My hands started shaking and I started to feel light-headed. I knew at around 27-28 miles, there should be sign which would direct us back to the Big Bend Trails. I ran and kept hoping for the sign. It felt way long and I trembled at the thought of being lost. Finally, the orange tape came in sight and I was relieved for a moment. Three more miles.

Before the race, Terri said she put bottles of water on the road half a mile from the finish which we needed to cross. "Just in case you are desperate," she said and she got it right. I was desperate. After leaving the foothills trails and recovering most elevation, the last couple miles were relatively flat with some gentle rolling hills. I'd like to say I ran most of those two and a half miles but I actually don't remember much.  I knew I had to keep going because the quicker I finish, the quicker I would get something into my system. When I exited onto the road and saw the bottled waters, I also spotted a couple just getting on the trails. Out of desperation, I asked them for food. Yes, I begged for food and I am pretty sure I caught her by surprise. She paused for a moment then reached into her backpack for a pack of fig newtons. I thanked and thanked her. Regained some of my energy, I ran passed the couple (and thanked them again while doing so), and ran towards the finish. 6:38 was my time and I enjoyed every minute of it.

For who is God, but the LORD?
And who is a rock, except our God?—
the God who equipped me with strength
and made my way blameless.
He made my feet like the feet of a deer
and set me secure on the heights.
(Psalm 18:31-33 ESV)


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