All for one jacket and a HELLUVA lot of bragging rights.
I had completed 3 of the 4 Grand Slam events 2 years in a row, so I didn’t come into this challenge blind. And in the 2013-2014 season, I added a marathon before the first 50K so I still did 4 races in 10 weeks. (For the record, I did the same road marathon this year so you could add that into the math up there for an even more impressive stretch of racing.) This year was not going to be that shocking to me. I knew the hardest race was Mountain Mist, the LAST in the line of races, and I had never done that before. But the general feeling of exhaustion that comes with racing so many races so close together? That was not uncharted territory for me. BUT! I still feel like the mental part of these four races and just knowing you’re doing the Grand Slam? Came with an unexpected weight in and of itself. Just carrying around that knowledge since October: I’m Grand Slamming…that made the experience even more unique than just the stretch of races themselves.
Here are my Post Grand Slam Thoughts:
- Misery Loves Company: There have been years in the past where this challenge was either A) Not organized in any official capacity or B) Not being completed by many people. If anyone completed the challenge in those years? I apologize. Because having 40’ish people toeing the line at Mountain Mist with me on Saturday, having survived the last 10 weeks alongside me? Gave me more strength than I knew it could give. We had a closed Facebook group where we organized runs (as we were all tapering/recovering the same weeks) and vented our fears and anxieties. We shared lessons learned and advice given. When I decided I’d Grand Slam November 2013, I had no idea I’d be doing it with so many friends. Some of these participants weren’t even my friends yet! But now we’re all battle buddies…we survived in the trenches together. Those bonds will be there forever.
- Tapering and Recovery are Luxuries: When you have two weeks between a marathon and a 50K, you are essentially tapering and recovering AT THE SAME TIME. None of us ever really got to do any proper tapering or recovering because you’re always thinking two races ahead. Yes. You have a 50K in two weeks and you just ran a marathon, but the HARDEST 50K is right around the corner and every weekend not training for that race is a missed opportunity. We all tapered to certain degrees, and recovered to certain degrees, but nothing like we would have been doing had we only been training for ONE of the four races.
- I can always run more. I actually think this was a lesson I started learning at my 12-hour run last year. When I started realizing I’d be cutting it close getting my 50 miles in the 12 hours allotted, I had to force myself to run even when I didn’t want to. These four Grand Slam races really drove that point home. Even if my legs were cramping, or my back was spasming…even if my knee hurt or I pulled my groin…I could always run at least a little bit. (Barring any real injury, of course.) Before this year I was of the school of thought that – once something starts hurting towards the end of a race – I just start walking. I may squeeze in a random jog here and there, but the majority of what I was doing was walking. But I discovered in these 4 races that flats rarely hurt, and downhills rarely hurt. So, if I broke things up, I could always run at least a little bit. I ran more of the back half of Mountain Mist on race day than I did some training weekends. Even when I was having severe issues with cramping, so much that I had collapsed in the middle of the trail, I was still able to run on the flats and downhills without triggering another cramp. “Walking” is not a permanent status. No matter how tired I was or how much pain I was in, there were still portions of the trails or course that I could run without irritating whatever issue I was struggling with.
- I can walk fast/strong. I have short legs, I’m not going to win a walking race against someone with a long stride. BUT! I learned that I could do a lot of passing when walking an uphill. I didn’t so much on the last climb of Mountain Mist, but I had uphill walks in each of the 50Ks that I recall being able to pass people walking uphill. I read a lot about “smart walking” last year – not resigning to being “slow” if I was walking. I pumped my arms, I lengthened my stride, and if I was feeling strong I could often pass people walking up hill, even though I was walking too. I passed a couple of people on K2 on Saturday, all while walking.
- Taking meds while racing is very common. I took medicine for pain for the first time this season during a race. I never knew people did that, I have since learned that few people don’t. Now – there are definitely things you have to worry about if you take certain meds for pain while doing intense physical activity so I’m not going to list out what I took when or how much because I don’t want it to be read as a “THIS IS WHAT YOU SHOULD DO!” But, I kept Ibuprofen and Excederin at my disposal during every race and if I had to take any of it? I become ultra-aware of getting plenty of water because the problems really happen if you combine meds with dehydration. I drank at least 140 ounces of water on Saturday. Possibly closer to 200 ounces. I filled my 70 ounce pack up 3 times but I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to how much was in it each time. But THAT’S how much I was drinking to try to balance out the fact that I was taking medicine for my pain. BUT! The point? People do it. Ask around. Talk to your doctor. Read articles. AND STAY HYDRATED.
- Fuel. Fuel. Fuel. It’s easy to forget to ingest calories when you’re running long distances. Your stomach rarely ever feels “hungry” so the mental trigger is not there. However, at the advice of veteran runners before me, I stayed ahead of the game at every race. I use applesauce packets and jelly flatbreads when I don’t have to carry fuel on me. This weekend, since I had to have it on/in my pack, I did use some Cliff Gels (one of the few vegan gels) with caffeine in them. BUT! I also used applesauce. I practiced with both, so that’s what I carried with me. I tried to put something in me every 45 minutes to an hour. I alternated between the applesauce and the gels just so I would spread out my caffeine, which I knew I needed. This season was the best year I ever had in terms of fueling, and while I know your body can change in it’s wants and needs from year to year, it does feel nice to feel like I’ve finally figured – at least THAT part out.
- I’m done with road marathons. Except for maybe a Disney challenge with friends or family, I don’t see me ever running a road marathon
again. I’ll do 13.1 races on the road, but I think that’s the maximum distance I can handle on the road anymore. Focusing on trails all season and keeping the road runs isolated to the road marathon in the Grand Slam, that really put the spotlight on how differently my body handles roads. I hurt SO MUCH MORE during a road race than I do on the trails. It’s just such a more repetitive motion and the surface is SO HARD compared to the dirt of the trails…I just don’t think I’ll do another one. That means, of course, I won’t Grand Slam ever again. But I’m okay with that. I’ve got my jacket. I’ve got my shirt. I’ve got my sticker. I’ve done it once, and while I can say with certainty that I will still do Mountain Mist 50K every year…I can say with just as much certainty that I will NOT do the Rocket City Marathon again. Or any other road marathon for that matter. If I’m going to keep pushing this body to run long distances, I’m going to have to keep it on the trails.