Liza Howard

Liza Howard

Liza Howard is a national champion runner with multiple records in distances ranging from marathons to 100 mile trail races.

October 2017
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Tussey MOUnTaiNBACK 50: Like Mentos in a Liter of Coke

LizaLiza

What with the airfare to State College, Pennsylvania and the car rental, sleeping in the back of the car before the race seemed like a good idea. And it was a good idea until 10pm when my kidneys decided I’d met my prerace hydration needs. I was parked at a campground, and for whatever reason, I felt a bit scared to get out of the car and walk the minute down to the shower house. I would have been fine alone in the woods, but there were a lot of people around — and I just felt wary.
There was a big group around a campfire nearby, which made it impossible for me to just do my business next to the car. And I didn’t want to walk past them into the woods by myself. I tried to go to sleep. No dice. If only I had a container…
I spotted the packet pickup bag. Thick plastic. I blew it up to make sure there were no holes, and then I managed an impressive feat of flexibility, balance and control. No issues whatsoever. And now nothing story-worthy needed to happen during the race itself. I had my story. I could just run. Relieved (so to speak), I slept through the rest of the night.
The race starts with a 3-mile uphill, and I’d been really worried about this hill, but the grade wasn’t bad, and the miles disappeared even in the 70 degree humidity. Then it was a 4-mile downhill. The grade was perfect for easy fast running. I ran with Scott Dunlap for a while here, and I revealed myself to be a bit of a stalker when he told me what he’d been up to recently. “Oh yeah, I know.”

Scott Dunlap’s photos

Maybe the best part of Tussey for me was catching up to a group of younger runners with Scott and yelling, “Make way for the old runners!” “Make a hole!”

Scott pulled ahead of me soon after that when we hit a flat patch and my legs slowed like I’d gotten off an escalator.
I “just” needed to average an 8:10 pace to reach my 6:49 goal. I ran along with that goal in mind until I hit a long climb at mile 20. And that was the end of the goal. My half-mile repeats on Blue Mist Mountain, a tiny hill in my neighborhood with an aspirational name, weren’t going to cut it here in Pennsylvania.
I plugged along willing myself to believe I loved the work of moving uphill. I don’t mind running uphill anymore, I just need to do it a lot faster.
At around mile 36, I saw the lead woman running towards me. I’d just left the last aid station, so I knew I was going the right direction.
I shouted, “Are you okay?!?” She didn’t answer, so I shouted it again because I just couldn’t figure out why she was heading towards me. And she was flying.
“I got so lost!” she yelled before disappearing down the trail behind me.
Huh. Well, I figured I had two miles on her now, so I might not finish too far behind her when all was said and done. She was running so strongly, I figured she’d pass me going up the last long climb after mile 40. But she didn’t. Afterwards, I heard she’d dropped at mile 45. I certainly had the advantage over her as far as a good pace not to miss turn markers. It’ll be great to see what she runs next.
The only other happening was a surprise vomit at the mile 45 aid station. My left calf had started cramping, and I’d had to stop a couple of times to yell at it. “Behave!” The last four miles of the race are a beautiful downhill, and I was afraid I’d be reduced to a cramped hobble while the other women flew past me. I asked the aid station volunteers if they had any electrolytes– even though I knew that an electrolyte imbalance wasn’t my problem. I was desperate to keep running, and I would have chugged pickle juice and mustard if there’d been any. As it was, the volunteers found a sodium tablet for me. It was big and I swallowed it down with a cup of Coke. I made it about 200 yards, right in front of a course marshal and her young son, when the Coke-salt tab combo reacted like a mentos candy in a liter of soda. I spewed everywhere. I managed to get out, “I’m so sorry.” before heaving again. The little boy fled. He literally ran away. I was both sorry and proud. Puke proud.
I decided to carry on with an empty stomach. The mile 40 aid station had told me there was a woman about 10 minutes behind me. I expected her to catch me on the uphill, and when she didn’t, I was determined to do my best to hold her off on the downhill. As each mile went by, I felt less inclined to be passed. I talked to my calf. “Come on, buddy. We can do this.” The calf balked. I whacked it a few times. “Come on! Just three more miles!” All I could think about was how I did not want to be passed three miles from the finish. When I hit mile 48, the mantra changed to: “I don’t want to be passed two miles from the finish.” Then desperation. “Oh no, please don’t let me be passed one mile from the finish.” And a prayer. “Dear God, please don’t let me get passed within sight of the finish line. I’ve got no sprint. All I’ve got are calf cramps.”
She did not pass me.
But it was nice and close.
I ran 7:07. 17 minutes slower than the time I needed to qualify for the 100k team. But it was the first race that I did not have an asthma attack. And that gives me hope that I’ll be able to find those 17 minutes.
I cannot thank the volunteers at the race enough. They were superb. And thank you to RD Mike Casper for putting on such a beautiful and well-organized event! This race is worth traveling to. Some of the leaf colors were a little hard to believe though.

Photo by Phoebe Sheehan @phoebe_sheehan

Comments 11
  • Pommers
    Posted on

    Pommers Pommers

    Reply Author

    Awesome Liza – respect for pushing through. So happy for you that the asthma didn’t rear its head. Glad your calf behaved in the end too – if a stern talking to doesn’t work, then a whacking is needed! Love it. So well done.


    • Liza
      Posted on

      Liza Liza

      Reply Author

      It’s not a tact I take with the kids, but that, and dumping water on my head, seemed to work. Spare the rod, spoil the calf.


  • Kerry Lemon
    Posted on

    Kerry Lemon Kerry Lemon

    Reply Author

    What an amazing woman! I mean not everyone can navigate peeing in a plastic bag in the back of a car in the dark. Quite impressive!
    Oh and great race too! Glad you dodged the asthma demon, and beat your calf cramp. Puking proud of you dear!


    • Liza
      Posted on

      Liza Liza

      Reply Author

      I was hoping someone would be able to fully appreciate that feat. 😉 It definitely had the feel of one of those “How did I get here?” moments.


  • Andrew Gehling
    Posted on

    Andrew Gehling Andrew Gehling

    Reply Author

    What a hilarious pre-race night experience. Whatever it takes though, good job Liza you are still awesome and kickass!


    • Liza
      Posted on

      Liza Liza

      Reply Author

      Thanks, Andrew! Going to have even more hilarity coming out of Diagonale des Fous. Stay tuned. 😉


  • Allen Lucas
    Posted on

    Allen Lucas Allen Lucas

    Reply Author

    So cool that you got to relax after getting your race story “in the bag” early! And thanks for the vision of a live-action Mentos performance – that boy, while scarred for life, will be telling that story the rest of the year. (Nobody will believe him though.) Congrats on the win and the lack of asthma issues! DdF isn’t gonna know what hit it!


    • Liza
      Posted on

      Liza Liza

      Reply Author

      Diagonale des Slow Hike. 🙂


  • Katie Grossman
    Posted on

    Katie Grossman Katie Grossman

    Reply Author

    So happy for you, Liza. Congrats on the win, but even bigger congrats on not having asthma issues – that has got to feel good, REAL good. As always, I’m excited to see what is next for you; you never cease to amaze me!


    • Liza
      Posted on

      Liza Liza

      Reply Author

      Thanks Katie! Next is hanging out with you. 🙂