“The Vegans” take over Cape Cod

Ragnar Cape Cod – May 8th and 9th 2015. What an experience! You would think that being stuck in a van with 6 other people for so many hours without sleep would feel like a never-ending endeavor. It never is. It always flies by in a flash and once we all part ways to go back to our everyday lives we wonder why it had to come to an end so soon. We wish we could be back in that van – in desperate need of a shower, a wholesome hot meal, our beds… just because the experience is so positive, motivating and downright fun. Some of us show up to this event as absolute strangers but we leave as close friends. We’ve shared a powerful experience and although we may all come from different backgrounds we share 2 common passions – running and promoting ethical veganism to both our supporters and the naysayers. And I’d say we do a damn good job at both!

Let’s start with the obvious reasons why this Ragnar event took our cause to a new level of awesome:

sponsor

We wanted to take over the Cape and we succeeded! There were plenty of comments about how we were everywhere. “How many of you are there?” Our shirts are bold, our attitudes positive and our message clear – anything you can do we can do vegan!

We did have a goal going into this event. Out of the 3 teams we created Team A to include the fastest runners of our group. We wanted to win. The A Team was the last to start – at 1 pm on Friday. In our ~22 hours on the course we passed a LOT of teams – all getting the view of the back of our shirts:
2015 back logoMission accomplished! Out of 332 Mixed Open (co-ed) teams we were 1st Overall! 3rd overall out of 456 12-person teams, and 4th overall out of 512 total teams (including the ultra teams). As co-captain Scott Spitz pointed out in regards to the team who has the fastest finishing time, “the team consisted of college kids who were not running with the accumulated emotional baggage of divorce, kids, unemployment, employment, etc….so factor in that manner of “life grading”…and we basically won.” :)

A Team

A Team – Top Row from Left: Scott Gilroy, Suzie Constantin, Jeremy Ritz-Totten, Adrian Centoni, Ian Sherlock, Clifford Dean, Sean Scott, Mike Pease, Chris Cooney. Bottom Row from left: Micah Risk, Scott Spitz, Laura Kline, Aaron Zellhoefer, Christine Tylee

Team B Ragnar 3 Finish

B Team – Top Row from left: Peter Guarino, Jonny Hero, Scott Barras, Jonathan Auyer, Skott Daltonic, Jason Young, Martin Rowe. Middle Row from left: Laura Ryan, Kaitlin Long, Dana Portnoy, Meghann Wilson. Bottom Row from left: Sheila Bailey, Becca Wellner, Stephanie Crumley.

 

C Team -

C Team – Top Row from left: Laura Gardner, Michael Harren, Scott Henderson, Julie Henderson, Joel Capolongo, Peter Nussbaum, Kendra Murphy, Kate Paice-Froio. Bottom Row from left: Summer Keown, Carrie Hineline, Alicia Ford, Jasmin Singer, Melissa Centoni, Molly Wason.

What about the running? Well, I barely remember that part ;) A whole lot of work was put into making this event happen, and I’ve never been so exhausted before the Ragnar even started! Once we all converged at the Whole Foods in Hingham, MA – the chaos began! Organizing 42 people, tons of food, race gear, binders, etc. into 6 assigned vans was quite the task. It basically looked like a party erupted in that parking lot before the store even opened, and it wasn’t long before the manager of Whole Foods came outside to check it out. He was super-cool and supportive of our efforts, and minutes later emerged with a shopping cart full of cases of water to donate to our cause.

Thank you Whole Foods!

Thank you Whole Foods!

We all made it to the start line with just enough time to get C Team ready for the first start, and our awesome team photo (in the sponsor picture above). One by one each of our 3 teams set off to run 192 miles from Hull to Provincetown, MA. We would only see each other again for a brief time at one of the major exchanges when we all caught up to one another.

Coming into the exchange after my first leg

Coming into the exchange after my first leg

The real fun started as each of our teams reached the finish line. We were finally able to see everyone again and do some relaxing now that our journey was coming to an end. As each team arrived, we all ran through the finish chute together. It was quite a sight when Team C finished – all 42 of us, and even a few of our awesome vegan volunteers – storming the finish line with the announcer saying “Here come the vegans, surrounded by butterflies. Everyone loves the vegans!”

We placed our mark on the Ragnar Wall before heading out to our meet-up spot to celebrate and hand out awards.
wall2
wall1It’s difficult to sum up how awesome this opportunity is for us. We all see the tide turning as more and more people are not only accepting, but praising and seeking information about veganism. One of the greatest things we do at Ragnar (beyond our awesome running) is talk to people. Runners, volunteers, even residents of the towns we pass through see our shirts, our smiling faces, and the fun that we are having. We are often approached by people who want to know more – they want to learn about our cause, why we choose veganism, what we eat. All of our teammates are happy to share our experiences and that is what this is all about. Other vegan runners are excited to see us – they come up and thank us for doing what we’re doing and ask how they can be a part of it.

We rarely hear negative comments or even the ever-so-popular “I love bacon!” Mainly we hear “Go VEGAN!” and “damn those vegans are fast!” I’ll wrap this up with a bit of humor – here are 2 exchanges I learned about through other teammates:

At C Team’s start line:
Announcer: “And here they are with their healthy diet – Vegan Power!”
Skott Daltonic: “It’s more than just a diet man, it’s a lifestyle. Also have you seen me at a vegan bakery before?”

In the shuttle parking lot on the way to the finish line:
A burly member of Team Taekwondo: “If you want to perform like a bull, you have to eat like a bull!”
Alicia Ford: “Yeah but bulls eat grass.”
Burly dude: “Damn, and you are smarter than me too!”

Oh how I love this team!

One last note – we are currently fielding teams for the Ragnar Adirondacks on September 25th and 26th. If you are a vegan runner who wants to be a part of something amazing, please get in touch! If you are a vegan who doesn’t love running, we’re going to need drivers too! We had 6 awesome drivers who were so inspired by this event – they will all be running the next one! Check out our website and our Facebook fan page to keep up-to-date with what we are doing!

And last…check out this awesome video that Chris Cooney, of The Vegan Zombie fame, made during the last few hours of Team A Van 2’s race.

(that’s right, there’s not just 1, but 2 Runners World cover models in this video!)

STRONG HEARTS TO THE FRONT!

A well-executed race plan – American Zofingen

Apprehensive, intimidated, anxious – these are just a few words to describe how I was feeling in the weeks leading up to this race. I was not worried about the 20 total miles of trail running – that would be the fun part for me. My concern was the 84 mile bike in between. My longest ride of the year was 61.57 miles – 2 loops of training on the course – and that was a month ago. I actually haven’t ridden more than 84 miles since 2012 and I haven’t raced more than 56 miles since…gulp…2005! Yes, I’ve been a slacker on the bike. Not that I haven’t been riding, but when it comes to endurance training I’ve been devoting my time to running :)

I even emailed a few friends last week to discuss my thoughts about possibly dropping down to a shorter distance (as it turns out many racers did). Luckily along with my vote the ruling was to stick with the long course race. 1) I am training for Powerman Zofingen (for which this race is modeled after) in September, and 2) once I put it out there that I’m racing long course I don’t want to back down! I knew that completing the distance wouldn’t be an issue – my bigger concern was how much of a hole I would put myself into with my first 50 miler (2nd attempt) only 2 weeks after. It was time to come up with a smart race plan and execute it. And that’s just what I did.

My next concern was the heat. Yes I’ve talked about my infamous heat stroke quite a bit and you’re probably sick of hearing about it but it was honestly the scariest thing that has ever happened to me athletically and it is something I take very seriously. On top of that I have dropped out of 3 races since then due to heat, and that is 3 races too many for me! The temps for today were set to reach 87 along with high humidity. Add to that a very challenging course and I knew I had to pay much attention to how I was feeling.

Speaking of the course, let me give you a quick rundown. It starts with a 5 mile trail run at Spring Farm in Mohonk Preserve. The 5 mile loop contains 900 feet of climbing. You run through grass fields, over wood plank bridges, through single track, over rock and root-filled ascents and descents, and the best part – the forgiving carriage roads.

Run course elevation profile

Run course elevation profile

Next you head out on the bike for 3 loops totaling 84 miles, with 8,406 feet total climbing. The toughest climb greets you right as you leave the park so you better finish that run feeling good!

Bike course elevation profile

Bike course elevation profile

It was a very small start line for the long course athletes who went off at 7:00 am – the F1 (middle course) distance is the most popular event featuring a 5 mile run/29 mile bike/5 mile run/29 mile bike/5 mile. After the bagpipe played the National Anthem we were off to woods! The pace was totally relaxed and it felt great. I knew the key to this race was to take it easy on that first run and I picked the right person to keep me in check – last year’s winner Colin Martin. I was loving the course and loving the pace – the first 3 miles have the toughest climbs and for the last 2 you can really settle in. I finished my first run in 39:18 and was feeling awesome!

Time to head out on the bike with a plan – hold back. After tackling that first climb you meet an equally intense descent. Saturday night’s rain left us with foggy conditions and wet roads this morning and I found myself being extremely cautious – hoping that by the 2nd loop I could have a little more fun here. Otherwise loop 1 was uneventful – I settled in and focused on not worrying about what was happening behind me. Having trained on this course I felt very comfortable with the terrain which was definitely a benefit going into this race. My goal was to make it through lap 1 without being passed (by females) and I was thrilled to make it to the park meeting that goal.

Photo credit: Martin Weiner

Photo credit: Martin Weiner

Out onto loop 2 – that first climb felt tougher but I tried not to think about the fact that I would need to tackle it one more time. The fog had lifted and the roads were drying so I was able to open up a bit more on the descent. Next it was time to settle into the long trek up to Minnewaska. I felt stronger than I had on the first loop and this was a huge mental boost for me. But now it was time to focus on my hydration plan. Racers were alerted the day before the race that the nutrition/hydration sponsor failed to send the supplies the race organizers needed to stock this race. They would have bottles of water and limited bottles of Heed on the course. This meant I would be stopping to mix my own bottles of hydration – not ideal but worth it for me to take the time in order to have what I really need in these conditions.

Photo credit: Martin Weiner

Photo credit: Martin Weiner

I arrived at the bottle exchange on loop 2 and pulled over to see what was available. Luckily they had a bottle of Heed so I dropped my 2 empty bottles in exchange for 1 bottle of water and 1 bottle of Heed. The problem was that the replacement bottles were tall, but instead of taking the time to dump the contents into my existing (smaller) bottles I worked one into the bottle holder on my tiny frame and placed the water into my cage between my aerobars. This went smoothly and off I pedaled. Not even 1/4 mile down the road I hit a bump and the bottle between my bars launched – it was too tall to properly sit in there. I stopped and turned around to retrieve it thinking it was not a good idea to go without. As I picked it up off the side of the road the water was gushing out of it – the bottle had cracked and was useless. Oh well – I wasn’t going to go back to the water exchange – I could make it to the next exchange with the bottle of Heed. I saw more of these bottles on the road along the way – I think other riders had the same fate.

Finishing loop 2 I swapped the empty Heed bottle for 1 bottle of water. No point in trying to place another one between my bars and this also wasn’t the place to stop and mix a drink as I was about to climb the toughest section for the last time (yay!). Although a snafu with my Garmin didn’t allow me to track each loop of the bike, I am sure this final loop was my slowest. But I was still holding the lead and was now determined to make it through the 84 mile ride in first place. I was very happy to get to that last aid station so I could grab a new bottle and mix what I now believe was my secret weapon in beating the heat at this race. I pulled over for a bottle and ripped open my tube of Skratch Labs Hyper Hydration Mix and it was like an egg timer slowly emptying into my bottle. I was at that anxious point of the race feeling like there would be someone coming up right behind me so I impatiently forced about 3/4 of the package into my bottle and was on my way! The plan was to drink that whole bottle down before I finished the bike.
skratchNormally I consume 100-150 calories per hour on the bike but with a race of this length I decided I should aim for higher. I decided on 200-250 calories per hour on the bike. I wasn’t sure how this would work for me because I have a hard time taking in calories in that kind of heat but I stuck to the plan and I’m glad I did.

I was so excited to see that aid station one last time as I turned into the park to transition to the run under my goal time for the bike. The transition was smooth and I grabbed my hand-held bottle of the Skratch Labs Hyper Hydration mix that I had prepared anticipating a great need for it during the run. I was really excited to be off the bike and moving onto my strength. That excitement disappeared super-quick as soon as I made my way through the torturous gazebo and out onto the loop. The gazebo is agonizing because you pass through it every loop while the racers from the 2 other distances are enjoying the post-race party. It is great to have a cheering section but when you have to go back out there and run that loop, and then again, and then again…it is tough!

Back to my legs – they were feeling nothing short of tanked. I felt really good about my bike and now I was experiencing the fallout from the effort and distance that I was not trained for. I couldn’t prevent the negative talk from creeping in. If I felt this bad during mile 1 of this 15 mile run, I could very easily destroy my whole race. I stuck with the plan of power-hiking the steep climbs. I mean, that’s all I could do at this point. Minus the “power” part. Seeing that first aid station was like a desert oasis – I was stumbling in, trying to take in a gel, and unable to answer the extremely helpful volunteers who were offering me drinks. I took a few seconds to drink a full cup of water and then dump a full one over my head. I did this at every single stop (3 per loop) through the rest of the race while also nursing the bottle of Skratch.

Photo credit: Martin Weiner

Photo credit: Martin Weiner

After leaving that first aid station I started to perk up and by mile 3 I was finally starting to come around. Yes! I’m back! Finishing that first loop I looked at the race clock and felt confident enough to change my race goal to 8:15. If I could continue the next 2 loops at the effort I finally found at the end of the 1st one, I could do this! And that’s exactly how it went. At each aid station I took the time to get what I needed to keep me going. During both the 2nd and 3rd loops Jared told me my lead was 25 minutes. Although I wasn’t running strong by any means I now knew that I could back off even more. I had the 50-miler in 2 weeks to think about. And think about it I did. If I am feeling like this at Cayuga, will I back off and just finish? NO! I will power through and finish as strong as my body will allow. So that’s what I did. Around mile 3 you have the long steady downhill on carriage roads and I ran that section conservatively throughout the race to save my quads. Now I picked it up – time to leave it out there and get that time goal. When I came around the corner with the gazebo in sight I saw 8:14 on the race clock. Yes!

I set my goals for this race based off the winning performances from past races. I set slightly higher run goals and gave myself a little cushion on the bike since I didn’t feel like I would have a strong day. It feels good to meet all of your goals:

Goal Actual
sub- :45 1st run 39:18
sub- 5:15 bike 5:08:28
sub- 2:30 2nd run 2:25:19
sub- 8:30 8:15 Overall 8:14:27

As far as I could look back at results, the 2nd fastest time for this race was 8:34:55 in 2006. I have no idea if this race course has changed over the years. Do I have a course record? I don’t know. I am extremely happy with this race because I executed my race plan and I conquered the heat. 2 big wins! And now I feel like I have a great practice race under my belt for the main event – Powerman Zofingen – in September!

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out this cool race video!

Congrats to everyone who endured that heat on a tough course!

First Race of 2015 – Syracuse Half Marathon

syracuse halfThat title sounds so exciting, but unfortunately my performance was not ;) But hey – you gotta get that first race of the season out of the way! So why not do it surrounded by some of your greatest friends – who both shared the race course with you and stood on the sidelines in less than ideal weather to support the team. Although I wasn’t thrilled with my race I wasn’t down about it because I knew this race was going to be a test of my fitness. I’ve been a hermit this winter – enduring most of my miles on the treadmill. I have only done one speed work session outside. And craziest of all – I haven’t raced on the road since…gulp…the beginning of September! And that was a 5k. This race would be interesting…

Last year I found myself ill-prepared for the race conditions after traveling to Syracuse with only my racing flats that have zero tread on them. The slick, snow-covered roads did not agree with my attempts to run hard. Instead I opted to have one amazing race experience by running with one of my dearest friends Kate. You may remember our finishing shot – I know I sure do – I love this photo of shared friendship!
syracuse half finishHowever this year I came prepared. And true to Syracuse fashion I awoke Sunday morning to look outside and see a fresh blanket of snow. It wasn’t nearly as daunting as usual – maybe I’m just used to waking up at Marc and Amy’s on race morning, taking a look outside, and contemplating throwing the covers back over my head to sleep right through the race. I also think that my mental state going into this race was “no expectations”. I set out to pick up my teammate Jeremy on the way downtown and it started as a slow drive on the slippery back roads. Soon enough the sun came out and it looked to be an awesome day ahead. The only other challenge was to survive the cold – the temps were in the teens and the wind chill took a good 10 degrees off that. But hey, I had my inov-8 Trailroc 150’s this year so I knew the terrain wouldn’t be an issue.

I was happy we arrived early because the Oncenter was jam packed. Bathroom lines were an issue as well as simply navigating through the building. Luckily they announced a 15 minute delay but unfortunately it wasn’t enough time to get the full Strong Hearts Run Club/Strong Hearts Vegan Power team into the group shot :( So here we are in two parts.

Ray, Jeremy, Joel, Peter, Sean, Suzie and I

Ray, Jeremy, Joel, Peter, Sean, Suzie and I

buffalo

Carrie, Julie & Scott

It was time to step outside and I had no time for a warm-up. I’ve gotten used to skipping my warm up for trail and ultra races, so I didn’t stress too much about this. But damn it was cold! The sunshine helped but I was ready to get started. The gun went off and what do ya know – I wasn’t slipping! I feel like I had a smile on my face because this race was already an improvement over last year. 2 girls led the charge and I simply concerned myself with settling in to a comfortable pace. I did not think that winning was on the table today, so I did not pressure myself to go too hard or chase anyone down.

When I hit the first mile I wasn’t happy with my split, but I also wasn’t surprised. To put a positive twist on it I convinced myself that maybe all of this ultra running has taught me to pace better. Perhaps I was going to ease into this race and get faster as I go. Well I was wrong there, but it was a good practice in positive mental attitude :) I was able to pass the girl who was in 2nd place early on, but the leader was far ahead and there was no chance of me gaining ground on her. At mile 3 a spectator told me she was 400 meters ahead and although I always appreciate receiving feedback like that, I knew it wasn’t going to make me go any faster. There was a definite highlight of this race – passing one of the female traffic enforcers she simply said to me “Go kick those guys’ asses.” It was very blunt – no excitement in her voice – it made me laugh :)

The course was in great shape considering the prior day’s weather – thanks to the race crew who spent the morning salting for us! Although my pace was slower than I would have liked to my surprise I was staying consistent. At some point past the halfway mark I could hear that there was another girl closing in on me. When she made her pass I offered her words of encouragement – she was looking strong! One blatant error I made was opting not to take in nutrition. I normally would during a half. I was wearing my super-bulky-warm gloves and my gel was zipped into my back pocket. The thought of taking off a glove to get it seemed way too challenging. I justified this by deciding it would be a glycogen-depleting run. However I don’t think you should practice this during a race :) Honestly I don’t think it hurt me – it was lack of fitness that got me that day – plain and simple.

Within the last 2 miles another girl passed me. Coming into the last mile I thought I may be able to catch her but I didn’t put in any effort to do so. I simply maintained. I picked the spot where I would kick and when I arrived decided I didn’t have it in me to kick yet. I picked the next spot, and again realized it wasn’t there. I wasn’t passing anyone, and I surely wasn’t anywhere near a PR, so I finished my race satisfied with my effort for the day. I don’t think I left it all out there, but anytime I thought I should try to go harder I kept the thought of this weekend’s marathon in the back of my mind.

Hitting the finish line. Strong Hearts to the front! Photo credit: Kendra Murphy

Hitting the finish line. Strong Hearts to the front! Photo credit: Kendra Murphy

I finished in 1:26:47 – minutes away from my PR but I will take it for an early season race in cold weather. I was the 4th overall female and placed 1st in the 35-39 Age Group. It always feels great to be back out on the race course and today was no different! Now I have a better idea of where I stand fitness-wise and it’s time to build off that.

All of the Strong Hearts crew had a great race in less-than-ideal conditions. A special shout-out to Suzie who completed her first half marathon! She’s been training hard for this day and she killed it! #strongheartsrun #tothefront

Joel finishing with Suzie

Joel finishing with Suzie Photo Credit: Thad Jackson

 

 

BIG developments for Strong Hearts Vegan Power

SHVPFRONTragnarlogoYou may have seen my previous posts about Strong Hearts Vegan Power. You may have also seen the countless pictures I’ve posted on various social media sites. I think it’s obvious that I love this team and everything it stands for. Over the past 2 years I have made many lifetime friends and enjoyed awesome adventures with my teammates. We’ve spread the positive word about veganism and have gained a lot of recognition and attention as we show that we’re not only compassionate, driven individuals – we also thrive athletically. So you can only imagine how awesome it is to see our network grow. Here is an update as to what we’re doing right now.

The Race
The first race for Strong Hearts Vegan Power this year will be the Ragnar Cape Cod on May 7-8. We will run from Hull to Provincetown, MA – covering 190 beautiful miles along the Cape Cod Coast. We decided to step it up a bit for this event – instead of 1 team of 12 vegan runners, we now have 3 teams. That’s right – 36 vegan runners from 9 states will be out on the course!

This has obviously outgrown my ability to introduce them all to you in this blog, so we now have a website where you can meet the teammates!

The Cause
We have a great time when we join forces – teammates who share a passion for veganism, running, and let’s face it – the awesome vegan food. We love promoting our cause – we receive countless “GO VEGAN” cheers and comments from runners and spectators wherever we race. Many people come up to us to ask us about our diet & lifestyle, and we love to share. This has all been great – but we want to do more.
tamerlaineIn 2015 we are racing to raise money for and promote our teammate’s budding sanctuary, Tamerlaine Farm. Peter Nussbaum joined the inaugural Strong Hearts Vegan Power team in 2013. At that time he and his wife Gab (who was also the best personal Ragnar chef a team could ever dream of) had rescued 2 roosters, Yuri & Jupiter, followed by 19 ex-battery hens from CA who were about to be gassed. Their bodies are ravaged from the life they were forced to live in a factory farm, and they were lucky to have moved to the beautiful sanctuary where they could experience their first feel of grass and sunshine!

Since then they have rescued 56 chicken from the kaporos ritual. These hens and roosters are amazingly affectionate, smart, full of personality and generally awesome, but they are genetically fucked with by the poultry industry to grow obscenely and rapidly large, resulting in tremendous health issues. We are giving them love and care and they are really flourishing. A bunch of them live in the infirmary and receive rehab, medical care and tlc.”

Tamerlaine Farm also has 2 other hens that were rescued from the streets of Brooklyn. Lisa, a brown layer hen was found under a car. She probably escaped from a live market or backyard operation. She is now doing great! “Brooklyn” was also found in an industrial part of Brooklyn. She lives with the kaporos boys and girls and is also doing great. Their latest addition is 19 chicks from a NYC public school hatching project gone bad. What does a school do with 19 chicks that hatched for a “project”? Throw them away. Luckily Tamerlane Farm was contacted and offered to provide a home for these sweet babies. They joined the growing flock when they were only 3 days old. They have been living inside through the winter and will move into their brand new barn once they are big enough. They have also adopted three additional roosters (roosters are generally harder to place) and they are happy to give them a good home.

“Speaking of roosters, as you know Yuri and Jupiter are our boys. They come into the house for breakfast every morning with Tonka and Lola. I am smitten with those two boys. Can’t get enough of them. Every time I am away from the farm I can’t wait to get back to hang with those two (and all of the others).”  

peter roosters1

Breakfast with Yuri, Jupiter, Tonka & Lola

peter roosters2

Peter sharing breakfast once again

We are very excited to promote and support the expansion efforts that Peter and Gab are pouring into their sanctuary. They now have two full-time animal care givers living at the farm. Maddie is an actress/writer/animal rights activist who left her apartment in Brooklyn to live and work on the farm with her 3 bunnies – all wonderful additions. Hannah also signed on fresh off an internship at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. They also have a number of interns and volunteers based in NYC helping with social media, fundraising, non-profit issues, and their hot sauce business. Things are really starting to take shape and we have never been happier. Tons of hard work, but the reward is really greater than I could have ever possibly imagined. The next phase is to bring in other types of animals – sheep, pigs, etc. We are taking it slow but feel that we will be ready for that next step very soon – especially with the continuing support from our amazing friends and the animal rights community as a whole.”

Check out:
Tamerlaine Farm’s website
Tamerlaine Farm’s Facebook page
Tamerlaine Farm’s Instagram

Learn more about what they do for the animals, what you can do to get involved and/or donate, and to look at some sweet pictures of beautiful feathered friends!

Sponsors & Supporters
Also new this year – thanks to the efforts of Scott Spitz we have some generous sponsors on board. Not only have the sponsors donated either funds or product to the team for the weekend, they also matched this with a monetary donation to Tamerlaine Farm.

SHVP Car MagnetOur namesake, Strong Hearts Café, is also our title sponsor. They have been rocking the world with their delicious vegan creations for almost 7 years. People flock from near and far to experience the magic. I’m dreaming of the day where they stock a food truck and follow us on our Ragnar adventures… :)

Our supporting sponsors include:

Chicago Vegan Foods – Dandies marshmallows, Temptation Ice Cream, Teese Cheese – need I say more?!?
UGO Bars – handcrafted, fresh, vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO snack bars. Fuel for our runs!
Herbivore Clothing – fashionable, witty, and ethically made animals-rights clothing. Also check out their online store for wallets, bags, books, jewelry, art, kitchen ware, and much more.
Terri – more delicious and nutritious, organic vegan super foods with locations in NYC.
Vegan Cuts – they find the very best vegan food, beauty and fashion products and send them to you through their online marketplace, monthly subscription boxes, and special edition boxes.
Our Hen House – Using video, audio, interviews, reviews, and the written word, they provide daily updates on what you need to create change for animals.
Magic Vegan Bacon Grease – Non-GMO, non-hydrogenated, cholesterol friendly vegan multi-tool for frying, cooking, or baking. Smoky, rich, bacony, and inexplicably vegan all at the same time.
Tofurkey – a health, sustainable, passionate company producing tons of delicious meat-free alternatives.

I know what you’re thinking, we’re a pretty big deal…
And yet there’s more! Our friends, who just so happen to have a very similar name, Strongest Hearts will be joining us in Cape Cod to conduct some interviews and film some of the awesomeness that will unfold.

strongest hearts

Check out their web series on vegan athletes and the resources they provide for vegan athlete nutrition.

I can’t wait to meet all of my new teammates in May as we share and create new memories together. Each Ragnar event with Team Strong Hearts Vegan Power has been epic – this time it will be x3!

van dinner

YOU could be part of this – post run dinner out of the Suburban! Don’t run? Drive a van :)

We are still looking for a few dedicated van drivers. If you are vegan, enjoy driving endless hours without sleeping, maneuvering a large van around large groups of people, and enjoy the sweet smell of 6 sweaty runners – this job is for you! Oh there are more perks – you will laugh, you will cry, you will enjoy some delicious vegan foods, and you will be a part of something amazing all while making new friends. Oh, and you’ll even get a sweet hoodie! Cha-ching! Get in touch with me if you are interested.
Otherwise, feel free to follow us on our adventure. We have our website, our new Facebook page, and we use #strongheartsrun to tag our pictures. We can’t wait to share our fun moments with you all!
2015 back logo

JFK 38 Mile

DNFAs you probably already know, I did not finish the JFK 50 mile race on November 22nd. This was my goal race for the year. I spent a big chunk of my season preparing for this race. I was excited and I was ready. I researched this race more than I have any other. I read a book about it, I read so many race reports I felt like I could run it in my sleep. I watched every YouTube video I could find. I wanted this race! Sometimes you just don’t have a good day – it happens quite often. Sometimes you stick it out and learn a lot about your body and yourself. And sometimes you throw in the towel. Was I bummed? Of course. But the decision to pull out at mile 38 was totally my choice. There was no one or nothing to blame. I had a bad day and I chose to end it.

I am not new to the dreaded DNF. Although it doesn’t get any easier mentally I must say that either with age, or simply the ever-growing number of races I have done, I have come to terms with weighing the pluses and minuses of the decision and feeling “okay” with it. Many say that the pain of not finishing is far worse than the pain of sticking it out. I can understand that. Some may say that quitting is a sign of weakness. I understand that view too. For me, I don’t have that burning desire to finish when something is going on with my body. Of course the thought of walking the final 12 miles popped into my head. But that thought was quickly squashed because 1) that would only make me feel worse both mentally and physically, 2) I didn’t feel the need to simply finish the race by walking, and 3) I had a support crew out there in the cold who, although he would’ve supported me the whole way, didn’t deserve to endure the additional hours it would take me to walk.

I know there will always be another race. And another race. And another race. Although I spent a lot of time and miles on November 22nd talking to myself about the decision, I feel that I made the right choice for me personally. Having a fellow runner whom I met at Blues Cruise going through the same physical and emotional pain with me at the same point was very helpful. Those last miles would have been exponentially more painful without Mike Dolan by my side. So without further delay, here is my race report of the first 38 miles of JFK.
jfk logoI don’t think it was even 20 degrees when we left the hotel during that dark Saturday morning to head to Boonsboro high school. A chilly reminder as to why I’m not a huge fan of fall racing ;) But nothing could deter the excitement I had to get out there! The cold wasn’t even a big deal – you have the pre-race meeting in the gym which was warm, and then 15 minutes before the race you walk about a mile to the start line, where they start on time! The sun was out by now and it was a beautiful morning.

The start was pretty congested as expected with a race of that size. Plus there is no regard to lining up by your projected pace, which was evidenced when a guy next to me was telling his running buddies that he would be thrilled with an 11:00 pace. However there are 50 miles ahead – plenty of time. Plus the start takes you along roads before transitioning to the Appalachian Trail so there was no rush to get your spot right out of the gate. The gun went off and by the 1/2 mile mark things already started to shake out. There were 2 women that immediately stood out. Justine Morrison, who finished 2nd overall for the day, took the early charge up the winding hills along the road. Quick to chase after her was Sarah Bard – the overall female finisher for the day. It was tempting to stick with them but I held myself back. It was way too early for me to worry about my position, and I really wanted to run my own race. I kept them close, and as we were about to enter the trails Sarah popped off into the port-a-pot and I slipped into 2nd place.

I was excited to be on the trails but again tried to keep calm and stick with my plan. The trails were rocky but not very technical compared to what I’ve trained on both in PA and NY. It was hard to hold back when I feel that trails are my strength but at the same time I was trying to baby my left knee that was causing me problems in the 3 weeks leading up to the race. I hadn’t run any trails in those 3 weeks in hopes of keeping the injury at bay so I was unsure of how the rocky terrain would affect it. To my delight everything was feeling fine! Upon arriving at the next road section along the AT I spotted Justine just ahead of me. I was elated to see that she wasn’t too far ahead but I also knew that Sarah had to be right behind me. I kept reminding myself “the race is not won on the AT”.

I was feeling good, I was sticking to my pace, and I was feeling confident. And then…BAM! Right around mile 11 – it wasn’t an overly technical spot – it wasn’t even a downhill. I tripped and went down hard – my right knee smashing onto a nice big rock as my body flung forward, twisted, and my hip took the next impact. The guy who had been running behind me stopped saying “oh no – are you okay?” He bent over and grabbed me to help pick me back up but I told him to keep going. I was extremely appreciative of his concern and offer to help but I didn’t want to throw him off his pace. And really – I wasn’t ready to get up yet ;) I laid crumpled momentarily – in shock that I just tripped for no apparent reason, taking stock of what was going on, and dealing with that rush of nausea you get when a flash of pain hits. I quickly gained my composure and remembered that this was a race – keep going!! It was a painful limp/jog for the next mile and as expected Sarah soon passed me. I was frustrated with my carelessness and remember telling myself “I am not going to let my demise come from a fall on the AT”. I wasn’t even 1/3 of the way into the race! After about a mile, things started to feel better. Kind of like when you’re new to trail running and you constantly twist your ankle. It hurts so bad that you feel you can barely run, but then before long it’s like it never even happened. I was still feeling pain and my knee was bleeding through my tights but I was able to run again – and before long I was back on pace. YES! Just a minor blip. All I needed to do was make it off this trail without further incident and once I hit the flat and forgiving rail trail my worries would be behind me. I was able to pass Sarah again as we started to descend – my confidence was back!

I completed the AT portion just one minute over my goal at 2:16. By the time I got onto the C&O canal I was in first place. That moment of holding the lead was brief though, as both Justine and Sarah came flying by me. Again I knew to let them go. I could tell they were both strong  runners and that pace would blow me up for sure. My plan was to maintain my goal pace and see what I could do once I got to the final portion of the race – the 8+ miles on roads. My pace felt comfortable as I was settling in both physically and mentally for the marathon on the rail trail.

JFK

C&O Canal Trail – Photo credit: Pulin Modi

Only a few miles in I could tell that my rock collision was going to cause problems. My theory that the rail trail would be gentler on my body was proving to be wrong. My knee was screaming with each step and my hip was as well. I convinced myself that this was going to be a painful race, but not impossible. The pain could wear off again like it did on the trails. However it wasn’t wearing off – it was only getting worse. And with no one around me on the trail it was getting to be dark place. Literally – other than the aid stations I spent most of those 20 miles completely alone. Alone with my pain and alone with my thoughts.

The idea started to creep in that I was going to need to stop running. That of course is followed with the argument in my mind “quitting is not an option. You will not DNF.” No one wants to give up that easily. My pace was slowing but I was still running – that’s all I needed to do. As I was approaching mile 27 where your support is allowed to meet you I was prepared to call it a day. As Jared handed me the items I had requested at that stop the tears came as I explained to him what was going on. He wasn’t having it as he coaxed me to keep running while he handed over my supplies. I really just wanted to stop for a minute. Crying and complaining about the pain I was in made me feel like a big baby and really quite silly, so I pulled up my big girl pants and carried on. And for a moment I mentally felt good again – like I could overcome this. Heck – I was more than halfway done – I could keep going. That mental boost was short-lived as reality set back in. And around mile 30 I really started to fall apart. I was reduced to a jog/hobble and kept repeating “just keep moving forward”. Over and over. Forward progress is progress. This was followed by walking breaks. Ugghhh…dreaded walking breaks. Is anything more annoying? I don’t even know why I was doing it – it wasn’t helping the situation at all.

This went on until about mile 36 when during one of my fabulous walking breaks I turned around to see a familiar face. Mike Dolan had passed me in the last few miles of Blues Cruise and we talked after the race about…well JFK of course! He seemed to be in trouble too and he stopped to walk with me. We shared our stories of our unraveling – both of us had fallen on the AT and you can only outrun a damaging impact for so long. I of course felt horrible that someone else was sharing my bad experience today, but I was also very grateful to have him alongside me – sharing the same mental and physical pain together. Misery loves company right? We both decided that we would pull out at mile 38 – the next stop where your support had access. We talked about walking the rest of the race…more than once, we did math in our heads to determine how long this would take, we weighed the options of whether or not that was even worth it. We were now both freezing since our exertion was low, and we considered the people who were there for us. We probably sounded like crazy people as we kept bouncing thoughts off one another. We cursed, we made fun of ourselves as people passed and yelled “great job!”, but most of all we lifted each other’s spirits. We tried to run a few times – each time getting only a few steps before one of us felt the need to stop again. We planned to jog one minute, walk one minute the rest of the way and we only made it through one interval of that. We were a pathetic duo but at least we were not alone.

That 2 mile walk felt like an hour (it may have been for all I know!). Finally we approach the 38 mile rest stop where Mike is happy to see his wife hadn’t bailed on him ;) I knew Jared was there because Pulin had just started driving down the road along the trail on a search mission. Mike and I said our heartfelt goodbye’s and reminded each other that we will get the next one. Once I got into the car that’s when the emotion hit as well as the doubt as to whether or not I made the right decision. My brain knew I did, but the heart wasn’t totally on board yet. Next we had to drive to the finish line to drop off my chip. Just driving along the course towards the finish line made me feel an inch tall. With the last twist of the knife, Sarah was coming towards the finish. She looked great and I was excited for her – this was her first 50 miler and she nailed it! Congrats on a solid performance!

That is it. My race and my season ended by a tumble on the trail. Hard to swallow but you do, and then you move on. Some positives for the day: I feel like I was nailing my nutrition – at least for those first 38 miles. My gear selection was spot on. I chose to race in my inov-8 Roclite 243’s.

inov-8 Roclite 243

inov-8 Roclite 243

They were perfect for this race as they are the most versatile shoe. They offer protection, grip, and responsiveness on the trails while being lightweight and not too trail-like and cumbersome for the roads. A lot of people change shoes once they come off the AT and I specifically choose the Roclite’s so that I wouldn’t feel any need for that. I also wore my inov-8 Race Elite 200 tights for this chilly day.

inov-8 Race Elite 220 tight

inov-8 Race Elite 220 tight

These tights feel like pajama pants to me, so that is really a no-brainer. Comfort and warmth – win! Then of course there was my trusted inov-8 Race Ultra Vest.

inov-8 Race Ultra Vest

inov-8 Race Ultra Vest

I ran the AT with only water in the reservoir, and then (the plan was) grab bottle of electrolyte drink at the support stations. I believe this was the perfect set-up to fuel my race and stash my nutrition. (see my full review of this vest here) Anytime I run trails I like to wear my 110% Flat Out Sox for targeted compression and stability.

flat out sox

110% Play Harder Flat Out Sox

Under my race singlet I wore my 110% Katalyst Short Sleeve top.

110% Play Harder Flat Out Sox

110% Play Harder Katalyst Short Sleeve

They are not kidding when they say it is like a 2nd skin. It’s form-fitting without feeling tight and constrictive, the thermal regulation is like no other top I’ve worn, and you never have to worry about chafing. A hands-down must-have for an ultra event.

Even without completing the race, I can say that the JFK 50 miler is a well-organized and high energy race. Although you spend many lonesome miles along the rail trail, each aid station is well-stocked with happy and helpful volunteers. I will definitely be back!

I of course thank Jared for his support. Not only during the race enduring hours in the cold but also for dealing with my pre-race craziness, and post-race breakdown. I couldn’t ask for a more supportive and caring person to be by my side. Thank you to Pulin Modi who drove up from DC to cheer for me. And take the only decent picture to document my day ;) And of course a big thank you to all of my friends who sent such supportive and encouraging messages. I am surrounded by the most amazing people!

Another great season is in the books (year-end wrap-up coming soon…) thanks to my sponsors Inov-8 and 110% who keep me well-equipped and outfitted in top-of-the-line gear. Having gear that you can trust and performs as you need it to is a major contributor to success. Being able to race in the industry’s best gear means I only have to worry about one thing on race day – me. Specifically, not falling ;)

The mental pain has mostly faded. After running for only the 2nd time since November 22nd my knee is reminding me that it’s not quite ready to forget the pain. Rest and recovery are on the menu, as well as lots of time in the gym re-building strength and stability. As I start planning 2015 I am super-excited for another season of awesome racing, unforgettable friends, and many more learning experiences.

Take care and enjoy the holidays!

 

I found my match! Inov-8 Race Ultra Vest

To say I am picky about my methods of hydration is an understatement. Let’s face it – I drink A LOT while training and racing. Some people give me odd looks and/or make fun of me. I don’t care. I’m a thirsty girl. Of the many lessons I’ve learned over the years one of the most important for me is to HYDRATE! Waking up in an ambulance after collapsing on a race course from a heat stroke will do that to you.

Hydration is easy on the bike – so many options and places to store bottles of fluids. There are also various options for running – handheld bottles of varying sizes, waist packs that can hold multiple flasks/bottles/gel packs, etc. And then there are packs. All of them have their positives and negatives. If you are anything like me you’ve probably tried them all. I’m at the point where upon opening my “gear cabinet”, run-specific bottles and flasks come a-tumbling. I like options.

Handhelds are okay for shorter runs, but I get really annoyed by carrying anything in my hands. Waist packs can also be good for shorter runs, and they offer options for conveniently carrying other gear like keys, food, and you cell phone. However I don’t always have the easiest time removing and replacing the bottles while I’m running. And of course there is inevitably some sort of “bounce” factor. My favorite way to go is the pack. They can hold large amounts of fluid which sets my mind at ease, and most have extra storage/pockets for other goodies.

Although I prefer packs, there are times when they just seem like “too much.” That was until the inov-8 Race Ultra Vest came into my life. It may sound cliché, but it was a game-changer for a hydration junkie like myself. A dream come true for a thirsty minimalist! As soon as I strapped it on I was in love.
raceultravestConfession time: when it first arrived I actually wore it around the house that day. I was so excited by its sleek design and badass look I just couldn’t resist! And the comfort? Okay it was empty at the time but it fit unlike any pack I’ve ever tried. With adjustment straps across the chest and on the sides you could practically mold this bad boy to your torso. A hydration vest that works well for a petite female? Pinch me!

Time to put the vest to the test

The first time I used the vest I opted to fill the reservoir only which holds 2 liters. The reservoir fits nicely into an insulated sleeve which then drops into the large stretch mesh pocket in the rear. The straw is insulated as well and can be fed through the shoulder straps on either side of the pack.
raceultravest2The nozzle has an on/off option and a cap that can either be used to keep dirt out or be removed entirely. I tend to use the cap only during travel and remove it when it’s time to run. When using the pack without the bottles this opens up 2 large pockets in the front to stash lots of handy items – cell phone, trail snacks, etc. But fear not, there are still 2 additional stretch mesh pockets on each side that although may be narrow at the opening (which is great for security like your key and/or money) can hold a lot of items as well!
raceultravest3I set off on my run with a full pack and immediately fell in love with the snug fit that kept the vest from bouncing around. I realized that I would be relying heavily on this vest for training runs!

The big question for me –  would the addition of the 2 – 500 ml bottles throw me off by making the pack too wide? Surprisingly they were not in the way at all. They are angled in a fashion as to not hinder your arm swing, which also makes them easier to retrieve and replace on the run. Each pocket has a bungee strap that stretches over the cap to keep the bottles from flying out on rugged terrain. The small pull tab make the bungees easy to maneuver as well. So now I can have 2 liters of water and another 1000 ml of electrolyte drink. Score!

Other cool things to mention? The whistle that is latched onto the chest strap of course! Go ahead bears, try me.
braveheart bearAlthough the vest is not made for a ton of storage, the reservoir pocket on the back is stretchy enough to allow for some gear. So far I’ve used it for a trail map (I’m forever getting lost), gloves and sleeves. I’m sure you could stash a few other small items in there as well.

I’ve now raced twice with this pack – once with the bottles and once without. Complaints? None that I can find yet! And although I’ve (mostly) given up wearing it around the house, I have definitely put some miles in. I’ve even used it on a shorter run that required me to carry some gear. I removed the insulation sleeve and reservoir and had lots of space to store things.

The pack in action!

SRT 20 miler - with bottles. Photo credit: Tom Bushey

SRT 20 miler – with bottles. Photo credit: Tom Bushey

Blues Cruise 50k - without bottles. Photo credit: Jim Blandford

Blues Cruise 50k – without bottles. Photo credit: Jim Blandford

So there you have it – the Race Ultra Vest is the perfect fit for me. It’s no surprise that this vest has been the recipient of some big time awards. If you love getting lost in the trails for hours and are looking for a minimalist pack that provides all the necessities while at the same time is barely noticeable – I highly recommend you check this one out!
Race_Ultra_Vest_awardSee you on the trails!

Blues Cruise 50k – Take 2

I was excited to return to Blues Cruise this year for a number of reasons. It was my first 50k, Blue Marsh Lake is a childhood landmark, but mainly because I wanted to see what I’ve learned from last year’s attempt. If you read my race report from 2013 you may remember that I was not even close to prepared to tackle the distance. I wanted to come back this year with the preparation, the training, and the knowledge of what it takes to successfully race a 50k.

Right from the start the cards were stacked in my favor this year. Last year’s temperatures soared which was odd for the time of year. Sunday we were lucky to have what I would call the best running conditions. Temps were in the low 40’s at the start with an anticipated high in the low 60’s for the day. THIS is fall running! Love it!

The course changes direction every year, with 2014 running clockwise for the one-loop, 31 mile trail around the lake. I was told this was the easier route and I was determined to take full advantage of it. Lining up at the start of an ultra is so relaxing – there is no need to sprint out of the gate.
start lineRace director Stephan Weiss let out the command to go and this year’s start was more relaxed than the last. I was able to quickly settle into my own pace and for once I was not letting others dictate my pace. Progress! I spent a few miles lagging behind 2 guys who were only slightly further up the trail. I felt like I could have easily cranked up the effort for a short time to latch on and stick with them, but I felt it would be wiser of me to follow my plan. It paid off when I was able to pass one of them later in the race.

In fact, I felt so great during the first 10 miles running only slightly under my goal pace. I had a big smile on my face and was wondering if it was too good to be true. I felt so relaxed, in control and confident that I questioned whether or not I was taking it too easy. Luckily I talked myself out of that thought!
Pace for the first 10 miles – 7:32

Photo credit: Jim Blandford

Photo credit: Jim Blandford

At mile 12 I came across race photographer and amazing ultra runner in his own right Jim Blandford. He informed me that I was 9 minutes ahead of the next female. Eek!! This was too close for comfort. A bit of panic crept into my head as I spent the next few miles reasoning with myself. I wasn’t even halfway through the race – it was too soon to pick up the pace and risk blowing up. But what happens if this gap starts closing? I continued on, strong and focused. No need to panic just yet.

As I hit mile 20 I was excited to see Jared as he knew I wanted some data. He told me that I had at least 15 minutes on the next female. YES! This was such a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. Time to enjoy the last 11 miles of this course, which in my head were going to be the easiest (I obviously didn’t remember the first 11 miles from last year…).
Pace for the second 10 miles – 8:26

These last 11 miles were definitely not passing as quickly and easily as I had expected. Even though my pace hadn’t changed, my effort level felt way harder. I had spent my day running by myself and at this point was really craving some company. I heard a pack of guys making ground behind me and was not at all upset about the thought of them passing me as it would at least give me some running partners. Eventually 2 of them caught on to me and then made a pass. This definitely helped me mentally to have runners around me for a short time. As we tackled these last hills that continued to taunt us so close to the finish, I worked to keep one of them in sight. At last, I popped out onto the road and was so happy knowing that finish line was quickly approaching. Even better? Not only was I going to surpass my goal of 4:15 – I was also going to snag a course record!

Photo credit: Jim Blandford

Photo credit: Jim Blandford

There was much for me to celebrate – I achieved so many goals. I got a better handle on pacing, I raced my own race instead of getting caught up in what others were doing, I stayed relaxed, in control, and confident – I didn’t once let negative talk creep into my thoughts.
Pace for the last 11 miles – 8:24

Photo credit: Jim Blandford

Photo credit: Jim Blandford


I cannot say enough great things about this race. To start – Stephan Weiss, Mike Yoder and the Pagoda Pacers do an amazing job at making sure everything runs smoothly so that you have an enjoyable day on the trails. The sense of community they create is second to none! The aid stations are well-stocked with friendly, lively volunteers who are eager to assist you with your needs. Furthermore there is no shortage of fuel. The course is spectacular just in its uniqueness alone. It’s not often that you will find a one-loop 50k course. The trails offer a little bit of everything while being extremely runnable. Single track, open fields, stone trails, dirt trails, rocks and roots – you’ll get it all. I went with my main squeeze – the inov-8 trailroc 150’s again this year to tackle the course. They never let me down! Although I love all of inov-8’s trail shoes, these are by far my favorite.

And I can’t fail to mention the swag…all finishers received a long sleeve tech shirt, a water bottle, a tech hat, AND a custom kitty throne!
swagWe all know I’m a sucker for unique awards. This sailboat definitely ranks in the top 5!

Photo credit: Jim Blandford

Photo credit: Jim Blandford

Again in 2014 Blues Cruise was the RRCA Regional 50k Championship. Congrats to Mike Dixon who also broke the course record.

Photo credit: Jim Blandford

Photo credit: Jim Blandford

Also congratulations to the masters champions, Justin Krebs and Elisa Edgar.

Photo credit: Jim Blandford

Photo credit: Jim Blandford

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out this cool race video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Kn1cHCZMJc

Now…time to focus on JFK!

Finish time – 4:09:17