We’re Baaaack…Team Strong Hearts Vegan Power!

vegan worldThis is the true story… of 12 runners… picked to ride in 2 vans… work together to run 196.2 miles and spread their message of compassion…to find out how bad-ass you can be… when people stop supporting cruelty…and embrace living vegan… Team Strong Hearts Vegan Power!

Taking on Ragnar Adirondacks for a 2nd year. Here’s the line-up:

Becca “The Shark” Wellner – Syracuse, NY

becca

Becca

Years Vegan: 8
Theme song: Run the World – Beyoncé

Returning for her second year on Team Strong Hearts Vegan power, Becca is going to get this party started for us. I promise we didn’t invite her back for the pumpkin half-moon cookies she’s baking. That’s just an added bonus :) Becca’s strong determination and great attitude are essential to this team. Heck, she raced Reach the Beach just last weekend as a “warm-up” for this event. How about that for dedication?

“I returned for another year because the experience last year was so incredible. I had the opportunity to meet some amazing people that went from strangers to close friends in 26 hours. I love the message we’re putting out there to the other teams and spectators and how we present it. Very excited to experience this all over again!”

“Monster” Mike Pease – Syracuse, NY

Years Vegan: 20

Mike

Mike

Don’t let the size of this guy fool you – the tall man can run! What fuels him? Throw some trash talk his way and watch what he can do. He’s returning this year with a vengeance – best stay out of his way. Rumor has it he’s been practicing his wrist band handoff (slap!) to avoid any further skull-crushing collisions.

Mike is also the owner of the Terri Restaurants in NYC. If you’re visiting the big city and are looking for something quick and healthy, stop in!

“I wanted to do the Ragnar with the Strong Hearts crew again because it was great motivation to train. I loved being part of a team that supports and counts on each other to compete in such a mentally and physically challenging event. And of course, showing people that vegans are badass mofos doesn’t hurt either!”

“Sergeant” Mario Mason – Syracuse, NY

Years Vegan: 18
Theme song: Born From Pain – Earth Crisis

Mario

Mario

One thing I know is that if you are showing any signs of weakness on that course, Mario will call you on it. This PGA golf pro and father of a 3-year-old vegan warrior has no tolerance for slackers. Go big or go home. Let’s get this guy a bullhorn! And he’s learning from the best – this year he’s being coached by the legendary Scott Spitz. Mario showed his grit last year by tackling the monster hill with a never-quit attitude – like a man possessed. I have no doubt he’s returning this year with even more fire. (see what I did there? #morefirerun)

“I am running on this team again because last year was awesome and also because it has given me a reason to train – I don’t want to let other people down and I love competition. The team also needs a jerk who will yell at people who are walking during their leg, and I feel that I can fill that role nicely. I also really like surrounding myself with people who eat a vegan diet because flesh eaters disgust me.”

“Rabid Man” Aaron Bell – Saint Simons Island, GA

Years Vegan: 4
Theme song: Hocus Pocus – Focus

aaron1

Aaron

Aaron may seem like a gentle giant with quotes such as “I like big dogs”, but don’t let him fool you. Aaron is so bad-ass he pops Nuun tablets like pez (note: no one on Team Strong Hearts Vegan Power endorses this use of Nuun). Water?!? Pssshhh – he’ll slap that water right out of your hand. He’d rather foam at the mouth to make sure all the other runners know he is all business.

“I’m returning because it’s an excuse to run in sub-100 degree heat! Seriously, I had an absolute blast last year and any way to do something I love, with the people I love, promoting a message I LOVE, is awesome.”

Jeremy “Birdman” Ritz-Totten – New York, NY

Years Vegan: 2
Theme song: Joy to the World – 3 Dog Night

jeremy

Jeremy

The first new recruit to the team. Although I have yet to meet Jeremy, I can tell by looking at his training that he is going to be an excellent addition. This guy can run some miles, and he runs them fast. On top of that he has a crazy amount of enthusiasm which is going to fuel van 1 for sure! Excellent recruitment Aaron. Welcome to the team Jeremy – I’m looking forward to seeing you fly through that course!

“I chose to be a part of the team for the challenge of doing a relay. I’ve only been seriously running for a little over a year. I joined this team by invitation from a high school friend (Aaron), but look forward to the camaraderie of competing in a compassionate and kick ass way with fellow vegan runners.”

Laura Kline – New Paltz, NY

Years Vegan: 9
Theme song – Eye of the Tiger – Survivor

VP50k finish

Me :)

Well obviously I’m back again :) Ever since our team parted ways last year I couldn’t wait to do it again. Running, compassionate friends, vegan food, lots of laughter – that’s my idea of a good time! The impact we made and the attention we attracted at last year’s Ragnar far exceeded my expectations. With a solid crew of vegan ambassadors surrounding me – I will do it again and again. I can’t wait to make more memories and crush some more miles this year!

Kate “Glitter” Paice Froio – Cortland, NY

Years Vegan: 1

kate

Kate

Among Kate’s many super-powers, shooting glitter from her heart is one of my favorites! And what better way to spread the message of compassion – with bursts of glitter! :) One of the most passionate, dedicated women I’ve ever met – this super-mom, super-wife & super-career woman adds an equal amount of commitment towards her running – encouraging others each and every step along the way. Her smile will brighten your day – so look for her on the course working hard but showing you she’s having the time of her life!

“As most vegans would say, the only regret they have is not doing it sooner. I couldn’t agree more. Three years vegetarian and one year vegan, my plan is to be the light for my friends and family, to show them being vegan is not extremist in any way. It’s a gentle and loving way to live.

I am inspired each day by my Strong Hearts Run Club and Strong Hearts Vegan Power teammates. I decided to run Ragnar ADK to mark my first full year of veganism. It’s a celebration of life and I wanted to share this experience with a core group of vegans who propel forward a mission of cruelty-free kindness and true vegan power.”

Sean “Liveabetes” Scott – Syracuse, NY

Years Vegan: 5
Theme song: Bolt Thrower – K-Machine

sean goat

Sean

Sean was an integral part of the team last year as the driver for van 1. But this year he’s about to show everyone that his talents extend beyond the steering wheel. The stank of that van was not the only thing to infect Sean – he caught the running bug too! And since then he’s been improving with leaps and bounds. Another Coach Scott Spitz protégé – he has become unstoppable. Hand over those keys Sean – time to crush some souls on the race course!

“After driving the male sweat lodge known as Van 1 last year I got fired up. I had been running a little before then but nothing consistent, and a 5k here and there. Seeing what these guys and gals were doing – something got me going. I broke through the limits I had for myself – the idea of “can’t” and the notion of “too much for me” went away. Joel initially asked if I wanted to run last year and I thought he was insane for asking me. But now my perspective is different: being vegan, as well as a life long diabetic, combined with how much further I am mentally now as opposed to this time last year I know for a fact I have the discipline to do this and a lot more. Being with Strong Hearts Run Club has motivated me and supported me, and as much as I prefer to go my own way it’s great to be a part of something putting a positive message out there knowing what it can do.”

Peter “The Protector” Nussbaum – Montague, NJ

Years Vegan: 6
Theme song: Firestorm/Forged in the Flames – Earth Crisis “Because it reminds me of Scott and no song (or person) motivates me better than that song and that person does.”

Peter

Peter with Yuri

When Peter’s not out clocking miles he’s protecting our fine feathered friends from slavery and abuse. He and his wife have been rescuing chickens and roosters to live out their lives at their ever-expanding sanctuary, Tamerlaine Farm. He may have a gentle demeanor and an enormous heart, but he will unleash hell in the Adirondacks!

“Last year I joined the team to meet and run with Scott Spitz whose writing was instrumental in motivating and educating me as a newly vegan runner six years ago. This year I am running for Scott. It is really that simple… Well, Scott and the animals of course! The new shirts sum it up well… Vegan for my health, for the planet, BUT MOSTLY FOR THE ANIMALS. How could I pass up the opportunity to run with an awesome bunch of like-minded people? I can’t wait to wear my new team shirt!”

Jonny “Hero” Rieth – Kennesaw, GA

Years Vegan: 20
Theme song: To Hell With The Devil – Stryper

jonny

Jonny

AKA “Freedom Fighter”. Suspected terrorist on your Ragnar course? Jonny will sniff them out and stomp them. What goes in – Newman-O’s and Vega Sport Gels. What comes out – an endless string of hilarity. Jonny may provide non-stop entertainment to his van mates, but when it comes to running he is all business. He takes his running, and his message, seriously. Something tells me he’s coming back even stronger this year. Terrorists be warned. America!

“I just moved from Grand Rapids, MI to Kennesaw GA so I don’t really know what the hell is going on. I know I’m vegan and I’m a solid runner. I’m part of this team because it’s 100% badass!”

Kaitlin “Krusher” Long – Albany, NY

Years Vegan: 10
Theme song: Firestarter – Prodigy

Kaitlin

Kaitlin

Another new addition to the team, Kaitlin is not new to Ragnar racing. In fact, any race/challenge you throw at this woman – she’s going to tackle it head-on! Fire jump? Barbed wire crawl? 10 foot wall? Nice try. Nothing will stand in the way of Kaitlin accomplishing her goals. And that is exactly what she has been doing with her running. Our third teammate coached by Scott Spitz, we hope to make this Kaitlin’s best Ragnar yet!

“I really love being a part of this team just because of all the support between the coaching from Scott to just the friends I’ve made. Running on an all vegan team has to be one of the biggest honors so far of my running career. I chose to be a part of this team so I can improve. Iron sharpens iron and I look up to all of you so much that it’ll be an honor to be running the same race with you all.”

“Captain” Joel Capolongo – Syracuse, NY

Years vegan: 21
Theme song: Who Dares Wins – Path of Resistance

Joel with Dylan

Joel with Dylan

Leader of this crew, owner of the team’s namesake – Strong Hearts Café, and bad-ass runner to boot! Joel took what was a celebration of his 20 year vegan anniversary and turned it into an awesome opportunity to spread our message and create lifelong memories for a group of 12 vegan athletes. Not to mention the lasting impression we left, and will continue to leave, on countless others. After ADK Ragnar 2013, Joel has taken his training to another level and his results show it! Joel’s going to be bringing it home for the team this year, and I know we all can’t wait to cross that finish line behind him!

“I chose to be a part of, and to organize, the team again because last year was such a great time for everyone involved, myself included. I like pushing myself to constantly better myself physically and mentally. The work that goes into training for a race like this fulfills that need and keeps me striving to achieve greater things.

More than that though, being a part of this team allows me to be an ambassador for veganism. We had countless conversations last year with other teams and spectators about veganism and the health, environmental, and ethical benefits of a vegan lifestyle. If just one person decides to go vegan because of the presence of our team, then mission accomplished. The attention we receive at events like this is nice, but the potential we have to really win over people’s hearts and minds to choose a more compassionate lifestyle is what really makes participating in this event worth it for me.”

Look for us out there on the course next weekend – our shirts will be bold and our enthusiasm will be unwavering. Make sure to say hi and throw some encouragement our way- we may just have some vegan treats to share :)

This one’s for you Scott Spitz. We’ll unleash hell for you this year, but you better start training for 2015! More Fire!

SHVP2014back SHVPFRONTragnarlogo

Canadian for a day – 5k Road Race Championship

torontoToronto! A city I’ve heard so many great things about but had yet to visit. This was the host city of the 2014 Canadian 5k Road Race Championship. As an American, this wasn’t a race I had any reason or interest to compete in…until…my long time friend and fellow athlete Shari Boyle suggested it as the innagural race we compete in together. Over years of friendship we have often talked about racing together. Shari focuses on track running throughout most of the year while I on the other hand have been devoting my time and attention to longer distances. A 5k was a great compromise :)

Here's a picture of us enjoying bananas. Because, why not?

Here’s a picture of us enjoying bananas. Because, why not?

The B&O Yorkville Run has traditionally attracted fast runners. We’re talking way outta my league runners. Which meant this was a nice race to go into with no pressure and a field competitive enough to possibly pull me along to a PR. It was a great opportunity to run my own race, test my legs, and enjoy a trip to a new city spending time with a great friend.
vegfestAs an added bonus it also happened to be the weekend of Toronto Vegfest – which is  the largest Vegfest. This is like a dream come true for a vegan but a curse for a runner who is racing the following day. We checked out the vendors, had a few samples, and I may or may not have snagged some goodies from Apiecalypse Now for the drive home Sunday…
apiecalypse nowBack to the racing… Deep down I wanted a PR. However I haven’t raced an “open” 5k since January of this year – in the snow. My training definitely hasn’t been geared towards 5k racing so I wasn’t sure what I could do. That made it exciting :)

It was a perfect day for racing – sun was out but it wasn’t too warm or too cool. I arrived at the race site and met up with Shari for a warm-up run. It was so cool to finally run with her – I was having so much fun catching up that it took my mind off the actual race. The course was somewhat rectangular with a modest downhill start and a slight but steady “uphill” in the middle. Turns out Shari races like me – go out hard and hold on ;) We decided this was the perfect course for our type of racing. We would take advantage of that fast start for sure!

It was time to line up and I still wasn’t nervous – ready to go out and see what I could do. I lined up with Shari because I knew absolutely no one there. They set us loose and sure enough the pace was fast! So many females ahead of me, but that’s what I was expecting and it didn’t concern me. For once I was racing myself.

My one regret is that I didn’t keep track of my splits. I didn’t take the time to check what my goal kilometer pace should be so I didn’t bother even hitting the lap timer on my watch at each marker. Although it would’ve been nice to know my pace, it was also refreshing to race totally by feel. Because of this I was more aware of how I felt the whole race and that ended up being what made it most memorable. I didn’t run a PR, I didn’t run a sub-18, but I felt steady and strong the whole way. I was able to pass 2 women – both of whom ended up being in my age group. I had a strong kick through the finish which first surprised me, then made me feel kick-ass, but then had me pondering – did I run hard enough the entire race?

Note to self: if you want a finisher pic, make sure to pass the dude in front of you.

Note to self: if you want a finisher pic, make sure to pass the dude in front of you.

Overall I was happy with my race and my effort. Running all these long, slow miles – mostly on trails – with very little speedwork had me thinking I would come up empty at this race. My result just fueled my training fire!

Shari ran along with me the entire race and her strong showing earned her 3rd overall master! A great result…and she got the BIG check!

Cha-ching!

Cha-ching!

I didn’t think Americans were eligible for awards at the Canadian National Championship, but sure enough they called me up to the stage as the first overall female in the 35-39 age group.
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Yeah! Not only did I get to race with Shari, but we got to share the stage too :)
awardsI’m excited that we’re going to make this an annual tradition. Not necessarily in Toronto, but we’ll find a 5k to race every year. Fun adventures ahead! For now, back to ultra training (although I still want a 5k PR before the year is over…)

Finish time – 18:04

0 SPF with #TrailsRoc

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When I saw that there was a USATF Niagara Regional Trail Championship Race in Rochester, I said “why not?” After 2 weekends of short course racing a half marathon on trails seemed more my speed. I was looking forward to this race but at the same time I was off my game leading up to it. Normally for a new race I research past results to generate a race goal for myself and check out the course map and profile to get an idea of what I’m up against. For this race I went into it knowing nothing. And it was a refreshing change :)

I arrived at the race site feeling relaxed. Eric Eagan, the incredibly welcoming and generous race director, asked if I wanted any information about the course to which I declined. At this point I was ready to find out for myself. As the race start drew closer I started to see GVH jerseys milling around and that’s when I realized that this was going to be a tough race with some fast runners!
profileSure enough when we were released onto the trails the pace was fast and there was a female hanging tight. I was feeling rough and was afraid that the pace I was running would surely lead to a melt-down later. Although I didn’t know where the 2nd female was in that first mile I could hear her behind me. My descending skills have been pretty sharp this year, and I feel that during the first major descent I was able to put a small gap on her. That gave me some relief as I worked my way along the out-and-back course.

Photo credit: Michael Lesher

Photo credit: Michael Lesher

The course itself was great – it had a little bit of everything. A lot of single track but also some field crossings, road crossings, stream crossings, steep climbs and drops – a great all-around trail course. The road crossings were the most challenging for me. There was no stopping traffic for this race so on the way back I had prolonged breaks at each crossing waiting for traffic to clear. I tried to embrace these breaks, but instead I was concerned about the 2nd female closing on me.

Chair hill. Photo credit: Tim Raggets

Chair hill. Photo credit: Tim Raggets

After the final road crossing there was one more challenge to face – the hill leading up to the power lines. I will admit that I was reduced to some power-hiking at this point. Hearing a photographer cheering from high atop one of the towers gave me that extra push. He also let me know the time gap I had on the 2nd female which helped my spirits :)

Power line hill on the way down. Photo credit: Michael Lesher

Power line hill on the way down. Photo credit: Michael Lesher

One of my favorite things about an out-and-back course is knowing exactly what you have to go through to get to the finish. I knew what was ahead of me and I knew what my lead was, so I was able to enjoy the rest of my run into the finish line.

Heading to the finish line. Photo credit: Michele Fanton

Heading to the finish line. Photo credit: Michele Fanton

finish line

After crossing as the first overall female I was told that I had the course record! Bonus :)

A congratulatory high-five from Eric Eagan - a top-notch race director!

A congratulatory high-five from Eric Eagan – a top-notch race director!

I was happy with my race and really enjoyed both the course and the and the atmosphere that the #TrailsRoc crew created. For anyone living in the USATF Niagara region – I highly recommend this race. Also check out other races in the #TrailsRoc series – I am sure they are all a blast!

Finishing time – 1:57:10

Maryland Olympic Duathlon

This was my 3rd year racing Rip It Event’s Maryland Olympic Duathon and the 3rd year I’ve had a great experience with a well-run event. Dan, Suzy and their crew have race organization and execution nailed! This is what keeps bringing me back year after year.

I arrived at Western Regional Park and was greeted with the usual flawless procedure. Suzy sees me and grabs my packet for me – no waiting. Then I quickly gain entry to the transition to find my marked spot. I am a total creature of habit and thrive on consistency. Knowing that I can show up at this race each year and have everything run so smoothly means I can stay focused on pre-race prep. As an added bonus this year, the elite field had T-Blocks for racking their bikes. If you have experienced racing with these, you understand how exciting this was! Especially when you are vertically challenged like me and your mini bike always dangles from the rack. I knew that faster transition times were on tap today! (my 1st transition was 2 seconds faster and my 2nd transition 5 seconds faster than last year!)

Elite female bikes in the T-BLOCKS

Elite female bikes in the T-BLOCKS

After a short warm-up (man that humidity was already thick for my now-northern blood!) it was time to line up at the start with the tough competition this race draws year after year. I didn’t have an exact plan or strategy for this race. I feel totally comfortable with the course and although last year was a bit of a let-down, my plan was simply to improve on last year’s time. I wasn’t feeling great but I wasn’t feeling bad either. My biggest hang-up was not having race wheels on my bike, but I figured I would use that disadvantage to ride harder ;)

Elite female start

Elite female start

The gun went off – I am used to leading the first run at this race but that wasn’t the case this year! Last year Julia Roman-Duval, the super-runner, was hot on my heels and came into T1 a mere 3 seconds behind me. This year about 1/4 mile in she made her pass, and I was smart to let her go! She was running strong and it wouldn’t have been a good idea for me to try to stay with her. I finished the first 2 mile loop in 12:14 – 9 seconds slower than last year and 10 seconds behind Julia. I was able to make up that time and was first out of T1 onto the bike course for the lonely first loop through the rolling hills of Western Howard County. Once again the course was well-marked and well-staffed with volunteers – a fun yet challenging ride!

Heading out on the bike

Heading out on the bike

It was like deja-vu as I was finishing loop 1 of the bike – at the last turn I looked back to see Emily Richard closing fast. Starting the second loop she made her pass but I didn’t let it get me down. I planned to keep her in sight and reminded myself of Nationals in May where I was able to come from behind after being passed on the bike. If I didn’t let her get too big of a gap, I should be able to make it up on the final 4 mile run. The rest of the ride was uneventful. No other females passed me so I kept my confidence high. I felt comfortable but still not as strong as I would like to feel. Despite not having race wheels this year my bike was 11 seconds faster than last year.
bike

T2 - ready to run

T2 – ready to run

Coming into T2, as I was running the bike in I saw Emily heading out onto her run. I had work to do. Normally my second run is where I feel strong, but this time my legs felt like I was running through peanut butter. I was not happy about this and hoped I would feel some improvement quick. I saw Emily up ahead and she was running strong. I felt like I was slowly closing the gap but was going to need more if I wanted to make this happen. We made our way down the hill to the 180 turn to head back up. I drew from my strength on the hills and convinced myself I could do this. As we entered the park I started closing on her and at about 1 1/2 miles in I made my pass.

I don’t feel comfortable making a pass if I can’t create some cushion with it. Coming towards the transition to start loop 2 a spectator told me she was right there – just as I expected. I used the crowd to draw some energy as I headed out onto loop 2. The heat and humidity were taking their toll – nothing unusual at this race! With only 2 miles to go it was time to dig deep. Did I think about last weekend’s race up a mountain? You bet! I told myself that these hills were nothing compared to what I endured at Loon Mountain.

That was the motivation I needed to push me to the finish. I made my way up the little risers into the park and knew right where I wanted to launch my final push. At this point I saw that I had a substantial gap so I didn’t need to turn myself inside out. As I neared the finish line I saw that I was about to beat last year’s time. Success! I was over 2 minutes faster than last year for the win! Still not as fast as my first victory in 2012, but I was happy with how the race played out. Next year I definitely need to shoot for a PR!
finishAnother awesome MD Olympic Du in the books – well worth the trip. I always meet such awesome competitors at these races. Emily Richard, Jessica Koltz, Julia Roman-Duval, Jennifer Cortesi and Alison Gittelman made up the elite field of women, and they were all the most friendly and fierce athletes. It was also nice to see other familiar faces in the mix. Laura Bergmann took the age group overall, Tracy Lempke took 4th in her age group, and Jim Drumm took 6th in his age group. Congrats to all!

Me (1), Emily Richard (2), Jessica Koltz (3)

Me (1), Emily Richard (2), Jessica Koltz (3)

Run 1 – 12:14.0
T1 – :48.9
Bike – 1:16.01
T2 – :52.4
Run 2 – 27:21.0
Total – 1:57:18.1

 

Loon Mountain Race – US Mountain Running Championship

LMR logo

What possessed me to sign up for the US Mountain Running Championship? I guess I was curious and wanted to try something new. My love affair with trail running is quickly becoming my #1 addiction, so why not try racing up a mountain?

In the weeks leading up to the event the race was receiving more hype and I was starting to see the names of women competing in this event. Yikes! This was serious business. And what was I doing? Focusing on Ironman training :( Being a multisport athlete is a blessing and a curse – I love being able to compete in so many different events, yet without ever truly focusing on one sport it’s hard to get your best performance in any of them.

In the days leading up to the race that’s when the real doubt set in. I started questioning why I hadn’t done any hill repeat training on the trails when I live in the perfect place to do so. I contemplated squeezing in some stair climber interval workouts at the gym. Instead I worried about my long run for the week, and snuck in 13.5 miles on the trails Wednesday night. Although I was bummed that I couldn’t get a 6 hour ride outside on Friday due to the heavy rain, perhaps it was meant to be that I only mustered 3 hours on the trainer. Obviously a taper for this event wasn’t on the schedule. The constant battle in my head between “the next race” and “the big picture” was raging as I started to regret the fact that I wasn’t going to be bringing my A-game to this race. I needed to change my mindset, and quick!

Luckily I had plenty of distractions over the holiday weekend. Saturday took me to the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary July Jamboree, followed by the long drive to NH. I stayed with a friend 90 minutes from the race site which kept me away from what I had to face the next morning. Arriving at Loon Mountain bright and early Sunday morning and seeing the terrain was super-intimidating – seeing the competition mulling around the parking lot – even more so! But the weather was better than anyone could ask for and it was time to give it my best shot!

Quietly tucked in behind the big guns

Quietly tucked in behind the big guns

I lined up at the start line for the women’s 8:00 am gun time. By this point the nerves were full blast so I took some centering breaths. Looking around me I knew that we would be going off at a crazy pace. “It’s only 8k” I kept reminding myself…
startI read that the leaders hit the .5 mile mark at 5:30 pace. Um, yeah…even though I was not right up front, that’s not where I should be running at a mountain race! Time to settle down, get my head in the game, and power through this the best I could.

Hitting the 1/2 mile mark before starting to climb

Hitting the 1/2 mile mark before starting to climb – I’m tucked behind Magdalena

The course? Up, up and up. The footing wasn’t exactly what I was expecting – rocky dirt trails that were dry and deep. When you hit the steep spots you noticed how loose it was. My inov-8 trailroc 150’s (my go-to trail shoe) were a great choice for this race. They have the grip and protection for the rockier spots, yet are super lightweight and flexible to carry me up the ascents.

Photo credit: Scott Mason

Photo credit: Scott Mason

The climb to the gondola was probably the most energy-sapping. It seemed to go on forever. I had not been sitting in a good position the whole race and was just trying to not get passed at this point. It’s a lonely race with not many spectators tackling the slopes to cheer us on. At one point there was a lone spectator and he told me “you’re still in the top 30!” Perhaps this was meant to make me feel better, but it surely didn’t. Everything ached – my legs of course, but also my arms and lungs. The only thing I knew going into this race was that the finish was up the infamous Upper Walking Boss – which averages a 40% grade for about a 1/2 mile. All I had to do was make it to that point.

1 mile to go & looking rough! Photo credit: SNAPacidotic

1 mile to go & looking rough! Photo credit: SNAPacidotic

I reached the gondola and it was nice to be greeted by spectators! What came next was a long descent. I feel like I have really progressed in my descending so I was excited to have the opportunity to make up some time. Unfortunately my legs were not quite as eager – they felt like rubber and I fought just to keep myself upright! I still managed to pass my first competitor at this point which gave me a small mental boost.

But I knew this “break” would come to an end and soon enough I rounded a corner to see a sign “Welcome to Upper Walking Boss.” I took one look up and was in awe of this climb. I almost wanted to stop and soak it all in, but no time for that – the finish line was at the top of this mountain! Somehow I was able to pass a few people during this 10 minute climb. There’s not much excitement in power-hike-passing other power-hikers, but a pass is a pass! As we neared the pinnacle there were signs marking our distance to the finish. With 100 meters left to go I started to run and passed my last competitor to take it to the finish line. (there is a great picture of this, but I’m not willing to pay $28 for a copy, so we can just picture it in our minds :) )

8k in 56:59 – definitely felt like the longest 8k ever! Preliminary results placed me 18th so I was pretty excited. Later that day I was bumped to 20, then the next morning my final spot was at 21. What a bummer. But it also makes me hungry to come back next year and have a better showing!

Although this wasn’t my initial feeling upon completing the race, I can now say that I am looking forward to future mountain races!
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Provincetown Whales – A Northeast Adventure

logo1I had been looking forward to last weekend’s trip for quite some time. And despite the travel issues we had getting out to the cape on Friday, Plan B went into effect and we left New Paltz for the 2nd time late Saturday morning. Phew – the trip was still on!

I had no doubts that the whale-watching adventure would be amazing. As I got to “know” Skott a little more over the past few months my excitement grew. It is obvious that he has a very deep passion and excitement about what he offers through Provincetown Whales. This isn’t your average whale watching trip, and I will explain why.

Stroll along the beach in P-town

Stroll along the beach in P-town

Once we arrived in Provincetown and checked into the hotel we set off on foot to explore downtown and grab a lovely dinner at Tiny’s. During this time I received a message from Skott – he was changing the location of where we were meeting at 8:30 the next morning. Why is this special? Because Captain Mike is extremely knowledgable and knows where the whales are going to be. With only 5 other passengers besides Skott and the Captain it is very easy to make this last-minute change which was only going to make our trip more enjoyable. They explained that because of the smaller boat they have more flexibility in where we can go. Those bigger whale watch trips can only leave from their dock and don’t have the range to explore in the short period of time they offer. We had 5 hours, yes 5 hours, to explore. And because we had the prime starting location and the intel on where the whales where spending their day it meant more to be seen on our trip. Makes me wonder if the other tour boats got to see much at all…

Tiny's had great vegan options

Tiny’s had great vegan options

Once we all met at the dock and exchanged some quick introductions we quickly boarded and set off. The weather was perfect and the scenery was beautiful on our way out to the ocean waters. We passed two big herds of seals on our way out as well – sunning themselves on sandbars. Very cool to see!

Our vessel and crew

Our vessel and crew

Before we knew it we were 3 miles out and already seeing whales! Here are 2 whales that were feeding right in front of us. We learned how to spot when whales were near. First you see the feeder fish along the surface – dark rippled patterns on the water – sometimes right up to the boat. Then you see the birds. Those birds sure are smart – they know that when the whales surface they can swoop in to grab whatever escapes the whales’ mouths. Seeing the circle of life in a natural environment is sweet.

Photo credit: Danny Bent

Photo credit: Danny Bent

Yes! First whales of the day with hours left at sea. That’s when it became surreal. I mentioned that the weather was perfect – not only could we see for miles but it was also so calm and quiet that we could hear for miles too. Suddenly we’re looking around and there were spouts everywhere! We were surrounded by whales! (insert child-like squealing here) We could see spouts, we could hear spouts, and then we got to see the highlight of the day – whales breaching! This was by far the coolest thing to see. Unfortunately we were never close enough to get good pictures of this. We would see a whale breach and then head towards their direction hoping to see more of this behavior, only to arrive and see another breach somewhere else. Oh the struggle of having so many whales to see ;)

What was most spectacular about witnessing this behavior is that we were seeing it in the whales’ natural environment. Not at SeaWorld where these beautiful creatures are confined in way-too-small tanks and forced to perform for people. Over the past year SeaWorld has received major backlash and has seen a sharp decline (woo hoo!) thanks to the documentary Blackfish. I’m sure most of you have seen it by now, but if you haven’t I definitely recommend checking it out. It really drives home the point of why Provincetown Whales is so special. When you see the whales in their natural environment just doing what they love to do you have a better understanding of why places like SeaWorld are so bad. Multiple times throughout the day we encountered a mother with her calf. The way it should be!

Let’s take a moment and check out these awesome flukes ;)

Photo credit: Danny Bent

Photo credit: Danny Bent

Photo credit: Danny Bent

Photo credit: Danny Bent

 

Photo credit: Danny Bent

Photo credit: Danny Bent

What more can I say? We saw a lot, we learned a lot, our faces hurt from smiling – what a day! New friends made and an experience that will last a lifetime. Luckily it doesn’t have to. We will definitely take another trip with Provincetown Whales next year! At $110 per person it may cost a bit more than the larger carriers but the experience is unmatched. An intimate group of people, a longer time on the water, and top-notch expertise. No profit is made on this trip – the money pays for chartering the boat and fuel. The point of this trip is to raise greater awareness of these spectacular mammals.

Thank you Skott!

Thank you Skott!

I’ve posted links to Provincetown Whales, but also feel free to follow on Facebook where you will find more pictures from the trips as well as dates for tours. He still has a few spots open on some of this season’s trips and he may add more if there is demand. If not, stay tuned for next season – I know I’ll be waiting anxiously to book my next excursion! If you’ve always wanted to go on a whale watching adventure, I highly recommend Provincetown Whales. If you’ve taken a whale watching trip in the past and were disappointed, I highly recommend Provincetown  Whales. If you’ve never thought about taking a whale watching trip, I urge you to try something new. You will thank me :)
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Vegan Power 50k

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After waking up at 3:30 I arrived at Pittsfield State Forest around 6 am Saturday morning with great energy. The weather was perfect, I was surrounded by vegan runners, and most motivating – I woke up seeing $1,325 out of $1,500 raised on my GoFundMe page. No matter what the day would bring, I was running this for Scott Spitz.

After recovering from an extremely debilitating surgery to remove the cancer that has invaded his stomach he has been working hard and showing extreme resilience & persistence through 17 infusions and endless side effects from the drugs being pumped into his body. Running is still his main passion and he has continued to run as much as he can throughout this experience. He is now preparing for his 2nd major surgery in hopes that it will restore his body back to where he was physically before this nasty diagnosis was thrown at him.
scott hospitalBoth Scott and I are so very grateful for the outpouring of generosity our friends have shown. For any of you runners out there, don’t forget the More Fire Benefit Runs taking place in Indy, Syracuse, and Boston in August. We’re in the process of gathering some great giveaways as we come together to run in solidarity with our brother Scott before his surgery. I will be attending the Syracuse edition and I hope to see you there!
More Fire SyracuseOnto the race…we lined up at the start as race directors Ana Wolf and Michael Menard welcomed us and shared words of encouragement before we were sent off for six 5-and-some-change mile loops through the park.

VP50k start

Photo credit Ben Kimball

Loop 1 - After a countdown to the start we were sent off into the woods. Niko Viglione, Shaun Evans and I went off the front into the beginning climbs of the course. We were going along at a smooth, controlled pace and it felt great. Three vegans from NY, chatting away, making the miles tick by quickly and effortlessly. We finished loop 1 in 42:20.

Loop 2 - Another loop with the frontrunners. I was telling myself that this was just like a training run with friends. On loop 2 we learned about Shaun’s awesome adventure he’s planning with his 8-year old son Shamus – they will run 3,186 miles across the country next year – Shaun pushing Shamus in his “running chariot”. Be sure to check out this amazing family as they raise money for Ainsley’s Angels - to promote involvement and active lifestyles for children with disabilities. Inspirational stuff! I came through loop 2 in 42:09. Off to a great start!

Loop 3 - At one point Shaun asked if I was hanging with them, to which I responded that I didn’t think I would be able to. The first 2 loops felt great but they were running strong, and with 4 more loops to go I was already feeling fatigue that I wasn’t expecting this early on. The guys went off ahead while I settled into a lonely pace. Loop 3 – 44:48.

Loop 4 - I was happy to hit the halfway point at 2:08:57 and was hoping I could keep up the pace for the 2nd half. Still running alone, I did my best to keep my stride but I definitely felt it slipping. I was also feeling overheated which I wasn’t expecting. The temps weren’t very high and we saw little sun during each loop, but I felt like the humidity was really getting to me. Seeing all these shirtless runners was making me want to strip off my own, but I was running in my Strong Hearts Vegan Power top and I was pulling the strength from my team. As expected, the mud pits on the loop were getting progressively sloppier as the runners passed through them time and time again. Mud is definitely fun, but you could feel every twinge of instability as you’re passing through them. Finishing lap 4 in 49:41, I knew I was in trouble.

Photo credit Ben Kimball

Photo credit Ben Kimball

Loop 5 - by far my worst loop. I was breaking down both physically and mentally. I felt like all injuries from my past were flaring up, and every body part was yelling at me. The negative thoughts were creeping in big time – mainly that I didn’t prepare for this race as I should have. Although this race was more about gauging my fitness, I was fully expecting to better my time from October’s Blues Cruise 50k. At this point I knew this wasn’t happening – not even close. Just push forward.

The benefit of a 6 loop course is the amount of support you receive. There was the main aid station at the start of every loop, and another one halfway through the loop that you passed twice, giving you 3 opportunities for nutrition and hydration on each loop. I had gone back and forth about whether or not I should carry fluids. I am a heavy drinker when I run – that is for sure! In my mind the weather and the amount of course aid gave me the freedom to run without carrying anything which was enticing. Just in case, I had a hand-held bottle waiting at the aid station to fill if I felt like I needed it late in the race. Truth is, I needed it. But I was so focused on trying to power through this the thought of having to obtain and carry one seemed so cumbersome.

I had been eating Clif Bloks and fruit during the race and decided on a gel to fuel the final loop. I had been experiencing some hand numbness for 2 loops now which is part of why I didn’t want to deal with a handheld bottle. I put the gel in my mouth to rip off the top only to find that I couldn’t grasp the gel hard enough to pull. Uh oh. This was not helpful. I kept at it and finally got it open and down. I finished loop 5 in 52:33 – over 10 minutes slower than loop 1!

Loop 6 - as miserable as I felt during loop 5, the fact that I was starting my last loop gave me what I thought was a last boost of energy. I was walking the hills like I did in the prior 2 loops – looking to conserve whatever energy I had. I was really starting to feel overheated and a little loopy, cranky, and all that fun stuff. I did my normal check – recited my address and phone number to myself to be sure I was “okay”. When I arrived at the midway aid station some Endurolytes were offered to me. Brilliant! Why wasn’t I thinking of this earlier? I swear I left all common sense somewhere on that course during loop 4…

I continued on my way and suddenly felt very nauseous. Great – the Endurolytes would be wasted. The wave passed and I was fine – just looking forward to getting back to that aid station for more liquids – I was parched! Just as the table was coming into sight, my right hamstring seized. What? I haven’t had cramping problems in years! It stopped me in my tracks and I think a few expletives flew. Obviously this wasn’t going to stop me, but it would surely slow me down when all I wanted to do was cross that finish line and call it a day. I started to walk but it wasn’t going well as I drug my right leg behind me. Within a few steps it was starting to work itself out and before long it loosened so that I could run again. Phew!

For the rest of the final loop I was feeling great. Mentally that is – not physically ;) Although those last miles seemed to be growing by the minute I knew that once I made that final road crossing back to the start line I would be finished! Although this final loop felt better than the previous, a time of 58:05 was showing how badly I had crashed. I finished the race in 4:48:36 which placed me as 1st overall female and 5th overall for the day.

VP50k finish

Photo credit Casey Nelson

Despite feeling totally spent at the end it was a great day of racing with wonderful people. Every race is a learning experience. And any day I get to race is a great day. I was hurting but happy. Time to enjoy some of the all vegan post-race food – yum! After a little recovery of course ;)

Let me just sleep this off for a minute

Let me just sleep this off for a minute

Ana and Michael nailed it – the course was great and perfectly marked. The aid stations were well-stocked with smiling, helpful volunteers. Best of all – between the race entries and one competitor who was fundraising on her own, over $2,500 was raised for Farm Sanctuary! Win!

I know one thing for sure – next year this race will at least double in attendance. With talks of adding a 25k option they will be sure to draw even more competitors to the area. Be sure to check it out – I know I plan on returning.

This one was for you Scott. May you tackle this surgery with the strength and mental attitude that has brought you this far in your journey. I’ll see you at the start line next year. Strong Hearts to the Front!