#Power2Push – Run Across America

mapI met Shaun Evans last June at the inaugural Vegan Power 50k. As I held on for the first 2 loops I quickly learned how amazing this man is – not only as a runner but also as a father. I was in awe as he told his story and his plans for the summer of 2015. In 65 days his family will cover 3,205 miles – they started in Washington and will complete their journey in New York City. I am honored to have met him and now I’m even more excited as I watch his family traverse the United States spreading love, hope, and the message of inclusion each and every day.  On July 3rd Shamus kicked off the adventure by taking the first steps out of the Pacific Ocean.

Shamus kicking off the journey in the Pacific Ocean

The journey begins with Shamus taking the 1st steps from the Pacific Ocean

The family’s goal is to reach Citi Field in New York on September 1st. I want to share their story with you in case you have not yet heard about the Evans’ family – I invite you to follow along by following their Facebook page and if you are inspired donate to the cause for which they are raising funds, Ainsley’s Angels. Currently they are donating 25 running chariots but the requests keep rolling in! With each chair costing $1,000 any donations will help substantially.

The Evans' family "home" for the summer - they named her Peggy :)

The Evans’ family “home” for the summer – they named her Peggy :)

Shaun and his wife Nichole live in upstate NY where they are raising their 2 sons, Shamus (9), and Simon (7). Shamus was born with cerebral palsy and as a result he relies on a wheelchair as his primary means of mobility. Shaun has been an avid runner and in 2013, with the help of Ainsley’s Angels, Shamus was able to obtain a running chariot that enabled him to participate in running events and races with his dad. That August the duo competed in a 6 hour ultra marathon completing 45 miles. Together they won this event – Shamus pulling Shaun along with his enthusiasm. After this event Shamus developed the idea that if he and his dad ran that distance every day of his summer vacation they could make it about 3,000 miles. After his parents helped him calculate this distance he asked how far 3,000 miles could take them. Shaun and Nichole showed him a map of the USA and they could see the “lightbulb moment”. Shamus’ mission to run across the USA was born. To further his idea, Shamus said to his dad “when we run across the country, we should donate chariots to other kids like me so they can feel what it is like to run and know what it’s like to have the wind in their faces.” Shaun was sold and the training and planning began!

Shaun and Shamus - a strong team!

Shaun and Shamus – a strong team!

Last night ended in Midland, SD and today they will run to Presho, SD where their total mileage will be about 1600 in 28 days! Their next chair presentation will be in Sioux Falls, SD on August 3rd with another on August 4th in Worthington, MN. These boys are flying! I had a chance to check in with Shaun and his family to see how their journey is progressing.

You’ve been putting in high mileage daily and looking super-strong – have you encountered any challenges? Running at elevation up to 9,000 feet sapped my energy and I was working to stay hydrated.  We have also been running in some hot weather (mid to high 90’s or even 100+) by the time we finish each day so we use lots of sunscreen.  I drink nearly a case of water every day!  Consuming enough calories has also been challenging at times balancing getting enough fuel and avoiding feeling bloated.  Fatigue has also been setting in so when we finish our daily mileage I try to balance getting enough rest with spending some time with the family and occasionally taking in a few sites (Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, Lewis and Clark Caverns, Space Needle)

If you hit any tough spots in your day, what helps you get through them?  Without a doubt Shamus pulls me through the tough spots.  I also have an amazing pit crew in my wife Nichole, Simon, and Shamus who keep me fueled, hydrated and upbeat.  Nichole does an amazing job preparing all my food and drinks, taking care of the boys and keeping them entertained (when one isn’t on the road with me in the chair), setting up camp, breaking down camp, etc day after day after day!  In addition, I have the kids along the way that are receiving our chair donations to pull me along and inspire me to keep hitting my daily goals of mileage.

Evans Family Strong!

Evans Family Strong!

What has been the most rewarding part of your run so far? Donating the chairs is what the mission is all about and seeing the joy in the child’s and their family’s faces is the ultimate reward, as is seeing Shamus light up when we get going fast.  As far as running rewards, Running up the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming and feeling strong running at 9000’+  I knew then that all of my training, simulating altitude, and putting in tons of miles leading up to this summer had paid off.  The view throughout the mountains was incredible!

What are you eating to fuel your runs while on the road? Nichole makes me a lot of shakes.  In the beginning I was eating a lot of simple carbs (pretzels, breads, bagels, etc but my mouth was getting sores so we have switched to more liquids.  The shakes consist of healthy fats (coconut oil, avocado) with a mix of vegan protein supplements(Vega) vegan Shakeology, and mixes of various fruits and vegetables with almond milk.  I have also been fortunate to have LARABAR as a sponsor so I consume bars or Renola pre run, on the run, and post run for good clean fuel.

What has been your favorite food to refuel?  I love Peanut butter so I often cover LARABARs in peanut butter and raisins and eat those with my smoothies

I would love to hear from Shamus – what is his favorite part of the journey so far? And is there anything he is looking forward to seeing or doing?  Shamus loved visiting the Space Needle in Seattle (He loves going up tall buildings and is the thrill seeker of the family, loves roller coasters, water parks, etc).  He also enjoyed visiting Yellowstone, likes running through the little towns, visiting with the people, stopping into restaurants, and telling our story.  He also said he loves the chair presentations and giving the chairs as gifts to other kids.  He also loved Mt Rushmore.

Shaun and Shamus finishing a run

Shaun and Shamus finishing a run

And Simon sometimes joins you right? What is his favorite part?  Simon likes to read on the run (while I run he brings his books.  He read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and is now working on the 5th book as well as a biography about Teddy Roosevelt and The Isle of the Lost.  He loved visiting Mt Rushmore in South Dakota and the Hot Springs in Wyoming.  He and I have seen some great sites while running including an antelope jumping over a 6 foot fence right in front of us…he spotted the antelope as we ran through rural Wyoming, and pointed it out to me, we then watched it jump together.

Shaun running with Simon

Shaun running with Simon

What do you think is the biggest misconception about children who face mobility challenges? oftentimes people look at Shamus in a wheelchair and immediately jump to the conclusion that he also has cognitive limitations.  Sometimes they speak to him like he is a baby.  While children with mobility limitations or communication limitations MAY have cognitive impairments it is not always the case.  Shamus and lots of other kids out there dream BIG and we aim to help them to achieve those goals and dreams.

Your mission is very clear. With a brief statement, tell me what you would like everyone to learn from your run across the US?  Our goal is for individuals with disabilities, physical or otherwise, to be included and involved in life as fully as possible.  We aim to provide equipment to individuals to allow them to be active participants in road races, triathlons and other sports.  We also are seeking individuals who want to help us spread the mission or provide legs for individuals with disabilities to become Angels with Ainsley’s Angels of America

What an inspiring family and amazing cause! Best of luck as you continue to strengthen your bonds and create memories that will last a lifetime – not just for your family but for the countless lives you are touching along the way!

I look forward to their daily updates to track the progress they are making and to see the children they are presenting chairs to along their route. I know we can all use some positivity and inspiration in our daily news feed! If you wish to follow along here is where you can find them:

Facebook
Instagram
Twitter

To make a donation towards the purchase of a running chariot for a child whose wish is to experience the exhilaration of running, visit their crowdrise site.

#Power2Push #TogetherWeShall #RollWithTheWind #AcrossAmerica #RunAcrossAmerica

#TrailsRoc 0SPF – a humbling day

Gathering for the start. Photo credit: Ben

Gathering for the start. Photo credit: Ben

When Eric Eagan of #TrailsRoc invited me back to run the 0SPF 1/2 marathon trail race in Victor New York it didn’t take much twisting of my arm. I had a great time last year – the trails are well-maintained, the terrain offers a little bit of everything, and the race crew and volunteers make you feel like family. And yes, when you can go to The Red Fern in Rochester for a post-race meal…it’s a no-brainer! This year fellow Strong Hearts Vegan Power teammate Sean Scott joined me which was an added bonus!

Last year I was able to take the win and a new course record after racing the 2 previous weekends. I was fully prepared to beat last year’s time – this year I had almost a full month off from racing and with this race falling in the middle of a new build phase I was feeling strong! Perhaps I felt too confident because I failed to focus on some key components. So the race turned into a humbling experience – one that is needed from time to time to remind you that races don’t always go as planned, even when you go into it feeling 100%.

When we arrived in Victor the skies had cleared and the sun was shining bright! Turns out some pretty crazy storms greeted them early in the morning making the #TrailsRoc crew work extra hard to ensure the trails were ready for the racers. But along with those clearing skies and bright sun came humidity. What is the #1 thing I always pay attention to the week leading up to a race? The weather! Especially where heat is concerned. I can never guarantee how I will fare on a hot day but I can at least take some important steps to prep my body. Leading up to 0SPF I knew that there was a chance of storms, but I never even bothered to look at the temps and consider that this could be a prime condition for high humidity. I guess I figured the race was short enough that it wouldn’t matter. When we slip in our planning we are quickly reminded of it :)

In fact, when the race started I still didn’t think I would have an issue. Talk about being over-confident! In the first mile I was feeling overheated but we were also exposed to the sun for most of it and I knew soon enough I would be in the shelter of the trees, settled into my pace, and my body would calm down. By mile 2 my face felt very flushed and my head was throbbing like it was going to explode. Mile 3 came and I had to succumb to walking runnable hills – not because my legs were failing me but because running up them caused my temps to soar even higher. I was stepping off to let people pass me by this point – there was a lot of single track and I felt bad holding people back. I played my usual game when things aren’t going well and convinced myself that I would reach a point where things would improve and I would feel like myself again. My first point was 3 miles but obviously that had passed with no improvement.

Photo credit: Mike Lesher

Photo credit: Mike Lesher

I then told myself that after the turnaround I would feel great and negative split the race. Okay, sometimes the self-talk can be a little too far-fetched ;) I was able to hit the turn-around still in 2nd place but the next few females were not far behind. Hitting those hills on the return I was close to crawling – I actually doubted my ability to walk up the steep ones as I was feeling a little dizzy. I filled my Inov-8 Race Ultra Vest with 1.5 liters of water thinking this would be more than enough for 2 hours of racing but it was draining quick. There were aid stations on the course but they did not provide cups (and the racers were well aware of this – thank you #TrailsRoc for avoiding unneccessary waste!) I knew that with my pack I would not need to stop for water but I now realize that in hot races I rely on dumping water over my head at every opportunity. I could have very easily packed my collapsible cup provided to all athletes at the Vegan Power 50k and solved this problem very easily. Another lesson learned!

I arrived at an aid station and the wonderful volunteers offered ice. I didn’t have to think twice about stopping for some! They were kind enough to shove a huge chunk down the front of my shirt and it felt amazing. At this point I was walking and jogging whenever I felt the urge. My GPS sounded off the 9 mile mark and I laughed at how much further I still had to go at this pace. Yes I laughed – at this point I was totally fine with how my day was going. No one ever wants to have a bad race but once it goes wrong there is nothing left to do but chalk it up as another learning experience! My finishing time was over 15 minutes slower than last year. That’s over a minute per mile slower! OOF!

Not a total loss though because I finished the race (in 5th place), I got to enjoy the company of some awesome runners, and you better believe I still had that post-race meal at The Red Fern – rainbow sprinkle donut sundae and all :) And it snapped me back into race mode – or more importantly race preparation mode. With Escarpment coming up this weekend you better believe I am prepping for heat and humidity!

Thanks again to Eric Eagan and the #TrailsRoc crew for inviting me and hosting a top-notch event! If you are not familiar with this group – check them out! They are a non-profit organization promoting trail running, maintenance and preservation. The proceeds from their events support the maintenance of trails and their conservation efforts – a worthy cause to all of us.

Website
Facebook
Twitter

And of course…here’s your race video to learn more about the group and the event!

All the good things

It’s been a great weekend – here are some highlights:

Scott Jurek’s Masterpiece
Of course we all know that Scott Jurek completed his thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail yesterday in record time – he now owns the FKT (fastest known time). He completed 2,160 miles in 46 days, 8 hours and 8 minutes. Incredible! The finals days had been described as “a nail biter” and people said they were “at the edge of my seat” as they tracked his journey. I also saw plenty of “I don’t think he’s going to make it” and “there’s no way he can make it.” Psshhh. For those of us who followed Scott Jurek prior to this epic adventure we knew that when the going gets tough, that is when Scott shines. There was no way he was not going to break the record. There is a lot we can learn from him – from his mental toughness and never-give-up attitude to his strong determination to chase his dream. I hope that everyone is inspired to set their own goal and work like crazy to achieve it. He is an amazing athlete with a race resume that cannot be touched. Congrats Scott!

Photo taken from Scott Jurek's Facebook page

Photo taken from Scott Jurek’s Facebook page

We are the Strongest Hearts
The much-anticipated video has been posted! Strongest Hearts creates a web series highlighting vegan athletes. There are plenty of great videos to check out that are informative and fun :) The Strongest Hearts crew joined Team Strong Hearts Vegan Power at this year’s Cape Cod Ragnar to document our adventure. Here is the result:

Thank you Strongest Hearts for spending time with us and for showing the world what vegan athletes are capable of.
strongest hearts

Personal Update
Today starts week 2 of my build to Powerman Zofingen in September and I couldn’t feel better – both mentally and physically. Mentally it’s great to be focusing on one race again. Racing American Zofingen long course, Cayuga Trails 50 miler, Eagleman Ironman 70.3, and Vegan Power 50k back-to-back was challenging and exciting, but also tough in more ways than one. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to figure out how to mesh my training for these different events, and I enjoyed the process of trying to recover and switch gears completely in a short amount of time. It was definitely a learning experience and most of all I loved proving to myself that I could handle it. However the result was that I went into each race not in top form as I wasn’t able to train solely for any of them.

My mileage going into the 50 miler was nowhere near what it should have been. While working a full-time job there was no way to hit the mileage needed to be competitive in that field when I had to work on hitting the minimum volume I needed on the bike as well. I relied on my bike training to make up for the lack of running mileage but it cannot replace the time on your feet. The result was that I held 2nd place for 33 miles before barely hanging on to 4th to finish. At Eagleman my swim was horrendous, and while this was nothing new for me I don’t want to even admit how little swim training I did before the race. When swimming was the smallest portion of all of the racing I was doing, it definitely got pushed aside…a lot. By the time I got to the 50 k I knew that I would be fine volume-wise but I think what drained me the most was racing in crazy heat at Eagleman only 6 days prior. I was happy to be finished and onto a 2 week break with minimal training.

And now I am happy to be following a strict plan leading up to Powerman Zofingen. I thrive on regimented training and without having to juggle, second-guess, make changes on the fly I can simply put my head down and do what I do best – train! I have 2 trail races coming up in the next 2 weekends but they will be more for fun. I am 100% working towards Switzerland now – a bucket list race for me and a World Championship. I feel recharged and ready to go!

I hope everyone else is having a great season of training and racing with some goals to look forward to!

Scott Jurek’s #AT Appalachian Trail #FKT attempt

This post needs little introduction as most in the running community are aware that Scott Jurek, who is known as one of the greatest ultrarunners of all time, is currently attempting his most ambitious adventure yet – he is aiming for the FKT (fastest known time) on the Appalachian trail. He is running the 2,160 mile trail from Georgia to Maine. As of this post he is in New Hampshire and closing in on the record.

A recent debate has sparked due to a comment made by another accomplished ultrarunner, Marshall Ulrich, on Facebook:

ulrich

“Diet is everything, I make no bones about saying Vegan and multiday doesn’t work, many of us discovered this long ago adventure racing, mountaineering and recently running across America, 3063 miles in 52 days, losing only 4 pounds eating anything and everything that my body told me to. Scott is losing muscle mass and has no real food (fats and proteins) to replace it. Having said that, I wish Scott all the luck in the world and I consider him a good friend. p.s. I used to be a vegetarian YEARS ago.”

As he argued his stance throughout the thread he becomes more insulting and you will start to see why it caused friction. While I realize this was probably an attention-grab and I am only giving him more attention by posting my thoughts, I would like to share some of my views as this is obviously a topic I care about. Marshall was sharing his opinion and I support that. However I find the argument both laughable and sad. Laughable because while he feels that a vegan diet doesn’t work, vegan athletes will go about their business training and racing and proving people like Marshall wrong. Sad because there are still people out there who are completely misinformed. Here are some of my opinions on the topic:

1) As I mentioned above Marshall’s remarks reflect his opinion and he is entitled to that. However in his responses to some of the comments made he is citing his opinion as fact rather than evidence-based findings. I feel that in order to have a meaningful discussion about the topic you should do some research first.

2) He lost credibility with me simply by saying “Scott is losing muscle mass and has no real food (fats and proteins) to replace it.” If a plant-based diet doesn’t consist of “real food” I must be thoroughly confused…

3) Marshall mentions that during his Run Across America he lost only four pounds. That is great for him! He is judging Scott’s health based on a picture. While I do not intend to do the same, I did search for multiple pictures of Marshall and it is my opinion that he has a different body type than Scott. Comparing how Scott’s body handles a multi-day event to how his own body fared would be like comparing myself to Shalane Flanagan.

3) Marshall ran across the US on roads. This is an amazing accomplishment and I applaud him. I am not in any way downplaying his athleticism. However Scott is running the Appalachian Trail which arguably produces a different amount of wear on the body. So again this is like comparing apples to oranges. I don’t think I need to explain this any further.

4) I find it disappointing that Marshall felt the need to make this comment during Scott’s run. Scott is not only tackling a major goal and dream of his but he is also crushing it! He’s a fellow athlete – why not show support and keep your negative comments to yourself? To me being a professional athlete isn’t only about your accomplishments, but how you conduct yourself – how you treat your fellow athletes and fans. I feel like these comments are in bad taste.

5) I find it odd that the focus is on his vegan diet and not a question of “is he eating enough?” Newsflash: you can get enough calories/fat/protein on a vegan diet! Are we seriously still having this discussion? That argument has been squashed long ago. Why are we fixating on it?

6) Finally, what I will never, ever understand is why anyone feels the need to bash the vegan lifestyle. We are not hurting anyone with our choices. Our actions come from compassion – compassion to animals that we view as fellow beings who deserve our respect, and compassion for our environment that we wish to protect.

And with that I wish Scott continued success on his journey. I think everyone can agree that it is awesome to witness what he is accomplishing – vegan or not. I also look forward to watching Team USA at the Women’s World Cup Final tonight as I support all fellow athletes who exemplify passion for their sport, determination, and talent.

I would love to hear your thoughts :)

VEGAN POWER 50K

VP50k15_captionLast June I raced the inaugural Vegan Power 50k (how could I pass on this event?) and finished 1st female overall. The award for this finish was pretty sweet – a 1 night stay at the nearby Red Robin Song Guesthouse. Since it is located a 1/2 hour from Pittsfield State Forest where the race takes place, why not stay there the night before this year’s race? I knew it was a vegan bed & breakfast, an animal sanctuary, and a beaver rescue. Other than that I had not heard anything about it and was excited to check it out. Now that I’ve experienced it, the actual “race” part of this report will have to wait as I tell you just how awesome it was!
RedRobin_AnimalSanctuary_Logo_sm-300x228Red Robin Song Animal Sanctuary is located on a remote back road in West Lebanon, NY nestled on 85 acres of land. The house is beautiful, inside and out. They have 3 guest rooms that can be reserved – each very comfortable and tidy. We had the Pelican’s Roost.

Our cozy room

Our cozy room

Jeff and Lisa are as friendly as can be – they are super-accommodating and happy to share their beautiful haven with their guests. After showing us around the house we took our dinner outside to sit at one of the picnic tables surrounded by animal enclosures. It was hard to focus on eating when I wanted to run around like a little kid visiting all of the animals who were anxious for attention from these new guests. I spent some time getting to know the donkey, goats, sheep, and of course…CATS!! Then I wanted to learn more about the beavers, and Lisa was more than happy to share.
donkey goatSome interesting facts I learned about beavers:
1) beaver babies are raised by their parents for 2-3 years, which is why rehab is very important. Most of the beavers they receive are orphans turned over by trappers. It turns out beaver fur is still a hot commodity (seriously people?!?). Some trappers turn the babies over to rehabbers. I thought this was odd but it makes sense – they want the babies to be raised and returned to the wild so that they can be trapped again as adults :(
2) beavers are territorial and only 1 beaver family will occupy a body of water.
3) beavers cannot be released over state lines. NY beavers must stay in NY. So along with the two statements above, finding locations to release beavers proves to be difficult. If anyone in NY has water on their property and would like to host a beaver family, please get in touch with Jeff and Lisa. Private property is the preference so that the released beavers won’t find themselves in a trap again.

Lisa showed us a pond on their property where 2 of their beavers (Whittle & Timber)were released and had just started their own family. She brought them some apples in hopes that they would come on shore and we could meet them. Since they already ate and were unsure of these new strangers standing nearby we only saw them swimming around to check us out. Still very cool! As if I wasn’t already in love with everything about this place we returned to the house to see Jeff cradling a 7 week old beaver in a towel in his arms. That baby made the cutest noises!

Not the one we saw, but one of their equally adorable babies

Not the one we saw, but one of their equally adorable babies

Okay before I get to the actual race, let me just say that I was pleasantly surprised when I wandered downstairs at 4:30 am on race morning to find that Jeff & Lisa were already in the kitchen preparing an abundance of fresh fruit and oatmeal, which appeared to be the breakfast of choice for all of us (the other 2 rooms housed racers as well). Bananas, mangoes, grapes, blueberries and strawberries filled the table – talk about hospitality! I think they were a little disappointed that they wouldn’t be preparing their standard vegan breakfast extravaganza for us, but that’s all the more reason to go back for another visit :)

Onto the race…
One of the aspects of ultra/trail running that people love is the feeling of community. At the Vegan Power Ultra that sense of community is ten-fold when we all share the common interest of racing for a cause dear to our hearts. We arrived at Pittsfield State Forest bright and early and I was already excited to start seeing familiar faces. Race directors Ana, Mike and Jake were all smiles with warm welcomes as they know almost every runner by name. I was excited to see returning friends that I met at last year’s race along with fellow Strong Hearts Vegan Power teammates who joined this time around. And of course my circle of friends expands as I meet new racers.

As for the race itself, I’ll try to keep it brief. I could tell during the first lap – the first mile even – that it was an off day for me. My whole body felt fatigued, I didn’t feel smooth, and things just weren’t clicking. It was awesome to run that first mile with friend and fellow Strong Hearts Run Club teammate Jason Mintz who later went on to win the race! After mile 3 I convinced myself that it was just going to take a bit longer for me to warm up today due to the racing I’ve been doing and lack of training in between. This seemed to work temporarily and I finished loop 1 just under my target time of :45. As soon as I started loop 2 I realized I was fooling myself with this “warm-up” theory, and that today would be about endurance and mental focus. The focus was to just keep moving forward, preferably as fast as I could manage :) For a good laugh, my lackluster performance was pointed out to me on loop 3 when an athlete passed me and said “C’mon…I’m never supposed to see you during a race. Unless you’re lapping me like you did last year.” Touche.

Photo credit: Ben Kimball/Northeast Race Photo

Photo credit: Ben Kimball/Northeast Race Photo

Each loop got consecutively slower but I still managed to defend my title as first overall female – with a time quite a bit slower than last year. Now came the real treat of the day – cheering on and hanging out with friends. And of course the amazing post-race vegan feast. I’m no stranger to Baba Louie’s delicious pizza and they kept us well-stocked!

In addition to this being an awesome race in a great location with amazing people who know how to do it right, the proceeds from the race go to Catskill Animal Sanctuary. In return they provided some sweet awards for the overall finishers: a one night stay at their guesthouse, a 1-year family membership, copies of the Director’s two books: Where the Blind Horse Sings and Animal Camp, and a Catskill Animal Sanctuary water bottle :)

All in all it was a perfect day. The race nearly doubled in size from last year and I’m sure it will continue to grow each year. You better believe I will be back!

 

Ironman 70.3 Eagleman – A goal missed isn’t always a failure

emanlogoOn Saturday as I picked up my packet and racked my bike in the sweltering heat of Cambridge, MD I definitely questioned why I had chosen to do this race. It is well-known for brutal conditions – heat being the number 1 offender. Back in the day I used to love racing in the heat – did I really think I was going to enjoy it this time around? Sunday’s forecast looked much better than today’s though – I believe the high was set to be 84 with possible storms, meaning possible overcast skies. Even though 84 was still hot these conditions would be mild by Eagleman standards. So I focused on why I chose this race.

I’ve done Eagleman twice in the past. It was my first 70.3 distance back in 2005 – when the race was organized by the now defunct Columbia Triathlon Association and you hoped to earn the coveted bronze eagle head. I snagged one that year – for the 1st Overall Female 1st Timer. You don’t see awards like that anymore!

My triathlon career started in MD in 2004 and I have done multiple races in Cambridge. I ran my first marathon in Cambridge in 2005 as a relay runner for Chesapeakeman (now Ironman Maryland). Coming back to race Eagleman this year was partially a nostalgic decision. My mom now resides on the Eastern Shore as well so it was also a chance to spend some time with her in accommodations not too far from the race.

Race morning arrived and I was surprisingly calm. For once I was racing a 70.3 with little pressure put on myself. I was not looking to secure a slot to the Ironman 70.3 World Championship. I was not feeling 100% – not even close. I had strong doubts that I was fully recovered from the Cayuga Trails 50 two weeks prior. Sure I always aim for the best possible outcome and I was going to put my best effort out there but I did not have high expectations. This course does not play to my strengths – it is pancake flat on both the bike and the run. My goal for the day was ~ 4:45.

Despite driving to the race site on a dark rainy morning where the only light in the sky was from flashes of lightening, by the time I made it to the transition the skies were clear and the sun was making an appearance. I had an hour wait between the time transition closed and my wave went off so after a quick peek at the swim course I plopped myself down in the parking lot to wait. It was a non-wetsuit legal swim which I had been mentally preparing for all week. Long gone are the days where those words caused instant anxiety. I had my trusted TYR Torque Elite Swimskin – which may provide more mental assistance than actual advantage ;)

Swim
At last the women’s 35-39 age group wave was underway. The start was not super-aggressive which was a relief. I vowed to focus on settling into my pace from the get-go instead of going out too hard like I normally do. Not only did I accomplish this but I was feeling relaxed and actually in the mid-pack, which for me is a huge deal! After making the first turn it definitely looked like the outer buoys were a bit out of line. Not uncommon for a swim. The rules were to keep the buoys on your right so that’s how I swam. As we neared the next buoy I saw a few athletes cutting the course instead of swimming further out to go around the buoy. Frustrating, but oh well. By the next buoy I saw that practically the whole field was now cutting the course. I couldn’t hear any whistles from the swim marshals in the water like you usually do if someone is swimming off course. I guess I’m just a stickler and would rather be a good example to others rather than follow the flock. I’m not going to cut a course and ignore the rules simply because “everyone else is doing it”. One other girl from my wave came with me as we struggled to get around the buoy that was drifting further out as we approached. We both popped up seeming somewhat confused and she said “I thought we were supposed to keep the buoys on our right!” I confirmed that we were and we continued on. The swim into the finish felt like an eternity – the tide was strong and my poor swim ability was no match for it :) My watch confirmed this as I stood upon reaching the very shallow section far from the shore line. The long trudge to the beach made time tick by even faster.

A shallow swim exit. Photo credit: Zachary Rose

A shallow swim exit. Photo credit: Zachary Rose

Swim time – 46:48
Swim place – 30
(it’s okay that you’re laughing right now)

Bike
I was counting on the bike to be my strength today. I had major doubts on what my run could produce. With the little running I did between the 50 miler and this race my legs always felt very heavy. Therefore I avoided running at any effort and did the bare minimum in mileage hoping that when race day arrived the legs would be ready to go. I immediately felt good on the bike and attempted to settle into a steady pace. The bike course was very congested. And for a very long time. It wasn’t until the halfway point that it started to thin out slightly. Nutrition and hydration went as planned – with ~225 calories per hour, I drank both of my bottles on the bike throughout the course while also grabbing a bottle of water at each exchange to guzzle and squirt into my helmet and onto my body. I was slightly behind my goal bike split but I was happy with my effort considering what my legs had in the tank. I felt steady throughout the 56 miles and continued to pass females in my age group right through the end.

Photo credit: Zachary Rose

Photo credit: Zachary Rose

Bike time – 2:33:56
Bike place – 6
(When I got out onto the bike course I set a goal of passing 20 females in my age group. I knew I would need to pass more than that but I didn’t want to aim too high. I was fairly certain I was at 20 when I passed the 50 mile marker, so I then aimed to pass 1 girl per mile in the last 5. So close!)

Run
Now came the true test. The run is normally where I shine. Today it is where I melted. I was pleasantly surprised that my legs did not have that heavy, uncooperative feeling that I was dreading from the previous 2 weeks of training. What I did notice was how oppressive that heat felt as soon as I got off the bike. Was it really only 84?? And for those who have not experienced Eagleman, there is no shade on that run. I hit mile 1 at 7:17. A bit off pace but I told myself this was fine. It’s better to ease into this run. I would focus on keeping it under control until the turn-around and work to negative split the course. Time to fall into my aid station ritual:

– 2 cold sponges, squeeze over my head, place one down the front of my tri suit, the other down the back
– 2 cups of ice – one down the front of my tri suit, the other down the back
– 2 cups of water – 1 over my head and 1 to drink
– 1 more cup of ice to eat

Mile 2 was 7:12. Still doing okay. But damn that heat! I quickly realized that my idea to “slowly ease into” and “negative split” the run were laughable. Mile 3 – 7:33, mile 4 – 7:51, mile 5 – 8:06. You get the idea. It only gets worse from there. At this point I knew that my goal time was way out of reach and it was time to focus on finishing. The moment you realize you’re not going to reach your goal can be pretty mentally defeating. I am proud to say that today it wasn’t. I was just so focused on getting to that finish line I had no care of what place I would end up in. Perhaps it would’ve been harder to swallow if other athletes were out there crushing it, looking great and having a blast. But you didn’t see much of that. Sure some people looked better than others but we were all suffering together.

I made it to that finish line with a finish time of 5:07:31. Quite slower than my original goal time of 4:45, but the success came in finishing, and heading directly to that med tent all on my own :)
emanfinishRun time – 1:44:12
Run place – 3

I was shocked to find out that my effort earned 3rd in my age group. I was not shocked to find out that the actual temperature at the finish was 97 with a heat index of 123! It was tough to “cool down” after leaving the comforts the med tent provided so I didn’t stick around long. I declined a slot for the World Championship (that’s not my goal this year), grabbed my award, and loaded my burnt to a crisp body into the air conditioned car headed back to a cooler NY. No sense in delaying my taper for this weekend’s 50k :)
EmanDespite the tough conditions Eagleman is still a great race. You gotta give it to those volunteers – they are out there often longer than we are. They’re enduring the heat along with us, they’re getting sunburn like we are, but most importantly they are keeping us as safe as they can. With over 2,500 athletes on the course that is not an easy task. I tip my hat to all of the athletes who toughed it out, all of the spectators who stood by to cheer, and to the volunteers who make our experience a great one.

 

 

Cayuga Trails 50 – The highs outweigh the lows

Photo credit: Ron Heerkens

Photo credit: Ron Heerkens

What is the best way to race your first 50 miler? On a course that is equal parts challenging and stunning on a day where the weather is as close to perfect as you could wish for. I am known for paying zero attention to my surroundings when I race. I get into a zone and often when people ask me about a race course I have little recollection. The Cayuga Trails 50 course – that is a different story. You can’t help but notice the breathtaking scenery throughout this course. I am sure there is still a lot I missed but it was definitely a day where I felt lucky to be out there doing what I love in a magical place. It helps you through the rough patches for sure.

Photo credit: Ron Heerkens

Photo credit: Ron Heerkens

6 am

The start time for the race. While I was a bundle of nerves coming into this race I was also calmed by the notion that the longer the race distance, the more relaxed the start. Instead of trying to tame a racing heart I can just focus my mind on settling into my pace. It also helped having my two Jason’s lined up with me. Jason Mintz from Syracuse was kind enough to bring me on a training run to scope out the course in April. Jason Friedman is a training partner here in New Paltz. Both are very talented and experienced runners – both having raced Cayuga Trails previously. I was in good company.

The Course

We run two 25 mile “loops”. The loop is more of an out-and-back, so the best way to tackle this was to split it up into 4 sections. As you can see below, each section provided some steep climbs and descents!

Elevation Profile

Elevation Profile

Part 1

The first and 3rd sections were in my mind the most challenging. My plan was to run them conservatively – especially on loop 1. There was no point in me running the steep hills or the stairs (did I mention there are like, a million stairs? Yeah, I’m pretty sure it is a million). I also made it a point to take the descents conservatively too. This is a quad-bashing course and I wanted to save as much as I could to finish the longest race (and run) I’ve ever done. My main goal mentally in this race was not to worry about what other racers were doing. There was a list of very talented and experienced females on that start line and I had no business concerning myself with position. Within the first mile Amanda Basham passed me and it was actually a relief to know that I wasn’t going out too hard (so I thought). When she passed me again at mile 3 (I only passed her back because she stopped to tie her shoe) I gave her words of encouragement as I knew I would not see the back of her again over those next 47 miles. She was obviously strong and there to kick some a$$.

Water crossing #1 took me by surprise. Photo credit: Mountain Peak Ftiness

Water crossing #1 took me by surprise. Photo credit: Mountain Peak Ftiness

I was surprised at how quickly the race thinned out. It was already very lonely on the course. At this point I was wishing I had more people around me simply because there were times that I was questioning if I was on the right trail. At a few sections just as I was ready to stop and turn around I would see another pink marker. As I got closer to the turnaround another runner joined me and I was definitely pumped to have some company. Joe Murphy from NYC and I chatted for a few miles and I shared a gel with him since I had just one to spare. We were both looking to finish our first 50 milers today and he was on track to exceed his goal. Soon after the turnaround he pulled away from me and I was on my own again.

Running with Joe Murphy - Photo credit: Ron Heerkens

Running with Joe Murphy – Photo credit: Ron Heerkens

Part 2

Everything was going fine heading back to the start until around mile 20. Nothing significant happened but I noticed that I was feeling really beat up…already. I was expecting to feel this around mile 30-40, but 20 miles in was way too soon. My goal for the first loop was 4:00 – 4:10. I set this goal realizing that I am not a negative split racer. I wanted a decent but manageable first loop knowing that I would fall behind on the 2nd. Here I was not even at the end of the first loop wondering if the wheels were falling off already. Was my first loop goal too ambitious? Was this a result of not hitting my goal weekly training mileage at all this year? Was I not yet recovered from American Zofingen 2 weeks prior? All of these questions were running in my head as I was trying hard to avoid going into panic mode. My answer now is that it was probably a combination of all 3. I convinced myself that I just needed to finish this first loop and then things would turn around. I crossed the line at 4:06 – right on target but I didn’t even care about that goal anymore – I was now concerned with not crashing and burning.

Finishing Loop 1 - Photo credit: Mountain Peak Fitness

Finishing Loop 1 – Photo credit: Mountain Peak Fitness

Loop 1 fun stats: 4 bathroom stops, 1 bloody nose

Part 3

When I was coming into the finish/start I passed Amanda on her way back out. Her gap was what I thought it would be and she looked strong. As I was heading out onto my 2nd loop I saw the next female, and then the next 1, 2, 3…4. There they all were – the heavy hitters that I was expecting to dominate this race – all together and ready to pounce on this no-name multisport athlete who decided to try a 2nd attempt at a 50 mile race in the middle of what should be triathlon and duathlon season. Aha – here comes that “what am I even doing here moment?” Which starts the domino effect. I wasn’t expecting to podium at this race. Once I saw the lineup my goal became top 10. So seeing all of these girls right on my tail was not hard to swallow – it was the thought of being passed by them all at once ;) I would much rather be picked off one by one.

A better crossing the 2nd time around. Photo credit: Kate Paice-Froio

A better crossing the 2nd time around. Photo credit: Kate Paice-Froio

This 3rd section was rough. Really rough. As I was about to climb Lick Brook I turned around to see Jackie Palmer right behind me. I knew she was going to be a top contender and I was excited to see her opening up her race on loop 2. We both took it easy up the climb and at mile 33 she made her pass. It wasn’t long before she was out of sight. Mile 35 brought the next pass – Liz Gleason flew by looking strong and fresh. At this point I was in 4th place. I didn’t even mind being passed – I was happy to see someone having a good time and looking energetic. I was not.

Photo credit: Ron Heerkens

Photo credit: Ron Heerkens

Every weakness in my body from the strength/stability work I neglected recently felt magnified. Then there was the knee that I smashed at JFK last year which led to my demise. I took time off to let it heal, it did, and it hasn’t been an issue since. Now it hurt at the exact spot. Where was this coming from? I kept telling myself it was in my head. However most concerning is the one I can never shake – pain in my pelvis where I had my fractures, and twinges in my groin leading to it. I never have an easy time convincing myself that this pain is “all in my head.” So I started to panic even more. I remember saying out loud “what did you do to yourself?” I was imagining that I just put the rest of my season at risk by running this race. I made myself sick to my stomach. Yep – that pretty much sums up where my head was.

Most of us are probably familiar with the really dark place deep inside us where we sometimes need to go. I try to avoid going there but it was time. I tapped into that well – remembered why I am here and why I do this. And I knew not to stay here – just take what I need and get back out – if I stayed there I may not finish the race. At this point I was descending one of the steeper hills of the race and the downhills were hurting the most – sometimes reducing me to a hobble. Eventually I made it to the aid station at Buttermilk Falls – 1 more section to go!

Part 4

I don’t know exactly what happened but I felt like a new person climbing out of Buttermilk Falls. I think my body was happy to be going uphill instead of down, and mentally I was re-energized as it was the last portion of the race. Not that I was running any stronger at this point but the improvement I felt overall made it seem easier than that last section. At around mile 40 I heard someone behind me and turned around to see Karen Holland right on my tail. It was obvious she was next in line to pass me. This would put me in 5th place and that was totally acceptable to me. But I decided I should at least try to make it a challenge unlike the last 2. I started to pick up my effort and before long I didn’t see her behind me.

The Flower

At the top of Lick Brook I came across another female athlete who just tackled the climb. She handed me a purple flower and told me to take it for good luck. She said it had been given to her for good luck up the hill and it worked, so now she was passing it on to me. This was such a sweet gesture and I happily took it and thanked her. I didn’t realize at the time how much this flower would mean to me in my exhausted mental state :) I kept holding onto that flower even after it was totally wilted and falling apart. I convinced myself that if I let go of this lucky flower, I would most surely be passed.

Clenching the wilted flower in my left hand

Clenching the wilted flower in my left hand – Photo credit: Kate Paice-Froio

Once I hit the single digits of miles remaining I was feeling more and more energized. I was “running” up some spots that I had been walking the last time around. I was just so excited to finish this race. As I came off the trail and onto the park road it was time to make the u-turn onto the grass field which left you a 1/2 mile to the finish. After making the turn I looked across to see Karen was right there. She saw me too. I had a feeling this could be a battle to the finish so I needed to turn it up right now. I was running a sub-7 minute pace – desperate not to be passed in the last 1/2 mile. With about 100 meters to go I finally had the confidence to toss the flower and hit the finish line just 1 second under 8:52 in 4th place.

A familiar face, Jeff Merritt was also there to cheer me in.

A familiar face, Jeff Merritt was also there to cheer me in.

Finishing was a great feeling, not so much for my legs but for the rest of me. My crew was there – Jared, Kate, Suzie and Thad who spent hours chasing me around the course to cheer and take pictures. I cannot express how great it was to see their smiling faces every few miles! I was also greeted by my new friend Joe who had an amazing race, along with Jason Mintz who nailed his time goal and placed 13th overall. Jason Friedman had a PR for the day too. Success all around!

Loop 2 fun stats: 1 bathroom stop, 1 bloody nose

Post-race

Here is the progression of my thoughts during the hours after the race:

1) I don’t plan on racing another 50 miler for a long time.
2) Next time I race a 50 miler I’m going to make sure that I can devote my training to racing a 50 miler.
3) I can’t wait to race another 50 miler now that I have learned so much.

That is the excitement for me and what keeps me going. I am driven by the potential of doing something better. No matter what the outcome I am hungry for more. I really wish I could find a way to fit all of my race goals into my schedule. This season has already been a testament to how I can’t do it all and expect my best performance. As long as I am putting my all into it and having fun!

Ian Golden of Red Newt Racing put on a top-notch event. It was cool to have USL.tv providing live coverage and tracking for those following along at home. And the aid stations were well-run by the Finger Lakes Runners Club, Ironheart Racing crew, and my buddies from TrailsRoc.

Although I was 4th overall in the race, I was 3rd Overall for the USATF 50 Mile Trail Championships

Although I was 4th overall in the race, I was 3rd Overall for the USATF 50 Mile Trail Championships

I can now check a 50 miler off my list :) I know I will do another one sooner rather than later, but probably not this year. Next time I want to do it right. I want to make it my A race without having to prioritize other training and racing disciplines. Okay let’s be realistic, I want to at least try to devote my training towards my next 50. For now, it’s time to race an Ironman 70.3!

And of course another awesome race video courtesy of Jared: