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!

 

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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: