Courmayeur–Champex-Lac–Chamonix


It’s been difficult to decide how to write a race report for CCC. On one hand the event is so amazing I don’t know how I could even do it justice through words. On the other, what came out of me on that day brought so much disappointment that it’s still hard to wrap my head around it. I don’t want to dwell on the bad and I hate excuses but I also feel that my memories of the good are clouded by the tug-of-war going on between my head and my heart for many of those hours. I could say something expected like “the tough days are when you learn the most about yourself” but that’s not the case. This wasn’t a test of my character or anything deep like that – it was simply an instance where shit goes wrong and you suck it up and deal with it through the end.

The only surprise of the day was that I couldn’t physically get what I expected out of myself. I shouldn’t be shocked based on how my body was feeling in the month leading up to the race. I managed to convince myself that by running less than half of my planned miles I would go into this race rested. That by avoiding hills my legs would be fresh for the mountains. And that by avoiding speedwork, well heck, I would just be fine. Stop stressing over the training and trust your body and your heart. Even after the race I believe all of that to be true. I needed my hip and pelvis to be “good enough” to race 101k and in my mind I was there. I knew that after the race I would pay dearly but honestly thought that I could race a solid effort and ignore the pain which is one of my strengths (or is that really a weakness?) to produce a performance I was proud of. So when my body responded the way it did I felt betrayed.

But that’s already too much whining. We all know what it feels like to be let down. Even if everything would’ve felt perfect on race day I still think I would’ve been humbled by those mountains. So let’s get out of my head and move on to the wonderful event that is Ultra Trail Mont-Blanc and all of its grand races. Many people have questions about this race so I will try to make this an informative race report.

Mandatory Gear

One thing that stands apart with the UTMB races is the extensive list of required gear. Luckily I was able to bounce my questions off race veteran Zach to see just how strict they are with the specifics of the gear. Turns out the answer is “very”. For example I had to buy 2 new torches (I now own FIVE) because the three I had are rechargeable. The requirement is for 2 torches with replacement batteries. I’m glad Zach gave me the heads up on that one because Amanda was turned away at gear check for that very reason (she was then also turned away because her emergency blanket was 1 inch short. 1 inch. Have you see the size of this girl? Way smaller than the average racer. So yes, they’re that strict). Another Zach tip – for waterproof gloves use medical gloves. The vinyl gloves were way lighter and took up much less space!

Once I had the required gear sorted it fit easily and comfortably into my new Ultimate Direction Hardrocker vest.You arrive at packet pickup with your full pack and at the first station they check your passport and print out the list of required gear with a random selection of 4 items that you need to show. From there, airport security style, you grab a bin to remove your 4 selected items for the next checkpoint. Mine were waterproof jacket, waterproof pants, long tights, and cell phone. Once you clear that checkpoint you retrieve your bib along with a 2nd chip. At the following station a volunteer attaches that 2nd chip to your pack. There is no switching packs during the race. Thanks to the excellent organization of this race I breezed right on through the registration process. However that was not the final stage of my gear check which I will get to in the next section.

Start Line

The start line is as epic as the videos portray. There is so much energy and excitement it’s tough to stay calm! For the CCC we are bussed to our start line in Courmayeur, Italy – another beautiful town! We were greeted with sunshine and mild temps – a welcome change to what was predicted for that morning. With over 2100 starters in this race they send you off in waves. I’ve heard stories about people getting into their corral over an hour before the start because of the crowding. Even in the elite corral it was difficult to get a good spot so it does pay to get into your corral early. While waiting in the corral 3 officials came to me for another gear check – this time I had to remove my pack and pull out all of my gear on the list to show them before they placed a sticker on my bib confirming my check. This was a random selection check and I of course had no issues with it, but I must admit that having to re-pack everything at the start line ratcheted up my anxiety a bit.

With fellow Syracuse runner Scott English in Courmayeur

Once we’re set free it’s an exciting run through the town before hitting the trails for our first climb of the day. The town is a steady stream of cheers and cowbells, and once we moved past the crowds I noticed…silence. Well – heavy breathing – but everyone was quietly focused on the task at hand as we were already climbing and would be without a break for the first 6 miles. There is no thinning out during the first climb to Tete de la Tronche. Once you hit the single track you climb at the pace that is set by those ahead of and behind you.

Those views though…

Before I summit the first climb, let me tell you about how amazing the scenery is. It’s a lot to handle really – you’re focused on your footing, what’s going on in front of you, yet you can’t help but look around to soak in some of the most amazing views I’ve ever seen. Am I really here? We then had some descending to conquer before a nice long stretch along the ridgeline which offered more breathtaking views as the helicopter was buzzing low to capture footage of the runners along this exposed stretch. We made our way down to the Arnouvaz aid station before heading out onto our second climb into Switzerland to the summit of Grand Col Ferret. The amazing views continued along this relentless climb. Partway up the climb a French runner had stepped off the trail and was visibly crying. I stopped to see if she needed anything (newsflash: by this time I already knew my day wasn’t going to shake out). I really just wanted to give her a hug – I was feeling her pain for sure.


Let’s not forget the weather.

About ¾ of the way up the climb those stunning views abruptly ended when we were suddenly socked in by a heavy fog. The temperatures plummeted and I went from hot to frozen in an instant. I remembered the warnings about putting on your gear as soon as this happened but I knew I had to be close to the summit. Upon arrival it was so incredibly windy and you could only see feet in front of you. There were medical stations at the top of each climb and this one offered a volunteer who was holding our gear as we struggled to put on jackets in those whipping winds. After what felt like minutes wrestling my jacket into submission I then fumbled to put gloves on my already frozen fingers before starting the descent. It would take a few miles before I got feeling back into my fingers. That was my first taste in how rapidly the weather would change throughout that course.


Compared to the UTMB runners I’d say we had it super-easy. But I can’t even count the number of times my arm warmers went up and down, and my jacket came off then back on. Into the later, pouring rain hours I would plan exactly what wardrobe changes I would make coming into the next aid station only to show up feeling indifferent, shrugging my shoulders, and pushing on wearing the exact same thing.

An hour before our start a text was sent letting us know that there would be a weather-related course change. For our final climb we would not be going all the way to the peak in Chamonix. I’m not ashamed to admit that with the day I was having I was not at all disappointed with the altered course.

Crew

There is plenty of aid stations and they’re very well stocked. Yes it’s true – there is an abundance of cheese and sausage at the aid stations. I guess people eat it?!?! I was happy to see bananas and watermelon to supplement my stash of food. I heard not-so-great things about the shuttles that transport your crew to the 3 stops where they are allowed to assist you so I was neither shocked nor upset when I arrived at Champex-Lac and couldn’t find Jeremy or Lauren. I looked around for a bit (it was a very busy station), casually filled my bottles, and then realized it was time to move on. It was 17k up and over the next climb where I would hopefully see Jeremy to replenish my Skratch drinks and nutrition needs.

Sure enough they were ready for me at the next stop as a crew member is allowed into the tent 10 minutes prior to your runner’s arrival. Jeremy rocked it – all of my gear was at the ready and he was full of positivity. It was a really lonely day out there so it was great to just see and talk to someone I knew! Even though the next stop was only 11k further (but up and over another climb) they planned to be there for me just in case. It was a complete downpour and only one person was allowed in the tent which meant Lauren had to wait outside. I definitely had some moments of guilt for what they were enduring for me. It is way easier to run in bad weather than it is to crew. I think I even told him they didn’t need to go to the finish line for me which he of course brushed off as nonsense. It’s not an easy race to crew when you have to navigate long bus rides. I’m pretty damn lucky to have had them there!

Ode to the Poles

I was never keen on the idea of using poles in a “running” race. Even after I broke down and bought them it was still struggle to train with them. I ended up relying on them way more than I ever could’ve imagined. They served me more as crutches – especially on those downhills. I’m not sure if I would’ve finished without them. If I had it would’ve tacked on a few more hours. I never want to use them again. At least I hope I never have to rely on them in that way again. But now I do see and respect their purpose. Especially at a race like CCC. Thank you Black Diamond Carbon Z Poles for carrying my unstable a$$ all around those mountains, and for taking a beating when I was really angry about my dependency upon you. After all that you only left 2 small bruises on my hands 😁

Always Have a Plan B

As I slogged my way up that first mountain my hope was already tumbling backwards behind me. Coming to terms with my Plan B was the best decision I could make – enjoy the experience and finish the race. Once you let go of your expectations (which was by far my toughest obstacle of the day) it frees your mind to focus and fully commit to your backup plan. Well look at that, maybe I did learn something from this race after all!

Merci Beaucoup!

My deepest gratitude goes to Jeremy and Lauren. Not only did they face some last-minute obstacles just to make it to France, but it’s a huge trip and time commitment for little ol’ me. I am humbled to have friends that are willing to give themselves so selflessly to my endeavors. I had door-to-door service before and after the race because of them. They walked 4 miles from Chamonix to my hotel in the middle of the night to retrieve the car and have it waiting for me at the finish line. Seeing them along the course gave me the push I needed. I will always be grateful that they were there for me in such a big way.

Another huge thank you goes to Altra. Everyone on that team is always looking out for me to make sure I have everything I need. My brand-spanking-new pretty blue King MT’s were sadly caked in mud (and manure?) by the end of the race but who cares what your shoes look like when they perform like champs! And thank you to the Altra France contingent for their hospitality.
Thank you Muir Energy for keeping me stocked in the cleanest and tastiest fuel for tackling mountains. I have 4 words: Passon Fruit. Pineapple. Banana. Seriously. There are many delicious flavors and I enjoy them all but I can’t get enough of that tropical cocktail.

Thank you Skratch Labs for keeping my electrolytes in check with flavors I crave all day long.

And many many thanks to each and every one of you who reached out to me in multiple ways throughout this trip. I was feeling the love for sure!

Now it’s time for a little break time off while I work out some issues. Only time will tell what’s next on my schedule but I can guarantee that I am hungry to get back out there and run the world!

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Boston Marathon Recap

Yes, I’m stubborn. This was evident on the day of the Boston Marathon. While I realized pretty early on that my sub-3 goal was slipping away I still tried up until the very end to reach it. I was feeling worse each mile after 20 but the thought never even crossed my mind to just back off and enjoy the ride. I knew I would regret it if I didn’t try. So much for all that hot air when I talked about how I wasn’t going to do anything stupid to reach my goal. I always like to think that I am a smarter racer after my heat stroke – that I pay more attention to my body while I’m racing. The Boston Marathon was a day of dancing right along that edge. I ran those last few miles scared and desperate. I wanted to enjoy the sights and the crowds but everything was a blur. I could only focus on that gigantic finish line that didn’t seem to get any closer. I couldn’t think to shut it down and take it easy – I wanted to cross that finish line as quickly as possible so I could finally succumb to the heat and cramps in my legs.

Here’s my attempt at a brief synopsis of race day:

Strategy: I had a pretty loose race plan – I wanted to run the first half conservatively, run a steady 8 miles after that, and once I hit mile 21 I would crank out hard miles to the finish. What I learned is that the first 10k was really tough to gauge. You’re caught up in the crowds making it hard to find and hold a steady pace. A lot of bobbing and weaving, slowing down and surging into open pockets. I took advantage of this to keep myself from going too fast which I’ve heard is often the case. I also took advantage of this time to deliver high-fives to many of the spectators holding out their hands. I know for a fact I’ve never slapped so many hands! I was really looking to have a true Boston experience – I wasn’t even paying attention to my pace or splits, and I was okay with this.

When I hit the ½ marathon mark in 1:28:09 I was slightly behind where I wanted to be. With the rising temps I could tell it was going to be hard to make up the time I failed to bank early on. I knew I was going to need to focus on running strong up those “hills”, but I didn’t, and my pace was creeping steadily above 7:00. Although Heartbreak Hill was my slowest mile of the race, I didn’t find the hill to be nearly as bad as people described it. However when I got to the top I went from overheated to dizzy, and this is where I needed to “turn it on”. I will get to the finish after the highlights…

Aid stations: They are tough to navigate. I could tell right away that I would need to get fluids at every mile. So this meant a substantial slow down due to the crowds at the aid stations, but well worth it to dump a few cups over me each time. At the first aid station the guy in front of me grabbed a cup of Gatorade without slowing down which caused the entirety of the cup to fling right onto my face and torso. “I’m off to a great start!” I thought. Luckily seconds later the same thing happened with a cup of water so I was basically rinsed off 🙂

Wellesley College Scream Tunnel: This section lives up to the hype and was by far my favorite part of the day. The energy of these girls, the signs they display, their cheers to the runners, and kisses they dole out to any and all takers can only put a smile on your face.

Signs: Like any major marathon there were thousands of fun signs on the course and it’s impossible to read them all. 2 of my favorites? One was held by a Wellesley girl which said “1 kiss = $1 to Planned Parenthood”, and the other by a small girl which said “Run Faster Right MEOW” with a picture of a cat. Roger that little lady 🙂

Strong Hearts Vegan Power teammates: There was an estimated 1 million spectators at the race Monday. I made it to mile 17 before seeing someone I knew. Teammate Marie was at the Nuun Hydration tent and it was great to see her smiling face. Then when I was at my lowest both physically and mentally, right around mile 25 I happen to look up and see those familiar Strong Hearts Vegan Power shirts on the screaming, smiling faces of Dana, Jay and Alex. They have no idea how much it meant to me to see them out there with signs – I only wish I would’ve had the energy to make my way over to get some high fives!

Alex and Jay, minus the Dana who took the photo

Although I missed him on the course, I have to give the biggest thank you to teammate Skott. He not only offered up his home to me before and after the race, but he drove me everywhere I needed to be throughout the weekend. Not having to navigate public transportation to get to the shuttles race morning made it super easy and stress free. The Strong Hearts Vegan Power family is the best!

Skott even got us rockstar parking for the expo!

I also saw fellow runners Jonathan, Mike and Mark before the race and got to start alongside my good friend Giuseppe!

Now for that finish… When I hit mile 21, with slightly sketchy math I figured I could still run sub-3. I was going to need to hit a sub-7 pace for the last 5 miles but it was all downhill so that should be easy right? I knew what I had to do but I wasn’t checking to see if I was executing it. I was so focused on running that I couldn’t look down at my watch to see my splits. It was taking total concentration just to keep from falling apart.

The affects of the heat were appearing all around. I saw a guy projectile puking orange (they really need to serve something other than Gatorade out there). With about 2 miles to go I saw a girl collapsed on the side of the course being tended to by medics. “That’s not going to be me” I convinced myself. As we cross over the 1 mile to go mark I see a guy on a stretcher as the medics are rushing to shove a 10 pound bag of ice under his singlet. ONE MILE TO GO. That’s when I started panicking – remembering my past experience and how quickly you can go from running to a puddle on the ground. I started repeating in my head “You cannot collapse. You can collapse after you cross the finish line.” Then I remembered to do the mental check and repeated my address and phone number in my head. Rounding that last turn I pass a cart carrying another stretcher with someone who was transformed into an ice burrito. “You cannot collapse”. The only time I glanced down at my watch it said 3:01 and some change. Goal was not met, but I still couldn’t ease up and enjoy Boylston Street. I even remember saying to myself “this is the final stretch of the Boston freaking Marathon – soak it in!” All I was able to do was look up for a moment and say “oh hey, that’s where I ate lunch yesterday.” And that’s what I remember of the Boston Marathon finish!

Closing in on the finish!

I of course also thought about the events that transpired on that stretch 4 years prior. You can’t help but feel a deep sadness for all who were affected that day and even still today. And a deep appreciation for the huge amount of work that occurs behind the scenes to ensure the safety of the runners and spectators. I think everyone would agree that struggling with the heat is a blessing!

Teammate Aaron Zellhoefer repping Strong Hearts Vegan Power, and ALWAYS smiling!

As for my race, no regrets. I put it all out there which is the way I like to race. I ran with heart and joy like I said I would. I enjoyed and appreciated the intensity of the crowds. I smiled as much as I could. I was 3 minutes and 25 seconds over my goal time. I did not run a single one of those last 5 miles under 7:00 pace. I am okay with my result. I am honored to have had the opportunity to race the Boston Marathon and humbled by this event. The entire community, what they have endured – it’s incredible to be a part of it!

Teammate Marie shared some SHVP love for Aaron & I on the #BeBoston statue

I ran in the special edition Boston Escalante which I picked up from Altra founder Golden Harper himself the day before the race. I didn’t run (or even walk) a mile in those shoes prior to the marathon. Although that’s a huge no-no it’s a testament to how much trust I have in Altra’s footwear. They served me well on race day and not a single blister even after enduring endless cups of water and a jaunt through an open fire hydrant.

And with the conclusion of the Boston Marathon it’s time to get back on the trails! I’ll be celebrating with my week of spring training in New Mexico next week as I prepare for the Ultra Race of Champions 100k in May.

Happy Training!

Gear Review – Altra StashJack

I would not consider myself a gear nerd. I can get overly excited about cool gear, but it tends to be simplicity that gets me going. I don’t need a lot of bells and whistles – give me an innovative piece of gear that requires little to no instruction and serves a purpose. The Altra StashJack is precisely this piece of gear and it brought out the child-like enthusiasm in me. It’s also the first of its kind – ratchet that excitement up a few more notches. With the constantly fluctuating weather we’re experiencing at this time of year I’ve already utilized it many times – not only because I think it’s so cool but because it truly does make a lot of sense and is so easy to use.

The Skinny



The StashJack is a 3.3 oz wind and water resistant shell that stashes conveniently into its own pocket. That pocket is a hip belt, so you wear it just as you would any other hip pack. The real magic comes with its unique open-back design. When you’re out on the trail (or road) wearing a pack you don’t have to stop moving and/or remove your pack to throw on this jacket. The jacket keeps your pack exposed so you continue to have access to it while adding a layer of warmth and protection from the elements. It also frees up space in your pack since you don’t need to store it. Genius. No instructions required, but just to show you how simple it is:


​1) Open velcro hip pocket
2) Unfurl jacket (I really just wanted to use the word unfurl)
3) Put your arms through the sleeves
4) Throw the jacket over your head
5) Close around your waist by using velcro closure on your lower back
6) Keep running without skipping a beat


Taking it off is equally simple – the jacket is super-easy to roll up and stash back into its own pocket. The jacket is a half zip and also has a hood along with a velcro closure at the chin. You can really get all snuggled up in this thing. It features flat lock seams and is made of 100% ripstop nylon. There is also a mesh pocket on the back side of the waist pack in which you can store a small item or 2.


Potential drawbacks

– If you’re like me your packs hold bottles on the front. Wearing this jacket covers those bottles. I did not find this to be a major issue because the half-zip allows easy access to those bottles. Plus if you worry about nozzles freezing this thin layer of protection and warmth can help prevent that. (As an added bonus wearing the jacket over these bottles makes me look…ummm…well-stacked if you know what I mean).

– Wearing the jacket as a waist pack means there will be some bounce. So far this hasn’t bothered me because it’s so lightweight.

– It’s not going to protect you in extreme cold and/or wet conditions, but hey – it’s not marketed for extreme conditions. I’ve worn it in the snow and wind in sub-freezing temps and it kept me warm and dry through the duration (1 hour). I actually find it beneficial to have the protection on the front while allowing ventilation out back.

Overall it’s perfect for long days on the trails where you experience variable conditions requiring you to add and remove a layer multiple times. I can see myself getting a lot of use out the StashJack for all of the fun training adventures I have planned for 2017!