I Cannot Do Justice to the Vagamon Ultrail Race

It has taken me a while to write this race report because my words cannot fully describe this wonderful experience. What a great start to a New Year! This is going to be a long one… In an attempt to not ramble on too much I will keep this focused on the race weekend. However I cannot fail to address that my trip to India was an awesome experience from beginning to end thanks to Monica & Amit of Unived Sports, and Unived Trail Runners Club athletes Rahul, Ashish, Arjun and Sanjay. I cannot express to you all how much you filled my heart ❤

Getting to the race

Getting to the hills of Vagamon was quite the journey! On Thursday afternoon we took a 2 hour flight from Mumbai to Kochi where we found a hotel for the night. The cab delivered us to the front desk – literally – he drove up the ramp into the lobby and dropped us right at the desk! We dropped off our gear and set out to find dinner in town, walking through the quiet beautiful streets of Kochi. We were on the search for “authentic” South Indian food. That was the theme of the weekend – they wanted me to have authentic experiences, even going as far as getting me to do things by telling me it was authentic 😉 We found an excellent dinner spot where I was able to try all sorts of delicious foods, which was the kickoff to my weekend of eating way more than my body was accustomed to! But how could I turn it down? (I tried sometimes, but wasn’t allowed haha).

The next morning we left for Decathlon where we check in and acquire our bib. This is where we met up with the rest of the UTRC boys and took a short walk to a breakfast spot. I tried more new foods – delicious Appams – served by a man wearing soccer cleats 😉 A sporting goods store is a perfect spot to wait around for bus transport so we hung out at Decathlon for a while and before I knew it they were serving the racers lunch. Not hungry at all, I was informed that I would only have one more chance to eat that day so I better fill up. I rallied and got it done. After lunch we boarded the party bus (yes, it even had a disco ball) and we began our 3 ½ hour drive to Vagamon.

All aboard the party bus to Vagamon!

The last hour + we climbed the narrow, winding roads that showcased the beautiful landscapes we would be running the next day. We made one pit stop on the climb at a vista so we could enjoy the view, and a vegan mango sorbet from the ice cream truck.

Mango pops!

Once we arrived at our cottages and checked in I had to quickly prepare my drop bag as we were soon leaving for the race briefing and pre-race dinner. The cottages sat high up on the hills and were quite cozy. Each cottage had 2 rooms and I was supposed to share my room with another 90k racer but she did not show so I had the room to myself. I shared the cottage with Anand, the race director for Malnad Ultra, and another gentleman. We decided to walk down the hill to the race briefing and it was nice to stretch out the legs and soak in the views of the beautiful tea estates. The race briefing was perfectly succinct. Then I loaded up (once again) on rice and dal before we walked back up the hill to turn in for the night. I organized and laid out my race day gear before getting about 4 interrupted hours of anxiety-laden sleep. I was worried about the heat – that was all.

Views on the walk to the race briefing

Race day!

The 3 a.m. alarm went off and I started my race morning prep. I had a cup of dry oatmeal with a splash of room temperature bottled water (you gotta do what you gotta do) and a packet of almond butter. The bus was ready to leave promptly at 4 a.m. as we descended into the valley snatching up other racers along the way. A gentleman sat next to me and as we introduced ourselves he said “oh, you’re THE Laura. You’re supposed to win today!” No pressure. We arrived at the race start and it was dark and cold. I was definitely happy about the cold start! I checked my bag, snapped some selfies with Rahul, then calmly made my way to the start line. Most ultras I race have that quiet, nervous tension at the start line. This one did not! So much energy and excitement – I couldn’t help but smile.

They sent us off into the darkness and the leaders took off at a good clip. Not knowing any of these runners I did not know what to expect and how the race would play out. I wanted to stay close to the leaders to get a feel for what would unfold so I tucked into 4th position. The trail wasn’t too tricky but there were plenty of rocks and ruts to throw you off with only the light from your headlamp. Within the first mile one of the guys in front of me took a serious ankle turn which caused him to stop and walk. Yikes! Within the second mile the next guy did the same. Okay, let’s focus and not do that. I was dancing the line of wanting to push these early miles to cover as much ground as I could before the heat set in and being conservative over trails in the dark. I now chose to lean towards conservative. I was sitting in 2nd and the leader was running strong pretty far ahead. As we were climbing I saw a turn off onto a trail that he had missed. I stopped and called out to him. When he turned around I pointed to the trail but he turned back around and continued. I was now in the lead and will admit I wasn’t very confident running out front in the dark. However as I climbed into a clearing I was overwhelmed by the quiet, calm beauty of running under the stars and moon with just my beam of light – I felt so much appreciation in that moment.

I didn’t hold the lead for too long before a few runners passed – one of which was the leader who I was happy to see found his way. He thanked me for warning him. Still trying to run conservatively on the trail sections I soon lost contact with them and twice went off course. However that wasn’t due to improper marking – I simply didn’t pay attention. And because the course was so well-marked I was able to quickly realize and correct my error.

I will admit that the competitor in me was a little bummed to fall off the leaders that early in the race, so it was time to adjust my mindset.

  • Do not focus on placement.
  • Do not focus on time.
  • Run your own race.
  • Respect your current fitness level.
  • Respect your recovery.
  • Respect the HEAT.
  • Soak up everything this experience has to offer.

As the sun began to rise the horizon was blanketed in beautiful pink and purple hues – simply stunning! I was excited to finally start seeing the landscape. Villagers were starting their day and some were out sharing the trails. It was nice to start seeing people and my smiles and greetings were happily returned.

At the 30k mark we had access to our drop bags where I was swapping out fresh bottles of RRUNN During Hydration Mix and RRUNN Endurance Gels. There were plenty of volunteers ready to cater to your every need and they were very insistent that I stop for a hot breakfast. I politely declined each time and was quickly back out onto the trails. Soon after that the two leaders came into sight – they were running together. I would be lying if I told you the competitive runner in me didn’t come back. I caught up to them around mile 21 and we all ran together for a bit and chatted. One of them kept calling me Super Lady 🙂 They were running strong and I was surprised to have caught up with them at this stage in the race.

Throughout the race there were many cows on the course. I obviously had a conversation with each one of them. We reached a spot of high cow traffic and just as I was scoping out how to maneuver around them I took my only spill of the day – I tripped on a rock and went down hard – startling the cows as they quickly moooo-ved out of my way (sorry I couldn’t resist). Santhosh and Sunil kindly stopped to make sure I was okay and then we carried on. It was great running with them and part of me wanted to stay and enjoy their company but I also really wanted to run my own race so soon after I was out in the lead on my own.

The next major chunk of this race is mostly a blur to me. We spent a lot of time in the heat of the day directly exposed to the sun and I was quickly melting. I do still remember all of the scenery, which is where I fail to properly describe the beauty of this course. I also remember suddenly emerging on the ridge at the highest point of the race and yelling out an expletive. It was so cool! Running along the ridge was also a welcome break as the winds were high. I kept spreading my arms like wings – letting the breeze hit my arm coolers for some relief.

Running along the ridge. Photo: Vibin Balakrishnan

At each aid station I would douse myself with water to cool off. I cannot tell you how many times throughout the day I went through my mental safety check – reciting my name, address and phone number. I did this so many times I was afraid I was reciting it out of habit, so I switched to my family members’ full names and birthdays. I even threw in some work passwords to really challenge the brain 😉 As a heat stroke survivor I have learned that if my mind gets fuzzy I’m in trouble. So even if I was a little too obsessive with checking in on my brain it gave me the reassurance that I was doing okay.

Trying to cool off. Photo: Satya Sravan

Somewhere after the 50k mark Santhosh and Sunil caught up to me when I was at a low point. I didn’t even hear them coming. They asked if I was okay and I assured them I was just slowing down. I kept them in sight for a little longer but soon they were gone and I was sure I would not see them again. Pine Forest was a favorite for many of the runners but not as much for me as it was the one section that reminded me of running in the states. However I was happy to have some relief from the sun. On our return trip this area was now bustling with activity. As I ran through the small, crowded market two nuns stopped me and one asked “where are you FROM??” with such curiosity. As I hit the forest trail it started a stream of cheers. Each person was yelling something down the line and putting their hand out for a high five – from children to older women. It was fun and their energy fueled me. In the excitement I nearly blew by the turn but luckily a runner coming the other way yelled out to correct me.

Beautiful Pine Forest. Photo: Vibin Balakrishnan

I arrived at my drop bag for the final time and began mixing my last bottles of RRUNN During and re-stocking my gels. I was again being told that I needed to sit down and enjoy a hot meal which was the last thing I wanted. After politely declining, and being told again I should eat something hot, I was offered curry rice and I agreed to a small portion. A few seconds later I realized he said “curd” rice so I quickly ran over to tell him I was vegan and could not have curd rice (and let me tell you that small portion I agreed to was already a heaping mound and growing). Another volunteer told me I could eat the idli so I took one to be courteous. After taking a bite I said to myself “there is no way I’m keeping this down.” But to avoid being wasteful and rude I quickly shoved the idli down and grabbed the Thums Up (aka rocket fuel) I stashed in my drop bag and was on my way up the next climb. (*To be clear, the idli was good and I appreciated their kindness of fueling me, I just don’t typically eat any hot and/or substantial foods during a race.)

Late race struggle

I saw Santhosh and Sunil up ahead on the climb but even as I was guzzling my Thums Up I did not see myself reeling them back in. Once I hit the 60k mark my legs were in full-on protest. I also don’t remember exactly when my watch battery gave up on me, but that added to my feelings of despair. By this point I knew I was not getting anywhere near my goal of sub-10 hours so it wasn’t the worst thing in the world to not be reminded of the time. And with the ample aid stations which always provided mileage updates it was easy to know where I was on the course. I was living aid station to aid station – looking forward to dousing myself with water, drinking some cold RRUNN Watermelon, and treating myself to orange slices. I came upon an aid station where I was greeted with “sit down and we’ll make you an omelette!” I informed them I was vegan so no omelette for me, and also that I wasn’t allowed to sit 😉 They told me I at least had to have “special drink”. I did not know what this was but figured why not, and took a shot from a glass. A volunteer offered to pour water on me and I wasn’t turning that down. He poured a huge bottle over my head and I left that aid station with renewed energy from the special drink and the cold shower.

Running back through the villages I was a popular attraction. The women would stare intently into my eyes as I passed. I ran by a group of about 10 women sitting along a wall – conversation stopped and all heads turned to me as I passed. I then heard laughter and as I turned around one of them was taking a picture of me. Children were out playing and were very enthusiastic. They would see me and run into their houses to alert others to come outside. Lots of cheers, smiling faces, and high fives. I was very excited to see the final aid station which meant 5k left to run. When I arrived one volunteer told me it had been so long since they last saw me. In my tired daze I thought he was referring to how painfully slow I was now moving. He reminded me that they last saw me at 5:30 in the morning. Oh yeah, they were my first aid station of the day as well as my last. After what felt like the longest 5k ever, the finish line came into sight and I was ecstatic to complete my race as I broke the tape among a crew of happy volunteers.
11:43:29

Finished!

I quickly found Santhosh and Sunil and we all congratulated each other on strong performances (they finished together for 1st place). Monica was there to welcome me and I also found Amit who finished 7th (!) in the 60k, along with Arjun. Ashish finished soon after me and before too long Sanjay finished his race. I saw the physio for a wonderful post-race massage and we all sat around enjoying post-race food and recounting our days on the trails while waiting for our team photographer/videographer Rahul, who was also running the 90k.

Post-race with Ashish, Amit and Arjun

We received a unique clay finisher medal and for my overall awards I received a handmade coconut leaf hat and a beautiful painting from one of the volunteer’s 14-year-old daughter. What beautiful gifts to cap off a beautiful race experience 🙂

1st Overall in 60k & 90k

Nutrition

I was very excited to test a new line of Unived RRUNN Elite products on race day. I won’t give away too much yet…you will definitely hear more from me once the products are launched. It’s great to have the trust in a company to try new products for the first time on race day and have them exceed your expectations! Unived continues to create top nutritional products and I’ll be very excited to share them all with you. The flavors…okay that’s enough teasing for now. Throughout the race I drank 6 bottles of RRUNN Elite Electrolyte Mix and consumed 1 RRUNN Elite Gel per hour. I did not experience any stomach issues and felt properly fueled throughout the day. I supplemented this with some orange slices and water at aid stations and also popped a few RRUNN Caffeinated Salt Caps to help me battle the heat. I also enjoyed a few cups of the RRUNN Watermelon During Mix that was being served at aid stations because who doesn’t want a refreshing watermelon drink during a hot race? And let’s not forget the Thums Up!

aka Rocket Fuel

If you’re interested in trying any Unived nutrition products or performance gear you can use my code LAURA15 to receive 15% off at checkout!

Gear

Leading up to the race I went back and forth between my 2 favorites – Altra King MT’s and the Altra Superior’s. I chose the light and fast Superior as there weren’t too many technical or rocky sections. I also got to debut the Unived Race & Recovery socks which will definitely be my new go-to sock! The material was very soft and comfortable and I’m a big fan of the arch compression. They feature 3D dots along the sole of the sock as well as the achilles and this technology really added comfort while preventing fatigue in the feet. The socks got wet, went through mud, and endured the heat, yet I had zero blisters or hot spots. You’ll see pictures of me post-race still wearing the socks because even after almost 12 hours on the trails they felt good! Under my Unived Performance Air 1.0 Singlet (definitely feels like air!) I wore some DeSoto Cool Wings to add protection from the sun and heat. I went with my trusty Ultimate Direction Race Vest – lightweight as there’s not much to it with ample pockets for 1 liter of fluid and a stash of gels. I was also excited to sport the new Unived visor – I’m just not a trucker hat fan – visors for life!

Props

Overall my comeback race was a success. 2018 was a tough year and it was hard to safely build the mileage I needed to compete at 90k in the short amount of time I had available. Although this lack of volume was the main contributor to not meeting my goals on race day, I was still able to run, race, and thoroughly enjoy an amazing day on the trails! With the time that has passed since the race I recovered quickly and by respecting my current fitness level I am no worse for the wear! This has deepened the hunger in me for a strong 2019.

Thank you to the Soles of Cochin who organized this race. The Vagamon Ultrail was a first-class race experience. It was very well-organized, the course was well-marked, and provided plenty of well-stocked aid stations. Not only well-stocked with food and drink but also with enthusiastic and friendly volunteers who went above and beyond to provide a great experience for the runners – such a welcoming group of committed volunteers. To answer the volunteer who ran with me a short time during the race – YES! I am coming back to race in 2020 🙂

A thank you is not enough to express my gratitude to my Unived family. They made this race possible for me. They helped me through this injury – not only nutritionally but through their emotional support and commitment. They were also the most gracious hosts from the time I landed in India until I had to say some hard goodbyes (more like see you soon!) Also for making sure I had everything I needed on race day from nutrition to gear. I am beyond grateful to continue our partnership in 2019.

Rahul, Arjun, Sanjay, me, Ashish, Monica, Amit

Unived Trail Runners Club – you guys rock! Your warm welcome immediately made me feel like part of the crew. You all put the C in UTRC 🙂

Thank you to Altra for believing in me after a season of injury. I am humbled to be a part of the Altra Red Team again in 2019.

Finally, thank you to all of you who stood by me last year. It wasn’t an easy one, but when you have a strong support system of family and friends who make you laugh when you’re feeling down or give you tough love when you need it – that makes all the difference.

Looking ahead it’s now time to start focusing on my next big race of the year – Comrades! There will likely be a race or two in the lineup before then, and potentially another exciting trip (more coming soon).

Congrats to all of the runners who tackled Vagamon Ultrail. It was a pleasure meeting many of you and I hope to run with you all again next year 🙂

Happy & Healthy training to you all!

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10 Loops around Caumsett Park

I stepped out of my car at Caumsett Park in Lloyd Harbor, Long Island. It was windier and colder than I was anticipating. No sign of the sun. 3 older GLIRC men were walking behind me towards the bathrooms. In a NY accent one of them said “a friend told me this course was flat, there would be no wind, and there would be cheerleaders on the course.” We all had a good laugh.

I felt pretty calm and relaxed at the start line. I didn’t know what to expect from myself today. It’s always hard for me to gauge at this time of the year. Winter has been rough, volume has been low, speed work even less existent. But overall I felt pretty good and was looking forward to testing my fitness. I had a fairly loose goal but basically just wanted to run strong and smart.

The first 3 of the 10 5k loops clicked off quickly and I felt amazing. I was running smooth and relaxed – it felt effortless. I felt in control. All 3 were sub-21 minute 5k’s – right where I wanted to be. The next 4 also felt good. They were all sub-22. I said to myself “I feel like I could run this pace all day!” That was a good feeling to have. At the end of loop 3 the winds intensified making certain sections of each loop challenging. Those winds were there to stay.

It was a very lonely race. From the start I never had anyone to run with. On a looped course with 2 races taking place there wasn’t a shortage of runners, but it was always a very brief exchange of pleasantries before I was back to my own thoughts. I had a lead cyclist the entire race but there was never any conversation between us. He kept a good distance. I admired his Cervelo P3 from afar. The constant sound of his Zipp freewheel and carbon brakes were soothing to a lover of bikes. That’s what I remember most – hearing that all day long. There were times I wanted to apologize to him for going so slow. There were times I wanted to tell him he didn’t have to ride the out-and-back section with me which was always quite congested. At one point early on I was going to ask if he wanted to play some music for us to enjoy. I was focused on how boring this must be for him. We traveled those 10 loops in silence. Once he said “you’re doing great” after he caught up to me following a quick break. Another time he slowed to talk to a runner he knew and as I was passing them both he told his friend “you’re being lapped by the lead female.” At the start of loop 9 he turned around to ask which loop we were on. That was the extent of our interactions. Thank you Mr. Lead Cyclist for being my quiet companion throughout the race 🙂

Loop 8 is where I started working harder. I still had a glimmer of hope that I could hold my pace but I knew it was going to get tough. The wheels were starting to come off. My legs were suddenly getting very tight. I was amazed at how they could go from feeling good to rotten so quickly. At the out-and-back section of each loop I would see the 2nd place female Gabrielle Russo. While my gap was ever-so-slightly building throughout the race, it was now starting to shrink. Heading out onto loop 9 I convinced myself to make it to that marathon mat, and then I only had a loop and a half to go. Two years ago I wanted to hit the mat for a sub-3 marathon. It didn’t happen. This time I wasn’t concerned about my marathon time – I just wanted to hold my pace and my position. But I thought that hitting that marathon mark would give me that “home stretch” feeling and maybe my legs would come around. That didn’t happen. My mental game was no match for my failing legs. I felt like either of my hamstrings would snap at any time. Finishing the 9th loop Gabby had really made up some ground on me. This was the moment when I knew I was going to be passed. I know it’s a terrible thing to allow defeat into your mind, but I was being a realist. Unless she suddenly blew up, which she showed zero signs of, my day was numbered. My legs were done racing.

I completed that 9th loop and the race organizers who had been so energetic and positive calling out my loop each time through were now even more excited as they yelled out “last loop – you got this!” But I knew I didn’t and it was eating me up inside. I responded “she’s right there – she’s going to catch me!” What’s worse than admitting defeat to yourself? Admitting it out loud. They responded with “well then make her work for it. Make it exciting!” They were right. I owed it to them, and to myself, to push until the very end. It’s not like I wasn’t going to anyway, but hearing that was what I needed. I hit mile 1 of the loop, no Gabby. Mile 2, still no Gabby. Where was she? My legs felt like they had knives in them and I just wanted to ease up, but I wasn’t going to stop pushing until she caught me. I couldn’t. I didn’t want to look back. Finally I heard her coming up behind me and I gave her major props as she flew by me like I was standing still with 1 mile to go. That last mile was the longest of the race – not just because it was my slowest 😉 Even when it means getting passed I always admire witnessing a strong finishing kick like Gabby’s – kudos to her!

I finished with a slight PR over my time on this course 2 years ago. Overall I was happy with my effort – just disappointed that my legs didn’t have the miles to deliver. Some of the highlights of the race: fellow Syracuse runner Chris Raulli also ran a strong race and earned 2nd Overall Male. Friends Stephen and Tiffany England raced the 25k and each won their race! It was great to see them out on the course.

This was my first time racing using Unived’s RRUNN line of sports products and they were great! Pre-race I used the Watermelon Energy Mix which offers a blend of high-glycemic & low-glycemic carbohydrates for instant and sustained energy. Post-race I used my favorite Coco Vanilla Recovery Mix. All kinds of good stuff in here for recovery – check it out. And that flavor… 🙂

During the race I fueled with RRUNN Salted Caramel and Mandarin Orange Endurance Gels. I’m loving them! These super-thin gels are so easy to get down, I really enjoy the subtle flavors, and they provide just the kick I need when I need it. I’m excited to add them to my race fueling plan this year.

I was pumped that the new Altra Solstice arrived just a few days before the race. I had one 3.5 mile run in them and immediately knew they were the shoe for this race. I was right! (also worth noting that Tiffany England won the 25k in the Solstice)

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Next up…trail time! I’m hoping this new snowfall doesn’t plan to stick around too long because I’ve been itching to spend less time on the roads and more time pounding dirt and rocks!

Finishing Time – 3:37:35
2nd Overall Female
1st Overall Female Master

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!

TNF ECS Ontario – What racing 50 miles feels like

I’m not the fastest learner – mainly because I’m stubborn, impatient, impulsive, the list goes on. This year will be my 4th racing ultras – my first year fully committing to them – and I’m proud to say that I finally felt like I raced 50 miles properly. I’ll use the term “properly” loosely. It was far from perfect. Mistakes were made. I like a healthy dose of mistakes. I had a plan – it wasn’t much of a plan – but I fought myself to stick with it. And by golly it worked! I didn’t have any rough patches so to speak. Little bumps on the trail due to mistakes but my day was going so well that I wasn’t going to let them ruin my good time. It was a confidence boost to know that I can control myself, and to learn that patience can pay off. Look at me evolving and stuff 😉

My drive took a little longer than planned so I arrived 2 hours later than I wanted to. Once you get to Blue Mountain Village all of that stress melts away. It’s really a unique place with such a great vibe. It’s always bustling with activity but at the same time very chill. I was immediately reminded of why I came back to race here. I picked up my packet and was happy to drive a mere ½ mile to my place. I never stay close to race sites but because I love the village and we had a 5 am start I went for it. It was a smart decision but also made me wish I was spending more than 1 day there.

I prepped my nutrition, hydration and my drop bag before lounging on my hammock to eat my curry while listening to the live band play in the village. We received an email that due to excessive mud on the course they had to make an aid station change which affected how many times you could access your drop bag. This changed my fueling plans but I didn’t even care. This was a stress-free evening in a relaxing place. I was in a zone that I’m normally not in before a race. It was only when I snuggled into my compression boots and reviewed the course one last time that I started to get nervous. I was really hungry for this race. I wanted a win in a bad way. I’m really struggling with not racing as much and after my disappointment at Broken Arrow I felt like a ticking time bomb. One thing I was confident in was how hard I would fight for this race. After racing the 50k last year I was familiar with the trails – I just needed to get out there and do my thing.


My “not much of a race plan”: 10 mile training run, 40 mile race. Sounds simple enough but not when you’re me. Which is why I kept it so simple – I just had to focus on those first 10 miles. They are always the most difficult for me to reign in. It was nice and cool pre-sunrise but super-humid. I lined up with Anne Bouchard and was thrilled to see her again. I asked her about CCC – she said she absolutely loved it and wants to go back. That added to my excitement and I told her I couldn’t wait to chat about it. Then…we were off! Running across the base of the slope in the dark it was already muddier than I expected. Within the first ½ mile a guy in front of me went down hard. It’s just a 10 mile training run – don’t get caught up in silliness.


As we hit The Grind trail the leaders went off ahead and I was left leading a string of guys. This is never a good spot for me because for whatever reason I feel an obligation to “pull” which means I work hard. After about a mile of this I realized I wasn’t sticking to my plan so I backed off on the climbs. This didn’t help because they simply fell into my pace. So then I started to hike the steep parts and that did the trick. The line of chasers passed me and I was able to focus on my own race again. You hit the first aid station at mile 4 before climbing the ladder over the fence into the Scenic Caves property for 3.5 miles of cross country ski trails. Smooth, vegan-buttery, rolling S-turns and the desire to open it up was strong. I kept repeating “training run” in my head and even said it out loud a time or two. I was determined to stick to this as uneasy as it made me. I was at mile 5 and my mind was already going faster than my legs. What if I screw this whole race up by going out too easy? What if I’m passed on this 10 mile training run and I can never catch back up? I was a skeptic for sure.


At the 2nd aid station I was able to toss my headlamp into my drop bag and then it’s onto fun single track and smile-inducing downhill running. It was mile 7 and I was itching to go. TRAINING RUN! Grrr!! I surely thought I was going to explode. I finally hit mile 10 and I felt unleashed! I saw one of the photographers and he informed me that I was 10th overall. Great! Time to start racing. This is also a fast section of the course and it wasn’t long before I passed my first male. At around mile 15 we turn onto a long road climb and I could already see 3 more guys way up ahead of me. I was feeling strong and thought to myself “this is going to be fun.” At the mile 20 aid station I preemptively consumed my Coke-nana cocktail to prime the engine for loop 2. I had been fueling on Muir Energy and Beetums and they were going down great. I could eat the Muir Energy Passion Fruit Pineapple Banana all day – it’s like a tropical beach party in my mouth!


The last few miles of the loop are the toughest to me. You get some great downhills but then you keep turning right to climb back up another ski slope. It takes the wind out of your sails but it also felt easier than last year which was a plus. There was also a really muddy steep climb and I couldn’t help but think how much worse it was going to be on the 2nd loop. My goal was to finish the first loop under 4 hours with a nice cushion, and I was going to reach that goal, but the muddy sections on the 2nd loop were going to be a lot slower the second time around after both the 50 mile and 50k runners have passed through. Once you exit the Cascade trail you have that long, steep descent to the bottom of the ski slope with a gorgeous view of the Georgian Bay. It’s a quad-burner for sure but so much fun! I remembered that this was how I busted my hand a week prior so I shouldn’t do anything stupid. But this slope is all grass and no rocks so why hold back? 🙂

I arrived at the aid station to start loop 2 and I was thrilled with how great I was feeling. I even thought to myself “I can’t believe I’m halfway done already!” That was a new feeling for a 50 miler… It wasn’t long before I started catching 50k runners and it felt good to see and pass people. Around mile 29 I passed a lady who was really supportive as I went by. She also told me that the 2nd and 3rd males were about 15 minutes ahead maximum. I knew I had been picking guys off but I hadn’t been counting. This lit another fire in me and I was eager to try to catch some more! The whole day I was never given any information about the females behind me. I wasn’t expecting it. And I kind of like it that way. I always prefer racing scared and it also forces me to race the clock.


My original plan was to swap out my bottles before the end of loop 1 but with the aid station change we weren’t seeing our drop bags until after the 50k mark. It was already pretty hot and I was drinking a lot but I was extremely lucky that Skratch Labs was a sponsor of the race so their product was on the course! When it comes to electrolyte drinks I won’t touch anything else unless it’s dire so I was thrilled to have my drink of choice on race day. Because of this I made the decision while racing that I would ditch my vest for my handheld at the 50k mark instead of swapping bottles. There were plenty of aid stations and plenty of Skratch being served so I would simply refill my handheld with water through the final aid stations. I decided to race in a new pair of Altra shorts (coming soon…) which have plenty of stash space along the waistband. I was able to shove all of my fuel for the final 20 miles in my waistband comfortably.


Miles were clicking off quick and easy. I had a positive attitude, plenty of energy, and was enjoying every minute of it. I know it sounds cliché to go on about my shoes but my love for the Altra King MT’s grew even stronger at this race. Through the muddy sections and on technical descents & climbs I was making it look easy as I passed runners who were slipping and sliding. It is crazy to me that I stayed upright with my aggressive running through these sections. The mud was so thick at spots people were commenting about losing shoes. The velcro strap on the King MT’s made my foot feel completely secure as the mud was fighting to rip them off my feet. In the last miles there was one particular technical descent that I enjoyed so much the first round I couldn’t wait to get back to it for the 2nd attack. As I was nearing this section I came upon who runner who let me pass but then hopped on behind me. I was really excited to finally have a buddy to run with. Then we turned onto that trail and I let loose – never heard or saw him again. There’s no better feeling than having confidence in your shoes so that you can have some fun bombing down slick rocky trails!

I mentioned that I made a few minor mistakes throughout the day but the biggest one was at the last aid station with about 5 miles to go. I grabbed some Skratch, Coke, water over the head and was off. My handheld was about half-full with water so I didn’t bother to refill. I don’t know why I didn’t take the time to top off – I had a few punchy climbs to tackle totally exposed in the hot baking sun. I brushed it off as 5 little miles when I’m feeling strong but never err on the side of too little hydration on a hot day. That half bottle was gone before I even got to those climbs. It was embarrassing – I was so thirsty that when I got to the volunteers stationed at the top of the descent with 1 mile to go I saw a jug of water and asked if I could have some. It was clearly the water they were drinking and as the words were coming out of my mouth I felt really stupid for asking. The kid confirmed that with the look he gave me and said “you literally have just over a km to go…” Roger that. This was the best part of the race – time to finish this thing. If screwing up my hydration in the last few miles was the worst mistake of my day I consider that a good day. I got to the bottom of the descent, looked at my watch to see 8:00, and said “aw man” out loud. Had it not been for a few too many pit stops (PSA: Beetums are great but beets+running…be careful is all I’m saying) I could’ve made it under 8:00. Crossing the finish line all I wanted was a drink. This picture shows it.


Instead I was handed an empty water bottle and the photographer asked if he could get some pictures. Okay, smile again so you can get some damn water.


Then 2 angels appeared – they were Skratch reps – one handed me an ice-cold wet washcloth and the other an ice-filled bottle of Skratch! My day was made. I stuck around at the finish line to see my friend Karen Holland finish 2nd – I was so excited to see her come across and any time I’m racing with her I know I have to be on my game! 3rd overall was Cassie Smith who was super-close to catching me at the 50k last year. They train together, are phenomenal athletes, and super-cool women. I couldn’t have asked for a better podium 🙂


And now I take a break from racing to focus on CCC. I can only hope that I go into that race with the same hunger, patience, and strength I had on this race day!

Time – 8:01:59
1st Overall Female 3
3rd Overall Finisher

Broken Arrow Skyrace

I can barely call this a race report because it sure didn’t feel like my idea of “racing”. Do you ever have dreams where you’re running, or at least trying to run but getting nowhere? That’s pretty much how I felt at Broken Arrow Skyrace last weekend. When you know what your body is capable of and you know what your mind is capable of making your body do but it’s just not working, it’s frustrating. I’m pretty sure altitude was the culprit. Maybe mixed in with a long day of travel the day before, little sleep that night, and overall life stress. Blah blah – enough excuses – I just didn’t have it in me either day. Not doing what I had set out to is disappointing for sure, but mainly it was the hit to my confidence that lingered. Which led to me questioning – have I lost my mojo? It’s also making me re-think my upcoming race schedule. I need to make sure I’m setting myself up properly for my A race of the year – the Apple Cider Donut Challenge. Oh wait, I mean CCC 🙂

The Lowdown
Broken Arrow Skyrace is part of the Altra US Skyrunner Series. Skyrunning events represent a “unique style of European-inspired mountain running characterized by off-trail scrambling, steep terrain, and massive amounts of vertical gain and loss. The majority of this takes place above 6,000 feet and above treeline.”

Broken Arrow takes place at Squaw Valley in Olympic Valley, CA which is located at the North Shore of Lake Tahoe. The race features 3 distances over 2 days. First is a Vertical Kilometer, boasting 3100 feet of gain over 3.1 miles to the top of Squaw Peak which sits at 8,885 feet. There is also a 26k and 52k race (1 or 2 loops) with each loop incorporating the VK course and covering 5279 feet of gain & loss. The courses feature some runnable singletrack, rock scrambles across a ridgeline, some access road, but mostly…snow!

Friday – VK
After arriving in Truckee around 11 Wednesday night I planned to go for a shakeout run in the morning since the VK didn’t start until 11 am. However being on east coast time and with my damn internal clock I was up at 3 am with little hope of falling back to sleep. I was definitely dragging and opted to skip the run to try and relax before heading to Squaw Valley for packet pickup.

I went for a warm-up run before the start and didn’t even last a mile. My heart rate was super-high from a simple jog and I didn’t think continuing a warm-up would help the situation. So I lined up at the base of ski hill and hoped for the best. The first 1+ mile of climbing I thought my heart might explode. Perhaps it was the knife lodged into my lungs that was preventing it. All I know is that I felt like crap. Slow-moving crap. Right before the halfway point we have a little break with some downhill. This helped ease the dizziness a bit and I took it easy here in hopes that my heart rate would back off a little. I was nowhere near the front and my time was horrible so I chalked it up to a learning experience and made the most out of enjoying this crazy course and the views.

Lots of climbing through snow!

Ropes had been installed on the course to assist with climbing the steep snowy slopes and I took advantage of them since I opted for no spikes and no poles. I don’t think the spikes would’ve made much of a difference since the snow was so deep and soft, but poles were definitely the way to go for this race. It would’ve been a perfect time for me to practice with them. The final stretch to Squaw Peak along the ridgeline – including the Stairway to Heaven ladder – was so much fun! I will do this race again for that part alone! I ended up 10th overall with a very disappointing 1:07:07 (my goal was under an hour). Knowing that the 52k was the next day I wasn’t too bothered by my result – I was just hoping to feel better.

Almost to Squaw Peak!

Heading to the tram to return to the base with Anna Mae, Lenka and Morgan was another fun adventure that seemed to be even longer than the course we just ran. I had watched some of the guys ride down the steep mountain slope on their asses and thought “that looks like fun!” Did I remember that one time in Killington when I thought it would be fun to do naked snow angels only to wake up the next day finding it painful to sit due to the scrapes all over my ass? Well, I was reminded of that story after this ass-slide.

Great news was that the VK didn’t do anything to my legs and I was sure that Saturday would go well. However after seeing some of the course I reminded myself that I needed to approach this race with caution. I needed to treat pacing at Western States like a race itself, and it’s even more important when it’s not a race for you.

Saturday – 52k Skyrace
I woke up the next morning after a solid night’s sleep feeling recharged and ready to go! I had some fluid in my lungs the night before that was still present and I was really hoping I didn’t catch anything on the plane. But I was feeling great otherwise and told myself that after yesterday I should now be acclimated and ready to race!

I opted out of the warm-up this time after yesterday’s episode. The first 3 miles of the course are the most runnable so I planned to take it out easy and settle in. Within the first mile I could tell I was still struggling. My lungs were burning, my heart again felt like it was beating out of my chest while I was running a very conservative pace. It was early though – things would turn around. About mile 6 we’re back on the VK course and the dizziness was back. I backed off so much that I was barely moving and there was no relief. This is where I started to question if it was a good idea to do a 2nd loop. I met a guy named Ryan from Boulder on this climb and we chatted for quite a bit. He was also here to pace at Western States and was running the 52k. It was nice to have a distraction as mentally I wasn’t too excited about how I was feeling and I really wanted to enjoy this experience.

I was hoping for a repeat of the prior day upon reaching the break point but it was quite the opposite. Running the flat stretch I had this overwhelming feeling of collapsing into the snow. It wasn’t dizziness – it was pure exhaustion. So once again I backed it off and Ryan was gone. Arriving at the ridgeline and Stairway to Heaven to Squaw peak was again a very enjoyable experience – this time made even better by seeing Corrine and Sarah cheering us on. On both days this section wiped away any negative feelings because it was so amazing!

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Climbing the ridgeline

From there we had a fun descent before heading to the “popsicle” – down to Shirley Basin and then climb back up. This is where the snow was the deepest and it seemed to be never-ending. It was also an interesting clash of worlds as you’re running alongside skiers and snowboarders. This section was my deciding factor for the day. It was a lot of work running through that snow and with my heartrate still not wanting to chill out I felt like I was putting out way too much effort with way too little return. I arrived at High Camp Aid Station with just over 3 miles to go feeling okay about my decision to stop after 1 loop. I found Ryan sitting in a chair eating chips & looking pretty beat so I decided to sit next to him and check in as my attempt at “racing” was over. When I told him I was only going to do one lap he said “yeah me too – let’s finish this thing and get a beer!”

When 2 sports collide

Now we were at the best part of the course – a 3 mile descent with very little snow! It was such a great feeling to be able to run. When we left the aid station Ryan asked if I was at peace with my decision to finish only 1 loop. I said yes – more so to convince the both of us that I actually was okay with it. But now that I was running I started to second-guess my decision. Sure I wasn’t feeling great but if I simply do a 2nd loop at the same pace as the first it couldn’t do any harm right?

Final descent to the base

I ran past the finish line to the aid station at the start of the 2nd loop and declared I was “thinking about” dropping but was going to take a few minutes to decide. As any good aid station captain should, I was being convinced to continue on. “Did you have any coke yet? Maybe you just need some coke. Have a seat and eat something. Is it an injury bothering you? How about you go inside and eat a burger and come back out when you’re ready.” I felt a huge amount of guilt for not continuing. I felt okay – my legs were fine, fueling was fine. I just had an out-of-control heart and lungs that burned with every breath. I was flat out tired. It was all manageable. I stood there for a few minutes staring up at that mountain – replaying the course in my mind. I could continue on. I would’ve continued on if it weren’t for the pacing duties the following weekend. How much damage could one more loop do when I have a full week to recover? But what if I injure my already-tweaked hamstring? What if I take a bad spill? What if this stuff in my lungs is some kind of sickness coming on and by pushing myself for another loop I get a full-blown illness? These were not chances I was willing to take because Jason’s race at Western States was way more important. This was not the time to be selfish.

I decided to head directly to my car so that I couldn’t hang around and let regret sink in. Seeing the Splash Dogs competition taking place right near the finish line was an adorable distraction. Also hanging with fellow upstate New Yorker Nick Kirk who had an incredible 10th place finish in the 26k.

I will say this is a must-do race. The course and the sites are spectacular. Brendan and Ethan make this an incredible experience for everyone and I am honored to have had the opportunity to race in their event. I definitely want to come back and do it right. Next time I’ll be sure to get out here a little earlier so that I can properly acclimate. Sooo…if anyone needs a pacer for WS next year you know who to call 😉

Brendan Madigan (co-race director) ready to send us out into the mountains. Photo: Scott Rokis Photography

This was my first time racing in my Altra King MT’s and it was so much fun to tackle the downhills with their grip. I definitely see myself using these during fast, technical races.

Now that a week has passed the disappointment has almost completely faded. I’ve had an amazing week of exploring the trails in and around Lake Tahoe. No workouts, no hard runs, just smooth and easy trail time. It’s exactly what I need! And now that Jason is in town and Western States is fast approaching my mind is fully-occupied on his race. Statesmas is here! My notebook is full of crewing notes and our plan is in place. He is fit, he is prepared, and I’m sure that he’s going to have an amazing race! He even bought appropriate post-race celebration beverages!

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You can track Jason Saturday at ultralive.net – bib #274. I will try to post updates when I can but I know coverage will be sketchy. The race starts at 5:00 am (PST). Everyone send lots of energy and good vibes his way! He’s worked super-hard for this and I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this opportunity.

Best of luck to everyone racing! Especially the #beastcoast crew – represent!

Ultra Race of Champions – Skylark Edition

The Plan
My main goal was simply to finish. I won’t say I didn’t want a podium spot but I still felt the sting of my DNF at Bandera so most important to me was finishing my first 100k. Normally I set time goals throughout my races but since this was a new course I had no data from which to formulate my goals. This was a “go out and run” kind of race and I welcomed this lax mindset – I took a lot of pressure off myself. I knew who my main competitors were, and relying on my race style thought I would be racing in 2nd place most of the day before getting caught (but hopefully not getting caught).

Part 1 – Whetstone (miles 1-29)
6.8 miles to the first aid station consisted of gradual climbing on a mix of paved and gravel/dirt roads. It was a great start to the race. There was no need to jockey for position to get onto the single track, and it provided the perfect warm-up for the legs. After the aid station it was onto single track and I was excited for the trails.

The next 8 miles contained rolling terrain with some technical spots and some nice climbs to prepare you for the day ahead. The miles were still ticking off quickly and I was feeling great. The course was exceptionally marked – I don’t think they could’ve done a better job. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t go off course around mile 15. There was an intersection, and a flag to mark the intersection, but instead of looking for the flag on the turn I bombed straight through it and ran a good 90 seconds before realizing I didn’t see any “confidence markers”. I stopped and turned around to look for the guy who had been close behind me. He wasn’t there. So back I went and sure enough there was the flag on the trail I was supposed to turn on. Of course I panicked for the time I just lost with that error but I reminded myself that it was very early in the day. This was a theme I repeated to myself multiple times throughout the race. From there we had a 3 mile descent to the lowest point of the course where we would turn around and retrace our steps 11 miles back to the 1st aid station. This was a very tight spot for 2-way traffic but it was exciting to see the race leaders coming through. Mocko and Jorge were running together chatting like they were out on a training run. Soon after was a steady stream of men taking chase. Amanda was making her way up – all smiles and looking strong.

It wasn’t long on my return trip before I saw Emily, and then Amy. Damn. They were close. Cue panic again along with the realization that I wasn’t even 1/3 through the race. I started playing the game in my head “how many miles can I make it before I’m caught”. I know this is a dumb game to play but it’s my way of setting mini-goals 😉 It must’ve messed with my mind because during the entire climb I was struggling. My legs felt weak and I was feeling overheated and dizzy on the steep climbs however I wasn’t sweating and I had goose bumps. This can’t be good. I thought maybe I should cut back on the effort but also realized how little effort I was already putting out. It was all very confusing. My hands and fingers were really swollen. I couldn’t remember if that meant I had too much salt or too much water. How could I have too much of either? I remember wishing Jay was here so he could tell me which it was and I could fix it. I sustained several cuts on my legs through this section and I was sticky with blood. My left knee cap was covered in blood and every time I put my hands on my legs to power hike I was making it worse. The cut wasn’t bad at all – it just bled a lot. I was chalking this section up to being the worst part of my day, and it was still so early. Let me just make it to mile 30 before I’m caught.

Part 2 – Those damn jagged rocks (miles 30-53)
I was elated when Whetstone was behind me and happy to be back on the roads for the next 4 miles so I could recover. We made our way onto the Skylark property and had to climb ever-so-close to the finish chute. That was a tease. It was nice to run on some open grass fields as we toured the beautiful property on our way back out onto the Blue Ridge Parkway headed to Bald Mountain. Once we arrived it was back onto the trails. What I remember most about this section was how painfully slow I was going. There wasn’t a whole lot of elevation change but the trails were plastered with sharp rocks that were looking for any opportunity to end your race. I normally enjoy this kind of challenge but wasn’t in the mood for taking risks, again saying that it’s way too early in the race. Eye on the prize – finish. This led me to hike a lot of this section. I hiked, and I felt terrible for hiking. In hindsight it was smart but it still hurt my ego. This was definitely where I would be passed.

I don’t recall much more of that section. I remember making our way down to some falls before another steep climb out of that valley. But the rest is a blur. Mentally I was focused on making it to the aid station at mile 53. That was where I would grab my bottle of go-go juice for that last 10.5 mile push to the finish.

Part 3 – Shaking my fist at Bald Mountain (miles 54-finish)
I was pumped to arrive at AS8 where I was greeted by the kind couple who I met before the start. They came down from CT to support their son and they were cheering for me at every opportunity. I asked how their son was doing and they told me he was doing great – and actually wasn’t that far behind me along with the next female. If they said anything else after that I didn’t hear it – my mind was fixated. I didn’t ask how far back she was – I never asked where she was all day because that’s one mental game I don’t like to play. I filled one bottle, swapped the other, and said my goodbyes. It was time to work. The aid station volunteer told me it was 6.4 miles to the next aid station after climbing Mt Bald. I audibly whimpered.

But I had a new fire in me. I made it 54 miles and I did not want to lose my position this late in the race. The next few miles turned out to be my favorite of the race. I don’t know how many times we crossed streams – it had to be at least 6. Many of them were knee deep or higher. Sure they slowed you down but the cold rushing water felt great on the legs and it also washed off the blood from multiple cuts. I knew that if I could maintain this momentum and determination I could hold 2nd place to the finish.

And then I hit Bald Mountain. Or rather Bald Mountain hit me. The climb was steep and never-ending, and it was quickly sapping whatever I had left in the tank. I started to get dizzy and wobbly on that narrow single-track and all I could think was “if I fall down this mountain I will have to climb it again. I do not want to climb this again.” And so I focused. My hamstrings clocked out for the day. Like “hey, we know we have to stick around for the rest of the day but don’t expect us to do any work.” Not only did Bald Mountain drain the energy out of me, but it also drained my watch. No more data to rely on.

After what felt like an hour I made it to the summit and that final aid station. I grabbed a cup of coke, a handful of pretzels because I was craving salt, and half-laid on the table for support while my bottle was filled. 4.2 miles to go. Half of this was road. “I got this” I told myself. I kept checking my watch on the road – I wanted to keep tabs on the distance I had left and what my pace was. I knew my watch was dead yet I kept looking at it hoping it would give me some reassurance. I also kept looking back – just in case.

Turning onto the Skylark property was such a relief. Just one more steep climb to the finish line. I said “time to light that last match” and then laughed maniacally at myself because there were no more matches. As I made my way up the S-turns a young boy at the top of the hill was shouting down at me “finish strong! C’mon – run strong to the finish!” It was adorable and I appreciated his enthusiasm and support, but I also wanted to yell back “this is my strong – you’re looking at it. Pathetic I know, but it’s all I got.”

Halfway up the climb I passed some of the male finishers who were at their cars cheering me up the climb. Then I saw Amanda hobbling back down from the finish. I was happy to stop and congratulate her on my way up. Yep, that was my finish – stop and have a quick chat. One more turn and the finish line was finally in sight. I crossed the line and Francesca asked if she could take my picture. So I made one last effort of the day – to look like I was feeling great. Then I proceeded to the bench where I collapsed between 2 other finishers. I thought to myself “I don’t think I’ve ever smelled this bad in my life” which kept me from sitting too long. I spared the 2 guys and quickly got up so I could start my hobble back down the hill to my car.

Photo: Francesca Conte

Epilogue
The course was tough. I definitely underestimated it in more ways than one. But then again so did many people as the web site claimed 7,202 feet of climbing while watches confirmed 12,000. But hey, who wants an easy ultra? We wouldn’t be doing this if it was easy. As with every race I have some takeaways to work on – it’s all part of the process (and the fun). Gill and Francesca created a challenging yet beautiful course and a well-run event. Their passion for this event is evident. I would definitely go back to give this course another go.

The Grub
As I wrote in my product review, Muir Energy was my fuel of choice for this race and it worked well for me. With the variety of flavors I never tired of them. Luckily I brought plenty of extra for my drops because I was finding that I had no appetite for solid foods and only wanted Muir. Since this product is working so well for me I am happy to announce that I have partnered with Muir Energy to fuel my future races! (insert shameless plug –> discount code for those who want to try it out –> LK10OFF) P.S. Passion Fruit Pineapple Banana is still my favorite!

As usual I relied on Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix for my electrolytes throughout the race. One error I made was not bringing any of my beloved Hyper Hydration. With the forecasted weather I didn’t think I would need it but I was wrong. I survived without it but I’m sure it would’ve helped me in those later stages of the race when the sun was beating down and my skin was a solid layer of salt.
The Gear
First I have to give a shout out to Henry Klugh of Inside Track. When my local running store basically told me “too bad” when I inquired about a rain shell I knew that I would have better luck at Inside Track in Harrisburg which was conveniently on the way. And that’s why I love small running stores – Henry went into the back, climbed the ladder, and went digging through boxes until he found his rain gear. He hooked me up with the perfect rain shell – lightweight, packs into its own pocket with a hand strap for easy carrying, and it matched my singlet, Altra Superiors, and even my drop boxes. Stylin’! Even though I didn’t end up needing it, Henry took great care of a fellow runner and eased my mind.

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The Altra Superiors are my go-to race shoe on the trail. Although the King MTs would’ve been great for the technical parts of this course, due to the amount of road and gravel they would’ve been too much. I’ll get to race in the King MTs soon enough – and I can’t wait to put those bad boys to the test! I also wore my trusty Ultimate Direction TO Race Vest 3.0. Enough pockets to store needed nutrition between drops, and it’s quick and easy to swap out my bottles or refill them when needed.

That’s why they call her Smash’em Basham! Photo: Jorge Maravilla

Finish Time: 11:54:06
Rank: 2nd Overall Female

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!