#TrailsRoc 0SPF – a humbling day

Gathering for the start. Photo credit: Ben

Gathering for the start. Photo credit: Ben

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Mike Lesher

Photo credit: Mike Lesher

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

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

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

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

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

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Cayuga Trails 50 – The highs outweigh the lows

Photo credit: Ron Heerkens

Photo credit: Ron Heerkens

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

Photo credit: Ron Heerkens

Photo credit: Ron Heerkens

6 am

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

The Course

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

Elevation Profile

Elevation Profile

Part 1

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

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

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

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

Running with Joe Murphy - Photo credit: Ron Heerkens

Running with Joe Murphy – Photo credit: Ron Heerkens

Part 2

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

Finishing Loop 1 - Photo credit: Mountain Peak Fitness

Finishing Loop 1 – Photo credit: Mountain Peak Fitness

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

Part 3

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Ron Heerkens

Photo credit: Ron Heerkens

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

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

Part 4

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

The Flower

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

Clenching the wilted flower in my left hand

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post-race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And of course another awesome race video courtesy of Jared:

 

JFK 38 Mile

DNFAs you probably already know, I did not finish the JFK 50 mile race on November 22nd. This was my goal race for the year. I spent a big chunk of my season preparing for this race. I was excited and I was ready. I researched this race more than I have any other. I read a book about it, I read so many race reports I felt like I could run it in my sleep. I watched every YouTube video I could find. I wanted this race! Sometimes you just don’t have a good day – it happens quite often. Sometimes you stick it out and learn a lot about your body and yourself. And sometimes you throw in the towel. Was I bummed? Of course. But the decision to pull out at mile 38 was totally my choice. There was no one or nothing to blame. I had a bad day and I chose to end it.

I am not new to the dreaded DNF. Although it doesn’t get any easier mentally I must say that either with age, or simply the ever-growing number of races I have done, I have come to terms with weighing the pluses and minuses of the decision and feeling “okay” with it. Many say that the pain of not finishing is far worse than the pain of sticking it out. I can understand that. Some may say that quitting is a sign of weakness. I understand that view too. For me, I don’t have that burning desire to finish when something is going on with my body. Of course the thought of walking the final 12 miles popped into my head. But that thought was quickly squashed because 1) that would only make me feel worse both mentally and physically, 2) I didn’t feel the need to simply finish the race by walking, and 3) I had a support crew out there in the cold who, although he would’ve supported me the whole way, didn’t deserve to endure the additional hours it would take me to walk.

I know there will always be another race. And another race. And another race. Although I spent a lot of time and miles on November 22nd talking to myself about the decision, I feel that I made the right choice for me personally. Having a fellow runner whom I met at Blues Cruise going through the same physical and emotional pain with me at the same point was very helpful. Those last miles would have been exponentially more painful without Mike Dolan by my side. So without further delay, here is my race report of the first 38 miles of JFK.
jfk logoI don’t think it was even 20 degrees when we left the hotel during that dark Saturday morning to head to Boonsboro high school. A chilly reminder as to why I’m not a huge fan of fall racing 😉 But nothing could deter the excitement I had to get out there! The cold wasn’t even a big deal – you have the pre-race meeting in the gym which was warm, and then 15 minutes before the race you walk about a mile to the start line, where they start on time! The sun was out by now and it was a beautiful morning.

The start was pretty congested as expected with a race of that size. Plus there is no regard to lining up by your projected pace, which was evidenced when a guy next to me was telling his running buddies that he would be thrilled with an 11:00 pace. However there are 50 miles ahead – plenty of time. Plus the start takes you along roads before transitioning to the Appalachian Trail so there was no rush to get your spot right out of the gate. The gun went off and by the 1/2 mile mark things already started to shake out. There were 2 women that immediately stood out. Justine Morrison, who finished 2nd overall for the day, took the early charge up the winding hills along the road. Quick to chase after her was Sarah Bard – the overall female finisher for the day. It was tempting to stick with them but I held myself back. It was way too early for me to worry about my position, and I really wanted to run my own race. I kept them close, and as we were about to enter the trails Sarah popped off into the port-a-pot and I slipped into 2nd place.

I was excited to be on the trails but again tried to keep calm and stick with my plan. The trails were rocky but not very technical compared to what I’ve trained on both in PA and NY. It was hard to hold back when I feel that trails are my strength but at the same time I was trying to baby my left knee that was causing me problems in the 3 weeks leading up to the race. I hadn’t run any trails in those 3 weeks in hopes of keeping the injury at bay so I was unsure of how the rocky terrain would affect it. To my delight everything was feeling fine! Upon arriving at the next road section along the AT I spotted Justine just ahead of me. I was elated to see that she wasn’t too far ahead but I also knew that Sarah had to be right behind me. I kept reminding myself “the race is not won on the AT”.

I was feeling good, I was sticking to my pace, and I was feeling confident. And then…BAM! Right around mile 11 – it wasn’t an overly technical spot – it wasn’t even a downhill. I tripped and went down hard – my right knee smashing onto a nice big rock as my body flung forward, twisted, and my hip took the next impact. The guy who had been running behind me stopped saying “oh no – are you okay?” He bent over and grabbed me to help pick me back up but I told him to keep going. I was extremely appreciative of his concern and offer to help but I didn’t want to throw him off his pace. And really – I wasn’t ready to get up yet 😉 I laid crumpled momentarily – in shock that I just tripped for no apparent reason, taking stock of what was going on, and dealing with that rush of nausea you get when a flash of pain hits. I quickly gained my composure and remembered that this was a race – keep going!! It was a painful limp/jog for the next mile and as expected Sarah soon passed me. I was frustrated with my carelessness and remember telling myself “I am not going to let my demise come from a fall on the AT”. I wasn’t even 1/3 of the way into the race! After about a mile, things started to feel better. Kind of like when you’re new to trail running and you constantly twist your ankle. It hurts so bad that you feel you can barely run, but then before long it’s like it never even happened. I was still feeling pain and my knee was bleeding through my tights but I was able to run again – and before long I was back on pace. YES! Just a minor blip. All I needed to do was make it off this trail without further incident and once I hit the flat and forgiving rail trail my worries would be behind me. I was able to pass Sarah again as we started to descend – my confidence was back!

I completed the AT portion just one minute over my goal at 2:16. By the time I got onto the C&O canal I was in first place. That moment of holding the lead was brief though, as both Justine and Sarah came flying by me. Again I knew to let them go. I could tell they were both strong  runners and that pace would blow me up for sure. My plan was to maintain my goal pace and see what I could do once I got to the final portion of the race – the 8+ miles on roads. My pace felt comfortable as I was settling in both physically and mentally for the marathon on the rail trail.

JFK

C&O Canal Trail – Photo credit: Pulin Modi

Only a few miles in I could tell that my rock collision was going to cause problems. My theory that the rail trail would be gentler on my body was proving to be wrong. My knee was screaming with each step and my hip was as well. I convinced myself that this was going to be a painful race, but not impossible. The pain could wear off again like it did on the trails. However it wasn’t wearing off – it was only getting worse. And with no one around me on the trail it was getting to be dark place. Literally – other than the aid stations I spent most of those 20 miles completely alone. Alone with my pain and alone with my thoughts.

The idea started to creep in that I was going to need to stop running. That of course is followed with the argument in my mind “quitting is not an option. You will not DNF.” No one wants to give up that easily. My pace was slowing but I was still running – that’s all I needed to do. As I was approaching mile 27 where your support is allowed to meet you I was prepared to call it a day. As Jared handed me the items I had requested at that stop the tears came as I explained to him what was going on. He wasn’t having it as he coaxed me to keep running while he handed over my supplies. I really just wanted to stop for a minute. Crying and complaining about the pain I was in made me feel like a big baby and really quite silly, so I pulled up my big girl pants and carried on. And for a moment I mentally felt good again – like I could overcome this. Heck – I was more than halfway done – I could keep going. That mental boost was short-lived as reality set back in. And around mile 30 I really started to fall apart. I was reduced to a jog/hobble and kept repeating “just keep moving forward”. Over and over. Forward progress is progress. This was followed by walking breaks. Ugghhh…dreaded walking breaks. Is anything more annoying? I don’t even know why I was doing it – it wasn’t helping the situation at all.

This went on until about mile 36 when during one of my fabulous walking breaks I turned around to see a familiar face. Mike Dolan had passed me in the last few miles of Blues Cruise and we talked after the race about…well JFK of course! He seemed to be in trouble too and he stopped to walk with me. We shared our stories of our unraveling – both of us had fallen on the AT and you can only outrun a damaging impact for so long. I of course felt horrible that someone else was sharing my bad experience today, but I was also very grateful to have him alongside me – sharing the same mental and physical pain together. Misery loves company right? We both decided that we would pull out at mile 38 – the next stop where your support had access. We talked about walking the rest of the race…more than once, we did math in our heads to determine how long this would take, we weighed the options of whether or not that was even worth it. We were now both freezing since our exertion was low, and we considered the people who were there for us. We probably sounded like crazy people as we kept bouncing thoughts off one another. We cursed, we made fun of ourselves as people passed and yelled “great job!”, but most of all we lifted each other’s spirits. We tried to run a few times – each time getting only a few steps before one of us felt the need to stop again. We planned to jog one minute, walk one minute the rest of the way and we only made it through one interval of that. We were a pathetic duo but at least we were not alone.

That 2 mile walk felt like an hour (it may have been for all I know!). Finally we approach the 38 mile rest stop where Mike is happy to see his wife hadn’t bailed on him 😉 I knew Jared was there because Pulin had just started driving down the road along the trail on a search mission. Mike and I said our heartfelt goodbye’s and reminded each other that we will get the next one. Once I got into the car that’s when the emotion hit as well as the doubt as to whether or not I made the right decision. My brain knew I did, but the heart wasn’t totally on board yet. Next we had to drive to the finish line to drop off my chip. Just driving along the course towards the finish line made me feel an inch tall. With the last twist of the knife, Sarah was coming towards the finish. She looked great and I was excited for her – this was her first 50 miler and she nailed it! Congrats on a solid performance!

That is it. My race and my season ended by a tumble on the trail. Hard to swallow but you do, and then you move on. Some positives for the day: I feel like I was nailing my nutrition – at least for those first 38 miles. My gear selection was spot on. I chose to race in my inov-8 Roclite 243’s.

inov-8 Roclite 243

inov-8 Roclite 243

They were perfect for this race as they are the most versatile shoe. They offer protection, grip, and responsiveness on the trails while being lightweight and not too trail-like and cumbersome for the roads. A lot of people change shoes once they come off the AT and I specifically choose the Roclite’s so that I wouldn’t feel any need for that. I also wore my inov-8 Race Elite 200 tights for this chilly day.

inov-8 Race Elite 220 tight

inov-8 Race Elite 220 tight

These tights feel like pajama pants to me, so that is really a no-brainer. Comfort and warmth – win! Then of course there was my trusted inov-8 Race Ultra Vest.

inov-8 Race Ultra Vest

inov-8 Race Ultra Vest

I ran the AT with only water in the reservoir, and then (the plan was) grab bottle of electrolyte drink at the support stations. I believe this was the perfect set-up to fuel my race and stash my nutrition. (see my full review of this vest here) Anytime I run trails I like to wear my 110% Flat Out Sox for targeted compression and stability.

flat out sox

110% Play Harder Flat Out Sox

Under my race singlet I wore my 110% Katalyst Short Sleeve top.

110% Play Harder Flat Out Sox

110% Play Harder Katalyst Short Sleeve

They are not kidding when they say it is like a 2nd skin. It’s form-fitting without feeling tight and constrictive, the thermal regulation is like no other top I’ve worn, and you never have to worry about chafing. A hands-down must-have for an ultra event.

Even without completing the race, I can say that the JFK 50 miler is a well-organized and high energy race. Although you spend many lonesome miles along the rail trail, each aid station is well-stocked with happy and helpful volunteers. I will definitely be back!

I of course thank Jared for his support. Not only during the race enduring hours in the cold but also for dealing with my pre-race craziness, and post-race breakdown. I couldn’t ask for a more supportive and caring person to be by my side. Thank you to Pulin Modi who drove up from DC to cheer for me. And take the only decent picture to document my day 😉 And of course a big thank you to all of my friends who sent such supportive and encouraging messages. I am surrounded by the most amazing people!

Another great season is in the books (year-end wrap-up coming soon…) thanks to my sponsors Inov-8 and 110% who keep me well-equipped and outfitted in top-of-the-line gear. Having gear that you can trust and performs as you need it to is a major contributor to success. Being able to race in the industry’s best gear means I only have to worry about one thing on race day – me. Specifically, not falling 😉

The mental pain has mostly faded. After running for only the 2nd time since November 22nd my knee is reminding me that it’s not quite ready to forget the pain. Rest and recovery are on the menu, as well as lots of time in the gym re-building strength and stability. As I start planning 2015 I am super-excited for another season of awesome racing, unforgettable friends, and many more learning experiences.

Take care and enjoy the holidays!

 

I found my match! Inov-8 Race Ultra Vest

To say I am picky about my methods of hydration is an understatement. Let’s face it – I drink A LOT while training and racing. Some people give me odd looks and/or make fun of me. I don’t care. I’m a thirsty girl. Of the many lessons I’ve learned over the years one of the most important for me is to HYDRATE! Waking up in an ambulance after collapsing on a race course from a heat stroke will do that to you.

Hydration is easy on the bike – so many options and places to store bottles of fluids. There are also various options for running – handheld bottles of varying sizes, waist packs that can hold multiple flasks/bottles/gel packs, etc. And then there are packs. All of them have their positives and negatives. If you are anything like me you’ve probably tried them all. I’m at the point where upon opening my “gear cabinet”, run-specific bottles and flasks come a-tumbling. I like options.

Handhelds are okay for shorter runs, but I get really annoyed by carrying anything in my hands. Waist packs can also be good for shorter runs, and they offer options for conveniently carrying other gear like keys, food, and you cell phone. However I don’t always have the easiest time removing and replacing the bottles while I’m running. And of course there is inevitably some sort of “bounce” factor. My favorite way to go is the pack. They can hold large amounts of fluid which sets my mind at ease, and most have extra storage/pockets for other goodies.

Although I prefer packs, there are times when they just seem like “too much.” That was until the inov-8 Race Ultra Vest came into my life. It may sound cliché, but it was a game-changer for a hydration junkie like myself. A dream come true for a thirsty minimalist! As soon as I strapped it on I was in love.
raceultravestConfession time: when it first arrived I actually wore it around the house that day. I was so excited by its sleek design and badass look I just couldn’t resist! And the comfort? Okay it was empty at the time but it fit unlike any pack I’ve ever tried. With adjustment straps across the chest and on the sides you could practically mold this bad boy to your torso. A hydration vest that works well for a petite female? Pinch me!

Time to put the vest to the test

The first time I used the vest I opted to fill the reservoir only which holds 2 liters. The reservoir fits nicely into an insulated sleeve which then drops into the large stretch mesh pocket in the rear. The straw is insulated as well and can be fed through the shoulder straps on either side of the pack.
raceultravest2The nozzle has an on/off option and a cap that can either be used to keep dirt out or be removed entirely. I tend to use the cap only during travel and remove it when it’s time to run. When using the pack without the bottles this opens up 2 large pockets in the front to stash lots of handy items – cell phone, trail snacks, etc. But fear not, there are still 2 additional stretch mesh pockets on each side that although may be narrow at the opening (which is great for security like your key and/or money) can hold a lot of items as well!
raceultravest3I set off on my run with a full pack and immediately fell in love with the snug fit that kept the vest from bouncing around. I realized that I would be relying heavily on this vest for training runs!

The big question for me –  would the addition of the 2 – 500 ml bottles throw me off by making the pack too wide? Surprisingly they were not in the way at all. They are angled in a fashion as to not hinder your arm swing, which also makes them easier to retrieve and replace on the run. Each pocket has a bungee strap that stretches over the cap to keep the bottles from flying out on rugged terrain. The small pull tab make the bungees easy to maneuver as well. So now I can have 2 liters of water and another 1000 ml of electrolyte drink. Score!

Other cool things to mention? The whistle that is latched onto the chest strap of course! Go ahead bears, try me.
braveheart bearAlthough the vest is not made for a ton of storage, the reservoir pocket on the back is stretchy enough to allow for some gear. So far I’ve used it for a trail map (I’m forever getting lost), gloves and sleeves. I’m sure you could stash a few other small items in there as well.

I’ve now raced twice with this pack – once with the bottles and once without. Complaints? None that I can find yet! And although I’ve (mostly) given up wearing it around the house, I have definitely put some miles in. I’ve even used it on a shorter run that required me to carry some gear. I removed the insulation sleeve and reservoir and had lots of space to store things.

The pack in action!

SRT 20 miler - with bottles. Photo credit: Tom Bushey

SRT 20 miler – with bottles. Photo credit: Tom Bushey

Blues Cruise 50k - without bottles. Photo credit: Jim Blandford

Blues Cruise 50k – without bottles. Photo credit: Jim Blandford

So there you have it – the Race Ultra Vest is the perfect fit for me. It’s no surprise that this vest has been the recipient of some big time awards. If you love getting lost in the trails for hours and are looking for a minimalist pack that provides all the necessities while at the same time is barely noticeable – I highly recommend you check this one out!
Race_Ultra_Vest_awardSee you on the trails!

SRT 20 miler

I’m very lucky to have so many amazing trails within minutes of my house. Since moving to New Paltz, NY in February, the Shawangunk Mountains have been my playground.

I decided to participate in the Shawangunk Ridge Trail run/hike 20 miler as a tune-up and test for my 50k this coming weekend. In the inaugural event, Ken and Todd offered 3 days of racing to those who share the thrill of running wild on the trails of Hudson Valley. A 74-mile jaunt began Friday night. Out of 5 starters, only one man finished – kudos to him for toughing it out! Saturday hosted the 32 mile option – this one tempted me but I am not yet prepared to run such long distances so close in proximity. Plus, I heard that the first section of the 32-mile race was brutal! I opted for the 20-miler on Sunday, which turned out to be a perfect option for me.

Trail blazes marked our course

Trail blazes marked our course

The race was point-to-point and un-supported which made it interesting. The trails were blazed by the Trail Conference, but there were no other markings. There was a GPS app you could download and 2 checkpoints along the course, but beyond that you were on your own. About half of the race took you through some great technical trails. You then transition onto the roads and run down the mountain before turning onto the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail for the last few miles to the finish.

When we were released onto the trails, I went off the front along with 3 other guys – I could tell this was going to be a fast race. As the leader Jason pulled away I jumped in front of the other 2 guys for our first section of climbing. Before long we hit some descents and I could hear the 2 guys coming up quickly. I stepped aside to let them pass – this was a “training” race and I was not about to take any risks. This allowed the 3 guys to open a substantial gap on me but I was fine with this. Before even hitting 2 miles one of them went down hard with a twisted ankle. After making sure he was okay I once again took off into the woods – still a lot of miles ahead!

Passing through checkpoint one it was time for the long, gradual climb along Old Minnewaska Trail. I could see one, then both men ahead of me as I made my way along the path feeling both strong and confident. When I made my first pass I urged him to hop on as Jason was just ahead of us, but I continued on alone. When I reached Jason I let him know that no one was with me and we chatted for a while as we hopped onto the Undivided Lot trail – one of my favorites! I offered to take a turn pulling but Jason had a different idea. He said he would pull me through the woods if I pulled him up the hills and along the road. I have to admit Jason – I did not want to be pulled through the woods 😉 But I am not opposed to working together, and thought maybe it was a smart idea to settle in for a while and save myself for later in the race. Jason again took the descents with a tenacity that I was not willing to partake in that day. And sure enough he took a rough tumble in turn. He appeared to be no worse for the wear and continued on. Once we got to the first “climb” in that section it was my turn to take over and pull. But I realized pretty quickly that Jason wasn’t coming with me. Sorry Jason – it was time to run my race! (read Jason’s race report here)

Photo credit: Tom Bushey

Photo credit: Tom Bushey

Crossing over the road onto Chapel Trail – I forgot how tough that section is! I resorted to power-hiking at that point – this year I have learned when to embrace the power hike as a smart move and not to be ashamed of it! I was excited to arrive at Spring Farm because I knew there was only a little bit of climbing left to do on this course. I became anxious when I did not see a checkpoint there, as this was the section of the course I was unsure of. I came across Ken and asked him about the trails ahead. He assured me that I wouldn’t have any issues finding my way and I left it at that – forgetting he doesn’t know me and how easily I become lost 😉 Sure enough I popped out onto the carriage road, turned in the direction I knew was correct, but quickly questioned my route. I stopped halfway up a climb to look around, then started heading back down the hill before realizing I would have to run it again if it was in fact the correct route. I then resorted to pulling out my phone, pulling up the app, and confirming that I was on course. Phew! Now I took off at almost a sprint to make up for that unwanted break.

Photo credit: Tom Bushey

Photo credit: Tom Bushey

Before long I hit the second checkpoint onto Mountain Rest Road. This is a long, steep, and curvy downhill that I love…to ride on the bike. It was refreshing to hit the pavement and pick up the pace, but within only minutes I was ready to get off that road! My quads were not happy with the pace I was tackling and the undulating stretch seemed to go on forever. Once you get to the bottom of the mountain you turn onto another road that offers a short climb (to which my legs were not happy to respond) before turning down another road with a steep descent. I reasoned with myself that the faster I ran, the sooner I would be on the rail trail 😉

20140921SRTrace

Photo credit: Tom Bushey

Onto the rail trail at last – at a spot where I run a majority of my recovery miles. A section where miles tend to tick away quickly and effortlessly. Not today! The heat and humidity were starting to really take their toll and I felt like I was moving backwards. Passing the Rail Trail Café where I knew I’d be enjoying lunch soon gave me that last boost knowing I had less than 2 miles to go. And finally the trestle bridge – with no shade and thick, hot air I definitely got that dizzy feeling that the diagonal planks create. The finish line was just ahead and I was happy to see it!

Throughout the day runners continued to venture in – everyone wearing smiles from an awesome adventure on a challenging yet fun course. The race was exactly what I had hoped for. I was happy with how I paced it and how I felt – just the confidence boost I needed! And of course I was aiming for the overall award…
SRT awardCongrats to everyone who tackled any of the SRT challenges! Thank you to Ken and Todd for creating such a cool event. And of course thank you to Inov-8 and 110% for providing gear that allows me to run my best! This was my first time racing in my x-talon 190’s. I knew they would not be necessary for the road and rail trail portion of the race, but I was definitely happy to have them for the technical sections. And they did not feel uncomfortable or slow me down on the road and rail trail. This was my first time racing with the Race Ultra Vest and testing the full fluid capacity (2 liter reservoir + 2-500 ml bottles). I will be writing a product review of this vest soon, but for now I will tell you this was more comfortable to race in than I imagined! Another staple to my trail racing are 110%’s Flat Out Sox. Tackling long miles on uneven terrain my legs welcome these fatigue-reducing compression socks to keep me feeling fresh through the finish line.

Finish time – 2:32
Lunch on the course – vegan bean & sweet potato burrito 🙂