#Power2Push – Run Across America

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

Shamus kicking off the journey in the Pacific Ocean

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

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

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

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

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

Shaun and Shamus - a strong team!

Shaun and Shamus – a strong team!

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

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

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

Evans Family Strong!

Evans Family Strong!

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

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

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

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

Shaun and Shamus finishing a run

Shaun and Shamus finishing a run

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

Shaun running with Simon

Shaun running with Simon

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

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

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

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

Facebook
Instagram
Twitter

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

#Power2Push #TogetherWeShall #RollWithTheWind #AcrossAmerica #RunAcrossAmerica

All the good things

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

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

Photo taken from Scott Jurek's Facebook page

Photo taken from Scott Jurek’s Facebook page

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

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

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

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

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

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

VEGAN POWER 50K

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

Our cozy room

Our cozy room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Ben Kimball/Northeast Race Photo

Photo credit: Ben Kimball/Northeast Race Photo

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

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

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

 

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:

 

“The Vegans” take over Cape Cod

Ragnar Cape Cod – May 8th and 9th 2015. What an experience! You would think that being stuck in a van with 6 other people for so many hours without sleep would feel like a never-ending endeavor. It never is. It always flies by in a flash and once we all part ways to go back to our everyday lives we wonder why it had to come to an end so soon. We wish we could be back in that van – in desperate need of a shower, a wholesome hot meal, our beds… just because the experience is so positive, motivating and downright fun. Some of us show up to this event as absolute strangers but we leave as close friends. We’ve shared a powerful experience and although we may all come from different backgrounds we share 2 common passions – running and promoting ethical veganism to both our supporters and the naysayers. And I’d say we do a damn good job at both!

Let’s start with the obvious reasons why this Ragnar event took our cause to a new level of awesome:

sponsor

We wanted to take over the Cape and we succeeded! There were plenty of comments about how we were everywhere. “How many of you are there?” Our shirts are bold, our attitudes positive and our message clear – anything you can do we can do vegan!

We did have a goal going into this event. Out of the 3 teams we created Team A to include the fastest runners of our group. We wanted to win. The A Team was the last to start – at 1 pm on Friday. In our ~22 hours on the course we passed a LOT of teams – all getting the view of the back of our shirts:
2015 back logoMission accomplished! Out of 332 Mixed Open (co-ed) teams we were 1st Overall! 3rd overall out of 456 12-person teams, and 4th overall out of 512 total teams (including the ultra teams). As co-captain Scott Spitz pointed out in regards to the team who has the fastest finishing time, “the team consisted of college kids who were not running with the accumulated emotional baggage of divorce, kids, unemployment, employment, etc….so factor in that manner of “life grading”…and we basically won.” 🙂

A Team

A Team – Top Row from Left: Scott Gilroy, Suzie Constantin, Jeremy Ritz-Totten, Adrian Centoni, Ian Sherlock, Clifford Dean, Sean Scott, Mike Pease, Chris Cooney. Bottom Row from left: Micah Risk, Scott Spitz, Laura Kline, Aaron Zellhoefer, Christine Tylee

Team B Ragnar 3 Finish

B Team – Top Row from left: Peter Guarino, Jonny Hero, Scott Barras, Jonathan Auyer, Skott Daltonic, Jason Young, Martin Rowe. Middle Row from left: Laura Ryan, Kaitlin Long, Dana Portnoy, Meghann Wilson. Bottom Row from left: Sheila Bailey, Becca Wellner, Stephanie Crumley.

 

C Team -

C Team – Top Row from left: Laura Gardner, Michael Harren, Scott Henderson, Julie Henderson, Joel Capolongo, Peter Nussbaum, Kendra Murphy, Kate Paice-Froio. Bottom Row from left: Summer Keown, Carrie Hineline, Alicia Ford, Jasmin Singer, Melissa Centoni, Molly Wason.

What about the running? Well, I barely remember that part 😉 A whole lot of work was put into making this event happen, and I’ve never been so exhausted before the Ragnar even started! Once we all converged at the Whole Foods in Hingham, MA – the chaos began! Organizing 42 people, tons of food, race gear, binders, etc. into 6 assigned vans was quite the task. It basically looked like a party erupted in that parking lot before the store even opened, and it wasn’t long before the manager of Whole Foods came outside to check it out. He was super-cool and supportive of our efforts, and minutes later emerged with a shopping cart full of cases of water to donate to our cause.

Thank you Whole Foods!

Thank you Whole Foods!

We all made it to the start line with just enough time to get C Team ready for the first start, and our awesome team photo (in the sponsor picture above). One by one each of our 3 teams set off to run 192 miles from Hull to Provincetown, MA. We would only see each other again for a brief time at one of the major exchanges when we all caught up to one another.

Coming into the exchange after my first leg

Coming into the exchange after my first leg

The real fun started as each of our teams reached the finish line. We were finally able to see everyone again and do some relaxing now that our journey was coming to an end. As each team arrived, we all ran through the finish chute together. It was quite a sight when Team C finished – all 42 of us, and even a few of our awesome vegan volunteers – storming the finish line with the announcer saying “Here come the vegans, surrounded by butterflies. Everyone loves the vegans!”

We placed our mark on the Ragnar Wall before heading out to our meet-up spot to celebrate and hand out awards.
wall2
wall1It’s difficult to sum up how awesome this opportunity is for us. We all see the tide turning as more and more people are not only accepting, but praising and seeking information about veganism. One of the greatest things we do at Ragnar (beyond our awesome running) is talk to people. Runners, volunteers, even residents of the towns we pass through see our shirts, our smiling faces, and the fun that we are having. We are often approached by people who want to know more – they want to learn about our cause, why we choose veganism, what we eat. All of our teammates are happy to share our experiences and that is what this is all about. Other vegan runners are excited to see us – they come up and thank us for doing what we’re doing and ask how they can be a part of it.

We rarely hear negative comments or even the ever-so-popular “I love bacon!” Mainly we hear “Go VEGAN!” and “damn those vegans are fast!” I’ll wrap this up with a bit of humor – here are 2 exchanges I learned about through other teammates:

At C Team’s start line:
Announcer: “And here they are with their healthy diet – Vegan Power!”
Skott Daltonic: “It’s more than just a diet man, it’s a lifestyle. Also have you seen me at a vegan bakery before?”

In the shuttle parking lot on the way to the finish line:
A burly member of Team Taekwondo: “If you want to perform like a bull, you have to eat like a bull!”
Alicia Ford: “Yeah but bulls eat grass.”
Burly dude: “Damn, and you are smarter than me too!”

Oh how I love this team!

One last note – we are currently fielding teams for the Ragnar Adirondacks on September 25th and 26th. If you are a vegan runner who wants to be a part of something amazing, please get in touch! If you are a vegan who doesn’t love running, we’re going to need drivers too! We had 6 awesome drivers who were so inspired by this event – they will all be running the next one! Check out our website and our Facebook fan page to keep up-to-date with what we are doing!

And last…check out this awesome video that Chris Cooney, of The Vegan Zombie fame, made during the last few hours of Team A Van 2’s race.

(that’s right, there’s not just 1, but 2 Runners World cover models in this video!)

STRONG HEARTS TO THE FRONT!

First Race of 2015 – Syracuse Half Marathon

syracuse halfThat title sounds so exciting, but unfortunately my performance was not 😉 But hey – you gotta get that first race of the season out of the way! So why not do it surrounded by some of your greatest friends – who both shared the race course with you and stood on the sidelines in less than ideal weather to support the team. Although I wasn’t thrilled with my race I wasn’t down about it because I knew this race was going to be a test of my fitness. I’ve been a hermit this winter – enduring most of my miles on the treadmill. I have only done one speed work session outside. And craziest of all – I haven’t raced on the road since…gulp…the beginning of September! And that was a 5k. This race would be interesting…

Last year I found myself ill-prepared for the race conditions after traveling to Syracuse with only my racing flats that have zero tread on them. The slick, snow-covered roads did not agree with my attempts to run hard. Instead I opted to have one amazing race experience by running with one of my dearest friends Kate. You may remember our finishing shot – I know I sure do – I love this photo of shared friendship!
syracuse half finishHowever this year I came prepared. And true to Syracuse fashion I awoke Sunday morning to look outside and see a fresh blanket of snow. It wasn’t nearly as daunting as usual – maybe I’m just used to waking up at Marc and Amy’s on race morning, taking a look outside, and contemplating throwing the covers back over my head to sleep right through the race. I also think that my mental state going into this race was “no expectations”. I set out to pick up my teammate Jeremy on the way downtown and it started as a slow drive on the slippery back roads. Soon enough the sun came out and it looked to be an awesome day ahead. The only other challenge was to survive the cold – the temps were in the teens and the wind chill took a good 10 degrees off that. But hey, I had my inov-8 Trailroc 150’s this year so I knew the terrain wouldn’t be an issue.

I was happy we arrived early because the Oncenter was jam packed. Bathroom lines were an issue as well as simply navigating through the building. Luckily they announced a 15 minute delay but unfortunately it wasn’t enough time to get the full Strong Hearts Run Club/Strong Hearts Vegan Power team into the group shot 😦 So here we are in two parts.

Ray, Jeremy, Joel, Peter, Sean, Suzie and I

Ray, Jeremy, Joel, Peter, Sean, Suzie and I

buffalo

Carrie, Julie & Scott

It was time to step outside and I had no time for a warm-up. I’ve gotten used to skipping my warm up for trail and ultra races, so I didn’t stress too much about this. But damn it was cold! The sunshine helped but I was ready to get started. The gun went off and what do ya know – I wasn’t slipping! I feel like I had a smile on my face because this race was already an improvement over last year. 2 girls led the charge and I simply concerned myself with settling in to a comfortable pace. I did not think that winning was on the table today, so I did not pressure myself to go too hard or chase anyone down.

When I hit the first mile I wasn’t happy with my split, but I also wasn’t surprised. To put a positive twist on it I convinced myself that maybe all of this ultra running has taught me to pace better. Perhaps I was going to ease into this race and get faster as I go. Well I was wrong there, but it was a good practice in positive mental attitude 🙂 I was able to pass the girl who was in 2nd place early on, but the leader was far ahead and there was no chance of me gaining ground on her. At mile 3 a spectator told me she was 400 meters ahead and although I always appreciate receiving feedback like that, I knew it wasn’t going to make me go any faster. There was a definite highlight of this race – passing one of the female traffic enforcers she simply said to me “Go kick those guys’ asses.” It was very blunt – no excitement in her voice – it made me laugh 🙂

The course was in great shape considering the prior day’s weather – thanks to the race crew who spent the morning salting for us! Although my pace was slower than I would have liked to my surprise I was staying consistent. At some point past the halfway mark I could hear that there was another girl closing in on me. When she made her pass I offered her words of encouragement – she was looking strong! One blatant error I made was opting not to take in nutrition. I normally would during a half. I was wearing my super-bulky-warm gloves and my gel was zipped into my back pocket. The thought of taking off a glove to get it seemed way too challenging. I justified this by deciding it would be a glycogen-depleting run. However I don’t think you should practice this during a race 🙂 Honestly I don’t think it hurt me – it was lack of fitness that got me that day – plain and simple.

Within the last 2 miles another girl passed me. Coming into the last mile I thought I may be able to catch her but I didn’t put in any effort to do so. I simply maintained. I picked the spot where I would kick and when I arrived decided I didn’t have it in me to kick yet. I picked the next spot, and again realized it wasn’t there. I wasn’t passing anyone, and I surely wasn’t anywhere near a PR, so I finished my race satisfied with my effort for the day. I don’t think I left it all out there, but anytime I thought I should try to go harder I kept the thought of this weekend’s marathon in the back of my mind.

Hitting the finish line. Strong Hearts to the front! Photo credit: Kendra Murphy

Hitting the finish line. Strong Hearts to the front! Photo credit: Kendra Murphy

I finished in 1:26:47 – minutes away from my PR but I will take it for an early season race in cold weather. I was the 4th overall female and placed 1st in the 35-39 Age Group. It always feels great to be back out on the race course and today was no different! Now I have a better idea of where I stand fitness-wise and it’s time to build off that.

All of the Strong Hearts crew had a great race in less-than-ideal conditions. A special shout-out to Suzie who completed her first half marathon! She’s been training hard for this day and she killed it! #strongheartsrun #tothefront

Joel finishing with Suzie

Joel finishing with Suzie Photo Credit: Thad Jackson

 

 

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!

 

Blues Cruise 50k – Take 2

I was excited to return to Blues Cruise this year for a number of reasons. It was my first 50k, Blue Marsh Lake is a childhood landmark, but mainly because I wanted to see what I’ve learned from last year’s attempt. If you read my race report from 2013 you may remember that I was not even close to prepared to tackle the distance. I wanted to come back this year with the preparation, the training, and the knowledge of what it takes to successfully race a 50k.

Right from the start the cards were stacked in my favor this year. Last year’s temperatures soared which was odd for the time of year. Sunday we were lucky to have what I would call the best running conditions. Temps were in the low 40’s at the start with an anticipated high in the low 60’s for the day. THIS is fall running! Love it!

The course changes direction every year, with 2014 running clockwise for the one-loop, 31 mile trail around the lake. I was told this was the easier route and I was determined to take full advantage of it. Lining up at the start of an ultra is so relaxing – there is no need to sprint out of the gate.
start lineRace director Stephan Weiss let out the command to go and this year’s start was more relaxed than the last. I was able to quickly settle into my own pace and for once I was not letting others dictate my pace. Progress! I spent a few miles lagging behind 2 guys who were only slightly further up the trail. I felt like I could have easily cranked up the effort for a short time to latch on and stick with them, but I felt it would be wiser of me to follow my plan. It paid off when I was able to pass one of them later in the race.

In fact, I felt so great during the first 10 miles running only slightly under my goal pace. I had a big smile on my face and was wondering if it was too good to be true. I felt so relaxed, in control and confident that I questioned whether or not I was taking it too easy. Luckily I talked myself out of that thought!
Pace for the first 10 miles – 7:32

Photo credit: Jim Blandford

Photo credit: Jim Blandford

At mile 12 I came across race photographer and amazing ultra runner in his own right Jim Blandford. He informed me that I was 9 minutes ahead of the next female. Eek!! This was too close for comfort. A bit of panic crept into my head as I spent the next few miles reasoning with myself. I wasn’t even halfway through the race – it was too soon to pick up the pace and risk blowing up. But what happens if this gap starts closing? I continued on, strong and focused. No need to panic just yet.

As I hit mile 20 I was excited to see Jared as he knew I wanted some data. He told me that I had at least 15 minutes on the next female. YES! This was such a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. Time to enjoy the last 11 miles of this course, which in my head were going to be the easiest (I obviously didn’t remember the first 11 miles from last year…).
Pace for the second 10 miles – 8:26

These last 11 miles were definitely not passing as quickly and easily as I had expected. Even though my pace hadn’t changed, my effort level felt way harder. I had spent my day running by myself and at this point was really craving some company. I heard a pack of guys making ground behind me and was not at all upset about the thought of them passing me as it would at least give me some running partners. Eventually 2 of them caught on to me and then made a pass. This definitely helped me mentally to have runners around me for a short time. As we tackled these last hills that continued to taunt us so close to the finish, I worked to keep one of them in sight. At last, I popped out onto the road and was so happy knowing that finish line was quickly approaching. Even better? Not only was I going to surpass my goal of 4:15 – I was also going to snag a course record!

Photo credit: Jim Blandford

Photo credit: Jim Blandford

There was much for me to celebrate – I achieved so many goals. I got a better handle on pacing, I raced my own race instead of getting caught up in what others were doing, I stayed relaxed, in control, and confident – I didn’t once let negative talk creep into my thoughts.
Pace for the last 11 miles – 8:24

Photo credit: Jim Blandford

Photo credit: Jim Blandford


I cannot say enough great things about this race. To start – Stephan Weiss, Mike Yoder and the Pagoda Pacers do an amazing job at making sure everything runs smoothly so that you have an enjoyable day on the trails. The sense of community they create is second to none! The aid stations are well-stocked with friendly, lively volunteers who are eager to assist you with your needs. Furthermore there is no shortage of fuel. The course is spectacular just in its uniqueness alone. It’s not often that you will find a one-loop 50k course. The trails offer a little bit of everything while being extremely runnable. Single track, open fields, stone trails, dirt trails, rocks and roots – you’ll get it all. I went with my main squeeze – the inov-8 trailroc 150’s again this year to tackle the course. They never let me down! Although I love all of inov-8’s trail shoes, these are by far my favorite.

And I can’t fail to mention the swag…all finishers received a long sleeve tech shirt, a water bottle, a tech hat, AND a custom kitty throne!
swagWe all know I’m a sucker for unique awards. This sailboat definitely ranks in the top 5!

Photo credit: Jim Blandford

Photo credit: Jim Blandford

Again in 2014 Blues Cruise was the RRCA Regional 50k Championship. Congrats to Mike Dixon who also broke the course record.

Photo credit: Jim Blandford

Photo credit: Jim Blandford

Also congratulations to the masters champions, Justin Krebs and Elisa Edgar.

Photo credit: Jim Blandford

Photo credit: Jim Blandford

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out this cool race video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Kn1cHCZMJc

Now…time to focus on JFK!

Finish time – 4:09:17

 

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 😉

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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 🙂

We’re Baaaack…Team Strong Hearts Vegan Power!

vegan worldThis is the true story… of 12 runners… picked to ride in 2 vans… work together to run 196.2 miles and spread their message of compassion…to find out how bad-ass you can be… when people stop supporting cruelty…and embrace living vegan… Team Strong Hearts Vegan Power!

Taking on Ragnar Adirondacks for a 2nd year. Here’s the line-up:

Becca “The Shark” Wellner – Syracuse, NY

becca

Becca

Years Vegan: 8
Theme song: Run the World – Beyoncé

Returning for her second year on Team Strong Hearts Vegan power, Becca is going to get this party started for us. I promise we didn’t invite her back for the pumpkin half-moon cookies she’s baking. That’s just an added bonus 🙂 Becca’s strong determination and great attitude are essential to this team. Heck, she raced Reach the Beach just last weekend as a “warm-up” for this event. How about that for dedication?

“I returned for another year because the experience last year was so incredible. I had the opportunity to meet some amazing people that went from strangers to close friends in 26 hours. I love the message we’re putting out there to the other teams and spectators and how we present it. Very excited to experience this all over again!”

“Monster” Mike Pease – Syracuse, NY

Years Vegan: 20

Mike

Mike

Don’t let the size of this guy fool you – the tall man can run! What fuels him? Throw some trash talk his way and watch what he can do. He’s returning this year with a vengeance – best stay out of his way. Rumor has it he’s been practicing his wrist band handoff (slap!) to avoid any further skull-crushing collisions.

Mike is also the owner of the Terri Restaurants in NYC. If you’re visiting the big city and are looking for something quick and healthy, stop in!

“I wanted to do the Ragnar with the Strong Hearts crew again because it was great motivation to train. I loved being part of a team that supports and counts on each other to compete in such a mentally and physically challenging event. And of course, showing people that vegans are badass mofos doesn’t hurt either!”

“Sergeant” Mario Mason – Syracuse, NY

Years Vegan: 18
Theme song: Born From Pain – Earth Crisis

Mario

Mario

One thing I know is that if you are showing any signs of weakness on that course, Mario will call you on it. This PGA golf pro and father of a 3-year-old vegan warrior has no tolerance for slackers. Go big or go home. Let’s get this guy a bullhorn! And he’s learning from the best – this year he’s being coached by the legendary Scott Spitz. Mario showed his grit last year by tackling the monster hill with a never-quit attitude – like a man possessed. I have no doubt he’s returning this year with even more fire. (see what I did there? #morefirerun)

“I am running on this team again because last year was awesome and also because it has given me a reason to train – I don’t want to let other people down and I love competition. The team also needs a jerk who will yell at people who are walking during their leg, and I feel that I can fill that role nicely. I also really like surrounding myself with people who eat a vegan diet because flesh eaters disgust me.”

“Rabid Man” Aaron Bell – Saint Simons Island, GA

Years Vegan: 4
Theme song: Hocus Pocus – Focus

aaron1

Aaron

Aaron may seem like a gentle giant with quotes such as “I like big dogs”, but don’t let him fool you. Aaron is so bad-ass he pops Nuun tablets like pez (note: no one on Team Strong Hearts Vegan Power endorses this use of Nuun). Water?!? Pssshhh – he’ll slap that water right out of your hand. He’d rather foam at the mouth to make sure all the other runners know he is all business.

“I’m returning because it’s an excuse to run in sub-100 degree heat! Seriously, I had an absolute blast last year and any way to do something I love, with the people I love, promoting a message I LOVE, is awesome.”

Jeremy “Birdman” Ritz-Totten – New York, NY

Years Vegan: 2
Theme song: Joy to the World – 3 Dog Night

jeremy

Jeremy

The first new recruit to the team. Although I have yet to meet Jeremy, I can tell by looking at his training that he is going to be an excellent addition. This guy can run some miles, and he runs them fast. On top of that he has a crazy amount of enthusiasm which is going to fuel van 1 for sure! Excellent recruitment Aaron. Welcome to the team Jeremy – I’m looking forward to seeing you fly through that course!

“I chose to be a part of the team for the challenge of doing a relay. I’ve only been seriously running for a little over a year. I joined this team by invitation from a high school friend (Aaron), but look forward to the camaraderie of competing in a compassionate and kick ass way with fellow vegan runners.”

Laura Kline – New Paltz, NY

Years Vegan: 9
Theme song – Eye of the Tiger – Survivor

VP50k finish

Me 🙂

Well obviously I’m back again 🙂 Ever since our team parted ways last year I couldn’t wait to do it again. Running, compassionate friends, vegan food, lots of laughter – that’s my idea of a good time! The impact we made and the attention we attracted at last year’s Ragnar far exceeded my expectations. With a solid crew of vegan ambassadors surrounding me – I will do it again and again. I can’t wait to make more memories and crush some more miles this year!

Kate “Glitter” Paice Froio – Cortland, NY

Years Vegan: 1

kate

Kate

Among Kate’s many super-powers, shooting glitter from her heart is one of my favorites! And what better way to spread the message of compassion – with bursts of glitter! 🙂 One of the most passionate, dedicated women I’ve ever met – this super-mom, super-wife & super-career woman adds an equal amount of commitment towards her running – encouraging others each and every step along the way. Her smile will brighten your day – so look for her on the course working hard but showing you she’s having the time of her life!

“As most vegans would say, the only regret they have is not doing it sooner. I couldn’t agree more. Three years vegetarian and one year vegan, my plan is to be the light for my friends and family, to show them being vegan is not extremist in any way. It’s a gentle and loving way to live.

I am inspired each day by my Strong Hearts Run Club and Strong Hearts Vegan Power teammates. I decided to run Ragnar ADK to mark my first full year of veganism. It’s a celebration of life and I wanted to share this experience with a core group of vegans who propel forward a mission of cruelty-free kindness and true vegan power.”

Sean “Liveabetes” Scott – Syracuse, NY

Years Vegan: 5
Theme song: Bolt Thrower – K-Machine

sean goat

Sean

Sean was an integral part of the team last year as the driver for van 1. But this year he’s about to show everyone that his talents extend beyond the steering wheel. The stank of that van was not the only thing to infect Sean – he caught the running bug too! And since then he’s been improving with leaps and bounds. Another Coach Scott Spitz protégé – he has become unstoppable. Hand over those keys Sean – time to crush some souls on the race course!

“After driving the male sweat lodge known as Van 1 last year I got fired up. I had been running a little before then but nothing consistent, and a 5k here and there. Seeing what these guys and gals were doing – something got me going. I broke through the limits I had for myself – the idea of “can’t” and the notion of “too much for me” went away. Joel initially asked if I wanted to run last year and I thought he was insane for asking me. But now my perspective is different: being vegan, as well as a life long diabetic, combined with how much further I am mentally now as opposed to this time last year I know for a fact I have the discipline to do this and a lot more. Being with Strong Hearts Run Club has motivated me and supported me, and as much as I prefer to go my own way it’s great to be a part of something putting a positive message out there knowing what it can do.”

Peter “The Protector” Nussbaum – Montague, NJ

Years Vegan: 6
Theme song: Firestorm/Forged in the Flames – Earth Crisis “Because it reminds me of Scott and no song (or person) motivates me better than that song and that person does.”

Peter

Peter with Yuri

When Peter’s not out clocking miles he’s protecting our fine feathered friends from slavery and abuse. He and his wife have been rescuing chickens and roosters to live out their lives at their ever-expanding sanctuary, Tamerlaine Farm. He may have a gentle demeanor and an enormous heart, but he will unleash hell in the Adirondacks!

“Last year I joined the team to meet and run with Scott Spitz whose writing was instrumental in motivating and educating me as a newly vegan runner six years ago. This year I am running for Scott. It is really that simple… Well, Scott and the animals of course! The new shirts sum it up well… Vegan for my health, for the planet, BUT MOSTLY FOR THE ANIMALS. How could I pass up the opportunity to run with an awesome bunch of like-minded people? I can’t wait to wear my new team shirt!”

Jonny “Hero” Rieth – Kennesaw, GA

Years Vegan: 20
Theme song: To Hell With The Devil – Stryper

jonny

Jonny

AKA “Freedom Fighter”. Suspected terrorist on your Ragnar course? Jonny will sniff them out and stomp them. What goes in – Newman-O’s and Vega Sport Gels. What comes out – an endless string of hilarity. Jonny may provide non-stop entertainment to his van mates, but when it comes to running he is all business. He takes his running, and his message, seriously. Something tells me he’s coming back even stronger this year. Terrorists be warned. America!

“I just moved from Grand Rapids, MI to Kennesaw GA so I don’t really know what the hell is going on. I know I’m vegan and I’m a solid runner. I’m part of this team because it’s 100% badass!”

Kaitlin “Krusher” Long – Albany, NY

Years Vegan: 10
Theme song: Firestarter – Prodigy

Kaitlin

Kaitlin

Another new addition to the team, Kaitlin is not new to Ragnar racing. In fact, any race/challenge you throw at this woman – she’s going to tackle it head-on! Fire jump? Barbed wire crawl? 10 foot wall? Nice try. Nothing will stand in the way of Kaitlin accomplishing her goals. And that is exactly what she has been doing with her running. Our third teammate coached by Scott Spitz, we hope to make this Kaitlin’s best Ragnar yet!

“I really love being a part of this team just because of all the support between the coaching from Scott to just the friends I’ve made. Running on an all vegan team has to be one of the biggest honors so far of my running career. I chose to be a part of this team so I can improve. Iron sharpens iron and I look up to all of you so much that it’ll be an honor to be running the same race with you all.”

“Captain” Joel Capolongo – Syracuse, NY

Years vegan: 21
Theme song: Who Dares Wins – Path of Resistance

Joel with Dylan

Joel with Dylan

Leader of this crew, owner of the team’s namesake – Strong Hearts Café, and bad-ass runner to boot! Joel took what was a celebration of his 20 year vegan anniversary and turned it into an awesome opportunity to spread our message and create lifelong memories for a group of 12 vegan athletes. Not to mention the lasting impression we left, and will continue to leave, on countless others. After ADK Ragnar 2013, Joel has taken his training to another level and his results show it! Joel’s going to be bringing it home for the team this year, and I know we all can’t wait to cross that finish line behind him!

“I chose to be a part of, and to organize, the team again because last year was such a great time for everyone involved, myself included. I like pushing myself to constantly better myself physically and mentally. The work that goes into training for a race like this fulfills that need and keeps me striving to achieve greater things.

More than that though, being a part of this team allows me to be an ambassador for veganism. We had countless conversations last year with other teams and spectators about veganism and the health, environmental, and ethical benefits of a vegan lifestyle. If just one person decides to go vegan because of the presence of our team, then mission accomplished. The attention we receive at events like this is nice, but the potential we have to really win over people’s hearts and minds to choose a more compassionate lifestyle is what really makes participating in this event worth it for me.”

Look for us out there on the course next weekend – our shirts will be bold and our enthusiasm will be unwavering. Make sure to say hi and throw some encouragement our way- we may just have some vegan treats to share 🙂

This one’s for you Scott Spitz. We’ll unleash hell for you this year, but you better start training for 2015! More Fire!

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