In Beauty May We All Be – Leatherman’s Loop

A celebration of 30 years! Photo: Closer North

A celebration of 30 years! Photo: Closer North

This was my 3rd Leatherman’s Loop and I find myself already excited to return for the celebration next year! The founders and race directors have really created something special with this race – steeped in tradition and approached with the utmost respect by each runner and spectator – it is easy to see why this is likely the largest trail race on the East Coast drawing over 1300 runners to tackle Ward Pound Ridge Reservation’s natural obstacles. I promise you – come and experience this race once and you too will be hooked by its charm.

Giant peace sign made of flags. Each runner was asked to take a flag - a piece of peace - home with them, as that is where peace begins

Giant peace sign made of flags. Each runner was asked to take a flag – a piece of peace – home with them, as that is where peace begins. Photo: Flint

Maybe it’s the theme of peace that surrounds you when you enter the park. Maybe it’s the way Tony Godino is overwhelmed with emotion when he climbs the ladder to address his captive audience. Maybe it’s the way the Loop’s long-time, loyal friends and legends are introduced and recognized one-by-one for their achievements. Maybe it’s the way we are reminded to reflect upon and celebrate this very moment on this very day when we all come together to share this experience. Or maybe it’s how Danny Martin invites us all to recite the Leatherman’s Loop poem along with him before we are sent off into the wild. It’s all of this and more.

But once the start command is issued the craziness begins! A stampede of eager racers erupts and no matter how prepared I think I am for the punishing pace and battle for position, I always find myself getting quickly sucked backwards in the funnel. Today was no exception but I decided to take a chance and cut left so I could reach the outer edges and hopefully have a better chance to hold my own in the flurry. It worked! I was pushing myself to a pace that no one should be dumb enough to attempt in the opening 1/2 mile of a race but I was gaining ground and moving my way up the field just in time for the single track. I’m never quite sure how I make it through that initial field sprint without taking a terrible tumble. The ground is uneven and with the high grass it is hard to see the terrain beneath – getting tripped up seems inevitable. However I survived again – must be the spirit of the Loop!

That initial mile left my lungs searing but that’s part of the fun! You redline from start to finish at this race. All of the nuances of the loop come rushing back to me as I make my way up and down the risers, over rocks and roots winding through forest paths. I wore my Topo Runventures for this race which offered the perfect lightweight protection and grip to tackle everything this course throws at you. Occasionally there are some spots where you can make passes, but for a lot of the time you either keep up with the pace pushing behind you or get out of the way! I was holding my own and having a great time, naturally. Although the course seemed slightly drier this year the first water crossing appeared to be as deep as usual but I was able to make a pass or 2 running across.

First water crossing. Photo: Hailey Ivey

Exiting the first water crossing. Photo: Hailey Ivey

You reach a clearing which means it’s time for the first sand hill. With a mariachi band serenading runners with some upbeat tunes you can’t help but be feel excited to tackle that hill 😉 From there you make your way to the halfway point which means after a sharp left-hand turn you’re into mudflat territory. There’s no avoiding the deep mud lagoons along this section so you may as well embrace it and have fun! Once you tackle the flats there is one more sand hill to conquer, this one hosts a bagpipe player beckoning you to the summit, before the hard part of the course is behind you.

One of two sand hills. Photo: Michael Rodgers

One of two sand hills. Photo: Michael Rodgers

I had been taking it “easy” on the hills during this race – more than once reminding myself that this was not an ultra and I needed to hustle up every hill I encountered. Telling myself didn’t work, and during the 2nd half of the race I found myself being passed by a few guys on the uphills only to turn around and pass them back once the trail flattened out. Trading spots with these guys over the last 2 miles helped keep me motivated and on my toes for the last section of the race.

Once you exit the forest you have a short field to run through towards the final act of this race – SPLASHDOWN! You can hear the roaring crowds from far away – this is by far the main attraction of this race. And for good reason. Runners can’t see the bottom through the deep, rushing water so every step is an adventure! Being my 3rd time, feeling like I should be a pro at this by now, I had it in my head that I was going to charge through Splashdown like a maverick – impressing the crowds with my water crossing skills. Which could only mean that I should expect the exact opposite… First step in and down I went! Okay, I still have another large section to navigate – I got this. I climbed over the median and leapt into the next section with total confidence. Down I went again. All I could do was laugh at how far removed I was from my visualization of this. But there was no time for laughing at myself – I heard the crowd screaming “you’re the first female – GO!!!!!

Photo: Closer North

Photo: Closer North

I popped out of the water and began my final charge up the hill through the tunnel of spectators lining the way to the finish line. There was that familiar feeling – like I just ran through wet cement, not water, and now with the air hitting my legs each step felt like I was getting slower as I grew colder. I forgot to bring my watch to this race which was actually refreshing – I didn’t really need it and why not race without worrying about time and pace? Once the finish line clock was in sight I was sad to see that this had been my slowest Leatherman’s Loop yet. However that disappointment was fleeting because no matter what my time, or what my place at this race, it is so exhilarating to be out there pushing so hard on a challenging and fun course.

I was able to defend my title of 1st overall female for the day, but it wasn’t by a longshot! The crowds screaming at me to GO in the Splashdown knew what they were talking about. 18-year-old Gemma Nuttall was a mere 30 seconds behind me. I’m going to have to do some work to maintain my streak against the young talent that dominates this event!

Photo: Deborah Burman

Photo: Deborah Burman

In the meantime, I’ll enjoy holding on to that spot for one more year, and the award that comes with it. Each year I receive a large bag overflowing with goodies! If you know me, you’ll know that awarding me food is always a plus 🙂 And so I celebrated that evening with some pancakes and local maple syrup courtesy of Leatherman’s Loop!

Victory pancakes!

Victory pancakes!

One more awesome thing to note about this race is that every year they collect food pantry donations to directly benefit families in need. I wish more races would take advantage of the sense of community trail running fosters. Even if only half of the runners bring 1 item to donate, that can still make a huge impact. It definitely adds to the sense of family that this race nurtures.

Finish time: 48:14

 

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Tune-up race – NYCRUNS Central Park Half Marathon

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Last weekend I ventured to NYC to run a tune-up race prior to my marathon (which is now only 2 weeks away!!). Also to obtain the elite qualifying time I needed for that marathon. Did I run time I needed? Yes. Did I run the time I wanted? No. But hey, that’s what tune-up races are for – to see where your fitness is and what improvements need to be made. Yes, I am celebrating a win, however the greater experience I got from this race lies in what I take away from it. As with any race, you learn.

This race took place, as you can infer by the name, in Central Park. The half marathon consisted of 3 loops – each one slightly different from the last. As much as I studied the course map I was nervous about making an error. However the signage for each loop was easy to read and understand, the volunteers and course marshals were on top of directing you appropriately, and I had the added benefit of the lead female cyclist riding alongside me throughout the entire race. Not only would she tell me whenever an aid station was near, but she would also ride ahead to each intersection that she could stop and make sure she was directing me to the appropriate loop. She was awesome!
nycruns courseI started at a conservative pace (what?!?) and held a fairly consistent pace throughout the race. This is not my racing style – I tend to go out too hard and hang on for dear life. It’s what has always worked for me. Sometimes I like to experiment with “doing it right” – or at least doing what other people preach is right. Today was one of those days. At the start line I chatted with a man who had arrived from London 2 days prior and decided to do this race while he was in town. We talked about our time goals and I gave him my A and B goals. He then asked if I was going to “go for it”. I told him it depended on how I felt. While there was no need to put it all out there it would’ve been nice to test myself. But…I definitely wasn’t feeling it and I certainly didn’t go for it. I felt controlled the whole race, but not strong enough to push it. It was a good way to start the season 🙂

Photo: NYCRUNS

Photo: NYCRUNS

This was the first race in my Topo Tribute’s. Verdict: I love them. They are super-lightweight, extremely breathable, and provide the perfect amount of protection for the ride. Basically, I did not even notice my shoes at all, which is exactly what I want in a zero drop racing flat. If you want to read a comprehensive review of the Tribute, check out this one.

TOPOKLINE20 for 20% off

TOPOKLINE20 for 20% off

NYCRuns put on a great race. It was well-organized, well-staffed, and they provided nice swag along with a post-race spread including lots of fresh fruit that you don’t normally see at races. Berries and grapes? Yes please!

And now some work to do before my next race…

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

 

 

BIG developments for Strong Hearts Vegan Power

SHVPFRONTragnarlogoYou may have seen my previous posts about Strong Hearts Vegan Power. You may have also seen the countless pictures I’ve posted on various social media sites. I think it’s obvious that I love this team and everything it stands for. Over the past 2 years I have made many lifetime friends and enjoyed awesome adventures with my teammates. We’ve spread the positive word about veganism and have gained a lot of recognition and attention as we show that we’re not only compassionate, driven individuals – we also thrive athletically. So you can only imagine how awesome it is to see our network grow. Here is an update as to what we’re doing right now.

The Race
The first race for Strong Hearts Vegan Power this year will be the Ragnar Cape Cod on May 7-8. We will run from Hull to Provincetown, MA – covering 190 beautiful miles along the Cape Cod Coast. We decided to step it up a bit for this event – instead of 1 team of 12 vegan runners, we now have 3 teams. That’s right – 36 vegan runners from 9 states will be out on the course!

This has obviously outgrown my ability to introduce them all to you in this blog, so we now have a website where you can meet the teammates!

The Cause
We have a great time when we join forces – teammates who share a passion for veganism, running, and let’s face it – the awesome vegan food. We love promoting our cause – we receive countless “GO VEGAN” cheers and comments from runners and spectators wherever we race. Many people come up to us to ask us about our diet & lifestyle, and we love to share. This has all been great – but we want to do more.
tamerlaineIn 2015 we are racing to raise money for and promote our teammate’s budding sanctuary, Tamerlaine Farm. Peter Nussbaum joined the inaugural Strong Hearts Vegan Power team in 2013. At that time he and his wife Gab (who was also the best personal Ragnar chef a team could ever dream of) had rescued 2 roosters, Yuri & Jupiter, followed by 19 ex-battery hens from CA who were about to be gassed. Their bodies are ravaged from the life they were forced to live in a factory farm, and they were lucky to have moved to the beautiful sanctuary where they could experience their first feel of grass and sunshine!

Since then they have rescued 56 chicken from the kaporos ritual. These hens and roosters are amazingly affectionate, smart, full of personality and generally awesome, but they are genetically fucked with by the poultry industry to grow obscenely and rapidly large, resulting in tremendous health issues. We are giving them love and care and they are really flourishing. A bunch of them live in the infirmary and receive rehab, medical care and tlc.”

Tamerlaine Farm also has 2 other hens that were rescued from the streets of Brooklyn. Lisa, a brown layer hen was found under a car. She probably escaped from a live market or backyard operation. She is now doing great! “Brooklyn” was also found in an industrial part of Brooklyn. She lives with the kaporos boys and girls and is also doing great. Their latest addition is 19 chicks from a NYC public school hatching project gone bad. What does a school do with 19 chicks that hatched for a “project”? Throw them away. Luckily Tamerlane Farm was contacted and offered to provide a home for these sweet babies. They joined the growing flock when they were only 3 days old. They have been living inside through the winter and will move into their brand new barn once they are big enough. They have also adopted three additional roosters (roosters are generally harder to place) and they are happy to give them a good home.

“Speaking of roosters, as you know Yuri and Jupiter are our boys. They come into the house for breakfast every morning with Tonka and Lola. I am smitten with those two boys. Can’t get enough of them. Every time I am away from the farm I can’t wait to get back to hang with those two (and all of the others).”  

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Breakfast with Yuri, Jupiter, Tonka & Lola

peter roosters2

Peter sharing breakfast once again

We are very excited to promote and support the expansion efforts that Peter and Gab are pouring into their sanctuary. They now have two full-time animal care givers living at the farm. Maddie is an actress/writer/animal rights activist who left her apartment in Brooklyn to live and work on the farm with her 3 bunnies – all wonderful additions. Hannah also signed on fresh off an internship at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. They also have a number of interns and volunteers based in NYC helping with social media, fundraising, non-profit issues, and their hot sauce business. Things are really starting to take shape and we have never been happier. Tons of hard work, but the reward is really greater than I could have ever possibly imagined. The next phase is to bring in other types of animals – sheep, pigs, etc. We are taking it slow but feel that we will be ready for that next step very soon – especially with the continuing support from our amazing friends and the animal rights community as a whole.”

Check out:
Tamerlaine Farm’s website
Tamerlaine Farm’s Facebook page
Tamerlaine Farm’s Instagram

Learn more about what they do for the animals, what you can do to get involved and/or donate, and to look at some sweet pictures of beautiful feathered friends!

Sponsors & Supporters
Also new this year – thanks to the efforts of Scott Spitz we have some generous sponsors on board. Not only have the sponsors donated either funds or product to the team for the weekend, they also matched this with a monetary donation to Tamerlaine Farm.

SHVP Car MagnetOur namesake, Strong Hearts Café, is also our title sponsor. They have been rocking the world with their delicious vegan creations for almost 7 years. People flock from near and far to experience the magic. I’m dreaming of the day where they stock a food truck and follow us on our Ragnar adventures… 🙂

Our supporting sponsors include:

Chicago Vegan Foods – Dandies marshmallows, Temptation Ice Cream, Teese Cheese – need I say more?!?
UGO Bars – handcrafted, fresh, vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO snack bars. Fuel for our runs!
Herbivore Clothing – fashionable, witty, and ethically made animals-rights clothing. Also check out their online store for wallets, bags, books, jewelry, art, kitchen ware, and much more.
Terri – more delicious and nutritious, organic vegan super foods with locations in NYC.
Vegan Cuts – they find the very best vegan food, beauty and fashion products and send them to you through their online marketplace, monthly subscription boxes, and special edition boxes.
Our Hen House – Using video, audio, interviews, reviews, and the written word, they provide daily updates on what you need to create change for animals.
Magic Vegan Bacon Grease – Non-GMO, non-hydrogenated, cholesterol friendly vegan multi-tool for frying, cooking, or baking. Smoky, rich, bacony, and inexplicably vegan all at the same time.
Tofurkey – a health, sustainable, passionate company producing tons of delicious meat-free alternatives.

I know what you’re thinking, we’re a pretty big deal…
And yet there’s more! Our friends, who just so happen to have a very similar name, Strongest Hearts will be joining us in Cape Cod to conduct some interviews and film some of the awesomeness that will unfold.

strongest hearts

Check out their web series on vegan athletes and the resources they provide for vegan athlete nutrition.

I can’t wait to meet all of my new teammates in May as we share and create new memories together. Each Ragnar event with Team Strong Hearts Vegan Power has been epic – this time it will be x3!

van dinner

YOU could be part of this – post run dinner out of the Suburban! Don’t run? Drive a van 🙂

We are still looking for a few dedicated van drivers. If you are vegan, enjoy driving endless hours without sleeping, maneuvering a large van around large groups of people, and enjoy the sweet smell of 6 sweaty runners – this job is for you! Oh there are more perks – you will laugh, you will cry, you will enjoy some delicious vegan foods, and you will be a part of something amazing all while making new friends. Oh, and you’ll even get a sweet hoodie! Cha-ching! Get in touch with me if you are interested.
Otherwise, feel free to follow us on our adventure. We have our website, our new Facebook page, and we use #strongheartsrun to tag our pictures. We can’t wait to share our fun moments with you all!
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