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:

 

A well-executed race plan – American Zofingen

Apprehensive, intimidated, anxious – these are just a few words to describe how I was feeling in the weeks leading up to this race. I was not worried about the 20 total miles of trail running – that would be the fun part for me. My concern was the 84 mile bike in between. My longest ride of the year was 61.57 miles – 2 loops of training on the course – and that was a month ago. I actually haven’t ridden more than 84 miles since 2012 and I haven’t raced more than 56 miles since…gulp…2005! Yes, I’ve been a slacker on the bike. Not that I haven’t been riding, but when it comes to endurance training I’ve been devoting my time to running 🙂

I even emailed a few friends last week to discuss my thoughts about possibly dropping down to a shorter distance (as it turns out many racers did). Luckily along with my vote the ruling was to stick with the long course race. 1) I am training for Powerman Zofingen (for which this race is modeled after) in September, and 2) once I put it out there that I’m racing long course I don’t want to back down! I knew that completing the distance wouldn’t be an issue – my bigger concern was how much of a hole I would put myself into with my first 50 miler (2nd attempt) only 2 weeks after. It was time to come up with a smart race plan and execute it. And that’s just what I did.

My next concern was the heat. Yes I’ve talked about my infamous heat stroke quite a bit and you’re probably sick of hearing about it but it was honestly the scariest thing that has ever happened to me athletically and it is something I take very seriously. On top of that I have dropped out of 3 races since then due to heat, and that is 3 races too many for me! The temps for today were set to reach 87 along with high humidity. Add to that a very challenging course and I knew I had to pay much attention to how I was feeling.

Speaking of the course, let me give you a quick rundown. It starts with a 5 mile trail run at Spring Farm in Mohonk Preserve. The 5 mile loop contains 900 feet of climbing. You run through grass fields, over wood plank bridges, through single track, over rock and root-filled ascents and descents, and the best part – the forgiving carriage roads.

Run course elevation profile

Run course elevation profile

Next you head out on the bike for 3 loops totaling 84 miles, with 8,406 feet total climbing. The toughest climb greets you right as you leave the park so you better finish that run feeling good!

Bike course elevation profile

Bike course elevation profile

It was a very small start line for the long course athletes who went off at 7:00 am – the F1 (middle course) distance is the most popular event featuring a 5 mile run/29 mile bike/5 mile run/29 mile bike/5 mile. After the bagpipe played the National Anthem we were off to woods! The pace was totally relaxed and it felt great. I knew the key to this race was to take it easy on that first run and I picked the right person to keep me in check – last year’s winner Colin Martin. I was loving the course and loving the pace – the first 3 miles have the toughest climbs and for the last 2 you can really settle in. I finished my first run in 39:18 and was feeling awesome!

Time to head out on the bike with a plan – hold back. After tackling that first climb you meet an equally intense descent. Saturday night’s rain left us with foggy conditions and wet roads this morning and I found myself being extremely cautious – hoping that by the 2nd loop I could have a little more fun here. Otherwise loop 1 was uneventful – I settled in and focused on not worrying about what was happening behind me. Having trained on this course I felt very comfortable with the terrain which was definitely a benefit going into this race. My goal was to make it through lap 1 without being passed (by females) and I was thrilled to make it to the park meeting that goal.

Photo credit: Martin Weiner

Photo credit: Martin Weiner

Out onto loop 2 – that first climb felt tougher but I tried not to think about the fact that I would need to tackle it one more time. The fog had lifted and the roads were drying so I was able to open up a bit more on the descent. Next it was time to settle into the long trek up to Minnewaska. I felt stronger than I had on the first loop and this was a huge mental boost for me. But now it was time to focus on my hydration plan. Racers were alerted the day before the race that the nutrition/hydration sponsor failed to send the supplies the race organizers needed to stock this race. They would have bottles of water and limited bottles of Heed on the course. This meant I would be stopping to mix my own bottles of hydration – not ideal but worth it for me to take the time in order to have what I really need in these conditions.

Photo credit: Martin Weiner

Photo credit: Martin Weiner

I arrived at the bottle exchange on loop 2 and pulled over to see what was available. Luckily they had a bottle of Heed so I dropped my 2 empty bottles in exchange for 1 bottle of water and 1 bottle of Heed. The problem was that the replacement bottles were tall, but instead of taking the time to dump the contents into my existing (smaller) bottles I worked one into the bottle holder on my tiny frame and placed the water into my cage between my aerobars. This went smoothly and off I pedaled. Not even 1/4 mile down the road I hit a bump and the bottle between my bars launched – it was too tall to properly sit in there. I stopped and turned around to retrieve it thinking it was not a good idea to go without. As I picked it up off the side of the road the water was gushing out of it – the bottle had cracked and was useless. Oh well – I wasn’t going to go back to the water exchange – I could make it to the next exchange with the bottle of Heed. I saw more of these bottles on the road along the way – I think other riders had the same fate.

Finishing loop 2 I swapped the empty Heed bottle for 1 bottle of water. No point in trying to place another one between my bars and this also wasn’t the place to stop and mix a drink as I was about to climb the toughest section for the last time (yay!). Although a snafu with my Garmin didn’t allow me to track each loop of the bike, I am sure this final loop was my slowest. But I was still holding the lead and was now determined to make it through the 84 mile ride in first place. I was very happy to get to that last aid station so I could grab a new bottle and mix what I now believe was my secret weapon in beating the heat at this race. I pulled over for a bottle and ripped open my tube of Skratch Labs Hyper Hydration Mix and it was like an egg timer slowly emptying into my bottle. I was at that anxious point of the race feeling like there would be someone coming up right behind me so I impatiently forced about 3/4 of the package into my bottle and was on my way! The plan was to drink that whole bottle down before I finished the bike.
skratchNormally I consume 100-150 calories per hour on the bike but with a race of this length I decided I should aim for higher. I decided on 200-250 calories per hour on the bike. I wasn’t sure how this would work for me because I have a hard time taking in calories in that kind of heat but I stuck to the plan and I’m glad I did.

I was so excited to see that aid station one last time as I turned into the park to transition to the run under my goal time for the bike. The transition was smooth and I grabbed my hand-held bottle of the Skratch Labs Hyper Hydration mix that I had prepared anticipating a great need for it during the run. I was really excited to be off the bike and moving onto my strength. That excitement disappeared super-quick as soon as I made my way through the torturous gazebo and out onto the loop. The gazebo is agonizing because you pass through it every loop while the racers from the 2 other distances are enjoying the post-race party. It is great to have a cheering section but when you have to go back out there and run that loop, and then again, and then again…it is tough!

Back to my legs – they were feeling nothing short of tanked. I felt really good about my bike and now I was experiencing the fallout from the effort and distance that I was not trained for. I couldn’t prevent the negative talk from creeping in. If I felt this bad during mile 1 of this 15 mile run, I could very easily destroy my whole race. I stuck with the plan of power-hiking the steep climbs. I mean, that’s all I could do at this point. Minus the “power” part. Seeing that first aid station was like a desert oasis – I was stumbling in, trying to take in a gel, and unable to answer the extremely helpful volunteers who were offering me drinks. I took a few seconds to drink a full cup of water and then dump a full one over my head. I did this at every single stop (3 per loop) through the rest of the race while also nursing the bottle of Skratch.

Photo credit: Martin Weiner

Photo credit: Martin Weiner

After leaving that first aid station I started to perk up and by mile 3 I was finally starting to come around. Yes! I’m back! Finishing that first loop I looked at the race clock and felt confident enough to change my race goal to 8:15. If I could continue the next 2 loops at the effort I finally found at the end of the 1st one, I could do this! And that’s exactly how it went. At each aid station I took the time to get what I needed to keep me going. During both the 2nd and 3rd loops Jared told me my lead was 25 minutes. Although I wasn’t running strong by any means I now knew that I could back off even more. I had the 50-miler in 2 weeks to think about. And think about it I did. If I am feeling like this at Cayuga, will I back off and just finish? NO! I will power through and finish as strong as my body will allow. So that’s what I did. Around mile 3 you have the long steady downhill on carriage roads and I ran that section conservatively throughout the race to save my quads. Now I picked it up – time to leave it out there and get that time goal. When I came around the corner with the gazebo in sight I saw 8:14 on the race clock. Yes!

I set my goals for this race based off the winning performances from past races. I set slightly higher run goals and gave myself a little cushion on the bike since I didn’t feel like I would have a strong day. It feels good to meet all of your goals:

Goal Actual
sub- :45 1st run 39:18
sub- 5:15 bike 5:08:28
sub- 2:30 2nd run 2:25:19
sub- 8:30 8:15 Overall 8:14:27

As far as I could look back at results, the 2nd fastest time for this race was 8:34:55 in 2006. I have no idea if this race course has changed over the years. Do I have a course record? I don’t know. I am extremely happy with this race because I executed my race plan and I conquered the heat. 2 big wins! And now I feel like I have a great practice race under my belt for the main event – Powerman Zofingen – in September!

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out this cool race video!

Congrats to everyone who endured that heat on a tough course!

JFK 38 Mile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JFK

C&O Canal Trail – Photo credit: Pulin Modi

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

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

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

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

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

inov-8 Roclite 243

inov-8 Roclite 243

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

inov-8 Race Elite 220 tight

inov-8 Race Elite 220 tight

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

inov-8 Race Ultra Vest

inov-8 Race Ultra Vest

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

flat out sox

110% Play Harder Flat Out Sox

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

110% Play Harder Flat Out Sox

110% Play Harder Katalyst Short Sleeve

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

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

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

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

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

Take care and enjoy the holidays!

 

I found my match! Inov-8 Race Ultra Vest

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

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

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

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

Time to put the vest to the test

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

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

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

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

The pack in action!

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

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

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

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

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

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 😉

20140921SRTrace

Photo credit: Tom Bushey

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

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

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

0 SPF with #TrailsRoc

logo

When I saw that there was a USATF Niagara Regional Trail Championship Race in Rochester, I said “why not?” After 2 weekends of short course racing a half marathon on trails seemed more my speed. I was looking forward to this race but at the same time I was off my game leading up to it. Normally for a new race I research past results to generate a race goal for myself and check out the course map and profile to get an idea of what I’m up against. For this race I went into it knowing nothing. And it was a refreshing change 🙂

I arrived at the race site feeling relaxed. Eric Eagan, the incredibly welcoming and generous race director, asked if I wanted any information about the course to which I declined. At this point I was ready to find out for myself. As the race start drew closer I started to see GVH jerseys milling around and that’s when I realized that this was going to be a tough race with some fast runners!
profileSure enough when we were released onto the trails the pace was fast and there was a female hanging tight. I was feeling rough and was afraid that the pace I was running would surely lead to a melt-down later. Although I didn’t know where the 2nd female was in that first mile I could hear her behind me. My descending skills have been pretty sharp this year, and I feel that during the first major descent I was able to put a small gap on her. That gave me some relief as I worked my way along the out-and-back course.

Photo credit: Michael Lesher

Photo credit: Michael Lesher

The course itself was great – it had a little bit of everything. A lot of single track but also some field crossings, road crossings, stream crossings, steep climbs and drops – a great all-around trail course. The road crossings were the most challenging for me. There was no stopping traffic for this race so on the way back I had prolonged breaks at each crossing waiting for traffic to clear. I tried to embrace these breaks, but instead I was concerned about the 2nd female closing on me.

Chair hill. Photo credit: Tim Raggets

Chair hill. Photo credit: Tim Raggets

After the final road crossing there was one more challenge to face – the hill leading up to the power lines. I will admit that I was reduced to some power-hiking at this point. Hearing a photographer cheering from high atop one of the towers gave me that extra push. He also let me know the time gap I had on the 2nd female which helped my spirits 🙂

Power line hill on the way down. Photo credit: Michael Lesher

Power line hill on the way down. Photo credit: Michael Lesher

One of my favorite things about an out-and-back course is knowing exactly what you have to go through to get to the finish. I knew what was ahead of me and I knew what my lead was, so I was able to enjoy the rest of my run into the finish line.

Heading to the finish line. Photo credit: Michele Fanton

Heading to the finish line. Photo credit: Michele Fanton

finish line

After crossing as the first overall female I was told that I had the course record! Bonus 🙂

A congratulatory high-five from Eric Eagan - a top-notch race director!

A congratulatory high-five from Eric Eagan – a top-notch race director!

I was happy with my race and really enjoyed both the course and the and the atmosphere that the #TrailsRoc crew created. For anyone living in the USATF Niagara region – I highly recommend this race. Also check out other races in the #TrailsRoc series – I am sure they are all a blast!

Finishing time – 1:57:10