Mind the Mud – The North Face Endurance Challenge DC 50k

logoIt’s hard to put into words how excited I was leading up to this race. It was my first trail ultra of the year and I was ready! Even the deteriorating weather forecast throughout the week couldn’t suppress my excitement. A little cold, rain and snow wasn’t going to kill my vibe – this was looking like a fast course! I had a 50k PR time etched into my mind and I was itching to grab it!

I woke up Saturday morning before my alarm went off – a sure sign I was ready to race! First thing was peer out the window into the artificially lit parking lot – I could tell it had been raining quite a bit throughout the night but it appeared to have stopped. Next order of business was to check my weather app – cloudy and staying below 40 throughout the race but the rain seemed to be gone during the window I would be racing. This put even more of a spring into my step. After eating 2 bananas and a packet of almond butter I mixed my Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration drinks for the day, layered up in plenty of clothing, and was on my way to the parking area where shuttles would await to take us to the start.

Riding on the bus it was still pitch black and I had my headphones in listening to my pre-race jams. I looked to the front of the bus and noticed the windshield wipers were on full speed and we were driving through a downpour. I was happy that I made the last-minute decision to dump my dirty laundry bag before leaving the hotel so that I could keep my gear dry. After a short hike to the race start in Algonkian Regional Park we were greeted with the most pleasant of surprises – they had 4 giant propane fire pits roaring for athletes to huddle around and try to stay warm. I had about an hour before the race start so there I stood – bundled up in rain gear with my backpack stuffed into a plastic bag to stay dry. Without those fire pits it would’ve been a rough wait. As we’re talking amongst ourselves I was listening to stories about how muddy this course can get even if it hadn’t rained in the past few days. This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill mud – it was like ice skating. The hills become big mud slicks and athletes have had to push each other up and over. The only “dry” area was at Great Falls Park. The stories didn’t stop and although I was assuming these were over-exaggerated tales I quickly realized that with the amount of rain that had been falling, it was time to forget about that PR.

Clearing up for the start

Clearing up for the start

As the 7 a.m. start time drew near the rain tapered off and you could feel the energy building as we had some relief. I shed my layers, checked my gear bag, and lined up at the very relaxed start where Dean Karnazes sent us on our way. The first 2 miles were grass to road to gravel trail and I ran them both at just over 7:00 minute pace. This was faster than I needed to go but I figured I should take advantage of these “clear” miles. Hopping onto the trail was refreshing as the mud didn’t seem nearly as bad as I had imagined. I can deal with this! At mile 4 we hit the first climb and it was great to finally have a change in elevation. But then…the trail dropped us down along the river and that’s where the real fun started!

Those early miles had hardly any mud!

Those early miles had hardly any mud!

So maybe they weren’t kidding about this mud! The single-track offered no option but to sink into ankle-deep slop. I’m not at all afraid of mud – I find it to be kind of fun. But yes it was slick and with all of the twisting turns you had to slow down significantly to maneuver through them. My pace quickly dropped into the 8’s and 9’s out of pure necessity to stay upright and not overshoot any of the sharp bends. I was loving it though! I knew that this slower pace would only benefit me later in the race. I also felt lucky to be in the top 10 at this point and getting some of the “fresh” tracks in the mud. We came to the next steep climb and there was no choice but to hike because, true to the stories, it was like climbing an oiled plastic tarp. Coming down the other side proved to be even more challenging, and I even considered sliding down on my rear as it may have been faster. However the random roots jutting out made me double-think that option 😉

Despite the slick and slow-running mud the miles were clicking by with ease. It had rained once and there was even a short hail storm, but neither were bothersome and I was feeling appropriately dressed for the conditions. I was only tiring mentally as I had to focus on every footfall. All I wanted was a short break from this terrain so that I could relax, settle into a nice pace, and enjoy the scenery. I could tell that the views around me were awesome as I heard the Potomac River roaring at some spots while at others it was completely calm and peaceful. For long stretches the single-track was twisting and turning through lush patches of bluebells. I was looking forward to reaching Great Falls Park where rumor had it there would be a much-needed break from the mud.

I was having fun in Great Falls!

I was having fun in Great Falls!

That break did not disappoint! Arriving at Great Falls Park I was greeted with stunning views of rock cliffs that made me say “whoa” out loud. At mile 13 there was another aid station which was also a main spot for racers’ crew, so there was an abundance of spectators, cheering, and energy. And such a nice change of pace on runnable trails! I was definitely enjoying this section (as were my ankles, knees and hip flexors) and I could finally open up my stride. There were two out-and-back sections in the Great Falls loop and around mile 16 I saw the 2nd female. By my estimate she was about a mile back. Way too close for comfort! I knew it was time to shift into another gear and tackle the 2nd half of this course. However Great Falls seemed to bring a 10 degree drop in the temps (that’s what it felt like anyway) and after feeling plenty warm up to that point I was suddenly wishing I had more clothing, especially on my legs which now felt frozen in slow motion. At the 2nd out-and-back spot I hit the turnoff before seeing her again, so I felt some relief that she hadn’t gained any ground during those 2 miles.

Now it was time to mentally prepare for those long muddy miles on the return trip. I knew they would be in bad shape, but they were way worse than I had imagined! I was still hanging tough up until mile 24 but now the marathon runners were coming in the opposite direction making this tricky single-track even more challenging. Although my Topo Runventures were doing an excellent job in these conditions, I don’t think any shoes could tackle the muck that we were trudging through. My pace had become embarrassingly slow, and at one point I said to myself “this is a race – get moving!” The reality was that I couldn’t go any faster. I was skating on the mud and each step was a test in staying upright, never mind trying to accelerate. The only acceleration was the exhaustion in my legs. My only thought was that the 2nd female would surely catch me at this pace. Thinking was not a smart idea, not at all, because the slight distraction caused a slip I couldn’t recover from and down I went onto my hands and knees. I made it all the way to mile 25.5 without a fall. At least the landing was super-soft 🙂 I tried to wipe a chunk of mud off my face which only caused it to smear. Okay, I have my war paint – let’s finish this thing! I was still certain that I was going to be caught by the 2nd female and convinced myself that 2nd place would be okay. Quickly after I had this thought I said to myself “you didn’t lead this far to lose it in the final miles”, and tried to dig a little deeper.
MUDThat was a mistake. The next fall was much more dramatic as I was attempting to move way faster than my feet could skate under me. I crafted a head-first dive and slid a good 5 feet. Safe! There was a guy behind me this time as he yelled out “are you okay?” and I could only laugh as I shouted back “yes!” I was completely covered in mud on my right side. I quickly stood up and tried to wipe the bulk of this mess off me as I suddenly felt a few pounds heavier. The mittens had to come off as they were full of very cold mud. Having nothing on my hands meant I quickly lost feeling in my fingers. The temps still felt cooler than the start thanks to the 30 mph wind gusts (that’s what I heard they were anyway). I was so close to the finish that having frozen fingers wasn’t an issue. Shortly after the fall the lead male of the 50 miler was coming up behind me – I could hear his pacer shouting out every obstacle in his path. I took advantage of this fresh, helpful pacer and after allowing them to pass me, I hopped on for as long as I could manage. I could definitely feel his pain as I watched him navigate each step with caution. And he had way more many miles under his belt!

done

Instead of counting down the miles to the finish I was counting down the miles until I got to the gravel trail. I knew all I had to do was make it out of the endless mud pits. That point finally arrived and I thought “I don’t remember this stretch being so long!” I cannot even tell you how many times I looked back in those last 2 miles – convinced that the 2nd female was closing strong on me. Making that final turn to the finish line I saw that I had it! Way off my goal time but happy to have made it across the finish line in 1st place!

I may not have run the time I wanted and I could quickly tell that I was going to be way more sore than normal the next day, but I really had a great time! Racing in tough conditions makes the memory much sweeter. Being surrounded by such beautiful natural scenery makes the suffering much more enjoyable. The best part is how great I felt throughout the race – that feeling trumped every other victory! 🙂

Only 2 of us stuck around in the cold for awards

Sonja Hinish and I were the only 2 who stuck around in the cold for awards

This was my first North Face Endurance Challenge Series race and it definitely won’t be my last! I’m already signed up for the Championship race at Golden Gate National Recreation Area on December 3rd. And I would love to return to the DC race next year. The race was well-organized, the course was beautiful, and the volunteers…well they deserve an extra round of applause for this one!

This was my first race in my Topo Runventures and they served me well considering what I put them through. It was also my first race sporting my Ultimate Direction TO Race Vest. Both of these items deserve their own write-up and that is exactly what I will do. Look for product reviews coming soon!
shoes

Finishing time – 4:36:27

 

Advertisements

Tune-up race – NYCRUNS Central Park Half Marathon

nycruns logo

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…

#TrailsRoc 0SPF – a humbling day

Gathering for the start. Photo credit: Ben

Gathering for the start. Photo credit: Ben

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Mike Lesher

Photo credit: Mike Lesher

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

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

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

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

Website
Facebook
Twitter

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

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!

 

“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