Tuesday, October 23, 2012

New River 50k= New Time 50k

The New River 50k has become an annual trek up north on one of the prettiest weekends in October for me and some of my closest running friends in Charlotte. This is the race that started it all for me in the world of Ultras. The New River 50k is a flat out and back course that allows for some of the most beautiful fall sights on the trail that runs along the New River in Fries, VA. This year a few things were different. First off, I decided to stay in Charlotte instead of at the race sight the night before. Budgets and time dictated this decision and seeing that its just over a 2 hour drive ( and Speedy Steve offered to drive) I decided to try the early morning commute. Secondly, was the first time that Tom Patch was not running with us. He has a scheduling conflict and just couldn't come race. As for me, I had peeked at the entrants list earlier in the week and honestly had a little bit of nerves because of it. The pool of women coming to race were some of the fastest people in Charlotte and the surrounding area and familiar faces. I was seeded somewhere near the top 20% of the females but I knew looking down there list there were more than a few with no official times. One of those happened to be my good friend Mo Hoffman, who happens to be a sub 3 hour marathoner.  Not to mention the fact that Annette Bednosky, the RD, got the course certified by the USATF as a Boston Qualifying race and the 50k would be an official distance.  It was going to be a fast race.

The morning was a cool one in Charlotte but looking at the weather for the race (and past experience to count on) I knew the start was going to be very chilly. I decided on capri tights, my saweet One2Tri race jersey and flaming arm warmers courtesy of Saucony. I hadn't decided on my hydration set up so I had everything in the bag I needed. Pack, bottles and everything in between. I really hadn't taken the time to prepare mentally for this race as I usually do so a lot of prep was last minute, i.e. that morning at 4am. Steve and I left on the trek at 5am. He zoomed in to pick me up, windows down and Snoop Dog blaring...this was going to be fun! We covered all topics of the race, including pacing. Tom had given me a race plan that basically called for negative splits through the aid stations so Steve and I discussed the need to stick to the plan in order to get me my 15 minute PR and a time of 4:30.

We pulled into the race start just past 7am and climbed out into a very chilly and foggy morning next to the river. We met up with Mo, Jinnie, Stan, Megan and my super speedy Umstead co-racer Shannon. Freezing cold, we all made last minute adjustments to gear and headed to the starting line. As the 8am start creeped up the fog began lifting off the river and the true secret of this race was revealed. The sunrise on the trail is breathtaking. Its like a perfect postcard for the fall season as the colors of the trees, the fresh dew and the sparkling sunshine all are so crisp visually that you can't help but utter a few "wows" and thank God you are blessed enough to enjoy a few hours with nature doing what you do best....run......but I digress

Speedy Charlotte Ladies
We went out fast...I tried to pull back but as we cruised through the first 5 miles we were averaging about a 8:40 pace. Turning out over the bridge, I maintained that as best I could. This course is almost 100% flat and is a soft dirt trail so it is ideal running conditions for speed. Steve and I picked up a runner named Eric who hailed from just outside of Boston, MA and was on his first 50k. We ticked off the miles and before we knew it we were at the second aid station at mile 11(ish). Steve wanted to stop for some fuel so he and I grabbed a few PB&Js and kept trucking. Shortly after that station Steve wasn't feeling the race and Eric and I found ourselves alone counting off 8:30 even miles.  Eric picked my brain for advice for his future Ultras and I was happy to give it. As I said before this was my first race where I learned so much about my racing and I wanted to share that love of the race with Eric. As we closed into the turn around point we passed the leaders of the race. Doing some counting I was sitting at 12th female. Not where I wanted to be, but I was content with about 15 miles to track some down. I passed Megan, Mo and Stan who made it look effortless and Shannon and Jinnie were close behind. I love this part of the race because it allows you to see where you are sitting in the race and cheer on the leaders and friends. Eric and I ducked into the station, refueled and headed back out.
Eric and I just before the turn

Around mile 18 I noticed that my right foot was making some noise. The same spot that had given me issues at Hinson Lake was now rearing its ugly head. I decided to take some Tylenol and see if it helped, praying that it would hold out. Just past the 20 mile aid station, I was forced to stop for walk breaks. My foot was screaming at me and I slowly saw the time begin to add up. This (as I informed Eric) is where you will decide if you are an Ultra runner. When things hurt and you are forced to walk...can you pick yourself up and finish with the same dedication that you toed the line with. I was questioning myself and my foot at this point and seriously thinking there may be a stress fracture with the amount and location of the pain. I decided to push ahead to the next aid station and decide then what I would do. I kept thinking one step is inches closer to the mile that will take me to the finish line. Somewhere around mile 23 my Garmin ran out of batteries and I was running blind. Before that I was taking no more than 30 second walk breaks but then was forced to instead count my strides on my walks. 30 steps then run....as I crossed the river bridge and turned to the long last stretch home I had no idea what my time was going to look like.

As I crossed the marathon mark, they read out "3:52:33" I was shocked to learn that I had not lost that much time with my walking. This stretch home of miles has always given me a hard time. It winds riverside with turns that make you think the crossing is just around the next bend only to reveal more trail. I set my mind to the fact that it would hurt but it would be over soon. Putting my head down I trudged on, soon I was at the crossing that markes just under two miles to the finish and caught up with Eric who was dealing with a few issues and had slowed. I caught another female runner but knew I was still sitting out of the top 10 finishers. I promised myself right then that if I got a PR by more than just 3-5 minutes, I wouldn't put myself through this another year. I pushed home through the foot pain and to my surprise as I looked at the clock, I had not only set a PR but had accomplished it just 8 minutes short of my original goal. I crossed the line with a time of 4:38:26. Which was exactly 10 minutes and 32 seconds better than last year. I was stoked! Every year I have run this race I have achieved a PR, I realized at that moment that I would have to keep coming back here to race.  I thanked the RD Annette for a wonderful race, changed into some flip flops and waited for Steve to come in.

Beers by the river
Overall I finished 11th/47  female and 28th/125....yes I wasn't very happy with placing but damn it was a fast race. The winner- Megan Hovis of Charlotte- ticked off a 3:42 and Mo smoked it in second at 3:53...My best effort last year was good enough for 6th female....this year at 10 minutes faster it was only good enough for 11th...you catch my drift.

My toes had sustained some minor damage but my main concern was the swelling on the top of my foot. With Steve done and our beers poured, we headed down to the river to soak up the sun, ice our wounds and enjoy the beautiful riverside view of what is home to the New River 50k.

Post race foot- courtesy of Shannon :)- it ain't pretty

Side Note: The foot is doing well all things considered. Thanks to the great care of Dr. Kahn over a Greenapple Sports Med in Charlotte. They keep me truckin and I can't thank them enough.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Race Season

The air has become crisp, the temp has dropped...this can only mean one thing; It's Ultra season. This year I have to say my schedule is a lot lighter. I have been dealing with some ups and downs in my life so my focus has changed. No huge risks, unfamiliarities or need to prove myself. So it is racing at its purest form for me. A few weeks back I joined the crew at Hinson Lake. I joined my good friends Tom Patch and Steve Grace who talked me into yet another 24 hour race. Let me preface this by saying I'm not a big 24 hour race girl, but I agreed based on the company to go the short 1.5 hours to Rockingham to jog around the lake. Somewhere in the weeks before at a NoDa Brewery Running event, I met and talked fellow Ultra runner Jamaar Valentine into coming out to join us. He wasn't sure about coming but after some friendly chiding he agreed.

Race morning, my bags were packed with all the unnecessary evils for a 24hr race (everything but the kitchen sink) and we headed out with Steve behind the helm and Tom anxious as ever to "get a good spot." I was racing in Georgia last year when they ran it so I had no idea what I was in for. I was getting an overwhelming amount of information from the race page that was created on Facebook so I knew that if anything, this race was going to be one big party. As we pulled into park and carried the armloads of gear down to the lakeside, I reminded myself that what comes up must come down...not in elevation but in the fact that in about 24 hours we would be hauling all of this back to the truck...sleep deprived, sore and with no less that 60 miles on our poor feet. I seriously questioned my decision on coming when Tom piped up "this is gonna be fun kids." We managed to find a spot near the end of the "homestretch" of the course. As I peered down the straight away I can tell you that it was a sight that puts the tailgating for the Panthers to shame. Tents lined both sides of the path, people were out in full force with banners, coolers, grills, dogs and a plethora of food that would rival a Sam's club. This was going to be a fun time.

As the morning crept in and we set up the aid station, I began to see familiar faces from my past races. A crew from Florida with my friend Bruce, the Gastonia crew of Patrick, Bill and Becky. Fellow Charlotteans Nicole and Rob and countless others that I had raced with, talked with or knew of. We all gathered at the starting area for the race briefing just before 8am and prepared for a long day/night.

The course is a beautiful and mostly flat 1.5 (give or take) mile loop out and around Hinson Lake. The path is a soft path with a few wooden foot bridges including one over the water. It really is a very mindless and pretty course. I had resigned myself to complete 78 miles in honor of a dear friend who had recently fallen ill so I knew I was going to be there for at least that much. I didn't quite have the training under my belt recently but I knew I had 24 hours to get the mileage in so I would be fine.

The race began and the crew took off. Laps passed with stories, jokes, hellos and lots of trail chatter. As thee day ran on I rotated my running partners from Jamaar to Tom and Steve, to Bruce (for about a quarter lap) and then finally solo for a while. I kept a steady stream of fluids and snacks in my diet to keep my energy levels topped for the upcoming night hours. As the day went on the home stretch morphed into a family friendly row of support. Grills were fired up and food was offered, beers were cracked and enjoyed, family was everywhere and it was awesome.

Physically I had felt pretty close to 100% at the start of the race but a lot of things did not go as planned. The weather was humid and after the second lap, I was not comfortable in my top, which I stopped to change. As the morning laps ticked off my right foot had begun to ache due to my shoe so I decided to switch out and go with another pair that I brought. As I capped the 30 mile mark I could feel that I had a massive amount of blistering on my right foot and seriously questioned my ability to hit the miles. I popped some ibuprofen and like a good runner, plotted on. As night fell I found the pain to be hindering my stride and resolved myself to a walk. I picked up Nicole who was also where I was physical and we set off into the night with headlamps and stories to tell.

The walking and talking did wonders to tick off the mileage and before we knew it, the leader board was up and low and behold my name was on it. Somewhere between 8th and 5th I played as the night crept on and the need to race and win started to nip at me... I wanted to race and I wanted to finish well but I needed to be reasonable. This wasn't a "podium" race for me so there was no need to kill myself and suffer. My feet were probably the worst they had been and I had New River 50k in two weeks time with a PR in focus and the toughest field of females I would ever race against.  So at 79 miles, I tapped out. I was proud of myself for letting go and just reaching my goals.

In the meantime, Steve had come to Hinson with a 100k on his mind. With a breathtaking amount of dedication and perseverance he had managed to hang in for that and I crossed paths with him at the aid station on his next to last lap. I agreed to go out for his victory lap with him to celebrate and began to pack up my stuff. Let me remind you that it was about 3am and most of the runners had either left, gone to sleep or stopped for a break. The course had less than half still out there putting in the miles and my heart and head were content not to be one of them. Tom and Jamaar rolled in and agreed on the decision to pack it up. Jamaar was feeling good but Tom had some issues that he was dealing with and didn't want it to worsen.  I took the final spin with Steve, thanked the race volunteers that were diligently counting laps and changed my  clothes.  We slowly dismantled our camp and noticed that the wind had begun to pick up significantly and in the distance the rain clouds could be seen moving in. We hurried to get the car packed and on the road. I pulled my socks and shoes off at the car to discover that my right foot had suffered just as much as I thought. Toenails would be lost and blisters were bigger than ever. They didn't hurt but I knew that the sock and shoe choice just hadn't been right. It's all part of Ultra running.....not a whole lot of pretty in it. We piled in the car for the ride home and shared the stories from the day. At just shy of 6am I climbed into my bed and slept.

The crew

Jamaar and I getting some laps in

View from the back-Crazy socks=crazy blisters
The final results sat me at 9th female overall with 80 miles under my belt. I was pretty happy considering that I hadn't come to race or win. Sure the little devil had been sitting on my shoulder telling me I could, but for the first time I ran content. Having left the race with almost 5 hours left in it I couldn't complain with a top 10 finish.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Slacker follow up

Ok so I have been slacking (severely) on my blog. I have contemplated going back to complete my race report for the Chattanooga Stage race and simply haven't. In my defense I did start it on the plane ride two days post race on the way out to Oregon, but seeing that I was sitting with two of my best friends and we were on our way to the Olympic Track and Field Trials....it went completely out the window. That being said...here is about all you need to know about the race:

1. There are a heck of a lot of steep climbs in Chattanooga...it ain't called a Mountain Stage Race for nuthin. The course is hard but runnable and it's definitely a well organized race.

2. Day 1 was a disaster for me. I fell, blew up when I went out too fast, couldn't keep my heart rate under 180bpm thanks to the combo of elevation and Zyrtec I finished feeling like defeated and wondering what I was doing there at all.

3. Day 2 was a positive change. I raced solid and comfortable although I did get stung on the top of my foot resulting in sever swelling and the nickname "Princess Fat Foot"....stupid ^&$%*# yellow jackets (see photo)

4. Day 3 I just got pissed off and ran hard. I got stung (again) and had enough of wallowing in my own pity. I kicked major ass on the back trails and finished strong.

5. Chattanooga is a cool town... Best race to have done with great friends

Overall the numbers were not great but it was my first stage race:
116th/185 runners
25/54 Females (No AGs)
Time : 11:09:19

That being said I will be back to try again.
Great race, great friends...Day 3

Cheesing on the way to start Day 1

War wounds post Day 1
Princess Fat Foot 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A little pre race poetry

My random thoughts...in pretty words...enjoy

I am a runner
I was born a runner
By the grace of God and some good genetics
And no matter what I say
It is about the speed,
The weight of the medal around your neck,
Of racing that clock,
And racing your demons
Accomplishing what you didn’t think you could
Faster than anyone.
The thrill of pushing hard
The joy of stopping the relentless pounding of feet
Of breathing in the win
That is what it is all about
Call me pretentious
Call me arrogant
But I run to compete
And I compete to win
Long after my legs have given out
I will race wheel chairs in a nursing home
I will always be a runner
Life is a race
Are you ready to run?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


So how do you start a blog for one of the hardest and most successful races of your career? I guess I'll start from the top. When I crewed last year at the 2011 Umstead 100, I watched in awe as runner after runner crawled up the finish to complete their lap and thought "I'll never do that" There was everything to the girl literally unable to walk without dry heaving, to the winners who came breezing into the finish, to the ever determined walker/hobbler that despite my thoughts would go out for another loop. Months later and a few successful races under my belt, I signed up for my first 100 mile race.

Weeks leading up to the race were full of anxiety. I not only wanted to finish but I wanted under 24 hours, which is aggressive considering a lot of runners DNF their first attempt. Leading up to the race, I was over trained, over stressed and plain old worried about making it that far. Tom and I agreed that 2 weeks out I would just start a taper and be done with the running to give me the best shot. We met on Tuesday before the race to go over the race plan and although it gave me anxiety, it was digestible and as long as everything went well physically I would finish under 24 hours without going breakneck speed.  Two days before the race, I realize I have a seeded bib...they seeded the first 50 runners based on past performances. I was #28...you have to be kidding me I though....No pressure right?

Tom and I headed up to the Umstead Park (same place my marathon was a few weeks back) on Friday afternoon. I had meticulously packed my bag with everything I would need and then some. Tom had his pacer/crew gear all ready to go as well. We chatted lightly about the forecast and things to expect during the race. Tom is a veteran Umstead runner himself so the insight was helpful. We checked into the hotel and then headed for packet pick up and the race briefing at the race headquarters. If you have never been to Umstead to pace, crew or run,  I will tell you it runs like a well oiled machine. Blake Norwood, the RD is awesome. The army of volunteers that help out is amazing and they are the best I have ever seen.

The briefing started precisely at 6pm (and I do mean exactly) and took almost an hour to go over. No detail was left unexplained and we heard from so many members of the staff and crew on what to expect and how the race would go. With the last few minutes, Blake asked all the first time runners were to stand up. I felt a little relief with seeing so many new faces that would be struggling out there with me. He spoke of how some of us wouldn't make it and how the race isn't about endurance, but rather about will to finish. Those words would ping pong around my brain the entire next day.  We then were given the task of setting up the tables and dinner was served. It was a yummy spaghetti with meatballs, a salad and a roll. Complete with cake and ice cream for Mama Rosa''s birthday who is 94 and comes down to spend her birthday at the race all the way from Philly. We ate with John from Canada and Cathy Lee and Joe and chatted about past races, joked about the every changing forecast and finally parted ways for the evening. I showered and crawled into bed. Trying to draw inspiration, I popped in the "Unbreakable DVD" and watched what I could before I began to feel sleepy. I knew how important that night would be to get rest. I had skated by in the past with little sleep but with the prospect of almost 24 hours of running facing me, I knew I needed it.

The alarm sounded at 4am and race prep began. In support of my Buckeyes, I donned a OSU dri-fit tank, my compression shorts and doubled up on my socks. Grabbing my regular breakfast of oatmeal with a dollop of PB in it, I packed my gear, watched the rest of Unbreakable and Tom and I headed out to the race just before 5am. At race headquarters, the lodge was bustling with activity.  I felt at home with so many other runners embarking on this challenge. I caught up with a few of my runner friends including Shannon who I had met and run with at the marathon. We were both giddy and nervous for our first 100 and wished each other luck.Tom and I picked a choice spot for the pacer/crew camp and laid out the necessities as best we could for the many hours ahead of us. As a last minute decision, I chose to stay in just my singlet and forgo wearing my headlamp seeing that there would be almost 200+ of them out there. As the gun went off, we plotted off for the first of our 8-12.5 mile loops.251 runners toed the line that morning. Either by choice (you can pull out at the 50) or by flaw...only 150 of us would complete 100 miles.

I started out too fast and kept checking myself against my Garmin. I knew that it wouldn't last the whole race but I needed to get an idea of what the pace Tom was expecting from me would feel like. As the jokes ripped about me checking my watch, I settled in with a lot of first timers and we chatted about the race. The first lap was uneventful. I recognized a majority of the course from the marathon and walked the big hills and cruised the downs/flats. I made mental notes of where my "walking trees" were and which parts of the course would be harder at night. I felt good and tried to relax knowing it would be a long day. I stayed ahead of my nutrition and hydration by keeping my Amphipod bottle full and grabbing a get at the unmanned aid station. This is where I discovered my new fav flavor of Gu "Expresso Love" which has always sounded unappealing to me but found a special place in my running plan that day. I finished the first lap at 2:13... a good half hour ahead of pace. I knew that was faster than where I wanted but it wasn't ridiculous. Tom warned me to slow down and I took heed to his warning. I pulled a 2:28 the next lap and he seemed to approve but still said I had a lot of miles ahead of me. The third lap was 2:38 and I was still feeling good. I had ticked off 37.5 miles and was feeling very good. My ipod had been a good choice on lap 2-4 for both the reading of the Hunger Games series and my tunes that kept me jammin. I had seen Shannon on the course several times those first few laps and she was rockin' it and looking strong. We kept exchanging smiles and positive wishes as the laps went on. Twice, the race leader Mike Morton passed me. It was impressive to see him gliding so easily on the course and I sent "keep it up looking strong" his way both times...he was set to break the course record and I knew he would. I had read an impressive article in Ultra Running just last month and I was aware how talented he was. After the race I would learn that he set the course record at an impressive 13:11:40....crazy fast!

As I headed out for lap #4, the sun made an appearance. The weather in the first half of the race had been ideal for me. It had stayed cooler with high humidity and a slight sprinkle had kept me clothes cool and wet. I ditched my tank top and soaked up some sun. I caught up with two incredible runners on that lap. One was a woman who was running her 9th consecutive 100 mile race and was looking for 30 to set the record of most consecutive races. The second was am amputee whose leg was a blade from the knee down. I was in complete awe of both women of their determination to reach their goals. It inspired me to keep pushing onward. At one point we passed a beautiful turtle slowly crossing the trail and I looked back, pointed at him and said " Ladies, that is gonna look like a sprint by the evening."

As I pulled in to complete the 4th lap at 2:36, I saw Tom there eagerly awaiting me. He had been there since 5am helping out (mostly in the kitchen, lol), keeping track of my time and serving as my gopher after each lap to ensure I was eating and to do a quick check that everything was golden. At lap 5 you can pick up your pacer for the rest of the race and this means a mental break from yourself and company for the dark. Tom and I headed out of camp and out on the course.

I recapped the first few laps for him and we decided to stick with a moderate pace as we walked the ups and cruised the downs. I told him how I tried to keep my aid station stops to a minimum but still managed a regular pb and j square or two with a banana. We wound our way through the course and he was fantastic about keeping my bottle filled.  We finished that lap at a pretty steady 2:43. When we pitted, we found Steve waiting for us, all smiles and ready to run. We picked him up and headed out again. At this point in the race I still had no major issues. My legs were tired and my body was generally fatigued but nothing was bothering me. I had kept up a steady intake (yes still well within the normal dosage) of aleve to ward off any issues so I was cruising. We headed out for #6 as three little amigos with a mission to "plotz on"

We passed the time with stories, songs and a steady stream of jokes. Tom and Steve were amazing pacers. Through lap 6 they traded carrying my bottle for me and making sure I always was running comfortably. Its awesome when you can keep moving and not worry about anything. Jokingly they told me I needed to slow down at aid stations because they were having problems keeping up with me. We finished that lap in 2:51...staying pretty steady. Tom had to call John to tell him I was so far ahead of schedule that he needed to plan on being there by 4 to catch my finish. The original plan was for him to come out on lap 8 but my race had been so aggressive that the best he could do was probably come out for my finish.  I asked for a score of the OSU game and was told we were leading...that gave me a smile and we picked up headlamps (which I didn't have to wear yay!!!) and headed out for 7.

At the aid station situation just before mile 7, Steve decided he wasn't going on so Tom and I headed back to base.  As we hit the back half of the course, I started to notice lightening. We dismissed it as heat lightening because the forecast hadn't called for rain but as we broke into mile 9, it was clear that a storm was coming and coming hard. The breeze picked up and the thunder rolled in. Just past mile 10 the heavens opened up. In a matter of moments we were soaked and as we passed under the power lines, I prayed that the ever flashing lightening wouldn't strike one. Tom worried our base camp because we had left everything out...phones, ipod, clothes etc were exposed to the rain. As we passed mile 11 we decided not to worry about it, it was going to be wet no matter when we got back. Tom had started to notice that his foot was bothering him slightly and we made a check list of what needed to be done when we got back... The only pain I was starting to have was a nagging shin pain in my right leg but I decided it was nothing major. We capped that lap with a 2:48 and dragged our stuff into the lodge. I asked for the final score of the game and got the disappointing news that OSU had lost a close one after blowing a 13 point lead in the last half of the game. I was sad but  grabbed a last bite at the aid station and went into the lodge to get Tom. As I saw him in the chair with Jonathan working on his foot, he gave me the cut to the throat sign and my heart sank. I wanted him with me on that last loop. He had told me that he was doing some calculations and wanted to discuss a game plan for the final lap. I swallowed hard and told him I would go get a substitute pacer. Because of several factors, we couldn't find my pacer and I became inpatient. I decided to grab my ipod and go out on my own. If I couldn't do it alone, what could I do. Tom wished me luck and apologized a million times. I told him to rest and I would be back shortly. With those words, I tore out of camp. For someone who had 87.5 miles on her legs I was pretty damn determined. I focused solely on getting it over with. I has told Tom that I was mad and wanted to be finished during lap 7. I was tired, I smelled, I was sick of running and I just wanted to get there already. I put my head down and told myself to grind and grind hard. I flew past other runners, dashed up inclines that I was previously walking and flew on the downhills. I stopped briefly to catch my breath as a heard of does surprised me when I came around a corner and their eyes glowed in my headlamp light. With that sudden stop I had become aware of what felt like a blister on my left foot between my big toe and second toe. I said a silent prayer that I didn't come this far just to have a blister get me and started back running. I felt it give shortly after that and hoped it wouldn't start hurting. After a final stop at the aid station, I thanked the staff for being so awesome and kept pushing on. One of the volunteers remarked as I was walking away;  "She looks like she is on lap #2" I smiled to myself, smacked a kiss on the mile 7 sign (I was well past halfway on that lap) and power walked the uphill.

I hadn't thought about what Tom had wanted for the game plan but decided to glance at my watch. Something I hadn't done all day. It read 2:52 am. I did some quick math in my head...roughly 60 minutes to get 5.5 miles in and my time would be under 21 hours.  That was his plan but could I do it? The back half has 3 killer hills that are not runnable and it was dark, which always slows me down. I needed to be fast and all I could do now was try. It was crazy to think my original plan was to finish somewhere in the 23:20 range and I was hoping now for a sub 21...hell ya I was going to do everything in my power to get there. I checked my watch again at 8 and 9 thinking that I would be close but no cigar. Then a glimmer of hope...I always set my watches a few minutes ahead...was that the case with this one? I couldn't rely on that but that hope lit a fire under me. As I headed up to the last station before mile marker 11...I checked the clock again. It was possible...closer than I thought. I had managed to make up some time on the killer downhill around mile 10 and now I needed to finish hard. As I turned into the last half mile of the course, my watch read 2:56. I had 4 minutes to get a half mile in. For my track peeps, yes I did the 400 split in my head to get a reality check. I tore past runners, pacer, cars and anyone on the trail. The lighted sign that serves as the finish line came into view. It is an uphill finish to the aid station and for the only time that entire day, I ran....correction...sprinted up the hill. As I crossed the line, I yelled out my number for the last time,  put my hands on my knees and prayed that I made it. I asked for the time and after what seemed like an eternity, it came back at 20:58:19. Sobbing, I hugged Tom, John and Steve. I had not only finished my first 100 in under 24hrs but I had smashed my expectations by almost 3 hours. I was overwhelmed with emotion, relief and general fatigue. After gathering myself and greedily accepting my first belt buckle,  I walked into the lodge and Tom updated me on my standing and overall finish. I had no idea how I would fare against a pretty competitive field. I had finished in the top 10 females,  second in my age group and 28th overall...precisely the number on my bib...couldn't do better than that. ( Later, I would come to learn that my actual place was 26th overall, 6th female and 1st in my age group) I grabbed dry clothes and headed for the shower. Overall I felt amazing, yes I was tired but my legs were still moving and my feet had only suffered minor damage. In those moments to myself  in the shower I let the joy and appreciation wash over me along with the hot water. I finally felt like I could say I was a true Ultra Runner. I has gotten my wings with this first 100 miler and I soared. Below is the moment I found out I finished under 21 hours...completely overwhelmed.

Can't control the emotions
Splits in hand for the proof...Tom looking proud

Friday, March 9, 2012

Marathon of Mud

That would have been a much more appropriate title for the 2012 Umstead Marathon held at Umstead State Park just down from the Raleigh Durham Airport. The storms started to roll in on Friday with various wind/rain/tornado warning covering the local area. I had been warned by Tom that the weather was going to be wet, but this that was an understatement. Friday night the wind and rain came down so hard that I jumped me out of bed at 2am to look outside. My Midwest raising has taught me what to listen for in a tornado, and I was a bit startled. I told John that I wasn’t too sure if the race was even going to happen and tried (in vain) to go back to sleep. Like usual I had tried, and failed, to get to bed early to get sleep. I would say I maybe got a collective 4-5 hours. That being said, when the alarm clock went off at 4am, I climbed out of bed and started the race routine. I did text Tom to be sure that he still wanted to race, he wasn’t as sure as I was and left the option open to pitch out. I thought about it for 2 seconds then texted back that regardless if it was up there or here in Charlotte, 26 miles was on the running schedule. Why not go get a shirt and have some fun while doing it…the race registration wasn’t cheap so let’s go!

Before the race- All smiles
I downed my typical oatmeal and 2 cups of coffee, gave the pups their breakfast and a little bit of love then we headed out the door at 4:45a to go pick up Tom. We trekked the 2+ hour ride up to Durham and noticed that as we got further north, the rain started to lighten up. By the time we pulled into the park, it has pretty much stopped. We parked, went inside the lodge to pick up packets and spent time discussing what to wear/take off for the race. I opted for my sleeves, racing jersey from One2Tri Racing, Under Armour compression shorts and my Saucony trail shoes. It was a warm morning temperature wise, but the rain created a dampness and the temps were predicted to drop as the morning went on so I wanted to be ready. I also decided to don my CEP compression socks paired with Injinjis to see how my calves would hold out. They have been tight lately and with the success I was having with them on my training runs, I was hoping they would help for the race. I strapped on my Spy belt (I still don’t care for it) stuffed with Stinger Gels and S! caps, grabbed my Amphipod hand bottle and we headed to the start.
There were a few things I did different nutritionally for this race. First, I only carried 2 gels with me. The aid stations were going to be stocked with Honey Stinger Gels (my fav) so I decided I would grab them along the way as opposed to haul them with me. I also carried an E-Gel which a lot of my triathlon teammates  recommended. Since this wasn’t going to be a “podium” race for me it was a perfect time to tinker. Secondly, I ate a Bonk Breaker bar on the way up to the race instead of my typical PB&J (gasp). Finally I started my race with a Gu Brew tab already in my bottle. Typically I start with water and add along the way. Again…perfect time to try new things!
In the lodge we saw a few familiar faces, said our hellos to people we recognized from New River and Weymouth Woods and chatted about the upcoming races. Mike, a fellow runner who had joined us on of of our midnight runs in Charlotte was running the race too. Note: this will be the same site for the Umstead 100, my first 100 mile race that is coming up at the end of the month so a lot of people were out racing to get a feel for the course.  Just before 9am we were called to the line.
As the gun went off, we found ourselves stuck in the back of the pack. Tom and Mike were content chatting and keeping each other company so John and I decided to zig zag around runners to put ourselves in a good spot for when we hit the single track. Most of the race was going to be on the park’s bridle trails, which are the width of a single lane road and covered with fine gravel, but the technical parts in the woods were going be sloppy as it was so passing would be tougher than usual. As we hit the first little turn around…I started counting females. I knew that the first 15 would place and I was curious; John and I both had me at 20. I chuckled at my competitiveness and told myself that this was supposed to be a good solid training run and course preview,  “no racing” I reminded myself.. As we started to settle into a comfortable pace we chatted with a few fellow runners about the course. The course was deemed as "hilly" but we got a fair warning that there was a monster near the end that we needed to save some legs for.
We dashed through the first few miles then finally into the woods to the single track. I felt pretty good despite the mud and occasional root we had to navigate over. I am not typically a fan of trail running (what?!?) but I found myself enjoying the focus on the technical side of it. As my pace began to quicken, John pulled back his pace (he is nursing a sore knee)and I trudged forward. I managed to trip up, yes up, three stairs on one of the bridges not because they were slippery but because occasionally I am just a clumsy runner. After I realized I wasn’t hurt (minor panic) I just began my typical mantra of “relax and run your race”. For the first time I felt comfortable and nimble on the trails. It seemed like for every steep climb, there was a forgiving down hill and that would stay constant the rest of the race.  I managed to pass a few girls there and realized that I was somewhere between 12 and 15 for the ladies. Not too shabby for a training run I kept thinking to myself.
I broke back out onto the bridle trails and began chatting with a runner who introduced herself as Shannon. She had spent a lot of the miles, armed with a camera, taking pics and darting in front of me only to fall back again. We talked about the course and discovered that we both would be running the Umstead 100 at the end of the month.  Excitedly the next few miles were spent exchanging our race goals, walking the hills and familiarizing me (she runs out there all the time) with what the course for the 100 miler. I was excited to have another person that I can look forward to spending the wee hours of the morning with. As Shannon began to speed up, I decided I was running out of my comfort zone and began to fall back. About this time I noticed that I was getting hungry and very tired. I hadn’t run this hard and this far in warm weather in a long time and I had lapsed on nutrition. As I reached up to wipe my face, it felt like I had rolled in the sand. I was loosing an incredible amount of salt and I panicked. In the running world, if you can see or feel the salt you are loosing from your body, it can be a bad sign.  Thinking back I had only gone through one Gu Brew tab, 2 bottles of water and 2 gels… not enough if I was going to finish strong. At the next aid station (just before mile 15) I dug out an S Cap and popped one in, filled my bottle and dropped in my last Gu Brew then practically tackled the volunteer for a gel. I got a brief glimpse of Tom and then John whose faces looked way more comfortable than I felt. Tom shouted a quick “lookin good, how are you feeling?” and being the eternal pessimist I shouted back “not too bad.”.
At that aid station, (you actually visit it early in the race) you have a long climb out and then the route retraces its steps along the bridal path, so I knew what was coming up as far as terrain. I began to think about the rest of the race and started to hit that awful 17-20 mile mark where your body begins to breakdown and you seriously doubt that you can make it. This is where the mental toughness takes over. I was out there with no pacer other than my watch and nothing but finishing in mind. I knew there would be hills and I knew they would be hard. I focused on the miles one at a time. Taking the up hills best I could and relishing the down hills and occasional cheering spectator.  I kept thinking about the rest of my day; how good it would feel to finish and the wonderful food I would get to devour after. Tom had told me that Moe's was a sponsor for the race and there were burritos, chips and salsa to eat after. YUM!  I was getting painfully hungry so I began to focus on the next aid station and getting calories. I was on the hunt for a banana when I got to one but that was a no go…I settled for an orange. I began to pick up my pace and caught up and passed two females and their pacers. We chatted briefly and I kept pushing on. At the next aid station, I grabbed my much welcomed banana and downed another gel.  As we turned into the final little out and back, one of the course workers told the female in front and me “you guys are 9 and 10 female!” I was shocked that I had managed to move that much in the second half of this race? I felt rejuvenated.  This part of the course descended for what felt like forever and it was a long time until I started to see the leaders coming back past…If I had to estimate I would say it was about a mile and a half in. I am not typically a strong climber, but I knew I had a few left in me.  Shannon was about 2 minutes ahead as the next female and we exchanged smiles and cheers on our passing and I decided it was time to maintain my place and finish strong.  As I pushed the climb, a  gentleman who had been watching the race and cheered for me several times already,  greeted me with a “you are looking strong, one more hill…not quite as bad as this one… you got it”. He was perched on his bike right at the mile 22 marker. It is amazing how someone you don’t even know can bring so much joy and motivation with just a few words.
  As I turned back onto the main road…I began seeing the signs counting the miles…23, 24…I knew that I had what is known as “Cemetery Hill” still to come and it was a decent challenge. I had been on that section of trail last year to bring Steve (a fellow Ultra runner and friend) in from his 5th lap of the 100 miler so I had an idea of what to expect. The rolling climbs allowed me a clear glimpse of the crowd behind and ahead and I began to relax. I was cruising by the time I crested the top of the hill and turned back towards the finish. As I spotted the white finish tent and heard the announcer calling names, I picked it up just a little bit to pass that one last runner. Once a competitor, always a competitor! I crossed the finish line with a time of 4:06:42 as was announced  as “8th place female” and a  totally butchered version of my name, lol. I had completed my second official “marathon” and was feeling awesome. Nothing hurt, my legs were not lead and I had placed higher than I thought or was expecting. I couldn’t have asked for a more successful “training run.” I headed back out onto the finishing stretch to cheer in Tom, Mike and John. We all agreed it had been a great day to run, despite the rain and hills. Somehow I managed to stay the cleanest of the three of us.

After- With  my 8th Place "Bat"

Tom's mud collection

Monday, February 13, 2012

For the Love of Running

In celebration of Valentines Day, I wanted to share my top ten reasons I love running...I put my Ultra spin on it for fun. For those of you that know me, you would swear I am married to the sport....here is why :)

10. The Release- Other than sex (not to be too graphic) running offers a mental release like no other. It gives you the chance to figure out problems, sort emotions and relieve stress. It pushes your body to its limits and can give emotions like no other. You get to have that same silly smile on you face as you do post coitus!

9. The Bonuses- Yes you can find that six pack that got lost in those college/post college years and fit into the skinny jeans again. My legs have never looked better in skirts!

8.  The Anticipation- Those minutes prior to the start of a race where your heart pounds and a thousand questions go through your mind...Even if I am just watching a race, my heart still races. My favorite memory is standing on the line at States for Cross Country and Sciota Downs and the 2,000+ spectators in the stands were so silent you could hear a pin drop...then the gun fires and they erupted with noise. Nothing is more exciting...yes my heard is pounding at the thought of it :)

7. The Accomplishment- Crossing the line after any distance is such a feeling of accomplishing what you spend hours, months and miles planning for.

6.  The Discipline- What it takes to get it done requires focus that a lot of people just don't have. Its something to be proud of when you are out running the streets at 4am.

5. The Pride- Decorating your walls with those finishers awards are like gold...its like a self-fulfilling shrine. Bragging rights for a long, long time with all the hardware. My favorite phrase is when someone says "you ran how many miles?" nothing makes me beam more!!

4. The Health- You can run circles around the average Joe, climb a set of stairs like a cheetah and log miles like a gazelle. The doc happens to be very happy with my HR, Cholesterol and BP :)

3. The Volunteers- Racing volunteers (especially in Ultras) are some of the coolest, most selfless people in the world. It says a lot when someone will stand around for 12+ hours just to hand out a cup of soup or make sure you have hot cocoa when you finish. Staying positive when its 35 degrees in the middle of the night is not easy to do but time and time again I have seen it and love it!

2. The Runners- The people who spend hours on the trails/course with you will become some of your closest friends. There is something magical that happens when people accomplish great distances together. It forms a bond that is unbreakable and respected through the entire running community. There is a aura about Ultra people that is contagious and I have caught the bug!!

1. The EATING!! (and drinking)- Yes it is a well known fact that we Ultra runners love to eat and with all the miles we log, and we can hide that in our needing to "fuel" for/during races. Attend a local Ultra and inevitably someone will ask where the beer will be after the race. Where else can you consume a cheese burger at 4a and not think a thing about it or pick up grits (thank you Weymouth Woods) at the aid station smothered with butter? Forget the gu's and bananas, bring on the Pizza!!

These are my reasons for my true love of running...may you find yours in whatever your passion is! Happy Valentines Day everyone!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

"Just a nice little jaunt in the woods"

Let me start by saying I had no expectations by this race. Heck I didn’t even have a race plan other than finish, and somehow I managed to accomplish something I wouldn’t have ever thought…I won!!

This past weekend One2Tri Racing teammate Tom Patch and I traveled to Southern Pines, NC to run in the Weymouth Woods 100k. I spent the week trading emails with Tom on weather, travel plans and to buy or not to buy gaiters. On Wednesday night I was luck enough to attend a talk at Run for Your Life by Anton Krupicka, who is a semi-legend in the world on Ultra Trail running. If you don’t know him look him up…he is an amazing runner. I left there with a few things swirling in my mind. I need to have better intentions when I step to the line to race and I need to relax and live in the moment when I am racing. Those thoughts were in my mind constantly.
I packed my bags on Friday night and tried in vain to get sleep; which hardly ever happens the night before a race. My alarm sounded at 3:45am and I started with the typical morning pre-race routine. Donning my now-famous neon knee socks, I dressed in layers to accommodate the warming temps through the day. With the race being about a 4.5 mile loop, I figured the longest I would be uncomfortable for was about an hour. I then headed downstairs to meet my wake up crew of pups and very sleepy husband. Eating my standard breakfast of oatmeal with peanut butter and coffee…I chewed over what my body was going to experience. I hadn’t raced (officially) since October/November and my weekly mileage hadn’t topped much more that 50. I had also been fending off a sinus infection and cold that sidelined me for a few days the week before. All I could do was run and hope for the best. I had gone this far twice before (not pleasantly mind you) so I knew it was possible but had no expectations. I loaded the car and set out for Tom’s house at 4:15a. After picking him up, we headed out for the roughly 2 hour trek eastward. We discussed the race, what he thought would be a realistic finishing time (14 hours) and how we would handle the course.
We pulled into the parking lot of the Weymouth Woods preserve almost exactly at 7am and headed inside for packet pick up. The center is a beautifully maintained place with heated bathrooms, a rarity in Ultras. After setting up our station beside the track and sitting though the race briefing we headed outside for last minute prep work before the race. Up top, I had chosen to wear my Brooks Nightlife long sleeve shirt under my Nike half zip.  I also added my Mountain Hardwear vest, two pairs of gloves and a beanie to fight off the chill that was in the air. I knew I could drop them after the loop if I wanted to (love that about races) and wouldn’t be uncomfortable. On my feet, I decided to change into my Saucony trail shoes as opposed to my regular running shoes. The terrain was all trail and later on the the day, I would need that support and grip on the terrain. I filled my handheld Amphipod and headed up to the starting line. They had added an extra little jog (maybe a quarter mile) at the start that helped to relieve congestion on the course for the 75 participants that were brave enough to be out there.
  As we waited the last 5 minutes and said hello to familiar faces, I did something I almost never do, I counted the women who were racing and sized up my competition. Now let me digress for a moment about Ultras. This sport isn’t like anything else I have ever participated in. You cannot tell by looking at someone if they will race well or if they are fast. Ultra runners come in all shapes and sizes, wear a broad variety of clothing and age is nothing more than a number. They vary from stay at home moms, to engineers to lawyers. There is no common factor other than the ability to keep moving and pain manage. That being said, I quickly picked out a very athletic looking  blonde (later found out her name is Kelsey) and thought to myself…"I think she's going to be fast and competition." I surprised myself by sharing it with Tom, who chuckled at my competitive nature.   As the go was given, we trudged off the line and headed into the woods. The first lap was just figuring out the course. There were quite a few turns but everything was very well marked. We knew that as the day went on the roots that were everywhere were going to slow us down (especially in the dark) so we made mental notes on where those sections. Tom and I casually chatted, dodged piles of horse poo and met runners along the way. That is one part I love about Ultras, the ability to chat it up while running. The time out there is so long that you have to make friends or spend the long hours feeling very lonely. I kept a small mantra in my head of “relax” and “run in the moment” I picked up from Anton. Things were going smooth and as expected. Tom shared his race strategy with me and I agreed to go with it. I had no plan of my own for time, I really just wanted to finish and figured I would see what the day brought. We climbed and descended the front part of the course and crossed several plank bridges. This part of the course was nicely varied and allowed for visibility of other runners. We ascended one last long uphill that led us to the Frostbite aid station (which became the halfway point of the course in my mind) and were pleasantly surprised at the supplies. We had been figuring on water and Gatorade but they had a small buffet that would turn out to be a race saver for me later on. Tented next to a pick up truck with the water and Gatorade off the back of the gate, we quickly shuffled past saying a friendly hello.
We began to explore the back half of the course and I quickly decided that it was my favorite part. After you cruise out of the aid station, there is a slight long downhill/flat that leads you up to a hill. You quickly turn and go back down the hill and from there it is a fast track to the finish. You zoom around a few close trails, run across a bridge for Father Frank…head up a short hill and back down over the “speed bumps” of dirt the a slow steady climb in what I dubbed the “Pine Forest” that turns right and cuts across the landscape. There are a few hills and technical root parts on that back half but about ½ mile away you could see the center and it serves as a beacon for the finish.
Kelsey crossing just in front of Tom and ...check out the
 matching green socks!! 
After the first loop (which we finished in about 47 minutes) I dropped my bottle, vest and beanie. I put on my favorite running hat and headed back out. I snagged a pb and j from the aid station that is nicknamed “Mrs. Doom’s All You Can Eat Buffet”, and headed out for the second loop. We managed to be right behind the lead female and decided we would catch her to chat it up with her. Kelsey ended up to be one of the sweetest runners I have ever met on the trail. She has a fantastic life story we decided we were kindred spirits. We talked about family, religion and everything in between. She is a practicing acupuncturist (check her out online at kdpainless.com) and has studied in Nepal! We entertained ourselves for about 3 laps and decided to part ways.  She is learning conversational French so she decided to take a lap with her lessons. Tom and I hit the course together and continued trudging along.
 As the day wore on, I was feeling pretty good. At a little over 5 hours, my watch died and I was left to listen to my body for pace. I ran how I felt- smooth and relaxed. I took to fueling with at both of the aid stations with what would become staple foods for me. Early on I had some stomach issues. I decided to try the sage advice for ultra runners and drank cola. To my amazement, that and a pepto cap worked like a charm. The first few laps through the aid station at the finish,  I had  picked up a grilled cheese and/or cheese quesadilla. Later on it became ¼ of a plain bagel  softened by water and a shot of cola…gross I know but I didn’t want to tempt fate. It was the only thing that looked and tasted good. I abandoned by Stinger Gels and Gu Brew all together. On the back half of the course, I indulged in my new favorite...grits. They had tempted me early on as I passed but I finally broke down and tried it. The warm salty texture with just a little pat of butter did the trick. I started looking forward to it almost every lap and indulged greedily.
I was keeping an eye out for John who was coming to pace me. Tom had encouraged me to go out on my own as he stopped to refuel and get some rest. His legs weren’t where he wanted them so I had pulled a few laps solo with my ipod blaring in my ears. Kelsey had picked up her pacer and was trotting along. I assumed she had taken about a 5 minute lead on me. I had lost sight of her around the corners and decided that 2nd place was going to be a terrific finish for me. I hadn’t even gone to look at the splits and math was not working in my brain as I glanced at the timing clock. Somewhere around lap 8, I looked up and was right behind them. I decided to hang back and keep them in sight. As we finished that lap John was standing there to join me.  We took off ahead of Kelsey and trotted onto the trail. We decided that since he was recovering still from his race, he would run 2 laps with me split by a solo. It was nice to have fresh company on the trail and we chatted along through the course and I told him which parts were my favorite and what was coming up.
As we finished the lap, I grabbed food and he grabbed my ipod, laced me up and told me “I’ll see ya in an hour” I hit the path again, solo. I raced as fast as I could on this lap. I was getting closer to the finish and would only have 3 laps to go…one which I would have John to push me. I hadn’t spotted Kelsey for a while and was running a bit scared. Not only scared of the distance, but how my body was going to hold out. Four laps doesn’t sound bad, but  when you think of it in the context of miles….a lot can happen when you have almost 18 to complete. I reminded myself to deal with the race one lap/footfall at a time. If I felt good, I ran. When I was tired I walked.
Brief interlude at the aid station.
As pitted at the finish line, I was reminded to grab my headlamp and my heart sank. I despise running in the dark. I have a hard time seeing and am terrified of falling. It was starting to get dark and the route was filled with roots so lap 11 was slow. Between a weak headlight and constant tripping, we gingerly made our way through an impossibly dark path. John encouraged me to keep going and to my delight…as we finished the lap Tom was there at the table eating. I picked him up and we set off into the dark with the help of his "bright as day" lamp. Just before the 1st aid station…I was getting itchy to go. Tom was doing his best to recover and I couldn’t hold back…I took off alone. I stopped briefly for my last cup of grits and headed out. I was surprisingly catching runners who has slowed to a walk in the dark. I couldn’t believe how good I felt. “One more” became my mantra. I was a smiling fool as I crossed the line, grabbed my fuel and headed out for my last lap. I made the aid station workers promise that they would save me a celebratory cupcake…Boston Cream to be exact…and couldn’t wait to finish!
With the help of some great music and singing out loud (I’m pretty sure I sounded crazy)I whipped along the course.  I stopped briefly to thank Dough and Jimmy, the aid station workers, for all the wonderful help they had been and zoomed up the next hill. When I got to my favorite part (the cut across) It finally sank in…I was gonna win this thing and my time was going to be way faster than I could have predicted. I ran most of the rest of the way in and bounded across the line...immediately I went searching for my cupcake…true Anji style.
Lots of congrats followed and I was ecstatic. I had started my race season not only with a PR at a distance I had never run, but with a win. I couldn't have been happier. I changed into some much needed dry clothes and waited for Tom to finish. In the interim I visited Denise who was the massage therapist at the race. After a pleasant chat and a much needed post race rub down, I came out just to catch Tom finishing. We both were exhausted and happy to be finished. We de-camped, said our thank you's and headed home.

Warm dry stuff and packing for home
In summary, this race was an perfect way to kick off my New Year. The RD Marie did an amazing job! She and her volunteers: Susan Dummar, Mischel Niedringhaus, Mark Long, Maren Anderson, Caroline Sullivan, Tim Sullivan, Eric Fogleman, Vickie Fogleman,Darryl Banks, Tony Rouse, Tom Herbst, Tina Fasolak, Melissa Hamilton, Eric Chatham, Frank Lilley, Herb Hanson, Alexandra Majka, Sarah Jane Harmon, were simply put...awesome. Thank you all so much for selflessly attending to us! Doug Dawkins and Jimmy Ballard have a special little place in my heart for the grits and ever smiling faces at the Frostbite aid station. The timing was done by Lee Timing and Bruce is one of my favorite people...mostly because I run well at the races he times, lol. To all those who also came out to cheer their friends and family on, I cannot say enough. It means the world to us that you wait for us simply to clap or say "keep going." Your words are comfort to our ears and hearts on what is usually a very long day. Sometimes the sight of a smiling face or a four legged friend can make you feel better. To the lady with the beagle, I looked forward to seeing you every lap :)  This race will be on my favorites list for a while and I can't wait to come back. Cheers to a great start and hopefully a fantastic racing year!
Tom and I at the finish of the race