Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Introducing: My Beast Blog Story

As of the beginning of last week there are 20 weeks until Hellgate 100k the last race of the Beast Series. For the next 20 weeks I will be documenting weekly updates on my journey to Hellgate. (Gosh! that sounds awful “my journey to Hellgate”) So I present introduce to you the 
My Beast Blog Story.” 

These posts will be a compilation of illustrative stories, photographs, drawings, feelings and collages to share the many moments that inspire me throughout the week of training, as I complete the rest of this year's goals. You may not be able to fully understand what I put down on "paper" but, this is the easiest way for me to creatively express what I've learned, struggled with and embraced throughout the weeks to come. Enjoy!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Breaking up is hard to do...

Yesterday I did it.  I broke up with my streak. As of Saturday I was going strong for 200 consecutive days. For the past couple weeks I've been struggling whether or not to officially break it off.

My reasoning isn't because I can’t do the mile(+) anymore. I think in 200 days, I’ve proved to myself I am capable of doing the streak for the rest of the year. It’s because I need a break. A mental break. I still have some pretty big goals I need to accomplish this year. Next weekend is the Catoctin 50k and the rest/ hardest part of the the Beast Series which consists of; Grindstone 100 mile race (October), Mountain Masochist 50 miler (November) and Hellgate 100k (December.)

My finishes so far this year has come from simply listening to my body, running smart.  Part of running smart is giving it what it needs. What my body needs (I think) to finish the rest of the races this year, is just that small mental break once a week.

A day to not think about mileage. A day to regroup. A day to focus on stretching, foam rolling working out the kinks from all the other runs that have built up to that day. A day to let my body reset, so I can go back out recovered and stronger than if I didn’t give myself a full days of rest.

I don’t like quitting. Actually, let me rephrase that I hate quitting! Not finishing something that I started drives me crazy! This doesn’t feel like quitting though. It feels like a healthy break up. It just isn’t working out anymore for me and the good ole’ streak. I have found that there is something much more positive coming out of this than if I was to continue on in this daunting “relationship.”

In this “200 day relationship” I’ve learned so much. It has taught me that I am very
determined. I will go beyond the limit. Actually this streak has redefined my definition of "limits." There is no limit when it comes to the kind of weather I’ll run in. Regardless of what wind, snow storm or lightening storm that pushes me in the other direction, I will put my head down and continue to push through. (I have oddly found the most extreme conditions fun.)

This streak has taught me that there is always enough time to run regardless of how busy you are. It doesn’t always have to be a 10, 5 or 3 mile run but if you just put your shoes on and get out there that is something. Which is way better than nothing at all. 

The streak has also taught me that no matter how tired you are, you can do it. It’s just your mind telling you otherwise. Once you get started it’s surprising how much energy you get from overcoming the mind. Most of my runs I would plan to head out for 2 or 3 miles on a tired day, I'd end up going for 4 or 5 miles instead or sometimes triple the distance if things were clicking just right. Your mind easily gets in your own way. Push it aside if your feeling right, just go! You’d be surprised what you are capable of.

So yesterday the break up went well. No hard feelings. I still went out for a bike ride. It was refreshing, relaxing and different. The perfect mental break I needed to start back up another week of hard solid week training.

If my main focus this year is to “run smart” then I think it's best the streak and I part ways...

It’s been real, streak. Maybe we will meet again someday soon. I'm glad we left it on good terms :)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Confidence for 103.7 miles. The 2nd MMT finish.

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. You are the guy who’ll decide where to go.~ Dr Seuss (a.k.a. Theodor Seuss Geisel)

Before the adrenaline wears off I thought I should recap this weekend's event, my second 100 mile finish.
This past weekend I embraced a feeling that was more powerful and pure than anything I ever thought I could experience, complete and utter confidence. The week leading up to the race my nerves were low, I have never felt more ready for anything, beside the day I said "I do" to the special man by my side.
The night before a race usually I am very anxious and a little nervous. On our drive to the race John asked me how I was feeling I said "calm, ready and confident." I replied back to him asking if that was normal because I am usually the opposite. His response, "Yep, that's perfect. You know you trained well when you feel that way. Your training was your hard part, the race is your reward."

During my training this year for MMT I focused on my miles but also paid close attention to the "quality" of the training miles versus the quantity. Several weeks I would get a little frustrated, wrapped in the numbers game not reaching my projected 70 or 80 mile week I planned for. Constantly, I reminded myself that I was feeling strong and its better to under train rather than over train. Training this way helped me to go into the following week feeling strong and ready for another successful week of training.
Listening to my body was another very important key I constantly kept in the back of my mind. During long runs or races I was using as training I would constantly ask myself "am I staying comfortable in running?" (which is a weird question to ask if you think about that for a minute) But its true, never did I want to overwork my body to the point that recovery would take too long or prevent me from being able to go out on my next run.
Listening to my body helped me become as close to consistent that I possibly could. Consistent in diet, sleep, and running. By doing this I noticed my recovery after long runs was drastically quicker. I was training at a pace that was comfortable for me and I was teaching myself to just listen for race day. If I was feeling like I was pushing it too hard I wanted to pull back. In my mind "overwork = more recovery time."
Also during training I was sponge for information: I read and listened to several podcasts that gave me information about tips and ways to change your perspective for the long haul on race day, etc.
This podcast specifically I may have listened to ten times in the last four months:
The information in this podcast along with other sources helped me to create a plan. I started by visualizing the finish line. How was I going to get there efficiently and healthy? Running the race in my mind and mentally rehearsing helped me set realistic goals for myself based on my training. If I did not meet any of these timed goals I was not going to let it affect my race, but I wanted to use it as a guide and be open to change as needed. Also, during training especially during my 50 mile race I noticed I did really well with sectioning the race, with time breakdowns. For example, say at mile 20 to 29 knowing that I had possibly two steep climbs and some rolling hills I would be at the next aid station in 2 hours, comfortably!
Also in this podcast it discusses two key concepts that I wanted to take with me on race day. The line and your box. The line being that point in the race that you get to and you still have plenty of gas in your tank to make to finish healthy and not overworked. The line is not 50 miles in the race because its half way, its a point in the race that you know is going to be difficult for you but, a point that you know you can get to with reserves to push on at the same energy you did to get there.
So, "my line" was mile 70 or Gap Creek 1. I had a lot of reasons for creating my line here. First reason was because it was well beyond a 50 mile mark. I've done several 50 mile runs which doesn't intimidate me. So, I had to make my line something I knew was going to be hard mentally and physically. Second, there are two sections after Habron that are very difficult. From Habron to Camp Roosevelt is a 9.8 mile section. The longest section in the whole race. I went back and forth whether I wanted John to start pacing me at Camp Roosevelt but I decided no I wanted to dig deep and push on my own to get to the line that I've created for myself. Third reason I made mile 70 the line was because I knew I would be arriving at "home" so to speak. The “running family” aka Steeplechasers was hosting this AS, John and my sister were all there waiting for me. I wasn't going to see them all day except for one stop at mile 40 so it was something to work towards. Fourth reason I made mile 70 the line because well its mile 70! I only had a third of the race left to go at this point.
Ok so "the box" one other key I focused on. The box or my box is very similar to just asking myself "am I comfortable?" Its a tool I use to check in with myself to make sure I’m on target with what I originally set out to do. If I was to visualize what was in my box it would be a checklist of the following questions:
  • Breathing, am I breathing to hard that I feel overworked?
  • What do I need to do right now for me to get to where I want to be?
  • Listen to your body
  • And smile. Smile coming into the aid stations. Smile as you pass other runners. A smile translates to positive energy and attitude even if you feel like shit (to put it bluntly) it will change your game.
So I took this really cool confidence thing that I had and all these valuable tools that I learned and created "the plan."

In March I ran the Terrapin 50k; elevation gain 7000 ft, finishing time 5:51. The last weekend in April I completed Promise Land 50k with 7800 ft of elevation gain in 6:26. (I found myself actually "racing" Terrapin with the top 10 females...which was totally new territory. At Promise Land I stuck to my plan to not get wrapped up in the “racing game” and keep this as a training run since I had just ran Glacier only 2 weeks prior and I was still recovering.)

In April, I completed the Glacier Ridge 50 miler in 9:10. The elevation for this race was around 7500 feet of gain.

This brings me to MMT, it’s about 18000 feet of elevation gain. So based on the finishing time at these three races I was able to figure that I could be at Elizabeth Furnace (mile 33) anywhere from 6-8 hours.

The morning of we couldn’t have had more perfect weather, in the mid 40's to 50's. I had my husband and sister with me to take me to the start. Right from the very start I felt calm and comfortable. Usually I don't listen to music at the beginning but, this time I just felt I wanted to the be in the zone. I hugged my hubz and sister and stepped foot in the pack. Put two headphones in waited for the feet in front of me to start moving. And I was off on a 103 mile journey. The first 3 miles are rolling hills on forest road. I was looking forward to this section to warm up the legs, get the blood moving and shake it out. In this very first mile right to the very last I started telling myself "listen to your body" and started my mantra of asking myself "am I comfortable?" The hills felt easy to trot up so I continued on entering the Massanutten trail. The toughest section in the beginning 25 miles, in my opinion, is just getting to Edinburg
as its still dark and kind of difficult to get a real good flow going over this technical section. The sun started to rise as I was approaching Edinburg and I was thinking to myself how lucky I am to get to do this, I have so much support and people all over rooting for me and I had my sister and husband out here supporting me on this journey.
It was going to be a beautiful day as the weather was calling for high 60's and nothing but sunshine!

The next two sections before Elizabeth Furnace are very runnable. I teamed up with a couple guys on and off taking about how the were feeling, their running experiences and what got them there that day. Talking to the other runners helped break the monotony of the same 3 Black Keys songs that I couldn't stop listening over and over again. Something about these few songs were just the right beat and right mix of goodness to go with my pace.

I arrived at Elizabeth Furnace just under 7 hours which was perfect for my projected time. Right in the middle. When I got to EF, I indulged in some Pringles, Fruit Blend and refilled Tailwind. Asked myself again "am I comfortable?" "Do I need to dial back?" knowing it was still early, only mile 33, the answer was I felt good and comfortable.
So the next part of my plan, projected time for Habron (mile 54.) Knowing my finishing times at Glacier and the 50Ks I gave myself a projected time anywhere from 10 to 12 hours to get to this AS.

The one section I knew was going to be one of the toughest was the 9 mile section from Veach to Indian Grave. The climb up Veach is very long and steep. I made sure I was hiking strong, consistent and steady all the way and paying close attention to how much I was drinking as it was around 3 o'clock and it was getting hotter throughout the day. As I was hiking I didn't feel overworked just tired. It was a long section and I think visualizing and mentally preparing before hand helped me to keep moving right along.

Photo Credit: Paul Encarnacion
As I rolled in to Indian Grave I was welcomed with lots of friendly faces and a party that I had a hard time leaving. Kevin (the RD) and Greg Z. were at the previous aid stations all day harassing me and I was in an odd way looking forward to getting to this aid station and getting harassed again. Upon my arrival Kevin said "Where the hell ya been? We've been waiting for you!" I unfortunately had to remember I wasn't there for the party (well not that party :) and to keep moving along.

I knew I had about 4 miles of road to get Habron(mile 54) and I was feeling good just trotting right along. I was right on point with my projected time goal as I arrived at Habron just around 11 hrs 30 mins. This plan I created for myself really helped me to feel like I was accomplishing more than just running the miles but it was keeping me in check and reminding me that I really do know my body. I know exactly what I am capable of without pushing the limits.

These next two sections were probably the most important part of my plan as one of the sections is the longest section of the whole race. The second, in my opinion is one of the least runnable sections of the whole race. Especially on this particular day. I wanted to make it to mile 70, the line before dark. (Last year I made it to this AS at 11pm)

"gross these feet are SO nasty" Photo Credit: Mike O
The 9.8 section from Habron to Camp Roosevelt based on previous years, the average finishing time was about 3 hours. I consider myself an average runner so I thought was a perfect timed goal. The beginning of this section has a 2 mile climb that feels like 5. I found that this is much easier to do in daylight than at night J I was feeling strong and very motivated knowing that I was getting that much closer to the line and my plan was still working. After the climb you follow the ridge line for 3 to 4 miles, very long miles. There are a few shorter climbs on the ridge line but nothing like the one at the start leaving Habron. The downhill following the ridge line feels that much sweeter since it is such a long section. On my way downhill I remember that my friend Jim Treece was pacing Lisa. I had a burst of energy knowing that I might get to see him at Camp Roosevelt. Unfortunately, he was not there when I got into that aid station. I had the usual combo as I came into the AS; broth, Pringles, Fruit Blend refilled Tailwind and was off. I was starting to notice my stomach was bloating, which is typical for me but nothing that was feeling to bad. Overall “my box” was feeling good and I was staying “inside by box.” I wasn’t to worried about much else around me but just how I was feeling and moving.

The section from Camp Roosevelt to Gap Creek was a really tough section as I predicted. I was projecting this to take me about two hours. Its only 5.6 miles but VERY difficult to get a good flow going with running. Since there was a huge rain storm the Thursday prior to race the water, mud, creek like conditions made it nearly impossible to run any of this. I kept up a pretty good pace knowing that it was getting close to dark and my goal was to get to Gap Creek before dark. After plugging through the 5 mile creek bed I arrived at Gap Creek according to plan in 1:45 just under what I predicted.

Coming into Gap Creek made the extra push I had all day SO worth it. John, my sister and the “running family” were all there cheering me in. I could hear everyone yelling as approached “there’s that lil redhead!” The greeting into this aid station made it very difficult to hold back my tears of joy knowing that I had so much support from everyone here and I made to the line. AND I still had my reserves left to rock it out with John all night.

Leaving Gap Creek my legs were feeling really good, no major issues. However, I knew I was a little behind on my calories and my stomach was bloated. My answer to the question “am I still comfortable?” was still yes at this point and I had a smile on my face.

From this point on I didn’t have a projected time goal. I figured I would have set myself up for a strong finish if I got in according to my plan and stayed focus on “my box.” I felt even more confident to have John with me to encourage me where I needed it.

let your light shine bright!
As we headed up Jawbone I started to tell him how tired I was and I knew what was ahead the dreaded Kerns mountain. Last year, I had an awful experience on Kerns and I wanted to stay positive and focused to avoid getting a “case of the Kerns.” Just shortly after it was completely dark and we trucking over Kerns I started sleep walking. I told John, he looked at his watch and told me it was only 9:30! My response was “well, its my bedtime!” We moved at a snails pace up and over Kerns. After we got off the mountain there is a couple miles of road into Visitor Center. John noticed my side step, swaying type sleep walk was in full effect. So he stopped me on the road and said lay down right here. I gladly stopped laid down on the concrete and he gave me 5 mins of some of the best sleep I’ve had since Thursday night. After I got up I felt SO much better just to relax filled my tank up for enough to start picking up the pace. Unfortunately, because my pace slowed down, this 7.5 mile section to Visitor Center took almost 3 and half hours! John informed me of how long it took but I tried not to let it discourage me. I mean I was coming into the aid stations nearly 6 hours faster than I was last year. That was mind blowing and motivating in itself!

After climbing and descending Bird Knob my next major challenge was Scothorn Gap. I remember this section being a complete sufferfest last year. This 8.9 mile section was the second to last real push I needed to break sub 29 hours. John informed me I really need to push hard up this climb and not do a death march otherwise I would becoming in around 29 or 30 hours. According to my plan, I gave myself a wide range that I thought I would finish in, anywhere from 26 to 30 hours.

Checking in with myself and staying inside my box helped me to feel as good as I did. The only thing stopping me, which is kind of a major thing, was the sleep walking. I trained really hard for this and this was the moment at mile 90 I knew I had what it took to do more because I was prepared. All my training prepared me for this right here. John’s encouragement at this moment helped me to dig deeper than I ever knew I could and I did work!

Hands on knees step after step pushing every step to the top. I climbed Scothorn, I what I believe is a very difficult 3 mile climb, in less than 30 minutes at mile 90! It was bittersweet knowing that was my last real major climb besides Jawbone. (insert chuckle laugh)

As we were descending from Scothorn, the sun was rising and the sky was a rich, beautiful fiery magenta and orange. We could see the sun come up over the ridge line and I checked in myself once again and asked “am I comfortable?” My answer this time was, I couldn’t be more! I was with my husband descending through these beautiful mountains with this picturesque sunrise and I just pushed myself harder than I ever thought I was capable of with my thoughtful, kind, caring, patient husband there to encourage me every step of the way. He brought out the better in me, a stronger one that I did not know existed.

From this point on John and I were just doing work. He kept me moving faster than I thought I ever could this late in the race. That same confidence that I had at mile 1, was still there it was just a little beat down. John’s encouragement totally made up for it that slighlty beaten version. My plan was all coming together as we started to get closer to Gap Creek the second time. We realized I was looking at more of a 28 hour finish if I pushed. My calories were good, hydration was good (as I was peeing like every 20 mins!) stomach was still very bloated and my legs were surprising me. I kept telling John I can’t believe I feel this good, his response was “that is because you trained for this, this moment right here.”

It was now completely daylight which was such a renewed energy. After seeing my sister at Gap Creek 2, I had so much energy and could taste the finish. John started cranking out the numbers again and realized that we had 1 hr and 45 mins to come in sub 28. I was in shock that was even a possibility. So knowing what we had left the climb up Jawbone, the 2 mile downhill and the 3.5 of road we felt confident to pull this off. On the climb up Jawbone we said “hi” and “bye” to Ryan Nebel as he literally just blew right pass us. On his way by he encouraged me that I could get in sub 28 as that was his same goal. He told me if I get to the ridge line in 20 mins I got in the bag. Thank you Ryan!
After reaching the top I was so stoked because it literally was all downhill from here. Unfortunately, this 2 mile downhill section is not at all one of those sweet, single track runnable down hills. Its like someone decided to drop a big FU and dump every rock you just tripped over for the last 100 miles and put it in your way, I dug deep for patience, tripping a lot not able to get a good flow but, just kept moving as John encouraged “you got this babe just keep it moving.”

"Holy shit did that just happen"
Finally, reaching the road I recall last year when I hit this section and I was doing nothing else but the dead man shuffle. The bottoms of my feet felt like there were nails in them and there was little to no running going on. This year was a whole other game. I was running this! It was SO hard because I truly couldn’t pick up the pace any faster than I was doing but I wanted sub 28 SO bad. I did everything I could to just put mind over matter, think about my training, my plan how it completely worked and to use all grit and determination that I had left to cross this finish line with a smile and to be healthy.

I started to realize I just PR’d a 100 mile race by 6 and half hours. Which was completely blowing my mind. It’s because I listened to my body. Not just during this race but during my training. I took care of it, I let it heal when it needed to. I built this machine to do exactly this and do it well.

Running into the finish line is a feeling difficult to put into words. There is no pain, the feeling of going through the lows and overcoming them with much better highs is something that so many people will never get to experience. I couldn’t be more grateful for that. The fact that I get to share this special bond, this very special feeling with my husband is something I will always hold so dear. The finish line with my sister there made it that much sweeter. Family and friends that are out there supporting you in this crazy sport is something so priceless. I crossed the finish line in 27:57 exceeding any expectation I had for myself. Because really the only expectation I had was to cross the line with a smile and to be healthy doing it.

A lot of people asked me why I had a 6+ hour PR because last year as my first 100 my only goal was to finish with a smile and be healthy. This year, I got to know myself better, listen to my body. I set goals, not expectations and was open to the fact that at any moment something could change and I need to be open and except that. This year I had a plan and it worked. If it didn’t work I would be ok with that and learn for next time.

I can’t thank Kevin enough for putting on a phenomenal race. This is my second finish and will NOT be my last. As I sat at the finish enjoying very well-deserved beer I saw Kevin hug every single one of the runners as they crossed the finish line. We are gross, smelly, nasty individuals when we come across that line but, he doesn’t care. He is the first one that gets to give you a respectable, well-done hug. That right there is the true definition of this sport.

To all the volunteers, thank you!. You make this whole thing possible. You all out did yourself. The thoughtfulness is unreal. You all make sure there is virtually everything available for us and you go out of your way to make foods that accommodate EVERYONE. As a vegetarian, I must say the Butternut soup at picnic was my favorite and those vegan wraps, amazing!

What did I learn:
  • 5 min naps on the road at mile 90+ are life changing
  • A smile gets you a long way
  • Your probably stronger than you think you are but listen to your body

To all the runners Congrats. Being in this club is pretty damn special. Recover well and Cheers.

As always, Happy Trails and thanks for reading.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

I've got 99 problems but running ain't one.

"We become what we want to be by consistently becoming what we want to be each day." - Richard G. Scott

Credit: http://www.highsnobiety.com

I've got 99 problems but, running ain't one. For 2014 I set a goal to run, walk, hike, waddle, snowshoe, or possibly crawl (depending on my condition) at least a mile a day for the whole year. Today, I finished the 99th day. 

Every mile has been outside except for one of those miles. The last snowstorm we had at the end of March, nearly broke me down mentally. I just did not have it in me to bundle up in winter gear and go battle it out one more mile in the snow. So, that day I chose to run back and forth in my house for 15 minutes to keep the streak alive. Marley man also logged a mile that day :)

At first when I "signed up" for this epic 2014 streak, I was very motivated and drive by the idea or shall we call it the honeymoon phase. Even though it was brutal winter I still had a fresh perspective and an extra kick in my step as the days went on. I laced up my shoes with my eyes wide open ready to face the harsh winds, snow and sleet that waited for me outside.

Many runs I came back in feeling like I won. I won against the monster, the big bad winter monster.

This streak is not the only positive change for 2014. I started paying VERY close attention to diet. Our new approach was a calorie restricted, plant-based diet. Very little fat and zero processed foods. Training for the “big show” and only eating 1000 calories/ day was a struggle and left me no stranger to another huge challenge, hunger!

As the weeks went by, these lifestyle changes started to make a difference. A major difference I was noticing was an energy I have never felt before. Fresh, clean and renewed energy. John and I were doing this together and seeing drastic results, the most gratifying of all results, losing weight. Because of this weight lose, running has started to feel light and airy. Recovery is quicker. Making poor diet choices is no longer an option because, we know how it will make us feel on the next run.

Eating has now become a more spiritual connection. Eating only foods that come from earth. Limiting processed foods and choosing what will in return help with our every day performance. Discovering that this energy is coming from a clean diet is profound. Eye opening to our training and has made the streak that much easier.

The streak has now changed from the honeymoon phase to something I have become emotionally attached to. If I could I would hold it, something dear to my heart. It’s no longer the mile that I’m running it’s a much bigger thing. On days I’m tired and have zero energy to lace up my shoes I ask myself “How will I feel if I don’t do this?” My answer is always awful.

There have been many days I’ve been traveling, busy, or recovering from a race. Getting a mile in on these days is a challenge but, all it took was lacing up the shoes and walking out the door. Simple as that.

I’ve had the opportunity to find a much deeper meaning in this mile. I’ve gone on long walks with family members that knew I needed to get my mile in for the day, and decided to come along. I spent a wonderful afternoon, logging my mile, with my brother and family snowshoeing. (A beautiful day and a memory I will never forget.) Spent many miles just me and my dog on the trail and of course many many miles with my hubz, the man who started this craziness.

This mile, the mile a day has become second nature and helped me to discover a whole deeper meaning to my running. This mile a day has helped me push through mental struggles, taught me to follow through on something consistently day after day, and helped me share and create new memories, all in nature and on my own two feet. No matter the mood, the weather, or how busy I am I will find a way to complete something so simple, not because I have to or need to because I can and want to. It’s my norm.

I am going to try my hardest to continue to spend everyday outside. The fresh air is a drug and I need at least a miles worth of it to complete my day. This streak has connected me more to nature than I've ever been. Even though I already spend a lot of time in the woods on trails, I feel more aware of whats right in front of me. As the seasons change, its a new challenge, reaching another level of the streak.

This is only just the beginning, at 99 days I am excited and motivated to see what next I discover in front of me and about myself in 266 days.

In some research about habits, I came across these words that I found inspiring:

“…greatness requires sacrifice. It requires doing things that others won’t or can’t do. GREAT HABITS ARE FORMED DAILY….good habits require consistent commitment. Highly successful people have learned to develop good habits. Make the commitment to make it past the fight thru, no matter how many times you go back to it, to reach new levels of success.” 

I hope these words inspire you in some way. Maybe, you are able to set a small attainable goal that will enrich your everyday life.

As always, thank you for reading. Please share your thoughts and experiences.

Happy Trails! :)

Monday, January 6, 2014

finding your star

For the last several weeks my typical night runs consist of stopping off on my drive home to run through Harpers Ferry and through the town of Bolivar. Usually 10 to 15 mins into my run, it's completely dark. This usually isn't an issue with my head lamp lighting a path for me feeling safe...in my own little light bubble. However, tonight I was feeling particularly spooked out and scared. Maybe, it was the drastically dropping temps (at the start of my run it was 24 when I finished it was 19 degrees.) The smell of wood fire burning in the old historic homes filled the towns. The air smelled like it should be warm but, the nights' cool air fought that.
Or maybe, what spooked me out was the howling winds dragging leaves across the concrete adding a screeching noise along with the pitter patter of my footsteps. 

Maybe it was the heavy, dark sky draping over me like a blanket causing me to feel slightly suffocated as the winds slap across my face taking my breath away. As I look up to notice how secluded I really am, that's when I noticed the one lonely star twinkling over MD Heights. Whatever it was that spooked me out before, this shiny little star took that feeling away. All the sudden I felt at ease, comforted and forgot I was actually running. Tonight I found a new love, the dark...well, running in the dark. As a child, the dark always scared me but, now I feel exhilarated and anxiously waiting for my next night run. 

These past few months I've grown to become friends with two things that used to hold me back. The cold and the dark. I've grown to find my most calm moments and relaxing moments running in the night. The cold and winter weather is a monster that I continue to beat. The challenge of these two elements used to keep me curled up on the couch with my Snuggie. Now, these two monsters can't keep me from facing them head on. I've found a new respect for the winter, the night...out to find the one lonely star on a dark, cold winter night.

Hope you all make the best of your winter months and find your star. 
Happy New Year. Happy Trails and most of all, stay warm ;)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Happy Holidays from the lil' Redhead (and John)

I wanted to write a post to re-cap this year but, I was drawing a blank when it came to trying to put everything into words. So I decided to do what I do best, put my words into visuals. Here is a combination of two things; our holiday card and a fun way to share everything that we experienced this year. The good, the bad and the ugly. Hope you enjoy and we wish you a very merry holiday season, my friends. 

John, Sio & Marley Man


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

the lil redhead that did....patience over 103.7 miles

 "Have patience with all things, but first of all with yourself." Saint Francis de Sales

Growing up I remember my mother always telling me "Patience is a virtue." On my wedding day John's granddad told us the key to a good marriage and life is "lots of love, lots of kindness and lots of patience." The morning of the my first 100 mile race I toed the line with these two things in mind along with a positive and care-free attitude.

Saturday morning the air was cool and muggy but pretty much perfect running weather. The start was filled with excitement, anxiety and the song "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey in the background. The clock quickly struck 4am and I took my first step thinking in the back of my mind, I WILL be back 103.7 miles later. To say that out loud seems like an impossible task but my body was going to listen to my mind for the next 34 hours and it was going to happen.
My peeps
The first three miles of road were relaxing. The week going into the race I didn't run at all, so the built up anxiety from tapering was shaking out and being put to good use. In the darkness the view ahead was filled with several twinkling head lamps with the sound of calm rushing water from a stream near the road. At this point I was really just relaxing into the run enjoying the calm setting...talking to a few of my friends as we made our way up and onto the Massanutten Trail.

This is where we all started to spread out more. I started to get nervous because my footing was a little sloppy over the rocks. I stumbled, stubbed my toes and twisted my ankles far more than I would like to this early in the race. My eyes were still acclimating to the early morning terrain and my feet were as well. (Especially since I had a fresh pair of Hokas on. Depth perception a little off...) The climb over Short Mountain is very technical and tedious to travel over. Since the air was so muggy my breathing was heavy and I could feel my heart working a little more than normal. I tried to slow down a tad thinking I was probably just excited to be on the trail after a week of doing nothing plus the extra adrenaline was making my heart work overtime. After reaching Edinburg aid station the sun has come up and I was excited to start running with daylight and looking forward to for a great day on the trails.

(**Side note its literally 2am on the Tuesday after the race and I am writing this. The last two nights my body still thinks I am up running in the woods. I woke up originally because I was hungry (as my appetite is extremely off) and I can't sleep so I figured I would try and finish this blog post :)

Clearly having too much fun.
Photo by Bobby Gill 2013. 
Moving on between Edinburg and Woodstock is where I was delighted to see some friendly faces; Lisa, John G and I all met up. They agreed that the last section was difficult for them as well. Which made me feel better knowing it wasn't just me struggling over that first climb and the heavy air. So the three of us just kind of joined forces. We set a comfortable pace as we moved on discussing all our early race anxieties and issues that we just worked out. For the next 30ish miles and 8+ hours we covered miles, climbed mountains, soaked in the many breathtaking views together. We got into "silly mode" right away once we met up and I at one point was laughing so hard that my stomach hurt and I think I pied a little :/ We shared burps, farts, laughter, sang songs basically just letting it all loose on the Massnautten Trail.

Hot n' sweaty.
Photo by
Aaron Schwartzbard
There were people that passed us and claimed were having far too much fun for 100 mile race. Running with the two of them made it feel like we were out for a training run. Truly blessed to have such great friends and share this experience with them as we traveled through these beautiful mountains. We pushed each other where we could and helped each other get to the top of several difficult climbs and onto the next aid station.

All day I just put mileage out of my mind, I had an aid station chart in my pack and would be aware of timing but I didn't want to get to wrapped up in the "numbers."  I was ahead of cut-off by at least an hour and half which was perfect. I was simply just being patient and embracing the moment.

Coming into the Habron Gap (mile 54) was a big landmark for me. Essentially this was the start of night running as we approach this aid station around 8pm. This is also where I was picking up my first pacer Pam. I know Pam through FRSC (Frederick running club) I haven't really had much of an opportunity to get to know her since we moved to the area, so what better time than covering some dark, dirty miles together in the middle of mountains.

This aid station was also a good gauge for me to evaluate how I was feeling. I have never ran anything over this mileage so I was excited to break new ground. EVERYTHING felt good! So crazy. My legs still felt very fresh, no major issues with feet, a couple little hot spots. I was in general just hot cause the air was still so muggy. My stomach was starting to feel a lil woosy but after some magic potion (vegetarian pho broth) it calmed itself down and I took some food (salted boiled potatoes, pb & J's) to go. I thought I was doing really well on my own taking a gel every 30 mins and a salt stick every 1hr. There were a several times throughout the night, I could feel the energy rush depleted before the 30 min timer even went off on my watch, so I would eat real food before hand.

The next 15sih miles of terrain were very technical and unfortunately there were very few sections we could actually get a good rhythm running. Lots of Mud!! I do remember getting a little frustrated cause I wanted to move faster and you can't it's just too rocky to run.  So this is where I started to remember that "patience" thing I was talking about earlier. One foot in front of the other. Just take a deep breath and continue chatting with Pam to keep my mind off my frustration.

Jordy rockin the shirts.
Halfway through this section we had a stop at Camp Roosevelt aid station.  Holy crap was this ever a breath of fresh air!!!! This is where I got to see my family for the first time. They were crewing while John was trying to get some rest to start pacing at 70. My MIL, and SIL's made t-shirts with "lil read that could" logo on them.
They were full of energy and pampered me up while I did a fresh shirt, sock and shorts change here. Felt like a new women after I left here. The people cheering you on at the aid stations is a huge game changer. The energy is just what the doctor ordered ;) The minute you start to feel low...they just pick you right back up!

Pam was exactly what I needed to cover that section she was fresh, full of energy, talkative and distracted me from the reality that my body was on the downhill slop of a 100 mile race. Thank you Pam!!

The next big landmark for me was mile 70. I was really looking forward to this section to start pacing with John. He prepped me before the race that when we start together we were "going to do work." Mentally I needed that. Even though I had wonderful company the whole time I really needed to push a little more. I do believe getting it over with faster causes you to have less pain. At 70 for whatever reason I demanded chicken noodle soup and thought a perogie sounded really good to me. It was comfort food but not smart food since I was sticking to mostly watermelon, pg & j, broth and potatoes all day. Plus I haven't eaten meat in a month so this seemed like a good idea at the time.

John and I left 70 to go up the dreaded Jawbone and Kerns Mountain climb. My legs at this point were still feeling amazingly fresh and my feet were starting to actually feel like I have been on them for almost 24 hours and 70 miles of tough terrain. Which is when I started to realize the extreme of what my body was capable of doing and started to get a little emotional, but held back my tears of joy and complete amazement.

There was absolutely no variation in temperature from the day to night. I was sweating just as much at 2am as I was at 2pm the afternoon prior. From this point on John was consistently monitoring my water and gel in take. As we made our way up this climb my stomach was really starting to feel off and because of this I moving at a snails pace over Kern's Mountain. John had thought my salt balance was off so I went to take a salt stick and next thing I know that chicken noodle soup that went in about an hr was now all over the rocks in front of me.  The tears that I held back were now rolling down my face....

I whipped off the tears, looked up and took my next step closer to the finish. This moment was good. It was now a clean slate; for more clean food, hydration and to now balance my stomach out again.

From this point on I basically just ate and drank when John told me I needed to regain my energy and calories. (Seriously can't imagine if he wasn't there.) I have been over Kern's Mountain and remember it be being difficult but nothing compares at mile 75 in a race. It is only a 4 mile section that took me 2 hours to travel over given my condition. This whole section was completely demoralizing! I felt like I stayed pretty positive even though I was dropping "f-bombs" every 10 min. The key was stay positive and be patient, I think I still had that and I held onto it. (minus the "f-bombs" of course)

Walking into Visitor Center I saw my mother and father in law standing there waiting for me with a big smiles and cheering me in. I had to do everything in my power not to break down into a pile of teary, blubbery messyness. That section just kicked my ass between the climb, the rocks and getting sick. I was officially feeling beat up.
feeling beat up.
I knew they were exhausted from driving around all night following me, so to see there smiling faces was such a sweet moment. Honestly I wanted to just rest my head on my mother in laws shoulder and cry a good cry BUT I knew I had to get some food back in that stomach and keep moving!! 

Mile 78 to the finish I was an emotional basket case. I was in shock I was still moving. I was moving and my legs weren't screaming at me. I still had a positive attitude and I knew that I was finishing this thing. (Not that I ever really doubted it but it was just becoming more of a reality every step I took.)

Leaving visitor's center felt like I was going home. I have done this section on a couple training runs so I was prepared for the climb up Bird Knob and kept in the back of my mind, as John reminded me also, that we have some sweet downhill sections coming up that we were about to take advantage of. After climbing and going through Bird Knob aid station we had one climb and then a freaking sweet 4.5 mile rolling hill section that gave me so much energy and confidence. I love the pink trail! John told me we were running this section in about 9 min miles at mile 85 and keep it up!!  There were a few rolling hills that I would get enough momentum and just run up these hills. I was already on the verge of hysterically crying and running these hills flawlessly at mile 85 to almost 90 miles is enough to make anyone cry. As we continue to cover ground I would start thinking about the moment I was in...with my hubz heading to the finish of a 100 mile race. I had to decide where to spend my energy crying or moving forward... it was hard to do both.

That section was so fun! Mostly because I know how much fun John was having on that downhill run and we were so in that moment together. Pretty special.

Heading into Picnic Area our family was waiting there.  We went in grabbed food, refreshed and headed back out. My feet were really starting to feel the steps now but it wasn't enough to stop.
Highs n lows
These last 10 miles were bittersweet. I say that because again we approached a section that took that confidence I had at mile 85 right away from me. I hate Scothorn Gap Trail! This section was equally as bad as Kerns Mountain. 4 miles took 2 hours! The climbs were relentless, the rocks were brutal, and it was mile 90+ into the race. I kept tell myself...patience. As we headed down the forest service road to the next aid station I was running high on adrenaline now.

This was the last aid station and I was heading into mile 96!  In that moment I was thinking back on the day prior, all the miles I covered, all the climbs, and beautiful runnable trails I got to enjoy with my friends and husband. It was all sinking in now. I kept telling John "I can't believe I'm doing this or rather I did it!"

Through this section of the trail/ service road heading into the aid station there were SO many butterflies. Literally a flock of 8 or 9 butterflies that all flew up and over us at one time. Another baby butterfly that kept swaying its way back and forth in front of me as we trotted down the road. Simply beautiful. It was a sign that those above were watching over me this whole time, were carrying me home.

Running into Gap creek mile 96 was like a freaking party! I was doing this thing. The family was there to refuel us and send us on our way. We only had a 10k left ( a mountainous 10k but non the less a 10k) What was left of the course was jawbone climb, a down hill then 3 mile road. Getting to the top of Jawbone is another huge landmark cause its THE LAST CLIMB!! I still had a run in me on the trail but unfortunately the trail down from Jawbone is just too technical to get a good rhythm going. I was so close I could taste the finish. I was so ready to take my shoes off,  ready to stop eating gels, ready to mentally shut down, ready to hug everyone at the finish...just ready to be done. After you set foot off the trail you have 3 miles of road to the camp. These 3 miles feel like 10! My feet were so sore by this point I just didn't have it in me to run this section.  John would talk me into running little sections of it here and there but I pretty much walked swiftly, closed my eyes, listened to the rushing water, and soaked in that moment step after step closer to the finish.

FINALLY the arrows! the arrows to the finish...Every ounce of adrenaline, energy that I thought I didn't have, rushed through my body and I started running up the hill at 103 miles! The single track downhill section takes you that much closer to hear the finish line...taste the finish line. My tears were out of control. I had SO much joy knowing my hubz was following me into the finish of what was about to the biggest accomplishment of my life. I gave John a kiss, looked him in the eyes and said "Thank You"  and he shot off to the side as I ran pain-free, joyfully and effortlessly into the finish line of a very difficult 103.7 mile run. 34 hours and 35 mins later I achieved my goal.
running into love :)
Photo Left - Bobby Gill 2013.

a well earned high five.

One of my sweetest moments was giving Kevin Sayers a high five at the end.  I started on the wait list for the race at #64 and was accepted on the entrants list a week an half before the race. "Patience is a virtue." I truly can not thank Kevin enough for giving me the opportunity to run MMT as my first 100. This is such an unforgettable event and he does such a great job putting it on.

The love and support at the finish is so hard to put into words. There are so many people I met out on the trail there were genuinely happy to see me cross the finish. People that had no doubt I would finish. I was so excited to hug my family and see my friends I ran with the day before (and just couldn't catch up to ;) My dearest friend Leila drove into see me at the finish. She got a real taste of  what ultrarunning is all about it that day. I think she now understands why I do what I do after seeing me finish...

I know this was REALLY long and maybe drawn out a bit but these are the moments I remember. The highs and lows. I was blessed with a great opportunity to run this race and I took it and literally ran with it. I felt as though I was "in the moment" the whole time. I took in deep breaths of mountain air, relaxed to the sound of the whippoorwill calls, saw the most beautiful wild flowers, enjoyed the company of people around me, soaked in the smiles and words of encouragement from everyone around me. Most of all shared a memorable lifetime achievement with the man that's always by my side. I love you more than words will every explain babe.

Running in the woods, climbing peaks and valleys is where I feel like I am at my best. 
I am my happiest.

Again Thank you Kevin!! To all the volunteers this event wouldn't happen without you. To my family- I wouldn't have wanted anyone else out there smelling my stinky farts and watching me powder my butt lol. You are the only ones that can put up with my crazy antics. And I love you all SO much for that.  Friends and family that were cheering me on from home and believed in me all the way. Anxiously waiting for me to check into the next aid station. I know that feeling and Thank you! All of your energy kept me alive and positive.  My hubz I love you so much and can't thank you enough for ALWAYS being my side. Can't wait to have so many more adventures like this. You are my rock.

Massanutten I will be back again. You captured my heart. 

Photo by Tim Toogood