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.


  1. Great Write Up ! I could not be happier for you.

  2. Awesomely detailed and informative report! Thanks Siobhan!

  3. Again I say, you are incredible.

  4. Great race report! Congrats on your PR!!

  5. Congrats on a PR, a beautifully executed race, and a well written report!

  6. Thank you everyone! I am so glad you all enjoyed reading this.