Soaked and Stubborn – Grindstone 100 Race Report (10/07/2016)

It was tough. It was way tougher than the Vermont 100, which I already thought was pretty hard. It was tougher than any race I’ve done, regardless of cramping, nutrition issues, or overheating. 27 sleep deprived hours in the rain over 101 miles with 23,200 feet of elevation change forced me to dig incredibly deep and fight an irresistible urge to call it quits. Two days after, my feet still raw and legs achy, I know I made the right choice to push through. But at mile 24, 51, 65, and 87 (and several other points in between) dropping felt like the only option. Grindstone was such a roller coaster. Waves of intense strength and drive would be pushed out by incredible lows filled with pain and self-doubt. Little issues compounded into pain so intense that each step felt like walking on knives. But still, I made it.

Race weekend essentially started the Thursday before the race, where work held up me and my crew from hitting the road. The plan was to drive to Harrisburg, PA and stay the night before heading down to Swoope, VA to set up camp and wait for the race’s first challenge, a 6 PM start. We didn’t get to the hotel until about 2:30 AM on Friday, but sleeping in I still got about 6 hours of sleep which felt adequate.

Grindstone Drive Down
Getting ready to leave for Virginia. This would be the last time I sleep for 36 hours. Photo Credit – Samantha Alyn Goresh

We got back on the road and made it to the boy scout camp around 1:30 just in time for the race briefing. Confident that I was ready to race, we set up camp and ate some food. The next 4 hours involved me anxiously waiting for the race to start and going over crew instructions. The rain had already started and would not cease entirely until after I would finish Saturday night. Finally, 6 PM rolled around and I took off around the lake and into the camp’s trail system.

The first 5 miles were extremely uneventful – as they should be during a hundred miler. People were quiet and I was tense knowing that it was going to be a wet day during which chafing and blisters were all but inevitable. While I anticipated rain, the forecast was constantly changing and unreliable. What was supposed to be an occasional shower changed to a steady storm that would switch between a misting and torrential down pour. I cruised into the first aid station at mile 5.2 and grabbed a PB&J. Like Vermont, the fueling strategy was to eat real food early and often, while drinking Tailwind and taking a Gu every 45 minutes.

Leaving the aid station, we started the first significant climb up to Elliott’s Knob. The climb started with some smooth trail with a gentle grade followed by a steep climb up a gravel road to the summit. I felt ridiculously strong power hiking and passed several other runners. A runner ahead of me called out that we turned right to head to the summit where we would punch our bibs proving we reached the top but as it turns out, they misread the sign and led us about half a mile down the trail we would descend the mountain. I noticed that no runners had followed us and hollered to the two runners who made the wrong turn that we needed to turn around. We recovered the ground quickly and made our way to the summit and punched our bibs, now behind each of the runners I had just passed. Not letting the mess up get to my head, I turned around and started descending. I was expecting the trail down to be extremely technical given the race reports but it was actually pretty manageable. There was a decent amount of loose rock and off-camber trail, but it made for some good running, especially compared to the Blue Hills.

I hit the next aid station, refilled my bottles, and took off the next major climb. Again the hiking felt amazing and I pushed hard up the climb. The descent was extremely smooth and I cruised down to Dowells Draft where I grabbed more tailwind out of my drop bag. The rain had stayed light at this point so I decided to not change my socks which would end up being a pretty big mistake. I hiked out of the aid station eating a banana and grilled cheese. The next climb was extremely gentle and I should have been running, but I started to feel overwhelmingly sleepy. 4 miles of simple terrain around midnight was wearing on me, and I felt the overwhelming urge to sleep wherever I could. I told myself “I’ll sit down at the next aid station and sleep for 15 minutes” or “When I see the crew I sleep in the car for half an hour”. It was extremely demoralizing to feel so tiring so early. I kept saying I just needed to take a little rest, but the idea of dropping crept in. Maybe it just wasn’t my day and a rainy evening start was just not helping.

When I finally crested the hill and started running downhill, I told myself to run hard and just get to the aid station and regroup. Somehow, I got to the Lookout Mountain aid station sooner than I was expecting and my spirits immediately rebounded. The next aid was only about 10K away and it was all downhill. I’d see my crew and I was still under my goal pace of making it to the turn around in 11 hours. As I descended North River Gap, my energy continued to rise. I took out my iPod and listened to a few minutes of a podcast before I heard footsteps behind me. I started to chat with the runner who was keeping pace with me. For the next 5ish miles I was running with Levi, who lived in Virginia and apparently “hated running hundreds” even though it was his second one. We talked about traveling, other runs, what we did for work, and how much we hated the weather and needed dry socks. We hit the small stretch of pavement before the aid station and tried to identify my Subaru and my crew.

As I rolled into the aid station I looked around frantically for my crew, but they were nowhere to be seen. I accepted the fact that I wasn’t meeting up with my crew and regrouped. I ate a lot of food, refilled my bottles and reservoir, and took some perogies to eat on the massive 7 mile, 3000 foot climb ahead. About a half mile into the climb I heard someone shout “Boston!” and looked back to see Levi. I realized I hadn’t introduced myself, which made me feel like quite the jerk. After some actual introductions, we marched up the hill. We continued to exchange stories and pass the time. At this point, the middle of my left foot started to sting. The blister that was forming would go from an minor inconvenience to so painful by mile 85 or so that each step felt impossible. Levi assured me that a switchback would signal the end of the climb, but a switchback never came. He apologized profusely for not knowing the intricacies of the climb, but I couldn’t care less as we reached the summit of the 4th major climb of the race. At that moment, the clouds opened up and it poured. The trail immediately pooled water and the dirt turned to mud. Everything got soaked. I pleaded out loud for the aid station to appear. After what felt like 5 miles, it did. The Little Bald Knob aid station had delicious vegetable soup and a warm fire I avoided for fear I’d never leave. As I prepared to head back out a chill struck me and I quickly pulled out my Houdini and gloves in an effort to get warm. Levi did the same and we took off to Reddish Knob and the turn around.

The first mile out of the aid station I was freezing. Even when we were hiking I swung my arms hard to generate some more heat. Thankfully I warmed up and we continued uphill to the parking lot on top of the mountain. On the way, Levi’s headlamp cut out and I gave him my spare before he could even ask. I knew my headlamp would make it to the turn around and I had plenty of extras with my crew. Levi kept asking if I was sure, but one of the reason’s I love trail running is the community. I wasn’t going to leave him in the dark.

The wind whipped violently on the top of Reddish Knob and the rain persisted. Levi, a few other runners, and I searched everywhere for the punch for our bib but we couldn’t find anything.After 2 minutes we said “fuck it” and ran the two miles or so of paved road to the turn around. I got to the turnaround at exactly 12 hours, an hour later than I expected. I ran into the aid station and someone shouted to me “Woo runners…wait is that Matt?”. It was me. Brian was waiting for me and got Amina and Sam. We switched my socks, my shirt, my jacket, and my headlamp. I ate as much food as I could stomach and mentally regrouped. I wanted to quit. The rain wasn’t going to let up. It was colder than I expected. My feet were deteriorating fast. I was behind schedule. It was not my day. But at the same time, I took off work for this. I sacrificed hours and hours of training. I knew how proud Colleen would be of me if I pushed through. I got up and out of the aid station and started my 15 or so hour march back.

Grindstone 100 Turnaround
Getting set to leave at the turn around. Everything was already going downhill – especially my feet and the chafing. Photo Credit – Samantha Alyn Goresh

All night I had been looking forward to the sunrise, but when it finally came I was disappointed. The clouds loomed and continued to rain and the sun seemed to do nothing but illuminate the massive puddles and mud that had formed. My spirits remained low when I had expected them to rebound. I thought it would be a quick run from the turnaround to Little Bald Knob given the terrain, but I couldn’t move well. When I finally got there I ate some food and just kept moving. I knew the 7 mile descent to North River was going to be more painful than the way up but I ran it pretty well. I was excited Amina would be joining me for the next 15 miles and just did my best to go from aid station to aid station. When I got to North River, I changed my socks again and surveyed my feet. Fuck did they look bad, and once again contemplated just calling it. My ride was there, it would be easy to leave. But at the same time, I was over 100K done and my legs barely hurt at all. How frustrating though, my legs felt fresh at mile 65 but my feet felt like another 100 yards would be too far. But as would be the theme for the rest of the day, I got out of the aid station and kept marching.

Grindstone Mile 65
Tending to my feet at mile 65 before picking up Amina. The sock changes only provided about half a mile of relief. Photo Credit – Samantha Alyn Goresh

The first mile or so with Amina felt great. Shortly after that though my spirits fell to the lowest point they had all day. I took a break on the trail and fought back tears as my doubt mounted. Determined to make it to the next aid station and only have 50K left (which is insane) I told Amina to lead and pull me up the hill. Like magic, it worked. My feet hurt like hell, but I could run well and hike strong when I was being dragged along. We got to the aid station and rolled out with purpose. There were only three major climbs left and I was determined to get this thing done. The first climb was over the next 2 miles and the final two would be 15 miles I would run with Brian. Amina and I crushed the first climb and charged the 5ish miles downhill to mile 80. I was rallying, ready to go, and ready to push.

Grindstone Mile 71
Amina pulling me along to mile 71. Had some really solid miles with her pacing me. Photo Credit – Samantha Alyn Goresh

I told Brian to get moving quick and that I would need Sam to pace me the final five miles from 96 to the finish, so be ready. Brian and I made quick work of the first two rolling miles before starting the second to last climb. Things quickly turned south. The climb felt endless, and after stopping for a bathroom break I lost all energy. My legs – still fresh. My feet – excruciating. At the top of the climb I sat on a log and closed my eyes for five minutes and fought back sleep. I knew I couldn’t run the descent even though there were only a few steep sections with limited technicality. I was crushed to move as slow down as up. I kept asking Brian how far to the next aid station. I decided I was going to take the time to sit down for 10 minutes, close my eyes, warm up, and regroup. I had him run ahead to let the crew know, thinking I would have about half a mile alone, but as I turned a corner right after Brian left I was at the aid station!

I got into the aid station that had limited food. I had Brian make some coffee as I sat down and closed my eyes. Amina tended to my feet as Sam grabbed food and checked my supplies. 10 minutes later, I kept marching.

Regenerating at Mile 87
Mile 87 – closing my eyes for more than 5 minutes for the first time in 33 or so hours. Photo Credit – Samantha Alyn Goresh
Leaving to Climb Elliott's Knob - Grindstone Mile 87
Brian and I took off, ready to move “steady”. Photo Credit – Samantha Alyn Goresh

Again, dropping was tempting but 13 miles was doable. 13% of the race left. That was it. I told Brian all I wanted to be up the final climb was “steady”. No pace goal, no running, just steady. I lead up the hill and the strategy worked 80% of the way up until the trail turned back to the rocky stuff that wasn’t too bad descending. The rocks jabbed at my feet and made me wince with each step. Even though the hill seemed to have ended, the flat stretch to the gravel road was incredibly painful and the light started to fade. Finally, we hit the incredibly steep gravel road that we walked down to save my quads and my feet. We returned to the smooth trail that the first climb started up and walked more purposefully until we hit several creeks that early could be hopped but with all the rain required slogging through. The wet creeks made my feet even more tender and I stopped for a minute to collect myself. Nothing hurt like this before. Nothing hurt with every step before. 7 miles left, but those 7 might as well have been 70. Walking for another 2 hours was going to take every ounce of strength.

Just about then, Brian and I got passed by two runners and I told Brian “Just run”. He half halfheartedly jogged and I said “No run”. He did, and I followed. I ran well for the first time in 20 miles. He ran and so did I until we hit the Falls Hallow aid station. I yelled to the crew “I’m going to keep going, can you catch up?” Me and a few runners took off the final small hill to tackle the final 5 miles. My legs felt fine and the more I ran the less my feet screamed. My pacer caught up and I said that I would follow, just pull me along. Over five miles, she did. I got to the lake. It was happening. Sam said she, “could hear the smile in my voice,” as I returned to Camp Shenandoah. Sam ran ahead to take some photos, Amina ran me in. Brian cheered. And after 27 hours and 15 minutes and 36 hours of being awake, I crossed the finish and hugged the totem pole. I called Colleen and told her was alive and I finished. And after cleaning up and eating a bit I passed out.

Grindstone was a monster, fueled to be even more gargantuan through awful weather. It took every ounce of strength and perseverance to finish. I though of everyone pulling for me, my crewing working to keep me safe and moving, and all the time I put in. I have never felt anything quite like how my feet felt during this race. But I came out the other side, knowing I am a much stronger runner and ready to take on whatever challenges come next.

Gear:

  1. La Sportiva Akasha / Saucony Perrigrine 6
  2. Ciele GoCap
  3. Garmin Fenix 3
  4. Salomon Sense Ultra Vest
  5. Patagonia Houdini
  6. Petzl Nao (worked amazing this time)
  7. Gu (Once every 45 Mintues)
  8. Tailwind (one scoop per 10 oz of fluid)

Reflecting on Maine to Reflect on Running

Since Colleen already wrote an amazing blog post detailing our getaway in backcountry Maine, I wanted to take some time to reflect on the trip. This blog primarily deals with recaps, reports, and training logs. I really don’t spend much time looking or writing about why I like ultra running, what drives me to run these insane distances, or the response I get from outsiders. With the Maine trip, taking the racing component out of an ultra-distance gave me time to think of all of these things and how important distance running has become to my well-being.

The first word that comes to mind thinking back to the trip a week later is grateful. I can’t describe how lucky I am to be able to run these long distances through nature or new cities. Without a doubt, I believe the best way to experience a new place is on foot, and being able to move swiftly and efficiently over trails is so gratifying. Usually I ignore how incredible the opportunity to do something like this is, but the Maine trip removed all the pressure of competition. Sure, we ran an ultra, but the primary goal wasn’t to finish first. It was to take in the inherent beauty of the lakes and mountains. We were able to cover everything the Maine Huts & Trails had to offer in one day, making the experience even more overwhelming. Hitting the trails more frequently in California, I find myself learning to appreciate this aspect of trail running more. Sometimes, it’s okay to break up your tempo mile to take in a stunning vista, or snap a picture.
Something else I always allude to on the site is how much I love the ultra running community. I think it is a pretty easy catch-all for saying I like hanging out with ultra runners, but there are some aspects that I can’t quiet pinpoint. Everyone on the trip was so incredibly supportive. I wanted to run trailhead to trailhead, so of course everyone said I should. Colleen’s knee hurt, so we all hiked to not cause her significant pain. For some of the group, it would be their longest run ever, so we buddied up so nobody was left alone. Regardless of our goals, experience, or expectations, we all had a group of 7 cheerleaders, encouraging us to achieve incredible things. Even though this was a very inclosed retreat, it was a pretty accurate representation of what I have experienced throughout the ultra running community. Every single person will help you push beyond what you think your limits are.

Finally, part of me just likes the solitude that comes with distance running. This extends beyond just trail running because it is part of the reason I like running marathons as well. Even with crowds cheering, other racers, and numerous distractions, it is impossible not to turn focus inwards. Listen to your body. Assess how you are feeling. One foot in front of another. As I ran the last portion of the trail alone, I was solely focused on my breathing and my footsteps. This trip alone would have been pretty awful, but the ability to just completely disconnect is so important to me. People often ask me what I think about when I run so far, and most of the time the answer is nothing. It borders on a type of active meditation that helps make the other aspects of the sport so appealing.

Counting Kilometers – Pineland Farms 50 Mile Race Report (May 29th, 2016)

PR-ing at Pineland Farms by 2 hours was pretty unexpected. Given the course, I definitely expected to set a personal record. I started the day out thinking I was going to crack 9 hours, but I wasn’t tracking splits or stressing about nutrition. I was truly out there to just have a long, long run as preparation for Vermont in a few weeks. But as the day went on, and my mental math started to be a bit easier, sub-8 hours was within sight and I became fixated. The last lap of the course was the most focused I have ever been running a race, and by the end of it all I was so incredibly pleased with my result.

Leading up to the race I had a pretty typical training week. It was a bit lower volume since I was running 50 miles on Sunday, but I had a pretty great interval workout on Wednesday and a few other moderate and recovery runs. By Saturday I had run 28 miles bringing my total mileage up to 78 miles, about where I was targeting. Race weekend, I was completely nonchalant about the race, which is a change for me. Usually for any of my ultras I get anxious the last few days before the race. I stress about my race plan, what I am going to carry with me, what to wear, what the weather is going to be, and every other thing that may impact the race. Since I was really only using the race to get time on my feet, I didn’t really find it worth the effort to stress. I knew going into the race that I would be able to run 50 miles, I just didn’t have any plan for how long it was going to take. Mentally, I was also a bit distracted with Colleen not running the race. 2 weeks before race day, we were both so excited to be heading to Maine to run this race, and then out of nowhere she develops a shin splint and has to sit the race out. Of course, she was still incredibly supportive, but having her have another hiccup in training felt devestating. I definitely felt guilty toeing the start line healthy and have to remember not take my health for granted.

At the start, I got my drop bag ready and just waited for the gun to go off. Pineland Farms has a whole bunch of different races on its course of 15.5 miles through cross country ski trails and farmland. The cross country ski trails are incredibly smooth and runnable with modest climbs and descent, all of which I would describe as runnable. The toughest part of the course are the farmlands that just don’t allow for confident footing. They were all off-camber with tall grass pushed down on it so you couldn’t see any hazards. To bring the race up to 50 miles, there is a short 3.5 mile loop that we ran before hitting the official course.

When we finally started running, I had my usual mix of excitement and hesitation. Of course the first 5 miles of a 50 miler feel great, there is still 90% of the race left. Given how much of the course you could run easily, I knew it was going to be a tough day of being smart with my pacing and avoiding a blow out. On the baby-loop and the first 15.5 mile loop I met a bunch of different people (whose names all escape me). We chatted about what other races we had run or had planned, what our goals were for the day, and silly things like our preferred electrolyte beverage. One guy in particular who was wearing a Vermont 100 hat was great company. We had a great hour or two talking about his race experience at Vermont last year, what I should prepare for, and how the last 30 miles at Vermont are by far the hardest. It felt great getting training for the race running and getting advice from a previous finisher. Since we were both using it as a training race, we decided to walk all but the smallest hills. I knew that I could easily run them all, but it was important to not completely trash our legs and disrupt training the next week. On the second and third loops, I did get carried away and start to run everything but the biggest hills. While this could’ve been a costly mistake, writing this two days later I feel pretty refreshed and ready to get back running, so all good. At the last aid station of the first loop, me and my running body both dug into our drop bags. I knew exactly where my gel was and was quickly in and out which left me without company. About a mile later, my legs started to feel a bit sluggish and my motivation started sinking. Of course without the mental distraction and having run close to 20 miles, I was feeling fatigued. This is when I probably started doing the biggest change I have made from any previous ultras. I started taking in caffeinated gels at specific intervals. Once an hour, in addition to other gels or food, I took a whole caffeinated Gu pack. I have no idea if it was actually having an effect or if it was pure placebo, but my energy levels stayed so incredibly consistent it was unreal. Once I shook off the sluggishness and got into a more competitive mindset, I felt like nothing could stop me. I ran with purpose and when I did take breaks to walk, I made sure to walk quickly. I made a point to reel in anyone I front of me and keep my legs moving. I came into each aid station knowing exactly what I needed and kept well hydrated.

All smiles during the first lap

Like I mentioned, Pineland Farms has a ton of different races going on the same courses, which meant there was rarely a time I couldn’t see another runner. Most of the time I didn’t know if someone were running the 50 mile, 50K, or 25K, but it made the race feel a lot less lonely since I almost alway had someone to exhange a word of encouragement to or use as motivation to push up the hills. Towards the end of the second loop, I ran into Rosa who snapped a quick picture. She was a huge energy booster and even though I had 20 miles or so left to run, it didn’t feel that far. I made one last stop at my drop bag, grabbed my final two caffeinated gels, and took off onto the last loop.I am the first to admit I suffer from ultra-brain when I am running. I frequently miss nutrition, forget what I have left to run, or just make bad decision. The thing that is most affected by ultra-brain is my ability to do mental math. On the last loop, I started to wonder if I could run sub-8, but even though I knew my last two splits for a full loop were around 2:30, I couldn’t piece together if I could break that barrier. I reconciled that when I got to the final 15K, I could more easily calculate what I needed to run for the last 9 or so miles. So, I just checked out and watched the kilometer markers along the course tick by. I didn’t care about how much race was left, or how my time was in those miles, I just cared about what I had to work with at 9 miles to go. If my memory serves correctly, I had about 100 minutes from the 15K marker to get to the finish to hit the new goal that came out of nowhere. As soon as I hit that marker, I was determined to run harder than I ever have. I pushed hard on everything, uphill, flat, or downhill. I spent 30 seconds at aid stations if I stopped at all. Each time I got to a significant point (10K remainin, 5K remaining) the goal became more tangible and the running became easier. 7 hours, and 48 minutes later I was across the finish line.

“Come on Matt, you’re an engineer. You can do subtraction”

All said and done, I am really starting to feel confident for Vermont. I have a few more solid weeks of training I can use to get some more specific training and elevation change. With this race being such a success, I am even more excited to see what my first 100 will hold.

Finishing always feels good, especially when it is a PR

Strava:

Pineland Farms 50 Miler

Gear:

  1. Nike Terra Kiger 3
  2. Nathan Speedraw
  3. Ciele GoCap
  4. Garmin Fenix 3
  5. Gu and Tailwind

Bear Mountain 50 Miler – Week Nine Training Recap

Another week down, and another week closer to my first race of 2016! This week I got to run a bit around downtown Long Beach right along the ocean. While it is definitely nice to be in warm weather with the ocean breeze, the monotony of everything being the same (flat, sunny, no turns) is absolutely destroying me! I think I am still getting enough specific training for Bear Mountain since I have been getting on the trails more, but it is so difficult to stay motivated when every run is the same. Sure, I could try my luck at driving somewhere to run before or after work, but the logistics of that just make it unappealing. So, for now, I deal with the monotony.

Recap:

I started off the week with 13 miles along the shore. My pace fluctuated more than I wanted on this run, but I was struggling with some stomach issues that just made me feel crappy. Happy I got it done, but not my best.

Wednesday I had an interval workout. To spice things up, I ran along the LA river (another flat, straight bike path) before heading back towards the shoreline. I was running 1 kilometer intervals with 3 mins rest in between. Even though this workout was brutal, I really feel like I nailed each interval.

Thursday I ran some easy miles around downtown Long Beach and then around the shore. Nothing special, just more miles!

On Friday, back in Boston, I ran 8 miles with Colleen before we met up with some friends for dinner. Colleen has been dealing with a myriad of issues. She threw out her back one week and then the very next week got a nasty respiratory bug! I know it is discouraging to have such a blow to training, but she has been really smart dealing with all of it and I am super proud!

Colleen trail
Colleen Trail Running in Middlesex Fells

Saturday, Colleen and I hit the trails to do our long run together. Colleen cut back a little bit due to her cough, but it was still amazing to get out in the amazing spring weather. Even though trails take longer, it always fly by. I wound up running 19 on various trails in Middlesex Fells.

Sunday I made it to my first “1/2 on the 1/2” with local running apparel company Tracksmith. My buddy Seth was running it too and we agreed on 8 min/mile. Don’t know what happened to that agreement, because we ended up at about 7:40/mile, but warm weather and good company is bound to make stuff like that happen.

Bear Mountain 50 Miler – Week Four Training Recap

I almost forgot how tiring training blocks can get. Almost. Four weeks into training for my first ultra of 2016, I am starting to feel a bit worn. Of course, it is normal when running for 9+ hours a week at varying intensities. Being prepared for an ultra means being acclimated to this kind of fatigue. As the workouts start to get more difficult, I am trying to strengthen my mental stamina as well. If I plan on running Vermont successfully, I need to have the grit to get through low points. So, when I go out for a long run or a tempo that I don’t quite feel up for, I am trying to see it as mental training just as much as it is physical training.

Now for a quick recap!

Tuesday was with The Breakfast Club, as usual! I did my best to keep the pace up on this run. Once I linked up with the crew, we made our way to the Charles where I ran a few 7:15 miles. Energy levels were high and I felt accomplished starting the week off right.

Wednesday called for a few uptempo miles. Keeping with my training strategy, I ran out towards the Newton hills for a warm up and then ran 6 miles at 7:30 pace. The run was during a downpour, so I was cold, soggy, and pretty much miserable. Boston has been pretty kind with the weather this winter, but running in the rain is never fun. The uptempo miles on this run felt tough, but something about pushing hard uphill is extremely gratifying. I never get tired of it.

Thursday was the first run I started to feel downright tired during. Colleen and I were out the door at 5:50 to go to the The Breakfast Club for Britt’s Farewell :'(. From the start of the run I felt lethargic, and even 9 minute miles felt fast. I don’t think I was really sore or overworked, just a bit burnt out on having another double digit day. I finished up 10 easy miles grumpy and uninspired, but days like this are to be expected when running 6 days a week.

Friday meant snow in Boston! And that meant a 5 mile treadmill run! Woo! Always dying for vertical, I ran the first two miles at 10% grade. My original intention was to run the entire run at that grade, but my legs are not there yet! I’m not sure if this run felt iffy because I did it on the treadmill or other reasons.

Saturday I ran out to Heartbreak Hill Running Co. for some company during my 18 mile long run. The shop is about 3.5 miles from our apartment, so after that nice warm up I took off with the group. I ran most of the run alone sadly, feeling a little to slow to keep pace with a group in front of me. 7:50 pace for an 18 mile run is obviously respectable, but it was my hardest long run to date. Hopefully, they get easier from here!

Finally on Sunday I tagged along for Colleen’s long run. We did 13, complaint filled miles along the river on a beautiful sunny day. The weather was nice, but our attitudes were sour. Clearly we are getting tired! Hopefully things turn around next week!

Bear Mountain 50 Miler – Week One Training Recap

Training has started for my spring goal race! On April 30th, I will give my second 50 miler a shot at The North Face Endurance Challenge Bear Mountain down in New York. Having run the relay at Bear Mountain last year, I know that I am going to be in for a tough time, but I am incredibly excited. After several months of running without a set plan or goal, it feels great to be back with a focused schedule.

Perhaps more exciting than the start of training for the 50 Miler is that I am now officially registered for the Vermont 100 Miler! I am beyond anxious, but really excited to see what my body can do at that distance. Preparing for that race in July, I want to make sure I use the blog as an outlet for reflection and improvement. So, I will try to be doing detailed recaps and weekly goal setting here.

Now the recap. The week for me started like most weeks do with a 10 or so miler with The Breakfast Club (TBC). I love having such a consistent group of crazy people who are up to run at 6 AM. Having the run 2 miles from my apartment is great because it makes Tuesdays and easy day to start out with some high mileage. Even with the numbing cold, the run went well and I felt comfortable and well rested for the start of my training.

Wednesday had me running 6 miles late at night due to some long days at work. Normally, I don’t really mind running late or alone, but I was chilled to the bone on this run and felt like I was on the verge of frostbite. I was so thankful for this run to be over. This winter has been relatively tame so I have been having trouble dialing in what feels comfortable to wear at different temperatures. Hopefully I figure it out before spring rolls around.

Thursday had another TBC run with a crushing pace on the hilliest route we run. Besides feeling the normal burn of a hard run, my stomach felt so-so and the long working hours were taking their toll. I managed to hold on, but I felt pretty miserable. My training plan called for some miles on-top of the 6 miles that TBC always runs, so I had to make due on my own and add an extra mile and a half.

Friday was a casual, easy and uneventful run along the Charles river that left me feeling extremely well rested going into my long run on Saturday. On Saturday I ran a hilly 15 miles pushing the pace. I decided to go without Gu or Water and just enjoy the run in the cool weather. I was lucky to get out after the rain had stopped and I felt amazing. I was able to push on every uphill and fly downhill at a pace I haven’t really felt comfortable with since I ran Chicago in 2014. I guess that time not training really was worth it!

Sunday was a casual run with Colleen that was just a great way to cap off a fantastic start to the training week. I cannot wait to keep going along until April and the rest of 2016.

In terms of goals, I really want to add two core workouts a week plus what I am calling “Hike Night” where I hit the treadmill at max incline and just walk for as long and fast as I can. I am starting off with some easy goals that I think I can realistically hit so I don’t get discouraged. With that, wish me luck with the rest of the year!

 

 

Two Bears Walk Into a Bar…

Yesterday, Matt and I decided to summit Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina. It was an absolutely beautiful day, and the weather was spectacular. This was my first trail run after pacing Matt at his 50 miler, so I was a little nervous about my injury. My recovery has been going really well, but I have to remember I’m still in recovery and need to learn to not push myself too hard. I’d like to say I know my limits, but I obviously don’t since every time I push myself I do get injured! 
 
We started at the Black Mountain Campground around 10:30am. It was hot towards the beginning of the trail, and cooled off nicely as we had a few thousand feet of elevation gain. The whole run was about 11 miles, but I unfortunately didn’t end up finishing the trail. I went up about 3 miles with minimal knee pain, but realized if I continued up the run down was basically all downhill, and doing 6 miles of downhill seemed pretty daunting with my injury. Normally I thrive on downhills, but my IT Band issues act up more on downhills than uphills, so I decided to turn around and let Matt summit. I knew he wanted to reach the top, and can outrun me any day, so we split up and decided to meet back at the car whenever he was finished.I had a great mile and a half run down, until “the incident.” I was running, totally in the zone enjoying myself, when out of my peripheral vision I see two black bear cubs run across the trail not 15 feet in front of me. They weren’t running towards me and didn’t even turn around to look at me, but I still completely freaked out, screamed like a little girl, and sprinted back up the trail. I have never been so terrified in my whole life than at that moment. I was stuck in the middle of the woods, by myself, extremely spotty cell service, and knew Matt was probably at least 5 miles out from me.

People say “Don’t run!” or “Get big!” But I’m telling you, when you see two bears, nothing in your body says “oh I know, let’s just stand here and make noise!” You bleeping run for your life. Who knows where those babies mom was, and I did NOT want to find out. Unfortunately, I was at a hairpin in the trail. To go forward would be to go towards where the bears came from, and to go back up the mountain meant I would have to go that way too.  

In the end, I just kind of stood there, hyperventilating, imagining Matt’s face as he ran down and stumbled across my Mama Bear-mangled body. I stood there, listening to try to hear if Mama Bear was around, and panic set in completely. Every twig snap I heard was Mama Bear sneaking up on me. Every fallen leaf was from a tree Mama Bear was climbing to pounce on me. Eventually I thought “well, if Mama Bear does come after me, would I rather be trampled on from up top, or try to hide up high and have the advantage of height?” So I climbed a tree. I mean, a very small, slightly dead-looking, flimsy tree that she could have easily pushed over to rip my body parts from me.
 

Saw two bears and all I did was cut my arm on a tree
 
Luckily, she never came. I spent a solid 50 minutes completely alone and completely paralyzed with fear. I had texted Matt to come down immediately after it happened, and about a mile from the top, he found a spot with service, saw my message, and turned right back around. Now, I had sent him two messages:

1. HELP

2. PLEASE COME NOW

Then he messaged me “You okay?!” and I responded “I’m fine but I can’t move I’m too scared to go anywhere please come.” Turns out he only got the “HELP” so he had no idea I was okay. He later told me he immediately thought I had somehow sliced my femoral artery and was going to bleed out by the time he got there. Then he realized I would have called 9-1-1 (which, so you know, DOES work even if you don’t have signal. Even if you can’t talk to anyone, they will find out where the call is coming from and send help) and he realized finding my blood-less body was unlikely.

Then he thought maybe I snapped my ankle and couldn’t move and was in agony. Then his brain made its way to a bear, so he was also picturing my mangled body. He after 50 minutes he finally made it to me and I climbed out of my hideaway tree. I wept in his sweaty arms and he escorted me down the mountain to the car, all while he yelled “hi bear” nice and loud to try to scare them away if they were nearby. I like to imagine they were out there somewhere waving at us. 

 

We drove up afterwards to see the view
 
All in all, it was pretty terrifying but definitely fun to laugh about after. Like the fact that I climbed a tree knowing bears climb trees. Or that I cried like a little baby. Or that Matt was yelling hi to some black bears. The run besides that was amazing and super jungle-like. I was super excited that my knee was feeling good enough to be on the trails, and went back out today to the Appalachian Trail right by Tennessee, which was just unreal. We went to Max Patch, and the views made me feel like I was on a movie set.

 

View from the top of Max Patch
 
I mean, don’t get me wrong. I bought bear mace before we went out today.