I have a confession to make. A lot of the time, at least recently, I don’t love running. I have not been “loving the process”. I haven’t been thrilled with my races. Most training runs feel like a slog. While a bit demoralizing, I think it’s to be expected to be honest. In 2016 and 2017 I accomplished more than I had ever really expected as a runner. Two 100 mile races, half marathon PR, 5K PR, a Boston qualifier. It was just success followed by success followed by success. Everything had such tremendous payoff it felt incredibly rewarding. Now, it feels like I am just going through the motions. Seven Sisters was a bright spot of running with friends and craziness that was genuinely exciting. I’m still anxiously awaiting The Bear, since 100 milers are so challenging and unique, but TARC Spring, Wachusett, and to some extent Escarpment felt like a grind. There were moments during Escarpment I thought “I fucking love running”, but a lot of that race was punishing and challenging. The mentality was taking a toll, but on Saturday, all I could think was “I really fucking love running!”
Sure, the TARC Summer classic was still 31 miles. And 31 miles is a long way. And whenever you go a long way there are some low points. The point is that every low quickly left and was replaced by gratifying highs. The race, the community, and my performance all culminated in a great day. I’m hoping that I can take this rekindled energy and train hard going into the Bear.
A large part of what made the day work was treating the race as a training run. Normally, I think this is a bullshit excuse to wipe away a sub-optimal performance, but I had 40 miles on my legs from the week leading up to it, had run 24.5 miles on my long run the previous Sunday, and hadn’t done anything to really treat it as an A or even B race. So while I undoubtedly spent parts of loop 1 doing mathematical gymnastics to estimate a finish time, I quickly let any thoughts of performance and position slip away. I was going to run 31 miles and I’d either be in first place, last place, or somewhere in between. What’s funny is that I had tried to do the same thing at this race two years earlier and failed miserably. So, after three years of ultrarunning, I can safely say I know how to use a race as a training run.
Like two years ago, I think the TARC Summer classic is one of the most enjoyable courses I have run! It has a mix of everything: single track, fire road, hills, techy sections. A 10 mile loop is just long enough to stay fresh but short enough to seem manageable. What’s also amazing is that I can summarize the race in three sentences.
On my first loop, I settled in to running by feel and enjoying the day, and after about 5 miles everything clicked and it was smooth sailing.
I fell right before the start on the second loop, but it got me fired up to run faster than the first loop!
On the last loop, I fell again and felt a bit sorry for myself, so it went a bit slower but I still finished in 5:34 (in 2015 I ran a 6:39)!!!
Boom, easiest race recap ever! Honestly, it is difficult to write a report about a race I have already run. Especially when the goal was supposed to be the same. This year though, I was able to have a spectacular time. I feel reinvigorated for the final 6 weeks leading up to the Bear 100! Can’t wait to see how it goes.
Ultra runners are fueled by testing their limits. Nothing about the sport is easy or even sane, but the pursuit of pushing our bodies to their absolute limits drives us forward. As we attempt new races, run different trails, and ramp up our training, our limits stretch further and further. We get new benchmarks to evaluate ourselves. PRs and previous times become our foundation as a runner. Your Ultrasignup results page grows and becomes a public record of your race days, good and bad. This quest to push beyond one’s limits can become a bit all-consuming, at least for me, as new races pop up or instagram photos of faraway trails fill social media. Past successes become fuel for attempting the next insane event. But as we reach for the next distance or race with double the elevation gain, it can become difficult to measure if we are actually still improving. That’s why pacing Mike at Manitou’s Revenge was so fun for me. The race wasn’t about the next great event (although I am not sure you can top what Manitou’s got to offer), but rather a return to prove oneself against one of the most brutal events out there.
To be transparent, I had never met Mike before Manitou’s. We “met” over twitter as I saw him cast the net for pacers at this year’s event. I took the bait and said why not, I’ll pace a stranger for several hours of running. We chatted over email and social media, but right away it was clear that Mike had ambitions for this year’s event. He had finished Manitou’s in 2016, being the last finisher in around 23.5 hours. He was coming back for revenge. Or at least I deemed it to be revenge. Coming in as a pacer, it was perfect. Mike’s goal would give me clear direction for the day and getting Mike to his finish.
I was picking Mike up at the 5th aid station of the race, Platte Cove. The drive up to the aid station was a perfect introduction to what the day would hold. Dense fog and a winding road greeted me and Colleen in the Catskills. Conditions were wet and the course would be slick. We got settled and waited for Mike to roll in.
Meeting Mike at the aid station was a lot like how I imagine online dating would work, but if one of the participants had just run 30 miles and had 24 miles to run. Mike wasn’t exactly on time, and came rolling in looking a tad disheveled. It quickly turned into crew/pacing duties as I grabbed his drop bag and worked to get any food and gear he needed. Compared to the runners just prior to him, Mike was in and out of the aid station. He was a bit behind on time, but in good spirits and raced the first 30 miles extremely smart. That made my job much easier.
Mike meeting Colleen and me at Platte Cove
Now, Manitou’s doesn’t cut you any breaks. The first 30 miles suck (so I hear). The last 24 miles also suck (so I know). It’s a 54 miler that runs like a hundred. So, leaving the aid station, I knew we had 7.5 miles to the Mink Hollow aid station, but the volunteers at Platte Cove assured me the next 7.5 run more like 12. Having now completed it, I’d say that’s accurate. This next session is when the course hops on the Devil’s Path, which happens to be very aptly named. The “trail” takes no prisoners, consisting of unrelenting climbs requiring you to use your hands and descents that range from sketchy to I-should’ve-written-my-will before-offering-to-pace-this-race. In all seriousness, some of the down climbing sections were more serious than going up.
Over the 7.5 miles, there are three peaks – Indian Head, Twin, and Sugarloaf. With no section really allowing for sustained running, Mike and I chipped away the course over the slick rocks and gnarly elevation profile. During this section, we’d pick up Paul, who would manage to snap 2 trekking poles on the Devil’s path, and Jodi. We ran into Jodi right before Mink Hollow who was convinced she was going to drop. The course was treacherous and no ultra was worth killing yourself, so it seemed like the logical decision. Mike and Paul assured her that the worst was over and right there and then we formed a pack that would stick together for the remaining 16.5 miles.
At Mink Hollow, the crew recomposed themselves and geared up for the crushing climb up Plateau. Mike was 30 minutes ahead of where we was this time last year. “Perfect,” I thought, “we are gonna get him a PR at this rate”. The last climb on the Devil’s Path is another ass-kicker of steep, sketchy climbing. Once we topped out, the trail smooths before a turn down of the peak following a side trail. By this time, it was dark. While it was still a few minutes until sunset, the dense canopy and fog made running without a headlamp a no-go. The four of us did our best to navigate the admittedly smoother trail, but thick fog and slick rocks made running uncomfortable. I was hoping to start putting the pressure on the group at this point, but part of being a good pacer is knowing your place. We were moving incredibly strong and steady, so we ran smooth sections and walked quickly through the rest to Silver Hollow Notch.
By Silver Hollow, we were close to 45 minutes ahead of Mike’s arrival last year! The runners took time here to take in a substantial amount of calories. Manitou’s starts absurdly early if you factor in the bus ride from the finish up to Windham. At this point, everyone was pushing close to 24 hours awake, so just staying positive at this point is a huge success. As we focused for the remaining miles, the biggest moth I’ve ever seen tried to fly away with one of the aid station volunteers before landing on the pop-up tent. Thoroughly disturbed by the thing, I gently urged the runners to get going so I’d be able to avoid getting hit by it. We got moving up the climb from Silver Hollow, which tops out before running a slightly off-camber downhill to a creek. We made really good time down this stretch, and we all enjoyed the cold water on our feet in the humidity. Mike took a minute to douse himself in cold water before we started the final climb of the course.
The climb up to the Willow aid station is pretty damn rough. I’d say if it were 30 miles earlier on the course, it’d be runnable. But after 48 or so miles, it is unrelenting. We marched up the slope, appreciating that finally the trail makers used switch backs but still annoyed with the trail’s persistence. In the final half mile of the climb, Jodi pulled ahead to take a bit more time at the aid station while Paul, Mike, and I took our time to not overexert. Finally, we reached Willow towards the top of the hill! The aid station was stocked with hot food and plenty of snacks, which was super impressive considering it was a 2 mile hike in to the aid station. The volunteers were super friendly and joked with Mike about his later appearance a year prior. At this point, we were an hour and half ahead of Mike’s previous time and energy levels were much higher.
The crew took off from willow for the final 500 feet of climbing to the fire tower. The fog got really thick here and I really struggled as a pacer keeping the group on course. I did my best to keep a bit ahead to identify the next blaze and keep the crew moving along. Suddenly, there was a huge fire tower right next to us! The climbing was done! All downhill from here! But of course, Manitou would not let us off easily. 3 miles of downhill covered in football sized rocks that teetered, rolled, and rocked as we tread down them. We kept a strong hiking pace down, not risking a busted bone or face on the slick and unstable rocks. The group decided to finish together, and having spent 6 or so hours together at this point it seemed fitting. We finally bottomed out and made our way down the last mile of road.
In the final mile, we all expressed our gratitude of having such great company for so long. Mike thanked me for pacing him on a whim and I told him not to mention it, for I had a blast and there isn’t too much better than sharing some trail miles with good company. Finishing and reflecting on the day, I’m left wondering how I am as a pacer. I got Mike to the finish and 2 runners tagged along. But did I push hard enough? Did I say the right things? Had I been too cutting with some of my jokes and jabs? Even though I have my self-doubts, the experience to me speaks more about each own’s limits. Mike PRed on the course by 2 hours. A demonstrable improvement from last year. He pushed hard and dug deep. Viewing as an outsider, he encapsulated one of the things I love so much about ultra running: the need to push our limits.
I signed up for this race almost as soon as it was announced. I thoroughly enjoyed the Bear Mountain 50k in 2016, and was ready to jump up to the 50 miler. My “big race” of the year was supposed to be the Gorge Waterfalls 100k out in Portland, and this was going to be an “easier” race, since I’d have been a seasoned 100k-er by then. Boy was I gonna be wrong!
To start off, this race did not have a course description in the Course Guide on their website. It showed the map, gave turn-by-turn directions, had the chart for elevation, but the description was “TBD” which meant that everyone who hadn’t run trails in New England was in for a big surprise. I’ve had plenty of experience on trails in the Northeast, so I was prepared for some technical terrain, but honestly it was one of the most intense runs of my entire life. You could say “well of course it was, it was your first 50 miler!” but I ran Bear Mountain last year, which was advertised as an extremely technical course, and I just ran Seven Sisters, which was absolutely insane as well. I was ready for a challenge, but I don’t think The North Face adequately prepared runners for this race.
We started the day with our alarms going off at 2:50am. We made some coffee, inhaled some cereal for breakfast, and we were out the door by 3:15 to go grab our friend Harry, who was also running the 50 miler. I won the “who’s driving home after a 50 miler?!” battle, so I drove us to the race so I didn’t have to drive home. It was about an hour, which we spent shooting the shit, talking about various other races, and trying not to psych myself out before the race. We got there, sunscreened and bug sprayed up, dropped our drop-bags off, and lined up at the start. The sun was coming up just as the race was starting, so we didn’t even need our headlamps, which was great!
Matt sped off, and I settled into a nice slow, steady pace so I didn’t go out too hard. I knew there was going to be a lot of up and down, so my goal of the day was to run any flat or downhill that wasn’t too technical, and to assess my pace on uphills as the day went on. I started by power hiking most uphills, and I ended up keeping that up throughout almost the entire race. In the 50 mile race, we summited 4 times total. The first summit was at mile 7.1, and I was feeling pretty strong at this point. I reached the summit the first time with an average pace of 14:34 min/mi, and reached it the second time with an average page of 15:43 min/mi. I was feeling strong, and had actually met a very nice runner named John around mile 3, who helped keep my mind off the fact that it was a lot of elevation. He was engaged as well, living in NYC, and we chatted about the absurdity of the cost of weddings, all the crazy races he’s run, how his fiancee is crazy fast, and exchanged fun stories. It was exactly what I needed to ignore my nerves, and focus on just moving forward.
During the first 15 miles, my left IT band was acting up. I haven’t had this happen in a really long time, and it was very stressful, so I was glad to have John there to talk me out of my head. I grabbed some advil a few times during the first half of the race, and it didn’t bother me again until the day after the race. I will definitely be spending the next few weeks focusing on getting the inflammation down and strength training in order to prevent this in the future.
Once we summited the second time, we started to make our way out to the state park. Looking at this section on the elevation chart, I thought I was going to be able to run a lot of it. I was verrrrryyy wrong. While the elevation profile was mellow, the technicality of the trails was insane. There were long sections of this where the trail was literally a foot wide, completely overgrown, with just giant rocks and roots everywhere. It was impossible to run. John had passed me by this point as his goal was 10 hours, and I was hoping for 12, so I decided to just power hike and take it slow. I had a lot of hours ahead of me, and have heard too many horror stories of runners going out too hard and crashing. I focused on my goals: walk uphill, run every runnable section, and don’t fall on my face.
I also was like clockwork with my gels/chomps throughout the day until maybe 10 hours in. I made sure to eat gels or chomps every hour, and ate other food at probably every other aid station. I also filled my pack with ice at almost every aid station, and threw at least two cup-fulls of water on my head every chance I got. I also dipped my hat in any creek we ran over to try to keep myself from overheating. Ideally, I wouldn’t have had the pack on because of the heat, but I really wanted the security of having what I needed with me, just in case. My pack was like the binky of my first 50-miler, and I was thankful to have it the entire time even if it made me hotter than I would have liked. I was thankful to have a dropbag with extra food in it as well because the aid stations were pretty sparse throughout the course. There were even some aid stations where they were just out of a certain kind of food completely. To someone who is used to running TARC races and having an insane spread of snacks, that was definitely one of the biggest bummer. To go into an aid station hoping for oranges and having them be out is a huge mental obstacle for someone who’s already been running for 10+ hours. I think if they are going to do this race again next year, they need to have a bigger variety of food available, especially to people running the marathon or more.
The trail continued to be barely runnable until around mile 20, when we did a 4 mile loop that was almost entirely runnable (to me, to faster runners I’m sure they ran the entire way), with some fast fire road miles after the loop. I got some 10-12 min/miles in around here, and felt better since I had already been on track to finish beyond my 12 hour goal. I knew when I saw the high for the day was close to 80 degrees that I would likely be adjusting my goals, but felt that it was entirely just a personal decision, rather than an across the board decision for all runners. I ran with another runner named John (different runner, I swear) who was a seasoned ultra marathoner as well, who was struggling in the heat and with the technicality of the course. We suffered together to an aid station, where I threw water on myself and set off for the next big aid station, where I’d have my drop bag and Kayleigh waiting for me with sour gummy worms. I had notifications for Matt that would text me when he crossed a checkpoint, and there had been an issue where his mile 15.5 checkpoint also counted as his mile 33 checkpoint time, so I had no idea how he was doing. His goal for the entire race was 10 hours, and at about 10 hours in, I got a notification that he was at the summit for the third time.
At that point I was extremely concerned I wasn’t going to finish this race in time. I got to mile 37 feeling defeated, at my all-time low of the race. I had run through a bunch of muddy puddles and my feet were soaking, I had hit my top level of pain in the last 5 miles, and still had a freaking half marathon to go. At this point, Tammy joined me to pace me through the rest of the race, and I was so grateful she offered to do this for me. I was feeling really down on myself, worried I wouldn’t get to finish my race, debating whether or not to just give up at that point, because there was a good chance I wasn’t going to finish within the 14 mile cutoff. I ran in and saw Tammy practically bouncing with excitement to see me, and Kayleigh and her boyfriend Tim waiting with gatorade, sour gummy worms, sour patch kids, and hugs. It was exactly what I needed to keep going. I switched my shoes and socks, and headed out with Tammy to finish this damn race.
At this point, any uphill felt like a mountain. I was quite literally making mountains out of molehills, as my dad would say. Tammy was pushing me to run when it was flat or downhill, and we were coming up with landmarks to run to when I was too tired to keep running. “Okay, see those ribbons? We’ll run to those ribbons and then walk.” Tammy honestly was my trail guardian angel, and I would have been in a much worse place if it hadn’t been for her. At this point, my legs were still functioning well, and I hadn’t gotten nauseous at all. Up until 37 I did a really good job of drinking water not only when I was thirsty, but at every beep of a mile at my watch too. Normally I worry about over-hydrating, but it was freaking 80 degrees outside, and I was going to be out on the course a lot longer than I had anticipated. I even drank 2 bottles of tailwind during the second half of the race, since I was pretty much over gels at that point.
37-44 was a blur of just putting my head down and powering through the exhaustion. By the time I reached the summit the third time at mile 44, Matt had just finished the race in 12 hours. I still had 2 hours to go, but looking back at Matt’s timing for the last 6 miles, I knew I was going to be cutting it close. It took Matt 2 hours and 3 minutes from the third summit to the end of the course, so I knew that likely it would take me at least that much time, and I was already at 12 hours. I also had a blister pop mid-run that I had to take care of at this aid station and, of course, Tammy was the best pacer ever. She ran up to the medic and grabbed anything she thought I might need. She helped me get my toe all bandaged up and back in action, since I had spent the last 4 miles of the course spreading my toes so my popped blister didn’t rub against my big toe, since it was extremely painful.
I was freaking out about not making the cutoff when the volunteer at the aid station assured me to just keep going, and that they had extended the cutoff time for the relay race by at least 3 hours. THREE HOURS EXTRA for a MARATHON. At that point, I was feeling MUCH better that I was still running any chance I could, still eating, still drinking, and hadn’t dropped. Kayleigh was at the summit, and I knew that my parents and Matt would be at the summit my final go around, so I set off a woman on a mission, with my toe feeling like new.
Tammy encouraged me to run as much as possible, had me running on the shortest path possible, and was keeping my spirits high. I was still mentally there, though I’ll admit some words were taking a long time to come into my head, and I was still physically feeling pretty strong. I was surprised that I was still capable of running at this point, when I kept passing runners sidelined with cramps, or vomiting on the side of the trail. We ran down and on our way back up to the summit, we ran into the sweeper, who was still about an hour behind us, since she was on her first loop of the summit. She assured us that the race cutoff had to be extended, and we found out that there were still relay runners on the course – the relay was scheduled to be finished by 4pm, and it was now 5:30-6pm. We trekked up to the summit for the last time, and I thought my heart would explode from happiness when I got up there and saw my mom, dad, Matt, Kayleigh and Tim all cheering for me. I got to the top and spent a few minutes hugging everyone, congratulating Matt, and chatting up the volunteers.
We set off out of the aid station on a mission to finish, and the guy that had been at the aid station sprinted past us telling me we had to run the rest of the way in order to finish by the cutoff. I said “oh don’t worry about it, the sweeper is still an hour back and they extended the cutoffs” and he was all frenzied saying that they might not honor it. The next 4 miles were not only hard because it was still pretty technical and my legs were exhausted, but I was mentally exhausted from coming up with angry tweets I’d send to North Face if they didn’t extend the cutoff time. Luckily, I was worried for nothing. After passing the same poor soul vomiting on the side of the trail for the third time, I powered through the last 4 miles and finished with a smile on my face and tears in my eyes after running for 14 hours, 17 minutes, and 4 seconds.
Overall, the race was great, and the volunteers were top notch! I know a few trail runners that don’t like that the Endurance Challenge series has a more “road race” vibe and a lot of non-trail runners, but that’s one of my favorite parts. The fact that everyone from all different abilities is out there on the same course is pretty great, despite the fact that their trail etiquette isn’t super great. I did see some cups/trash on the course, but these could easily have accidentally fallen out of people’s packs or belts despite their experience on trails. One of my biggest complaints is that they should announce who has the right of way when on a course like this. I’m a firm believer that if someone is passing you, you need to get out of their way. But if someone is coming at you, the person who has been out on the course longer should get the right of way. Proper etiquette wasn’t clear, and I was getting shoulder-checked left and right by runners at this section of the course. When you’ve been running for 9 hours and get shoulder-checked, this could seriously throw off your balance and possibly push you over and injure you. The last thing I want to DNF over is some schmuck who’s never run trails before knocking me over and not even apologizing for it.
It was the toughest race I’ve ever run, and it was one of the toughest races for pretty much everyone I spoke with. 179 runners started this 50 miler and only 75 people finished. That’s right, only 41% of people who started ended up finishing the race. It was absolutely insane. I still can’t believe it was real, and I can’t believe I’m barely even sore today, 5 days after running for 14 hours. I feel confident I’ll run another 50 miler, though jury is still out on 100 milers… I have a newly developed appreciate for how insane Matt is.
Let me start by saying that for once, Matt adequately prepared me for a race for the first time ever. Most of the time we go for a run or a race and he tells me “oh it’s super easy” or “after the first half it’s all downhill” and inevitably it’s the hardest race I’ve ever run or the entire thing is uphill. Sometimes I wonder if he knows the difference between uphill and downhill… but for Seven Sisters, he gave me fair warning. He may have even slightly questioned it when I signed up. The man knows I hate running uphill, and knew I’d have to do a lot of it. I decided to sign up anyways, since I’ve got Wachusett coming up, and it was definitely a good decision.
Long story short, only one of us had been responsible and remembered to purchase a bib (ahem, it was me). We decided to go to the race together and hope that the bad weather had driven some folks away. Luckily, about 10 minutes before the race, we were able to snag a bib last minute – many, many thanks to the race director, Amy! You’re a lifesaver!
It had been raining all night, and was super warm and muggy for the race. I was already worried I’d overheat and wish I had a handheld instead of my hydration pack, but I knew I needed both hands free for climbing up rocks and grabbing onto trees to keep myself from falling. It ended up being a good decision, but I was still slightly too hot the whole time. I’m a little worried about this for Wachusett in particular since it’ll be mid-June in Boston, and there’s only access to a drop bag at mile 13 and mile 37, so I really want a pack to carry my goods in, but don’t want to overheat.
We started, and immediate gained 500 feet of elevation in a half mile. Matt warned me of the first hill, so I was prepared and went nice and slow. It was a little frustrating to be passed by a lot of runners on that first hill, mostly because I felt in the way. I started in the third wave, and was shocked by the amount of runners that started in that wave that shot past me in the first mile. Now, how many of those runners continued to crush it and how many crashed after 4 miles, the world may never know. But nevertheless, I felt in the way and a little self conscious, but I knew I had bigger fish to fry. It’s easier for me to check myself before I wreck myself on trails than on the road. When I’m on the road, I want to pass everyone. When I’m on the trails, I somehow remember my body has limits, and that I can control my speed. Either way, I kept myself strong and steady through the first uphill, and ran as much as I could of the downhill, but I needed to be careful. Wachusett is just around the corner, and nothing would have broken my spirits more than taking a bad fall and having to call yet ANOTHER ultra marathon in 2017.
The rest of the race is a blur of hills, mud, and rocks. It was the single most intense 12(ish) miles of my running career. The race had over 4,000 feet of elevation gain over 12(ish) miles, which is INSANE considering Wachusett has just about double that elevation gain, but over 50 miles. During the whole first half, every time I’d start enjoying the downhill, my heart would sink as I realized that would be an uphill on the way back. By the time I got to the turnaround, I was so tired, and couldn’t believe I had to do it all over again but backwards. My right shoe was rubbing against the back of my heel on every uphill and was so irritating that I contemplated just taking it off. I settled by throwing on a scoop of vaseline on my heel at the turnaround and crossing my fingers that I wouldn’t have a giant blister by the end of the race. Definitely glad I wore them during this race, since I was planning on these being my race shoes for Wachusett. After how quickly they blistered my heels, they’re definitely not coming to Wachusett!
By maybe mile 8, I was surrounded by a lot of defeated human beings. Everyone around me was covered in mud, sweat, and some even had blood dripping down their faces (or other body parts). It was like a goddamn battle field. I was lucky (or just slow enough) to not fall during the race, though my hands were literally covered in mud afterwards. Before I started, I ran into a woman running with gloves and thought that was bizarre considering the weather, but I get it now. It was definitely a super technical course, and pretty dangerous if you went all out, and I’m glad I focused on just staying upright and finishing.
All in all, the race was incredibly fun, and I can’t wait to do it again. I like to think I could run it much faster if the weather was better, but it’s New England, and I don’t think it will ever not be rainy, wet, and muddy for this race. That certainly won’t keep me away – I’ll be back to get muddy again in 2018!
Sorry I haven’t posted in a while, life has been super boring and uneventful.
LOLJK! So much has happened in even just April, I don’t even know where to start. Why don’t I start with the least exciting thing, which is that my cysts are gone and I’m cleared to run! (The fact that this is the LEAST exciting thing shows how crazy life has been…) Before our trip to Portland, I had an appointment with my doctor who told me that my cysts aren’t a super big deal, I don’t have cancer (yay!) and that my cysts shouldn’t be too difficult to control in the future. Basically, I will be taking birth control without the placebo week in order to keep my hormone levels consistent, since he thinks the one week of not taking hormones is throwing my ovaries into OVAdrive (get it?!?!) and causing cysts to form. So by skipping that week, I should be able to avoid my overactive ovaries!
After that appointment, I started attempting to run just a little bit to see how it felt. I wasn’t at 100% but I felt much better, and I was excited to get some miles in when we went to Portland! While we planned on going to Portland for my 100k, we went and met up with two of our friends that live in Asheville and just spend the week trail running, hiking, eating and drinking. It was absolutely magical, and I didn’t even get upset about not running the 100k because Matt, Brian and Sarah all helped me take my mind off it. I’m so thankful they trekked all the way out to Portland to crew for me, and also that they still trekked out even when I couldn’t race. We’ll have to thank them by paying them a visit in Asheville again soon.
On Saturday, the day of the race, we tried going to Bend, Oregon for a day trip. About 1.5 hours into the drive, while going through a mountain pass, the weather took a turn for the worse. We realized we were ill-prepared to pass through Mt. Hood in our measly rental car, so we turned around and changed plans. Matt seemed a little antsy about it, so I just let him make the plans. We decided to go to the start of the 100k course and go run by some waterfalls and enjoy the course, even if I couldn’t enjoy all 100k. We start running, and I realize I’m way overdressed for the weather. We stop to strip down, and I decide to tie my jacket around my waist. Matt is over here telling me “oh let’s find a place to stash it” and I was thinking well I generally don’t look good while I run, why change that today?
So about a half mile later, we get to this beautiful waterfall and Matt and I stop to take a picture. Next thing I know, Matt’s down on one knee asking me to marry him! It was absolutely magical, and I still can’t believe it happened. I obviously said yes! Then we laughed as we realized I was wearing a backwards hat with my jacket tied around my waist – and I wouldn’t have had it any other way! It was the perfect representation of our relationship, and I’m so excited to share our lives together. It was such a beautiful, perfect day, and I can’t wait to celebrate it by running the 100k next year!
The rest of our trip to Portland was almost as magical as that day! We went trail running, hiking, drank a lot of good beer, ate some good food, made new friends, and took a bunch of pictures! It was such a wonderful vacation, and I can’t wait to go back next year to run the race. The parts of the course I saw were so beautiful, and I know it’ll be an amazing race. Let’s hope I’m in shape to run a 100k in the spring of 2018!
As magical as it was, we were so excited to come home to Gustav, and judging by the bear hugs he gave us, he was pretty excited for us to come home too, even though Dana spoiled him while we were gone!
A few weeks after our trip to Portland, we headed down to Texas to visit Matt’s parents. We had a lovely trip, even though I ended up not running much due to an infected blister. Like actually I couldn’t wear shoes for like a week. Of all things to take me out of running, of course a blister would do it. Once I could run, we went for a nice, humid run in Austin, and spent a wonderful weekend with both his family and my aunt and uncle that live in Dallas – they drove all the way to Austin to say hello! I also caught up with one of my best friends from high school, Brianne, who actually was the first person to ever get me into running! We used to run Fun Runs in our hometown during summers. It was great to see her and catch up!
Since we’ve been back from Portland, Matt’s done a few races and I “ran” the 7 Sisters Trail Race this past weekend – be prepared for a race report! In the meantime, know that it’s been 3 days since the race and I am still walking around like someone just took a baseball bat to my quads. It was an intense race, and I can’t wait to go back next year and brutally destroy my legs again!
I sat down with the intention of writing a race recap for the Hyannis Marathon, and I just can’t bring myself to do it. To sum it up, it went better than I had ever imagined it could. I was shooting for sub-4, and surpassed that goal by running a 3:50:24. I felt strong the entire time, I stayed hydrated and took in calories as I needed them, and I finished strong with my last 5 miles being around 8:30 pace. Hands down it was my best performance out of any race I’ve ever run. Maybe someday I’ll have the energy to write a more detailed race report, but for now, I’ll tell you about my post-marathon week.
Let’s start with Monday. I expected to be sore, maybe have some stiff knees or sore shins, but I was nowhere near as bad as I thought I would be. I even biked to work, no problem! After biking in to work, I started to feel some pain in my lower right abdomen. Pain very similar, but less intense, to my pain I had a few weeks ago before I ended up in the hospital with a ruptured cyst. I told myself I was probably just sore from the race, and it would go away.
Cut to Tuesday. I feel amazing, like I barely even ran a marathon, so after work I go for a quick 3 mile run. My legs are tired, but in great shape. I start getting excited for my long run on Saturday of 23 miles. Cut to Wednesday, the pain in my abdomen is still lingering, intensifying just enough to make me worried after my bike ride home. I listened to my body and skipped my run. I worked from home on Thursday and called my gynecologist to see if they could get me an appointment. By some miracle from the heavens, she has an open appointment at 2pm. By a whole other miracle, the company I work for is amazing, and let me take the rest of the day off of work to see my doctor.
I explain the situation and tell her I’m nervous I might have another cyst. I tell her I went to the ER not a month ago for a ruptured ovarian cyst, and she asks me some questions. When was the last time you had a cyst that caused pain? Are you still on birth control? Are you skipping any pills? Are you pregnant? Does it hurt during intercourse? You know, the fun questions we all love our gynecologist asking. She says she can get me an ultrasound at 4pm in Chelsea if I’m willing to drive out there.
Cut to 3:00, I’m in Chelsea (way too early) waiting anxiously for my appointment, exhausted from the lack of sleep thanks to stress about my health. I get two ultrasounds and they say I’ll hear back the next morning. Cut to Friday during my lunch break. It was past noon and I hadn’t heard anything so of course I call in a panic, asking for my doctor to call me back. She calls me a few minutes later and tells me I have yet another ovarian cyst. She mentions they’re not normal cysts, they’re hemorrhagic ovarian cysts (aka filled with blood) which is why they’re so painful. They have absolutely no idea why I’m getting cysts due to the fact that birth control is supposed to prevent cysts from forming at all.
It’s also over 5cm in diameter, so she recommends I don’t exercise for at least 6 weeks, which is when I will need a follow-up ultrasound to see if the cyst has gotten any smaller. If it has gotten smaller, I will need to be monitored for future cysts while they try to figure out why I keep getting cysts. If it hasn’t gotten smaller, I will need to meet with a surgeon to go over my options for removing the cysts. There’s a chance if they remove the cysts but haven’t figured out why I am getting them, they will come back, and they would go over my other options, which are far less appealing and end with me not being able to have children.
I have 5 short weeks to go until the Gorge Waterfalls 100k, but was advised not to run for the next 6 weeks. I’m still unsure about what I’ll do on race day, but for now I’m taking it day by day. If my pain subsides soon, I might try easing back into a running routine, but skip the biking, since it seems to aggravate it much more than running. My doctor did say if my cyst ended up rupturing, it would decrease in size sooner than it would if it didn’t rupture, but it seems pretty morbid to hope for a rupture since it basically made any movement excruciatingly painful for 4-5 days.
Normally I would hear what my doctor said, politely agree to disagree as young people tend to do, and go about my way, silently suffering. But this time, there is a chance that if it doesn’t rupture or decrease in size, strenuous exercise could cause ovarian torsion, and I’d likely end up losing my ovary. While I’m happy to be an idiot and maybe cause some extra shin pain or push through some knee pain, losing an ovary at 26 isn’t something I’m willing to risk.
I am absolutely heartbroken that this is happening to me after 3 months of intense, dedicated training for this 100k. I’m in the best shape of my life, and I’ve never been more prepared or excited for a race. But for once, this seems like something I shouldn’t brush off and try to push through. I will keep you all posted on my recovery and my game-day decision, but as of now it’s looking like we will just be enjoying a week of vacation in Oregon in April instead of racing. Word on the street is their food and beer game is strong out in the Pacific Northwest. Maybe instead of running a 100k, we’ll drive a 100k and where each aid station would be, we’ll stop for food and beer! Sounds fun, but let’s be real, we were probably planning on doing that after my race anyways.
The past 3 weeks have been a whirlwind of change and chaos in the GrandElam household. On January 17th, I started a new job with Zagster, a bike sharing company based out of Cambridge. It’s been absolutely amazing, and I’m so glad I took the leap and changed careers. My whole first two weeks were filled with cramming as much information into my head that I could possibly handle. I’d come home after work and just sit there silently playing with Gustav. No TV, no music, just catching up with Matt and playing with the pupper while my brain rested.
After my first week at Zagster, Matt and I went to New Hampshire for the weekend to go cross country skiing on Saturday and get in some downhill skiing on Sunday. The weekend was amazing, but as it turns out, we are great at running and not so great at cross country skiing. There were many falls involved, a few bruises, and a slight pain in my left abdomen that I ignored at the time. I ended up not getting a real long run in that weekend since we spent about 5 hours cross country skiing and my legs were already so sore. We went downhill skiing on Sunday, and I called it early since it was rainy and my abdomen was bothering me still. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I figured I should try to rest.
The following week, I was biking home from work when my abdomen started to really hurt. I went home and told Matt who, as a robot, told me to “go for a run and see how it felt.” Of course I did, and I made it about 1/4 of a mile before I wanted to die, so I turned around and went home to rest. I was frantically Googling my pain, so of course thought I had cancer and was dying, but listened to Matt who told me to “rest up” and said I’d “probably be fine by Saturday for our long run.” I have a history of inguinal hernias (I’ve had one on each side) and also ovarian cysts, so I was hyper aware of my pain and very worried.
I went to work the next day and had trouble just walking from my car to the building. I tried calling my doctor to make an appointment, but since I hadn’t seen my doctor since switching insurance, I had to wait a week to get be seen because it was an initial appointment. I made the appointment for the following week, and got back to work. When I got home I was still in a lot of pain, so I decided to ask my friend in med school what he recommended – should I wait a week or go to Urgent Care that night? He recommended Urgent Care, so off I went at 7:30pm on a Thursday.
The Urgent Care I went to ended up not having any imaging, so they recommended I go to the ER. After sitting in the waiting room for like 2.5 hours while a woman was alternating between violently vomiting and weeping (and trying not to vomit myself from the sound of her vomiting… good god I hate hospitals) I finally got into a room. After many more hours of waiting, a ghetto pelvic exam where I was propped up on a bedpan because they didn’t have a proper Ob-Gyn table for me, and 2 different ultrasounds, they found out I had a ruptured ovarian cyst. If you’ve never had a ruptured ovarian cyst, well, they’re really fucking painful. I was having a hard time walking upright, and every bump I hit while driving sent shooting pains through my lower abdomen. The worst part? There’s nothing they can really do at that point other than give you Motrin and tell you to rest.
Matt and I went home at just about 3am and were super exhausted from such a long, stressful night. We both went into work the next day (though I left work early to work from the couch all afternoon) and when Matt got home at 6pm, he locked his bike up on our bike rack in our garage and headed back for a run since he was too tired to wake up early to run, since we were at the ER all night. At 7pm, he got back and our bikes were gone. Someone had cut the U-locks on both our bikes and stolen them.
You can imagine we had a pretty shitty 24 hours, but luckily we have decent renters insurance, so we should be able to get most of the cost of our replacement bikes reimbursed. Plus, I do work for a bike sharing company, so I have the option of using a Zagster bike for a while until my new bike comes in. While I’m really upset our bikes were taken and we had to deal with filing a police report/talking to our building manager/etc, we are able to replace our bikes and are adult enough to have insurance for them.
I spent the following 8 days resting. Like RESTING resting. I literally spent all weekend on the couch, unless I was driving to a friend’s house to sit on their couch. I spent a lot of time embroidering, watching Arrested Development, and cuddling with Goose. It was a long week and a half off of running, and I’ve never been so thankful to be back to running. I went snowboarding this past Saturday and everything felt great, so I went for an 18 miler on Sunday – totally pain free! I mean painful in my legs, but not painful in my abdomen.
For a while I was feeling pretty down about missing a key part of my training, but I’m honestly glad it was a random injury and not a running-related injury. Matt assured me that it was probably for the best – a week off of running with TRULY resting (no cross training, no bike commuting, etc) will most likely help prevent overuse injuries throughout the next few weeks, and it really didn’t take away anything from my overall fitness level. My 18 miler didn’t feel any harder than it would have had I run 50 miles the week before. I’m ready to get back into it and crush some 50-60 mile weeks for the next few weeks!
My first goal for these next few weeks is to start upping my hill game. My 100k has about 12,000 feet of elevation gain, so I’ve gotta work my way up to getting at least 7,000 feet in each week so my legs are ready for that kind of workout. So if you see me cruising along the Charles these next few weeks, slap me and tell me to go run Summit repeats or I’m gonna regret it by mile 5 of this race. My second goal is to crush my marathon PR at the Hyannis Marathon on February 26th. My 18 miler yesterday went really well – I averaged 9:00/miles. If I can hold onto a 9 minute mile for a marathon, I would not only PR by a full 30 minutes, I could break 4 hours. This is a lofty goal, but based on my past few weeks, I don’t think it’s out of reach. Fingers crossed!
I know I already wrote a year in review and set some goals, but my friend over at yogawordnerd put together an awesome race schedule post that got me thinking about my schedule and what I am looking to get out of 2017. As I enter my third year of ultra running, my focus is quickly shifting from simply finishing certain distances and races to wanting to improve my performance. Frankly, it is pretty intimidating. Until the past 3 months or so, I’ve never felt like a “fast kid”. But as I cross more finishes lines and finish more training runs I guess I am just getting faster. It’s weird, because I never set out to improve any sub-ultra PRs, but now I can’t get the notion of beating my past self out of my head. With that, comes the fear of missing goals and putting myself in painful situations. But I think setting these goals in stone will go a long way in helping me achieve them.
I’ve made it pretty clear to just about everybody, but my goal for Hyannis is to run a Boston Qualifier. It is going to hurt like hell. Honestly, I never thought it would be something I could do until I ran the Cambridge Half this November, but with my finish being just under 1:24 at that race, I think it is within reach. I wish my training had been going a bit more consistently up until now, but training in the middle of winter is tough. Let’s hope I can put the pieces together before the end of February because I really don’t want to have to try again.
At Seven Sisters, I just want to run sub 2:30. Last year it was pretty damn slick, so I think if it is dry this year it is definitely happening. This race is really like nothing else I have run in the northeast and cannot recommend it enough!
At the Endurance Challenge, I really want to just give a solid 50-mile performance. They haven’t released detailed course information yet, so I don’t know what exactly I will be shooting for. Really, I just want it to go better than Bear Mountain did. I thought that race was going to be my personal breakout performance where I put all the pieces of the ultra puzzle together, but it just didn’t happen. Let’s hope I can represent NP (and maybe some of the tribe will wander out on the course to give some much needed support).
Millinocket is happening because who doesn’t want to run a free race in Northern Maine?
The Big Question
As for races that I haven’t registered for that I plan on running, I still need to drop a 100 miler on my schedule. It is really coming down to Run Rabbit Run or The Bear. Both races are pretty similar in terms of terrain to Grindstone, so I would really like to take what I learned there and put together a sub-24 hour performance on a gnarly course. My main reason for holding out on registering for one or the other is I am hoping The North Face announces that their ECS Utah race will be on the same weekend as The Bear. It would be much easier to get a crew out to Utah if I had a race they could run to bribe them with. Last year, the races fell on the same weekend so fingers-crossed.
I know I’m a little late to the game here since it’s already 2017, but hey, better late than never, right?
2016 was a whirlwind of a year for me both athletically and professionally. I ended my career as a nanny and decided to branch out into a new field I had no experience in, really. That change was not only scary, but stressful. Somehow through the stress of changing jobs, I connected even more with running. I had a more free time as a nanny, yet I ran a lot less. The stress of switching jobs and being in a more traditional role of 8-5 helped me find peace in running – it’s my stress relief. If I start my day out with a run, I feel refreshed and ready to take on the day. If I end my day with a run, I feel the stress of the day slowly disappear throughout my run.
The first part of my year was filled with Bear Mountain training. My training actually went pretty well, despite still recovering a bit from my knee pain after the Marine Corps Marathon in October 2015. Looking back on it, my biggest mistake of that training block was not taking enough time to increase my mileage. In December 2015, my weeks went from 5 -> 7 -> 12 -> 11 -> 18 -> 18 -> 27. Comparatively, before my Gorge Waterfalls training started, my weekly mileage went: 11.7 -> 11.5 -> 15 -> 29 (whoops – ran the BAA Half for fun!) -> 21 -> 13 -> 20 -> 16 -> 23 -> 29 -> 28 -> 31 -> 28 -> 29 . So before Bear Mountain training, I took 7 weeks of not-so-gradually increasing my mileage before my training block started. Before Gorge Waterfalls training, I DOUBLED the amount of weeks I ramped up, with a much more gradual increase.
Despite my poor pre-training, Bear Mountain actually went really well! Despite a bit of nausea and just being plain tired, I made it through a much harder course than my first 50k and felt strong. I was feeling GREAT and decided to sign up for the Pineland Farms 50k. I ended up with a bum knee and wasn’t able to start the race, and felt totally defeated. I thought my training had gone really well, and race day was pretty much unbeatable as far as my long distance races had been up to that point, but I still just wasn’t giving it my all. I wasn’t stretching enough, I wasn’t strengthening enough, and I was biting off more than I could chew. After I lost my toenail (RIP little guy) and had issues with it all summer, I decided to start fresh and be smart.
Our Colorado trip was really when I started to realize how important it was that I not go too hard for this upcoming season. I wanted to sign up for a million marathons and 50k’s and #raceeverything, but I held myself back. It’s actually quite bizarre – I didn’t even run a marathon in 2016! Sure, I ran a 50k, and a self-directed ultra “just for fun” up in Maine over the summer, but didn’t complete an actual marathon. At first I was so upset I missed out, but after a few days of reflection, I’m glad I didn’t. Who knows, maybe a road marathon would have pushed me past my breaking point.
After my summer and ramping up my mileage smarter, I started racing more. Actually racing, not just running to finish. This year I PR’d my 5k by 2 minutes and 59 seconds, and my half marathon by 4 minutes and 57 seconds (and finally broke 2 hours). Turns out training smart but also adding speed work improves your running… I mean there’s no way I could have known that before, obviously.
I also made one of the scariest decisions of my running career in 2016 by signing up for my first 100k. I’m nervous as hell that something is going to go wrong between now and then – every time I run I’m paranoid I’m going to end up in a full body cast. But so far so good – though I was attacked by a recycling bin on a run last week. No joke. A big gust of wind blew RIGHT as I was running by it and the top flew off and almost smacked me right in the head. Luckily I blocked it with my water bottle/wrist like a ninja. Seriously. You can’t make this stuff up.
My goal in 2017 is simple – run my 100k. Well, and continue to train smart. While I love the idea of “no days off” and committing to exercising every day, my motto is going to be to listen to my body. If I’m sick, I will rest. If I’m feeling too tired for a 5:30am run, I’ll sleep in and run in the evening. As much as I love running with The Breakfast Club and going to November Project, I have to stick with my training plan and listen to my body as I continue to add the miles on each week.
My resolution for 2017 is a 4 part plan:
1. Learn how to use my camera
2. Actually use my camera
3. Take more pictures of Gustav
4. Post more pictures in the blog
2016 was my year when it comes to racing. Sure, it was a pretty wacky year otherwise. But for my running, it couldn’t have gone any better. With a few days left, I wanted to take a step back, reflect on my accomplishments, and set my sights on 2017. Taking a quick look back at my races:
TARC Hale and Back 6 Hour – 31.5 Miles
TARC Spring Classic Half – 1:43:47
Bear Mountain 50 Miler – 9:58:52
7 Sisters – 2:38:48
Pineland Farms 50 – 7:48:30 PR
Catamount 50k – 4:37:00 PR
Vermont 100 – 21:26:00 PR
Pisgah 50k – 5:50:50
Oktoberfest 5K – 18:40
Grindstone 100 – 27:15:00
Cambridge Half – 1:23:44 PR
Yulefest 5k – 18:13 PR
That’s a lot of races, a lot of PRs, and a whole lot of miles run in between all of that. Looking back, I think it is pretty incredible to crush my PRs in so many distances. When I started 2016, the main goal was just to finish my first 100 miler. At the end of it, I feel stronger than I ever have. I’ve got 2 hundred finishes under my belt, more ultra experience, and confidence to tackle 2017.
Even though things went well, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t pay my dues. My first goal race for the year was Bear Mountain. I was stuck training in California, traveling every week, but still confident I was going to crush the race. On race day, by mile 15 it had crushed me. After having to dig deep just to finish and barely beating my previous 50 miler PR I thought 2016 was going to be miserable. Fast forward to Pineland and a few more weeks of solid training I obliterated my PR and felt unstoppable going into Vermont. Another PR at Catamount in the 50K and then time to take a crack at the 100.
My first 100 miler was quite the experience. It really is the roller coaster that everybody describes it as. I was so thankful to have such an amazing crew out there and experience the rolling hills of Vermont. I beat my time goal of sub-24 hours and came out excited for my next 100. Pretty much immediately after I Vermont I started training for Grindstone. Not taking more time off was probably a mistake. Training for a hundred is extremely draining physically and mentally. Still, I got it done.
Grindstone was hell. Simple as that. I was definitely fit, ready for the hills, and had another amazing crew. But add some constant rain, sloppy trails, and humidity and you can completely derail me. I set out to finish Grindstone to get my Hardrock qualifier. I didn’t drive to Virginia to run 50 miles, or 65 miles, or 80 miles. I was there to do a hundred. So I dug deep and got it done.
After Grindstone, the last 3 months were such a whirlwind. Woahman crushed me (although I definitely was not recovered to run it). At the Cambridge Half, I wanted to run a 1:25 to prove to myself a BQ in 2017 was achievable. I beat that goal by about a minute and fifteen seconds. I ran a PR at Yulefest which was completely unexpected. I hadn’t planned on it, but the consistency of training for the hundred milers plus the mental fortitude really has helped at the shorter distances.
With 2017 just about here, I think it’s worth setting some goals. Number 1 goal is to BQ. I think the fitness is there. I’d like it to happen at Hyannis, but my training has not been the most consistent. I also need to re-qualify for Western States. My current plan is to run either Run Rabbit Run or the Bear. I really love the hundred mile distance, but running more than one a year is more than I can really enjoy. Beyond those two specific goals, I honestly just plan on racing a little bit less. Although I was successful at most of my races, the ones that I wasn’t (Bear Mountain, Pisgah) were extremely defeating. Besides that, it is really exhausting racing like once per month. Finally, just have to stay consistent. 2016 was definitely my breakout running year, so I can’t wait to see what 2017 has to offer.