Get it?! Like a picture is worth 1000 words?! So like, The Bear 100 turned into The Bear 1000?! Well, at least I laugh at my jokes.
Crewing for Matt is always extremely fun, even though he never believes me that I have fun. This time was my first time solo crewing, and just before the trip he surprised me with an early birthday gift that included a bunch of fun camera toys that I could try out during the race. Here’s my recap of our time in Utah, in picture form:
I wish now that Matt could have known the fun that I was having while he was running, as I think it would have lifted his spirits and pushed him to go further than 75 miles. I also wish I had captured any photos of him at mile 75. While he would have hated to look at the photos knowing that he dropped and didn’t finish the race, the look of raw emotion on his face and in his body language was extremely intense. I’ve never seen him look so emotional.
I understand and respect his decision to drop from the race, and am thankful he went on to finish another 100 miler the following month and keep up his Western States Qualifying streak. He’s truly an inspiration to me, and see him so down on himself post-Bear was absolutely heartbreaking to watch. He ran 75 really tough miles – something I can only dream I will get to do in the future, and something most people are simply not able to do. I’m an incredibly lucky woman to spend my life with this man, to get inspired by this man, and to be supported by this man.
The past few weeks have just been me getting back into it after some toenail issues. After my last blog post in August, I realized my toenail was bothering me again. Instead of waiting until it got really bad, I went right back to the podiatrist and asked her to just permanently remove that portion of my toenail. In order to do that, she had to chemically burn part of my toe, so recovery took a bit longer than last time. I had planned on getting it done after our Colorado vacation, but I really didn’t want to spend our vacation in pain, so I risked it and got the procedure done about 2 weeks before we left.
By the time my toe was feeling almost normal, we were on our way to Colorado to enjoy a week long runcation! It was absolutely perfect timing – luck was definitely on my side. I spent vacation alternating between running (in sneakers) and hiking (in sandals) to keep my toe from getting sore. It was totally worth it – I ended up running 21 miles in Colorado despite taking time off for a few weeks before!
It was really great to have Matt’s best friend Matt (I know, very confusing) on the trip with us. Matt had to get a lot of miles in for Grindstone, so it was really nice to have someone there to hike and run with while he was off running 10+ miles every day! We spent a lot of time hiking and trying to catch our breath – it was a little embarrassing. I had forgotten what it’s like to run in Colorado!
While there, I took my first real trail fall. We had run/hiked up Green Mountain and just reached the peak, and had about 7 miles to go until we got back to the car, when I tripped over a VERY obvious rock and started sliding off the trail down the mountain. It’s scary to think about it now, but at the time I got up and just burst out laughing at how typical it was of me to fall at the TOP of a mountain. Luckily nothing was too deep, so I picked myself up and ran the 7 miles back down. I was feeling pretty good – until I had to scrub rocks out of the dried blood on my hands in the shower… yuck! We had lots of beers to numb the pain, so don’t feel too bad for me 😉 Luckily I’m finally all healed up and have a few scars with a fun story!
Now that we’re back to reality, I’ve been trying to steadily increase my mileage for the past few weeks without going crazy. I’m basically the queen of too-much-too-soon, so I’ve scaled back to 10-15 miles a week for a few weeks, and am just now starting to add on a few more miles.
My goal for the year is 1,000 miles. While it may not be a lot to Matt, to me it’s huge. Hitting 1,000 miles while overcoming a few injuries, going through physical therapy, getting a puppy, and starting a new job would be a dream come true.
It’s been hard for me to prioritize running since starting with Bantam Cider Company, since I’ve just been putting everything I have into learning as much as I can as quickly as I can. That means leaving for work by 8:15am and not getting home until 7pm or later, which doesn’t leave me much motivation to run. It’s easy for me to forget how much my stress levels build up if I don’t run – and after a few days off I remember why I run. I could have a bad day at work, a frustrating day of puppy-parenting, or just the usual crushing realization that I’ll be in debt from college until my grandchildren are long gone, but it all goes away while I run.
As of now, I need to run 16.4 miles every week through the end of the year to reach my goal, so this is me asking you all for your help! Help me stay motivated! Offer to run with me on my days off! Make me #verbal for NP or TBC! If I can reach my goal of 1,000 miles this year, WHO KNOWS what next year will bring!
My first 100 mile is finished. After what feels like endless preparation, race day has come and gone, and it still does not feel real. Even though I ran for over 21 hours, the race feels like a blur. I was probably more stressed about writing this race report than I ever was about running the race itself just because of how hard it is to recall everything. I will do my best to recount what I experienced throughout the day, what the highs and lows were, and what I wish I knew going into the race. But even though it feels like it passed in an instant, the Vermont 100 was easily the most memorable and incredible thing I have ever done. Being able to push my body to such an extreme was a unique experience that so few people ever accomplish that I hope to cherish forever, regardless of how many more of these stupid things I run.
I guess it makes sense to start with the training and taper leading up to the race. With Bear Mountain, I did weekly recaps to keep me honest and give me a tool to reflect on my training progress. Knowing that my first hundred was going to be as much of a mental battle as it was a physical one, I decided to keep my training to myself and not add an additional burden. I modified my 50 mile training plan with a few double days, a 50 mile and 50K race, and generally just tried to increase the time on feet and elevation gain. I had several weeks of 70+ miles but my main focus was avoiding burning out. I was still traveling to California for a majority of my training so just completing all of my workouts was a major accomplishment.
Taper started with 4th of July weekend with some great hikes / trail runs up and down Mount Washington. Admittedly, it was probably a bit too much two weeks out from the race, but I stayed smart and took it very easy in the last 10 or so days of taper. I ran the Vert Sasquatch trail race in the Fells a week before the race which was a fun race just because I don’t remember the last time I ran that fast for that long during a race (and it was only a 2.4 mile race…). After that, I completely ran by feel. I ran what felt comfortable with the only real goal for the week being to run more than 15 miles. On Friday, I took a rest day and before I knew it I was picking up my bib and listening to the pre-race meeting.
For the 24 hours before the gun went off, I think Colleen would have described me as frustratingly unenthused. I wasn’t anxiously waiting for the start, my bib pickup, or pre-race details, or getting to bed at a certain time. I was just going to run 100 miles on Saturday, and that was that. I was intentionally staying calm, doing my best not to over emphasize what I would take at a particular aid station or what splits I needed to hit. The day was going to play out however it did, and I would roll with it. I gave Colleen (my amazing crew chief) and the rest of my crew general instructions like when I anticipated I would be at certain aid stations, how much tailwind to put in my bottle, and when I was going to change shoes. But that was pretty much it. I felt that if I lost myself in the details there was no way I would be able to run 100 miles.
I did manage to get a few hours of sleep Friday night and waking up a 2:15AM was easier than it was for me to wake up at 7AM most days. I had a bagel and some coffee, double checked I had all my gear, and was off to the start. I checked-in about 30 minutes before go-time and waited in line for the bathroom which took roughly 28 minutes. I know nerves has pretty much everyone rushing to the bathroom before a huge race, but I think more than 10 portos could have alleviated that situation immensely. I made it to the start corral with about 10 seconds before the gun went off and I was running into the night.
The pack of runners was so tight for the first 7 or so miles I could have run without a headlamp. I had a really difficult time staying collected and not running faster with the hope of banking some time for later. I knew that it was going to be a lot more miserable to run 60 miles and blow up then it would be to run conservatively for as long as I could so I kept it calm and just enjoyed the quiet running of rural Vermont. I had a few general plans and mantras for the day. The race was only going to be however far it was to the next aid station at any given time, I was going to take a gel every 45 minutes for as long as I could stomach it (until mile 88 essentially), and if I was going to walk I was going to “walk with purpose”.
There is about 20 miles of running until the first crew-accessible aid station. This section was extremely uneventful. Two things struck me most. First, the Vermont 100 is essentially a road race with some trail thrown in to keep you sane or connect you to another dirt road, so I was extremely thankful I ran in road shoes for the first 70 miles. Second, Vermont has way more dirt road than I thought possible. Reading the course description, I really thought that if we were going to be running 70+ miles of dirt road we would be in the middle of nowhere, but in reality there is just a lot of dirt roads off the main highways in Vermont.
I shared a couple of miles with an 11 time Leadville finisher, and as I did with every other 100 mile veteran I ran with, I asked as many questions as I could. Everybody seemed to have their own techniques or strategies, so I don’t think any of the advice really helped. But the conversation really did pass the miles. The Vermont 100 course is incredibly well supported, with aid stations about every 4-5 miles. In the first 20 miles, there were 4 aid stations: 2 unmanned and 2 manned. I made my way quickly through all of them, knowing that by mile 20 I would start taking slightly longer stops to eat more real food and stay focused mentally. We rolled along through the hills and before I knew it we were at the Pretty House aid station at mile 21 right before 8 AM anxious to see my crew.
…Except they weren’t there. I didn’t stress the details but I did say get to the aid stations 30 minutes BEFORE the time on my pace sheet. Quickly, I started to panic. I was planning to change to a tank top here to stay cool, switch to a handheld water bottle to fit ice and more Tailwind, grab more gels but all of that was out the window. But as quickly as things started to seem out of control, I reigned it all back in. I knew my crew didn’t purposefully miss me and if I really needed to stick to my plan that badly I could wait a minute or two. I had enough gels to run the next 10 miles until I would see them next. It wasn’t hot yet, so I was fine in my t-shirt and pack. So, I ate some watermelon, told the volunteers to tell my crew I was on my way, and took off.
Sticking to my plan, I chipped away the miles to the next unmanned aid station at mile 25. I refilled my bottles, and kept moving. I spent a few minutes with someone who had run the race twice before, who advised me to just treat the hills with respect. Between 25 and 30 was pretty damn hilly, so I had no problem respecting the heck out of the hills and hiking hard up and letting gravity do the work on the descents. Bobbing up and down through a few meadows, I hit a long dirt road section that descended to the Stage Road aid station at mile 30 that my crew was cheering for me at!
I whipped off my pack, changed my shirt, applied sunscreen and body glide before eating half a PB&J, taking a gel, and heading back out. Seeing my crew was a huge pick me up, and I really had no hard feelings about not seeing the at mile 21. The next section of the course would be the longest I would go without seeing them for the rest of the race so I made sure I was well stocked and ready to go. Right out of the aid station was a brutal climb that I actually really enjoyed because I was able to pass quite a few people. The day was starting to heat up, but I had ice water in my bottle and ice under my hat to stay nice and cool. Before I knew it, there was another aid station cheering me around a bend! The miles were flying by so quickly and easily that I felt incredible. The training was paying off, I felt smart and strong so far, things were going great and would stay that way if I stayed on top of nutrition and my pace.
Right after the aid station, I ran into a runner from Nicaragua (who told me his name, but, you know, ultra-brain). We ran close to 7 miles together talking about our ultra running experiences, what our goals were for the day, what was hurting at that point, and what it was like in Nicaragua. The conversation was so engaging and welcome that the 1.5 hours or whatever it wound up being felt like nothing. We rolled into the Lincoln Covered Bridge aid station and ate some popsicles and marched our way up what I am pretty sure was the biggest climb of the day. Right after the climb I pulled a bit ahead and hammered a long downhill to Lillian’s aid station where I grabbed some real food and took off as quick as possible. Camp 10 Bear was the next aid station and it was only 4 miles away. I wanted to get there as quickly as possible to see my crew and some familiar TARC faces and be close to halfway done with the race. Right out of Lillian’s was a really long road section that really only stunk because I was getting hot before some fun single track and exposed dirt road before 10 Bear.
As I ran down the road into 10 Bear, I saw my crew around the car when Laura shouted, “Perfect timing! We just pulled up”. They grabbed my gear and ran with me to the aid station. I took a bit more time here to eat a lot of calories (mostly of grilled cheese, bagels, and watermelon) and cool down. A volunteer hit me with a sponge of ice water and I instantly felt reinvigorated. Being at mile 47, I was shocked how well I felt and knew that sub-24 was going to happen, now it was a matter of how far below I could get. I left the aid station and ran to what many described as the worst climb of the race. Honestly, I don’t think it was that bad, but it was pretty steep for a bit of it and in direct sunlight. I was climbing really well still and happier going up than down. I passed someone at this point who told me her mantra for the day that I plan to adopt at my next 100 miler: “Don’t be an idiot for the first 50. Don’t be a wimp for the second 50”. Well, it was time to not be a wimp.
Pretty much right after mile 50 I hit my first major low of the race. Nothing was hurting, my stomach was fine, I had plenty to eat and drink. But just looking at my watch and going “okay, now just do that one more time” felt crazy. 50 miles is really far! 100 miles is stupid far. But I knew I wasn’t going to quit, so I just did my best to grind out the miles until each aid station. I probably lost some time here struggling mentally, but next time I think I know to just push through.
Before I got to the next crew station, I asked another runner if he knew where the aid station was. He told me it was up this hill, but it was a never ending hill. Turns out he knew what he was talking about because 2016 was his 24th time finishing the race! After the never ending hill, I saw my crew again at mile 59, lovingly named Margaritaville. The best part was my friend Matt was now with them! He surprised me by driving up to Vermont from Boston and I instantly snapped out of my funk. I told Colleen and the rest of the crew I was going to take a few minutes at Margaritaville to regroup and make sure I was ready for the rest of the day. When I took off, the hills started right back up and I thought to myself that no one hill is really never ending, but the sheer frequency of the hills was.
Running back from mile 59 to 10 Bear at mile 70 I had some stomach issues that forced me to walk a couple stretches I wanted to be running, but other than that things were good and my stomach thankfully settled at the aid station. I switched my shoes at 10 Bear, ate some food, and took off with a pacer finally. Amina paced me the next 6 miles which included a pretty intense climb out of 10 Bear but rolled pleasantly along single track and dirt road until the Spirit of ’76 aid station. Amina and I chatted about how the day was going and how great I was feeling. This section of the course was easily my favorite with nice views and more trail than I had been getting the rest of the day.
At mile 76 I switched pacers, put my pack back on, and took my headlamp as Laura and I took of for a 12 mile stretch. We had aid stations every 3 to 5 miles so it was easy to break up, but soon after it got dark my spirits tanked. I went from feeling like 100% all day to like I had been hit by a truck. I started to walk more but thankfully was still running and asked Laura to pull me along. I just needed to make it to mile 88 for my next pacer switch. From there, things would feel manageable. We slogged along, constantly passed by cars in both directions which caused my headlamp (which adjusts to ambient light) to distractingly flicker on and off and various brightness levels. I did my best to ignore it and we got closer and closer to Bill’s Barn at mile 88. Right before the aid station the course markings changed from yellow to white and I almost had an instant panic attack that we had gone off course. Thankfully a crew van passed us and reassured that we were on course and right near the aid station, so crisis averted.
At Bill’s, I took my time to take my final gel for the day, pack my bottles with extra caffeinated Tailwind, and at as much real food as I could stomach. At this point, chicken noodle soup was quickly becoming an elixir and I downed a cup at every aid station from Bill’s until the finish. I left Bill’s with Amina pacing me for the next 6.5 miles. I could tell we were both tired as neither of us really chatted much, but one of our headlamps started blinking. I was convinced it was her’s, but we took a minute to examine the situation and it turns out my lamp was about to die. Turns out all of the cars passing in the last section forced the lamp to constantly be adjusting and it zapped the battery. I was so frustrated I wanted to chuck the lamp as deep into the woods as I could and never see it again, but I resisted the urge and took out my wimpy spare. Amina and I ticked off the miles as I asked her every 10 minutes how far we had gone. Finally, we got to Polly’s aid station for my final pacer switch and started the last 5 miles to the finish.
Matt paced me the last 5 miles and was full of energy, spooky stories, and plenty of pep to get me moving quick to the end. I told him I wanted to push and finish as quick as possible and we moved as well as I could until the last 2 miles which pretty much climbed to the finish. At this point I started mildly hallucinating roots were moving like snakes or that tree trunks on the side of the trail were animals, so that was a new experience. With about 3 miles to go, thunder and lightning started to pick up. With a mile and a half left, the skies opened up and drenched us. Those list miles were epic, running through a torrential down pour, the rain drops catching the light of our headlamps. As we pushed on, the normal glow sticks changed to gallon-jugs with glow sticks submerged in them. We passed a sign that read “half a mile to go” and before I knew what was happening I was through the finish line hugging Colleen and chatting with Amy the Race Director about November Project. After 21 hours and 26 minutes, I had run 100 miles.
I wobbled over to the finisher tent and ate the best cheeseburger I have ever eaten, chatting with my crew about the race and the experience. I was eager to get to the hotel to shower and sleep but as soon as I stood up, I started shivering violently and was ushered over to a cot to lay down warm up. It was the strangest sensation because I felt so hot but was shivering harder than I ever had. About 20 minutes later, the feeling subsided and I was back in the car about 24 hours after I had woken up.
It all went so well that after writing this race report I am a bit bummed that I don’t have some epic story to share. I ran 100 miles as well as I could as a novice at the distance. I paced my self better than I ever have, my nutrition was on point, and I kept myself thinking positively for as much as the race as I could. So what’s next? 3 days post race, I am feeling pretty confident about my decision to enter the Grindstone 100 so I am definitely going to be in Virginia in a few months attempting my second 100 miler. I want to thank my crew (Colleen, Laura, Amina, Kristen, Sharon, Tony, and shockingly Matt) one last time, the race director and incredible race committee, and everyone who has supported me in ultra running over the past year and a half one last time. Without a doubt, I am definitely hooked on this distance and cannot wait to see what happens next.
It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, but to be fair it’s been a while since I’ve run! My shin set me back in my goal to run 1,000 miles this year, but I’m finally back on track after spending some time focusing on strengthening. After a few weeks of not running, I decided the smartest course of action would be to run a casual ultra marathon through Maine just for fun – I guess I really am as insane as all my other ultra marathoning friends.
We had a group of NPer and TBCers all meet up at the northern most hut (Grand Falls) of Maine Huts & Trails on Friday. At Grand Falls, there was a small parking area about a 1.5 mile hike from the huts where we parked and loaded up our gear to trek in to the hut. The hut was absolutely beautiful, and we ended up having the place to ourselves for the night due to it being the off season. The system has some beautiful cross country skiing in the winter (or so I’ve been told – I’ll have to find out for myself this upcoming winter!) and then has their summer season start in July. Since it was the off-season, we had full run of the kitchen but had to carry any food we needed in, prepare it ourselves, and hike everything back out when we were finished.
We spent the night sipping wine, relaxing around a fire, playing Pandemic, and eating a pretty decent amount of spaghetti. I like to think we were camping, but really it was glamping. The huts were gorgeous and had everything we could need – bathrooms, showers, a wood stove, couches, and a full kitchen! We all hit the hay pretty early to rest up for our journey the next day, but I ended up having horrible stomach issues all night. I probably only got 2 or 3 hours of sleep and spent the rest of the night wondering whether or not I had made the right decision to run after being injured.
We had a lovely 5:45AM wakeup call and all proceeded to stuff our faces with some delicious Bagelsaurus bagels. I was really struggling to get food into myself since my stomach was still not feeling great, but I ate as much as I could and tried to pack a little extra for the run, assuming I’d be starving by mid-morning. We hiked our things back to the cars and our lovely sherpas, Kelvin and Rebecca, drove our big packs to the parking area near the last hut. We all got situated with our running packs & snacks, and set off at a nice relaxed pace towards the second hut, Flagstaff.
Flagstaff was about 11.5 miles from Grand Falls, and we knew we had a long day ahead of us, so we took our time warming up and taking pictures to capture everything. We stuck together until the first stop at the Flagstaff hut, and then a few of us went ahead so we didn’t get too stiff from stopping. I was worried if I waited too long and ended up having to walk from my shin I’d end up holding the group back, so we got going fairly quickly. I was starving by this point so I packed in as many calories as I could before we got back to the trails. The next hut, Poplar, was about 10 miles away, and I was starting to feel it in my legs already. Luckily my shin was feeling excellent, but my IT band started to get a little tender by mile 18 or 19. I wasn’t too worried about it, but was just more concerned I was going to hold Matt back during his training run. We were already going much slower than he’s used to, and he was using this as a training run for the Vermont 100. Luckily, he’s the most amazing and supportive boyfriend I could ever dream of, so as soon as my knee started to really hurt, he made sure I power hiked instead of ran!
Once we got to Poplar, we connected with our sherpa Kelvin and got a plan for the last few miles of trails. We all planned on meeting up at the Airport trailhead, where we’d drive a few minutes up the road (to take off an extra 1.5 miles of trails), grab our packs, and hike another 3 miles up to our final hut – Stratton Brook. The last miles were really just power hiking and ingesting a large amount of anti-inflammatories (for me at least), but we actually kept pretty consistent time because a lot of the trails were overgrown and swampy in the previous 20 miles. We had a lot of slow miles at the start – it was clear that the trails not only aren’t used often in the spring/summer, but are definitely made for cross country skiing. During the winter it wouldn’t matter if the trail had wooden planks under tall grass – it would all just get covered in snow!
We joked about how this was called “The Lazyman’s Ultra Marathon” since it was more than a marathon but less than a 50k but hey, still counts! It certainly didn’t feel like a lazy ultra marathon considering we were on our feet running and hiking for over 7 hours!
Overall, the trip was a huge success and so much fun. We managed to stop at Duckfat on our way up for panini’s and milkshakes, and stopped in Kittery for some Ramen on our way home. We ran, we hiked, we laughed, we napped, and we talked about our bowel movements far too often, as runners tend to do. I can’t wait to do more fun trips like this in the future, and am so grateful to Dan for thinking of it and organizing most of the trip!
I’m so glad my shin was feeling up for the task. I’ve been working on getting my stabilizers stronger so I can continue my training and enjoy fun excursions like this one in Maine. I will definitely be back to these huts – once to check out cross country skiing, and another trip during the summer for some trails! If I can keep up my training, strengthening, and injury prevention, come fall it’ll be time to start training for my next big milestone – 50 miles!
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.
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.
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.
Unfortunately I have been pretty quiet here over the last couple of weeks. After Bear Mountain and Seven Sisters I was pretty toast, and a busy work and travel schedule have kept me pretty tired. Thankfully I have not had to stop training, and now I finally have a bit of time to give a little update.
After Seven Sisters, I did my best to hit the ground running. I jumped right back into a training plan and did my best to start to incorporate more runnable elevation changes (not technical, road or trail). I also started to include a double day once a week to run on tired legs and increase my volume. For the next 5 weeks or so I would be really happy to consistently hit 70-80 mile weeks. Going into my first 100 miler, I have no idea what to expect. Not wanting to go into it injured, I don’t see much benefit increasing my volume beyond what I did for my 100K. If after the race I feel terrible then I’ll consider adding volume for 100 milers in the future. Even though I can tell I am tired, I think I have been really executing well on my harder workouts and long runs. My main fear and something I plan to address with some days on the treadmill is getting in enough elevation. Sunny California is mostly flat where I work and it is tough to make it out to the hills on a regular basis.
This weekend (5/29) I am running the Pineland Farms 50 miler up in Maine! From what I understand the course should be pretty similar to what I will encounter in Vermont, so beyond just going for a nice long run, I should be able to address what my strengths and weakness are going into the final 7 weeks of training. I am really excited to get out and run a course that should be quicker than any 50 miler I have attempted in the past so I am anxious to see how I do. Of course, I am also going into this race without a taper or any goals, so I am trying to keep expectations low. Either way, running ultras is always a blast and I can’t wait for a nice long weekend with my trail running friends.
After being a runner in Boston for about 5 years, I finally took on the classic New England trail race: 7 Sisters. The reputation of this race is pretty notable: an unrelenting out-and-back filled with steep climbs, jagged rocks, and plenty of roots. As a rule of thumb, I heard that to estimate your time for this race, take your half marathon time and add an hour…or double it. Without a doubt, I came into the race with a bit of hesitation with all the notoriety and claims of difficulty. Obviously, I want to make it through the year injury-free, and tumbling head first down a shale covered descent was the last thing I wanted. But this was absolutely a bucket list race, and after finishing it I cannot wait to go back.
To add to the risk of injury, it decided to rain all week in Massachusetts leading up to the race and was forecasted to rain right as the race was starting. Nothing better than some mud to break up the slick, lichen covered sections of rock. The forecast absolutely made me hesitant and nervous about my goal of breaking 3 hours. I was coming into the race completely blind, and several friends said sub-3 was a reasonable goal. But with the rain and thoughts in the back of my head saying “this is stupid” I wasn’t sure whether I should stick to my goals or just go for it.
A car full of November Project folks made our way to Amherst early Sunday morning and got slightly optimistic when we saw blue skies. After parking at the race and picking up our bibs, it became pretty clear that we were not going to be spared as a thick fog made it abundantly clear that it was going to be wet and we would have limited visibility. Our crew got our bibs, got our gear ready and waited for the gun to go off.
7 Sisters has a wave start to help decrease congestion on the trail which is entirely single track. Somehow I got slotted in Wave 1, so I lined up after the elites took off and waited anxiously. The rain hadn’t started yet, but I knew it would be starting soon. In no time, we were off and working our way up the way to the ridgeline. Essentially the race was a big climb up to the ridge, a run across the ridge, and then a descent on the other side of the range. After that, you turn around and do the entire thing in reverse. The major climb out from the start was somewhat technical, with portions of loose shale. Not knowing what I was in for, I quickly got into power-hike mode and marched up the mountain.
At the top, there was a steep descent. And then a steep climb. And then a steep descent. Then a little bit of runnable stuff. Honestly, the way out was such a blur that I don’t remember much more detail than that. There were a few moments of scrambling up hyper-steep sections of the trail that I knew would be interesting coming down, but it was such technical trail it was hard to make note of anything specific. About 2 miles in the rain started coming down, soaking the runners and the trail even more. Roughly 5 miles into the run, there is a beautiful overlook (I imagine, fog made it impossible to see anything) and a building with a patio that the runners must walk over. After that, we began the biggest descent down to the turn around point. At this point the trail was nothing more than mud and rocks. To be honest, I’m not sure what was worse, the rocks that you might slip on or the mud that you couldn’t stop in. Serious “style points” were earned sliding several feet down the trail at a time.
I got to the turn around in 1:14, refilled my bottle half way and took back off the trail. The mud made climbs into a game of finding hand holds to support forward movement. As runners came pouring down the trail making their way to the halfway mark, it was a tough mix of staying out of the way and making progress. The climb from the turn around is the biggest of the entire race, so I did my best to run and hike quickly to make quick work of it. After reaching the patio again, I tried to push it as much as possible, but the mud and slippery rocks frequently had me on all fours. I lost confidence in my shoe grip and relied on tree limbs for braking. At about the 10 mile mark, Bear Mountain started to catch up with me and I felt my quads weaken. Downhills became even more treacherous but I was able to climb strong. After a few other big ups and downs, we were back at the first summit. I remember thinking on the way up that I would be able to fly down the initial section of trail, but at that point I had little faith in my legs so I took it easy. I made it to the short stretch of pavement and bolted to the finish for a time of 2:39.
I am pretty happy with my time and I think on a dry year I could probably break 2:30. As for strategy, I tried to be conservative on the out and push on the back, but given the congestion early on in the race I think a hard push up the first up hill can save a lot of time. Without a doubt I will be back to run 7 Sisters. I cannot think of a single race that I have run that has such challenging trails and climbing crammed into such a short distance.
Bear Mountain turned out to be a pretty humbling race. Not because I am disappointed in my performance or running, but rather because of the mental battles that I dealt with throughout the day. Over and over, I struggled with self-doubt and disappointment as I watched pre-race goals slip away. If anything, this grueling race helped me learn to dig even deeper, and find the satisfaction in my performance. I would like to think that some of missing my goal was due to running flat bike paths in LA or just being tired from travel, but most of it falls on getting carried away.
While I do not regret setting such an ambitious goal of breaking 9-hours, I do regret not re-calibrating earlier in the race, when I realized I had not done enough training on technical trails to sustain the pace I was originally running. Without a doubt, if I had a smarter pacing strategy I could have run sub-9:30. I think with some more maturity and experience, I will understand what levels of exertion I can tolerate, but this was only my 3rd 50 miler (and 2nd finish since Wapack crushed me by mile 43), so there are plenty of lessons to learn. Hopefully through this report, I have a bit of time to reflect on my mistakes and better approach my other races this year.
It makes sense to start with this recap on Thursday night, because every distance runner I have ever met told me two nights before is the most important night in terms of sleep. Well, I did not sleep well. Jet-lagged and anxious about trying to rest, I slept horribly and felt exhausted all day Friday. On Friday night, I actually slept incredibly well but since the alarm was set to go off at 2:45, it didn’t matter much. After a light breakfast and the drive to Bear Mountain, I got my bib and got settled in for the gun to go off. I complained a fair amount about the 5 AM start and having to deal with a headlamp for the first few miles, but it is what it is. The gun went off and we shuffled our way to the trail and up into the hills.
The first section of the race went well, as they usually do. I was surging with adrenaline and excited that it was finally race day. We climbed a few hundred feet over three miles which I mostly ran before a quick descent into the first aid station. I was having an absolute blast. Things felt great, I had a nutrition plan, I was hitting my splits, and camaraderie on the trail was high. Blazing through the Anthony Wayne aid station, I dropped off my headlamp and took off up the road. Some runnable single track, road, and then technical single track later and I was already at the 8.7 mile aid station. Every part of me felt clicked in at this point. I took maybe 15 seconds in the aid station before I was off onto the fire road where I clicked off 2 sub-10 minute miles.
From there, the course got hard for me. Technical ups and downs were breaking my running up really frequently, and I was moving with hesitation knowing that I had some intimidating climbs left. My energy levels were still high and I still felt strong, but in my head I felt my goal start to creep away. I battled with the idea of not meeting my goal. It was less than a half-marathon into a 50 mile race and I already felt defeated. I did my best to stay strong and resilient, but negativity is pretty persistent. I reached the Arden Valley aid station after a quick road section and quickly refilled and got going. After the race, someone said I was in the top 1o at this point, but I think I was closer to top 30-40 (Sidenote – I claimed top 20 immediately after the race, but I don’t think my pace was ever that impressive or that I got passed by 50 people before I finished, but hey, its possible). I ran down the hill, taking the opportunity to get some fast running in before turning back onto the trail. Once I did though, I banged my ankle against a rock hard and was moving precariously over a rock field. Right then, it felt like the end of my day.
The next 5 or so miles I moved sluggishly. All my pre-race excitement had faded and I felt like I was at mile 45, not 15. I was already in pain. My hips and feet hurt, I felt slow and ready to be done. I looked at my watch frequently, seeing myself eat into time I had built up in the first few miles fade away and getting passed by people who paced themselves smarter than I had. About 2 miles from the next aid station, I got passed by Amy, a Massachusetts trail runner who happens to be the race director of Seven Sisters and Vermont 100 (both of which I am running). Amy and I exchanged some brief words about Seven Sisters, November Project, and how we were feeling before she zipped past. While we didn’t run together long, I have to thank her attitude for giving me a little burst of strength to grind into the next aid station. I wanted so badly to run with her and the pack following her for as long as possible, but they were leaving the station as I got in, and I didn’t have the strength to run through the aid station. I once again moved quickly and got back on the trail.
After a mile or so the trail let out to a long road section that felt like absolute torture. I got passed by several people and the pavement felt excruciating. I couldn’t believe it, but I wanted more technical trail so I had an excuse to move a bit more slowly. Oddly enough, this is where the race started to come back together. Coming out of the last aid station, I honestly considered dropping. I was hurting, the race was gone for me, and I just wasn’t having fun. Not having to focus on trail gave me time to compose myself. I let go of my goals and just remembered how amazing it is that my body lets me run these incredible distances. I took some time to enjoy the scenery and the atmosphere of the race and my energy levels lifted. At this point, I decided to start taking some additional time at each aid station. I came into the Camp Lanowa station and ate some food and a caffeinated gel. I left the aid station ready to adjust my goals.
The first mile out of the aid station was really slow up and down a technical hill. But after that, it was smooth fire road. Hitting a runnable section, plus the halfway point of the race, with a bit of a caffeine kick turned my mood around completely. Sure, I wasn’t back to my first 15 mile speed, but I felt so much better. I kept it controlled and steady before I got back into Camp Lanowa. I exchanged some thoughts with a runner about how low I had been feeling and how things felt like they were coming around. Just being able to vocalize my shift in attitude helped me reconcile what the day was about. So, at the halfway mark, I knew I could still PR if I kept moving strong.
I felt back to normal along the next 4 miles or so which was mostly fire roads descending to the next aid station with a few modest climbs. Then, for some reason, the course climbs a mile and a half on pavement. It sucked. I did my best to run it, but I hiked about 50% of it before getting back to the fire road that descended to the next aid station. After that was some great single track and fire road running that got my spirits back up. We soon synced back up with the 50K crew and there were a bunch more runners to latch on to which helped immensely. There was one more hydration-only aid station before making it back to Anthony Wayne.
At Anthony Wayne I ran into Brogan, who was a burst of positive energy. We hugged, we laughed, we ate boiled potatoes. I knew that I had one big climb left, Timp Pass, and I wanted it to be done ASAP. I asked a volunteer if there were any big climbs left, and they said, “Yeah, it is coming up really soon, and the downhill is really technical”. Great, just what I remembered reading in the course guide, now if only I could remember where it actually was! The first mile out of the aid station was cinder path which I did my best to run. After that, the course got back to being pretty technical. While no means as a bad as the first 20 miles or so, it was enough that I started to slow down. On this section there was a short uphill with a decently technical descent and I told myself, “That was it,” and hoped there were no more climbs since my legs were starting to go. Turns out, it wasn’t.
I got into the Queensboro aid station and took some time to get fuel and asked again, are there any more climbs. The volunteer eagerly responded, yes Timp Pass, its right up ahead. Damn, I really did not want to climb Timp Pass. I knew it was only a few hundred feet of steep climbing, but it sounded so miserable. I left the aid and the trail gently climbed for a mile or so before shooting steeply uphill. At mile 47 so of a 50 miler, you thankfully stop caring and I just pushed up it. The downhill from the pass was absolutely worse than going up the thing. It was filled with baseball sized rocks that I should have run down in hindsight, but took my time gingerly walking down to the final aid station.
When I got to the last aid station, I did a time check and knew I wouldn’t PR outright. My time at Finger Lakes is still technically a better 50 mile time. But then I remembered that this was a 51 mile race, and that at 50 miles, I would still PR if I pushed hard enough. I started to run out of the aid station but my stomach felt like it would flip so I walked for a few meters. Once I was up to it, I started running. Quickly we linked back to where the relay runners were flying up and down the trail. I felt weak but I kept running because at that point, it’ll hurt longer to walk it in. There were one or two more short climbs on the last section. I desperately wanted to walk the entirety of them, but a glance at my watch and I saw I could break 10 hours. I floored it at this point, but flooring it when you are running on empty isn’t too quick. But it was quick enough to finish in 9:59. Talk about cutting it close! The finish chute was something incredible. The huge November Project presence was screaming and cheering as I ran in as I watched Colleen bouncing up and down taking photos. I felt tears well up in my eyes from joy that I held on to experience that moment.
If I had known that the first half of the race would be so much more challenging than the second in terms of technical trails, I would have run this race completely different. Sure, I read the course guide and race reports, but that is different than being out there. I don’t know if I could have broken nine hours, but I could have gotten a heck of a lot closer. I still think this is my best race to date, simply because I held on. I went through such extreme lows on this race that I thought I was going to drop, and I never thought I would experience that.
This week didn’t go according to plan, but I’m thankful it was a taper week so I don’t feel too guilty! I’ve been having pain in my right middle toe for a few weeks – the same toe that lost its nail after the Marine Corps Marathon. It finally finished growing back about 2 weeks ago, and ever since, my toe has been bothering me. I was going to put off going to the doctor until after Bear Mountain, since I was pretty sure it was an ingrown toenail and would require some sort of procedure to fix, but I went to the doctor last Wednesday anyways. I figured they’d refer me to a podiatrist and I’d have to wait a few weeks for an appointment anyways.
My doctor took one look at my toe and did exactly what I thought she would – sent me to a podiatrist. I went to the front desk to make the appointment and was given two options for an appointment – 2 days from then, or in late June. I was not about to be suffering on every run from now until June, so I sucked it up and went to my appointment on Friday.
The podiatrist confirmed it was an ingrown nail and suggested a procedure where she would numb my toe, then cut off a sliver of my toenail on the side that was ingrown. I explained that I had a race the following day as well as the big one next week, and though she said I could wait, she thought I would have no problem running next weekend if she did the procedure that day. So, I got the procedure done Friday morning! I ended up not running the TARC Half Marathon, which I was bummed about but decided later it was the right call. While my toe was only a little sore, there was rain in the forecast, and the last thing I wanted was to get my toe infected from running in the mud for 2 hours!
I did my 6 milers on Wednesday and Thursday, but ended up resting Friday and Saturday so I missed a lot of miles. Matt and I did a nice 4 miler on Sunday, and my toe already felt better than it did before the procedure. I’m very glad I got it taken care of so Bear Mountain will be pain free – at least in the toe department.
This next week is my very last week of training! Just a few short mileage days and I’ll be ready to go. I can’t wait – I feel strong and ready to take on Bear Mountain.
I think the Spring Classic was my 4th TARC event, and each one is better than the last. What more can be said about the events TARC organizes? Low key, high energy, and extremely supportive are just a few of the great things that come to mind about their races. Seriously, I am so lucky to have them as my local trail running group and can’t wait to run, volunteer, cheer at more of their races. Even with the wet weather, volunteers were cheery and people were excited to run. The Spring Classic is fun because of the huge range of events that happen simultaneously. I was running the half marathon, but there were races ranging from 10K to 50K. The looped course meant everything was commingled, which meant I was never running alone.
I got to the start right when the mandatory race meeting was ending (oops). I picked up my bib, got set, and looked around to see who else was running. Colleen was supposed to be there, but a last minute foot-issue meant she was taking an unplanned rest day. I knew a few November Project people who were hitting the trails, but I absolutely did not expect to see 10+ people out to run or just feed off the event’s energy. It was great to see so many familiar faces to help me get excited. A friend was visiting over the weekend, so I may have had a slight hangover at the start of the race and anything to get my energy up was necessary.
This half was my last long-run before the Bear Mountain 50 miler. I was using it as a test drive, wearing all the gear I plan to rock next weekend. By the end, I was happy with everything, but I hope it is dry on race day. In terms of goals, I didn’t have any. My friend Steve asked what I was aiming for when the gun went off, but I had no answer. Hangover + week out from a 50 miler = just wanting to get the race done. Either way, it was a race so I knew I couldn’t just take it easy. In the back of my mind, top 10 seemed reasonable.
Like I mentioned before, the runners for all the different events are mixed together on the trails. The course is a 10K loop, with some minor add-ons for the half and full marathons. In terms of keeping the race interesting, its great, but it does make it hard to know who you are really competing against. By the time the crowd thinned out a bit, I really had no idea what position I was in so my impromptu goal became pretty meaningless. The course itself is one of my favorites. It is an awesome mix of single track and fast fire road with some rolling hills that just makes for incredibly fun running. Also, TARC manages to make some of the most intricate courses that constantly twist and turn, making for a hugely engaging run.
So, the gun went off, we ran the half marathon add-on, and by the time I started on the loop itself I had no idea what position I was in. Steve and I were neck and neck and settled into a comfortable pace. Since there is no add on for the 50K runners, we spent the first few miles passing people sharing encouragement along the way. Since I ran the 50K last year, I had a pretty good memory of the course which helped pace myself a bit. My stomach felt pretty awful at the start, so I was really hesitant to push and have the potential to blow up. I kept calm and just enjoyed the run. The weather said there was a minor chance of rain and it was cool and muggy. I quickly warmed up and did my best to take frequent sips of Tailwind. Originally I wanted to run without a bottle the first lap, but since this was a test run of everything for Bear Mountain, I decided to carry it the entire time.
By mile 4 or 5, my stomach started to settle and I saw some runners who I knew were running the half so I decided to push. Given the unreliability of a GPS watch in the woods, I don’t know my exact pace but I picked it up to about 80% perceived effort. I put a bit of ground between Steve right before getting to the most technical section of the course. I love technical trail running, but being so close to my spring goal race made me a bit hesitant from fear of injury so I was running a bit timid. To compensate, I tried to push hard on any fire road. Towards the end of lap 1, the rain started to come down hard which I was happy for since I was getting hot. Running anything longer than the half I would’ve been pissed because for the most part raining=chafing.
I finished lap 1 30-40 seconds back from two other half marathon runners. Since I had my bottle and gu on me, I didn’t need to stop at the aid station and I began to dig a little deeper to try and catch the two runners. Given the curvy nature of the course, I would catch glimpses of my competitors in the distance, but I couldn’t tell how far they really were. Was it right in front of me or did I have a major turn or two before I was on the same part of the trail they were? Honestly, it made for a fun race because it became less about my overall goal and more about running each step strategically. I passed one runner about 2 miles in and did my best to remain consistent. When I passed the second runner, I did my best to surge and put some ground between us. However, this was right before a technical section of trail that he blew past me on. My heart sank as I thought that I would have no way to regain the ground given my strategy, but I held on and put distance between us on the fire roads, by the end leading by just 20 seconds. I finished in 1:43 and change, good enough for 7th place. Arbitrary goal achieved!
I really had an awesome time running the TARC spring classic. It had been a while since I have run anything shorter than an ultra, so running something that didn’t take 5+ hours was really invigorating. Honestly, had I not been hungover I think sub-1:40 would have been achievable, but given the proximity to Bear Mountain it is probably best I spared my legs some abuse. Besides keeping me moving the first 5 miles, Steve had an awesome race for a 9th place finish just 3 minutes after I came through. Every other November Project runner had an amazing day. I think the best part about trail running is the lack of seriousness. Sure, people have goals but everyone just looks like they are having a blast.