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!
After a week and half of resting post ruptured-ovarian cyst, I had a nice, full week of training last week. I ended up being slightly shy of my goal for the week, but made the decision that going from 9 miles in a week to 50 the next might be a bit much. I started out with a long run on Sunday of 18 with Matt. We did an out and back on the marathon route and I expected it to hurt a lot more than it did, considering I had taken a while off of running, but it wasn’t too bad. We averaged 9:00/mile, and it helped build my confidence tremendously for the Hyannis Marathon. I’m really hoping to break 4 hours, and if I can hold a 9:00/mile for 18, I’m really hoping I can hold it for 26.2, especially with race endorphins and adrenaline.
I rested Monday and got back into my routine on Tuesday with a solid 7 miler. Wednesday I decided to do Summit repeats to start getting some more elevation in. I started my run with a quick mile warmup, 5 miles of Summit, and a cool down on my run back home. I thought it would be more miserable than it was, but it was ALMOST enjoyable. I was just impressed with my hill-stamina compared to my stamina even just 6 months ago. It’s funny that training properly really can make a difference. WHO’D HAVE THOUGHT? CERTAINLY NOBODY HAS TOLD ME THIS BEFORE. THIS IS BRAND NEW INFORMATION.
Thursday was the dreaded Snowpocolypse of 2017. I started it out by oversleeping for The Breakfast Club and woke up around 6 with that horrible guilt you get when you promised Kate you’d be at the run and somehow you’re still in bed. I was too guilty to sleep it off, and didn’t want to run during the storm, so I shot out of bed and got a quick 4 miler in so I could meet everyone at Cafe Fixe after their run. The rest of the day was spent working from home, cuddling with Goose, and playing in the snow!
This was the first week I was supposed to run 6 days instead of 5, and due to taking some time off I decided to keep it at 5 days. I ran on Friday instead of Saturday, and got a solid 7 miles in on the dreadmill, since the sidewalks were still not clear (update: still aren’t clear… get your shit together and clear your sidewalks, people). I skipped my Saturday run, and went for a long run on Sunday. Biggest. Mistake. Ever.
When we left for our run on Sunday it was snowing, and during our run it turned to rain, then snow, then rain, then sleet, then snow again, and finally just ice pellets punching me in the face. I wore a waterproof jacket but by mile 16 I was soaked through to my inner layer, freezing, and fucking miserable. Luckily the run itself was pretty good, and I felt like I got a good workout for my stabilizers by running in the snow and slush. I ended up only running 17.4 instead of my goal of 19 due to just being frozen inside. I thawed out by taking a painfully hot shower and Matt delivered me Dunkin Donuts hot chocolate like an angel put on this earth just to bring me joy.
Unfortunately, I think the run on Sunday irritated my ovarian cyst. Monday I woke up with more pain. I worked Monday and tried to shake it off, but by Monday night it wasn’t subsiding at all, so I worked from home Tuesday, took the day off of running, and popped Motrin on the couch all day. Today I’m feeling better, but still unsure about whether or not I should run or take another rest day. I’m torn since it technically won’t make anything worse by running, it’ll just intensify the pain. We’ll see how I’m feeling tonight, but hopefully I’m back to normal by Thursday so I can get back into it and get some solid miles in.
This weekend will be my last long run before Hyannis, and I am super excited/nervous. I’ve never not tapered before a marathon, and of course want to be extra careful since this isn’t even my goal race, but I so badly want to break 4 hours that it’s all I can think about. On my runs I’m either thinking “I could totally break 4” or “I can’t believe I’m going to run 62 miles soon.” Can’t wait until after Hyannis when it’s just the latter repeating over and over in my head.
Oh by the way, literally only 7 weeks until my 100k. 7 WEEKS. 😨
I started writing this blog post 2 weeks ago and here I am now, finally posting it. Life has been a little crazy, but more on that in another post later. For now, a recap of my first few weeks of Gorge Waterfall 100k training!
I officially started my training block for the Gorge Waterfalls 100k on December 19th. The first day was a huge success (spoiler: it was a rest day) and the rest of the week went just as well. I clocked in 31.5 miles the first week, with my long run of 10 miles on Christmas. I was worried about finding the motivation to run each run over Christmas break, but I’m just so eager to have a good training block and nervous about running 62 miles that I’ve been finding it easy to stay motivated.
Week 2 went well, even though I ended up being sick on New Years Eve and New Years, so I was slightly short on mileage. Matt and I had the week off, so we got a lot accomplished around the apartment, played with Goosey, and even got some trail miles in while the weather was still warm – though to be fair it is now January 25th and is still 40+ degrees outside, so who knows when winter will really hit. I ended up getting in 32.6 miles for the week instead of my 35. I was disappointed at first, but realized it’s not worth it to worry about missing miles when I’m sick – my body needed rest.
Week 3 started out with an extremely cold and rainy run. Matt and I slept in on Tuesday and regretted that pretty hard when we realized it was going to be rainy, cold, and windy all night. We toughed it out for 7 miles, then I immediately got in the shower and thawed myself out. On Thursday I went to my first ever North Face Mountain Athletics workout with my girl Molly, and it was a blast. I ended up underestimating how far it was from my house, so my easy run to get there turned into almost 5k pace, and the workout was pretty run-centric, so I was exhausted after. Totally worth it though, and I can’t wait to go back again! All in all I clocked 39.2 miles for the week, and felt really good about it.
Week 4 started out with a miserable run on the treadmill that I ended up cutting short. I tried running outside, but it was super slick on the sidewalks, and I am not about to break my ankle going for a 7 mile run 4 weeks into my training plan. I also did not trust my shoes to get me through that run without slipping and falling – they weren’t the best running shoes and didn’t have a lot of traction.
At this point, I started realizing I didn’t like my new shoes too much – I’d been trying the Nike Free RN Distance since I got them for like 30 dollars on black Friday, but they’re just not great for the amount of miles I’m putting in, and also my running technique. I decided to reorder the Saucony Ride 9s I’ve been using for the past 6 months or so – they were pretty worn down at this point (about 400 miles on them) and I hadn’t had any injuries or soreness since I’ve been wearing them. It feels good to be running in a fresh pair again – it was definitely necessary! We went trail running for our long run on Sunday with Ryan and Tammy (our TBC long run crew lately!) and got in 15ish miles for my long run. Altogether, I ran 43 miles for the week and was feeling pretty good, but my shins have been a little sore, so I had to make a decision about my week 5 training and how I could get my training in without going overboard.
Week 5 was a little different, but I feel confident I made the right decision. I only got 36 miles in, but I got about 10 of cross country skiing, and 3-4 hours of snowboarding in as well, so I had some great cross training in. I didn’t get a super long run in, but I was only planning on 14 (ended up getting 8 in) and have been crushing my long runs for the past 2 months, so I’m not too concerned about it. This next week I plan on getting all my miles in as long as my shins are feeling good – gotta up the stretching, rolling, and strengthening if I want to continue being injury free for the next 2 months.
I’ve also started biking to work regularly, which is adding another element of cross training to my training that I wasn’t necessarily planning on before. I’m glad I’ve started biking to work for sure, and will continue to do so no matter how my training goes, but I need to adjust my expectations of training until I’m a little more in biking shape.
I promise to be less of a stranger to blogging going forward… for real this time.
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.
It was tough. It was way tougher than the Vermont 100, which I already thought was pretty hard. It was tougher than any race I’ve done, regardless of cramping, nutrition issues, or overheating. 27 sleep deprived hours in the rain over 101 miles with 23,200 feet of elevation change forced me to dig incredibly deep and fight an irresistible urge to call it quits. Two days after, my feet still raw and legs achy, I know I made the right choice to push through. But at mile 24, 51, 65, and 87 (and several other points in between) dropping felt like the only option. Grindstone was such a roller coaster. Waves of intense strength and drive would be pushed out by incredible lows filled with pain and self-doubt. Little issues compounded into pain so intense that each step felt like walking on knives. But still, I made it.
Race weekend essentially started the Thursday before the race, where work held up me and my crew from hitting the road. The plan was to drive to Harrisburg, PA and stay the night before heading down to Swoope, VA to set up camp and wait for the race’s first challenge, a 6 PM start. We didn’t get to the hotel until about 2:30 AM on Friday, but sleeping in I still got about 6 hours of sleep which felt adequate.
We got back on the road and made it to the boy scout camp around 1:30 just in time for the race briefing. Confident that I was ready to race, we set up camp and ate some food. The next 4 hours involved me anxiously waiting for the race to start and going over crew instructions. The rain had already started and would not cease entirely until after I would finish Saturday night. Finally, 6 PM rolled around and I took off around the lake and into the camp’s trail system.
Going over crew instructions. Photo Credit – Samantha Alyn Goresh
Prepping the feet, which would become a ritual every 10 miles or so. Photo Credit – Samantha Alyn Goresh
Mile 2? Trying to look unconcerned by the fact it was super humid and I was already damp. Photo Credit – Samantha Alyn Goresh
The first 5 miles were extremely uneventful – as they should be during a hundred miler. People were quiet and I was tense knowing that it was going to be a wet day during which chafing and blisters were all but inevitable. While I anticipated rain, the forecast was constantly changing and unreliable. What was supposed to be an occasional shower changed to a steady storm that would switch between a misting and torrential down pour. I cruised into the first aid station at mile 5.2 and grabbed a PB&J. Like Vermont, the fueling strategy was to eat real food early and often, while drinking Tailwind and taking a Gu every 45 minutes.
Leaving the aid station, we started the first significant climb up to Elliott’s Knob. The climb started with some smooth trail with a gentle grade followed by a steep climb up a gravel road to the summit. I felt ridiculously strong power hiking and passed several other runners. A runner ahead of me called out that we turned right to head to the summit where we would punch our bibs proving we reached the top but as it turns out, they misread the sign and led us about half a mile down the trail we would descend the mountain. I noticed that no runners had followed us and hollered to the two runners who made the wrong turn that we needed to turn around. We recovered the ground quickly and made our way to the summit and punched our bibs, now behind each of the runners I had just passed. Not letting the mess up get to my head, I turned around and started descending. I was expecting the trail down to be extremely technical given the race reports but it was actually pretty manageable. There was a decent amount of loose rock and off-camber trail, but it made for some good running, especially compared to the Blue Hills.
I hit the next aid station, refilled my bottles, and took off the next major climb. Again the hiking felt amazing and I pushed hard up the climb. The descent was extremely smooth and I cruised down to Dowells Draft where I grabbed more tailwind out of my drop bag. The rain had stayed light at this point so I decided to not change my socks which would end up being a pretty big mistake. I hiked out of the aid station eating a banana and grilled cheese. The next climb was extremely gentle and I should have been running, but I started to feel overwhelmingly sleepy. 4 miles of simple terrain around midnight was wearing on me, and I felt the overwhelming urge to sleep wherever I could. I told myself “I’ll sit down at the next aid station and sleep for 15 minutes” or “When I see the crew I sleep in the car for half an hour”. It was extremely demoralizing to feel so tiring so early. I kept saying I just needed to take a little rest, but the idea of dropping crept in. Maybe it just wasn’t my day and a rainy evening start was just not helping.
When I finally crested the hill and started running downhill, I told myself to run hard and just get to the aid station and regroup. Somehow, I got to the Lookout Mountain aid station sooner than I was expecting and my spirits immediately rebounded. The next aid was only about 10K away and it was all downhill. I’d see my crew and I was still under my goal pace of making it to the turn around in 11 hours. As I descended North River Gap, my energy continued to rise. I took out my iPod and listened to a few minutes of a podcast before I heard footsteps behind me. I started to chat with the runner who was keeping pace with me. For the next 5ish miles I was running with Levi, who lived in Virginia and apparently “hated running hundreds” even though it was his second one. We talked about traveling, other runs, what we did for work, and how much we hated the weather and needed dry socks. We hit the small stretch of pavement before the aid station and tried to identify my Subaru and my crew.
As I rolled into the aid station I looked around frantically for my crew, but they were nowhere to be seen. I accepted the fact that I wasn’t meeting up with my crew and regrouped. I ate a lot of food, refilled my bottles and reservoir, and took some perogies to eat on the massive 7 mile, 3000 foot climb ahead. About a half mile into the climb I heard someone shout “Boston!” and looked back to see Levi. I realized I hadn’t introduced myself, which made me feel like quite the jerk. After some actual introductions, we marched up the hill. We continued to exchange stories and pass the time. At this point, the middle of my left foot started to sting. The blister that was forming would go from an minor inconvenience to so painful by mile 85 or so that each step felt impossible. Levi assured me that a switchback would signal the end of the climb, but a switchback never came. He apologized profusely for not knowing the intricacies of the climb, but I couldn’t care less as we reached the summit of the 4th major climb of the race. At that moment, the clouds opened up and it poured. The trail immediately pooled water and the dirt turned to mud. Everything got soaked. I pleaded out loud for the aid station to appear. After what felt like 5 miles, it did. The Little Bald Knob aid station had delicious vegetable soup and a warm fire I avoided for fear I’d never leave. As I prepared to head back out a chill struck me and I quickly pulled out my Houdini and gloves in an effort to get warm. Levi did the same and we took off to Reddish Knob and the turn around.
The first mile out of the aid station I was freezing. Even when we were hiking I swung my arms hard to generate some more heat. Thankfully I warmed up and we continued uphill to the parking lot on top of the mountain. On the way, Levi’s headlamp cut out and I gave him my spare before he could even ask. I knew my headlamp would make it to the turn around and I had plenty of extras with my crew. Levi kept asking if I was sure, but one of the reason’s I love trail running is the community. I wasn’t going to leave him in the dark.
The wind whipped violently on the top of Reddish Knob and the rain persisted. Levi, a few other runners, and I searched everywhere for the punch for our bib but we couldn’t find anything.After 2 minutes we said “fuck it” and ran the two miles or so of paved road to the turn around. I got to the turnaround at exactly 12 hours, an hour later than I expected. I ran into the aid station and someone shouted to me “Woo runners…wait is that Matt?”. It was me. Brian was waiting for me and got Amina and Sam. We switched my socks, my shirt, my jacket, and my headlamp. I ate as much food as I could stomach and mentally regrouped. I wanted to quit. The rain wasn’t going to let up. It was colder than I expected. My feet were deteriorating fast. I was behind schedule. It was not my day. But at the same time, I took off work for this. I sacrificed hours and hours of training. I knew how proud Colleen would be of me if I pushed through. I got up and out of the aid station and started my 15 or so hour march back.
All night I had been looking forward to the sunrise, but when it finally came I was disappointed. The clouds loomed and continued to rain and the sun seemed to do nothing but illuminate the massive puddles and mud that had formed. My spirits remained low when I had expected them to rebound. I thought it would be a quick run from the turnaround to Little Bald Knob given the terrain, but I couldn’t move well. When I finally got there I ate some food and just kept moving. I knew the 7 mile descent to North River was going to be more painful than the way up but I ran it pretty well. I was excited Amina would be joining me for the next 15 miles and just did my best to go from aid station to aid station. When I got to North River, I changed my socks again and surveyed my feet. Fuck did they look bad, and once again contemplated just calling it. My ride was there, it would be easy to leave. But at the same time, I was over 100K done and my legs barely hurt at all. How frustrating though, my legs felt fresh at mile 65 but my feet felt like another 100 yards would be too far. But as would be the theme for the rest of the day, I got out of the aid station and kept marching.
The first mile or so with Amina felt great. Shortly after that though my spirits fell to the lowest point they had all day. I took a break on the trail and fought back tears as my doubt mounted. Determined to make it to the next aid station and only have 50K left (which is insane) I told Amina to lead and pull me up the hill. Like magic, it worked. My feet hurt like hell, but I could run well and hike strong when I was being dragged along. We got to the aid station and rolled out with purpose. There were only three major climbs left and I was determined to get this thing done. The first climb was over the next 2 miles and the final two would be 15 miles I would run with Brian. Amina and I crushed the first climb and charged the 5ish miles downhill to mile 80. I was rallying, ready to go, and ready to push.
I told Brian to get moving quick and that I would need Sam to pace me the final five miles from 96 to the finish, so be ready. Brian and I made quick work of the first two rolling miles before starting the second to last climb. Things quickly turned south. The climb felt endless, and after stopping for a bathroom break I lost all energy. My legs – still fresh. My feet – excruciating. At the top of the climb I sat on a log and closed my eyes for five minutes and fought back sleep. I knew I couldn’t run the descent even though there were only a few steep sections with limited technicality. I was crushed to move as slow down as up. I kept asking Brian how far to the next aid station. I decided I was going to take the time to sit down for 10 minutes, close my eyes, warm up, and regroup. I had him run ahead to let the crew know, thinking I would have about half a mile alone, but as I turned a corner right after Brian left I was at the aid station!
I got into the aid station that had limited food. I had Brian make some coffee as I sat down and closed my eyes. Amina tended to my feet as Sam grabbed food and checked my supplies. 10 minutes later, I kept marching.
Again, dropping was tempting but 13 miles was doable. 13% of the race left. That was it. I told Brian all I wanted to be up the final climb was “steady”. No pace goal, no running, just steady. I lead up the hill and the strategy worked 80% of the way up until the trail turned back to the rocky stuff that wasn’t too bad descending. The rocks jabbed at my feet and made me wince with each step. Even though the hill seemed to have ended, the flat stretch to the gravel road was incredibly painful and the light started to fade. Finally, we hit the incredibly steep gravel road that we walked down to save my quads and my feet. We returned to the smooth trail that the first climb started up and walked more purposefully until we hit several creeks that early could be hopped but with all the rain required slogging through. The wet creeks made my feet even more tender and I stopped for a minute to collect myself. Nothing hurt like this before. Nothing hurt with every step before. 7 miles left, but those 7 might as well have been 70. Walking for another 2 hours was going to take every ounce of strength.
Just about then, Brian and I got passed by two runners and I told Brian “Just run”. He half halfheartedly jogged and I said “No run”. He did, and I followed. I ran well for the first time in 20 miles. He ran and so did I until we hit the Falls Hallow aid station. I yelled to the crew “I’m going to keep going, can you catch up?” Me and a few runners took off the final small hill to tackle the final 5 miles. My legs felt fine and the more I ran the less my feet screamed. My pacer caught up and I said that I would follow, just pull me along. Over five miles, she did. I got to the lake. It was happening. Sam said she, “could hear the smile in my voice,” as I returned to Camp Shenandoah. Sam ran ahead to take some photos, Amina ran me in. Brian cheered. And after 27 hours and 15 minutes and 36 hours of being awake, I crossed the finish and hugged the totem pole. I called Colleen and told her was alive and I finished. And after cleaning up and eating a bit I passed out.
While I didn’t hit my goal of not turning on the headlamp again, I did manage to finish what felt impossible earlier in the day – Photo Credit – Samantha Alyn Goresh
Even after sleeping for 9 hours, I was still pretty damn tired Photo Credit – Samantha Alyn Goresh
Grindstone was a monster, fueled to be even more gargantuan through awful weather. It took every ounce of strength and perseverance to finish. I though of everyone pulling for me, my crewing working to keep me safe and moving, and all the time I put in. I have never felt anything quite like how my feet felt during this race. But I came out the other side, knowing I am a much stronger runner and ready to take on whatever challenges come next.
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.