Adventures in Fastpacking

It’s been a LONG time since I’ve been inspired to write anything running related.  It’s not that I don’t love and adore trail running, just that I have been struggling lately to find the place that racing fits into my life.  In the five years (!) that I’ve had this blog, I’ve gained endurance, fitness, and experience.  I’ve connected with so many amazingly fantastic crazy people – my tribe.  I’ve found a handful of kindred spirits that have grown into a sisterhood.  And I’ve come face to face with the demons and the divine….the joy and pain that forced me to take a step back and redefine my approach to running, motherhood, and life.  From the highest highs to the lowest lows, I’d not trade a single second or mile.

I’ve purposefully and mindfully stepped back from racing this year.  But I miss the camaraderie of the trail.  The sense of fellowship after a long training run.  The stories told and retold after a shared adventure.  The unmatched satisfaction felt after completing a hard day’s work.

I’m not sure when the idea hatched or who mentioned it first, but a few months ago Sophie and I started talking about a fastpacking trip.  Fastpacking, for those unfamiliar with the term, is kind of a combination of running and backpacking.  The idea is to travel light, with only the essential gear needed for one or more nights in the backcountry.

We floated the idea to Jenny, who immediately got on-board and recruited our mutual friend Beth and running partner Kate.  I’d met Kate a few months earlier at Grayson Highlands and was excited to spend more time getting to know her – new to trail running she has such an openness and kindness…I knew the five of us would have fun together.

Since we’d never done anything like this before, the idea was to run moderate mileage over relatively familiar terrain.  We specced out a route on the AT in southwest VA that Jenny, Beth and Kate knew well. The plan was to spend one night camping, but mainly test out our gear, gauge our pace, and learn any lessons in a “safe” environment….not too far away from civilization.  Our route covered 32 miles, and we had the option of overnighting at the Lost Mountain AT shelter around mile 16.  But given our start time and estimated pace, we hoped to cover the 22 miles needed to summit Whitetop Mountain – the second (?) highest peak in VA – where a starry sky, hot dinner, and hydroflasks of wine promised not only a respite from the 90+ degree temps below but to be the figurative (and , save Mt. Rogers, literal) high point of our adventure.

About a quarter of the AT’s length is in VA (over 500 miles).  Our little trek covered just the smidge from Damascus to Mt. Rodgers….


Since we had some flexibility in our schedules, we spent the days before our trip checking the weather.  The forecast called for scattered storms, with a slightly higher chance Saturday.  Hoping for clear skies, we decided to hike Friday & Saturday.  Thus we tumbled into Jenny’s house Thursday evening – the landscape and our mindset changing along our four-hour trip from central Virginia. The route along 64 and 81 showcased our familiar training grounds (Crozet, Afton, Humpback, Whetstone Ridge) along with favorite mountain runs (Hellgate, Catawba).  90 miles south of Roanoke, it was clear we were entering the high country.  Jenny’s beautiful house outside of Bristol was the perfect place to have a yummy dinner, reorganize gear, and talk over logistics for the weekend.  We’d drop cars in Damascus and grab breakfast before starting the hike.  Kate’s husband was on board to meet us in Grayson Highlands State Park Saturday afternoon. We were all set.


Friday morning dawned with a nice cloud cover and cooler temps.  However, the forecast had shifted overnight.  Now the storms were likely going to hit between 3-8pm Friday.  We added waterproof jackets and double checked our backpack rainflies.  Nothing to do but start the journey and see what the day would bring.  We started with luck on our side….a 10 minute downpour hit right as we were eating breakfast.  By the time we rolled out of Damascus  we were shaded by the cloudy skies and clicking off the miles easily.


It became clear early in the day that we were not set up to “run” this fastpack.  For starters, our packs, though light by backpacking standards, were way heavier than we were used to carrying.  Secondly, even the most compact pack was a bit bouncy….a sure recipe for chafing later in the day.  Still, we all had trekking poles, and with a brisk pace averaged a respectable 3 mph.  With hours of daylight and (mostly) high spirits we enjoyed our ramble, taking the time to refill water at springs along the trail and soaking our sweaty bodies and tired legs in the Whitetop River.



By the time we rolled into the Lost Mountain Shelter at 3:30, spirits were lagging a bit. Heavy packs needed adjusting.  Low blood sugar required a snack break.  Rumbling thunder to the southwest made it easy to justify a 30 minute rest to refuel and take stock.

We knew we had about 5 hours of daylight, and 2.5-3 hours of hiking left.  The thunder was right on schedule, and we decided if the storm hit we’d stay put and wait it out.  However, after 20 minutes it was clear that the cell would stay to the south.  As it faded off to the west we set out again, thankful that we had dodged the bullet.  If our luck held, the clouds would clear out and we’d get our starry view after all.

Another hour passed, and a few more miles down the trail we crossed a road and I spotted the sign confirming that we had only three miles left.  It was all uphill, so heads-down we started up….trying to wish away the gray clouds looming around us.  As we entered the woods the sky darkened.  The first rumbles of thunder announced the coming rain.  It was clear that we were NOT going to skirt this cell.  Nothing to do but move forward.

The rain started – gentle and cooling at first – then harder and fiercer.  It came in bands…easing up ever so slightly before raging again. I’m not sure how long we were climbing…our pace slowed as the trail became an ankle-deep creek hiding the rocks.  (Later estimates put the rainfall at 2-4 inches per hour!!) By the time we neared Buzzards Rock (~5500 ft. elevation), we were all COLD.  Shivering in fact.  The temperature had fallen to maybe 50 degrees, the wind was a full gale, and our bodies (clad in soaking wet running clothes) could not retain heat.  We stopped and fumbled around for our rain gear….thank goodness we had all packed a waterproof shell!!  It wasn’t comfortable, but it was a total lifesaver as we exited the tree cover and crossed over a mile and a half of exposed trail.  The mountaintop was bald, and there was nothing to shield the 50 mph wind gusts.

Mile 482.6 - Buzzard Rock on the Appalachian Trail in VA
The view we should have enjoyed from Whitetop Mountain looking back at Buzzard Rock. (Image Copyright 2013 Jason Barnette)

It was a ghostly sight, all of us in a row…Sophie in the front disappearing into the fog, the rest of us single-file behind her.   Most disturbing was the constant flash of lightning.  There was nowhere to hide so we just moved forward as fast as we could.  I sighed in relief, noting a spring that indicated we were close to the camping area.  Finally, we crossed a Forest Service Road and over the Whitetop summit. As soon as we got into the trees, we’d be done!

Except we weren’t.  It was clear as soon as we surveyed the camp sight that there was no way to escape the rain.  I tried to set up my rain fly, but with its paltry footprint the ground remained a stream of mud and mulch.  All five of us were rapidly becoming hypothermic, and there was simply no place to get dry.  I suppose we could have huddled together under a few tarps, but two hours into the rain storm we had no idea how long we’d have to wait it out.  If night fell and the temps dropped further, we’d be in serious trouble.

There were really only two realistic options – hike onward to the Thomas Knob Shlter seven miles down the trail, or call Jenny’s husband to come pick us up.  We were already 10 hours into our day, hungry and tired.  With the unexpected weather and proximity to the popular Grayson Highlands, there was a good chance that the shelter would be full by the time we arrived.   Calling for a ride still required a five mile hike, but we were assured dry clothes and a hot meal. We opted for the sure thing and set out to meet Brock – our savior!!

As often happens in these situations, the driving, chilling rain continued for the next 45 minutes while we were hiking/running down the road.  Brock was in the parking area by the time we arrived, and as soon as we’d changed into our dry gear and loaded up, the rain had stopped and the sun was peeking through.  Hot pizza restored our morale and a good night’s sleep eased our tired bodies.  What an epic adventure!


Sunday morning dawned cloudy and misty, so we slept in and then lingered over breakfast and coffee.  Kate and Beth had family obligations, but Jenny, Sophie, and I returned to the trail.  Starting at Massie Gap in Grayson Highland State Park (our original planned end point), we headed Southbound on the AT towards Mt. Rodgers.  Though foggy, windy and cold when we started, as we climbed the sun emerged and we took in the fabulous views all around us.  The park’s wild ponies were everywhere, chomping around for a bit of food and willing to pose for our pictures.  It was a perfect end to our adventure…and an enticement to return in the near future.



I’m on a bit of a high after this weekend.  It’s been a long time since I’ve been HAPPY on the trail from start to finish.  Even at my coldest and least comfortable, I was elated to be on the trail.  There was such a comfort and security having everything I needed  – clothes, food, shelter – on my back.  Furthermore, the five of us were a TEAM.  I love these women, but let’s be honest….when race bibs are pinned on we are racing each other to the line.  It’s been awhile since I’ve had the opportunity to work together to reach a goal…and with hauling gear and dealing with unexpected weather we were stronger together than any of us would have been separately.

What worked well

  • Our gear stayed dry.  Some of us used rain flys, others lined their packs with a trash bag.  But for the most part, everything that mattered stayed dry and warm despite the monsoon conditions.
  • We planned for the weather.  I can not emphasize enough how important our raincoats were and that they were accessible when we needed them.
  • Similar fitness levels/team dynamic.  Though paces varied throughout the day we spent little time waiting to regroup. Everyone could handle the mileage and through the day we were able to keep each other’s morale high.
  • We had a plan & set realistic goals.  While we all wanted to channel our inner Odyssa and Anish, we knew that 15-20 miles per day was good target for our first fastpack.
  • We knew the area.  Jenny, Beth and Kate knew the climbs, the road crossings, and where we’d have cell service.  Again, for our first fastpack, this was gold.
  • We had a bailout option.  Never in a million years did i think we’d get hypothermic on a hot July day.  But planning to camp at an accessible site with cell phone service saved our tails.
  • Safety First. There will be times when the route or our appetite for adventure require us to dig deep and endure Mother Nature’s fury….but given our lack of experience and expertise, I believe we made the right call.

What could be improved

  • Take advantage of shelters.   To be honest, I didn’t give the weather enough respect.  In trail running, bodies are moving fast enough and generating heat…generally that is enough to push through and get back to the cars.  But when camping out there, the game changes.  We could have sacrificed three hours of moving time and had a comfortable night at the shelter.  In the future, I will plan to end each day at an AT shelter (when practical) or have a deeper skill set for extreme weather camping.
  • Set up camp before weather hits.  Again, if we’d stopped to set camp as soon as the clouds turned black, we would have more success riding out the storm.
  • Know how to set up camp in extreme weather conditions.  See above.  Even if it means practicing in the backyard during a downpour, I plan to get the expertise to pitch a dry tent/hammock while fastpacking.  We won’t always have an easy bailout option!
  • Take a SPOT tracker. Just in case there isn’t cell service in the backcountry.  All of us had concerned families at home, and for their sake its important that we be able to check in daily to let kids and partners know that we are OK.
  • Monitor pack weight and comfort.  Backcountry essentials add up, and its a constant struggle to balance comfort while moving with comfort in camp.  Over the past year, I’ve made a point to replace worn out supplies with lighter weight options. As a result, my pack’s base weight (w/o food, fuel, and water) was a very manageable 13 pounds.  Fully loaded with food and water it was a little under 20.




  • Since we didn’t spend the night on the trail, I’m going to hold off listing and reviewing the individual pieces of gear I used.  The exception is the EXCELLENT Patagonia Torrent rain shell.  Last year’s LUS prize, it totally saved my hide and kept my core warm.
  • Meghan Hick’s article on Fastpacking at was invaluable for researching and prepping this adventure. I was a total newbie, but had everything I needed on the trail.  (
  • Unless otherwise noted, all images are credit Sophie Speidel, Copyright 2016.



Finding the Right Trail

It’s been seven weeks since I stopped in my tracks at Hellgate.

At the time, I didn’t have any good reason to quit, other than the powerful voice in my head that told me…or rather ordered me…to STOP running.  I knew with every fiber in my being that I needed to listen. And now, almost two months later, I do not regret the decision for a moment.

See, the thing is (and pardon my french), there were a fuck-ton of things wrong with me. I was out of balance:  physically, emotionally, spiritually.  I was not happy and I was not healthy.  I thought running could cure both, and so I poured my self into my training….only to end up in the same cycle of self-sabotage that had become way too comfortable.

My adrenals were wrecked.  I was exhausted and stressed out and struggling to stay afloat.  I gave up drinking for awhile because I realized my evening beer/wine/mojito was looking WAY too much like a life-preserver.  Almost every second of every day I was wracked by guilt and CERTAIN that I was letting down everyone in my life.

But here’s the thing.  Even though I am tough and stubborn. I am also flexible and resilient.  More importantly, I have a strong motivation to be happy.  I am generally a positive person, and I approach life with a sense of “everything will work out and its all going to be OK”.


However, I waited too long for things to resolve on their own.  No amount of training or fitness was going to enable me to keep moving forward…on the race course, or in my life. For YEARS, I neglected the mental side.  I could no longer think clearly, I no longer had the heart to move.  I no longer had the courage to try.

wiz of oz

I was stuck somewhere in OZ.  A set of useless ruby slippers on my feet and an unknown path before me.  A part of me desperately wanted to go back to the familiar mountain trails…the Winter training cycle for Springtime ultras.  A big Summer or Fall goal Race.  But I knew I needed to rest….deeply, thoroughly rest….and trust the voice that was guiding me away from the “comfortable” world of ultra-racing.

And so I slept….for three weeks from Hellgate to New Year’s….I slept and I rested and then I slept some more.  I rallied and put on a good face for Christmas, but I truly hibernated during Winter Break.

I asked for help.  With a trembling voice I made a call to my doctor.  I found the courage to talk to specialists.  I started medication.  We experimented with dosages.  I met  a therapist.  As my body rested and as the drugs calmed my anxiety, I began to heal.

I spent time with my family.  Cooking, playing card games.  Night Sledding.  Normal, low-key types of activities that parents do all the time with their kids…but would have been impossible for the me a month ago.  As the tension has begun to ease, I find myself laughing at their jokes.  I am able to pick up the slack so that Jimmy can have some weekend fun with his guy friends.

Maggie and Me hitting the slopes for snow-day skiing

There is still a small part of me that is stressed about my (lack-of) mileage. The snow storms and days off of school wrecked my “training” last week.  Basketball games are going to monopolize my weekends for the next month at least.  But I am learning to roll with it and go easy on myself.  I will devote the school hours to maintaining fitness and start spending weekends with the family.  I was even able to escape for a bit last Monday to try snowshoeing.  A few hours of hard work on Skyline with Sophie and Jo was a tonic to the soul!12642486_10208202572449389_5069397416388555322_n

BUT….. here’s the best part.  I find that I really LIKE my kids.  Instead of being a stressed-out basket case, I am FINALLY able to enjoy spending time with them.  Emma and I have really had a lot of fun together.  Its as if just being physically present at home has made them feel safer and secure.

I MISS the mountains.  I want to be running again.  It KILLS me to scroll through Facebook and Strava on the weekend and see pics of epic training runs and mega miles.  But I trust that when the time is right, I will be back on the trail.

For now, I am exactly where I need to be.






Let it Be

“When I find myself in time of trouble,
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom
Let it Be”


Oh Snap.  This is a blog post that I really haven’t wanted to write, though its been coming for awhile.

But in the spirit of honesty, and with a deep breath, here is my story.  Please understand (I’m talking to my future self here), I am writing this while very raw and emotional.  But I can’t let these feelings fade without documenting them, or I am going to keep making the same mistakes and relearning the same lessons.  And it needs to stop.  Right now.

For the last five years, I have been training and racing.  Starting with some 10Ks and a marathon in 2011, then my first year of ultras in 2012, I’ve built up my mileage and my racing schedule. In 2014 I completed 15 ultra-distance events (including my first 100).  I was over-raced and over-trained, and paid for it with a wrecked immune and adrenal system.  That led directly to my first DNF at Hellgate 2014.

Take a minute to read that report.  I remember feeling like crap.  I remember the bleakness of having NO energy.   And I remember so clearly that sense of peace that came on the climb up to Camping Gap that told me to STOP.  STOP running.  Go home to your babes.

I told myself then that I would take some time off.  That I’d regroup and get my priorities in line.  And I did.  Two weeks of no running and then….

….I was right back on the hamster wheel.

Weekends runs in Charlottesville.  Holiday Lake and Terrapin….hey, let’s just throw in Promise Lane as a training run and then do the whole LUS.  Why not run a summer 100 in Wyoming??  Oh, and definitely Catoctin again (gotta keep the streak alive).  Playing it “smart” by not running Grindstone (but training for it anyway).  Putting in big volume for MMTR and very reluctantly sending in my Hellgate 2015 application (because once you DNF its an unwritten rule that you must return to finish the job).

I had a lot of fun in 2015.  But looking back, I did NOT enjoy really any part of the racing experience.  There were moments of joy and beauty, but a pervasive sense of “Why am I here?”.  What I DID love was being a part of the Ultra-community.  Cheering finishers at races.  Volunteering at TJ100K.  Pacing friends to their finish.  Sharing time on the trail during training.  Dirty Mothers. CRUT and CATs.  Working the Lookout Mountain Aid Station. Jumping at the Masochist finish because DANton had nailed his race. Running with Sophie through the afternoon light as she gritted out her 10th Hellgate finish.

Which brings me to MY Hellgate 2015 race report.  Here are the highlights:

  • The drive down was fun with Bethany, Sonja, Becca, and Sophie keeping me company as we raced DANton and Jimmy Rhodes down I-81
Left-lane Annie and Fat Girl taking selfies while driving
  • The pre-race dinner was yummy – we chowed down and greeted friends
  • I thought that I started the race in a MUCH better place than last year….I managed my stress and anxiety leading in and only had a tiny little cold. (Made sure to get a flu shot this year!)
CRUT and CATs with Horty at the Hellgate starting line

We started the race at 12:01 a.m. and I stuck to the plan of running with Sophie to Camping Gap.  The first three miles felt controlled, though many runners passed us, but once on the road climb our run-walk felt pretty good and we caught a lot of folks coming up to Petit’s Gap.  As this is where things unraveled last year I quickly celebrated and kept moving.  Throughout this next section approaching Camping Gap I felt really great….the pace was focused but sustainable.  I had been looking forward to soup at the aid station, but as soon as I gulped some down it came right back up.  I drank some ginger ale and that didn’t stay down either.

With a questionable stomach and three hours of running on the legs, my pace slowed.  I was running with Sophie, Jeff and Becca and I yo-yoed a bit…catching them when I got a burst of energy, fading back at times.  Still, I felt OK.  My headlamp died, and I had to switch to my backup…that made it a little harder to see.  Sophie had already taken off, and now Jeff and Becca pulled away.  As I picked my way down a technical rocky section, I stopped having fun.  Nothing really hurt.  I wasn’t really tired. But the joy was gone.

Once that happened, I couldn’t find any reason to keep going.  I kept asking myself “How bad do you want the finish line?” The answer: “I don’t want it at all”

So I asked myself “What DO you want?”  And the answer came so clearly and so quickly.  “I want to be with my girls. I want to spend weekends with Jimmy.  I don’t want to be in an unending training cycle.  I don’t want to be racing”

And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, Let it Be”

I will forever swear that there is divinity in the mountains.  I feel God’s presence and strength.  And on Saturday morning, that grace was there.  Let it Be.  Let it Go.  I thought of my family and I know, I know that the girls want me at home now.  in 2011, they were 5, 3, and 18 months.  Their needs were simple and straightforward.  Now, at 10, 8, and 6 life is a bit more complicated.  Who knows when they will share their heartache…never if their mom is too busy “having” to run.

“And when the broken hearted people living in the world agree
There will be an answer, let it be
For though they may be parted, there is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be”

I approached Headforemost, and I knew Jenny would be there.  We talked briefly, she urged me to go on, and understood when I told her I needed to stop.  So without any drama or fanfare, I turned in my number and was done.  I can’t blame an injury or illness or lack of calories.  I just didn’t want it.

But I am a lucky girl, so I DID get to do all the things I love about ultra running.  Hanging at the aid stations, helping runners, and enjoying the time outside.  And when Sophie’s race unravelled due to the high temps, I had the legs and energy to jump in and run with her to the end.  Sharing the last 14 miles of Hellgate with her was really special.

Fun in the Forever Section
Fun in the Forever Section


So now we come to the part that is really, really difficult to write.  Yesterday I realized that dropping from my second attempt at Hellgate was a my way of publicly stating “I need a break!”.  No big races for me in 2016.  Maybe a 50K and maybe Masochist, but that’s it.  I will still run, and I will still be a part of the ultra community.  But more than likely when you see me I’ll have kids in tow.  This year I want to be with my girls.  Not just physically, but mentally engaged.  I want to have the energy to go on bike rides and hikes.  To be able to be at EVERY sporting event and recital and performance on the schedule.  To not half-listen to the stories of their days while crunching mileage and pace numbers in my mind.  To wake up on a Saturday and make pancakes, instead of getting a photo text from my family while on my run.

That’s the rational on the surface, and I while it is solid and good, there is more. Please forgive my melodramatic honesty….

The thing is, trail-running in general, and racing in particular, is a very effective way to peel back all the layers and get to the raw places we so often keep hidden.  While the voices on the trail have told me for over a year to STOP RACING, its not just because I need to spend more time with my children.  For me, the really raw part includes depression and anxiety.

I am going to go on record here and say that I have struggled with depression since college.  I’ve gotten really good at managing it without medication.  But for whatever reason, racing causes it to flare up.  Its so ironic, because I turned to running in the first place to help keep it at bay.  Classic!  Too much of a good thing turns out to be really, really bad for my psyche.  So I’ve gotten sucked into the pattern of pre-race anxiety and post-race depression.

A few years ago, ultra running gave me the strength I needed to find my place in the world.  It gave me a community of like-minded people that are now a second family. Frankly, the idea of giving that up, or even just cutting back a bit scares me to death.  What if I lose myself again?  What if that sense of community goes away?  The tears I’ve shed over the last 24 hours are not because of a busted Hellgate.  They are because I feel like I am letting go of a part of myself.

So I tell myself that this is a leap of faith.  By letting go and moving on, I think I have a better chance of finding those elusive finish lines somewhere down the road.  A year off may allow me to heal, so the wet blanket of depression doesn’t continue to suffocate the spark in my soul.

In the meantime, I look forward to new adventures in 2016!!

Leap of faith



Making the Right Call: Promise Land 2015

Big Horn training is in full swing.

Coming off Terrapin, I really needed a day or two, make that a week, of recovery.  I had run hard – at a high heart rate – all day.  In the days following, my legs were dead, and I ate enough food to feed a small village (if the villagers ate nothing but ice cream and chocolate chip cookies….).  The following Sunday, I headed up to the mountains to run with Michelle, Jo, and Liz.   The cold temperatures and frozen ground did nothing to help me find motivation….only the ladies running with me provided the lift to get through that run.  I think it was knowing that from this point, I had to be ALL IN with regards to Big Horn training.  I wasn’t going to have the luxury of a week off after Promise Land.  There were 12 weeks of miles and hundreds of thousands of feet to climb ahead.  Did I really want to do this??

When the weather warmed and my mood improved, I knew that the answer was Yes!   I love the long training weeks and the tough runs.  Crossfit workouts have built strength and a handful of Double Jarmans have (dare I say it?), seemed almost easy.  Two weeks before Promise Land I ran back-to-back days of The Priest & Three Ridges.  Saturday’s run was slow, steady, and HOT.

Marc and I coming down off The Priest.
Marc and I coming down off The Priest.

The next day, with temps 10 degrees cooler, our pace was a bit faster and my body felt so much better.  I was encouraged by the progress.

Crozet UltraRunning Team enjoying the day: Me, Michelle, Sophie, Marc on 3 Ridges
Enjoying the View on 3 Ridges…

When Sophie and Rachel tossed out the idea of running the TWOT loop on April 26th, I jumped on board.  It would be a tough run any day, but the day after Promise Land….that’s practically an adventure.  I wanted to see if I could do it!  Anyhow, racing Promise Land was out of the question.  I couldn’t afford any more weeks off.  I made a plan to run strong and steady, keep my heart rate in 100-mile zone (less than 140), and practice fueling and hydration.

Promise Land 50K++ - Elevation Profile
Promise Land 50K++ – Elevation Profile
The Wild Oak Trail – Elevation Profile


I usually take it easy the week before a race, but this time I only cut back on mileage a bit.  I wanted to go in just a little tired, to mitigate the adrenaline that causes me to go out too fast.  A long-overdue massage Thursday reminded me that I have been neglecting soft-tissue work this training cycle, but the fabulous Christian worked out the knots and tight spots and I left feeling ready to run.  I had no nerves to unsettle me, no times stuck in my head.  I purposely did not review my splits and paces from the last two years…I wanted to run by feel alone.

The weather forecast looked great for Saturday – cool and cloudy – with rain not expected until the afternoon.  Sunday was a different story.  Rainy and COLD…UGH – not again!  Sophie decided not to run TWOT and Rachel was sidelined with a calf niggle, so I switched gears and decided to run Priest/3 Ridges again.  Quality climbing on the AT, easy access to the cabin. I was comfortable running it solo, and would be able to take my dog Nalla for company.  I actually looked forward to the challenge 🙂


Friday morning I headed out – dropping Janie off with my parents before driving South on Rt. 29 towards Bedford.  I pulled into camp around 4, and had a pleasant evening hanging out with my trail family….even scoring a Patagonia Houdini at the pre-race giveaway.

Bob and Me, pre-race
Bob and Me, pre-race
Marlin joined us for the pre-race hang out as well!
RVA runners – all smiles 🙂

We turned in early, and I had a decent night’s sleep in my car.

Until about 3 AM…I awoke in a panic.  The nerves had found me!!  Would I be able to run easy?  Could I fight the urge to race?  Would I be OK with the slower time that would result from making the right call?  How on earth would I summon the motivation to run Sunday?  I closed my eyes and tried to will away those demons.


Eventually, it was time to get ready.  We walked up to the line as the crowd was singing the National Anthem, and just like that, the race began.  My legs felt good, and I settled into a rhythm.  I let girls go past, happy to not really care.  The farther out of the top-10 I was, the better….I wanted no pressure today.  We made our way easily up the mountain, and I enjoyed a nice conversation with Lori Cooper.  As we reached the top, I relaxed into my favorite part of the course…the easy grassy horse trail.  The trail drops away to the left, providing an outstanding view of the surrounding peaks.  As the trail rolled along, I got to catch up with friends and enjoy the day.  My heart rate was steady and low, and I felt great.  Coming into Sunset Fields for the first time, I saw Bob Clouston and Tammy Gray and handed off my head lamp before starting the long descent.

Coming into Sunset Fields, mile 14-ish...
Coming into Sunset Fields, mile 14-ish…

I was a bit demoralized on this section.  On one hand, I was enjoying the nice downhill.  On the other, I kept getting passed!!  The downside of running easy in a race is that most other running are really racing 🙂  I repeated my mantra:  Make the right call.  Run this easy.  Do NOT roll your ankle (two nasty rolls a few weeks earlier had done a number on my right foot.  It was taped up and held all day, but a few missteps reminded me that it was not yet 100%)!!!  Down, down, down we went to the Cornelius Creek aid station.

After the aid station, there are about two flat miles on a gravel road.  My legs were starting to feel tired from the climbs and descents, and I guessed that I was shuffling along at a 10 min/mi pace.  But I was surprised when my watch buzzed and showed an 8:20 split.  That, and turning back onto single track, lifted my spirits.  Once I passed through the Colon Hollow aid station, I felt a burst of energy…just about 5 miles of trail before the last big climb!

Those 5 miles are tough…a slow, steady uphill.  There are a few downhill stretches that should be easy to run, but they are tempered by the knowledge of what awaits:  Apple Orchard Falls, and a LONG, STEEP 3 mile climb back up to the Parkway.  I kept to the strategy….low heart rate, easy running.  I passed many of the runners who had caught me on the downhill.  Coming into the final aid station, there were three women not more than 2-3 minutes ahead of me.  But this wasn’t the day to go hunting…in fact, all of a sudden, my energy took a nose-dive.  I started up the falls at an OK clip, but once the real climbing started I felt like a drunk sailor.  Wobbly, unsteady, and unsure of step.  It took about 5 minutes, but I finally realized I needed to EAT!  My aerobic pace didn’t trigger my hunger, and I’d been under-fueling.  I took two big nips from my gel flask.  Slowly, the energy returned and I picked up the pace again.  Coming to the top of the climb, I knew Bob would be waiting.  I took one last long sip from the flask, stripped of my vest, and handed it to Bob…I was ready to fly down that last downhill to the finish.

It was fun running that section with energy to spare…I was careful on the technical parts, and stayed controlled on the downhill….there were more miles waiting tomorrow, and I was right where I wanted to be.  I crossed the finish line in 6:28…not a PR, but an improvement over last year.  I was very happy with the day.

Marlin, Me, Michelle, and Bethany, post-race
Marlin, Me, Michelle, and Bethany, post-race


The thing with Making the Right Call is that sometimes it doesn’t work to benefit the training plan.  Sunday morning I woke up – a bit tired and groggy – but with legs feeling good and strong.  My dog looked up with big eyes and a wagging tail as I pulled on my running clothes – she was ready to go!

However, when I came downstairs and chatted with Jimmy, it was clear that the run would have to wait.  He’s in the middle of a big project at the cabin, and had received word that two friends would be coming up to help out.  The scramble to finish the prep work and get supplies meant that I’d be helping him in the morning and on kid duty in the afternoon.  And it was clear that that was the Right Call.  I’m a little bummed to miss the training run…a bit disappointed to not see through this experiment.  But in return we will have a new deck in time to camp out Memorial Day, and I have an unexpected Hall Pass to run in the mountains next weekend (yippee!!).


A little over eight weeks until Big Horn.   Time to go ALL IN.  I’ll be building my weekly mileage up for the next 6 weeks before tapering down for the race.  May brings TWOT, lots of Jarman’s repeats, and a three-day Memorial Weekend boot camp.  Add in some altitude and heat training, as well as all the requisite end-of-school-year activities, plus a cross-country family trip in June and it should be an interesting time!! 🙂


POST SCRIPT:  I just got back from this morning’s Crossfit workout….and it was a doozy!  12x400m sprint intervals, with strength work in between repeats (pushups, kettle bell swings, box jumps, etc.)  My legs felt amazing and in no way did I feel that I’d just run Promise Land.  A huge shout-out and sincere thanks to Tim Grabham and the folks at West End Crossfit for helping me build strength this season…its definitely starting to pay off!!! 

all in

Calculated Risks – Terrapin 2015

Going into it, I really didn’t think Terrapin 2015 would warrant a blog post.

For starters,  I’d run it twice before.  I knew the course and didn’t expect any surprises.  My goal was simple:  a PR.  I thought if I ran smart and if I ran without fear, I had a great chance of beating my 5:47 time from two years ago.

And although it was my self-processed “goal race” for the Spring season, the winter weather and never-ending Stanley flu epidemic had seriously undermined my training.  No real speed work.  No Thursday trips to Jarman’s and get hill running practice.  Nada. Zip. Zilch.

So I was left with a lot of questions, but no fixed strategy.  What could I run on that course?  Would Crossfit help balance my lack of quality miles?  Had my downhill technical running skills improved??

Talking to Sophie the week before, we decided that the best plan was to start the race conservatively and pick up the pace around mile 16, aiming for a faster second half.  This would fit well into Bighorn 100 training, when I’d need to dig deep despite growing fatigue.  I hoped that this strategy would still yield a personal best, because it had been SOOOO long since I’d beaten any of my 2013 times.  In fact, other than running new distances, I’d not PR’d since JFK (November 2013).

In all, I thought this would be “another-day-at-the-office” kind of race.  I’d spend the day outside, run my best, and hopefully  ‘Conquer The Mountain’.


I’ll admit it….I am a total data nerd.  Give me some numbers and a spreadsheet and I am a happy gal.

I crunched through my mile splits from 2013 and 2014.  To my surprise, I actually ran MORE miles faster at Terrapin last year.  However, those miles that I ran slower were a LOT slower than 2013.  The result?  A 5:47 (2013) vs. a 5:53 (2014) finish.

Let me break in here to describe to course profile….

terrapin elevation profile
Image credit:

Terrapin is a 31 mile course.  It starts with a 4 mile climb up to Camping Gap, and then a sweet 5 mile descent on gravel roads.  From there runners climb 7 miles back up to Camping Gap, and then run a 5-ish mile loop on the White Oak Ridge (WOR) trail.  The WOR loop brings everyone back to Camping Gap for a third time.  At mile 22, runners endure the .75 mile BRUTAL climb up to the summit of Terrapin Mountain, run along the ridge, squeeze through Fat Man’s misery, and then shred whatever is left of their quads as they bomb down the rocky side of the mountain.

fat mans misery
Fat Man’s Misery! Image credit:

A final aid station awaits at the bottom, a brief respite before the last 5.5 miles – a grinding trail along the side of the mountain (seemingly uphill), and then a steep descent on the road back to the Sedalia Center.

Turns out, last year I bled time on the climb back up to Camping Gap.  Here are the splits:

2013 2014 Improvement
Initial Climb 0:48:06 0:48:00 0:00:06
Descent 0:37:41 0:37:47 -0:00:06
Camping Gap 2 1:22:10 1:27:21 -0:05:21
WOR Loop 1:06:03 1:06:03 0:00:00
Final Aid Station 0:55:30 0:55:06 0:00:24
Finish 0:57:50 0:59:20 -0:01:30

[** Note that in both years I not only covered the first 9 miles in the same time, but also ran identical splits in the WOR loop!!]

Two days before the race, I realized that I’d lost 5 of my 6 minutes on that one climb.  I HAD to switch my strategy.  Instead of running easy to the WOR loop, I wanted to be able to run that 10 mile climb as fast and as swift as 2013.  I hoped my stronger legs and deeper experience would allow me to make up some time on the back half.  How much time?  Who knew….My fitness was equivalent.  My lead-in training was worse.  My ankles still caused problems on downhills.  Maybe 5-7 minutes?  I’d have to wait and see.  I finalized a plan.  Run the initial climb at a decent effort, keeping the Heart Rate at 165 (or less).  Stay strong but controlled on the downhill, aiming for 7:05-7:10 min/mi pace.  Then push the effort on the climb, running as much as possible through the WOR loop.  Use whatever was left to hold my position and not fall to pieces in the last 10 miles.

It wasn’t much, but it was a plan.


It’s been a dreary, damp winter in Virginia.  On Friday we had another day of cold rain.  Snow at elevation.  But Saturday – race day – brought the promise of warm sun and clear skies.  I arrived at the Sedalia Center around 5 p.m. (after a happy detour to restock at Crozet Running!) and settled into Camp Richmond with Martha, Mark, Emily, and Phil.  Its always fun to hang out pre-race.  Clark, once again, gave all runners a really cool pottery mug…by far the best race swag around 🙂  My minivan provided a warm(ish) place to spend the night, and I got a solid bit of sleep.

Morning Joe tastes best in a Terrapin Mug!


Martha’s van next to mine…Trail Mom taught me everything I know about car camping!!


Race day dawned with perfect running conditions.  A bit chilly, but I was comfortable in shorts and arm-warmers.  I laced up my new goodies from Crozet Running: Pearl Izumi N2’s (straight outta the box) and Sockwell compression calf sleeves.  I also wrapped my ankle for the very first time with KT tape….Calculated Risks #1, 2, & 3.  I know better than to try new gear on race day, but was confident it wouldn’t really create any problems.  And I thought the new shoes would certainly be a blessing on the pounding downhill stretch. I carried all fuel I’d need…homemade energy balls (dates, cranberries, cocao nibs, almonds, chia seeds), Hammer gel & GU, and bit of Tailwind in my bottle.  We started with the GONG at 7:00 a.m. sharp, running the first flat stretch easy.  I chatted with Bethany and greeted friends as they caught up and passed.  I stayed with the lead bunch a bit longer than usual but let them go ahead as we started to climb.  UP and up we went, and my heart rate climbed as well…I noticed it was at 175, but didn’t worry…I’d pull it back and slow down as the pitch steepened. (Calculated risk #4)

But I never really did slow.  I was enjoying the climb and the camaraderie and came into Camping Gap in about 46 minutes – 2 min ahead of pace.  As I started to descend I was feeling good.  I let gravity take over, I focused on form, and found myself right on pace.  First mile:  7:05.  Second mile: 6:50….oops – too fast!  But it felt easy and good so I rolled with it (Calculated Risk #5).  Up ahead I saw Beth Frye running in second place…pulling along side of her we had a nice chance to catch up and talk for a bit.  After another mile or so I caught a glimpse of Bethany.  As expected, she was in the lead, and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to sprint up to her and surprise her.

[FYI – I have NO business being near Bethany 9 miles into any race…Calculated Risk #6!!  BUT….she is my team-mate and also a great friend, and it was really special to be running stride-for-stride into the second aid station.]

Coming out of the aid station, Bethany took off up the road.  Beth and I leapfrogged for a bit, but I pulled back to focus on the task at hand….running strong and smooth back up the mountain.  My heart rate was still really high…even on the downhill stretch it was north of 165 – well above by 160 target for the race.  Climbing back up, it stayed at 175-180.  But I wouldn’t back down – I was invested at this point.  I hiked a bit, ran as much as I could, and came back into Camping Gap just a minute behind Beth and 5 full minutes ahead of 2013 pace.

Into the WOR loop….16 miles down, 15 to go.  I was tired, and for the first time acknowledged the possibility that I *might* have dug myself into a hole.  I started to increase my calories to ward off a bonk and replace the glycogen I was burning.  A bit into the loop I saw Horton who told me that Bethany was 8 minutes ahead.  Yes!!  She had turned on the juice and was setting herself up for a great race (she’d finish first female in 4:58…not too far off of the course record!).  Horty said I was running well and that I had a shot at second.  I smiled and waved, but knew that I was balancing on the THIN RED LINE.  Pushing it here would NOT be a good idea.  In fact, it was time to finally dial back and go into self-preservation mode.

And as soon as I did slow a bit, the two awesome women that I knew *had* to be right behind me passed.  First Alexis, then Lori Cooper.  It was fine.  Despite my #102 bib I knew 6th or 7th place was realistic for me.  I exited the loop with Hannah Bright right on my heels.  So there it was.  Running in 6th place now, 7 minutes ahead of pace, I had two missions.  First, minimize the damage from going out too hard.  Second, try and hang onto 6th.  That would be a better finish than I’d ever had a Terrapin, and I’d be happy.

But cramps, which always seem to find me on the steep climb to the summit, were nipping at my heels.  My toes curled, my calves seized.  I pressed on….willing away the pain…pushing fluids and pushing forward.  On the out and back to the bib punch [runners have to ‘check-in’ and punch their bibs at three points along the course], I saw Jeff.  Trilled to see another CRUT face, I wanted to wait, but I felt like I was slowing down and I knew I’d need to push to beat 5:47.  So I ran on through Fat Man’s and to the rocky downhill.

And though I wasn’t setting any records, I ran that downhill without fear….shoving away the memories of turned ankles and tentative steps…taking big strides to keep my 7 minute cushion intact.  Coming into the last aid station, I saw that I was only 4-5 minutes back from Beth and Lori….but….I had a little more than an hour to beat my goal time.  I *thought* it was enough, but I knew I couldn’t walk much.  And then, headed back up to the turn, I saw sweet Shannon. She is such a strong runner, and we raced to the line at Holiday Lake.  I wouldn’t be upset if she took this match, but I’d invested so much effort in the day that I pushed on up the trail.

The final 5.5 miles is rough, but I found the strength to run it faster than ever before.  Despite 5 + hours of a heart rate > 170, despite flirting with cramps for 10 miles, despite going out hard I held on and crossed the line in 5:36…an 11 minute PR!  My Crozet Running teammates – all of whom had stellar days – were there on the line to greet me, along with Clark and Horty.  BBQ, sweet tea, warm sun and soft grass made it about as perfect a start to Spring as possible.  I stayed there for a long while, rehashing the day, cheering on friends as they crossed the line and just happy to be alive…feeling blessed.

Crozet Running Ultra Team (CRUT) and friends post race
Crozet Running Ultra Team (CRUT) and friends post race


RVA Trail Runners blocking the finish line :-)
RVA Trail Runners blocking the finish line 🙂


SO what makes this Terrapin memorable??

To date, the ultras of which I’m most proud (Holiday Lake 2013, MMTR 2013, JFK 2013, and Grindstone 2014) have happened because I ran by feel and without any set of expectations.  I’ve taken those days as they’ve come, and been pleasantly surprised.

This race marks the first time I’ve started hard, given an all-out effort, and hung on to finish without imploding.  And for me, breaking out of my comfort zone like that, is HUGE.

I’ve spent my whole life trying desperately to be in control.  Preparing, studying, taking the safe road.  While I might do things that others deem crazy (like run 100 miles), I can assure you I’ve thought it out, planned, and visualized it over and over.

Running 30 miles at (what felt like) 10K or 10 miler pace has never happened.  I’m not really sure I want to go there again.  That being said, my legs felt GREAT throughout the day (cramping aside).  A bit of trashed quads on the last downhill was the only evidence that I’d run far.

My heart rate and cardio…that’s another story.  All day I was red-lining it…breathing hard…utterly focused.  I didn’t have any real mental low spots, but it never felt easy.    I really, really need to work on that before Promise Land and ESPECIALLY before Big Horn!!  I have a hunch that the altitude could manifest in the same way, and I really don’t want to feel that come June.

I was really happy with the day’s splits:

2013 2015 Improvement
Initial Climb 0:48:06 0:46:27 0:01:29
Descent 0:37:41 0:35:03 0:02:38
Camping Gap 2 1:22:10 1:25:00 -0:02:50
WOR Loop 1:06:03 1:01:57 0:04:06
Final Aid Station 0:55:30 0:52:49 0:02:41
Finish 0:57:50 0:55:20 0:02:30

Aside from the climb up Camping Gap (ironically, the one part I planned to run faster), I gained time on every section of the course.  In fact, almost all the gains came on the back half, when I felt like I was pulling back a bit.


In summary, here is my take on the day:


What went well

Calculated Risks paid off!

  • New shoes were just what I needed,
  • the KT tape stabilized my ankle (may have been placebo but I’ll take it)
  • Running hard set my legs and brain up for a fast day
  • The sprint to catch Bethany gave a morale boost and didn’t wreck my pace or overall strategy

– I was mentally in the game – I believed I could run hard and I did.

– I didn’t let the pressure of a #2 seed (or Horty telling me I could finish 2nd) take my mind off the task at hand.  I set realistic expectations and so wasn’t deflated when I got passed by other women.

– I was able to push and pull back effort as needed throughout the day – no death marching it in!!

– And….this one really deserves its own post…I do believe Crossfit gave me a huge advantage in terms of strength and endurance.  My legs were able to WORK it and my stronger core kept me balanced as I pushed the downhills!!

What could have been better

– Fueling and Hydration.  I should have eaten a bit more and drank a lot more water.  Those cramps could have wrecked the race!

– Training leading in…more tempo runs, intervals, and hill repeats would have made the perceived effort easier (and maybe have reduced my average HR).

– Climbing.  I’ve covered that ground better in the past….I can run it even faster in the future.

All in all, I’m glad to be running hard again…its time to add 5K and 10K races (and maybe a road marathon) back into my calendar.  Those shorter races are demanding and frightening, but they have a place in an ultra-runners tool kit.


So, did I Conquer the Mountain?  Nope….I conquered myself.  I let go of the Fear and raced well.  I passed the Ghost of 2013 on that first climb and never looked back.  My prize?  Without a doubt it is the confidence I earned on the trail Saturday.  I look forward to putting it to use in the coming weeks as we gear up for Big Horn.

Congratulations to all the runners who toed the line Saturday….especially my RVA, CAT and CRUT friends.  Thank you Clark Zealand, Jeremy Ramsay, and all the volunteers who gave their time this weekend.  Terrapin remains one of my favorite races of the Spring season, and I can’t wait to come back for more fun (and another mug) next year!!!












Promises to Keep….Hellgate 2014

Let’s cut to the chase, shall we?

I didn’t finish Hellgate.

I did not finish the Beast Series.

But you know what….(ssshhh, don’t tell anyone)….I’m actually OK with that.


Rewind a few weeks.  Following Masochist, I took a week off, and then started to ramp up the miles.  And by “ramp up”, I mean I jumped right into a 50 mile week, followed by almost a 60 mile week.  The legs felt great, the speed was there.  But something wasn’t quite right.

The first sign was irritability, alternating with depression.  I was REALLY short tempered the week before Thanksgiving.  I took it out on my kids and my husband, and then myself.  It was only a day or two before I recognized this as a tell-tale sign of overtraining.

So what did I do?  I ran more.

The only relief I could find was by running.  Long or fast.  Whatever it took to get the endorphins flowing and to get a high.  For the first time, I felt like an addict.  And I’m not exaggerating or meaning that in a good way.  I was chasing a buzz…but not with drugs or booze.  And it was a problem.


The second sign was even more obvious.  I got a nasty case of bronchitis over Thanksgiving.  I was coughing up green junk.  I sounded like a chain-smoker.  The next week I got the flu.  I laid on the couch, without any energy to do anything other than moan.

So what did I do?  I ran more.

I used Hellgate as an excuse to hit the trails for a long trail run right after Thanksgiving.

Jimmy and Me. Post-Thanksgiving trail run on the MD AT.


And then a super-hilly tempo run the next day (I used my dog as an excuse for the fast miles).  And then, once again, I left Richmond before dawn to run in the mountains.  When I had the flu, I still managed a five or six mile run.  Or 45 minutes on the elliptical.  I needed to run.  Hellgate cometh.

Turk Mountain, traditional #badass pose with CATs and CRUTs


The third sign was panic and anxiety.  Gripping my soul.  Ripping my inside.  Every day, several times a day, feeling like I was going to explode.  I did – but not externally.  Every panic attack – and there were at least a dozen – shut me down for several hours.  I avoided people.  I hid inside.  And I ran.

The fourth sign was my body falling apart.  It was almost comical.  The week before Hellgate, I was cooking dinner.  I turned towards the sink and almost fell to the floor. Something was wrong with my knee.  For three days I had searing pain every time I crossed my legs or tried to turn.  That, and the Hellgate taper, finally stopped the running.  Last Wednesday, I went for my pre-race massage.  But instead of loosening me up, I left with a jacked up neck and back.  48 hours of heat and Epsom salt baths helped a bit, but I still felt it when I left town on Friday.

Before leaving town, I walked to the bus stop to get the girls.  I had in my pocket my “Promises to Keep” necklace from Jenny Nichols.  I held it tight, in silent prayer.  One more race.  66 miles.  18 hours.  You NEED to do this.  You NEED to finish it.  A promise to yourself, your team, your family, your friends.  Get a grip, girl.  It’ll all be over soon.

And I was tired.


But I was also SOOOO excited for the weekend.  My dear friend Terry was “borrowing” the girls Friday night for a sleepover and they were so excited that I had ZERO mommy-guilt about leaving town.

When Mommy's away, the girls will....make giant Christmas cookies.   Thanks Mrs. Cole!!
When Mommy’s away, the girls will….make giant Christmas cookies. Thanks Mrs. Cole!!

I picked up Bethany in Richmond, and then we headed to Charlottesville to fetch Sophie and AJW for the ride down to Camp Bethel.  Pre-race was the usual fun time of catching up with friends and watching Horton hold court.  Hellgate is really special…intimate and intimidating.  The final race of the year, a chance to see trail friends one more time.

Girl-Selfie with AJW taking care of business in the back seat of the Party Van
Girl-Selfie with AJW taking care of business in the back seat of the Party Van

Everyone bantered on the way down.  Sophie giving advice.  Bethany describing the course.  I was silent.  There was NO way I was going to talk about the malaise that had overtaken me.  Better to hold it in and hope things sorted themselves out on the trail.

Dinnertime! Dana Krakaw, Meghan Hicks, Me, Sophie, and Bethany enjoying they yummy food.

Dinner was fun, the pre-race briefing entertaining.  We retired to the bunks to get some sleep.  I zoned out, but didn’t slumber.  When the alarm sounded at 10, I questioned whether I should start. But I had Promises to Keep.  I got up, got dressed, sucked it up and headed to the start line.


The anthem.  A prayer.  We were off.

Hellgate Elevation Profile


The first few miles were good.  After a week of not running I relaxed….get into your groove, girl.  This is what you need.  The legs felt solid.  The breathing was easy.  The internal tension eased.  Its actually going to be OK.  This is who you are.  This is what you do.

We passed the first aid station, and turned onto the road.  A runnable 4 mile climb up to Petits Gap.  It felt easy.  It felt good.

Around mile 6 things started to turn.  Like someone turning down the volume, the energy left my body.  I came into the aid station, called out my number, and ran right through.  Get me outta there before I see any crew I know.  Get me the hell away from warm cars and a ride home.

Just past the aid station, the course turned to the right.  I stopped at the stop sign, put my hands on my knees.  And I cried.  Deep, gulping sobs.  7.5 miles into Hellgate and I knew I was done.  I had a choice to make.  Go back to the light and the warmth and the cars, or head into the woods and into the night.

I chose the woods.  I ran into the darkness.


I remember parts of the next two hours.   A thin ribbon of single-track and a train of headlamps behind me.  Convincing myself that I just had the Demons on my back – a mental low spot that would be over as soon as the calories kicked in.  Taking my jacket off, burning up.  Two minutes later, putting it back on because I was freezing cold (Later, I’d remember the flushed cheeks and burning face from dinner and realize that I’d had a fever….I brushed off the 99-degree reading earlier that day as “close enough to normal”).  Watching some guy puke off the side of the trail, feeling sorry for him…10 minutes later being that runner.  Dry-heaving, doubled over.

The endless, brutal, BEAUTIFUL climb up to Camping Gap.  Stars up ahead.  Headlamps up the trail.  So thankful to be out in the darkness.  Then turning into the wind, chilled to the bone, convinced I’d never be warm again.

About two miles before Camping Gap (aid station #3), I decided I was done. For the health of my body and the health of my brain, I needed to stop running.  It was not a hard decision.  It was not a long process.  And though I am not a religious person, I knew without a doubt that God was telling me to stop.  It was OK.  It was the right thing to do.

So I did.  I pulled into Camping Gap, told them I was dropping and sat by the fire.  A warm cup of broth found its way to me, and I was done.


Relief came.  Jenny joined me by the fire not long after, and we laughed and commiserated.  Sweet Brenton drove us to the next aid station, and Grattan lent us his car to drive back to Camp Bethel.  I crawled into my sleeping bag and slept like the dead for three or four hours.  When I awoke, I stumbled out to the main room.  Horton had just arrived and I tearily apologized for dropping.  I got a hug and a “Girl, you look HORRIBLE!” and I felt better.  Not physically, but emotionally.  It would be OK.

And I was there on the couch for the rest of the day.  Cheering when Ryan crossed the line in a course record time.  Coming to life to see John Anderson finish in 5th place.  And then Bethany, 2nd female.  Nebs and Kyle and Marc – all sub 14.  Jeff and Dan not far behind.  Alexis finishing strong to secure the Beast win – I am so happy for her!  Sophie with her 9th finish and grandmasters title.  Siobhan and John Leonardis, finishing the Beast together.  What an incredible day.

Nebs and Kyle crossed the finish minutes apart. What a great end to their year of friendly rivalry!


Siobhan and John Leonardis…fist couple to finish the Beast Series – and they crossed the finish together. Love these two!!


Throughout the day the fever and malaise came and went.  I’d rally for a bit and then feel wasted.  We finally left the camp to drive home, and I was in bed a little after 9pm.  And except for breakfast this morning and dinner tonight, that’s where I’ve been.  Utterly fatigued.  So weak.  No energy.  The thought of running a mile, much less another ultra, seemed impossible.

Until about an hour ago.  I perked up a bit, and started to feel human.  I thought about Catawba.  And running into the Spring.  Maybe Promise Land??  This is who I am, this is what I do.

But I NEED some time off.  Two solid weeks of ZERO running, and then a month to reassess.  Spending time with my babies.  Soaking in their childhood.  If 2014 was about pushing myself to the limits, then 2015 is going to be about regrouping.  Getting strong in body and mind.  Letting go of numbers and paces and rankings.  Back to the love.  Back to my roots.


Those Promises to Keep?  Turns out, they weren’t promises to finish a race.  Nor to run a certain time.  In the end, the promise I made was to my daughters.  I told them that running was good, that running was healthy.  That it made me a stronger person and a better mom.  At 2 Am on Saturday morning, I was breaking that promise to them.  I was running away from the true meaning of the trail.

I finish this year very, very grateful.  For the support of my family.  For my fantastic teammates (you all have inspired me and motivated me all year!!).  For the fellowship of my trail friends.  For the beauty and majesty of Nature.  Its been an amazing year, with so many more highs than lows.  Life is good.



Once A Masochist….MMTR 2014 Report

Oh, how I love this race.

Maybe its the time of year…reliably brisk, colorful leaves…with a hint of nasty weather lurking.

Maybe its the trails…rolling, climbing, twisty.  A delicious mix of gentle grades, gnarly climbs, and some technical single track to shake it up.

Maybe its the finish in Montebello…a quiet mountain village that I know so well.

Mostly its the people.  Gathered together Friday night, all day Saturday, and into Sunday morning.  The culmination of a summer’s worth of training, final race in the Lynchburg Ultra Series, a motley tribe that returns every year in the strange ritual of ultra running gluttony.

When I ran MMTR last year I knew I’d be back.  And even though I suffered better in 2014, I know that next November 7th, you’ll find me, once again, running towards Montebello.


So, a couple of things made this Masochist a different race for me.  First, it was to be run the day after Halloween.  Now, October 31 is kind of a big deal in our Neighborhood.  The kids get off the bus and hurry to their costumes.  Around 4pm, they migrate to the Neighborhood party, where there is music, food, games, and mayhem…the parents enjoy and early happy hour, the children get a head start on their sugar rush.  Jimmy’s in charge of the hay wagon rides.  As the sun sets, the set off in pack to loot the candy bowls.  Totally awesome.

Annual UHNA Halloween Party
Annual UHNA Halloween Party

But hanging out, drinking beer, chasing kids, and staying up late was not in the cards for me this year.  With a wistful sigh I helped transform my three daughters into Cleopatra, a Raccoon, and Cinderella.  We took some picture and with a heavy heart and guilty conscious I headed out of town.

Cleo and her pet Raccoon
Cleo and her pet Raccoon

Arriving in Lynchburg, I picked up fellow Dirty Moms Martha and Jenny and we went to packet pickup.  Its always fun to check in and catch up with runner friends, and tonight was no exception.

The Dirty Mothers!  We missed you, Steph!!!
The Dirty Mothers! We missed you, Steph!!!

Sophie even brought cupcakes for we lucky ones that have MMTR birthdays.

November birthday love!

We went back to the hotel and tried to fall asleep early.  But for some reason, I tossed and turned all night.  I wasn’t nervous – I actually felt pretty recovered going into the day.  But that was the second reason MMTR was different this year.  I knew, even if I felt OK, I was still in Grindstone recovery.  I had no idea if my reserves would lend the strength to run 50 miles well, or if I would lose steam and suffer on the back half (my one long run illustrated this point nicely….a 20 mile out and back along Dick Woods Rd.  The first 9 miles were easy and effortless…the return trip was almost a death march…I had no oomph left).

Anyway, I decided to just take the day as it came.  I had secret hopes of being able to start fast and make up time in the first half (last year I hit Long Mountain around 4:45, but ran very conservatively.  I thought if I pushed the pace I could do it in 4:30).  The weather was tricky, with a forecast of rain, drizzle, sleet, or snow (depending on which source you trusted).  I started with my Marmot Precip (too hot), but took it off after the first mile.  I also made the game-time decision to run in tights.  As I never felt overheated, I think this was the right call – especially later in the day when it got really cold and windy!

We started right on time, ran around the lake and into the night.  I found Sophie and Jeff, who had planned to run together, and jokingly “glommed on”. I really don’t like running with friends during races, preferring to be inward and introspective and focused, but since my goal was to run smart (and Sophie is the champ of running smart) and enjoy the day, I hung onto their train.  I absolutely love running with both of them and the miles began to tick away.  We chatted, we laughed, we sang (a bit).  It was a steady pace, and I worried that I was running too fast.  It felt like more work than last year.  So I was surprised when we arrived at Long Mountain in 4:45 – right on schedule.  I had hoped that feeling of working hard would have translated to a faster time, but not so.

I took time at Long Mountain to change into trail shoes and restock my fuel.  I caught up with Sophie & Jeff and our new friend Chris on the climb up Buck.  At the top, mile 30, we finally asked the aid station volunteers about our placement.  “You are #11th and #12th place for women”.  Sweet.  With Sophie a lock for grand-masters, she told me to go “huntin” and try for top 10.

We rolled along towards the Loop, and got some different intel – “you’re actually in 10th and 11th place”.  Even better.  I tried to figure out who might be in front, and then decided it just didn’t matter.  Run smart, Let It Go, and stay in one piece for Hellgate.

I guess I picked up the pace in the loop – I love this section – because before too long I had lost sight of my team.  I continued to drink and eat as much as I could.  My legs were tired but holding.  All that was left was the out and back to the summit of Mt. Pleasant so I could see the runners in front of me.  As much as I grumble about this superfluous section, I actually get such a boost from seeing familiar faces and cheering on friends.  I did not see Kyle or Nebs, which meant they were having a great day (yay!), and I didn’t expect to see any of my fellow CRUTs – John, Nick, Bethany, Dan or Marc…they should all be far ahead, and thankfully that was the case.  But I did see Beth M. and Beth F., running strong as well as Robin and her sister.  It would be a fun chase, but I really like them all and would not be sorry to finish behind.  Sadly, in the mix was an unhappy Jamie – I really hated to see her suffer but knew she had the grit and guts to pull to the finish no matter what.

Coming out of the loop I had passed Jamie, so I thought I was either in 9th or 10th place.  I knew I had to run hard to maintain my position, but my legs were so heavy.  I counted down the miles, so ready for the finish line and my warm clothes.  It was really cold up top, with sleet and snow and bitter gusting winds.  All of a sudden I was thirsty, and I realized how much water I was actually evaporating.  (Turns out I was pretty dehydrated- which might have explained the heavy leg feeling for most of the day).

Right before Salt Log Gap I started running with Brian, a friend of Dan’s and Kyle’s.  We had a great conversation for a few miles, through the aid station and onto the single track.  As we rolled along I caught a glimpse of a girl up ahead.  I didn’t know her, but passed her with the knowledge (I thought) that she would still be in the top 10.   When I pass someone, I try and make sure its a clean pass – I hate leapfrogging and wasting energy.  I ran strong on the ridge top right to the last climb, and she stayed behind me.  Ugh.  I did not want to waste strength if she was just going to jump back ahead. I stopped for a moment on the climb to pull out some Chomps – I needed the calories – and to regroup.  My only chance of pulling away was to use the technical terrain to my advantage.  So I pushed the downhills, taking risks that I might not usually take.  But the last aid station, she wasn’t in sight.  However, I heard the dreaded “You’re in 10th!”.

Shoot.  Last year I spent that whole section thinking I was in 9th, only to learn at the finish that I was in 10th.  I did NOT want to be first loser this year and so I ran as hard as I could down, down, down the mountain.  Did this section get longer??  Did it get flatter??  There seemed to be a let more running this time, but I pushed it as best I could.  Finally the “naughty” tree as my girls call it, and the last steep 1/2 mile down to Fish Hatchery Road.  1 mile to go!  Brian and I ran and ran to Rt. 56 and the whole way to the finish.  Finally done!  9:41.  Seven minutes slower than last year, but I feel like I worked a LOT harder for it.  10th female.  I’ll take it.

Team Crozet
Team Crozet


Ah – the finish!  Warm clothes and slippers and hot soup.  Friends and teammates and Horty and Clark.  Families cheering, kids playing.  All is right in the world when your day ends in Montebello.

The Crozet Ultrarunning Team crushed it.  John – 6th place.  Nick – 7th place.  #DANton – LUS Masters winner. Marc – 10th finish and PR. Jeff – Huge PR.  Bethany – 2nd place female.  Sophie – 1st grand-masters.  I am so happy for everyone and so very fortunate to be in the company of such amazing runners and genuinely wonderful people.

CRUT Swag!
CRUT Swag!

Next year the race will be my 40th birthday party – a day to celebrate the journey.  Can not wait!


I thought about running my first hundred right after finishing Masochist last fall.  About the time Disney’s Frozen hit theaters and “Let It Go” became the anthem for 4-8 year old girls across the nation.  My girls fell hard and fast for Elsa, Anna, and Olaf, and belted out the song 24/7.  Like any good, distracted mom, I tuned out their daily renditions…lost in laundry and dinner and homework.

But Emma snuck it onto my playlist, and one day the song played while I was out running.

And I heard it.  And I felt it.

It’s funny how some distance,
makes everything seem small.
And the fears that once controlled me,
can’t get to me at all

It’s time to see what I can do,
to test the limits and break through.
No right, no wrong, no rules for me.
I’m free!


The training began.  The lessons were learned.  The body adapted.

Thus a tough spring racing season, consciously overloaded and over raced.  Designed to stress my body to see what could happen.  Feeling tired, feeling bleh, but knowing that I was paying my dues.

May.  A cutback month.  Rest, recover, and regroup for the summer weeks of long, hilly miles planned and coached by wonderful Sophie.  She knows her stuff and was so very generous in sharing her time and advice.

By June the training had begun in earnest.  I won’t clog this post with details, but highlights included a fantastically tough training race – Highland Sky – that went totally according to plan, two great 50Ks in July (the inaugural CATass and my third Catoctin), and some hard lessons learned at the Jarmin’s Invitational Marathon (the J.I.M…more on that later).  We wrapped up the summer with three glorious days running the AT through Shenandoah National Park with the Dirty Mothers (Martha, Stephanie, Jenny, Sophie, and me).


And then, all of a sudden, it was Back-to-School time…taper time.  Last minute details organized.  Jimmy and Lissa were set to crew…Martha and Sophie agreed to pace.  It was time to go!!!


Now inits sixth year (it was cancelled in 2013 because of the Government Shutdown), Grindstone has developed a reputation as a TOUGH, well-run Hundred.  23,000 ft of gain/23,000 ft of descent on this rolling mountain course in Western Virginia.  The elevation profile is intimidating:


I chose the race for several reasons.

  • It is close to home, making crew and travel logistics simple
  • It has a 6pm start, meaning I could get through most of the night on relatively fresh legs
  • The ample climbs would give me an excuse to walk sections
  • It’s a Lynchburg race, so I would know a TON of runners and volunteers…my people!

Jimmy and I left Richmond Friday morning and arrived at Camp Shenandoah around noon.  We set up our gear in the growing tent city by the lake, checked in, and chatted with the other runners.  With the exception of JFK, Jimmy hasn’t been to any of my races since that first Holiday Lake in 2012, so I had a LOT of introductions to make 🙂  After the briefing from Clark, I was able to nap for about an hour and just chill out in the tent until Martha, Sophie, and Lissa arrived.

My pacers!  Martha and Sophie in the rain pre-race.
My pacers! Martha and Sophie in the rain pre-race.

The skys, which had been darkening all afternoon, finally opened up as I was getting dressed.  We assembled at the line, knowing that the next few hours would be wet, and the rocks would be slick.

Crozet Ultrarunning Team ready to run! From left, Marc Griffin, me, and Dan Spearin
A smile to hide the nerves 🙂

Just before 6pm, Clark called for a moment of silence to honor Major Mike Donahue.  Mike was a runner, a well respected member of the trail community, and an amazing family man.  He was killed September 16 in Afghanistan, and his loss profoundly affected so many of us gathered there to run.  After a short prayer, the clock started and we were off!



The first miles were kind of tricky, as we were all still jumbled together, trying to find our place and space on the trail.  Some dips and obstacles caused backups.  I placed myself in the middle of the pack…knowing this would slow me down at the start, but ensuring I did not go out too fast.  When we passed the spectators at mile 1.5, Sophie saw me and said “good girl, she’s listening”, so I knew I hadn’t screwed up yet!  There were a lot of really, really STRONG women in the field…and I wanted to keep my focus on pace and the finish…not the “race”…I wasn’t ready for that yet.

Just as the field was thinning out and settling down, a group of 40-50 runners came back up the trail at us.  Confusion over the trail and markings led a large group to turn around.  We figured out right away that we were still on the right path, but it was jumbled up again nonetheless.

The skies opened up and it really started to rain.  While none of the bands of moisture lasted long, they came steadily through the night.  Darkness fell early as a result, and I turned on my headlamp before the first aid station.  Coming out of it, gearing up for the first big climb of the night, I hit my toe on a rock and fell HARD.  Ow….  I was able to regroup and chat with Alexis for a bit before she pulled ahead of me on the trail leading up to Elliots’s knob.

Thus began the rhythm that would last throughout the race.  Climb up, up, up…Run down.  Repeat.  Elliot’s knob is STEEP and the gravel road up to the summit warmed up the legs.  I saw Dan Spearin, a fellow Crozet Ultrarunning Team member, on this section, and was THRILLED that we were able to run together for most of the next 15 miles.  We came through the first crew stop together at 11:06 pm, right on schedule for what I hoped would be a 28 hour finish.

I scanned the crowed for Jimmy, Lissa, and Martha.  Where was my crew?  Oh…there they were – asleep!!  It was all good however.  I changed my shoes (too many issues with untied laces, and I was worried about falling again), gulped down an Ensure and got out of there quickly.

Maybe a bit too quickly.  We had run (relatively) hard the last few downhill miles, and I was planning to run most of the uphill section out of Dowell’s (thanks to a training run with Marlin this summer I knew it was possible).  I caught up to Ryan Nebel (Nebs), and with #DANton not far behind I was looking forward to chatting away some more miles.  But on the climb up, a bit flustered and with energy lagging, I started to get cranky.  And then, realizing it was mile 22, I began to get depressed.  Climbing up my stomach turned…the Ensure and Perp and Gel and food that I’d been eating was not digesting.  By this point I’d let Nebs and Dan go, and I was on my own.  I stumbled along for 6-7 miles. So low.  Convinced there was no way I could do it.  Who runs 100 miles anyway?  Pure foolishness.  I crafted my Facebook post.  “Tried my best, but my stomach had other ideas…36 miles – Grindstone, you win.”

Horton had told me before the race that, if I felt sick, I should make myself throw up.  “DO IT”  he said, “You’ll feel BETTER”. So there, in the dark night, that’s just what I did.  Three hours of food and water, out on the trail.  I shuffled along to the Lookout Mountain aid station.  “Do you have any broth?”  I asked weakly.  Before I knew it, I had a steaming cup of Ramen in hand.  “You’re the fifth woman through, you know”.  Oh snap.  The race is on.

I don’t know if it was the salty broth or knowing that I wasn’t as far behind as I felt, but I started to recover.  I linked up with Jason Farr and had a great conversation over the next 6ish miles.  In that time, I did a complete mental 180.  I decided two things.  First, that I would meet my crew happy.  If I could put on a good face and stay upbeat, chances are I’d get out of that aid station quickly.  And if that happened, the next time I saw them would be at the turn-around where Martha was set to pace me.  Second, if I could get out of one rough patch, chances are I could do that again (if needed) throughout the day.  I would manage problems as they arose…one at a time.

[….this was a HUGE lesson learned from the J.I.M.  On that day, I made SO many little mistakes (no clear goal, poor nutrition, uneven pacing) that when I had one significant issue I just chose to shut down.  In hindsight, I should have planned better and managed the moment.  Probably the most valuable run of the entire summer for that reason alone]

Let it go, let it go.
I am one with the wind and sky.
Let it go, let it go.
You’ll never see me cry.
Here I’ll stand, and here I’ll stay.
Let the storm rage on…the cold never bothered me anyway.

So when we ran into North River Gap at mile 36, I put a smile on my face.  And my crew was READY!  Not wanting to be caught sleeping on the job, they had coffee and soup and snacks for me.  I was in and out and happy again.  I had to stop at the aid station for a weigh-in, and they were playing my other Grindstone anthem – “Carry On” by Fun.  I pranced out onto the trail singing the lyrics out loud…so manic at 2:30 AM that I didn’t care who heard me:

If you’re lost and alone
Or you’re sinking like a stone.
Carry on.
May your past be the sound
Of your feet upon the ground.
Carry on.

My head is on fire but my legs are fine.
After all they are mine.
Lay your clothes down on the floor,
Close the door, hold the phone,
Show me how no one’s ever gonna stop us now.

‘Cause here we are
We are shining stars
We are invincible
We are who we are
On our darkest day
When we’re miles away
Sun will come
We will find our way home

Sun will come.  We will find our way home.  Has there ever been a more appropriate Grindstone song??  And so I climbed.  Up Little Bald.  Up, up, up to the top of Reddish Knob,  It was still dark, and so kept going.  To Gnashing Knob and the turn around.  To my crew and my wonderful Trail Mom Martha.  And as Martha and I began the return trip to Swoope, with friends all around, the skies broke and the sun arose.  October, lovely Virginia October, all around us.  The colors and mountains were amazing!

Now, I admit I was tired.  There were sections of the downhill that weren’t all that pretty.  But my mind and morale held through the rest of the day.  We came into North River for the second time at 10:30 and Sophie was there to meet us.  I changed clothes, refueled and hit the trail.  There was work to be done.  I was sitting in fourth place at the time, and I hoped to maintain or gain position.  But with strong women in front and behind it would be tough.

Second weigh-in of the race...not sure what that expression is all about!
Second weigh-in of the race…not sure what that expression is all about!

There were four sections left, with three big climbs.  Sophie talked to me when I needed, let me plug in to music when I had to focus on climbing.

The uphills left me feeling woozy and depleted.  I started seeing cars parked on top of rocks and people sitting on the trail (total hallucinations!).  I waited and waited to hit that sweet downhill section into Dowell’s Draft.  I thought to myself “If I can only run that well, I will be at mile 80 and can walk it in if I need to”.  When we FINALLY got there, I opened up my legs and – amazingly! – was able to bomb down that three mile stretch.   Coming into the aid station around 1:45 in the afternoon was such a high.  Jimmy & Martha were there to tend to me and Horton gave me a huge hug and smile.  All I could think was “this is so much FUN!”.  Which is ridiculous considering the miles covered and lack of sleep.  But still, the weather was awesome, there were friends ALL around, and I was holding it together.  Leaving that section I think I cried to Sophie a bit, overwhelmed because just a day ago I wasn’t sure this was possible.  I knew then that I was going to finish.

Sophie & I coming into Dowell's Draft - Mile 80.  Photo Credit:  Chris Nicotra
Sophie & I coming into Dowell’s Draft – Mile 80. Photo Credit: Chris Nicotra

The climb up Crawford was tough, but my music helped me up the mountain (Stan Roger’s “Tiny Fish for Japan” might have been an odd choice, but the violin and haunting melody played nicely with the October afternoon light to float me up).

Sophie captured the perfect views we enjoyed all day Saturday. Trail running Nirvana!


And always the downhills were there for me.  I don’t know why, but my quads held strong.  If it was steep I had to scoot a bit sideways, but when the grade was right, I could ROLL!  And so it went…8 miles to Dry Branch…8 miles to Falls Hollow…5 miles to the finish.

Jimmy and Martha were there every stop (as was Lissa before she had to head home to her babes!), and my proximity to Dan, Christian, Marc, and Jason meant I got to see the Crozet gang throughout the whole race.  That was unexpected and SUCH a boon.

John Andersen telling us to go catch Dan & Jeff who were a few minutes up the trail
John Andersen telling us to go catch Dan & Jeff who were a few minutes up the trail

Smiles and cheers moved us along, and we headed into the final section with plenty of light to get us through the rocks and roots.  It was only when we passed the showers, with 1.5 miles to go, that the sun finally left us.  I wanted to run fast, to finish the race, but there was nausea lurking and so we slowed a bit, regrouped, rounded the lake and hit the home stretch.

I crossed the line and hugged the totem pole at 25:35. Hugs and kind words from everyone.  I was worn down but not worn out.  It was the perfect day.

From start to finish, these gals (and Jimmy too!) were right there with me.
From start to finish, these gals (and Jimmy too!) were right there with me.
Obligatory totem hug!
Obligatory totem hug!


You know that scene in Love Actually?  When Hugh Grant, narrating says:

“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.”

THAT’s how I feel about this crazy sport.  We runners may be the ones out on the trail, but it is the love and support of our family, friends, and comrades that moves us along.  We all have our personal demons, our struggles, and our low points.  Whether in the race or in life we need each other.  Life is too short to go it alone.

And so THANK YOU.  Thank you Clark Zealand, for directing and organizing.  Thank you to the volunteers and aid station workers who brave the elements to care for us.  Thank you to my AMAZING crew…pacers…CrozetRunning teammates…and everyone else who gave their time and energy out there this weekend.  Thank you for helping me keep my promises…

“These woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep”

photo 2-2
My mantras and good luck charms…created by the AMAZING Jenny Nichols!!

Temptation. (Spring 2014 Recap)

Imagine a table loaded with your favorites desserts.

Cookies.  Pies.  Cakes.  CHOCOLATE!

You know you shouldn’t eat it all.  Once piece…maybe two…is quite enough.

But…’ll deal with the consequences later, right???


Oh, Spring 2014, you were loaded with sweets.  Snow and soggy trail runs in January and February gave way to…snowy and soggy trail runs in March.  Suffering in April.  So many new trails…so many new friends.  I am an addict, and a glutton….and I suffered and enjoyed every minute of it!  I paid the price, for sure.  Race times were so much slower than last year.  But I wouldn’t trade a single second of the fun.  FOMO may have hurt my ultra signup ranking…but it absolutely tested and expanded my capabilities as a trail runner…and I enter the summer training season renewed and motivated.

Here are the highlights since Holiday Lake:


– A super fun trail run with VHTRC friends.  A beautiful sunset over McAfee’s with Sophie.  Quality miles with Sophie, Marc, Beth, Rick, Jack, and Doug.  Recovery drinks and dinner with Gary.  Trying to stay awake on the drive home to Richmond.


– Working the inaugural Thomas Jefferson 100K.  Enjoying every moment of AJW’s RD soliloquy.  7 miles checking trails with Martha, and 18 miles pacing the incredible Jenny Nichols…who was very nice and gracious even after I dumped a pitcher of Tailwind over her head.


– Terrapin!  Slower than I wanted.  Cramps galore.  But oh-so-much-fun running with Jamie and Rick and Siobhan and Johnny Leonardis and hanging out with everyone pre/post race…




– Playing hooky to run The Priest and Spy Rock.  Getting lost.  Lots of extra miles.  Hitchhiking back to the car…cross that off my bucket list!

– Afton to Humpback (almost).  A normal training run with Team Crozet that turned into an epic adventure with hurricane (or at least tropical Storm force) winds, snow,ice….and a well-earned Mudhouse latte at the end!



– a 10 mile run with CATs Bob, Marc, Becca, and Christian that turned into a 14 miler.  Beautiful waterfalls, 2000 ft climb over 1.5 miles, Ridge running.  Views.  Oh….and I started from the cabin, so it was only a 20 minute drive for me!


– Bull Run Run. I signed up for this on a whim.  Lottery entry – no chance that I’ll actually get in.  Crap!  “Won” the lottery. In.  Decide to use it as a training run to test nutrition.  Run easy, fuel well.  It get’s hot.  Slow slog.  Great volunteers.  Wouldn’t say I “raced” it, but happy to have it in the books.


– The beach!  Spring Break!  Time to relax!  Decide to run.  Run hard.  Run fast.  Super psyched that I’ve recovered in such a short time from Bull Run.

– Tuesday night.  Run-of-the-mill-trail-run.  Switch from Hokas to minimalist Saucony’s.  Run slow.  Suffer much.  Undo any “recovery”.

– Wednesday, Thursday, Friday before Promise Land.  Sore….oh so very sore…..

– Promise Land!!  Start off easy.. Chat with Holly, then fall back as she runs ahead.  Enjoy the first 2000 ft. climb.  Chilly morning gives way to glorious sunrise.  Trot along the horse trail, bounding down, down, down.  Run and catch up with Kathleeen, Mikala (first ultra!!), Siobhan.  Feel incredible.  Trail starts to level off.  Hips hurt.  Uh Oh.  Run Easy, relax.  Eat, drink, repeat.  Climb and descend.  Keep running.  Every. Step. Hurts.  Dial back at Sunset Fields…the race doesn’t start till mile 20.  Immediately get passed by a dozen women (OK…more like 4-5, but still…)  Decide it is OK.  Not my race…I sacrificed it two weeks ago, and I’m glad I did.  Get to see friends on the trail…continue to fuel….don’t stress when I stop to stretch or cool off in the stream.  The last climb is endless, the world starts spinning, the final descent unrelenting.  Isn’t there a squirrel mailbox along here….will I recognize it from last year?  Oh..there it is…4 feet high…not subtle at all.  Finally the Camp.  FINISH!!  Really, really want to smile and chat with the Crozet guys.  Throw up instead.  Crawl to the creek.  Soak my legs, cool my core, and recover.  Hang out at finish until the bitter end, cheering on friends that feel like family.  I love this tribe.

And now?

I’ll give myself the next few weeks to recover.  Easy runs, spinning out the legs.  But…its all about Grindstone.  Building the base.  Long intervals.  Back-to-Back long runs.  There are several major changes I need to make personally to support this.  First and foremost is to improve the quality of food in my diet.  Less sugar, less beer.  More kale and avocados (which I love and adore). More fruit (which I really don’t like at all).   Second is to be more consistent with strength training…something I was great at last year, but let slip out of my routine in the fall and winter months.

I’m looking forward to pacing Angela at MMT, running Highland Sky, exploring some new trails in Maine and trying to convince my cousin to run a self-supported 50K over 4th of July weekend in PA.  I have dreams of a “running camp” in Montebello this August, and an epic Shennandoah run with the gals over Labor Day.  It will be a busy summer, but for the first time in a LONG time, I feel ready for the miles and the challenge.  Bring it on!






SnowMudGeddon…aka Holiday Lake 2014

Holiday Lake…the “easy” 50K…continues to teach me lessons.

….in 2012:  That I could COMPLETE.

…in 2013:  That I could RACE.

…in 2014:  That I could ENDURE.


Two years ago, on the eve of Holiday Lake, I heard stories about the snow year (2010).  I remember telling Kelly, “thank goodness the weather is good…I would never have the nerve to run if there was snow on the ground!”.  I got the chance to prove myself wrong this year, as a mid-winter storm dumped 8-10 inches of snow on the course.

We checked on Friday, opting for an unheated cabin:

Home, sweet Home. (From left: Emily, Phil, Mark, Me, Nigel)

And took in the beautiful, snowy camp:

Pre-run this snow still seemed pretty….

By Saturday morning, warm temps and slight drizzle had compacted to about 6 inches of slushy snow.

We set out, in 35 degrees and rain, right on time – 6:30 am.  I really had no idea what to expect and if I could “race” in those conditions.  Looking over the entrants list, I thought that repeating my 6th place finish from last year might be a stretch, but top ten was still realistic.  We started the easy 1/2 mile climb up the road and climbed onto the single track.  Right away the slow running and uneven footing made me uncomfortable.  When I tried to speed up and find a rhythm, my heart rate climbed too high.  I felt that I was slowing those behind me.  As we made our way through those first few miles,  I readjusted my expectations.  I let some women pass me, knowing that I couldn’t get sucked up in running a fast pace this early in the day.  I found some space to breathe and, though I never did get that rhythm I wanted, I did get my body back into an aerobic state.

It was the footing that killed me.  I wore my Hoka Kailua’s, with screws in the bottom, but it was a poor choice for me.  With every footfall I slipped, and had to stabilize.  Nothing felt balanced, and I just wanted more traction.  I didn’t want to talk or make conversation with the other runners.  In fact, it was the most silent ultra I’ve run…I think we were all working incredibly hard.

Trail conditions for most of the race.
Trail conditions for most of the race.

Around mile 6, I started to feel my left Achilles, and the whisper quickly turned to a steady nag.  Not again.  It had last given me trouble in 2012, and required several months of rest.  I slowed again…this time to watch my footing, to baby my ankle.  For the next 10 miles the pain ebbed and flowed.  I decided that if it got worse, I might have to drop at the turn around.  I HATED the idea of quitting.  I HATED the idea of continuing only to injure myself and not be able to run the rest of the season.  I HATED that this crappy weather wasn’t letting me see how my training paid off.  I was low and grouchy.

BUT….when I looked around, I still saw lots of familiar faces.  I was still with the folks I usually run near.  Brian and Tim.  Sophie.  Alexis Thomas in eyesight up ahead.  Coming into the turnaround the top females were just leaving…only 3-4 minutes ahead of me. If I didn’t stop to refuel, that is 🙂  The race was the same, just harder circumstances.

My achilles felt OK at the turnaround, but I took my time.  Filled up my water.  Changed my shoes.  Chatted with Aunt Sue.  My cousin Mark was there, nursing sore calves, so we headed back out to the trail together.  When I left, I heard that I had dropped to 11th.  I could see #10 right in front, but I really didn’t want to race.  I wanted to finish, worn out but uninjured, that was all.

Mark had to stop to stretch his calf, so I left him and caught up to the girl in front of me.  It didn’t take long to recognize her as Elaine from the Steeplechasers, and we chatted a bit before she opened up a gap and took off.  My new shoes provided better traction, but I was still low, and maintained a miserably slow pace through Aid Station 5 and 6.  Mark caught back up to me and asked if I wanted to run together.  I told him, and honestly believed, that I was going to be walking a lot of the last eight miles, so he went on ahead.  Not one but TWO women passed me, which put me in 13th place.

With eight miles to go, I suddenly realized that my fueling strategy had been WAY off all day (really, Annie….It took you 24 miles to realize you should be eating more?).  The slow going and tough conditions meant I was working much harder than last year, but I’d been on the course 5 hours and only taken in 400 calories.  I immediately fished the baby food pouch out of my vest and ate that and a gel.  Soon, my legs came back and I picked up the pace, passing the girl just ahead of me.  Happy to be out of the slump that had me all day, I trotted on, determined.  I caught up to Brian about a mile before the last aid station.  We ran together for a bit, but I charged on to see if I could gain some ground.  I saw Elaine and Steve, and amazingly, a bit of red far up the trail that told me I could still catch Mark.  It took two miles, and if I’d had just a bit more trail we’d have hit the road together.  But he got there first, and I couldn’t catch him on the downhill to the finish.  I was THRILLED to come in right behind him – having run our own races separately most of the day, we still finished within 30 seconds of each other!!

Dr. Horton gave me a big hug, and instead calling out “1st loser” as I’d expected, presented me with a Patagonia backpack. I was 10th female!

Standing at the finish line, there was Sophie and Jamie – they’d come across just before me.  I was actually amazed to see how close we all were.  As the other runners and friends filtered in we traded stories of the day…the misery of the trail…the slog through the mud and the muck…and the happiness and triumph of finishing a difficult day.


Once again I’m reminded that this sport is 90% mental.  Would I have done better had I put my head on straight earlier in the day?  Maybe, but it really doesn’t matter.  I come away with so many lessons….so many things I’d do differently.

  • Shoe Choice:  The Hoka’s were great…except for the traction.  Next time, more screws…more tread.  The Saucony’s gave me traction, but their flexibility murdered my joints and tendons from the ankle down.
  • Fueling:  Slower pace does NOT equal less work…not in those conditions.  Eat, Eat, EAT!!!  I’ve now visualized a small Italian grandmother to sit on my shoulder and nag me through my next race….
  • The race is won (or lost) in the second half.  I know this.  It seems true for most every race.  BUT….its still easy to get caught up early in the day.  I can’t be sure, but I think that the top 10 were only separated by 6-7 minutes at the turn.  Coming out of the turn in 11th, I should have considered myself very much in the hunt for top 10.  Instead I was content to slog along.  Maybe I would have gained more time had I a strategy for the second loop.  Again – its hard to say, but an interesting mental note for future events.


There were so many, many selfless acts and stories of courage from the trail on Saturday:

  • Elizabeth was ready to call it a day at the turnaround when John Hurley came upon her and convinced her to head back out.  She continued, caught up to Nigel, and stayed with him as he gritted out a really tough last 10 miles.  Working together, they made it in before the cutoff!
  • The biggest story of the day was, of course, Amy Albu.  Amy slipped at the stream crossing, breaking her leg in two places.  A team of runners, including an ER doc, splinted the leg and took turns carrying her a mile to the next aid station.  These folks sacrificed their own race to help a fellow competitor…a perfect example of the trail spirit and ethos that makes this such an amazing sport.

I feel so blessed to be a part of this community!