Grindstone

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).

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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!!!

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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:

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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.

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Crozet Ultrarunning Team ready to run! From left, Marc Griffin, me, and Dan Spearin
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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!

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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.

Whoa!
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).

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

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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”

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My mantras and good luck charms…created by the AMAZING Jenny Nichols!! https://www.etsy.com/shop/MountainPrimaDonna
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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…..you’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:

March

– 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.

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– 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.

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– 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…

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– 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!

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April

– 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!

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– 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.

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– 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.

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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:

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

And took in the beautiful, snowy camp:

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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.

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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!

Close to Home

I almost knew Meg.

It was inevitable that our paths would cross.  We lived in the same close-knit running community.  We had mutual friends and training partners.  We were both slated to run Boston this Spring.

And it was likely that we would be friends.  Both of us stay-at-home moms.  Our kids the same age.  Outgoing runners.

It’s not a stretch at all to say that I was days away from knowing her.  The track workouts had been planned with Sage.  A tentative date set.  The three of us had work to do.  Meg was running Boston…Sage chasing a PR at Gettysburg…I had a Beast to slay…

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By now we all know how this story plays out.  Wrong road.  Wrong time.  Wrong driver.

tragedy.

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Tomorrow is like any other Saturday. So many of us will lace up our shoes and head out for a weekly long run.  Last week Meg was a nameless runner logging 16 miles with her training group.  Tomorrow 75,000+ will put on blue and run with her name on their lips, her children in their hearts.  The running world coming together to remember someone we didn’t know….yet we all knew.

She could be any one of us.  A mother, a friend, a sister.  One of the good ones, raising a family and taking some time to pursue her passion.  She was fast and she was strong, but from everyone I’ve talked to she was more.  She was life and love, happiness and enthusiasm.  She was a mom.

What is the vibration….the energy….the spirit that binds us runners?  Emergence theory.  Emergency.  When tragedy strikes….9/11….Boston 2013….Meg Menzies…we unite.  We congregate.  We run.

We run and we breathe and we try to find some meaning.  We push and we hurt and we show our strength.  We preserve.  We endure.

In April we ran for Boston.  Now in January we run for Meg.  I have no doubt that we will be called in the future to gather again.  And I have no doubt that when that call comes we will answer en masse.

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Home. (JFK 2013 Race Report)

JFK.  Love it or hate it, this race is special to me.

I told myself I wasn’t running it again.  I sat on the registration for a solid week until I couldn’t stand it anymore.  Finally, I caved.  Without another thought, I mailed it off and planned to return home on November 23.

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Home.

“Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found
Just know you’re not alone…
Cause I’m gonna make this place your home”

The idea of running JFK led me to ultra running.  And ultra running helped me find myself.  For 36 years I went through the motions….always competent enough to look like I belonged, but desperately kicking my legs below the surface to tread the waters of life.

In the thousands of miles and hundreds of hours since, I’ve come to know myself. Never doubted that this is exactly what I should be doing…even when that means sacrificing time with those I hold most dear.  I can’t explain this calling on any rational level, but I know in my heart that I’m doing what God wants me to do.  (Note:  I have some very complicated issues with religion in general…worthy of a separate post…but running is the one area where I am comfortable expressing my spirituality…)

So JFK is a pilgrimage of sorts.  A return to the start…of my running dreams and of my childhood.  My present and my past.  It’s who I am.

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With Masochist on my legs, I didn’t expect a fast run.  In fact, I was really excited to experiment with two 50’s in the same month.  It was to be a fun day running in Washington County, and I looked forward to a weekend of hanging out with trail friends…those running the race (Angela, Sage, Jon, Eric) and those I’d see along the way (Crista, Steve, Eddy).

I rolled into Hagerstown Friday night in time to meet up with Jon, Eric, and new team members Mel and Bill.  Eric had run into Jane – a girl he’d met at the Steamtown Marathon several weeks before – she joined us for dinner and by the end of the weekend was our new best friend.

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Me, Jon, Eric, Mel, Bill, Mark, Jane. Done!!

An early bed-time and good night’s sleep made the 4:30 wake-up tolerable.  The weather was decent – in the high 30s, but a cold front was expected to roll through mid-day, so I decided to wear my lulu capris, along with my Terrapin tank and MMTR long-sleeve.  As I did last year, I carried my nathan’s pack (sans bladder) with gels and s-caps and gloves, relying on my hand-held bottle for hydration.

The race started at 7AM, and without fuss the 1000 runners rolled up Old National Pike to South Mountain Inn.  It was an easy 22 min of climbing, and I never felt like I was working too hard.  We hit the AT and cruised for a mile or so, before reaching the second long climb (on asphalt) to the summit of South Mountain.  Just like last year, I was running with guys who were hoping for an 8 hour finish.  But this time, I didn’t worry….I just kept a steady, easy pace through the climb and onto the trail….the only goal was to run conservatively through the early trail miles and have some spunk on the canal.

JFK Start.  Photo Credit: iRunFar.com
JFK Start. Photo Credit: iRunFar.com

Well…I did run easy, but by mile 14 my hips and hip flexors were telling me they’d had enough of rocky trails for the year.  My quads stared to feel heavy, and though I was staying on top of my fuel, I was tired.  I distracted myself by chatting with the girl in front of me – an Ironman from PA – and then was thrilled when I heard Angela’s voice…she had caught me on the switchbacks and we ran onto the canal together at 9:40

Still…I was ready for a rest.  Was it too early to walk a bit?  Yes.

OK….three miles to the Steeplechasers aid station (Mile 19).  Crista would be there with my Hokas, and so I struggled to keep up with Angela as we transitioned to the LONG 26.3 flat canal miles.  This is the hardest part of the race for me, and the only way I get through it is to muddle along…mile by mile…running to the next aid station.  From 19 to 23.  From 23 to 27.  The low point of the day….last year and this year.

I HATED these first 11 canal miles.  But once I hit the Mile 23 aid station, I was on a mission.  My girls would be waiting at mile 27, and I really, really wanted to get there on time.  It was a cold day, and the mama in me wanted a quick hug and then the knowledge that they’d be back in the car getting warm again.  These thoughts pushed me along and I got to them around 11:25.

I’d hit the halfway point at 4:05, and estimated that I would be off the canal by 1:50 (a 4:10 marathon).  The constant headwind and monotony made me feel like I was shuffling along.  Last year, I took a walk break at every mile post.  This year I told myself it was OK to walk, but every time I saw a mile marker I challenged myself to keep moving.  I had some nice conversations with the other runners…even seeing some guys that I ran with last year (one of them had been wearing pajama pants, so they’d made an impression!).   While I felt blah, I kept moving along, and sure enough…came off the canal right at 1:50.  I was only passed by one other girl – quite a change from last year when I think 5 or 6 caught me on the canal section.

I was SO looking forward to the last 8 miles of road, as there were some great hills that would provide an excuse to walk.  Well…not so much!  I walked the first one, and a few others, but everything was so darn runnable.  So, I kept at my shuffle and plodded along….SO tired, and SO ready for the run to be over.

Eight miles to go….Seven….Six.  Each time I passed a sign I’d look at my watch.  10 more minutes….keep it up.

With 4 miles to go, not one but TWO women passed me.  So strong!!  Turns out they were both over 45 – Woot!  Love to see that older does NOT mean slower.  One of them was a local who was running her third JFK (she PR’d by several minutes).

Three…Two…One mile to go.  Home.

8:11:29 over the line.  20 minutes faster than last year.  14th woman.

Though I felt tired and worn out for a full 36 miles, a very happy Annie….

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A few minutes after crossing, I heard my name.  Crista and Sage.  Huge Hugs…and a question…how did Sage do?  Sage did just fine….SECOND WOMAN!!!  So, so happy for her and her unreal 7:14 time.

Sage and Me, post JFK.
Sage and Me, post JFK.

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All in all, it was a great day.  I was tired for most of it, but know that I can find another 11 minutes out there and break 8.  Not sure if that will be next year, but am excited to return to home in future years and see what I can do on the course.

Running through a Postcard – MMTR Race Report

“Feeling my way through the darkness
Guided by a beating heart
I can’t tell where the journey will end
But I know where to start”

-Wake Me up, Avicii

A few weeks ago this became my MMTR anthem.  Unsure of my training and my health, I wasn’t certain of the race’s outcome.  But I knew that in the darkness of the morning, I’d be on that starting line.

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The Mountain Masochist Trail Run was my goal race for 2013.  But what did that mean?

Did I expect to win? No.

Did I expect a 50 mile PR? Nope.

Did I expect to make the top 10 women?  After seeing the entrants list on Tuesday…an emphatic NO!

I describe myself as a B+ runner.  I’m strong.  I push through.  But I’m not a contender.  I am sooooo OK with that!  I love keeping up with the fast kids on training runs.  I enjoy having the cushion that comes from being comfortably in the middle.  I’m not well equipped to manage other’s expectations and so I like floating along – right under the radar.

What I wanted was a strong MMTR.  One where…

…  I didn’t crumble mentally.

…  I ran a smart race.

…  I stayed on top of the essentials…food, hydration, electrolytes.

… I could take in the experience, hang with my ultra-family, make new friends, and come home refreshed and renewed.

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By September, my training was going well.  I was logging lots of miles (though not as many long runs or back-to-backs as I’d like).

Summertime training with the RVA crew!
Summertime training with the RVA crew…
..and Autumn running with the CATs!
..and Autumn running with the CATs!

With the girls  in school, I am able to train during the morning and “hide” my workouts.  It’s becoming increasingly important that I am home with them in the afternoons and evenings, and I never – EVER – want them to feel like I’m choosing running over family time.

But with the peak in mileage, my immune system took a beating.  I ended the month with a bad case of bronchitis/walking pneumonia.  October passed in a lethargic haze.  Worn out and run down, I decided to focus less on pace and more on staying within my limits.  The best I could hope for was a steady run.

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I am blessed to have some very strong women in my life who have a ton of experience with Masochist.  In the weeks leading up to the race, Martha and Sophie told me what to expect.  Martha’s photographic memory painted a picture of the course in my mind.  Sophie, always so generous, shared her strategies and advice.  A few days before leaving for Lynchburg, I met Bethany for coffee.  While she wasn’t running it this year, her enthusiasm was contagious and I finally started to get excited!

When Martha pulled up Friday, I gave the girls hugs and kisses and hopped in the car.  With Prissie and Mike joining us, it was a quick trip to Lynchburg.  We went straight to packet pick up, where Horton put us to work hauling boxes of t-shirts 🙂  A fun dinner followed…seeing friends and familiar faces, meeting new people, and getting ready for the morning.

Happily (and uncharacteristically), I was not a bundle of nerves.  I knew I could manage the distance.  I did not have any time goals.  I did not expect to be among the top women.  I was going to take Sophie’s advice- go out slow, run without my GPS, rely on my body, and enjoy the day.

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The race began at 6:30, which required an early wake-up and bus ride to the start line.

WARM buses & friendly chatter made the shuttle ride pass quickly...
WARM buses & friendly chatter made the shuttle ride pass quickly…

 It was warm for November, so while I started in a long-sleeve shirt, I was quickly able to strip down to my tank and skirt.  I paid no intention to my place in the bunch, and when we started I jogged along with the group.  As the line thinned out, I found some space and settled into an easy pace.  The trail was rockier than I would have like – a trashy jeep road – and I stepped gingerly over the obstacles- careful not to roll my ankle early in the day.  Over the first 10 miles I was uncomfortable….I hadn’t been able to use the bathroom and my stomach was complaining.  Catching up to Sophie and Donna as the sun came up I couldn’t quite find my breath…I was running too fast.

The day was beautiful, especially as the sun brightened the fall colors around us.

Photo Credit:  Katie Keier
Photo Credit: Katie Keier

 When the time (and trail) permitted I ducked into the woods to FINALLY answer nature’s call -I ran much more comfortably after that!!  I watched Sophie zip off and was worried – if that was her conservative pace, I was outta my league!  So I returned to my mantra – steady girl, run within yourself.  Enjoy the day.

And I did!  With the pressure of “racing” off the table, I bounded along the trail, enjoying a long stretch of running with Brian, trading places and smiles with Donna, overhearing the chatter and conversations of runners around me.  I looked around, blown away by the beauty of autumn…

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Lynchburg Reservoir.
Photo Credit: Katie Keier

…the light bouncing off the mountains, the reflection of the reservoir, the open fields and wooden fences.  The warmth of the day.

Photo Credit:  Katie Keier
Photo Credit: Katie Keier

I stayed on top of nutrition as well.  I don’t like to eat, but I forced myself to take in calories on a schedule.  Not since Emma’s newborn days was I that focused on feeding by the clock!  It worked – though I tired, I never once bonked.

I wanted to run easy and strong to the “halfway” point – Long Mountain Wayside.  I knew there was a long climb up Buck Mountain that I’d be walking.  After that, I’d start pushing it (if I could) or walk more (if I had to).  When I rolled into the Long Mountain aid station there were two unexpected, friendly faces there to help.  Sam and Brad had driven up from Richmond – they helped me get re-stocked and re-shoed and I set off knowing that there were friends on the mountain!!

Brad and Sam with Prissie.  Their faces gave me SUCH a boost at Long Mt. Wayside!
Brad and Sam with Prissie. Their faces gave me SUCH a boost at Long Mt. Wayside!

The climb up Buck was when I knew I was having a good day.  I started passing other runners…and not just guys.  It was a big boost to know I was running strong relative to other women who had been ahead of me all day.  Hiking up the mountain I had a nice conversation with Kevin (about raising chickens, of all things!).  We reached the top, ran to the next aid station, and then we were in The Loop.

I knew the first few miles were runnable and I forced myself to cover them quickly, as the terrain would devolve into a rocky mess.  It was beautiful in there as I was running along – not a soul in sight.  When I got to the turn-off for the out-and-back climb up Mt. Pleasant I saw Nebs running strong, immediately followed by Gaby (looking great!).  I shouted out a congratulations to them both and started the climb.

I think half of the field was on that mile section.  How funny to run alone for so long and then see how close everyone is to one other.

Photo Credit:  Katie Keier
View from Mt. Pleasant
Photo Credit: Katie Keier

I had no interest in counting girls, but I did see Sophie right above me.  It was great to catch up to her and chat over the next few miles.   She told me to go ahead – and she also mentioned that I was now in 9th place.  I tried not to hear, but with only 12 miles to go I was now determined to get into that top 10!

I came out of the loop, and started a long climb to the next aid station.  Then more climbing and a long single track section.  I was chatting with one of the guys when he asked me if I knew there was another girl right behind me.  I looked over my shoulder and saw her 100 yards back.  Thinking a) that she was gaining on me and b) that I would still be in the top-10 if she passed, I almost eased off to let her go ahead.  But then, considering that I could still run and that there was another women within view up ahead, I kept my pace steady and pulled away.

I caught up to the next woman and we talked for a moment.  At the aid station (the last one, I think?), I noticed her race number and realized this was Sophie’s friend Meredith.  I introduced myself, but there wasn’t any time to chit-chat.  We both knew that puffy-vests were on the line.  Meredith had much happier quads than me, and bounded down the mountain.  I rolled on…trying to run as strong as I could, while saving just a bit in case I needed to push it on the final flat section.

Three miles to go….down, down, down.  Where – oh where – is that really cool tree that will tell me we’re 1.5 miles from the finish.  There it is!  OK…down some more…ONE MILE TO GO!  Hit the pavement….there is Rt. 56.  Left turn, Clyde…stay strong, final curve, finish line in sight….across the line at 9:34.   DONE!!!

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For weeks I’d focused on this moment – when I could change into sweats, put on my new socks and slippers,  find a patch of grass and watch my friends finish the race.  I was pretty queasy after crossing the line, and my body decided to empty out all of the gel and liquid sloshing around my stomach.  Feeling better, with chili in hand, I sat next to Loretta and Nebs to watch the finish.

Loretta had rolled her ankle and dropped a few hours earlier.  It was disappointing after all of her hard work, but she wasn’t the only casualty.  Tight cut-off times got a lot of the other RVA runners, who filtered in slowly.  But we were there when Brian finished, then Guzzi, Elizabeth and finally MARTHA!!  Powering through a recent ankle fracture to come in before the cut-off!

Elizabeth, Martha, and me post-race.
Elizabeth, Martha, and me post-race.

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Masochist was a HUGE success for me…I gained a lot of confidence by running my own race and seeing that I had the legs to feel good throughout the day.  I ended the day 10th female (oops…not as much cushion as I thought!!) and was truly humbled to be standing in that line with the other nine women – amazing athletes and really great people.

10 top women - MMTR 2013
10 top women – MMTR 2013

But, more than that, MMTR was just plain fun.

Horton and me - Lynchburg Ultra Series...DONE!
Horton and me – Lynchburg Ultra Series…DONE!

These crazy people have become like my family in so many ways.  I can’t wait for next year 🙂

RVA!
RVA!

My – oh My – How the time does fly!

Lately my life has been one big blur (…and it ain’t because I’m running fast…)

Since Promise Land I’ve…

…Said good-bye to another school year

Last week of school
We walked to school every Friday…only missing the weeks when the kids were displaced by the fire. This is the last day of 1st grade 😦

…been to Alaska

Talkeetna
The last time I saw this sign, I was 21, just graduated, and (just like a puppy) following a cute boy across the country. 16 years and three kids later…

…MOVED

9200
Hello, 9200!

…Tortured myself with another Catoctin

Catoctin
Martha and me…before the torture!

…Spent many beautiful hours running in the woods

selfie - cabin
Mountain Cabin Run selfie. Wouldn’t be a 4th of July without it 🙂

…Won my first race (and blew a long training run in the process)!

rick's run
Horrible Pic, but FANTASTIC race! Well organized, great spirit. My competitive side got the best of me…I won the rock, but blew the run. Next time I’m getting in at least 35 miles!

…Set a new marathon PR (thanks to the gov’t shutdown)

Freedom's run
Sage (First female!) and I, post run. Love that this gal has been relocated to RVA, and hope for many more runs and races together in 2014!!

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This week:  MMTR.  This year’s goal race.  Deserving of a whole special pre-race post.  Stay tuned!