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Bimbler’s Bluff 50k (or 52k, but who’s counting?)

25 Oct

striders-at-bimblers

(photo credit: Cindy Bourassa)

Well I certainly picked a doozy for my last big trail race of the year. Bimbler’s Bluff 50k(ish) in Guilford, CT is billed as “an off road foot race through several inter-connected woodland preserves in southern Connecticut. Consisting entirely of rolling forest roads or single track that can be extremely rocky, the course will provide a true test of the runner’s fitness and mental stamina.” It did NOT disappoint. I was feeling pretty confident in the days leading up to the race, but this course smacked me into reality.

 

Laura and I arrived at the venue just as the early starters were leaving the line. I almost wished I were one of them, getting an extra hour to do this reputedly tough course. But hey – how hard could it be? Some hills, some rocks, some more hills, some more rocks…bring it on. Grabbing our packets, which consisted of a bib, a car sticker (NICE!!!), and an epic race shirt, we headed back to the car to wait for our 8am start time. We high-fived fellow Striders and Trailmixers and shared well wishes with many other runners with whom we would soon be sharing an amazing journey. I love how small-town our trail running community is – everyone seemingly knows everyone and it feels like you can’t walk ten steps without hearing someone call your name and wish you good luck.

 

After a few pre-race announcements, the race director sent us off with a circuit around the football field, under the banner, and up the trail. The trail quickly turns to single-track and would get seriously bottlenecked without the lap around the field. I settled into a good pace, at the back of the mid-pack, and felt ready for the task at hand. After a couple of miles of gentle rolling trail with decent footing, the course crosses the road at our first checkpoint. We re-entered the woods and the next few miles are rolling single and double track with a nice stretch of gravel road. Here I fell in with another runner (Laura #2). We struck up a conversation and the trail seemed to just float on by. Up ahead of us I could see two runners that I knew, and we just kept them in sight as we motored along. At about mile 6 there was a sharp right-hand turn off the double track. All of a sudden, Laura and I were alone. I feared that the two runners ahead of us had missed the turn (which ended up being accurate). Since we were worried about the difficult trail ahead, we didn’t try to look for them and just kept pressing forward.

rock-scramble-bimblers

(photo credit: Colleen Singer)

A little while later we came upon a group of runners and fell in with them. We climbed the false summit just prior to the Bluff Head climb and dropped down to the mile 11 aid station. These were tough miles, making our way around rocks, navigating tricky footing, and climbing steep ascents and descents. Little did we know that the fun was just beginning. After loading up on goodies and fluids at the aid station, we began the REAL climb – a 20 to 40 degree incline that goes straight up to Bluff Head. I remarked to Laura that Mt Greylock is similar to this – for the whole first 3 miles. I kept that in my head as we climbed – at least this one was only about a half mile. Breathing heavily at the top, we stopped briefly to take in the view, not realizing that this WAS the Bluff, and then pressed on. When we figured out that that was the top, Laura went back and snapped a quick few photos and then quickly caught back up with me.

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(photo credit: Laura LaRiviere)

The next few miles were on trails littered with baseball sized rocks covered in a carpet of leaves. Treacherous running for someone who has just climbed up what felt like the equivalent of Mt Everest. We did a LOT of walking through this section. It was frustrating, as we didn’t want to spend so much time not running, but we weren’t willing to risk injury in this remote section of trail. Running when we could and walking when we had to, we navigated this super-technical section as quickly as we dared. The trail turned to easier footing and a lot of downhill, so we made up a bit of time and even caught up to my friend David. We three ran the next few miles together, and soon we popped out on a dirt road by the horse farm that we could see from the top of the Bluff. It had taken us a couple of hours to get somewhere that would have taken 5 minutes as the crow flies. But since I hadn’t packed my parachute, the trail had to do.

rocky-trail-bimblers

(photo credit: Jennifer Bryant)

Crossing through more woods, we eventually came out on the pavement about a quarter mile from the mile 16 aid station. Oh my god, did it feel good to stretch out my legs!! I managed an 8:30 pace for that short quarter mile, but it did wonders for my psyche and my body. Again loading up on goodies and fluids, we were about to set off for the next section when David stopped and started stretching out a leg. I offered him some salt tabs, which he took, and we left the aid station at a walk. We crossed what should be a bog (but dry because of the drought) on some boardwalks and then the trail quickly turned steep again. Ugh, another nasty climb. Time to grit the teeth and just get it done.

 

Somewhere in the next few miles I dropped Laura and David and was running alone. I just kept plugging forward. The technical trail and steep climbs were taking their toll, but I was determined to finish in under 8 hours. I passed other runners, and other runners passed me. We exchanged a few words of encouragement to each other and kept plodding along. More rocks, a few more small hills, and then more rocks. I knew that eventually we’d be back on the trail home, and that section included the few miles of gravel road and a few miles of double-track. I kept dreaming of that section as I was getting very leg-weary and was beginning to fear a fall. Soon I passed a pond and a fellow runner assured me that the next aid station was just around the pond. Thank goodness he was right, because I had been seriously lacking in taking care of myself and desperately needed food.

 

Rolling into the mile 22 aid station was like striding up to a buffet. It was loaded with all the possible goodies a trail runner could want, and the volunteers stepped up their game by offering us homemade chicken soup. I can’t even begin to tell you how good that tasted!!! I chugged down a cup of orange soda, a cup of water, and then a cup of soup and grabbed some cookies and a half a banana for the road. The volunteers told us that it was a good eight miles till the final aid station, so I made sure I had plenty of water and stuffed a couple of bags of M&Ms in my pack. I headed back out on the final section, which included the much-needed double track and gravel road.

bimblers-sign

(photo credit: Colleen Singer)

The eight miles to the next aid station seemed to take forever. I flew down the gravel road, the double track, and the easier footing single-track. The technical parts of the trail were really beginning to trip me up, literally. I prayed that I would get to the finish line without falling. Twice in this section I saved a fellow runner from missing a turn, and was glad he was within shouting distance as it would have been soul-crushing to get lost at this stage of the game. I also came upon a couple of runners who had been lost several times and were almost out of water. This section really took its toll on everyone. Tired and ready for the torture to be over, we commiserated for a few minutes before they headed off down the trail at a much quicker pace than I could sustain at that point.

 

Finally the mile 30 aid station came into view. I got my bottles filled, had some soda and cookies, and texted my husband that I had 2.5 miles left to go and that I was wrecked. That was an understatement. I was also worried about Laura #1, as I had no idea where she was or whether she would finish the race under the time limit. Turns out she had dropped at mile 17, after seeing that second heinous climb. I felt bad. No one likes to drop out of a race, but considering how she’d been feeling I think she made a smart decision.

 

I think this was the lowest point in the race for me. I had been running alone for most of 10 miles. I was getting very tired, I was dehydrated and way under on my nutrition, and I knew I still had 2.5 miles of rolling terrain left to get through. All I could think about was moving forward, and I had been very reluctant to stop and get food out of my pack. I was now paying the price for that foolish decision. This last section saw a few tears, a few tantrums (thank god I was alone) and a lot of bad, bad words. Every time I thought I was done and the finish line was just around the corner, I was wrong. I don’t think two and a half miles had ever felt so far in my life. Finally, after what seemed like hours since I left the last aid station, I started to hear the finish line. As I began the final descent, I thanked the universe for getting me to the end safely and I couldn’t wait to see my husband. I hadn’t looked at my watch in a while because I knew I wasn’t going to get my goal of 8 hours, so I was surprised when I rounded the last corner and saw 8:16 on the clock. Not bad considering I’d been ready to call at a cab from that last aid station.

bimblers-bluff-finish

(photo credit: Rat Race Timing)

Overall, it had been a pretty spectacular day. The weather was gorgeous; the woods smelled like pine and fallen leaves, and I’d had wonderful company for most of the race. And the pint glass and beanie I got at the finish line were a sweet addition to my pile of swag. To all the volunteers who were out there for 10+ hours taking care of us and feeding us amazing goodies, to race director Jerry Turk who arranged a challenging trail for us to negotiate, and to Laura, David, and all the other runners I shared the trail with, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. A special thanks to Deb Livingston for her wisdom and coaching this past year – you made this an epic season!!!  And as always, I couldn’t have done this without the never-ending support and love I get from my amazing husband Joe. Its been a great year, and it was fun to end the season with the toughest of races!!!

bimblers-goodies

Nipmuck Trail Marathon race report (or: the day I learned how to be a trail runner)

06 Oct

On Oct. 2, 2016, I ran the Nipmuck Trail Marathon put on by the Shenipsit Striders. The Striders have a wacky sense of humor and put a “high fall risk” sticker on the bibs of first time runners of the race. My main mission at this race was to prove this sticker wrong. Unfortunately, the sticker would turn out to be annoyingly accurate.

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The race starts at Perry Hill Road in Ashford, CT and consists of two out-and-back sections. The first section goes south 6.2 miles to Rt 44. The race returns to Perry Hill Road and then goes north 7 miles to Boston Hollow before making the final return to the finish line back at Perry Hill. I was told that the first 12.4 miles were technical, while the final 14 miles contained more hills but was more runnable. Ha!! I’d like to talk to whoever considers the second part of that race to be more runnable. I’m pretty sure that the entire course was strewn with more rocks and roots than I’d ever seen on a racecourse (ok, with the exception of the Vegan Power 50k in Pittsfield, MA).

 

The gun went off at 8:01am and 100+ runners forged ahead to tackle the trail. I started with my friend Colleen and we ran in close proximity for the first few miles. I consider Colleen to be a much stronger runner than me, so I eventually let her blast down the trail while I slowed to a sustainable pace. I passed Nipmuck Dave and he commented on my VT100 tattoo. I told him that I had only done the 100k and was embarrassed to admit that I’d been too wrecked to get out of bed to watch him complete the 100 miler. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to do that in the future. That guy is an unimaginable badass, completing rugged trail races with the assistance of custom-made crutches. I think we should change his name to Badass Dave.

 

I caught back up with Colleen at the 6.2-mile turn around point. Here was a wonderful aid station stocked with cookies, chips, and Coke. I was stuffing my face when I felt a tap on my shoulder and heard a voice ask, “Do you remember me?” Turns out it was someone I’d sold trail shoes to, and he was here doing his first marathon. We chatted for a minute and then started back on the return trip. Tony asked if he could hang with me and get a feel for pacing a race like this. Hell, I’m no expert but I’m always happy to have someone share the misery. His brother met us several times at road crossings, cheering us on while making fun of us at the same time. We tore into the halfway point like we were being chased by dogs (oh wait, we were. Ok not really, they were Tony’s brother’s dogs, but the picture looked like the hounds of hell were tailing us).

nipmuck-half-way

(photo credit: Dominic Wilson)

The first half of the race was REALLY technical. Lots of rocks, very rooty along the river, and a lot of narrow single track that didn’t make it easy to move off the trail for the oncoming traffic. It’s the nature of trail running, but it makes it near impossible to get into any kind of rhythm. I managed to stay on my feet and keep my wits about me, but I was rapidly tiring and trying not to think about the back half of the race, which was rumored to contain the most elevation change. Tony and I chatted the whole time, and I high-fived all the folks I knew as we passed each other. As we started on the northern section, it became apparent that this was indeed the hilly portion of the race. Yikes.

 

The first quarter mile of the back half took my breath away. Literally. It was a steep climb, and my heart rate spiked well before we reached the crest. Good lord. I prayed that the rest of the miles weren’t all like this. I knew that there was a mile long road section and I was really looking forward to stretching my legs and getting some good strides in. Unfortunately there was a good two miles between us and that road section. Tony became like a drill sergeant, urging me forward when I faltered and telling me not to listen to my brain as it screamed for me to stop. I thought I was hallucinating when I saw a sign in the middle of the woods for free range turkeys. Turns out that was real. I imagined I’d be hearing banjos any second, and that was enough to spur me on.

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(photo credit: Dominic Wilson)

We eventually popped out onto the road and were greeted by Tony’s brother. We didn’t chat long as we planned to take advantage of the easier running to make up a little bit of time. It was a nice, long downhill road section to the Iron Mine aid station where my husband was volunteering. I couldn’t wait to see him, as I knew that would lift my spirits. It felt good to really stretch on that downhill section, but I knew I’d pay for it later in smashed quads. We rounded the corner and the aid station came into view, manned by Marc, Jamie, Joe and Jack (a few of the folks who launched my trail running). I love aid stations that are run by ultra runners, as they contain all the heavenly treats: fresh cold fruit, cookies, boiled salted potatoes, and Coke. Tony and I filled up on goodies and charged off down the trail.

iron-mine-aid-station

(photo credit: Marc Scrivener)

It was about this time that I became an anchor. I urged Tony to drop me and just run his own race, but he refused. Part of my reasoning was that if Tony left me I could slow down, so it wasn’t totally unselfish. I was dying. Yes, I had run a 100k but that had been mostly on dirt roads. I hadn’t run this far on single-track trails before, and it was really depleting me. My goal going into the race had been to finish in six and a half to seven hours. I knew that the technicality of the race would take its toll. Tony, however, had different plans.

 

The final few hundred yards before the turn around was a steep set of wooden stairs. Awesome. Just what I needed. Wet, mossy wooden stairs + exhausted legs = OMG someone just kill me. I got down the stairs as quickly as I could because at the bottom was another oasis of an aid station. We spend a little bit of time here, fueling, hydrating, recovering, and joking with the volunteers. Overall I still felt pretty good, despite being tired and heavy-legged. Even though I wanted to hang out and rest, we decided that we should just get started on the final leg of the race. I almost wept at the thought of climbing back up that set of wet, slippery stairs. But drill-sergeant Tony was hot on my heels and barking at me to get a move on.

 

Seven miles. Seven miles and I could stop. But those seven miles were hilly, rocky, slanted trails strewn with dry creek beds and fallen trees. I slowed more and more and Tony got farther and farther ahead of me. Every once in a while he would stop and wait for me to catch up. It was in this section that we caught up to Colleen and passed her. She was doing well, keeping to her plan, and I was happy to see her smiling. Meanwhile, I felt like I’d been hit by a truck but I tried to appear strong as we ran past.

 

It’s amazing how much pain a person can tolerate when you have a relentless voice calling your name from up the trail. Right about then I hated the trail, I hated running, and most of all I hated Tony. I think I even started to whine. What I needed was a kick in the ass, and Tony delivered. He had put up with my shenanigans for a few miles, and told me that even though my brain told me I couldn’t go any farther, he knew that I could. So with renewed enthusiasm (hahahahahaha) I pushed forward. It was right then that the premonition of the “high fall risk” sticker came to fruition. A toe grabber forced a Superman into the dirt. Well, at least I’d managed to wait till a soft spot in the trail and wounded nothing but my pride.

 

Just when I thought we’d never get back to the Iron Mine aid station and my wonderful husband, I spotted Jack and Sasha up ahead on the trail. Finally!!! We again stuffed ourselves with the wonderful spread of goodies before tackling the last few miles. We had the one mile of road (which was unfortunately uphill in the return direction) and then 2.5 miles of rugged, steep trail before a quick downhill to the finish. My energy was flagging again, but Tony still refused to leave me. I wonder if he knew in that moment how appreciative I was of his unwavering encouragement.

 

We powered up the road section and slipped back into the woods. I was repeating the same mantra in my head, similar to Dory but in trail runner fashion (just keep running, just keep running). Back past the free range turkey sign. Up the last seemingly unsurmountable hill. Finally I heard Tony call to me from up the trail. “Come on, Faith. I’m not crossing that finish line until you are by my side!!” With one final push, I dug deep and found the will to keep running. I followed Tony down the hill and under the big yellow “FINISH” banner. Time on the clock: six hours, two minutes, twenty-six seconds. WAY sooner than I expected.

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I managed to stop my watch before I staggered into my husband’s arms, completely spent. Tony had coaxed, cajoled, and pushed me to finish a full half hour under my goal time, while finishing his own first marathon. He had refused to let me give anything less than my best, and for that I will be forever grateful. I am still learning how to overcome my own doubts and fears, and this race taught me that I have much more tenacity and perseverance that I ever thought I had. I had run my first TRUE trail marathon and earned my second blue-blaze log “trophy”. My sincere thanks to my husband Joe for once again supporting me in the crazy journey. Thank you also to all the amazing volunteers (Marc, Jamie, Jack, Sean, Tim, Stacey, Jess and the rest of you awesome people) and to race director David Merkt for putting on a great race and taking excellent care of us out there. Happy Trails!!

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HMF Surftown Half Marathon: the race that taught me everything

13 Sep

Yesterday I ran the HMF Surftown Half Marathon. I had run the race several times in the past and always looked forward to the flat, scenic course. In 2014 I ran my PR on these roads and I had always hoped that I could continue the tradition of running fast on this course. This year, however, it would end up being a turning point for me.

 

I began my running career (I use that term very loosely, as I am truly an amateur runner) as a road runner, back in 2011. I dabbled in a few short cross-country races, but I primarily stuck to the roads as I found them easier and I could run fast (ok, fast for me). Like most new runners, I improved rapidly over the first couple of years and enjoyed a few age group placings. My long-term goal became to run the granddaddy: The Boston Marathon. I ran my first marathon in 2013 and finished in 4:47. I ran another one three months later, taking 44 minutes off my time to finish in 4:13. My BQ was 4:00, so I was fairly confident that I could continue to improve and drop my time down below four hours.

 

My shorter race times were improving as well, and I started getting more and more age group podiums. My half marathon and marathon times had stabilized, though, hovering around 2:00 and 4:15, respectively. It was frustrating to work so hard and not see any improvement. I’m the type of person that loses interest in something if I don’t have a goal to work towards, and it seemed like getting faster was not a realistic goal. It was then that I decided it was time to up the ante and see if I could do more than the marathon distance.

 

I ran the Salomon Trail Running Festival 50k in May 2015, and I was hooked. I loved the longer distance, and I was getting better at staying on my feet on the trail. I still couldn’t shake my dream of running Boston, so that summer I kept training for marathons. I had two in mind: the Hartford Marathon in October and the new Fighting Seabees Marathon in April. There was plenty of recovery and retraining time in between, so I registered for both.

 

Unfortunately, both races played out exactly the same way: running goal pace for the first 13-14 miles and then completely blowing up. I finished Hartford in 4:28 and Seabees in 4:19. I had also decided at the last minute to squeeze another one in between, and ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 4:19. I was clearly a 4:20 marathoner and not a 4:00. In between all of this insanity, I did increasingly tougher and tougher trail marathons and was discovering a deep love for being in the woods. I figured it was time to take the plunge and registered for my first 100k.

 

I also continued to run half marathons, turning in times ranging from 1:55 to 2:05. You know the definition of insanity, right? Repeating the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Yep, I was doing that with deadly accuracy. Ok, enough was enough.   Time to focus on the 100k and the races that I would need to run as tune-ups for the big tamale. From May to August 2015 I ran all trail races, thoroughly enjoying them all (despite the foul language, cursing of Mother Nature, and a couple of diggers). I began to wonder if I could be happy without running any of the road races that had become my favorites over the years. I can sometimes be a creature of habit, enjoying annual races and trying to beat previous years’ times. But what used to be fun, enjoyable times was now starting to feel like a frustrating job that I hated to go to. It was the beginning of the end.

 

I decided at the last minute to register for Surftown, thinking it was a shoe-in for a PR. It was a flat, fast, familiar course, and all the leg strength I had gained with all the trail miles was sure to give me enough gas to take at least a few seconds off my previous PR. Well, someone forgot to tell Mother Nature the plan, and she delivered not only the most hot and humid morning of 2016, but also a 20 mph WSW wind that we would get in our faces for at least 4 miles of the course. Undeterred, I forged ahead with my PR goal in mind.

 

The gun went off and we were running. I was sweating profusely after the first mile. My first thought was, Good lord how on Earth was I ever going to get through 13 miles of this crap? Any good coach will tell you that if you are at mile one and you are already thinking ahead to future miles, you’re screwed. I desperately tried to stay in the moment and stay mentally checked in. I chatted with a few people I knew, trying to stay relaxed and steady. When we made the turn to the southwest, I felt my soul wilt. I was already struggling and now this effing wind. I visibly slowed with each passing minute.

 

Finally at mile 6 I caught up with my friend Caitlin, whom I was actually surprised to see because she is usually much faster than me. She was also having a very hard time in those conditions, so we commiserated together for a mile or so. We both talked about the hopes we’d had for the race and how we knew the goals we had set for ourselves were getting tossed out the window. It was then that we said the hell with it and decided to just run the rest of the race together and whatever time showed on the clock, well, that would be it.

 

As we ran/walked the last 7 miles, I began to seriously consider why I still did this. I was miserable, hot, and hungry. I longed for the aid station food served at ultras. I dreamed of being able to walk on the course without feeling like a failure. And as cars whizzed by, I wished for the solitude and peace of the trail. I turned to Caitlin and said, “I’m done with road racing. This doesn’t make me happy anymore.” She responded with, “I’ve always admired you and looked up to you as a runner, and I am SO GLAD to hear you say that!!!”. Turns out she was thinking and feeling the same thing.

 

So, in two hours and ten minutes, I completed my last road “race”, hand in hand with Caitlin and with a smile on my face. I will continue to participate in races that I’ve come to love, but it will be for the good times only and the clock will be non-existent for me. I’ve already registered for my first 50 miler, and in January I will register for my second 100k. Instead of running the Boston Marathon in 2018, I will (hopefully) run my first 100 miler. Dreams and goals change, and we shouldn’t be afraid to change with them. Just because I can’t run a four hour marathon doesn’t mean that I don’t still have room for improvement in my running “career”. So thank you, Surftown, for helping me to see that. At least I got a cool medal and a great finish line photo  🙂

 

Anchor Down 6 hour (non) Ultra (or how to get your ass handed to you by a 2.5 mile course)

08 Sep

Anchor Down Ultra 6 hour. I showed up to the 2nd running of this race ready to rock a 50k. I figured if I could do a more technical 50k in 6:10, I should easily be able to knock out 31 miles of the relatively flat, partially paved course that winds through Colt State Park in Bristol, RI. Unfortunately that’s not how the race played out for me. Things rarely turn out as expected, but most of the time something more magical happens…

 

The plan was for myself and my friends Elise, Mallory, and Wendy (my pacer from VT) to run the 6-hour, and my friend Eric to run the 24. Elise and Wendy were trying for their first 50k, Mallory was going for as many miles as she could get, and Eric wanted 100 miles. Yep, we are all a bit crazy – but that’s why we make such a good group (birds of a feather, you know). Elise’s mom and sister were acting as our crew and cheering section (a repeat of last year’s event). Of course the old adage about the best-laid plans never crossed our minds, so we charged blissfully ignorant, but thoroughly excited, into the abyss.

 

The week leading up to the race was spent obsessing about the weather, shopping for aid station food, and packing gear. Mother Nature’s predictions hovered between seasonally hot and humid and mildly cooler with a chance of showers. Personally, I’d rather have the showers. But since the 6-hour race starts at 7pm, I really didn’t mind what the weather turned out to be. I did have plans to pace Eric in the 24-hour race the next day, so I still hoped for the cooler option. I was again unfortunately disappointed.

 

My husband Joe was registered for the 6-hour as well, but has been unable to run since February. He chose to attempt to walk a marathon in the time limit. I know it was difficult for him to watch me run off the start line while he was reduced to walking, but I felt his support and encouragement follow me as I disappeared down the trail. The first few laps of the 2.5-mile course literally flew by. I by-passed the mid-point aid station but chowed down at the start/finish area. We had brought the goodies that had served me well at the VT100k – pickles, chocolate chip cookies, V8, and Coke. The race aid station also had PB&J and salted potatoes, so I was well-fed on each lap.

 

By lap two or three the sun had gone down, so it was a bit cooler. The course is just gorgeous. The first mile or so is in the woods and consists of very non-technical trail with one small hill. Then you come out along the paved bike path that follows the shore of Narragansett Bay for the next mile. The last ½ mile is bordered on one side by waving grasses and a little cove. As you can imagine, it’s quite peaceful and serene after dark. By this time the field is well spread out so you are sometimes running with nothing but your own thoughts. My dad has passed away a week earlier, so he was often on my mind. As a matter of fact, I wore his Masonic ring on a chain around my neck – although I didn’t need this reminder to know he was with me the whole time.

 

I was chugging along quite peacefully for a few hours. Then the fatigue started to set it. It really had been quite an emotional week, with little sleep, and I knew I wasn’t fully recovered from Vermont. The laps now consisted of walking the (small) hill on the trail while running the rest of the loop. I was still eating and drinking well, and I even passed Joe and got a hug. Elise’s mom said everyone looked good as they came through, except that Eric was having some GI issues. Ugh, not what one wants at the virtual beginning of a 24-hour race.

 

Somewhere around mile 17 I saw Mallory at the aid station, not looking very good. She wasn’t feeling well and no amount of cajoling was getting her to eat anything, but she didn’t want to quit. We left the aid station together and I told her I would stay with her and get her to her goal of 23 miles. Halfway through the loop she felt better and wanted to run but I was gassed so kept walking, thinking she would wait for me at the aid station. When I arrived, I was greeted by Wendy who had fallen off her pace and was now on the same lap as I was. She told me that Mallory had just departed, so after I got some food we set off in hot pursuit.

 

We walked the trail section, as neither one of us had much energy at this point. We popped out on the paved section and could see Mallory’s blinking red light about a tenth of a mile ahead of us. Convinced we could catch her, we flew (ok, it felt like we flew) through the next mile without overtaking her. Just as we arrived at the aid station, we saw her heading out. Checking our watches, we realized we were running about a 9:30 pace on that paved section, so apparently Mallory was feeling better! Joe had dropped at the 20 mile mark, so now my race became getting the marathon distance for him, as I knew the 50k was out of reach.

 

The next two laps went exactly the same way: walk the trail section, and run the paved section in small bites. Run to the ½ point aid station, walk a minute; run to the road crossing, walk a minute; run to the start/finish aid station, get some food. We headed out one more time, knowing we only had 45 minutes to complete the lap in order to get credit for it. I got that burst of energy that happens when I know I’m almost done, so I was pretty confident that we’d finish in time. Well, that energy only lasted for half the lap, and with a mile to go I was worried that we wouldn’t make it. I pushed hard for that last mile and tried to ignore all the check engine lights that were coming on. It was no longer about me; it was about doing something for someone else. I needed to get that marathon for Joe. The physical stress transformed into emotional breakdown, and poor Wendy had to deal with a blubbering runner as we came into the finish line. We finished in 5:48, with way more time to spare than I had anticipated.

 

Another race done. I was disappointed that I hadn’t gotten the 50k mark. Elise, however, was about to get hers. Wendy and I had crossed the finish line and then hung around to watch Elise come in to complete her first 50k in 5:50. Even though I was tired and hungry, I stayed at the finish line to cheer her on for this amazing accomplishment. We 6-hour racers were done, but somewhere out in the dark Eric was still marching along towards his 24-hour finish. Since I had offered to run some miles with him, it was time for me to get some food and try to get some rest.

 

After napping off and on for 5 or 6 hours, I gave up on getting some real sleep and gave in to the desire for coffee. Hobbling from the tent back down to the start/finish area, I was amazed at how good some of the 24-hour runners still looked. Clearly they were in a completely different athletic universe than I was!! We made coffee and breakfast and sat down trailside to wait for Eric and assess his condition. He arrived a little while later looking not bad, but still unable to get the GI issues under control. He had now decided that 100 miles was not going to happen, so the new plan was to complete 100k and call it a day. It would be his first 100k so I knew this was a huge accomplishment and not a defeat in any way. I told him I’d join him in a few hours and we’d get the job done.

 

As I headed back to the tent to change into my next set of running clothes and shoes, I thought to myself that I must be insane. I ran 27 miles the night before, and here I was gearing up for another 15. Only those people who run crazy distances understand the drive to do what we do. Not only did I feel incomplete without having finishing my own 50k goal, I knew that Eric would do better having some company and encouragement. So, I laced up my shoes, put on the pacer bracelet, and off we went.

 

Each lap we ran was the same as my final laps had been: walk the trail segment, and then run the paved segment in sections. The smaller bites were easier to digest (for both of us, I think) and it was nice to enjoy some of the scenery. Eric looked good for those last few miles, and he finished his 100k in 18:45. By this time we were both ready to chill out, slip on our Oofos, and get some real rest. Despite my failure to complete my own 50k, I had run a marathon for my husband and ran Eric to his first 100k. That was the real magic of the weekend.

 

Anchor Down Ultra was an amazing experience. Thank you to race director Jason Paganelli for his tireless (literally) presence throughout the entire 24 hours and for his hard work in creating a great racing atmosphere; to all the volunteers who gave up their weekend to help a bunch of crazy runners do impossible things; and especially to my husband Joe, whose continued support on this ultra journey makes it all possible.

 

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VT100k – The road to hell and back begins with a single dream

21 Jul

About a year ago I decided I wanted to run the VT100k. I had ridden the Moonlight in VT 50 several times and I thought that knowing a bit about the course and the terrain might be advantageous in my first race of this distance. Turns out that knowing the terrain and actually RUNNING it were two very different things.

 

My friend Laura and I signed up about 5 minutes after registration opened in January – and then the fun began. Since I had never run more than the 50k distance, I thought it might be prudent to get some expert training and advice. That training and advice came in the form of Deb Livingston. She’s a bit of a legend in my neck of the woods (ok, in my mind she is) and has run too many ultras to count. Under her watchful eye I prepared for the hills and heat that accompany the VT100k. By early July I felt ready and anxious to test myself on what was sure to be an amazing adventure.

 

I arrived in VT on Friday with my husband/crew chief Joe, my pacers Wendy and Dean, and Laura and her crew. We checked in, got our bibs, and did a quick weigh in (I was at 130, which was just what I expected to see after the massive amounts of food and water I’d been consuming in the past week), and then did a bit of shopping in the VT100 on-site store (call it a bit of taper madness). At the runner meeting we learned that we would not be required to do mandatory weigh-ins and med checks at the medical stations as in years past. I was a bit worried that I’d have to rely on my own assessment of my condition, but what the heck – how hard could it be? After the meeting we took a walk to see the last ¼ mile of trail and the finish line. I was itching to get the race underway.

bib and check in

Saturday morning arrived warm and sunny, just as predicted. Luckily the weather gods were kind – it was only projected to reach the mid 80’s and not the mid 90’s as earlier forecasts had warned. Laura and I checked in at the start line and began awaiting the countdown to the unknown. We got a great picture of us with our crew and race director Amy Rusiecki moments before she sent us off up the road (yes, the race starts with a cruel ½ mile uphill section).

start line

The first 9.3 miles literally flew by. We were cruising along at a great pace, keeping the heart rate low, and arrived at Camp 10 Bear for the first time in 1 hour 50 minutes – well ahead of the time we expected to finish that section. Most of the early miles are hard-packed dirt roads, so it’s relatively easy to run. We filled our water bottles, cruised the aid station food as well as scarfing down pickles and Coke from our crews’ coolers, and set off on the next section. We would be seeing our crew again at Margaritaville, which was only a short 11.5 miles away. Lulled into false security by the way we had been running, we charged up the hill and out of Camp 10 Bear.

 

Reality slammed us in the face in the form of Agony Hill, a rugged, steep, mile-long uphill. Hands on knees, a struggle to keep going, and lots of profanity is the only way I can describe it. Now I had done a lot of hill training in the weeks leading up to this race, but absolutely nothing had prepared me for this. All I kept thinking was how I couldn’t imagine the 100 milers doing this hill after already running almost 50 miles. Laura and I had done the Mt Greylock half marathon a few weeks previous and I remembered telling her how nothing in VT could be this bad. Boy, was I WRONG about that!!! We got through it and hoped that that was the worst of it. Yeah, it wasn’t.

 

We arrived at the Margaritaville aid station still in good spirits, despite the uphill grind, and overheard a volunteer saying that we were the only runners in the past 30 or so to come into the aid station at a run. That made me feel good, knowing that we were going strong at mile 21. Again we refilled our water, stuffed ourselves at the food table, and got some much-appreciated encouragement from our crew. Laura needed to attend to a nasty brewing blister on her heel, so I took some time to just soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the moment. With Laura’s foot taken care of (or so we thought), we grabbed a few more snacks and headed back out on the course.

 

The next section was a mix of easy running and some long, steep uphills, again on hard-packed dirt roads. We were still running the pace that were hoping to be doing, about 2 hours ahead of the cut-off. The heat was starting to take its toll and we were doing our best to keep cool by filling our buffs with ice at the aid stations, taking salt tabs every hour or so, and drinking a lot of water. We talked about how awesome it was to be such an historic course. We were rewarded at the top of the grinding hills with breathtaking views. And we discussed how much easier it was going to be to run when the sun started to go down. Little did we know that the hardest sections of the course were yet to come.

 

It was about this point that Laura’s foot became a problem again. She came to a stop on a hill and told me that she couldn’t go on. Another runner behind us asked what was wrong and how he could help. Explaining that she had a horrid blister on her heel, he promptly took off his pack and whipped out a tube of Krazy glue. Laura took off her shoe and sock and we peeled back the bandage, horrified to see skin come off with it. This kind runner reassured us both that it would be fine, and then he proceeded to cover the whole area with glue and lay the bandage back down. He told her to wait a few minutes and then try to move on, and he headed off down the road. Within a half mile Laura was much more comfortable and we set our sights on the next crew station, about 5 miles away.

 

Coming into Camp 10 Bear the second time was a little chaotic. It’s a steep, speedy downhill to the aid station and we came flying in like we were on fire, hoping to see our crew waiting for us. While there were plenty of volunteers clamoring to get us what we needed, we scanned the crowded aid station for our crew and came up empty. Two fellow Shenipsit Striders, Steve and Sean, saw my slightly panicked expression and immediately asked what they could do. When I mentioned that my crew was missing, as well as my pacer, they took off to find them. Steve came flying back over saying that they were on the other side of the aid station and were on their way. And the Striders had BACON!!! Nice, crispy, delicious bacon. My friend Wendy was geared up and ready to go for her 18 mile pacer duty, so after we ate and drank our fill we were off again.

striders

A half-mile or so from the aid station we were faced with Heartbreak Hill. Ugh. Another steep, technical hill. Ok, I know we’re in VT, but I swear there was way more uphill than downhill!!! Grinding up that hill I kept thinking to myself, “where is this downhill section that I was told about???” Eventually we found it and enjoyed a long stretch of road that was, in fact, mostly downhill (peppered with some steep uphill spots, of course). We soon began seeing some odd signs, and I was certain I was hallucinating. “Brownies ahead?” “Carrot cake?” “Flour girls?” Oh my sweet heavens, those signs actually existed and guided us to an amazing aid station with all kinds of baked goodies and my new favorite food – frozen grapes. Best. Food. Ever. Until the Ramen noodles a few miles later….

By now it was getting dark and we switched on our headlamps. The cooler weather definitely lifted our spirits and we pushed on towards Bill’s aid station at mile 50. Seeing my husband waiting for me was such a blessing. By now I was beyond tired, my feet were stinging from the downhill pounding on the hard dirt roads, and I was ravenous. I weighed in (just for kicks, since we didn’t have to pass a med check) and was happy to see I was at 132. No cause for worry there. I cruised the aid station food and was overjoyed to see the Ramen noodles. Taking a cup, I decided to sit down and get off my painful feet for a few minutes. Of course you know what happened next. The flash from my phone awaked me as Joe took a picture of me napping. I actually think that quick catnap did wonders, as I quickly got up and finished my soup and was ready to get back on the trail.me and my soup at BillsMy friend Dean was now pacing us, and I hoped he knew what he was in for. Two very tired, sometimes cranky, swearing, staggering girls. There was a lot of trail in this section of the race and I knew that the two worst hills on the entire course were yet to come. Laura’s heel had become a problem again, so we took our time getting through rooty trails and slick fields, and got a beautiful view of Mt Ascutney for our troubles. Soon after that we began to hear rumbles of thunder. Rut-roh. Rain I can handle. Lightning? No thanks!! Praying that it would hold off, we kept pushing towards Polly’s aid station and our last chance to see our crew before the finish line. Less than a half mile from Polly’s the skies opened up, drenching us. I was shaking uncontrollably within a few minutes because I was already so depleted. Joe found us a few hundred yards up the road and got us into the aid station where we got more warm food and some dry clothes.

 

We waited in the garage at Polly’s for the rain to subside. I dropped my hydration vest and opted to go with a handheld for the last few miles, and I was shocked at how stiff and tired my shoulders were. I hadn’t noticed it until I took off my vest. I did some stretching and Joe rubbed my back for a bit, and then it was time to kick the rest of this course’s ass and get across that famous finish line. I got one last hug and then the three of us set back out on the road.

 

Time seemed completely suspended throughout the entire race. I had no idea what time it was, how much time had passed, or even if it was the same day. I marveled at how good I felt when Laura said, “hey, do you know its almost 3am?” I swore it couldn’t be that late (or that early, depending on how you wanted to look at it). Distance also seems warped. Sometimes the miles passed quickly, and other times they seemed to go on for an eternity. Unfortunately, this was one of those times where a single mile felt like 10. We walked and ran and walked and ran. Polly’s is less than 5 miles from the finish line, but I felt like we had been running forever. When we came to the “1 mile to go” sign, I almost cried. Seriously? We STILL had another mile? I even remember saying to Dean, “I can’t do another mile!!” His response was NOT the sympathetic one I wanted. He basically told me to suck it up, that my mind was just lying to me. At that moment I hated his guts, but in the end he was right. Of course right at that moment the rain started again, and the trail quickly turned to slick mud. With less than a half mile to go, I told him to go on ahead and tell Joe we were almost there.

 

Now, I have never walked a finish line and I had no intention of this one being my first. But the trail was so slippery and we were so fatigued that I was afraid to do anything more than a slow walk. Luckily the trail levels out with a few hundred yards to go, so I looked at Laura and said, “let’s rock this thing!” and we painfully started to run. Seeing the lights of the finish line and hearing people clapping and encouraging us was more than my weakened body and mind could take. I barely got into the chute before I started to cry. Amy, the race director, was there to meet us and I fell into her arms and just sobbed. A year of training, preparation, anticipation, dreams, and hard work had paid off. I had finished my first 100k in 17 hours and 52 minutes, and even though I was physically shattered, I was emotionally so high that I didn’t think I’d ever come down.

 

With Joe holding me up, we made our way to the med tent and got some food before we headed back to our rental house. I looked around at all the runners, volunteers, crew members, pacers, friends and family and thought about what I had done. It was so surreal. And I can’t wait to get back there and do it all again. Thank you to my husband Joe, for being the most amazing crew chief and for supporting me the entire journey; to Laura for logging all the training miles with me and for enduring my almost constant string of profanities as the night wore on; and to Wendy and Dean for being the best pacers ever and keeping us going with the jokes and encouragement. I love you all more than words can express. I’m glad you were all a part of this magical experience. On to the next!!!

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The Big Day

06 Mar

So I have been doing so much running that its taken me quite a while to finish this story!!  Hartford Marathon day – what an amazing, awesome day it was!!!  Weather was perfect, I was feeling strong, and I couldn’t WAIT to get out on the course.  Waiting in the corral for the gun to go off was the absolute longest half hour of my life!!  After tapering for 2 weeks and running barely any mileage in the days leading up to the marathon, I was exploding with barely containable energy.  Luckily the crowds kept me from going out too fast, and after the first couple of miles I settled into a nice, easy, 10:30 pace.  My ankle felt perfectly fine.  So far, so good.

Before I realized it, I was 10 miles into the marathon and still feeling pretty damn amazing.  Realizing that this race might very well not have happened for me, I took some time to thank the powers that be for allowing me this incredible experience.  I savored it all after that – the bands, the spectators, and the incredible residents of South Windsor who were out in full force as we basically shut down part of their town.  Instead of being irritated, these angels were out on their lawns with music, coffee, bagels, bananas – everything a runner needs at miles 14-21 of a marathon.  I stopped to thank one sweet little girl who, with her mom, was handing out orange slices. I wonder if they realized how much we appreciated their thoughtfulness and support.  I was reduced to tears several times on that stretch of road.

And then – mile 21.  Ohshit.  So THAT’S what they mean by the wall.  All of a sudden my legs just wouldn’t move any more.  My 10:30 pace became more like 13:00 or 14:00 as I struggled to keep going by run/walking.  Every time I started walking, this kind stranger (who was a relay runner and fresh as a daisy) encouraged me to keep going with him.  He did that with everyone around us, and we all kept going because he was so intent on us all getting to the finish line.  What an incredible, selfless act.  Yep, I had to keep running.

At last Founder’s Bridge came into view, followed by Bushnell Park.  As soon as I rounded the corner at mile 26 and saw the streets were lined with cheering spectators, I lost it.  I mean I REALLY lost it.  I started sobbing so hard I could barely run.  And of course, that made everyone cheer louder.  Which made me cry harder.  It was a wonderful ride of support and emotion that I didn’t want to get off of, and I’ll never forget the bonds that were forged between myself and hundreds of total strangers as they encouraged me to go that last two tenths of a mile.  Running up the chute with tears streaming down my face was a moment that I will cherish forever.  I had done it.  My first marathon.  Four months after breaking my ankle.  26.2 hard-earned miles.  And I loved every single minute of it – the elation, the pain, the crowds, the exhaustion – the most amazing 4 hours and 41 minutes of my life.  And I couldn’t wait to do it again (which I did just 3 short months later, with a 4:13 finish in Charleston, SC).  I am currently registered for 3 more marathons this year – Cox Marathon in Providence, Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon in South Dakota, and of course – the Hartford Marathon, where I hope to turn in a sub 4-hour marathon (and thus qualifying me for THE BIG ONE – Boston).  I promise to keep you all updated on my journey, and I thank every one of you who has read my story, given me words of support, and helped me find my way back from “the dark side”.

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From wrecked to rehab….

15 Oct

So.  A few weeks after I got into the boot, I gave the boot the boot.  I was walking (slowly) on the track at the high school, and at week 4 I was cleared to start other therapy.  Joe is an avid reader of all things running, and came across an article about a female ultrarunner who rehabbed her way back from a stress fracture by pool running.  For those of you who do not know what this is, it is the equivalent of swimming through molasses.  You basically “run” by pushing yourself through the water with your arms and legs while trying not to drown.  Done correctly, the cardio benefits are amazing – and it keeps your running muscles fit with zero impact.  I was all over that like a cheap suit.  Two days a week I was walking 2-3 miles on the track, and two days a week I was pool running for 20-30 minutes, and two days a week I was doing 5-6 miles on a stationary bike.  I kept up with my icing and massage.  Slowly the pain in my ankle began to subside and I was able to add more and more exercise to my repertoire.

Now I have to give the disclaimer here.  My doctor approved the pool running and the stationary bike.  He had no idea that I was walking without the boot and would probably have been quite displeased at my aggressive approach to my rehab. Here we were, only 4 weeks after my fall, and I was already testing my limits.  But as I’ve mentioned before, I’m not known for my rule-abiding, conservative approach to life.  I tend to focus single-mindedly on the road ahead, and I don’t let anything get in my way.  A measly fractured ankle was NOT going to deter me from getting what I wanted.

At five weeks I was cleared to start using the elliptical, so I added 15-20 minutes of that to my walking days.  And my doctor told me that I could start “jogging” after 6 weeks.  I had been eagerly awaiting this day and could barely contain my glee.  I had managed to bring myself from a potential season-ending fracture to the brink of being a runner again.  So, being the careful, cautious person that I am (sense the sarcasm??) I ran a 5k exactly 6 weeks to the day from my injury.  And PRd.Image  Oh yeah.  Bring on Hartford!!