Thursday, February 22, 2018

This one's for the girls - Holiday Lakes 50k

I've run a lot of races.  Some, I remember for the epic weather or shoe-sucking mud along the way.  Some, I remember for the soul-crushing bonk that I endured or the toe nail that's never been the same.  And some I remember for the beautiful vistas, picturesque mountains or waterfalls along the way.  This year's Holiday Lakes 50k will be remembered for the support, the feeling of sisterhood, that I felt throughout the race.

I traveled to Holiday Lakes alone this year - couldn't convince anyone from the northeast that they were ready to run a 50k in mid-February.  While that meant for a long and lonely car ride, it also meant that I could binge-listen to as much Wait Wait Don't Tell Me and bad 90s music as I wanted to.  But, arriving at the race, it meant that I did my shake-out run alone and that I didn't have anyone to sit with at the pre-race dinner. I made quick small talk with a few other ladies during registration, and at dinner, but still felt like a lone wolf at the race.

Following the pre-race dinner and meeting, I headed to the girl's bunk house where many of us were staying for the night.  Upon entering, I saw that one of the runners (Martha) was pulling out a bottle of wine and a few cups.  She welcomed me into the room to share a glass - and with that one welcoming gesture, I was no longer alone.  Ultimately it was maybe 8 of us that hung out for an hour all sipping our wine, chatting and laughing. 

(Running at Holiday Lakes)
The next morning the entire bunk house was busy as all us ladies got ready, but we still had an air of familiarity that comes with sharing some wine and some laughs.  I shared a bunk room with two Lynchburg University students that were both nervously getting ready for their first ultra.  They peppered me with questions, from what my favorite race was to 'what parts of your body do you body glide?'.  By the time I made it to the starting line, there were several ladies that I needed to wish good luck before the race started.

As we set off, I quickly fell into rhythm with a group of runners including Kristin who was a first-time ultra runner.  It was great to chat a bit with her (she grew up in Minnesota so she understood what I'd been training through this winter).  She accidently lead us off-course a few miles into the race - so once we were on-course again (only losing maybe a minute), I could feel her panicking just a bit to catch up to the 10 people that passed us and make up the lost time - so I immediately told her to take a breath, and not worry about the lost places or the end of the race, we'll all be separated by much more than the minute we lost there. We ran together and chatted for several more miles before I ultimately pulled ahead.  I knew instantly that this girl is going to fit right in with the ultra community - she was enjoying the comradery with fellow runners, cheering folks on, and taking in the trail/ultra vibe in a way that not everyone does.

(Passed this runner around mile 5, and couldn't help but sing a few lines of 'Lion Sleeps Tonight')

I ran mostly alone for the rest of the race, but at the turn-around, I was pleased to hear many of my fellow competitors (all the ladies I had gotten to know the previous night) screaming my name as I passed them, genuinely pleased to see me running so well.  They made me feel welcomed, they cheered for me as a sister or teammate, I no longer felt alone.

I was pleased to have crossed the finish line in first, and equally excited to watch Kristin rock her first ever ultra to finish in 2nd place (for the record, I'm guessing she's going to have a long and successful ultrarunning career).  I cheered on the 3rd place finisher, Shannon, who I had spoken to the previous night at registration - again, we were both thrilled for each other's performance.  The feeling of sisterhood was all around - even in the shower-house, Shannon, Sheila (who finished 4th) and I were in adjacent stalls and we were gabbing, gossiping, and hoping to share miles in another race soon. 

(Isn't a finish line hug from Horton the best finish line prize?)

As I started my drive home, I made it about 100 yards before I saw Sophie (the one runner I knew before this weekend) cruising down the hill to the finish.  I quickly pulled over and jumped out of my car to give her a cheer - she said to me 'did you win?'.  When I said yes, she veered away from the finish to give me a high five before continuing on to the finish.

I know that I am completely spoiled to be surrounded by amazing ladies that I train with on a daily basis - they support me (even when it includes doing a 10 mile run at 5am on a random Tuesday in -10 degree temperatures just so I have company), they encourage me (including cheering me on at local races or sending me text messages when I'm traveling for a race), and they make me want to run better to honor all that they have done for me!  I was surprised and pleased to have experienced a similar feeling of support, encouragement, and pride from the ladies at Holiday Lakes - it was truly a sisterhood that weekend!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Complete Opposites - Hellgate 2017

I have been to the Hellgate 100k(+) race a few times now.  First, in 2015 I ran the race during the warmest year imaginable - it was 60 degrees at the midnight start, and 80 degrees by the time I finished, nearly 15 hours later.  For a December race that often boasts cold temperatures and that supplies heat guns at the aid stations to thaw out water bottles, I felt like I perhaps didn't get to run the true Hellgate experience.  Then, in 2016 Brian decided to run and asked me to be his crew support.  Brian got a more typical Hellgate experience, running through an overnight low of about 7 degrees and only warming to about 20 degrees by the finish.

This year, I decided to return, and even convinced my running buddy Kelsey Allen to join me.  While neither of us were feeling particularly prepared, we were excited to have an adventure! 

After a long drive down to the race site, we checked-in, organized gear (and drop bags), and caught a few hours sleep before our 10:30pm alarm clock.  Some quick pre-race preparations, a ride to the starting line, and Kelsey and I were lining up for the 12:01am start.  The temperature was hovering around 20 degrees, comfortable with

After a few moments, Kelsey and I found ourselves running together.  I suspect she was using me to pace her in the early miles.  Either way, it felt like a training run which was a great feeling.  About 30 minutes into the race, we started to see snowflakes in the air - this could be an interesting run!

Kelsey and I continued to run together, and the snow continued to increase in pace to steady snow by 1am.  We shared moments and miles with others, but somehow it was always us together.  We didn't plan to run together, yet found comfort in sharing miles and stories along the way.  The ridge from mile 8 to 20 was breezy and chilly - we kept warm by swapping stories and sharing news, as other than the two of us we are alone.  Somehow, running by headlamp adds such an isolated and lonely feeling to the trails so I was grateful to have Kelsey by my side.

Leaving the mile 27 aid station, I recalled that I fell apart in the next section of trail in 2015.  Kelsey helped keep me focused and keep my spirits up so I ran much stronger through the next 8 miles.  It's amazing what good company (and chatter) can do!  At some point, I realized that I was still running by headlamp miles farther than last time - what a great feeling!

As the sun rose, we realized how much snow had fallen.  There were a few inches of accumulation, enough to make the leaves that much more slippery and to make the feet pretty darn wet.  We basically walked a few downhills, as the leaves were mid-shin deep hiding ankle-biting rocks and the snow was only adding to the treachery.  Luckily, we both stayed upright.  We also thanked our lucky stars that the temperatures stayed in the 20s, because had it risen above freezing we would have had rain (or large, wet snowflakes that soak through your clothing).  Never thought I'd be grateful for below freezing temperatures!

I felt particularly strong as we powered through mile 48, but then quickly started to fade by mile 52.  I started shoving Sour Patch Kids by the handful into my mouth as my pace slowed over the rolling trails leading towards the mile 56 aid station.  Kelsey did her best to motivate me and maintain forward progress.  I could feel my legs shaking as my bonk increased.  I stumbled over rocks, I tore up my knee, I struggled to stay upright and move forward.  Even though the snow had stopped at this point, I was still running sloppy.

Through the last aid station, and all we had was a 3-mile climb and a 3-mile descent to the finish.  Kelsey did her best to lead me out and keep me moving well - but we had a few females right on our tales.  We pushed, and eventually Kelsey ran off ahead to maintain our 5th place finish.  Almost immediately, Meghan Hicks caught up to me.  We climbed the last mile to cross the Blue Ridge Parkway, and cruised towards the finish together.  While I would have loved to finish this race with Kelsey (having shared 58 "Horton miles" with her), it was wonderful to run with Meghan and get to know her a bit.  We gabbed, enjoyed the downhill cruise to the finish, and crossed the line together just under 14 hours.

Looking back, I can hardly believe that the last time I ran Hellgate, it was 80 degrees and this time it was 20s and snowing.  I remember stopping in rivers to cool myself off and this time I cursed my luck as I slipped on a rock and submerged a foot (and a glove!).  I was running in shorts and a tank top in 2015, this year I had on two layers of shirts and a windbreaker to stay warm.  Overall, my 2015 memories were of overheating and of loneliness along the way.  In 2017 I will remember the beauty of the snow throughout the day, and sharing nearly 14 hours with a great friend.  Surprisingly, even with the challenging slippery conditions, I managed to improve by an hour over my previous finish - mainly due to the amazing company I had with Kelsey by my side. 

What a great reminder what I love about this sport - sharing miles with friends, enjoying the beauty of the wilderness, and pushing your body along the way.  Who knows what another Hellgate experience might bring!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Hot Chocolate Run - Supporting a great cause

You all know how passionate I am about running - it is my freedom, it is my sanity, it is my community.  It may be hard to imagine, but not that long ago I felt lost, lonely, and depressed.  Running, and the community that I found through running, helped turn things around for me - it helped me find an incredibly supportive community of friends, it helped me gain confidence, and has offered opportunities to explore the country (and even a few portions of the world!).  I am so grateful for all that running has given me.

Again this year, I am trying to bring a larger impact with my running - through running the Hot Chocolate Run and fundraising for Safe Passage.  Safe Passage is a local organization that supports victims of domestic violence.  This is not a fundraising race where the funds disappear into some national account; they stay local and provide neighbors with the support and counseling they need in times of crisis.  This is an opportunity for me to use my passion to create positive change in my community. 

This will be my 12th time running the Hot Chocolate Run, and I hope to fundraise $500 for Safe Passage.  I would really love to see my running help support positive change in my community.

So, if you're reading this and are so inspired, I appreciate anything that folks can give ($5, $10, whatever!).  Either way, especially coming into the holidays, I would challenge everyone to try to find a way for your running to support change in your community!

Here is the link to my personal fundraising page:

(If I raise over $500, y'all can get me to run in another awesome outfit like this!)