Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Running with Confidence - Bull Run Run Race Report

Bull Run Run is an awesome event - put on by the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club, it is a great way to kick off an ultra season.  I've only had the opportunity to run BRR twice, since it typically conflicts with Boston Marathon.  This year, the calendar aligned again!

Over the years, I've put so much pressure on myself to run well.  I develop pacing charts, I research the course map and terrain, I focus my efforts on the task at hand.  I allow my OCD nature and my internal competitiveness (with myself) to dictate race plans and approach. 

(Gary Knipling with RDs Alisa Springman and Jim Daniels, who organized an awesome event!)
This year, due to other stressors in my life and not enough time to worry about it, I entered the race without a pre-determined race plan, without a pace chart, without any knowledge other than what I'd gained in my last two Bull Run Run runs.  I guess that stress at work, the time commitment of race directing two major races, and understanding that I have a few larger/more important races to stress about, I just approached Bull Run Run as an easy relaxed race.  Whatever happens will happen. 

My goal for the day?  Feel as strong and as solid at mile 49 as you did at mile 2.  What does that mean on race day?  No idea...

 Race morning dawned to a dreary day.  It was 35 degrees and spitting rain - I felt like I was in New England.  The race took off fast and furious, and I relaxed as I settled into my rhythm.  I couldn't tell who was ahead of me, but saw Kathleen Cusick within my sight, and let her run her own race rather than trying to track her down.  I ran with confidence that if I relaxed and stuck to my plan that I would have a good day.

(Early miles, as the hail is falling)

About an hour into the race, the rain turned to snow...I just had to laugh at this weather.  The wet trails, combined with several hundred runners on them, turned much of the trail to Crisco-slick mud.  I spent many strides almost running in place as my feet slid out from under me.  By the first turn-around, I saw 3 or 4 women ahead of me (including Kathleen)...and reminded myself to relax and do my thing.  My inner competitive animal wanted to hunt some ladies down, and I had to quiet that instinct.

(Joe, who I shared miles with later on, running through the snow/rain/hail)

Another hour later, and the snow had turned to hail.  Hail was littering the ground, almost giving the trail a dusted look.  I had caught Kathleen but was running just ahead of her.  I was relaxed and enjoying the day, trying to figure out the odds that the weather would be this crazy.

As I passed through the start/finish area for the first time, I immediately saw Robin (who had paced me at Massanutten a few years ago) and she told me that the 2 women ahead of me had dropped out, I was now in 1st place.  I did a triple take, not believing that this could happen.  I mean, I know the weather isn't ideal but I train in these conditions all the time! 

(Running with confidence)

The next hour was likely the most miserable of the race, as rain was coming down now and the wind kicked up a bit.  The miles were a blur, I simply passed the time trying to keep my hands from going numb. 

I caught up to a runner, Danny, and we passed the miles gabbing about life in the construction industry, past race adventures, life.  At some point, the wind died down and the rain stopped.  Just after the white loop, I nearly ran head-long into Brian on his return trip.  It was great to see that he was doing well, but was nervous that I saw him so early in the race - perhaps I wasn't moving well after all. 

(Sharing some miles with Danny)

As we hit the Do-Loop, and I did my best to surge past around the loop and start my return trip.  The sun was starting to come out, and I was amazed that the day packed just about every weather condition!

The return miles seemed to fly by and I felt strong.  I was amazed that my legs were so strong and I felt as steady as I did in the early miles.  I caught up to a runner, Joe, and we bonded over both knowing Leigh Schmidt (and wondered why he wasn't here).  With a few miles to go, Joe started to encourage me to run strong and kept pacing out the stride for me. 

(Cruising into the finish)
I crossed the finish line in 8:25, which was a solid time, given the rain and the slippery muddy conditions.  But, not quite the time I was hoping for.  I was surprised to somehow have finished first female despite my time.  More, I was pleased to have stuck to my pre-race plan and run with confidence.  I didn't worry about the splits or placing, I just ran strong and smart and cruised through the entire race.

(Final women's podium)

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

2015 in Review

If there was one word to describe 2015, it would probably be crazy.  We had some highs, we had some lows, and we had numerous adventures along the way.  Beyond the racing that Brian and I did, this year also included race directing which added another element of chaos.

Brian proved that he knows how to run a great 100 mile race.  He won the Massanutten 100 miler in May, and won Grindstone 100 in October.  He also snagged a strong 2nd place finish at Vermont 100 in July, despite volunteering for me in the days leading up to the race.

(Brian, cruising to victory at Massanutten 100)

Brian's proudest moment came at the North Face - Bear Mountain 50 miler in May.  After 7 years of racing, and 7 years finishing in the top 5 but never first, he was finally able to get it done.  As he cruised towards the finish line of Bear Mountain, he just looked at me and said 'finally'.  Pictures from the finish show just how happy Brian was to win the race...

(At the finish of Bear Mountain 50 Miler)

He also had a good day at Manitou's Revenge 50 miler in June, showing that he can win the race if only his shoe stays intact (unlike the previous year).  He also finished 3rd at Mountain Masochist in November while out on a training run, and finished an unofficial 3rd at the Vermont 50k in September when pacing our friend Donald for the entire race. 

Brian struggled with the early season Zion 100 in April, finishing in 3rd place and vowing to never listen to my harebrained ideas ever again.  However, Brian's biggest struggle came at the Leadville Trail 100 in August where he contemplated DNFing and ultimately finished 12th place.

I had set out two seemingly impossible goals for myself at the beginning of the year.  The type of reach goals that you only have the courage to whisper to a dear friend about 4 hours into a training run when your filter is worn down.  What were these goals?  I wanted to race for the USA at the World Trail Championships, and I wanted to win my first 100 miler (and, while I was dreaming big, ideally that win would come at Grindstone 100).

(Racing up the 'Rock Pile' at Mt. Washington)

Amazingly, I achieved both of my goals for 2015 - making me a true believer that a little bit of luck and a lot of determination can make dreams come true.  In February, I learned that I was selected for the USA team to race at the World Trail Championships in France.  At the time, the ground was covered in snow, as it would be until early April.  I continued to train hard, using snowshoeing to log miles, even traveling to Wisconsin for the US Snowshoe Nationals and placing 8th in the 10k race and 2nd in the half marathon.

(Enjoying the trails at Snowshoe Nationals)

I had a bumpy road for the next few months leading up to the World Championships, accumulating low mileage due to the snowy conditions at the TARC 6 hour and dropping out of Zion 100.  However, I had a few shining moments such as finishing Bear Mountain 50k in my fastest time yet (but still second place) and finishing 2nd place at Massanutten 100

In all honesty, I felt unprepared as I traveled for the World Championships.  I could blame some of that on the weather conditions that we had - it was hard to train when the trails were covered in snow until April and even harder to train through the numerous sub-zero cold spells we had.  However, I wished the race was later in the year so I could have had a better training build-up under my belt.  I still ran my heart out and did my best to represent the USA strong.

(Finishing the World Trail Championships)

Returning from France, I was fully focused on my first year of race directing for the Vermont 100 Endurance Race.  I learned a lot, but some of my favorite memories of 2015 were in congratulating finishers or helping refill their water bottles at aid stations along the way.  The pride, joy, and determination that the runners showed made me made all the sleepless nights and stressful meetings worth it. 

(Congratulating 23-time Vermont 100 finisher, John Geesler)

Leadville 100 turned into a disastrous day, my only motivation was to finish so I wouldn't have to ever go back there again.  The two highlights of that adventure, however, was having my brother pace me, and also meeting my angel pacer, Chad, who took me home for the last 25 miles.

(Feeling hopeless at the Hopeless Aid Station in Leadville 100)

Grindstone 100 was my last big race of the season, and I was nearly heartbroken when the race was initially cancelled.  I scrambled to make things work so I could still race when it was ultimately postponed to the following weekend.  I had a dream of winning a 100 miler this year, and this was my last 100 miler this year - but truth be told, this was the one that I really wanted to win.  Somehow, through luck, motivation from my friends, and an amazing pacer (Josh), I crossed the finish line first.  Better yet, I got to share the win with my husband.

(Grindstone Champions!)

Grindstone, in a way, felt like the end of my year.  I had achieved what I set out to do in 2015. The rest of the year, I ran a few races for fun, finishing 5th at Mountain Masochist 50, 4th at Hellgate 100km, and winning the 50k at Ghost Train (and then hanging out to crew/pace other runners).  But, I was already dreaming up my adventures for 2016.

In general, it was a fun-filled year with a ton of highlights and struggles.  2016 is already shaping up to be another big year, with Brian and I competing at UTMB and me racing at Western States.  Brian will try to win himself a golden ticket to join me at Western States...we'll see!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Burning in Hellgate

I've wanted to do the Hellgate 100km for a while.  I don't know why this race has fascinated me, but it has.  Maybe it's the 1 minute past midnight start, maybe it's the mid-December weather, perhaps it's that it's a Horton race measured in Horton miles, perhaps I had a morbid fascination with the stories about Hellgate eyes (frozen corneas) as the most common race injury, I don't know. 

But, I've wanted to do Helgate for years.  I've even signed up the last two years and then the universe prevented me from actually getting to the race.  In 2013, it was a blizzard/ice storm that would be hitting the area (and my entire drive home) that put into perspective how reckless and irresponsible it would be to travel to Virginia and back through those driving conditions simply for a race.  It didn't help that I was still recovering from an injury incurred during a road race the previous weekend.  Then, in 2014, my Achilles flared up just prior to the race and I was again unable to attend.  This year, nothing was going to stop me from getting to Hellgate and finishing this race!

So, I drove to DC and picked up Kathleen Cusick and Keith Knipling to share the last few hours together.  Luckily, they had done the race before, and knew where to crash for a few precious hours prior to the race and how to connect for a ride to the start.  So, just before midnight, I was finally ready to start my first Hellgate adventure.

The first few hours of the race were a blur of cruising down some hills, hiking up other climbs, twisting my still tender ankle, and enjoying the race.  It was warm already, and I was anxious about how I would deal later on.  It was the middle of the night and I was already in a tshirt and shorts.

On the big climbs, I enjoyed seeing the lights up ahead and behind me - enjoying the serenity of the trail that can only come at 2am with a group of like-minded folks.  My only concern was that my headlamp started to die about an hour into the race and completely died just after 2 hours.  I put in my spare battery (thank goodness I had that) as I silently cursed Brian for not recharging the headlamp like he said he did.  Doing some quick mental math I wasn't sure I could make it to daybreak!

At the first crew station (mile 21), I was told I was in 3rd female, but I noticed that the 4th female came and went as I was digging around in my drop bag.  I let her go - my experience here wasn't about racing as much as it was about finally finishing Hellgate and having some fun out there.

Four hours in, the 2nd battery on the headlamp died, and I scrambled through my pack for another set of batteries.  I was starting to wonder what the heck was wrong with my headlamp that it would kill batteries in only 2 hours. I continued to cruise around and was loving the trails.  The sun came up somewhere between 30 and 35 miles, I was so pleased to take the headlamp off and not worry about that.  I was amazed that, when running through the night, mileage and landmarks all blur together in a haze of memories.  I can't remember where the big climbs were, or what mileage I was at when certain things happen, I just remember running through the night.

Once the sun was up, the temperatures got hotter.  I was downing water in hoping of staying ahead of my hydration, but I know how my body is and it struggles in the heat when not acclimated.  I walked for most of the section from mile 34 to mile 42 as I struggled to stay cool and keep my focus.  At the mile 42 aid station, Horton was there (will a bull horn) and told me that the I was 4th female and that the top 5 females would be getting a nice Patagonia down jacket...so I better get a move on.  I rolled my eyes at him as I secretly decided I had to stay in the top 5.

The next section was glorious single track as the trail skirted through the sides of the mountains.  It felt like it was entirely a slight downhill, as I cruised and enjoyed the views.  I was refreshed by the food I ate at the last aid station, and re-energized with my desire to earn a jacket.  This section was long, but I got lost in the trails and somehow was able to forget all the discomforts I should have been feeling.

The climb into the next aid station (at mile 49) was where I realized I was in serious trouble.  I was overheated but wasn't sweating.  My stomach had shut down due to the heat.  The last few miles of this race were going to be rough!  This race is known to be challenging for the cold temperatures and here I was burning up...I felt like I was literally burning at the gates of hell!  At the aid station, they offered me ice cream (which I gladly took) and I doused myself in icy water, trying to cool myself down.  I left with another runner and we cruised the first mile or so downhill together, but he left me when the trail turned up and I slowly worked my way forward.

My next several miles took me forever - I was overheated and struggling.  I stopped at each of (the many) water crossings to throw water over my head and on myself, even laying down in a few of the slightly larger streams.  I could only walk, and even that wasn't fast.  Guys were passing me at an alarming rate, but somehow I was still the 4th female.  At one river crossing, I looked up to see another female coming up the trail.  I let her pass and then tagged onto the back of her in hopes of hanging onto a top 5 female finish.  That lasted only a few moments before she pulled away and I was again walking.

At another water crossing, I was just getting out of the water when I looked up and saw the 6th place female approaching.  The prospect of not finishing top 5 was enough to motivate me to run through my discomfort as I worked to maintain my position.  I got to the last aid station and saw the 4th place female was still there, and knew that the 6th place female was hot on my tail.  I grabbed a few cups of soda and boogied out of the aid station in 4th place.

I knew that the last 6 miles of this course were 3 miles up, then 3 miles down, so I focused on hiking strong on the uphill.  The 5th place female was right behind me so I encouraged her to catch up so we could work together.  She did, and we pushed each other up the climb, each taking our turns to push the pace a bit and be dragged along.  We could see the 6th place female, as well as at least one other female, behind us so we worked to keep an honest pace and maintain the gap. 

Towards the top of the climb, another female (who we didn't see when we looked back) came flying by us, and I immediately latched on to her pace.  Where had this chick come from?!?  She had to have been running in 7th or 8th all day!  About a minute after working off her pace, I realized that we were passing the female who had been 3rd all day. 

Once safely in the top 5 again (but not by much), I decided to conserve a bit of energy on the hike and let this female go a bit.  I was confident that if I could see her at the top of the climb, I could likely catch her on the downhill.  I crested the climb, gave high fives to the volunteers there, took one more sip of water, and then started cruising downhill.  I caught a few guys as I pushed the pace, but couldn't see the 3rd place female.

I kept pushing the pace as best I could, but wasn't catching sight of the female ahead of me.  Eventually, I ran out of space to catch her and we were turning into the finish.  After all the struggles that I had encountered during the day, I was pleased that I somehow finished 4th place and under 15 hours. And, in general, I was so excited to have finally gotten to participate in Hellgate.  It lived up to the reputation as a fun but challenging race.  Of course, I feel like I missed out on one aspect of the event, given that it was so hot, so I'll have to return another year for a more typical cold race.