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.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Hot Chocolate Run - 5k for 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.
 
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 10th time running the Hot Chocolate Run, and I hope to fundraise $250 for Safe Passage.  I've never done fundraising like this before, but 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: http://www.hotchocolaterun.com/give/?pid=81444

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

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

100 Reasons - Grindstone 100 Race Report

Reason #88. Because you WANT to be good at 100’s and you put so much intention and thought into the art of running them well. 

My emotions were all over the place leading up to Grindstone 100. I watched the race last year, as I crewed/paced Brian, and decided that this was a race I really wanted to run in 2015. Then, mother nature stepped in and the race was first cancelled, then ultimately postponed a week. That gave me an extra week to overthink the race, an extra week of taper (to sit around, not running, and eat too much). By the time Brian and I drove down to Virginia, I wasn't quite sure why I wanted to run this in the first place - my anxiety was high, I felt sluggish and 10 pounds overweight, and just not into it anymore. To make matters worse, Clark had assigned Brian bib #1 (as the top ranked male runner in the race) and me number #101 (as the top ranked female runner) - talk about putting targets on our backs!

Fortunately, my training buddies and WMDP teammates had written up a list of '100 reasons you're going to rock the 100' for me to read during my race. I carried it with me and used it for inspiration.

Reason # 24. Believe in yourself, because your entire team does! Own it!

The race had a humorous start, as all the runners anxiously lined up, ready to go, and Clark stood before us and said 'uh, you're all about 5 minutes early. It's like you're been waiting a week for this or something!'. He said a prayer, then we still had minutes to kill. Someone suggested we sing the national anthem, so slowly the runners all chimed in with the song - likely the most pathetic version of the national anthem ever (we are all runners, after all!). Finally...the race started.

Reason #84. Because there is a community of inspired runners that you got out onto the trails to discover freedom and friendship waiting to celebrate you back at home.

Early miles were a blur - I was trying to stay relaxed, but also trying to get as far as I could before I needed a headlamp. About 3 miles into the race, the sky got extremely dark and it started to rain on us - I put my headlamp on quickly after that. I felt good, maybe a bit aggressive with my pace, but anxious to put miles behind me. 


(Cruising in the early miles)
 
Reason # 27. While the hung-over crowd is sleeping on New Year's Day while you are busy doing sugarloaf repeats then you can run a 100 miler!!

Elliot's Knob is the first climb, and I felt like I was moving well to the top. On the backside of the climb, running by headlamp on wet, leaf-covered wobbly rocks, I turned my ankle over. Now, I twist my ankles all the time and usually they bend like Gumby. However, this ankle roll was different and hurt immediately. I stopped for a minute to assess the pain, do a few circles with my foot, and figure out what to do. But, I realized no one was going to get me off the side of this mountain, so I hobbled forward tentatively over the wet rocks. My ankle wasn't good, the pain radiated down under my foot as I limped down the trail.  Luckily, with another mile or so the pain receded.  Damn - I can't do that again!

Reason #36. Because it's a piece of cake, right? You've done plenty of 100-milers before.

In and out of the next aid station - I realized that my pace was a suicide pace. I was inadvertently well ahead of the course record pace, I guess I really did go out too hard! I tried to relax on the climb up Crawford Mountain and settle into a more sustainable pace. Two steps into the ensuing downhill and I rolled my already tender ankle a second time. I collapsed to the ground in a pathetic pile in an attempt to ease the pain (and instead scraping up my knees). Again, I stopped for a minute to assess, then hobbled on forward.  Luckily, the pain and limping faded again after a mile.  Damn - I really can't do that again!

Reason #47. Because your participation in this race is seriously inspiring more people-your neighbors, your co-workers, your friends, their kids-than you can possibly realize.

Into Dowell's Draft, the first crew station, and I was feeling good. Josh Finger, who would be crewing Brian and I for the early miles (before pacing Matt Wilson) was ready to go and helped get me on the trail again fast. The climb up Lookout Mountain was nice - it was actually mellow enough that I kept wondering if I should run or hike it. At some point, I realized that it stopped raining, but I can't remember when. 

Reason #95. Your strength, your dedication, the fire you have to continue getting better, because you never settle and you don’t let us settle either, because you believe in us… we all admire you and are already celebrating what we know will be an epic adventure.

It was getting late, and memories were coming in flashes. Lookout Mountain was a party, with AJW and his Charlottesville Area Runners at the helm. Downhill was nice, cruised it feeling good but wondering how my hamstrings and glutes were so sore already. Saw giant rat on the bridge crossing the North River - let it win the race across the bridge because I didn't want to get near it. Saw Josh at North River Gap aid station, learned that Matt dropped out and Josh would be pacing me (yay!). Remembered how runners looked like they had been through a war at this aid station last year, so did my best to hold it together - remembering that I told folks last year that things would better once the sun came up.

Reason #3. Your left leg is strong.
Reason #4. Your right leg is also strong, maybe even stronger than your left?

The climb up Little Bald Knob went on forever. I realized early on this climb that my climbing legs were shot - I must have gone too hard on the early climbs, or else they just aren't trained for the amount of vertical here. Either way, the climb was slow and I kept having flashbacks from my Leadville climb. I threw calories down my throat, started listening to my mp3 player, and tried to forget how many other climbs I had coming up. Honestly, I was just waiting to be passed by the next female.

Reason #85. Because when obstacles, like race photographers, get in Amy Rusiecki’s way she just goes over/through them. In a tu tu.
 
(Start of Hot Chocolate Race, with dumb-ass photographer kneeling down in the middle of the street - if you look carefully, you might see my legs in the air as I flipped over her!  The outfit I was wearing when I did that.)

My struggles on this climb extended beyond my dead legs. I kept having the sensation that I was going to pass out, or that I was slightly dizzy or something. I don't know how to describe it, but it was freaky, and caused me to stop a few times to close my eyes and hope the sensation went away.

Reason #98. Because you’ve made “Why not me?” your mantra. Count yourself in.

Anyway, I somehow made it up Little Bald Knob, then Reddish Knob, and finally to the turn-around. Phew, half way down. Thank you, may I have another? My watch read 12:06, so I knew that breaking 24-hours was out the window...and based on how I was moving, I wasn't confident that I could finish in under 25 hours either (which would mean finishing by headlamp). My heart sank.

 Reason #23. Think of the entire wolf pack at every corner cheering you on...

The turn-around was the first chance to assess the race - see who was behind me and where they were. The 2nd place female was only 12 minutes back, and it was Megan, who finished 2nd here last year also. I felt extremely unstable with that slim a lead, considering how I felt. 3rd and 4th female were both within minutes behind her...I knew I was done right then and there.

Reason #63. You didn’t train to stop.

Climbing back up to Reddish Knob on the return trip, my equilibrium started to wonk out again. I didn't know what was going on. At one point, I realized I had just woken up with my foot fall - I had fallen asleep while hiking! That freaked the heck out of me, and I did whatever I could to stay awake until the next aid station - I was slapping my cheeks, clapping my hands, singing out loud, whatever I could think of to stay awake. 

Reason #38. Because every blister, bruise and scab is worth the bragging rights of saying you finished another 100-f'ing-miler.

At the Reddish Knob aid station, I sat down and told them what had just happened. They immediately sprang to action and got a cup of coffee in my hand. As I was mostly done, they refilled it and insisted I finish it off. The sky had started to lighten, the coffee kicked in, and I was ready to move again. Miraculously, I was still in the lead.

Reason #16. Beautiful scenery.

I enjoyed the next section, as I crossed paths with runners on their out-bound trip and got to wish them good luck (or give high fives to my friends along the way). The sun was rising, there was a light fog in the area and foliage in the trees - I was extremely tired, but this was just incredibly beautiful!

(Foliage on Little Bald Knob)

Reason #74. If you get lonely after 60+ miles, you can just hallucinate some friends on the trail. 

After a LONG downhill, I was so excited to hear North River Gap - I would finally have company on this run! I got what I needed and headed out on the trail with Josh - and quickly recounted what he should know - "I feel completely trashed, I can't climb for sh*t right now, I fell asleep walking that last section, but I am somehow in the lead. I've never won a 100 miler before." Josh simply said "ok, well you're going to win one today".

We hiked as hard as I could up to Longs Mountain, then cruised the downhill into Dowell's Draft. Josh focused on getting me to eat and keeping me in the lead - I felt like we were moving at a pace that I couldn't sustain for the entire 35 miles left. Swing your arms when you hike Josh would tell me, and I would try to swing the hips and power walk like the pros. 

Reason #62. Because you’re stronger than you think you are.

Dowell's Draft was the last large aid station, and Josh pulled my headlamp out of my drop bag. I was a bit heart broken, it was 18:45 on the race clock and he really thought that it would take me over 6 hours to do the last 22 miles?!? I flat-out refused to take the headlamp, as my stubborn side came out with a we're finishing before dark!

Reason #64. Articles have been published about your greatness. 

About a mile out of the aid station, a guy (and his pacer) came flying by me on the climb - when we asked him if he had any info on the next female back, he relayed that she had been entering the aid station when he was leaving. That meant she was only about 3 minutes back. I freaked out, and tried my darnedest to make my tired legs turn over and up the hill. I had never been in the lead this late in a 100 miler! Any time the trail leveled out, Josh would simply say run and I would start chugging down the trail - I felt like the Little Engine That Could. He even had me running on some of the gradual uphills, spurring me on with the threat of finishing 2nd place. I ran with reckless abandon, knowing that this pace wasn't sustainable, but I just focused on getting up this one climb. 

Reason #40. It's about time that a Clarkson grad actually did something, anything, exceptional

Reaching the top, I gratefully fell down the other side - enjoying the recovery that was bringing me closer to the finish line. In-and-out of the aid station, I was ready to tackle the last climb. I had it in my head that if I could crest the last climb (around mile 91) in the lead, I thought I could win. It was all downhill after that to the finish, and I felt great on the downhills! So, I focused on getting up this last climb. Every muscle in my body was 100% fatigued, but I still pushed. I couldn't talk, my conversation consisted of a series of grunts to Josh.

Reason #97. 100 miles? Honey badger don’t care.

Cresting Elliot's Knob, the last climb, I wanted to cry. It was the first time all day that I started to believe I could actually win this thing. I also glanced at my watch and realized that I might be able to break 24 hours after all! I told Josh I think I have it, and he replied it's not over till you finish, we need to work hard the whole way.

Reason #48. Because you've GOT this! You're going to kill it!

I hammered the downhill into the last aid station as best I could, spurred on by Josh reading our per-mile pace off his watch (9:50, 9:30). It was a downhill, but damn, I was excited to be cruising at sub-10s!

Reason #10. Your ability to stop listening to your head and instead run with your heart.

At the last aid station, 5 miles to go, Josh told me no more walking for the rest of the race. I buckled down and pushed with everything I had. I did have to stop once when my shoe came untied, but Josh retied it for me, convinced that me bending over was a monumentally horrible idea at this point. Otherwise, I ran the last section, trying to leave it all out on the trail. We figured that the race would likely come down to a close (few minute) finish, unless I some how bust this race open - and we weren't confident that I had. 

Reason #100. You're Amy Fucking Rusiecki

With 1 mile to go, I could hardly contain my emotions, but Josh said Amy, you're going to finish in under 23:40, I don't want to see a 4 in your finish number! I glanced at my watch, and it read 23:30:58 - he thought I could run at 9 minute mile at this point?!? Then, he ran slightly ahead and bated me to follow him. I stretched out my sore, tight legs to try to catch up. We scrambled down the slippery downhill, over the river and dam outlet, and were on the grass covered dam. We could see the finish, I had 4 minutes to finish in under 23:40. I started to cry but tried to hold back the tears and run as fast as my legs would take me. 

Reason #54. There’s more than enough room for two 100 mile champions in the Rusiecki house.

Josh tried to peel off before the finish line, but I insisted that he cross with me. He had been the exact pacer that I needed that day - as promised, he delivered me to the finish in 1st place and under 24 hours! He pushed me to my limit, and pulled an incredible performance out of me, he helped me run with my heart when my head was screaming to let up and relax. We crossed the line together in 23:38:50. (Yes folks, that's a sub-8 minute mile for the last mile - and with a river crossing scramble!)

(Team Rusiecki, Grindstone Champions!)
 
I quickly collapsed into the cot at the finish, waiting for Brian to make it over to see me.  (Yes folks, he missed me finishing my race...again...  He says I finished too fast.)  I was completely overcome with emotions - I had finally won a 100 mile race, and won it on a course that I really love!  Better yet, I got to share the victory with my husband.  Almost immediately, Clark wanted to do the champions photo, so he handed each of us our trophy - I swear to you, I almost fell over.  How cruel to hand someone a 10.5 pound trophy within minutes of finishing a 100 miler!  I made Josh carry it over to the car for me.
 
Given the last minute permit struggles with this race - I really do want to thank Clark and his Eco-X team for putting on yet another amazing event.  The Eco-X races are some of my favorites, but I was especially blown away with how seamless it was for us runners out on course, we got the same amazing level of support and same enthusiasm.  As an RD, I can only imagine what a challenging week this was for him.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Running the race, but not running the race.

This year was my first year as Race Director for the Vermont 100 Endurance Race.  Now, I have RDed events before, but nothing this large.  I've participated in races this large before, but the work load of a runner or crew is completely different than that of an organizer.  I was certainly engaging in a huge adventure with a huge learning curve.  I knew it would be interesting to be running (organizing) the race but not running (competing in) the race.

If I had to list out the top 10 nuggets of knowledge to pass along to other new RDs, here they are:

1. Surround yourself with allies who can help distribute the work load, can compliment your weaknesses, and take on some of the large responsibilities.

Fortunately, at the VT100, I had an amazing race committee to help me out.  The committee is entirely volunteer based, and incredibly they are mostly non-ultra runners.  They are folks who are passionate about the Vermont 100 (and many of them double-up and are also on the Vermont 50 race committee), many of them are also long-time volunteers for Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports which is the organization the VT100 benefits.  I benefitted greatly from the knowledge that so many of the committee had - they could share some of the race history with me, to help me from making mistakes that they had already made.  Phew!  In the months leading up to the race I was incredibly nervous, but felt a sense of calm knowing that the race committee would not let the race fail...they worked incredibly hard to make the race the best they could, and make me look like I was in control!

(Volunteer Coordinators Meghan and Kristin with VT50 RD Mike)

One of the best pieces of advice that I got when I took on the RD position was to get a few lieutenants that you trust completely to do volunteer coordinating, sponsorship/vendor coordinating, and course management.  So, in addition to an amazing race committee that helped me along the way, I had faithful lieutenants in my two training buddies Kristin and Meghan (who I brought on as first-time volunteer coordinators), Ron (who stepped up as sponsorship coordinator) and Zeke (who has been on the committee for years and knows the course better than anyone!).

(Changing of the guard - with the VT100 Horse Race RD, Jenny, and previous VT100 RD Julia)

2. Reach out to other Race Directors and pick their brains.

Other Race Directors are the greatest resource available to any new RD.  I greatly benefitted from the mentorship of numerous amazing Race Directors.  They helped me with sage advice, passing along industry contacts, and encouragement along the way.  Julia (the previous Vermont 100 RD) remained involved in helping me out with whatever questions I had, no matter how stupid or minor the detail was.  Mike (the VT50 RD) was on the race committee and helped coach me through numerous items to keep me on point and focused when I might want to dream a little big at times.  Clark Zealand (Mountain Masochist/Grindstone RD), Kevin Sayers (Massanutten 100 RD) and Rich White (Cascade Crest 100 RD) each took significant time to chat with me, offer advice, answer my long (sometimes annoying) emails, and pass along useful info and documents.  I greatly benefited by the insight from so many strong race directors, and am grateful that they all took the time to mentor me.

(Kevin Sayers, MMT100 RD, offering me advice within minutes of finishing his race)

3. Hang out at the finish line and watch the finishers as much as possible.

I have been at numerous finish lines and watched folks finish over the years, and it's always a joyful experience.  Standing at the finish of the VT100 this year, from the first runner to the last, and watching the runners finish, was inspiring.  Having worked so hard to organize the race, the moments of joy as runners finished and hugged their pacers, crew, family and friends, these were the moments that truly touched me and made all my hard work truly worth it.  It brought a tear to my eye to watch the last runner as he worked his way up to a run just before he passed under the finish line, or to watch a few of the 28-hour runners who were utterly shocked that they actually made it.  No matter how challenging the race permitting can be, or how frustrating or tedious different aspects of the organizing process is, seeing the fruits of your labor is the best payback.

(Being greeted by Rich White at the finish line of Cascade Crest 100)

4. Realize that when the race is over for everyone else, you're only half done.

One of the biggest surprises to me was how much post-race work there is to be done.  I knew there would be some close-out work, but was overwhelmed by how much there was and how much time it took.  Little projects added up to a ton of time - finalizing results to post splits and to meet UTMB results certification requirements, answering the large volume of post-race emails, thanking sponsors and volunteers (and numerous other folks), sending out checks to vendors, packing up and mailing out prizes and lost-and-found stuff to runners (after sorting out the left-behind drop bags and washing all the clothing in there).  Honestly, I spent 2-4 hours a night for the 3 weeks following the race to close it all out - and towards the end I was rushing to get everything done before I left for Leadville 100.

5. Communicate!!!

Communication is key, and is central to an RD's success.  And even when you think you're communicating well, there is inevitably someone forgotten on a correspondence (or missing from a meeting) that needed the info shared, or perhaps your communication isn't as clear as you thought.  Communicate, communicate, communicate.

There were a few instances where a small blip in communication bit my right in the butt!  For example, I had an instance where a minor adjustment (moving an aid station) was discussed at numerous committee meetings and I though was communicated with everyone.  Unfortunately, my ham radio guy wasn't at the meetings and had no idea about the move - so it wasn't communicated with the radio staff.  The aid station was only moved about 100 yards away from the previous location, but it was down a road that was impassible to vehicles - so the radio staff couldn't access the station.  It made for some tricky (and less than ideal) logistics at the aid station, as the radio operator was located 100 yards away and had to be fed information by a volunteer who would run back and forth with updates.  The radio staff was completely alone for the 12-hours that he volunteered, he never even saw a runner!  This could have been avoided with a bit better communication on my part.

One major miscommunication on my part was the failure to communicate with the runners what the special awards would be (i.e. awards for top runners).  That failure to communicate lead to many post-race comments and criticisms.  For as long as I've been involved with the VT100, they gave out a special 'top 10' buckle to the top 10 overall.  I had long advocated with the previous RD that recognizing only the top 10 wasn't fair, since it was typically 8 to 10 guys and anywhere from 0 to 2 ladies would sneak into the top 10.  I personally finished 2nd place female at VT100 one year (and only 2 minutes behind the winner), only to get the same buckle and recognition as someone who finished in 23:59 - yet the 10th place male that year got a special 'top 10' buckle. 

(Congratulating John Geesler, 23 time finisher of the VT100)
 
Last year, Julia implemented a 'top 10' buckle for the top 10 men, and 'top 5' buckle for the top 5 ladies, since historically there are twice as many men and women in the race and typically the 5th female is about the same time behind the female champ as the 10th male behind the male champ.  This year, I handed out nice Patagonia jackets to the top 10 men and top 5 females, yet I received a huge backlash of angry comments post-race.  This year, for the record, less than 21% of the race field was women, however, the decision was made and awards were ordered in advance of knowing the final numbers.  While I understand that gender equality is a highly controversial topic, I don't know if there is a right or wrong model for me to have followed (i.e. if I handed out the same number of 'top finisher' jackets to both genders or if I handed them out equal to the ratio of starters by gender) - so we decided to hand out awards based on the historical ratio of genders.  I do think my best bet would have been to have communicated everything ahead of time, either way, so folks wouldn't be as upset post-race.

6. Don't be afraid of change.

The VT100 had 26 successful races before I took on the leadership role - it has a strong history and strong identity.  One of my biggest goals was to maintain the integrity of the event - I didn't want to fundamentally change what makes VT100 so special.  However, I think it is important to constantly grow and evolve with the times.  So, one of my biggest challenges was how to balance the tradition of the race with some new ideas.

I worked with the race committee to make a few minor tweaks to the event - nothing that really changes the feel of Vermont, but that hopefully made things a little better for the runners, or for the volunteers, or the event in general.  One change implemented was getting running clubs to adopt aid stations along the way - and this appeared to be a huge hit!  It got many of the running clubs in New England involved in the event and gave each aid station a distinct feel - from the Shinipsit Striders' Breakfast Club aid station, to TARC's 'everything maple' feast, and Trail Animal's country ho-down, they all added to the classic VT100 aid stations such as Margaritaville or Spirit of '76.

One more controversial change was to redesign the VT100 logo and belt buckle.  This was a change that I take personal responsibility for, but as a runner, I wanted a belt buckle that fits a standard belt and was deserving as a representation of someone's amazing accomplishment to finish a 100 mile race in under 24 hours.  I also updated the 100 mile over 24 hour finisher and 100km finisher prizes from a plaque to an etched slate coaster.  Again, this was my call, but I am a big fan of functional awards (i.e. something you can use rather than something you put on your way).  I also wanted to reduce the post-race work, and the plaques each had a personalized plate with name, finish time, and place on it, that would get mailed out - to me, this was just adding more work to my already full list of things to do. 

(With Joe Laskey, showing off his newly redesigned Vermont 1000 buckle)

7. Learn to be mean and have thick skin.

One of the toughest things for me was to learn to be mean, and to have some thick skin about it.  It is hard for me to say 'no', and yet I found myself having to say it more than I would have liked.  For example, it was hard to listen to several personal stories about why folks didn't register in time and not immediately let them in - but if I had done that, it would have been unfair to folks patiently sitting on the wait list and could have been overwhelming to the race support staff. 

I found it more challenging to take negative feedback about the race.  I put a lot of time and energy into the race, as did my race committee, and negative feedback is hard to hear.  We all did our best to put what we believe to be the best race we can.  (On the flip side, I was grateful for folks who were willing to give respectful and constructive ideas - we are open to new ideas, and they are easier to process and consider when they aren't addressed in an angry way).

A few days after the race, after I finally got some sleep, I rushed to read the comments from the first few people who completed the post-race survey.  That was a huge mistake.  While there was positive and negative feedback, I only really processed the negative feedback, and felt like I hadn't done anything right.  I nearly cried (granted, I was still tired and raw from the race, and my house was in complete chaos) as folks seemed to bash every decision I made and criticize things I thought went well.  I guess I need to grow thicker skin, so I can view these comments as a way to continue to improve, but it's challenging when you put so much of yourself into something.

(Greeting a finisher at the VT100)
 
8. Expect the unexpected.

No matter how well you plan, things go awry.  I had to think on the fly and be able to quickly adjust, all while outwardly appearing calm to everyone involved.  We had quite a few Friday afternoon challenges to overcome - and I hope that none of the runners realized the moments of panic!  We found an unmowed field on Friday afternoon that was supposed to be parking for a horse hold (horse race equivalent to a crew station), so we quickly had to swap the runner and horse aid stations in that area to accommodate both locations.  We also learned last-minute that someone was logging on a section of trail, affecting the final mile of the course.  We were able to adjust the trail elsewhere to make up the missed mileage, but it meant that a few of the aid station signs (which were made weeks earlier) were off by a few tenths of a mile.  (This lead to one runner trying to disqualify himself at the finish line because he 'had obviously missed part of the course, his GPS watch read 99.5 miles', and his watch said he had only run 2.5 miles from the last aid station.)

(Discussing last minute trail changes with VT100 Trail Guru, Zeke)
 
Even more humorous was someone finding a dead rotting deer at a trail head on the side of the road, directly on the course.  We found this after local highway crews had gone home for the day on Friday, and runners would be past this in the wee hours of the morning Saturday.  We worked with local highway folks to get permission to move the deer ourselves - and the race committee members went above and beyond the call to get this disaster resolved.  There was no way to pre-plan for something like this!

9. Keep the pre-race meeting short!

Taking off my RD hat and putting on my racing flats, one of the simplest things RDs can do is keep the pre-race meeting short.  Let's be honest, as a runner about to embark on an epic adventure, our attention span is not the greatest - so it's important to keep things on point and quick before runners tune out.  A pre-race meeting is an important tool to go over any pertinent information one last time, it is your only opportunity to speak to the masses.  I just urge folks to keep it short!

(Addressing the runners, crews, and pacers at the pre-race meeting)

10. Keep good notes - you'll have to do it all again soon!

RDing is cyclical - you go through the same stuff over and over again.  Keep good notes, they will help you as you start over again for the next year's event.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Leadville - Racing across the sky

For a while now, I've wanted to run Leadville 100 - it's an iconic race!  Beyond that, I've raced a few times in Colorado at TransRockies Run, and I was anxious to see how 100 miles in that beauty would be.  Luckily, Brian and I were both selected in the lottery for the 2015 Leadville 100.
 
The race, starting in the dead center of downtown Leadville, was much trickier with pre-race logistics.  Brian and I almost missed the start of the race, since we were busy trying to park the car, find a bathroom to use, and then enter the starting chute.  I did my best to not let the adrenaline start flowing as we were weaving around folks to get to the start as the National Anthem was being sung.
 
Anyway, the race went out and I just relaxed.  I slapped high fives with folks as we exited the town.  I had read about runners starting too hard and paying the price later - so I was determined to take it easy and run smart.  Hundreds of runners, lit up by headlamps, spread out on the road ahead of me as we worked our way towards Turquois Lake.
 
An hour later, we were on the single track around Turquois Lake.  I could already hear the crews cheering at the Tabor Boat Dock (mile 7?, unofficial crew support stop).  On one hand, I was enjoying the sounds of cheering drifting across the water as I ran through the woods...but even as the cheers sounded so close, I still ran and ran before I got there.
 
I saw my crew, which was one of my training buddies Sara and my brother Carleton, at the Tabor Boat Dock quickly as I ran through.  Just past the dock, I caught a toe and supermanned across the trail, scraping up my right leg and butt.  Otherwise, the run through the single track along Turquois Lake passed without incident.
 
(Cruising through the early miles)
 
At the first major aid station, May Queen (mile 13.5), I was excited to arrive and see my crew.  The sun had come up so I could ditch the headlamp (yay!).  I checked my time and was right on schedule, and everything felt fairly relaxed and easy. 
 
Just after May Queen, the course turns onto the Colorado Trail for a bit, and I was jazzed as I ran along the New England-y trails.  The single track trail went over rocks and wooden bridges as it followed the back side of Turquois Lake.  I chuckled, realizing how long after May Queen I could still hear the cheers. 
 
My stomach was a bit cramp-y and bloat-y already, I assumed this was because I wasn't able to do my ritualistic pre-race poop.  I said a little prayer that I would be able to poop soon so my stomach would return to normal.
 
The trail finally turned up a bit, and dumped us out onto a dirt road that was the climb up Sugarloaf Pass (the back side of the powerline).  I wanted to continue to chug up the gradual climb, but remembered that I was at over 10,000 feet so I slowed to a power hike.  I made note, thinking of how nice this would be to cruise down later in the race.
 
 
(Enjoying the 'scenic' powerline trail)
 
Reaching the top of Sugarloaf Pass, it started to spit rain on us.  The powerlines overhead crackled and buzzed, it was a slightly unsettling noise even though I enjoyed the cooling effect of the rain.  I enjoyed the downhill, but got down it as fast as I could to avoid any mishap with electricity and water...
 
At the bottom of the powerline was a mile of paved road before we entered the Outward Bound aid station (mile 24.5).  My time was still good, and I felt fairly relaxed and strong.  Except for the minor stomach issues, I felt like I was in control and running smart.  My crew, in realizing that I hadn't eaten much so far in the race, was already getting concerned for me.
 
(Taking advantage of any downhill I can!)
 
Leaving the Outward Bound aid station was the world's longest field - I think it was at least a mile of straight, flat, grassy field that we ran on.  I shouldn't complain - the soft surface is always welcome over paved roadway...but I felt like I was running on a treadmill - my legs were moving but I wasn't getting any closer to anything. 
 
A few miles later, things started to unravel.  My stomach really felt bad (and the micro-poop I managed to squeeze out a few miles earlier didn't relieve the issue at all) and my energy was starting to wane.  I walked the flat dirt road and did my best to get in some fueling. 
 
(Leaving Outward Bound in the 'Race Across the Sky')
 
My energy didn't come back, as I continued to walk past the Treeline (unofficial crew stop at mile 27), past the Halfmoom aid station (mile 30.5), and past the Mt. Elbert aid station (mile 36.5).  I did my best to run a quarter mile here or there as folks continued to stream past me - matching their stride and hoping I would draw energy from their enthusiasm, but ultimately I quickly found myself walking again.
 
As the trail turned down to the Twin Lakes aid station (mile 39.5), I was able to jog again.  While I didn't have any energy to run the flats or uphills, I found I could cruise the downhills.  I took advantage and allowed gravity to carry me for a few miles.  Of course, as soon as I worked up to speed, I quickly caught a toe and found myself face down on the trail - further scraping up my already bleeding right leg.
 
I coasted into Twin Lakes on fumes, unsure how I was going to survive not one, but two climbs over Hope Pass.  Sara and Carleton did what they could to get me going, but I was honestly beginning to wonder if it was possible for me to finish.  I tried to jog, but mostly walked, as I crossed the flats below Hope Pass (or, as I was thinking of it, the calm before the storm).  As I waded through the river crossings, I could only think of the open cuts on my legs that were being washed off with stagnant murky water.
 
(Running the flats in the Leadville course)
 
As soon as the trail turned up, my body shut down.  I could barely stumble forward, and I knew I was in deep trouble.  I sat on a log and forced myself to eat an entire packet of energy chews - hopeful that it would give me the energy to climb up the pass.  Then, I resumed my slow trek up.  I walked for about 5 minutes before I needed to take a break and regroup.  Several folks passed me before I gathered the strength to stand up and continue onward.  This pattern continued for the entire climb - 3 to 5 minutes of slow hiking followed by sitting for a minute to rest and harness my energy for another push. 
 
Hundreds of folks passed me as I ever so slowly made my way up the climb.  It was truly humbling, I started to seriously worry about the cut-off time.  I grew increasingly concerned that Sara wouldn't even get to pace me over Hope Pass - it's what she flew across the country for!  I saw Brian at the Hopeless Aid station (just below the top of the pass, mile 44.5) on his return trip, and told him that I was physically exhausted.  He was doing well - but didn't seem to be in any better spirits than I was.  I downed coke at the aid station and hoped it would rejuvenate me, however the last 1/2 mile to the top of the pass was more of the same.  I began to wonder if I was in last place, since it felt like the entire race field had passed me.
 
(Doing my best to hang on at Twin Lakes)
 
Finally cresting the top, I took a moment to sit and take in the view.  I was so pleased to have made it, but physically spent and extremely worried - I did not think I had the power to do that again.  Clearly, my body hadn't been processing any food all day and I was running on fumes.  I did my best to cruise the downhill, and found that I was passing a few folks back as I took advantage of the downhill and technical trails.  Of course, I also super manned down Hope Pass (and with the steep angle, it was a LONG fall), and fell on my right leg...again...the scrapes on my leg was pretty deep at this point.  I had to walk a few minutes to rebury the tears that were too quick to appear, hoping this wasn't my breaking point.
 
Reaching the bottom of Hope Pass, the course turned to the Colorado Trail for what I am convinced is the longest trail known to man.  I thought I was moving, but the trail went on forever!  I kept hoping every downhill would lead me to Winfield, but they were all just followed by another uphill.  My worries about reaching Winfield before the cut-off time were renewed.
 
Eventually I made it to Winfield - mile 50, at last.  I collapsed onto the ground near Carleton and Sara - unsure how I could turn around and do it all again (the race sign reading 'thank you, may I have another' wasn't funny in the moment).  On the bright side, I finally had company - so if I collapsed on the trail, at least someone would be there to take care of me.  However, I honestly wasn't convinced that I could finish the race.  If a cut-off time didn't get me, I worried that I would simply run out of energy before I reached the end. 
 
(Sara and Carleton, patiently waiting for me at Winfield)
 
Sara and I started back towards Hope Pass...slowly.  With company, the trail that never ends seemed a bit shorter.  So, before I knew it we were climbing up the steep side of Hope Pass again.  I did my best to stay strong (so Sara wouldn't see how weak I was), but I was quickly in the same rhythm of slowly hiking for 3-5 minutes before taking a break to regroup.  Other runners, with their pacers, streamed by me - making me feel like I was going backwards even faster on this climb.  Thank goodness I had Sara with me to keep my focus on the views rather than on my slow progress.

Slowly but surely, we made our way to the top and finally crested Hope Pass for the second time.  While my first time over the pass was completely humbling, I found that reaching the pass for a second time represented hope for me.  I still had 45 miles to go, but standing on the highest point in the race, no matter how depleted I was, gave me hope that I might be able to finish the damn thing.
 
(Celebrating as I crest Hope Pass for the 2nd time)
 
Sara and I slowly made our way down to the Hopeless Aid Station (mile 55.5) and I collapsed into a chair.  My spirits were on an upswing, believing perhaps I could finish...but my energy was still super low, having not really absorbed any fueling since the start.  As I sat in the chair and contemplated how I could possibly continue on, Sara scoped out the aid station found that they had potato leek soup.  Hallelujah, potato leek soup!!!  I downed a cup at the aid station and took another cup to-go down the trail.

(Utterly depleted at Hopeless Aid station, mile 55.5)
 

As the soup kicked in and the trail turned down, I was able to move the legs again.  Slowly, my body absorbed the energy from the soup and I let my legs loose on the downhill.  I was flying by folks, and feeling good for the first time all day.  We hit the bottom of the climb and I even had the energy to run the flats back to Twin Lake (mile 60.5) - my first running on flat surfaces in 30 miles.  I enjoyed splashing through the rivers this go-around.

My brother met us at the aid station and swapped spots with Sara.  They got a few more cups of chicken noodle soup in me as we climbed out of Twin Lakes.  I finally felt like I had a bit of power in my legs and I did my best to take advantage.  Maybe it was that I didn't want to seem weak in front of my little brother.

When we reached the top of the climb, I did my best to run the downhills - I employed a trick I use when training on the Seven Sisters, where anything that I walked on the way out is a section that I try to run on the return trip.  Now, given that I walked this entire section on the way out, it was a tall order - but I did my best, with the coaxing of Carleton. 

(Finally getting my legs back and able to run near Twin Lakes, mile 60)
 
I was actually really excited to have my brother out there crewing and pacing me - I've been running ultras for almost 10 years now, and this was the first time I'd really had a family member help me out!  In one of my first ultras, my sister (who was 4 months pregnant at the time) did cheer me on at the last aid station - that was the closest I'd ever had, so this was really special for me.  I did my best to make it a good experience for Carleton so that maybe I would get family participation again!

(My sister Jenny, and her dog Nera, taking care of me at the Jay Challenge in 2008)

About halfway through the section with my brother, he got a text message from Sara.  She had finished her first pacing section with me, and had a headache.  Once she stopped running, it got worse and she got sick...altitude was clearly affecting her.  There was a bit of panic, as my brother confirmed that he wasn't prepared to run 40 miles with me, Sara wasn't ready to run the last 25 with me, and I wasn't feeling good enough to think that I could do it on my own.  Then, Sara told us that she found someone to pace me...so I would have a random stranger running through the middle of the night with me.

After many hours, and a few cups of soup, Carleton and I finally rolled into Outward Bound (mile 75.5).  The small amount of energy that I was taking in (in the form of soup) was giving me enough energy to maintain forward progress - and finally reaching Outward Bound, I was starting to believe I could possibly finish the race after all.  With this glimmer of hope, I turned to meet Chad, my blind date pacer (or, as Leadville affectionately calls it, he was my angel pacer).

Chad and I left towards the power line climb - as I asked him to hold a my cup of soup while I put on a long sleeve shirt, he answered with 'yes ma'am'.  Chad is ex-military...but I hoped that we would break the ice soon and drop the informalities.  (And, funny side note, my cup of soup from that aid station was interesting...as I was eating it, I thought 'this is some mighty thick potato leek soup' and it had an odd texture to it.  When I finally asked, Chad told me that he asked the aid station volunteers for potatoes or soup, so the volunteers put soup in the potatoes.  So, I had a cup of mashed potatoes with soup to thin it out a bit, and with random noodles to add texture...whatever, it was actually pretty tasty!)  Anyway, Chad and I chatted and got to know each other as I did my best to power up the power line.  While I wasn't moving well, at least I was passing folks.

At the top of the climb, I looked up to see nakedness - a naked ass to be precise.  As the stumbling naked guy heard us, he drunkenly turned around and I saw his entire naked front.  I looked at Chad, to be sure that I wasn't imagining this...I was out of it, but was I really seeing a drunk, naked guy?  Oh, and was he really wearing a storm trouper helmet?  Chad and I laughed - and he immediately dropped the formalities after that incident. 

Turns out that the drunk naked storm trouper was part of an impromptu aid station/keg party set up at the top of the power line cut.  The sign across the trail read 'The Best Fucking Aid Station', and in that moment I believed it!  There were glow sticks, inflatable aliens, and a group of drunk and/or stoned folks with a table of yummy ultra treats.  I asked for beer - they tried to talk me into a keg stand, but I had a cup of beer and some snacks.

Leaving that impromptu aid station, I enjoyed the gradual downhill to the Colorado Trail, remembering how I had been looking forward to this cruise all day.  We could hear the sounds of the May Queen aid station drifting through the woods as we turned onto the Colorado Trail; Chad and I enjoyed the single track and technical trails, buoyed by the cheers.  I wasn't moving well, but after my struggles it felt like I was downright flying - could be that I had great company, could be that I was passing runner after runner (and with their pacers, it felt like I was passing an even greater number of runners!), and it could be that I was getting closer to the finish line.

At May Queen (mile 86.5), I was all business as I got what I needed and was eager to continue on and 'finish the fucker' (yes, I had officially reached 'finish the fucker' mode by this point).  I looked to Carleton and Sara to see if one of them would be running me in, but they both looked relieved when I relayed that Chad and I were having a blast so he would be great to continue with.  We left the aid station with a promise that I would see them in a few miles at the boat dock.

The run around Turquois Lake was nice - I was drawing as much energy from my limited intake of soup as I could, and Chad and I continued to pass folks.  Honestly, it almost felt like when I have run one of those team relay races (like Reach the Beach or Hood to Coast), where you are cruising past runner after runner, most of our conversation was 'excuse me, can I squeeze by you' to fellow runners - and how ironic that my return trip on Turquois Lake was more congested than it was 24 hour earlier!

We reached the Tabor Boat dock and found only one person, semi-conscious, sitting in a chair - my crew was nowhere in sight.  I figured they must be at the next boat dock instead, and continued to focus on reaching that.  No one was at the next boat dock, so I then figured they must have thought to meet me at the end of Turquois Lake - or else that I must have looked so bad at May Queen that they didn't want to give me an option to possibly drop...

(Running the final miles)
 
Either way, I never saw my crew as Chad and I reached the end of Turquois Lake and started the last road section back to the finish.  I was so tired, but excited that I was only 6 miles from the finish line.  I kept looking up and spotting folks, then focusing on trying to catch them.  Chad kept my energy up by giving a Ric Flair 'wooh!' to anyone we passed.  As I tired further and wasn't keeping up my end of the conversation, he started to tell jokes to keep me going.

I almost cried when I recognized the outskirts of Leadville, and knew we had less than a mile to go.  I was exhausted, running on fumes again, and wanted to finish and sleep.  We cruised down the last stretch, slapping hands with anyone I saw out there, using their energy to get me to the line.  A large group of folks actually created a tunnel with their arms, which I ran through.  When I could finally read the finish clock, it read '26:59:40', so I kicked hard to try to get under 27-hour (I know, it was completely arbitrary at this point), and watched as the clock ticked off '56, 57, 58, 59, 00' and let out a grunt as I was still a few seconds out from the finish.  It wasn't until I crossed the line that I learned that I misread the clock and finished in 26:57:05...I must have looked like an idiot as I did my best to sprint towards the line (after 99.9 miles), and that the 12-minute mile pace I was doing wasn't that impressive looking.

(With my angel pacer, Chad, who got me to the finish line!)

Anyway, I finished!  Chad and I celebrated, Abby Long (the registrar for Leadville 100, who I had gotten to know through my VT100 work) was there immediately to give me a hug.  I wanted to hug Brian, and Sara, and Carleton, but they were no where to be seen.  I slowly made my way to the medical tent, trying to figure out where they were.  Eventually, I found a co-worker of my brother who called him...turns out they slept through my passing through the Boat Ramp, but then sat there for hours waiting for me.  By the time they finally made it to the finish line to congratulate me, the joy of finishing had worn off and I just wanted to eat, shower, and sleep.

(Brian, Carleton, me, Sara, and Chad - the whole crew after the finish)
 
In hindsight, it's hard to wrap my head around my race at Leadville.  I am incredibly proud that I still finished - my body clearly wasn't acclimated to the elevation and I struggled the entire way.  But, I'm disappointed with how poorly the race went - I wanted to do well and had trained hard for the race, and none of that hard work mattered on race day.  The course itself was beautiful - much more scenic that I had realized prior to running.  The Lifetime Fitness crew put on an outstanding event, especially having RDed VT100 this year, I am aware of how much work goes into organizing a race like this and they did well.  I am grateful for the support that Carleton and Sara gave me - they didn't give up on me even when I had...and they put up with my grumpy and slow self for numerous hours throughout the 27-hour ordeal.  Lastly, I couldn't have done it without my angel pacer Chad, who I am so honored to have shared 25 miles with.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

2015 World Trail Running Championships - Before the race

It's hard to put into words the experience of representing the USA at the 2015 World Trail Running Championships.  Luckily, folks took enough pictures that can help tell the tale...

Arriving in beautiful Annecy, France - we could see Lake Annecy from our hotel, as well as the surrounding mountains that we would be running through in a few days.

 
We laid low leading up to the race - but checked out a bit of the course.  This is the view from the top of the first climb.
 
 
Of course, we needed to give a huge THANKS to Trail Butter, who helped us fundraise for our tickets to France!  (Some of our team, with a few jars of Trail Butter.)


 
You have to laugh at the translations of some of product names - 'Crazy Craq' is actually Cheese Doodles to us.  Casey was ready to fuel her run with Crazy Craq!
 

Of course, some folks on our team got interviewed by news outlets.  Here, Alex Nichols is being interviewed for irunfar.com.

 
There was also a pre-race press conference, where Krissy Moehl and Alex Varner were chosen to participate.
 
 
The opening ceremonies were neat - it opened with a several folks parachuting circles in the sky as smoke streaked behind them. 
 
 
We got a group shot with the World Championship mascot - but were all a bit unclear what type of animal it was...
 

As in Wales, we were assigned a local kid to march us into the stadium for the opening ceremony.


Maud Gobert, the 2011 World Trail Champion, read the charter which she had written.

 
The team was ready to hit the trails!
 

The truth about how the Team USA women prepared for the race - painting our finger nails a sparkling blue.  Looking down, this would shock me throughout the race the next day...I wasn't used to blue nails.
 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Massanutten 2015

Alright - I'll be the first to admit it...I'm not a smart person.  In fact, I make some downright stupid decisions.  Why else would I be running Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 only 2 weeks before the World Trail Championships?  Well - it seemed like a good idea at the time!!!  In my logic, it seemed that running on technical trails with some good climbs would be great training for the technical climbs I would see in France.  The key was to take it easy and not wear myself down with the effort.

That being said, Brian and I headed down to Virginia to run Massanutten.  Last year, Brian finished a strong 2nd place behind Karl Meltzer - he was hoping to win this year.  I finished 4th place behind the fastest female field the race has ever seen.  Given the start list of speedy ladies and my laidback approach to the race, I anticipated that 4th place was the highest I could finish this year - I wasn't hoping for much.

(Flash forward - even just after I finished, the RD Kevin was giving me RD advice!)

Pre-race was fairly uneventful - catching up with Kevin (MMT RD), meeting up with my crew and pacer, picking off the first few ticks of the adventure, and an early bedtime.  Before I knew it, was lining up at the start and ready to go.  The race starts up a 4-mile stretch of roadway with a gradual uphill (that would be the last 4 miles of the course).  I relaxed and let a long line of runners spread out ahead of me - today wasn't a race for me, it was a long 100-mile adventure. 

As I hit the first trail (at mile 4), I was already soaked with sweat.  It was relatively cool (60s?) but the humidity was high.  I fell into rhythm behind folks, and followed their pace.  I walked when they walked, I ran when they ran.  I was determined to not start out too fast this year.  Parts of me were itching to pass folks as they hiked a relatively mild grade, but I kept my composure and hiked behind them.  I watched as folks I typically beat were getting away ahead of me, but enjoyed the moment and let them go.

(Riva Johnson, pictured at VT50, would pace me for the final 40 miles.)
 
I hit the first major aid station (mile 12) in about 60th place, and 6th female, but my split was right on target.  My crew, Riva and Michael Johnson, had everything ready for me and I was quickly in and out.  I had an interesting history with the Johnsons - back in the day, when I used to xc ski race and then xc ski coach, Michael coached the West Point team (that we competed against).  I am sure I met his family at a few races over the years, but didn't really remember them.  A few years after I gave up ski coaching, I was running Bull Run Run, and saw Michael (Colonel Johnson to me) on the sidelines cheering.  After we gave each other a few inquisitive looks, we remembered why we knew each other - and he told me that his wife Riva was racing also (and was right behind me).  Since then, I've done quite a few races with Riva over the years (sharing some race miles along the way), and seen Michael biking around the course giving her support.  I was so excited to be able to share this with them, and knew that they would take excellent care of me. 

(Cruising the early miles - photo by Paul Encarnacion)
 
Anyway, I relaxed and cruised the next section - the temperature was starting to climb, but the humidity seemed to be dropping.  I enjoyed miles with different runners, got freaked out at an animal grunting in the woods (deer?  moose?  I couldn't see, but it sounded pretty ready to stampede!), and was loving the technical trails of the Massanutten Mountains.  Through the mile 20 aid station, I worked my was up to about 40th place, and 4th female (as I passed one of the top females sitting in the aid station with an ice pack on her knee) - although I don't remember passing that many people. 

An hour later, the day was heating up and I was at the mile 25 aid station (about 1/4 done with the race already) and had again moved up to 35th place, 3rd female (although Kathleen Cusick was on my heals).  Kevin (the RD) was at the aid station checking in, and announced to everyone that I was from New England and this heat must be killing me.  I told him that this felt like when I go to hot yoga...about the same temperature and humidity! 

(Running with company into the mile 25 aid station - photo by Erik Price)
 
Kathleen caught me at the top of the next climb, and we cruised the next downhill together, arriving at the 33 mile aid station together.   The Johnsons took great care of me and I was out of the aid station quickly.  The next climb was where my stomach turned sour (for the first time) last year, so I focused on holding steady and relaxing on this uphill.  I caught up to my Inov8 teammate Ashley, who was hacking and coughing, and sounded awful - turns out she had come down with a cold earlier that week and wasn't doing well.  We hiked the rest of the climb together and caught up - I pulled away on the downhill, and hoped she could find a way to stay strong.  Anyway, I cruised into the mile 38 aid station feeling good, and having worked my way up to 27th place.

(Running into the mile 33 aid station just behind Kathleen)
 
From there, it's a few miles on the road (which I was determined to run this year, after hiking much of it last year).  It was starting to get hot, so I was pouring water over my head and drinking anything cold I could get in me.  At the mile 41 aid station, before we entered the woods, I refilled my bottles with as much ice as they would allow me to take. 

I was pleased to come upon Keith Knipling and a few other runners on this climb, and used their company as we worked our way up to the ridge.  I was sweating and overheating, and pacing out my fluids consumption so I wouldn't run out of water before the next aid station 10 miles ahead.  I would squirt a precious few drops of water over my head, in an attempt to cool me off without wasting water.  I was walking flat sections to avoid bringing my core temperature any higher...my race was going downhill...FAST.

(A typical Massanutten trail...with the rocks...)

At some point along the ridge, we turned a corner and saw an oasis of water jugs.  The trail running gods (aka Kevin!) and heard our prayers and delivered extra water to this ridge.  This truly saved my race.  I refilled my water containers, drank plenty of fluids, and poured some over my head.  The water wasn't cool, but it was wet, and that was most important in that moment.

(Happy to see my crew!)
 
I was able to cool down just enough to run some of the flats on that ridge, and cruise the downhill.  With about a mile to go to the next aid station, I was overheating again.  I hung my head in shame as I walked the last gentle downhill mile into the aid station.  How embarrassing.

(While this looks like me, it's actually my Inov8 teammate/twin separated at birth Ashley - photo by Erik Price)
 
Upon arriving at the aid station, I collapsed into a chair.  The volunteers immediately came to my aid (while helping numerous other runners who looked to be melting also) and handed me some ice water to drink.  They pulled a wash cloth out of icy water and put it over my head, then poured ice water over my head.  I momentarily got goose bumps, it was a wonderful feeling.  It helped, but as soon as I stood up, I was overheated again.  I sat back down and they poured more ice water over my head.  Finally, they offered to put ice in my sports bra, so I held out the front of my shirt and let them pour it right in (modesty was clearly gone at this point).  Finally, I could feel my core starting to cool down a bit.  I shuffled out of the aid station and onward.  I had wasted about 5 minutes at that aid station, and I knew my crew was only 4 miles away...I hoped I was finally in good enough shape to get to them.  [But, let me add that the aid station volunteers at MMT100 are TOP NOTCH, as you can see with how they cared for me at this aid station!!!]

(Decorations at the aid stations - the VHTRC volunteers are AWESOME!)

I ran, walked, and shuffled down the road to see my crew, sharing miles with a guy from Hawaii.  It was nice to have company, as I was moving so slowly that this section lasted forever.  I popped in my music and tried to zone out.  About halfway to my crew, I was finally cooled down enough to run, and I gave a little cheer as I started to shuffle, then run, towards my crew.  A few minutes out from the aid station, it started to rain...

By the time I got to the Johnsons at mile 54, I was in much better spirits, but they knew (based on my time) that I had gone through a rough patch.  Even with all the rough goings, I had somehow worked my way up a few more positions - I was now in 23rd place.  They got me fueled up and sent me for my last 10 mile stretch before Riva would be joining me as a pacer.

(Enjoying some single track)
 
The gentle rain picked up as I climbed back up to the ridge - the views that I remembered enjoying last year were non-existent.  By the time I reached the ridge, it was downpour raining, and the temperature was dropping.  However, I was moving well again (my stomach was feeling a little non-awesome, but not nearly as bad as in other races) and enjoyed running the ridge and cruising the downhill.  I found on this downhill that the trails were slick with the newly created mud, and the rocks had turned to an icy slickness with the rain - I would have to watch my step on the technical trails.

I was so excited to arrive at Camp Roosevelt (mile 64) and pick up Riva as my pacer.  Without realizing it, I had moved into the top 20.  At the time, all I knew was that things had turned around and that I would have company for the remainder of the race.

As we started out of the aid station, I was eager to share stories of my day with Riva.  One of the greatest things about picking up a pacer is getting to finally share tales of your adventure so far - finally someone would appreciate the beautiful honeysuckle blooms and lady slippers along the trail, I had someone to point out the amazing views from the trail to (although, with the moisture in the air, the views weren't that amazing), and I had someone to talk to about all the crazy and stupid things that had happened so far.  We gabbed like it was a training run as we ran, then hiked, up the trail-turned-river.  She had tried to get me to take a headlamp at the aid station (since it was already 6pm), but I told her an emphatic no!  I would make it to the next aid station before I needed a headlamp - so that put a bit of urgency into my stride as I worked to stay ahead of nightfall.

(Beautiful lady slippers along the course)
 
We reached the mile 70 aid station at 7:30pm, and I gladly accepted my headlamp.  I was beginning to tire, and I knew the climb ahead was rough.  This is the climb that I would repeat again at mile 97, so I memorized segments of it to help me.  'Through the gate and up the grassy hill', 'left for a flatter segment before the sharp right onto the single track', 'switchbacks forever', 'rocky at the top' - I knew that I would want to know how to break up the climb, mentally, the next time around.

At the top of the climb, I smiled at the '1st time/mile 72' pie plate and '2nd time/to the finish' plates at the top - and looked forward to my return trip to this location in 26 miles (only a mere marathon away!).  Anyone who's run this race before remembers the moment when you reach the '2nd time/to the finish' plate at the top of the last climb, and make the turn to the finish line.  I did my best to move swiftly along the ridge, but the rocks were slick as ice and my energy was waning.  Riva kept me going as best she could, but I was slowing down...

(The pie plates that everyone looks forward to...the second time)

I was so glad to finally make it to the mile 78 aid station.  It had stopped raining, but my clothing was soaked through, so I changed my outfit and told Michael to have dry shoes and socks ready to go at the next one...something to look forward to.  The climb out of mile 78 is one of the worst in the race, in my mind.  Maybe because it was so late in the race, or maybe because it was actually super steep...who knows...but I slowly dragged my body up.  I wished I had poles to assist me - especially since whenever I went to put my hand on a rock to assist my climb, I found it covered in centipedes.  Yuck!  I was cursing out Bird Knob the entire climb...in that moment, I wasn't sure why I did 100 mile races.

(The climb up Bird Knob - luckily, it was dark for me so I couldn't actually see this!)
 
At the top of Bird Knob, it flattens out a bit.  Riva did her best to keep me moving, but I wanted to walk.  I was tired!  The only way to get me running was when I was freaked out by the waist high ant hills up there.  Anyway, by the time we reached the Bird Knob aid station, I was about done.  The volunteers offered me quesadillas, perogies, tons of yummy food.  I didn't want any of it.  I wanted to be done.  Then, I looked over and saw that there was a bottle of whiskey - I told them it was too bad they didn't have beer...because whiskey would make me sick even when I wasn't 81 miles in, but beer sounded really great.  They surprised me, and pulled a Dale's Pale Ale out and handed it to me.  I drank it, and suddenly wanted perogies, and wanted to run.  The beer gave me life again.

(Scary ant hills - these are 2-3 feet tall!)
 
I picked up the stride and started heading down the trail.  Riva was a bit amazed, apparently she had never seen someone drink a beer during an ultra.  But the beer made me happy, it made me remember that I do this for fun, and that this was just a grand adventure.

We cruised into the next aid station and I was so excited to change my shoes and socks, and 'finish the f*cker'.  As I sat down the change the shoes, the aid station volunteer offered me the full offering of foods they had - and I told him he couldn't possibly top the Dale's Pale Ale I had at the last station.  He proved me wrong by offering me a full range of beers.  And as I sat and drank the raspberry wheat (and used it to wash down the electrolyte tablets that Michael handed me), I thought 'this is fun, I love this sport!'. 

I left the aid station with a bounce in my stride and remembering why I am so passionate about this crazy sport.  Riva was still changing her shoes, so I left about 30 seconds ahead of her.  I played a little game, and tried to see how far I could go before she caught me.  It was a slight downhill, and some sweet single track, and I cruised along as I 'ran away' from Riva.  I got excited after 5 minutes and no Riva, then 10 minutes on my own.  I thought I must have been killing it!!!!

After 15 minutes, I started to worry about Riva and what might have happened.  I mean, my ego wanted to believe that I was running so hard that she couldn't catch me, but in my heart I knew that she's strong and could easily catch me.  At 20 minutes out of the aid station, I started to think that she might have gone back to the previous aid station (mile 87) - and I might not see her again until the next aid station (mile 96).  I hunkered down and did a self-check, remembering that I needed to fuel up and drink some fluids (even if she wasn't with me, Riva was still reminding me to take care of myself).  I did my best to stay strong and power hiked up the hill, knowing that Riva would be pushing me to work hard.  However, I came to terms with the fact that I was on my own for the next several miles.

(Pink honeysuckle along the course)

Finally, 40 minutes out of the aid station, I heard 'AMY' yelled through the trees.  It was Riva!  She was still tracking me down!  I gave her a shout back, to let her know that I was up ahead, but kept powering on up the climb.  She finally caught up to me, a full 45 minutes after leaving the aid station.  Turns out, she got lost out of the aid station, ended up back there again (giving me, maybe, a 5 minute head start), then got paranoid when she didn't catch after another 10 or 15 minutes.  Her first comment to me was 'man, we should have started feeding you beer earlier in the race!'.  We had a good laugh that, as my pacer, she's supposed to keep me from getting lost - and yet she's the one who got turned around! 

With the company of Riva again, the miles passed quickly again and we were nearing the last aid station.  It put a bounce in my stride when she told me that I was now in 2nd place female (one of the females ahead of me had dropped out).  I told her I was doing ok, and wouldn't even be stopping at the last aid station - I wanted to finish this race!  If a truck hadn't been driving down the narrow road (and stopped), I wouldn't have even broken stride. 

The last climb was tough - had it grown in the last 25 miles?  I was hoping to see some headlamps ahead (from runners at mile 97, or runners at mile 73, didn't matter!), but there wasn't anyone.  It seemed to take my last ounces of energy to work up this climb, but I was grateful for the mental notes I made on my first time up.  Every turn, I looked ahead to see if that was the last turn and the yellow plates were ahead...and finally, they were.  I saw the yellow plates.  I got to go straight towards the finish.  It was all downhill from here!!!

(Another typical rocky Massanutten climb)
 
I did my best to stay smooth on the downhill, but the nastiest rockiest section of the course is on this downhill...and the rocks were slick from the rain.  I was disappointed as I had to walk across sections of rocks, since there was no way to go faster.  At the bottom of the climb, I kept waiting for the road (only 4 downhill miles to go), and I had forgotten how long the flat section at the bottom of the trail was.  I did my best to run to the roadway, but was wearing down. 

As we reached the roadway, I was spent.  I told Riva that I was so tired, I didn't know if I could run.  She put me on a strict schedule - we would run for 1-2 minutes, then I was allowed to walk for a minute.  She timed our run/walk cycle, and also checked behind me to be sure that no one was catching me.  We repeated as we worked our way towards the finish.  Whenever I resisted, she reminded me that we wanted to finish this before the sun came up (at around 6am), and that thought kept me going. 

With under 2 miles to go, I was startled by two guys passing me.  We hadn't seen their headlamps behind us, so they had snuck right up.  I checked to be sure that it wasn't a female passing me, and just let them go.  Bummer, but I wasn't in any position to respond.  Just after they passed me, I saw the turn into the camp, which indicated under a mile to go.  I was so excited to be almost done, to recognize where we were.  I ran up the camp driveway, powering up a steep climb that was slick, slippery mud, wanting nothing more than the finish line.  I passed the two guys, and cruised the single track downhill into the finishing field.  With a small lap around the field, Riva and I were crossing the finish line just before the sun rose.  Final time - 25:43:52.  And somehow, I had picked my way through the field (even though I don't recall passing that many people) to finish 9th place overall, 2nd female!

(Crossing the finish line, still by headlamp!)

Finishing by nightfall, I was greeted by Brian (who had won the race, and gotten several hours of sleep since then), Kevin (the RD), and Michael.  Very little fanfare, but the most important people in that moment were there. 

(Brian and I, post-race)