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!