Thursday, November 15, 2018

A Tutu Challenge - Fundraising for Safe Passage

You all know how passionate I am about running - it is my freedom, it is my sanity, it is my community.  This year, my passion for running and my faith in the running community was severely shaken due to some anonymous bullying.  It made me question what I truly loved about this sport, and why I did it in the first place.  I am fortunate that my local community embraced me, showed me non-judgmental support, and helped me find the passion again.  

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

This will be my 13th time running the Hot Chocolate Run, and I hope to fundraise $1,000 for Safe Passage.  And, as with past years...if I meet my fundraising goal, I will allow folks to dress me up in a tutu, or a sparkly outfit (see below), or whatever folks can cook up for me.

It's crazy to think that we even need to fundraise for a cause like this, as I wish that domestic abuse didn't even happen - but victims of domestic abuse need all the help and support that Safe Passage can give them.  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: https://hotchocolaterun.greatfeats.com/amy-rusiecki

(If I raise over $1,000, y'all can get me to run in another awesome outfit like this!)

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Gender Equality

Update to the below - at the 2018 VT100 awards ceremony, we did call up the top 10 men and the top 10 women in the 100 mile race.  Sorry to disappoint those that supported the published awards structure.

>>
I have been recently called out on social media regarding the number of awards given at the Vermont 100, specifically the decision to award to the top 10 men and top 5 women.  This conversation has come after a few weeks of discussion with an individual who doesn't agree with the decision made.  She has since taken to harassing me and trying to bully me into a different decision.

Below is the information that was sent to her:
"I appreciate your feedback on this topic as I know it's a charged issue for many.  I will point out that as an RD, there's no possible way to make everyone happy, so I just do the best I can and hope to not make too many mistakes along the way.

I will first start by letting you know of the history of the top runner awards at VT100.  Before I took over the race, they only acknowledged the top 10 overall (regardless of gender) - some years that was all 10 men (and no women), some years it had up to 2 women in the top 10.  Most years, only the top female would crack the top 10 overall and get anything other than the same belt buckle as everyone else.  Back then, the top 10 would get a special 'top 10' buckle rather than any awards, and everyone else got the same buckle regardless of whether you finished in 18 hours or 23:59.  I've finished 4 times on the podium at VT100, placing as high as 2nd place (missing winning by 2 minutes)...I have 6 of the same belt buckles, having never cracked the top 10 and never getting anything different than anyone else.  So, that's where things started only a few years ago.

Now, I'm a numbers person.  I want there to be more women running, and want stronger female competition.  However, I define equity differently than some others (including you two) do.  I think equality is recognizing the same percentage of the two genders, which in an ideal world would be the same number but at VT100 is not.  Perhaps I should change it on the website to state that we'll recognize the top 4% of either gender (but never less than 5 and never more than 10), as that's actually what we do.  Here's the numbers that have run the VT100 over the last 5 years:
2018 - 76% male
2017 - 79% male
2016 - 79% male
2015 - 80% male
2014 - 79% male
The numbers have been fairly consistent, at more than 3/4 of the race being men, therefore the top 3.7% of men each year get recognized and the top 6.9% of female every year gets recognized.  How is that unfair to the women?

Also, the results show a similar gap between the 1-5th female as the 1-10th male:
2017 - 1-5th male gap - 1:52; 1-10th male gap - 3:07; 1-5th female - 3:11, 1-10th female - 5:24
2016 - 1-5th male gap - 1:17; 1-10th male gap - 2:49; 1-5th female - 2:53, 1-10th female - 5:00
2015 - 1-5th male gap - 2:33; 1-10th male gap - 3:48; 1-5th female - 1:50, 1-10th female - 4:17 
This is when only the top 10 overall were awarded anything differently:
2014 - 1-5th male gap - 1:50; 1-10th male gap - 2:53; 1-5th female - 2:00, 1-10th female - 4:06 (0 female in the top 10 overall)
2013 - 1-5th male gap - 0:41; 1-10th male gap - 3:36; 1-5th female - 2:53, 1-10th female - 3:55 (1 female in the top 10 overall)

So, in the years where we at least award the top 5 female as opposed to only those that fell within the top 10 overall, the women's field has gotten less competitive...showing that offering additional awards to more top females has not resulted in a more competitive race (as the argument that if often cited is that the race would get more competitive if we recognized more women).

Again, only my opinion, but as this is my race to direct I can chose what I think is fair.  You are welcome to RD your own events and award things how ever you want, and I will respect your decision to do so.

The tough spot we're in right now is that:

awards are already purchased (and yes, they are purchased, not donated...so money has been spent) - the only thing we could do at this point is reduce the number of men getting awards...and then I'm stuck with extra men's jackets that I already paid for.

the award structure has been advertised since folks signed up for the race, so it doesn't seem fair to change the structure at this point even if I was inclined to do so.

This is a discussion for November and December, before awards are purchased and before registration happens.  

Trust me when I say that no matter who you talk to about this race, everyone thinks that there is 'just one thing that could be improved'.  For you, it's the awards structure.  For someone else, it's the fact that registration filled up in 12 minutes but we don't have a lottery.  For others, it's that we don't have Tailwind on course.  Some folks think that 100k finishers should get belt buckles.  There was one guy that blasted me for still requiring the 8-hours volunteer service to participant.  I've had (and will likely continue to have) angry emails from folks who believe that a male-to-female transgender runner shouldn't be awarded a top spot if that's where she finishes.  Everyone has an opinion on how to do things better - and every change makes some folks happy and some folks unhappy.  

I do listen and consider each piece of feedback that is offered.  We will continue to watch the men's vs. women's participation numbers, as well as the time gap from 1-5th and 1-10th for each gender, and hope that women become a larger percentage of the field in the future."

At this point, with only a few days before the race and numerous tasks to complete in that time, I wish that folks would respect that while they have a different opinion than the VT100 that it doesn't automatically make this decision wrong.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Coaching at Hampshire College


For the past year, I've been coaching the Hampshire College running team - for cross country in the fall and 'track and trails' in the spring.  It's been a fun experience - I really do enjoy working with runners, getting them excited about running, watching them improve, and hopefully inspiring them to continue to run after college. 

Anyway, one of the athletes, Gwyn, is a sprinter so I only got to work with her on occasion - but she wrote the essay below for her 'Intro to Coaching' class where she had to observe a coach in action.  

>>
By Gwyn Burns
“How many more ‘till no more?” Amy says to the conglomerate of sprinters that are located outside of the Hampshire College multisport center. “Three more ‘till no more!” We all shout back.

Today we are asked to work on our starts, which involves running down beside campus way, on the grass since Hampshire’s un-sporty attitude can be seen through the lack of an outdoor track. Eric, the normal sprinting coach is gone for the day, probably off working his other job as an electrician, which means Amy is our coach for the day.
*
 You wouldn’t think that Amy Rusiecki, at 5ft. 6in. would be an imposing force, but she is. She is someone that finds a way to compete in 50k as well as 100k races, a distance that some would shy away from, but one that Amy faces full on. With her welcoming smile, and joking attitude, some might forget that she can be intense, often making the workouts harder than they need to be, creating competition between the runners. You can hear her feelings in her voice, when she is excited it increases an octave. When she is serious or disappointed, her voice will lower, but she is hardly ever disappointed. She walks with power, probably from all the running she does, or with the confidence of someone who can run for longer than others.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Gender and Trail Running

Over the past few weeks, I've had a few opportunities to discuss gender in trail running - and in many different contexts.  It's wonderful to have so many folks (and groups) looking at these issues - so I want to comment on a few topics below.

Transgender Runners

In the past few years as a Race Director, I've had to deal with feedback on the fact that I awarded a podium position to a male-to-female transgender runner at VT100.  While I'm glad that folks feel free to ask questions about this decision, I am confident that the correct decision was made.  The transgender runner followed the USATF (and IOC) regulations regarding when, during her transition, she was required to still register as male for races and when she was allowed to register as female. 

Much of the criticism from others seems to involve the fact that I didn't conduct any drug testing on this runner to confirm that her testosterone levels were in alignment with the USATF regulations.  However, as I pointed out to those who raised concern, I have not tested any other athlete in the race for their potential use of performance enhancing drugs (or other drugs on the USATF/IOC banned list) nor have I questioned the gender or age of any other runner.  Trail running, where all that is being won is a pair of shoes or some sponsor's swag, is often built on the trust of each runner registering and I believe it would be hypocritical to scrutinize one group of athletes more than any other.  Runners could lie on their age, for example, and win age group awards...yet I have never checked IDs at registration to confirm that everyone signed up appropriately - trusting each runner to be accurate.  All runners also sign a waiver that they comply with USATF regulations (which include their ban on the use of certain performance enhancing drugs), and I trust that all runners are in compliance with that regulation also.

While I respect that every race director has the right to handle each situation as they see fit (it is their race, after all), I chose to follow the guidance of the USATF and the IOC for many things, including their stance on transgender runners.

Non-Binary Runners

The registration company that I use (runreg.com) defaults to allow runners to register for any of three gender categories - 'male', 'female' or 'non-binary/prefer not to answer'.  This is a relatively new thing, and I think it's a wonderful acknowledgement for folks to recognize that how you identify may not be in alignment with your born gender.  I don't believe this issue (i.e. how to handle/score non-binary runners) has been tackled by many race directors yet.  While I don't know that I have determined the ideal solution, through extensive conversations with a non-binary runner, at least I am offering a solution that will hopefully be a jumping off for other races to use.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Wind at my Back into a Headwind - Boston Marathon 2018

On Monday, I ran my 12th Boston Marathon.  While I would identify myself more as a trail runner and ultra runner, there's just something about Boston that keeps me coming back year after year.  It could be the enthusiasm along the course - as if for one day, everyone gets out and rallies for crazy endurance runners.  It could be the familiar faces I see along the course - from my Uncle Sam at mile 6, a friend from high school xc at mile 16, my parents at mile 17, and random trail friends at mile 20...and all the random folks that are waiting to cheer for each and every one of us.  However, I think it mostly comes back to being a young child watching the Boston Marathon and thinking that these folks (no matter their pace) were the best athletes that I would ever see.

In my 12 runnings of Boston, I've run through quite a few different weather conditions - from driving rain to blazing sun, headwind or tailwind, and 90-degree sufferfests to 40-degree hypothermia-inducing days.  This year, however, was likely the coldest conditions I had experienced at Boston (and with the rain, made worse).  Luckily, I had some amazing Inov-8 gear that is designed and tested in England, so I just layered up and was good to go.

My friend Kyle was also racing, and starting later in the same wave as me, so I stepped back a few corrals to start with him.  There was something magical about crossing the Boston Marathon starting line, and all the better to share it with a friend!  Starting with him put me at the back of Wave 2, so I was immediately blocked and slowed by runners ahead.  'Don't panic, starting easy is smart' I told myself as I eased into the first downhill mile.  As much as I tried to keep my feet dry, I splashed through a puddle and soaked my feet only 100 yards into the race - oh well!


(Kyle and I pre-race)

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Terrapin 50k - Another snowy run in Virginia

Brian and I returned to Terrapin 50k again this year.  It was a great early-season tune-up race, offering plenty of climbing and technical trails in a beautiful location (where the flowers are starting to bloom on race weekend).  Last year's race was a tough one for me - I ran a bit too hard in the early miles (especially the first downhill) and really suffered in the later miles.  I was determined to run smarter and not repeat that mistake this year.  However, as we neared the location, we noticed that there was still snow in the mountains - so it might be a slow day out there.  Yup, I'll repeat that - there was snow in the mountains still...in Virginia...in March.  Ugghh!

The race started out fast, and I felt like I was immediately mid-pack in the first flat road mile.  Luckily, I found Sharron who I had run with  (and drank wine with) at Holiday Lakes, so we enjoyed the first few miles chatting.  As the course turned up, I was able to pass folks but found myself running basically alone.  The first 4 miles were uphill, so my goal was to run smart by not hard up this hill - which was hard because I felt strong on the uphills so I was running most of it (even as folks around me hiked).  I crested the climb to Camping Gap next to the lead female in the half marathon, and we wished each other good luck as our courses split.

(Running at last year's Terrapin Mountain 50k)

After that first aid station, the course turns down for about 6 miles of downhill dirt road.  This is where I destroyed my legs last year, so I took it easy and didn't push too hard on the downhill.  A few folks caught me but I appreciated the company to chat with.  After the course turned up, again, I was running where others were walking and once again I found myself mostly alone.  

Thursday, March 15, 2018

One Step Closer - 2018 Snowshoe National Championships

I've been snowshoeing off and on for years now - finding it to be an amazing way to embrace the winter and gain some strength in the snowy months.  It's a goofy sport, but one that prepares you well for spring-time races while you're working your butt off and having fun.  This winter was basically a bust in terms of opportunities to do winter sports - I only got my xc skis once, and only got on my snowshoes three times.  My studded shoes got plenty of miles as I was running on icy trails more than I liked.  However, with the Snowshoe National Championships in Vermont this winter - I guess I was going to race no matter how unprepared I was.

Hearing about the 40" of fresh powder that fell on the course in the days prior to the race only made me feel even more unprepared - I used to love the 'true snowshoe races' where we had to slog through fresh powder like this.  The more strength it took to run, the more fun I had - but a total of 2 hours on snowshoes this winter, I knew I didn't have the strength and technique to enjoy the fresh powder.  

Preparation before the race involved having Bob Dion replace the broken cleat on my snowshoe - it had broken on my 3rd snowshoe run of the season, two days prior, as I ran on the 3" of snow that fell in Western Mass.  Once fixed, I warmed up a bit and headed to the start.  My parents were there, so my mom kept me company and listened to my nervous pre-race chatter.  

(Start of Women's 10k race)

The race went out fast, as always, and I did my best to not fall too far behind.  Immediately, I got tangled with another runner and we both fell down.  I scrambled to get up, as runners climbed over us and passed us.  What a way to start this race...uugghh!  

Thursday, February 22, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

2017 UltraRunner of the Year

Once again, I was honored to be on the voting panel for thee 2017 UltraRunner of the Year.  And while the 2016 voting was challenging, this year was increasingly so.  But that's the fun of it, right?!?

For example, how do you compare the year of Tim Tollefson versus what Hayden Hawks did in 2017? 

Tim completed 3 Ultra Trail World Tour races with amazing results (a win at UltraTrail Australia, 3rd at UTMB, and 5th in Hong Kong, and well as a podium at a highly competitive domestic race (2nd at Speedgoat).  He showed success at the 50k to 100+ mile distances.  But, he only completed those 4 races, and DNFed American River 50 mile.  Hayden Hawks had a major international win at CCC, and an amazing domestic performance with a win and course record Moab Red Hot, as well as a win at Red Mountain 50k which is a relatively small race.  Add to that two other strong performances at highly competitive domestic races with a 2nd place at Chuckanut and 3rd at TNF-San Fransisco.  Hayden had successes at the 50k to 100km distances.  He raced more, but also had a few races where he struggled, with a 77th at Transvulcania and 81st at the World Trail Running Championships. 

Now - looking at those two resumes of their years, which would you vote for over the other? 

Hayden completed 7 races with 5 strong performances.  Tim started 5 races, completing 4, yet the four that he completed were all strong performances.  Tim showed successes over a larger range of distances (50k to 100+ miles), however Hayden showed successes over a wider range of terrain ranging from technical mountain (CCC) to runnable rolling (Moab Red Hot).  Hayden had a MAJOR win at CCC, but Tim had a podium at UTMB and a win at UltraTrail Australia. 

Which is more impressive?  You could make an argument for either of them, depending on how you value different factors. 

And, looking down the list of well respected runners, incredible performances, and diverse results for 2017, it was an exciting challenge to sort through it all.  Add to that the challenge of selecting top performances, and top age graded performances - and it can be a daunting (but fun) endeavor.

So, as an engineer, I decided that the best way to be objective and calculated about it was to write out my criteria, give a point value for different types of performances, and then just add up the total points accumulated for each runner.  This helped me weed through the 50+ names provided and ultimately determine who was my top 10 UltraRunner of the Year.