Friday, December 27, 2013

As we wrap up 2013

The last few days of 2013 are ticking by, and it's about time to look back on all that's been accomplished this year.  For Brian, it's apparent that he's continued to have great success - as marked by his ranking #9 on the Ultrarunner of the Year rankings.

Ultrarunning Magazine is publishing the rankings from #10 to #1 in reverse order, so we don't know who else made the men's list - but regardless, it's a fitting accolade for Brian's 2013 accomplishments. 

As for me, it's nice my local running group got a nod on a Runner's World list for when we saved that hypothermic guy a month ago (even if the press continues to refer to us as 'joggers').

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Robert Frost Marathon

When life hands you make lemonade, right?

Since Mountain Masochist, Brian and I have been training hard for our first 100k race - Hellgate.  I've had this race on my bucket list for years now, so I was excited that this was the year to finally do it.  The last week before the race, however, all signs started pointing towards staying home.  It nearly broke my heart as Brian and I made the decision to not race - but it was the right call.  We had to remember that we run for fun, and while we take it seriously, it is not our occupation and not racing one day won't define us either way.  We need to make the right decisions to be safe and put health above racing in this case.  It was an incredibly tough call to make.

With months of training focused on this race as the end of my season, I was a bit lost.  I decided to instead do a long point-to-point run near my house on the Robert Frost Trail to cap off the year.  I decided this on Thursday night, so I had a day to pull together the information on the route and road crossings,and on the segments so I could recruit folks to run with me and keep me company.  Luckily my friend Steph was willing and able to support my journey, so at least I would have some aid along the way.  If I wasn't going to be racing - I figured I would at least share miles with amazing people for hours in the woods and use my fitness for a grand adventure...that's a fitting way to end my season.

 (At 6:00am, Wendell State Forest, about to start my trek)

At 5:30am on Saturday morning, Brian drove me up to Wendell State Park to start my journey.  As we reached my starting point, it was still dark, the thermometer in Brian's car read 6 degrees, and the ground was covered in several inches of fresh snow.  A few minutes later I saw two headlamps bobbing through the woods as my friends Apryl and Patrick approached on foot (running up from Patrick's house) to join me for the first few miles.

As Apryl, Patrick and I started on the trail, there was a serene quiet in the air - could have been the super cold temperature, could have been that the earth was blanketed in snow, could have been that we were all just too cold to open our mouths to speak, but it was quiet and beautiful.  As I lead our small group in the unbroken snow in on one of my favorite sections of single track I just smiled and took in the moment.  One of the many reasons I run is to experience these beautiful sights and moments and share them with like-minded folks who also appreciate it. 

The sun began to come up as we reached the Pigpen Ledges, which were covered in ice and a bit dicey to descend.  We scaled down them, but marveled at the magnificent shapes formed as the ice froze over the rocks.  Before we knew it we were at the first road crossing and were making our way up and over Stoddard Hill. 

(One of the beautiful sites along the way)
We encountered a few hunters on the trail in this section.  At one point, our trail coincided with the trail that a hunter was using to drag out his kill.  I realized while I have seen hunters many times on the trails, this was the first time to see the evidence of a kill since hunting season and snow season don't often coincide.  The red drops of blood were bright against the snow on the trail and there were several sections of smeared blood pools where the hunter must have stopped for a moment before continuing.  Our pace quickened a bit in this section as we sped up to put this behind us.  Apryl, who is a vegan, was particularly upset by this. 

As I reached Cranberry Pond, I said bye to Apryl and Patrick, got a quick refuel from Steph, and then started up Mt. Toby with Albert.  I ended up handing my hydration bladder off to Steph because it was completely frozen and useless - it was a miscalculation on my part to even think that a hydration bladder would be usable in the cold. 

Albert and I hiked up Toby, and broke trail over Bull Hill.  The Inov8 Orocs that I was wearing were working perfectly for traction in the leaves and snow, unfortunately Albert fell a few times as the traction devices he was using didn't catch, so I was pleased with my shoe selection.  I had rarely been on this trail without leaves on the trees - we both enjoyed the views, especially as we crested Bull Hill.  The trail from Bull Hill to the road was fun as we cruised down and around, often following the snow mobile tracks through the woods. 

Steph met us at Bull Hill and offered us warm fluids as we passed.  I accidently banged my head hard against the sagging rear gate of her car - I guess it was cold enough that the pistons that typically hold it up weren't at 100%...although apparently my brain wasn't at 100% either. 

Albert and I made it past our friend Sarah's house (and waved) just before we entered the woods towards the Leverett Knobs and into Amherst.  This section was rolling, and a ton of fun in any season.  While it's typically difficult to follow the trail with the leaves down, we easily followed it with the snow cover.  It was also nice to run across the perpetually muddy sections before Pulpit Hill to find it frozen - this is the only time I haven't sunken a shoe in the mud across this field.  The trail around Puffers Pond and into the Amherst Conservation Areas had a bit more traffic on it, which was a welcome change to the solitude of the earlier trails.

(Screen shot of Steph's phone - at the warmest part of the day!)

Around the Atkins Reservoir area, I noticed that I was started to get chilled and wasn't sustaining my warmth.  Maybe I was tired and not fueling enough for what I was doing, maybe I wasn't moving fast enough to generate the heat needed to stay above freezing, or maybe the day was getting colder.  Either way, as I reached the backside of the Amethyst trails I wasn't in the greatest mood as my energy and core body temperature was starting to dip. 

I said goodbye to Albert but was pleasantly surprised to be joined by my teammate Kate for a mile or so as I started up the backside of Mt. Orient.  She turned back to her car towards the top of the climb, and I was alone for the first time of the day.  In my solitude, I started to evaluate my status.  I was horrified to find that my jacket was literally frozen on the inside (from my sweat) and I was starting to get cold in my fingers and toes.  The wind had picked up just enough to bring the temperature down a few critical degrees.  I called Brian to touch base with him, and he happened to just be finishing up his run.  He drove over to Amethyst and ran in to meet me. 

As I met him and explained how I was feeling, he just said 'I think your day is done', and I had to agree.  I was cold, the inner layers of my clothing were beginning to freeze, and the cough from my cold was getting increasingly worse the longer I was out there.  As I reached the Amethyst Brook parking area, I reluctantly told Steph that I was done for the day.  Being as intuitive as she is, she had anticipated that and greeted me with a cup of peppermint hot chocolate to warm me up.

(Running the last section of trail - with Brian behind me to pace me home)
While my day ended short of the ultimate goal, I was pleased to end my 2013 running season with a grand adventure.  I had seen so many amazing sights along the way, shared some quiet and thoughtful miles on the trail with friends, brought closure to a long and enjoyable year of racing, and frankly I had a lot of fun along the way.  I has also started the day knowing that it wasn't about how far I made it, I wasn't holding any expectation about it, I just wanted to have some fun and end my season on my own terms.
(At the end of my day, still as bundled as when I started)

I am hopeful for many more adventures in 2014!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Not a typical Sunday run

Running is often labeled a selfish sport.  I will admit that at time for me, it is a bit selfish - it's time away from my family and partner, it's time that could be spent doing a house project or cleaning the bathroom more regularly, and it's certainly time not spent furthering my career.  In the past, I would argue that it is time spent with friends (as running as become one of my main social outlets), it is my therapy (I can only imagine how I would be if I didn't have running friends to help me process life, calm me down, or help me run out my frustrations), and it is a shared bond I have with Brian - even if we aren't running together, we both share stories of our runs and support each other's running.  It may be a stretch to say that any tangible good has come of my running - this weekend changed that.

I went out for a run on Sunday to test out the Inov8 Orocs - an orienteering shoe that I have been contemplating using for my next upcoming race.  I've never run in the Orocs, but it occurred to me that the beefy tread and the small carbide spikes would be great for the potentially icy/snowy course, as well as good to help gain traction in the often slippery leaves.  But, would my feet feel comfy in them for hour after hour running?  Only way to know is to take them out for a long run.  That was my thoughts for Sunday's group run on mixed surface 'great, I can test the shoes out on road, dirt road, trail, leaves, and snow'.  So at 7am, I met up with some friends as we collected on the edge of civilization for our run. 

We passed the first few miles easily, ribbing each other about recent races, sharing stories, and enjoying the cold day (15F with wind chill of 0F!) and our first run on snow of the year.  After cresting Rattlesnake Gutter (a dirt road) and running around the closed gate, we started to skirt around a white truck parked there, assuming it was another hunter parked out in the wilderness.  The guy in the truck stopped us to ask a question, to be honest I can't remember what he asked.  But, in the matter of a few words exchanged, it became apparent that this guy was in rough shape and likely needed some help.  His words were slurred, his thoughts were disjointed and confused.  He couldn't find his car keys, his hand was bleeding, he had no cell phone reception to call for help.  I asked him if he was ok, and how he cut his hand - his response was nonsensicle.

We got him out of his truck, pulled his hood over his head, and one of the guys in my group selflessly offered up his gloves to cover this guys hands.  We pointed him in the direction of the nearest phone at the local co-op (1/2 mile down the road), figuring he could call for a spare set of car keys, and spend some time there warming up and sobering up (honestly, our first assumption was that he was drunk).  However, we re-evaluated quickly as we watched him stumble out of his car, take the hood off his head, continue to hold the gloves in his hands, and look confused as soon as we weren't immediately there to direct him where to go and what to do. 

It dawned on us one by one - there were no tread marks in the snow on the road, and it had stopped snowing at 7:30pm the previous night, over 12 hours earlier.  He couldn't really comprehend what we were saying, he couldn't even really walk on his own.  Immediately, a plan was formed as a few folks ran ahead to call for help while the rest of us walked with the guy (who was obviously hypothermic, once we thought about it), holding him up by both shoulders on his coat, entertaining him with stories, and (as is my practice in any ultra event) keeping him moving with relentless forward progress.  He stumbled a few times, he lurched forward as he fell asleep for a moment (we made sure he stayed awake), and he was slow to respond to anything - but we kept him moving until the local police chief pulled up and put him in a car to drive him to help.

Us runners, not fully understanding the gravity of the situation, turned around to resume our run and rewarm our chilled bodies.  My hands were numb and my core temperature was low, but luckily I was warmed again by the time I finished the run.  While finding the guy was on our minds, we did our best to return to typical running chatter as we logged the remaining miles of our route.

On Monday morning, I found in my email that one of the folks I was running with checked up on the guy we had found - when he arrived at the hospital, they found that his core temperature was down to 85 degrees, and estimated that he had only hours to live if he hadn't been found.  It was frightening to think of what might have happened if our group didn't decide to run up that lonely road, and if the guy didn't reach out to us to ask a question.  I was further horrified that my initial thoughts were to assume that the guy might be drunk...and was ashamed to admit that I was a little frightened by the situation.

My selfish run with friends, intending to test out shoes for an upcoming race, turned into a life-saving effort by the group.  It makes me proud to be in a community whose first reaction is to help, and who collectively can do some good.  It's also great to know that each of us did a little something for the collective good - whether offering up gloves, running ahead to call for an ambulance, or asking the guy if he was ok - we all contributed to the cause and helped out.  It was a very vivid reminder to be aware of my surroundings, and to keep an open mind when evaluating a situation.

My thoughts and prayers are with the guy we found - hopefully he will return in good health and find some peace and closure in whatever brought him up to the end of Rattlesnake Gutter on that cold and lonely night. 

Article on the incident:

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Rusieckis Representin' - Mountain Masochist Race Report

This past weekend, Brian and I returned to Virginia to race the Mountain Masochist Trail Run (MMTR) - a challenging point-to-point 50 miler.  This was Brian's 3rd running, and my 2nd running - and last year's course was covered in snow for the second half, so this was my first time to see the actual trail on the second half.  I was excited to return and improve from my 2012 finish time.  I ran for fun last year, and finished in 9:31 - I was hopeful I could break 9 hours (if I broke 8:54, I could also claim my 'age record' for the course).  I also finished 5th female last year, so I was hopeful that I might be able to finish in the top 3 this year - but this is a race where getting a top 10 earns you a coveted piece of Patagonia apparel - so that was ultimately the hope.  Brian was looking to defend his title against some stiff competition.

(Memory of the 2012 race - where I ran for fun and tied with another female for 5th)
Brian and I included a visit to a local winery during our travels; it has become a bit of a tradition with us to be sure to enjoy the local area pre-race by finding a winery and doing a tasting.  I think it also calms our nerves a bit!

Anyway, Saturday morning came early.  We loaded the bus and were off to the starting line.  We ran into a few friends pre-race, so while we're not part of the Virginia trail running scene it felt great to see familar faces and hug friends before we embarked on our 50 mile trek.

The race started hot and heavy for the men's field, but easy for the ladies.  I was quickly behind two Colorado ladies, and before I knew what I was doing I found myself easily cruising by them before the 1 mile marker.  In my head, I was screaming at myself 'What are you doing?!?  You are such an idiot, there's no possible way you can win this thing!  Slow down!'.  I tried to ignore the inner voice and just run easy at my pace - if my easy pace was ahead of these ladies, then who cares, right?

(Stream of headlamps across the pond from the start)

Just over a mile into the race, the course turns off the road and onto the trail, and through the first stream crossing of the day.  Shoes...wet...shorts...wet...oh boy!  About a quarter mile later was another river crossing, so there was no chance that anyone would have dry feet!  Thank goodness my Roclites drain well!  After a few miles of running, my left hamstring (which had given me a few issues in the days leading up to the race) quickly started to howl with pain.  I nearly puked it hurt so bad.  I contemplated turning around, but being in the lead so early on I was afraid of being seen as that jack a$$ who took off like a shot gun only to drop 2 miles it was only pride that kept me from turning around and walking back to the starting line.  I figured I'd at least get to the first aid station - I had driven 10 hours to get here after all!

As I ran the first climb, the hamstring hurt but it wasn't so bad that I was limping or had to stop - so I did my best to ignore the pain.  It felt like I was ripping the hamstring in half, but I knew from experiencing this before that it's just an adhesion in my while it's incredibly painful, no damage would actually occur.  I enjoyed the early miles, eventhough I was running in solitude so early on - the trails were great and as the sun rose it was making the entire forest glow orange and yellow with the foliage. 

(Glowing foliage as the sun came up)

Through the first aid station, and the 2nd place girl was about 30 seconds back.  But, I still felt in control so I relaxed to run my race.  On the first downhill, I found that my hamstring was crying in pain, and I had to shorten my stride to manage the pain...and I had to pray to not catch a toe which would have caused worse issues.  I ran conservatively down the hill as guy after guy streamed past me, but surprisingly none of the ladies passed me.  Due to the hamstring, I was actually excited when the trail turned up, which my training buddies know is rare for me.

A few more easy miles of trail and jeep road, and one more river crossing and we were in the next aid station.  The RD Clark Zealand was there and gave me a cheer, seemingly genuinly pleased that I was in the lead.  I was bummed to find that there weren't any gels at the first aid station, but just 100 feet down the trail I found an unopened gel on the ground - so I picked it up and ate it.  Double bonus - cleaning the trail of litter...and I got a gel!  (I know, it's gross, but i promise you it's not the grossest thing that happened out there on Saturday.)

(Amazing views along the course)

After rolling through several more miles of jeep trail, I was passing some guys who went out too fast, while other guys were passing me.  At the mile 15 aid station, Dave Horton, former RD of this race, gave me a huge cheer and a pat on the back as I went by - I was so glad to have these Virginia folks know who I was! 

From mile 15 to 18 is a long uphill grind on a dirt road - never too steep to want to hike, but long and sustained enough that I did hike portions last year.  This year I was determined to run the whole thing, especially since my hamstring was limiting my downhills therefore I had to make good time on the uphills, so I dropped it into my 'first gear' and powered up the hill.  Luckily, I found one similarly paced and similarly minded guy to match my stride up the hill.  At the top of the climb we turned down a similar descent, and he was gone as I ran the downhill as best I could.  I was really starting to feel my groove in the race, and while the hamstring hurt, everything else was going well...but there was still plenty of time to fall apart!

(Uphill grind - doesn't look bad, right?  Try running up 3 miles of it!)

After a few miles of flat and rolling, at mile 23 the trail turns up for the big major climb of the course.  Just at that point, a chick flew by me like I was standing still.  She gave me a quick 'woohoo' as she stormed past me, and proceeded to open a gap on the uphills.  'Bummer', I thought, 'but did you really think you could win a race like this?'.  I let her go, knowing that my goal was top 3 for this race - so I was still where I needed to be.  I powered up the next few climbs at my own pace and found myself coming to the Long Mountain aid at around 4:17 (race time).  I had been told that if I could get to that aid station before 4:15 that I had a great chance to break 9 hours, so I was a bit heart broken by that - but determined to hold onto a good placing in the race. 

From Long Mountain to mile 29 is a most substantial climb of the course - and this is exactly what I had spent so much time training for.  I hiked a few paces as I got in my fueling, but ran almost the entire climb.  I was picking off guys left and right, and eventually I even saw the female leader coming back to me.  I reeled her in, and hiked next to her for a few seconds to just touch base and see how she was doing and who she was.  Then, I wished her luck and kept moving up the hill. 

(Views from just before Long Mountain)

(I did get an update on the men's race just after Long Mountain, but the report went like this: 'there's some guy in the lead, we don't know who he is.  There's a chase pack a ways back that includes Eric Grossman, Paul Terranova, that Roo-secki guy, and someone else that we don't know.'  I thought it was pretty funny, but was bouyed by the fact that Brian was in the hunt - especially since he always seems to make his move between mile 25 and mile 35 on this course.)

Reaching the top of the climb, I was surprised at how strong my legs felt!  I was back in the lead and feeling good, with 17 more miles to go!  As I entered 'The Loop' (which is a 5 mile trail loop with an out-and-back section up a hill), I was excited to learn that Brian broke away from the chase pack and was in 2nd, hunting down the leader.  Last year, the loop was knee deep in snow, so it was nice to actually see the trail as I ran along.  I caught a toe and did a bit of a superman in this section - scraping my knee and elbow, but for me it wasn't a bad fall at all, barely any blood.  I did my best to try to power through this section, hoping to have as big of a gap as possible during the out-and-back section.  Unfortunately, during the 'out' section, I realized I was starting to tire.  I powered up the hill as best I could, jamming my Gu Chomps down my throat to try to revive myself.  'Hold it together, you've come to far to fall apart now!'. 

(The view from the top of the out-and-back)
After reaching the top of the out-and-back, which puts you on top of a peak, I took a few seconds to take in the view.  It's a shame that I was racing and couldn't stop for a bit longer, but the view was breathtaking - sweeping views of the rolling Blue Mountains in peak foliage.  I checked my watch and took off on the downhill.  About 4 minutes down, I saw the 2nd place female, and was pleased to see that it was Kathleen Cusick.  I've raced her many times, and she is a super sweet and enthusiastic person...but she's also a strong hiker and fast ultra I knew I would have to race the full 50 miles today to hope to stay ahead of her.  I did see the 3rd and 4th female just as I was exiting the out-and-back, and while both looked strong, I was hopeful that I had enough of a gap to stay ahead of them (barring an epic explosion!).  This was going to come down to Kathleen versus me...that sounded all too familiar, and I was determined to beat her this time!  [At VT100 in 2012, Kathleen and I both ran our 100-mile PRs on the same day, and it came down to me trying to chase her down over the last 12 miles to close a 40-minute gap, yet ultimately finishing 2 minutes behind her at the finish.  She won, I was 2nd.]

After the loop is a downhill followed by a good climb - I was fortunate in this section to have several guys ahead of me, evenly I would reel one in over 1/2 mile or so, pass them, and then see the next person to reel in.  I was slowly moving up the field, and hoping to put as many folks between myself and Kathleen.  I had to hike a few sections, and did what I could to hike strong - knowing that Kathleen is an exceptional hiker and she would gain time on me every time I had to hike.  I was starting to tire, and was running on pure adrenaline and heart at this point. 

(Typical trail - can't see it?  Look to the right of the photo, trust me, it's there.)

After the mile 42 aid station, I knew that I had just one more 4-mile section of trail, then it was downhill to the finish line.  I stretched out my stride, trying to reel in guy after guy and keep the pressure on.  I was starting to stress out as the climbs, covered in slipperly leaves, were impossible to run so I was forced to hike.  I kept looking over my shoulder, checking for signs of Kathleen closing in.  I scrambled up the leaves, and used the downhills as best I could to keep the pace high. 

At the mile 46 aid station, I knew it was just 4 downhill miles to the finish - which I seemed to recall had taken me about 30 minutes last year.  I was pleased to look at my watch and see that it read 8:08 - perhaps I could break 9 hours after all!  I didn't even break stride as I passed the aid station, but I did ask for an update on bib #1 (Brian), and heard he was winning.  'YAY!', I yelled as I passed the aid station 'That's my studly husband!'.  The aid station volunteers seemed rather amused.

(What the trail looked like in 2012 - covered in snow)

I did my best to run strong on the last downhill - but was worried as the nearest guy ahead of me opened up a gap.  'Am I slowing down or is this guy really good at downhills?'  I ran with heart, I thought of all those pre-dawn runs with friends, I thought of all the times I dragged folks up and over the local mountains to prepare for this race, I thought of how it would feel to win this race, and I thought of my WMDP ladies running the marathon the next day that I was missing for this.  At every look back, I was searching the trail behind me for Kathleen.  My hamstring was burning, but I was trying to run as fast as I could inspite of that.

I felt little comfort at the 1-mile to go sign.  Two years ago, Brian had gotten passed for the win in the last mile - last year, the women's lead also changed in the last mile.  Could I avoid the curse of the last mile on this course?  I ran as hard as I could, trying to reach the finish line as fast as I could.  Over and over, I repeated 'The faster you run, the faster you're done.' to myself.  The road mile seemed to fly by, luckily, and I found myself at the finish arch slapping high five with the RD Clark.  I had made it - finishing in 8:39:01, and somehow winning the race!  I had to fight back tears because I was so shocked by my race.

(Views from the course in 2012, what a difference)

Brian was there immediately, and the first words out of my mouth were 'did we make it a husband-wife sweep?'.  He nodded yes, and I gave him the biggest hug.  I was so proud of what he did out there, and so proud of the race I had out there.  It was something truly special for both of us, especially to share it together.  I was especially excited to see that I ran a smart race - I was about 50th place through the entire first half of the race, and slowly worked my way up to catch half the folks ahead of me by the finish.

Kathleen finished strong, only 12 minutes back - and I think she was just as happy to have seen me win as she was with her own 2nd place.  (Like I said, she's super sweet!)  It was amazing to sit back at the finish, watch the top 10 ladies finish strong, share stories and hugs with everyone and truly enjoy this community that has become a family. 

At the awards that night, as I was called up to get my trophy, Clark made special mention that I was able to complete the husband-wife sweep of the race.  It was a nice acknowledgement and got a big cheer from the crowd.  As the Patagonia rep snapped a shot of Brian and I with our trophies (and our newly earned Patagonia down vests), he commented that he wondered how often you get a husband-wife double victory - I answered 'that it happens from time to time in New England'!  I know that I'll want to run this race again, but I doubt I'll ever top the experience of this year!

(Brian and I with our winnings - a happy couple ready to head north)

We got a mention at Runner's World:

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

New England Fall at its best - Bimbler's Bluff 50k Race Report

This past weekend, Brian and I headed to CT to participate in the Bimbler's Bluff 50k.  This was our 4th trip to this race - last year we missed the Bluff to try our hand at Tussey Mountainback...clearly it wasn't our style of racing, cause this year we were back at the Bluff.  And what's not to love about this race - it's during peak fall foliage in southern CT, it's put on by an amazing group of folks, and it's a low key race that in our hectic and stressful life is a welcome relief.

I was pretty excited to have my training buddy Jason also running, so we shared a plan to run the first several hours together.  This would be his second ultra, and I was looking forward to sharing portions of the race with him.  I was also hoping to help hold him back in the early portions of the race so that he could ultimately pace himself for a strong finish.

(Off the line - myself and Brian with Jason, in black)

Brian, Jason and I lined up on the starting line, and Brian took it out hard as Jason and I fell into stride with a pack about 10 runners back.  We easily covered the first few hours, chatting like it was a training run.  I felt strong, I knew the course well enough to know how to approach each section, and luckily I had great company to pass the early miles.  Others came and went, but Jason and I stuck together and had some fun.

The two of us got separated after the mile 12 aid station at the race namesake Bluff, which is the quintessential climb of the course.  I stopped to use the woods on the climb as Jason power hiked away.  I didn't care, he was running strong and I wasn't about to miss the amazing views from the Bluff to track him down (and those views are my FAVORITE part of the race).  After the climb, I was feeling good and put in a bit of a surge to catch back up to Jason.  As I tracked him down, we were cruising an awesome downhill.  Just after I caught him, however, the runner ahead of us stopped dead in his tracks and looked up at us.

(Coming off the Bluff)

That runner was at an intersection, and there weren't any flags.  The three of us scampered around to look for any course markings, as a few other runners cruised the downhill and joined us.  A moment of panic set in as I realized I didn't remember when I had last seen flagging - I had been focusing on Jason's back and trying to catch him!  After several intense moments, we decided we must have missed a turn and started to hike back up the hill we had so recently be pleasantly cruising down.  It took us about 5 minutes to rejoin the course - and we all cursed ourselves for missing a well marked turn in the course.

Once on course again, I worked to calm down and not try to make up all the lost places at once - I had 20 more miles to hopefully make up for my error.  I would have to wait until the next aid station to even get information on whether another female had passed while I was off doing bonus miles - so Jason and I tried our best to be relaxed, get back to our gabbing, and enjoy the course.

Just before the next aid station, Jason let out a yell and stopped suddenly.  He entered the race with a questionable ankle - and on this super rocky course he twisted it bad.  We stopped for a moment to evaluate it, I wasn't about to abandon my friend out there.  After a few test steps, he told me he would be ok, but for me to continue on.  Luckily, I knew that an aid station was just ahead so I was able to reassure him that help was only 5 or 10 minutes up the trail.  I felt bad leaving him, but figured with more than half the race left, plenty of leaf covered rocks and loose stones on the trail, and a painful ankle, that he would hike to the next aid station and get a ride to the finish.

(One of the many views from the Bluff)
At the aid station, I got information that I was now 2nd place female, but only a few minutes behind the leader.  Knowing that the lead female had only a few minutes on me, I left the aid station determined to run strong over the next section and see if I could reel her in.

About a mile out of the aid station, I came upon the first female, and she was running strong.  We fell into stride together, as we chatted a bit.  After about a mile, the trail turned up, and amazingly I ran away from her without trying - she was just there one minute and not there the next.  I happened to be keeping pace with a nice gentleman, and we enjoyed running through the new trail section that featured mountain bike added about an extra mile to the previous course's distance, but it was fun!  I was grateful he was there, because a few time I almost missed a turn or he almost missed a turn, but between the two of us we kept on track. 

(One of the obstacles from the 2009 race - they have since put a bridge at this location)

A few miles later, we saw one of the lead runners coming directly towards us - which was unnerving.  I felt fairly confident that we were on the correct course and heading in the right direction, but we did chat with the 'lost' runner quickly - he felt just as confident that he was correct, so we both went our own way.  Luckily, another 1/2 mile down the trail I saw a familiar site, a lake by the next aid station, and knew we were on trail and going the right way - I told the guy I was with assuming he was just as anxious as I was after the lost runner encounter.

After the lake aid station, I knew I had about 10 rolling and challenging miles to go.  As I glanced at my watch I saw that with getting lost and the new mileage in the mountain bike trails I was well behind my anticipated time - there was no catching my course record today.  So, I decided to enjoy the last few hours, run strong, but the only goal was to see if I could maintain the lead female position.

I caught a few folks along the last section, hung back to stay with them even when they encouraged me to go ahead - I just felt like I would rather have company than finish a few minutes faster.  One gentleman I caught was in rough shape - he was walking a downhill and appeared to have completely bonked.  I stopped to walk beside him for a bit, offering him a gu and fluids - he said he had run out of fluids and was dehydrated, so I encouraged him to take most of what was left in my bottle.  I knew the next aid station was only a mile or two ahead of us.

(Crossing the finish line with 'bonked guy')

Passing the last aid station, I knew I had an easy/downhill half hour or so to the finish.  I ran mostly alone, but was surprised to see the bonked guy catch back up with me with about a mile to go.  The two of us pushed together to the finish line, ultimately finishing in a tie.  As I looked around, I found Brian, but was confused to not find Jason. 

After about a half hour, Jason cruised down the last downhill and across the line.  I was so proud that he stuck with the race and ultimately finished, even if his time wasn't what he expected.  Neither of us had the race we had anticipated, but we both got it done!

Brian had a rough day - he was in the lead group, which got lost several times.  As he tells it, the entire lead back ran past a turn around mile 20, and only one person from the back of the pack saw and took the turn - but didn't alert anyone else to their error, letting them run on by and miss the turn.  The guy who took the correct turn ultimately won, while Brian ran several bonus miles, eventually finishing 2nd.  One of the other guys from the lead back took an incorrect turn bad enough to end up off trail and in the middle of a nearby town.  It was a mess in the top 3 or 5 guys.  Either way, Brian got in a good long training run, but ultimately we're both disappointed with the behavior of the runner who took the turn and didn't alert anyone else (if that's what really happened - I will acknowledge that what is perceived and what actually happened might not be the same thing and it's possible that the runner fell back and wasn't really with the lead group when they passed the turn...I wasn't there so I don't know, but Brian and the other lead guys all remember a pretty similar situation).  Either way, in the name of sportsmanship, I would like to believe that what Brian believes didn't happen, because as much as we might be racing each other, I find ultrarunning to be a sport of challenging yourself to improve regardless of those around you.  It would sicken me to know, for sure, that a runner had acted in such an unsportsmanlike manner to basically 'steal' the win by allowing others to go off course when he could have stopped it.

(Brian on the Bluff)

I did a lot of reflecting post-race about the course marking.  Initially, I was angry and thinking critically about the RD regarding 'poor flagging'.  I mean...Brian, Jason and I, as well as countless others, all got lost out there!  However, upon further thought, I understand that it's fall in New England and the foliage is extremely prominent and colorful.  Further, this race is on trails that are open to the public, so flagging can only be hung off the trees not placed across the trail or the ground - which would be more visible as we stare down at the trail in hopes of not tripping on one of the many rocks.  When I listed every conceivable color of flagging, I couldn't easily come up with a color that would stand out against the foliage and bright sun.  Orange - nope, green - nope, blue - nope, yellow - nope, red - nope...the RD used red and white flagging, which is likely the best option to stand out against the colors of fall.  While I think a few locations could have used a bit more strategic locations for the markings, I think that the RD did the best he could, and that this year was an exceptionally tough year with a bright sun in the sky and colorful leaves on the trees and ground.  All in all, those who are critical of the RD should take the time to try to organize their own race - you'll quickly learn some respect for how challenging it is, and you'll learn to thank all the selfless volunteers and race directors out there that put on the races that we so often enjoy!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Gunning for a sub-8 hour - Vermont 50 Race Report

Back in 2007, I ran my first 50 miler - the Vermont 50 miler.  It was a month after my first ultramarathon finish - Green Lakes 50k, which I only did to build confidence that I could do a 50 in my heart, I consider Vermont 50 as my first ultra.  In 2007, Brian ran his first ultramarathon on the same day, the 50k at VT50.  We didn't meet until over a year after that first VT50 experience. 
(Finish festivities at VT50 - as Brian cruises in)

The Vermont 50 has become an annual tradition for us.  Brian's had great success at this race (winning in 2009, 2010 and 2012).  I've had successes (winning the 50 miler in 2012 and winning the 50k in 2010 and 2011, and what I consider my 'break through race' at the 50 miler in 2008), and challenges (dropping in 2009), and have run both the 50 miler and 50k races over the years.  In 2012, in our first ultra after getting married, Brian and I both won the 50 miler in our first race as 'the Rusieckis', which was a very special day for us.  This year we were excited to spend another day running through the fall foliage in Vermont, passing miles with fellow runners who have become friends over the years, cruising around on the sweet single track, and sharing the trails with mountain bikers who are as passionate about their sport as I am about running.

Brian and I returned this year as 'reigning champions', but knew that given the stacked start list we would be unlikely to defend our titles.  I didn't care, I was focused on trying to break 8 hours, which was a goal I set for myself back before my 2009 race - I got closest last year when I finished in 8:18.  Brian just wanted to run a strong race and see how it went.

(Hanging out pre-race with Aliza)
The day dawned foggy and cool, but muggy.  I quickly found my friend Aliza at the starting line, I was hoping to share some miles with her, if she wasn't gunning for a super fast time.  As we started, Aliza and I fell into step and gabbed as we passed the early miles.  I was struggling to stay with her on the first few climbs, and after about 6 miles she pulled away from me.  Already, my legs felt heavy and sluggish on the uphills.  I was frustrated - a few guys caught and passed me, only making me feel slower.  By Skunk Hollow (mile 12), I had dropped back in the field and feared I might have a long day ahead of me.  At the first crew stop (Skunk Hollow), I my spirits were lifted by the friends who were out supporting the racers, and by having Jill (who works for Inov8) out there to crew for me.  She handed me a bottle and gu, making my transition through the aid station quick and seemless.

Leaving Skunk Hollow is several miles of uphill on a dirt road - likely the worst thing for me when I'm struggling.  My friend Greg caught up to me, and we worked together to get through the dirt road section.  I kept focusing on getting up Garvin Hill, which was our next aid station.  During my first VT50, I remember that the view from Garvin Hill was incredible - it's the highest point on the course, and with the fall foliage, you just see hill after hill and mile after mile of leaves turning red and yellow and orange.  I haven't seen the view since - in 2008 it was foggy and wet, 2009 was rainy, in 2010 and 2011 I ran the 50k (which doesn't go up Garvin Hill) and 2012 it was raining again.  I was starting to wonder if there really was an amazing view, or if I had just imagined it in my 'oh my gosh, I'm running my first 50 miler, isn't everything beautiful' crazy mind.  As I crested Garvin Hill this year, I confirmed that this was an incredible view and one worth working for - the early morning fog had mostly burned out or settled in the valleys, so there was white clouds with these vibrant hill tops sticking out above.  It helped to turn my spirits around.

(Sharing early miles with fellow runners and bikers)

Running mostly on trails after mile 17, I was much happier and able to take stock of my capabilities.  Folks weren't really passing me anymore, and while I wasn't able to run the uphills strong, I felt great opening up my stride on the downhills and flats - so I focused on doing what I could and managing the best race I possible.  Looking at my watch, I felt that a sub-8 hour finish was still within my reach, I just didn't have much room for error.

After the Cady Brook aid station (mile 23), the trail runs parallel to a river through the woods for a mile or two at a slight uphill (but runnable) grade.  During my first 50 miler, I remember walking this entire stretch and afterwards feeling like I had wasted time there.  The following year, I focused on being able to run up that stretch - knowing it would save me a ton of time and set the tone for the second half of the race - and I didn't even walk when a runner near me told me I was going to burn out by the end of the race if I ran that whole stretch.  I thought about those memories as I easily ran up the now seemingly gentle grade - it's amazing how far I've come as a runner over the years, and great to remember the challenges that are so much easier now.  After this stretch was the last long dirt road section, so I just tried to stay focused and loose as I ran up the road, past Margaritaville, past my friend Kelly (who gave me a hug as I ran by), and closer and closer to the trails.  I knew once I hit the trail that I would be at the Greenall's aid station (mile 32) in no time where there would be crews to cheer me on and that it was basically all trail from there. 

(By mile 30, I was finally loving the day!)
At Greenall's, Jill got me in and out quickly, and I was excited to see that I was still on pace for a sub-8 hour finish.  Since Greenall's is located in the start/finish area for the VT100, I really enjoyed the next several miles - which I only see in the dark at VT100, and which seemed so much easier in this 'shorter' race.  I even got to pass my friend Tammy, who was running the 50k, and get a hug and some encouragement from her as I went by, which put some spring in my step.  I focused on only 9 miles further till I saw my pacer.  I cruised on the twisty single track, passing 50k runners, and enjoying a swig of beer (as I do every year) at the 'party house' located at around mile 35.  I finally had my legs beneath me, these are the trails that inspire me, and it was turning into a beautiful day to be out running.  I also had a fire lit under me during this single track - while it's hard to tell if the bikers and runners you see through the trees are in front of you or behind you, or how close you are to them - I did catch a quick glimpse of another female running strong in this section - and I used that to motivate me to keep the pace strong, convincing myself that the runner must be the 3rd place female in the 50 miler, tracking me down.

Around mile 40, I was cruising a downhill and telling a fellow runner how I have a 'bet' with one of my training buddies Meghan about today's race.  Pineland Farms this year was her first ultra, so we challenged each other - last to the finish line owes the other a beer!  At Pineland, I had a 2 hour head start, and 19 more miles to run.  I think I beat her to the finish line by about 30 minutes.  At Vermont, we decided to have a similar challenge - and to make it tougher, I had to run 19 more miles but only had 85 minutes extra to do it!  I figured I'd never see Meghan out there - but sure enough, just as I was telling a fellow runner about our wager, I came upon Meghan.  While she might not have gotten as good a time as she got at Pinelands, she was having a blast and in great spirits.  I didn't hang with her more than a few strides - I knew I have very little cushion (if any) on my 8-hour goal.

(Brian cruised the entire way)

Just past Meghan, there was a small uphill climb, and we came upon Linda's aid station (mile 41), where my pacer, Sara, was waiting, eager to run with me.  This aid station had moved from last year - and quickly I saw why, in the location of last year's aid station was a beautiful wedding tent on one side of the trail and the ceremony set up on the other side - overlooking a beautiful view of Mt. Ascutney.  Sara and I enjoyed that view, and many more as we wove through the trails and fields in Vermont, creeping closer and closer to Ascutney as it hung in our foreground - it was wonderful to have the company of a fellow runner, and even better to have a runner who is contemplating her first ultramarathon.  Seeing how much fun Sara was having on the trails and with this community of people, I know that she'd love ultras and really do well - hopefully she'll be competing in the Vermont 50 next year! 

As I picked up Sara, I noted that I was about 20 minutes ahead of my 2012 time (with an 8:18 finish), so as long as I didn't slow down (and as long as the course was similar length from here to the finish, which is always a gamble), I should be just under 8 hours at the finish.  Sara and I passed droves of 50k runners (maybe even a few hurting 50 mile runners, who knows) and worked our way through the rocky single track towards the last aid station as I focused on keeping a strong pace.  Once we got to Johnson's (advertised as mile 48), the last aid station, I checked my watch to see how much time I had to reach the finish and was please to see I had 35 minutes to cover the remaining 2.5 "advertised" miles.  I asked the aid station volunteers to confirm the remaining mileage, and got answers between 3 and 3.5 miles - which was a bit unsettling and confusing.  Either way, I would have to keep the accelerator pressed to reach my goal.  As Sara and I worked our way up Ascutney towards the finish, the aid station volunteer's story was confirmed - we passed the '3 miles to go' sign.  I glanced at my watch to see I had about 31 minutes.

(With my pacer, Sara, closing in on the finish)

I focused on trying to run as much of the uphill as we climbed Ascutney, and kept glancing at my watch as the minutes ticked off.  We passed the '2.5 mile to go', and I about 26 minutes.  '2 miles to go', about 21 minutes.  I ran with determination up the last few climbs, and by '1.5 mile to go', I had about 16 minutes.  Finally, the trail turned down.  With 1 mile to go I had 12 minutes.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  Then, my friend Brad, who was doing the mountain bike race, passed me and told me there was a woman right on my tale.  Sara glanced back and confirmed, but couldn't tell what race she was in.  Either way, I hadn't recently passed a female, so this runner appeared behind me quickly and made me nervous - was this the woman I had seen through the trees at mile 35?  Was this the 3rd 50 mile female?  Had she been stalking me all day just waiting for the last mile to pounce?  If someone passes me with miles to go, then I accept it and continue to run my own race - but I would be frustrated if someone passed me within the last 1/2 mile of the 50 mile race!  I drew every last ounce of energy I had, with Sara encouraging me and telling me that she was in 'full stride' to keep up, and I hammered as best I could on tired legs.  I crossed the finish line in 7:55:52 - estatic to have achieved my sub-8 hour goal.  As a bonus, I finished 2nd female and 16th overall out of about 290 runners.  My 'female stalker' finished a minute back, but turned out to be a relay runner!

(Women's podium at VT50)
Sara and I quickly found Brian, who told me he ran a solid race to finish 2nd place in 6:33, and I got congrats from Aliza who smoked the course, setting a new course record in an unworldly time of 7:01.  Somehow, I quickly got a beer at the finish (from a fellow racer who I had passed some early miles with) which Sara and I shared as we both basked in the adventure of the day.  Meghan finished quickly after I did, and promptly handed me a beer, simply saying 'I believe I owe you this'.  She had a huge grin on her face and I could tell she loved every moment of her adventure on the trails.  It was great to sit out in the sun, enjoy the atmosphere, catch up with friends, share stories of our adventures, and remember yet again why I love this sport. 

(Men's podium at VT50)

The best prize of the day was a hug from Zeke - who is my favorite volunteer at the Vermont races and has become a great friend and supporter - my ideal Vermont 50 experience was complete after that. 

(Sharing a hug with Zeke!)

Friday, September 6, 2013

Bless the Ultrarunning Community - Trail Angels

I'll start with this - in my experience, the ultrarunning community is a collection of wonderful people.  A few weeks ago, Brian and I ventured across the country to participate in the Cascade Crest 100 Mile - our first 100-miler away from home.  Fortunately, the west coast running community welcomed us into their arms and made us feel right at home with their support.  I am sure that many have had similar experiences - since the ultra community is amazingly supportive!  Our experience out there is a shining example of the incredible group of people involved in this sport.

Eric Sach offered to pace Brian for the last 32 miles of the race.  Now, racers could have pacers for up to the last 47 miles, so why didn't Eric offer to pace for that entire length?  Because he was the aid station captain of the mile 23 aid station and he wouldn't be done with that duty in time to catch Brian at mile 53.  Eric was organizing for his aid station when we got to registration (at 8am on race morning), then he ran an aid station for hours, and then he quickly headed to mile 68 to catch Brian and pace him to his victory, where they finished just before 5am.  I didn't personally get to meet Eric at the finish line - he had to leave quickly after Brian finished to be at his son's birthday party that day.  He must have been pretty darn tired by the time he was done with the birthday party, and yet he selflessly offered to pace Brian, knowing that he would be flat-out for over a day with all these commitments.  I know Brian greatly appreciated the company and could not have run the race he did without the course knowledge and company that Eric provided - he was integral to Brian's success.

(Brian and Eric, with the RD, just after winning Cascade Crest 100)

With my limited (shall we say) success at the 100 mile distance, I certainly knew I would improve my chances if I had the support of a pacer.  I was fortunate that Pam Smith, this year's Western States Champion, enthusiastically offered to pace me through the final 47 miles of the race.  I think she was willing to throw elbows with anyone else who offered to pace me, just for the opportunity to be my pacer and help me achieve my goals, which just shows how incredible of a person she is.  Pam told me that after Western States, she was temporarily retiring her racing number in lieu of a pacer bib for the summer.  I believe I was the 3rd person she has paced since Western States, and from the comments that I heard from the other folks she recently paced, she helped us all achieve greater than we could have on our own.  What an amazingly caring person, and in my opinion a true champion and deserving of my utmost respect.  I could not have done what I did at Cascade without her support, and certainly would not have had as much fun along the way.

(Me and Pam, at the finish line)

 About a year ago, I met an ultrarunner who had recently moved to the town I work in.  Her name is Steph Robinson.  We met when she volunteered to crew my friend Nick at Mohican 100 Miler, and I was pacing him.  She had never met me, or Nick, but offered and was crew-extrodinaire for his race.  Earlier this summer, she and Nick teamed up to crew for Brian at Vermont 100.  After that she flew to California to visit her friends out there, since she used to live out there.  During her 'west coast' tour, she was going to be in the Seattle area during the weekend of Cascade Crest.  I threw out the idea of her crewing for me, but honestly expected that with her limited time out there she would prefer to be spending it with her friends that she doesn't often see.  Instead, she enthusiastically jumped on board and gave up a weekend of her travel time to crew me through my race.  I know that Steph has crewed numerous times recently, and her runners always tend to do well - it is not a coincidence, she is efficient, good at trouble shooting, and exactly what is needed throughout a 100-mile journey.

(Steph, on left, an ultra crew professional)
One of my crew/pacing team from Vermont 100, Karin, knew one Seattle-area ultra runner, Francesca Carmicheal, and got me her contact info.  Francesca warmly opened up her house to host Brian and I, offering us a bed, shower, dinner, and place to use as we organized for the race.  As a complete stranger, she made us feel completely at home on the West Coast.  She fed us a huge, healthy home cooked meal, with plenty of awesome Italian wine.  She read off course information as Brian and I took over her back porch, organizing drop bags and fueling for the race.  She lent us some guide books for our vacation and lent Brian a headlamp to use for the race.  I can only hope to return the favor if she returns to Vermont 100 again next year.  It was also nice to see her smiling face at mile 80, where she volunteered throughout the night and following day at the race.
(Myself and Brian, with Francesca)
While this collection of folk welcomed Brian and I to Washington and made a race on the far side of the country feel like home, I know that these are just examples of an awesome community of people.  I am sure many other ultrarunners have had similar experiences with what I have dubbed as 'trail angels', the folks who selflessly help in the most amazing and unexpected ways.  I've had competitors offer me gels or treats from their fueling as I was bonking during a race, I've had fellow runners slow down their race to help pace me through a tough section; likewise, I've come across newer ultrarunners who are slowing and cramping and forced salt tabs and water on them, I've offered a competitor a hand to help her scramble up a tough trail, and I've unofficially crewed for any competitor that gets to an aid station while I'm waiting for my runner.  I have one friend who paced 7 miles from mile 70-77 for Brian at Vermont 100 a few years ago, and then doubled back to pace another runner from mile 70 to the finish.  I've seen folks volunteer to pace or crew complete strangers. 
So, what trail angels have you met in your ultrarunning?  How have you helped a fellow competitor during your own race?  Any special folks that you want to call out?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Brian talks Cascade Crest 100

Brian is a man of few words...even the story of his journey over 100 miles can be summed up in short quick statements.  I attempted to get his account of winning the Cascade Crest 100 Miler in 200 words or less.

(Brian, cruising to victory in 18:45 at Cascade Crest 100) 
Cascade Crest 100 was your first 100-miler that wasn't Vermont 100.  How did you decide on Cascade Crest 100?
It's mountainous but low elevation.  And the pictures made it look cool.

What was your favorite part of the course?
I think getting to the first hill was the best part - getting see views that are different than New England was nice.  Getting to the first hill meant getting started for a long day out in the mountains.

What was your biggest challenge during the race?
At mile 80, the Cardiac Needles came and I felt like crap.  I was trying to hike up and I was sliding backwards - and seeing the reflective markers super high up indicating the how much farther to climb - that was tough.

Any entertaining stories during the race to share?
My pacer specifically told me to be careful on the Trail from Hell to not fall off the trail.  About 2 seconds later I fell off the side of the trail and my pacer caught me by the arm and saved me from falling into the ravine.

(Brian, at finish line with RD Rich White and Pacer Eric Sach)

So you got hooked up with a local pacer - tell us about how that went.
I had Eric Sach pacing me.  He was great - he kept me motivated and told me where to run, lit the trail for me, and saved me from injury when I tried to fall down a ravine.

How was the chafing in Washington?
There was none!  Woohoo!

(Brian's so quick that it's hard to get a shot during the race where he's stationary)

What was your least favorite part of the course?
The tunnel - I couldn't see my feet, I couldn't see anything - it was foggy and I totally lost my equilibrium in there.  I thought I was going to puke.

Overall, how did the race go for you?
It went well - I only felt like crap on the needles.  I ran smart and took it easy till 50 miles, then took it harder from there.  I fell apart through the needles but was able to regroup and finish strong.

(Brian only show up as a blur into the finish line)
You had to wait hours for Amy to finish - what did you do in that time?
I walked around, talked to people, gave an interview to the local paper, zoned out and stared at the walls for a bit...that takes longer than you'd think when you're that tired.

Brian used a Light and Motion headlamp for the night time running (which is a rarity for Brian).  They posted a great article about his race here:

Monday, September 2, 2013

Cascade Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run - Run Report

For the past several years, Brian and I have had many folks independantly tell us that we would likely really enjoy doing the Cascade Crest 100 - something about the amount of climbing (which Brian would love...I would tolerate), the fact that it's a mountain 100 without the aspect of high altitude (which Brian would appreciate), and the beautiful surroundings (which I would appreciate).  So, after our successful 2012 VT100 races, we finally decided we were ready to try a non-VT100 100-mile race (if that even makes sense).  Cascade Crest 100 was at the top of our list of 100 milers across the country we wanted to do!  The course is in the Cascade Mountains, located in Washington about an hour away from Seattle.  It features about 22,000 feet of climbing, views of the Cascade Mountains (and of Mt. Rainier), a 10am start (to ensure that everyone has to run through the night), and some pretty unique course features along the way.  We were fortunate to be selected in the lottery.

I approached this race different than many others I have recently done.  This summer has included many important key races for me - I toed the line having about 235 race miles under my belt since Memorial Day - by the end of the race I would hopefully have 335 race miles.  Most of those races over the summer were races that I took seriously and focused on.  Further, I had decided a while ago that if I were to do a 'west coast' 100-miler, the goal would be to enjoy the scenery and company, have fun, and not ever put myself in a place where I wasn't enjoying myself - because I might only get to run these once, so why spend them puking my guts out, death marching, or staring at my feet in exhaustion, I'll save that for the east coast races where I can always come back next year and get revenge.  This race is called the 'Cascade Crest 100 Mile Endurance RUN' and that's exactly how I planned to do it.  So, I approached this race with two main goals: (1) no puking, and (2) never put myself in an energy hole that doesn't allow me to be enjoying this adventure in such a beautiful location.  I gave my crew and pacer splits for a 24-hour finish, thinking that it was a realistic finish time for me - but I wasn't holding any imporance or meaning to that time.

(Brian and I about to embark on the Cascade Crest 100)

So, at 10am on August 24th, we found ourselves at the Easton Fire Department ready to embark upon the Cascade Crest 100.  I was pleased to find Larisa Danis and Rob Lalus, two fellow New England runners that we enjoy adventures with, who were also running.  I ran about the first two miles with Larisa, catching up with her a bit, but she pulled away from me quickly as I eased into my 'let's have fun' pace.  Rob, who is a strong climber, powered by me the moment the trail turned up.  I ended up falling into pace with a large stream of folks as we headed up the first climb.

(Just a typical view of the Cascades from the course)
The first climb up Goat Peak is tough - the race starts with 2 mellow (slightly uphill) miles before turning up for 3 miles with 3,000 feet of climbing.  This climb is comparable with the opening climb at Western States - except that here the trails were rutted out and in rough shape.  It felt like I was barely moving as I made my way up.  From the top of Goat Peak, the next section of trail was technical, and upward rolling, and I continued to struggle making forward progress.  I started to worry about what the cut-off times were for the race, since I might be racing them!  I started to understand why times for this race are slower than other 100-mile races.

(View of Cascades from the course)
Luckily, after the Cole Butte aid station (mile 10) we hit a dirt road section for a few miles, and then after the Blowout Mountain aid station (mile 15) we turned onto the Pacific Crest Trail.  In this section, I also fell into step with Dana and Mike - who were both running in their first 100-miler, and who were great company to pass the miles.  The PCT was a welcome single track ribbon through the woods and across the fields, and we all began to feel like we were rolling and making good time.  At some point in this section we came upon a 'work party', which was a group of folks out cheering for the race who lined the course with beer bottles.  I picked one up, bummed that it was empty, and promptly had one of the folks there offer me a nice cold beer.  Mike and I stopped for a few seconds to enjoy the view and some fresh local beer! 

(Enjoying a beer from the 'Work Party' around mile 20.  Thanks guys, whoever you are!)

(Beautiful ribbon of single track on the PCT)
At Tacoma Pass aid station (mile 23), I got to see my crew for the first time, and Steph (an ultrarunner from my home who happened to be out in the Seattle race weekend, and who had crewed for Brian at VT100) and Pam (who lives in Oregon and offered to pace me) were waiting for me and cheering.  They quickly helped me with a change of waterbottle and restock of fueling, and I was off.  As I continued to enjoy the PCT, Mike and Dana quickly caught up.  We chatted about adventures we'd had, but I know they both were using me for pacing since I was the only one with 100-mile experience among us - I didn't mind, their company passed the miles and before we knew it we had passed through miles of forest, fields, and single track, over and across the ridge, and through the next aid station at Stampeded Pass (mile 33).

(On course, around mile 47, with PCT single track and mountains behind me)

By mile 35, I was beginning to have some stomach issues, which has happened to me in every 100-mile race, but I had always assumed it was due to the heat/humidity at Vermont.  Heat was not a factor here at Cascade, so I ran easy and did my best to not disturb it further.  As I got to my crew at Meadow Mountain (mile 40), I collapsed into the chair and told them that I was feeling pretty puke-y and needed to regroup with 60 miles left to go.  They immediately told me to stop eating gels and instead focus on eating 'real food'.  They directed me over to the aid station table and told me to pick out one thing to eat - but everything looked unappealing, so I picked up a bite-size chunk of banana, downed it, and walked back to my crew s if I was 'mission accomplished'.  They immediately saw through my weak attempt at refueling, and handed me a cup of potato leek soup - which tasted awesome and I downed the whole cup.  I hate spending time at aid stations, and this was a long stop (for me) of maybe 5 minutes, but I think it was needed to regroup and refocus for the miles ahead.

(Mountain meadow and Cascade Mountains from course)
Soon enough, I was rolling down the last section of the PCT and chasing the sunset.  As I arrived at Ollalie Meadows (mile 48), I enjoyed some perogies and took the time to enjoy the last views of the day as I was about to leave the ridge and the sun was setting - the mountains in the distance were incredible and made me smile as I focused on the night running.  The course dropped quickly downhill on a steep jeep trail with loose stones and gravel.  I picked my way down as best I could in the fading light - however, depth perception was challenging in the low light.  After a mile of this, the course turned off the trail onto a steep bushwack.  I clung to the provided ropes (tied between trees) as my feet skidded out from underneath me on the steep pitch.  I was fortunate to be the last runner afforded daylight for this section.

At the bottom of the bushwack, thr course turned onto a gravel road for about a mile before entering a tunnel.  Looking at the course map before the race, I knew that the tunnel was approximately 2-1/4 miles long.  I guessed it would likely take me 20 minutes, so I used that to figure out how much farther I had.  I tried to occupy my mind by thinking about the upcoming miles, picking up my pacer soon, the fact that Pam Smith was pacing me and would likely kick my butt (or have a first-hand account of how weak I really am), and did a quick status check of my body.  I looked down at my watch, and it had only been 5 minutes.  Oh boy - was I even moving in this tunnel?  It was hard to tell because there was no light and no frame of reference to be moving past, I felt like I was running on a treadmill - where speed is irrelevant because you're going nowhere.  The only sound was my feet hitting the ground, and all I could see was the ground in front of me and the circle of light my headlamp provided.  I kept imaging I could hear another runner, or see the headlamp of the runner ahead of me, but I think my mind was playing tricks on me.  I decided I wouldn't look at my watch until I had sung the entire length of 'Paradise by the Dashboard Lights' in my head - no idea why that song popped into my head.  The song killed another 8 minute of monotomy.  Quickly afterward, I could see a weird orange glow ahead and hoped that it was lights outside the tunnel.  As I got closer, I realized that someone had placed several candles in the tunnel, marking the last 1/4 mile of the tunnel.  I emerged from the endless tunnel into darkness - nighttime had fallen while I was in the tunnel.

(The 2+ mile tunnel - cutting under the mountain)

I breathed the fresh air and cruised the short road section and into Hyak aid station (mile 53).  Pam was ready to roll, so I switched my waist pack for my Inov8 Race Vest and we started off down the gentle 3 miles of road before turning onto a dirt road and climbing 2,000 feet in 4 miles up to Keechelus Ridge (mile 61).  I was feeling good, as we switched between jogging and running up the dirt road.  We quickly passed Larisa, who unfortunately was in rough shape, having puked several times from mile 40 on.  She reported that she was going to drop at mile 60, and we urged her to take some time at the aid station to try to regroup and recover since she was still hours ahead of the cutoffs.  It broke my heart to see such a solid and outstanding runner in such a tough place, and I hoped it would turn around.  Fortunately, Rob was close behind me and I knew that he would provide comfort and allow Larisa to make the right decision for her condition.

(Views from the course)

Cresting the Keechelus Ridge, the course then plunged down 7 miles and 3,000 feet to Kachess Lake, so Pam and I let the legs go and truly enjoyed the downhill miles.  I was so interested in her stories from Western States that the miles passed in no time.  I was quickly in and out of the Kachess Lake (mile 68) aid station, anxious to embark on the next section - the notorious 'Trail from Hell'.  It passed midnight just past Kachess Lake, and I was officially running later into the night than I had in several years.

In looking at past splits, it was apparent that the 5.5 miles from Kachess Lake to Mineral Creek must be challenging - I was anticipating it would take me 2 hours.  As soon as we entered the trail, we were quickly jumping over downed trees, ducking under downed trees, scrambling down embankments and over river crossings, passing over loose gravel that broke away underfoot and tumbled down the steep embankment that was all too close to the side of my foot, and crawling up steep climbs that required hands and feet to make forward progress.  It was slow going, but it was a fun adventure as we ducked, weaved, jumped, and maneuvered on my increasingly stiff and tiring legs.  Seeing the lights of the Mineral Creek aid station (mile 73) was a welcome sight. 

(The 'Trail from Hell' during the day - thank goodness I couldn't see it at night!)

Leaving Mineral Creek, the course is consistently up for the next 7 miles into the No Name Ridge aid station (mile 80) and beyond, so I did my best to hike with purpose and run when possible up this dirt road climb.  Steph was partway up the climb, so I was able to get a fresh water bottle and restock my fueling - I wouldn't see her again until mile 96.  At No Name Ridge, I was excited to see Francesca, who had hosted Brian and I earlier on our trip to Washington, and who was volunteering at the aid station.  She got us warm soup and sent us onto the trail.

(One of the Cardiac Needles)
The next section of the course continued upward, but included a few short but incredibly steep 1/4 to 1/2 mile climbs and decents - which are known as the Cardiac Needles.  I had heard of these before, so I was careful to count them off - I was proud as we quickly topped the first needle and headed down to the second....only to find this climb steeper and longer - and to learn that what I thought was the first needle was just a warm-up climb.  After officially cresting the first needle, we got to Thorp Mountain - an out-and-back up needle #2.  It was about 19 hours into the race, so I inquired if they knew where the lead runner was - and was jazzed to learn that Brian had won the race, finishing in 18:45.  That gave me energy to power up Thorp Mountain and back to the aid station at mile 85.

(On course, around mile 85, enjoying the ridge as the sun comes up)

The sun began to rise as I left Thorp Mountain and tried to muscle up the last needles.  These little buggers were so steep, and it was taking every ounce of energy I had to move forward.  I leaned into the climbs, arms on legs, stumbling around.  I know I was pretty incoherent in this section, often taking a step forward only to stumble sideways for a bit, I got pretty concerned about how I would actually get to the finish in this condition.  Fortunately the sun was rising and starting to light up the ridge and the mountains that surrounded us.  As much as I was struggling, I couldn't imagine a more beautiful place to be.

(View of Cascades as the sun came up)

I was relieved when I finally reached French Cabin aid station (mile 88) because I knew the needles were behind me.  I gladly took a bacon sandwich that they offered and munched on it as I got the legs moving on the downhill.  I was so excited to be done with the needles that I forgot that the course had one more short and steep climb at around 90 miles.  Cresting this last hill took the last of my energy, and I was pretty wasted.  I did my best to use gravity to pull me downhill, but it was slow progress.  At some point just past French Cabin, we passed my longest 'time on foot' since my first 100-miler which I did in 2009.

(Single track running on the last ridge)

It took forever to reach the last aid station at Silver Creek (mile 96); Pam and I splashed through rivers, walked downhills, and did our best to make forward progress but it was slow.  I was completely spent and the finish line seemed so far away.  Pam was an incredibly good trooper, enouraging me, entertaining me with stories as she had all night, and brushing off my apologies for the slow pace saying that she had made a pacer walk to a 29 hour finish at Western States last year.  I was so grateful to have her, otherwise I may have been tempted to lay on the side of the trail and sleep. 

Silver Creek eventually came and went, and I only had 4 flat miles to the finish.  The clocked ticked past my longest 100-mile time, and I was officially going to be on my feet for longer than I ever had.  I couldn't muster the energy to run more than a minute continuously, so we mostly strolled down the road towards the Easton Fire Station.  With 1/4 mile to go, I saw Larisa on the side of the road, bouncing up and down and offering encouragement.  She certainly seemed disappointed in how her race turned out (she ultimately dropped at mile 60), but was excited to cheer me on as I approached the finish line.  I was able to work myself up to a wobbly run through the finish line where I was greeted by the RD with a high five.

(Finally crossing the finish line, with a high five from the RD)
I was pleased to be done, and really excited to ultimately finish this super challenging race in under 24 hours.  I had mustered a 3rd place female and 17th place overall finish.  My time is on the top 10 list for female times on the course (#9 all-time) - showing what a fast field we had at the race this year.  This was all secondary to finishing the race, without injury (and without even falling - thanks to the super grippy Inov8 Roclite 268s!), earning myself a super huge belt buckle, and proving to myself that I can in fact finish these intimidating 100-mile races across the country.  My mind is already filling with other 100-mile races I want to do, now that I have the confidence to know that I can!

(A big hug from Brian is the best finish award!)

Brian was immediately at the finish line to give me a hug and help me to my chair.  I was so proud that he won the race and posted the 4th fastest time ever.  Pam and I shared a beer at the finish as we toasted the success and shared stories of our adventure with Brian and Steph.  The race wrecked me more than any other race I've ever done - I was barely able to walk for the first day, and my face swelled out in an allergic reaction for several days post-race, but the views, the challenge, and the adventure of Cascade Crest 100 will out-weigh any of the immediate effects.  I would highly recommend this race to anyone who wants a fun, low-key, but challenging race (with a kick-ass belt buckle).  However, I am unsure if I will return...there are just so many races I want to do!

(At the finish line with my amazing pacer, Pam)
Funny bonus story - at the finish line, I collapsed into a camp chair.  A super nice volunteer offered to bring me a bucket of water to soak my feet in...which sounded like heaven to me!  Apparently, a random dog hanging out at the finish decided that the water, with my nasty feet in them, must taste great, and kept drinking water out of it.  Likey the funniest memory of Cascade Crest!
(Random dog drinking my foot soak water at the finish!  Rob, who ran an awesome race, is beside me.)
And if you're curious what it feels like to run 100-miles through the mountains, I think my face says it all...
A fellow runner, Martin Criminale, caught some video of me from Cascade Crest - chatting to pass the time: