Thursday, June 20, 2013

Two out of Three Ain't Bad

Let me first say that I didn’t plan to have a crazy 3-race week, it just sort of happened. First off, I had a ton of friends who were going to run Mount Washington this summer – and ever since I raced it in 2008 I had wanted to go back and get some revenge on the mountain. It wasn’t too hard to convince me to register for Mt. Washington this year. Then, my road running club needed another person for a USATF Grand Prix race – the 5k race, which happened to be on Thursday night (36 hours before Mount Washington). It’s only 5k, why not race? Then, my husband decided he wanted to run the inaugural Cayuga Trails 50 miler, which was a week before Washington, so we both signed up for that. Great – a good long training run.

Oh wait…this means I’ve set myself up for one heck of a week – a technical and highly competitive 50 miler, 5 days later a downhill 5k, and 2 days later a run up the highest peak in the north east. Oh boy…seemed like a good idea at the time. With the World Trail Running Championships, as well as two 100-mile races coming up this summer, I guess I figured it would be great training, so I didn’t really worry about the residual affect – one race at a time.

(Loving the single track at Cayuga Trails 50)
So, the Cayuga Trails 50 miler was challenging, but beautiful. I hadn’t planned to really race it, but due to some last minute DNSs of key contenders, I quickly found myself running in a podium position. I felt like I ran a strong race, considering my un-tapered legs and lack of focus for this race, and was pleased to have finished 3rd place, with just under 9 hours of running. Luckily, my legs weren’t too fatigued from the effort, and I was out running the next day. Success! Race #1 – done, check.

(Cruising through a new 5k PR)
By Thursday night, my legs felt completely fine, and I felt ready to tackle my second race of the week. I went from racing a 9-hour effort to a less than 20-minute effort – total opposite races. Without any speed work in my legs, I wasn’t sure how the race would go – but I was sure that my mental capacity to suffer is well trained and up to the task! The race was over as soon as it started (at least it felt that way). I started running, hammered, and then there was a finish line. I was aided by the 220-feet of downhill, but was still pleased to finish in just over 18 minutes (18:04) – a new PR (but does it count, given the downhill course?). My hamstrings immediately felt the effort – hopefully I wouldn’t need these fatigued muscles to run uphill! Another success! Race #2 – done, check.

(Suffering on the 'only one hill' at Mt. Washington)
On Saturday morning, my hamstrings were still extremely tight and sore – I don’t understand how my legs got more sore from a quick 18 minute effort than from a challenging 9-hour effort, but that’s the way it happened. The stressful week of racing and traveling was catching up to me, but I was hopeful I could finish the week with one more successful race at Mount Washington. I was exhausted. The gun went off, and I felt good, enjoying the company and slowly making my way up the grinding climb. About 1/3rd of the way up the climb, my body started to rebel and I slowed to a walk. I was embarrassed to be walking so early on the hill – but it was all I had! I had pushed my body for too many hours and too many miles this week already, and it didn’t have any further capacity to suffer. I watched as folks streamed by me, mile after mile, as I climbed up the mountain – alternating walking and running. I was fortunate that the view was amazing – I kept my head up, took in the views and the experience, and had an amazingly fun time. I just wish my body had held out. Bummer – I didn’t have my revenge on Washington – I’ll have to return again! I am not invincible and can’t expect it to perform amazing race after race without recovery. I guess I still finished well, but I was well behind my anticipated finish time and disappointed with the effort I was able to give.

(Happy to be done with my crazy week of racing)
I was fortunate to have company for the run back down (post-race), and to bag a few of the 4,000 footers on Sunday – both of which helped me process my week and understand my limits better. It was unrealistic to hope that I could have success at all three of these races in such quick succession.

(How do I decompress from a hard week? Bagging a few 4,000 footers with Larisa.)

Of course, that might not stop me from trying something like this again. I guess two out of three ain’t bad!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Most Beautiful Ultra - Cayuga Trails 50

In filling out our 2013 race schedule, Brian and I debated between participating in the inagural Cayuga Trails 50 Miler, and returning to the Laurel Highlands 70 Miler.  Having done Laurel Highlands before, I knew what a beautiful and fun course that was.  Cayuga was new and we didn't know what to expect.  Ultimately, it came down to which race was closer - so we decided on Cayuga.  Brian was excited about the level of competition there and was hoping to place well and have a truly competitive 50 miler.  I had wanted to focus on Pineland Farms (only two weeks prior to Cayuga), and am also holding out hope that I can run strong at the Mt. Washington Road Race (one week after Cayuga), so this was not going to be a goal race for me.  Either way, we were both excited to try out a new course.
Saturday morning dawned with a mist in the air, but the excitement for this race was tangible.  We don't often get to race this caliber of ultrarunners, and I think it was literally palpable in the air.  With the moist weather, I was worried about Mudfest 2013 version I just had to laugh.  Maybe the rain will just follow me through all my races this year?
However, it was nice to see so many familiar faces at the starting line, including fellow Clarkson alum Jess Snyder (looking to kill it at her first ultra - I had confidence she would), fellow Inov8 athletes Ben Nephew and Yassine Diboun, and many New England runners including Deb Livingstone and Kristina Folcik. 
(Brian, running through the gorges)
The race took off and immediately I was behind something like 40 guys and 5 women - I don't know exactly, I was just behind a lot of runners.  People were here to RACE!  I think Brian was about 10 deep in the men's field for the start of the race.  I started off easy with fellow Kristina and Deb, although Deb dropped off our pace quickly.  I was really pulling for us New England chicks to represent well and race strong - before the race I told them I didn't care which of us it was, but I wanted us to defend our turf to these runners from across the country.  It was great to pass some miles with Kristina in the early miles and hear about her running adventures, but I knew that the pace she was pushing wasn't sustainable so after I lead her down a wrong turn for a few seconds, once she was ahead of me I let her go and settled into my own pace.  She has been training hard and was very amped up to race strong at Cayuga.
I found myself enjoying the views, meeting fellow ultrarunners, and just having a great time as I passed the miles.  The course being a double out-and-back, meant that I got to see the leaders in the men's race on their return trip (after their 12.5 mile turn around).  Brian was well down the pack, but he was running smart and in control. 
(Amy, enjoying early miles, inspired by the course)
It was great to turn the corner at the first turn-around, and start to pass folks headed the other way, exchanging encouragement.  I fell into stride with several guys from the central NY running community, so we swapped stories from Green Lakes, Finger Lakes, and other races on the WNY ultra scene.  Of course, we talked mostly about trying to win one of the pies along the way - between us we figured we had 5 sets of eyes and one of us could find a pie.  (Did I mention that the RD has several pies that you could win along the way if you were a lucky runner who found a laminated photo of a pie he planted along the way?  How much fun is that?!?)
As I got close to the half-way point (i.e. turnaround at the start/finish area), the lead runners were again passing me.  This got a bit tricky as I was trying to work my way down the slippery wet rock stairs as quickly as possible, and had the lead runners hammering up the same rocks (and around blind corners).  Yassine passed me, looking solid in 4th place as he headed up the stairs, with a quick high five.  Brian passed me quickly afterwards, already working his way up the field.  I also passed a limping Cassie Scallon in this section - sounds like she unfortunately had tweeked her leg and would have to drop.  With her goal of racing strong in a few weeks at Western States, that was the right call - but I respect what a tough call that must have been.
(Amy, restocking at an aid station)
Just before the turn-around, I saw Kristina charging up the hill, looking in control, and of course smiling and enjoying the day.  She was really killing the race, and it was so nice to see her running with confidence.  At the turn-around I saw that the 2nd place female, Rachael Nypaver, was only about 1 minute ahead of me.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that I might still be in the race, and was running on the podium.  Jess was also destroying her first ultra, she wasn't far behind me and only time would tell how she would fair in the later miles.
I did my best to charge up the first climb after the turn-around, hoping to see if there was any chance of catching Rachael.  I used the energy of the other runners out there to propel me forward and took inspiration from the amazing views of the gorge.  However, after 3 miles and not seeing Rachael, I figured she was also running strong, and I settled into a comfortable pace with another fellow runner, Kevin.  We chatted and enjoyed the beauty of the course, not really worrying about pace, but enjoying the company of another runner.
(Amy, staying cool on a humid day)
About 30 miles in, the leaders started passing us in the other direction.  I could see that Brian had moved up to 4th place and was looking solid.  Yassine also looked to be running strong and wasn't far behind Brian - so I hoped that Brian could hold him off.  Ben and I passed while we were both negotiating a mud section that had been getting worse all day - we exchanged comments about Pineland flashbacks. 
(Amy, leaving the 37.5 aid station, about to run up the gorge)
By mile 37.5, I could feel that my untapered legs are a bit tired and my stomach was starting to bloat a bit.  I handed my waist pack off and decided I'd run the rest of the race with my water bottle in my hand.  About 200 yards out of the aid stations, I spotted a PIE marker - if I could carry this to the next aid (6 miles ahead), I would win myself a pie!  Unfortunately, without my waist pack I had to get creative with how to carry the 4" x 12" hard laminated card.  I shoved it down the back of my shorts and hoped it wouldn't cause too much irritation.
(With a pie card down the shorts and a view of the gorge, Amy loving the day)
This gave me extra spring in my stride, and I ran with a smile as I enjoyed the last 12 miles of the course.  I giggled through the worsening mud (which was knee-deep and shoe sucking at this point), I happily plunged into the waist deep water crossing one last time, I marveled at the beautiful gorges, flower covered fields, and friendly runners along the way.  While I didn't have the energy or legs I would have if I had tapered for this race, the Gu Brew was keeping my energy up, my feet were happy with the combination of Inov8 Roclite 268 shoes and Lite Trail Drymax socks (considering the mud section and river crossings, I was pleased my feet were a-ok at the finish).  At the 44 mile marker (6 miles to go), I happily handed over the pie card and was off to get this race done. 
With 5 miles to go, I looked back on an uphill and was surprised to see Jess there.  She must have been running steady all day.  That was the kick in the butt I needed to remember that this was a race, and there was prize money at stake.  I was determined to not lose 3rd place without a fight.  I flew past a few guys in the last few miles, as I surged into the finish.  I finished 3rd female and 17th overall in 8:57.  I immediately commented to the RD that this was the most beautiful ultra I've ever run.
(One of the many gorges we ran through - Amy and Kelsey, representing WMDP)
I was pleased to learn that Kristina helped us defend our turf - finishing first lady in a super strong race!  Rachael ran strong all day and was about 9 minutes ahead of me at the finish.  I wish she and I got to share a few miles out there - she seems like an amazing runner and supportive lady.  Jess ran an incredible first 50 miler, finishing just 4 minutes behind me.  Given how strong these ladies ran, I was pleased to finish on the podium.  Brian finished a strong 4th place, ultimately finishing 5 minutes ahead of Yassine. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

It's Official - World Champs, here we come

The official team press release makes the reality of being named to the USA team, and representing my country at a World Championship all too real.