Thursday, July 25, 2013

Sweatfest 2013 - Vermont 100 Race Report

Brian's Vermont 100 Thoughts

No this is not the review of a new porno, although it does contain stories of nudity and chaffed genatalia. This is my 2013 VT 100 Race report.

On the Friday before the 100, Amy and I were home getting ready for the race. The temp outside was 97 degrees and I was worried. How was I going to run 100, in this heat. We packed up the car and headed to VT with the thermometer pinned around 98. Getting to VT the temp relaxed to a cool 89. Going to sleep that night was difficult, sweat was dripping off my body while I was just laying there. I tossed and turned getting about3 hours of sleep the night before the race. 

We awoke to a humid morning. I hurried to tie my shoes while fireworks were going off 5 min prior to the start. The gun went off and we headed down into the fog. While running down the first series of dirt trails the humidity was stifling, sweat was already dripping from my arms. This was not a good sign of things to come. The realization of running all day in the heat dripping with sweat crept into my mind and killed my spirits, I knew that this was going to be a day of survival. 

I kept the pace easy and relaxed and just ran on feel. Before I knew it I was on the race reroute section in Woodstock. I forgot how long the road section was through the town, I felt like forever to get back on the small dirt roads and this was another dagger in my mind about not wanting to run this race.

Running into Pretty House (mile 22.5) covered in sweat with soaked clothing, I saw my crew of Nick and Steph and asked how much off the pace I was from last year. Nick said a few minutes and I headed off down the road. This stuck in my head, I needed to pick it up a little to the next aid at 31 and see how many guys I could catch.

I picked it up a little and caught Bob Ayers just out of the aid station. 9 miles later, passing no one else, I started to get frustrated. I felt like I was working somewhat hard, but no one came back to me. I went through Stage Road (mile 31) in 10th or so and kept pushing just a little bit. My feet started squishing in my shoes not from running in water, but from the sweat running down my legs and onto my socks. I could feel the sweat dripping off my shorts and onto my calves – gross.

At Camp 10 Bear (mile 47.6), I still saw none of the leaders and I still was in 10th. I told Nick that I felt like crap and he said that I looked the same as everyone else. He said that there was of bunch of guys just a couple of minutes ahead. I changed my shirt hoping that would help my spirits, but still had the soggy shorts. I ran out of 10 Bear in low spirits. Ryan Welts ran with me up the hill out of the aid station. We passed Ian Sharman looking like death up the hill and this helped with my mental state a bit. I figured let’s see what I can do. I squished down the road and soon enough passed Justin Angle, then Josh Katzman. I figured I would see Josh again sinc he looked strong, Justin looked bad with a bit of a limp.
(Getting support from Ryan Welts)

Now I felt like I was making progress and I had a little spring in my step. I felt like crap, but figured everyone else probably feels like crap too. I caught up to Jeff Hanson running the 100k and tried to make conversation up the long climb. Every question I asked him he answered with “what”. I started to get frustrated, either I was not making complete sentences or he was hard of hearing.

At 54 mile aid station I passed Sebastian. The aid station workers told me now I was in 4th, and 2nd and 3rd was just a couple of minutes ahead. I headed off into the filed looking for the guys, but there were a bunch of 100k runners ahead confusing me who was the 100k and who was in the 100. Running down the road my penis stated to chafe, in a few miles it started to really hurt. I knew that this could be a killer if I didn’t do anything until the finish. At the aid at 59 I grabbed a band aid from my crew and wrapped it around my penis and headed off. Relief, I couldn’t believe how much better this felt.

Around 65 I saw Nick Clark and Jason Lantz ahead. I tried to sneak up behind them, but I think Nick saw me because they picked up the pace a little. It felt like forever to reel him in. I finally caught him and passed him with some weak authority. Down the hill back into Camp 10 Bear (mile 70), Nick flew by me. With broken spirits I started to feel worse with no energy. I mostly walked the uphill back into 10 Bear.

I coasted down the hill into 10 Bear almost getting run over by a pickup towing a trailer. I made it into 10 Bear to my crew looking like death. I couldn’t take the sweaty shorts anymore. I yelled out “no one look!” and stripped down naked in front of everyone. I grabbed a new shirt and some super short shorts and put them on. My pacer Chad Denning and I headed off to 77.

With Chad at my side I felt better. I gave me something to focus on and the miles passed by. We got to 75 mile aid and while filling bottles Nick Clark came up from behind be. Hmm, I thought he was ahead of me. I still felt like crap, but kept moving since now I was in 3rd. We shuffled off up to West Winds (mile 78) and it started to cool off and rain.

Going out of West Winds I felt like crap and wanted to drop. Chad and I were slowly moving through the trails and we could see Jason Lantz ahead. I told Chad I didn’t care that we could see Jason since I felt so low on energy, he persuaded me just to keep moving. We saw him just for a few minutes and it must have gave him inspiration because he took off.

(Finally having the company of Chad)
We weaved our way though the muddy trails, we both paused and noticed that we had not seen a confidence marker for a while. ‘Oh shit’ I though to myself, ‘I feel like death and now we are off course.’ I told Chad, “I am staying here, you figure it out”. Chad darted down the trail while I stared off into the trees like a zombie. I sat down on a rotten log and drank my whole bottle of hammer recovery. After a few minutes I could faintly hear yelling and headed towards the general direction. I finally found Chad after a few minutes of him yelling my name. We were now back on course, but I had lost some time. The 100k lead female I had passed a few miles back was now just behind me.

Chad said we had lost 5 min, I thought it was probably more. Whatever it was, it cost a lot of effort. The thought rang through my brain how hard I had worked to catch Nick Clark and now he was ahead of me, now Josh Katzman could be ahead of me too. Shit, now it was time to make up the lost time and I actually felt better. I don’t know if it was the recovery drink or sitting on the log or what but now I had some life back in my body. I told Chad I was feeling good and we took off. We moved well down the trail and onto the road section. Chad checked his GPS watch and he said were running 8:00 minute miles, we knocked of 4 miles of low 8’s in a row. It felt great.

Somewhere around 85 miles I paid for the effort. I didn’t have any more recovery drink only sugary sports drinks and gels. They just didn’t work anymore. No matter how many gels or sports drink I did, I felt the same – no energy. My stomach could no longer process any more sugar. It felt like forever to reach Bill’s (mile 89). Chad asked me what I wanted so he could take off and tell Nick to get it ready. I realize he was trying to help, but my brain could not process all the questions and I did not want to think about it or talk. I said some mumbled words about honey stingers and body glide and a new shirt and Chad darted off. Without him around I slowed to a crawl. I shuffled into Bill’s and stepped on the scale.

(Chad offers support)

I hit my absolute low. I could hardly move. I walked down the trail wanting to turn back and drop. I drank another bottle of Hammer recovery, but this time it did nothing. I complained to Chad how bad I felt and told him I wanted to stop and drop. As we turned on the road, my stomach felt bad I saw some big leaves and knew that it was a sign to take care of business. While squatting in the woods Nick drove by and stopped and talked to Chad. Chad told Nick I was fine and he drove away. I was mad at Chad for that, I wanted to get in that car and be done.

We started to run again and make some progress, I thought to myself only 11 more miles, I can do this. In one of the field sections around 90 I saw someone behind me. Oh well I thought, I have been moving so bad it was only a matter of time before I was caught. It was Ian Sharman, he had come back from the dead. We ran together for a mile or so and then he slowly dropped me on a hill. I didn’t really care about the spot I just wanted the pain in my body to end.

Mile 96, finally I saw Nick again. He told me I only had 4 miles to go and it gave me some spring in my step. At the time I thought it was 5 miles to go from the last aid. We ran down the road and I started to look for the table on the left side of the road that started the last trail section. From the table I thought it was 3 miles of trail to the finish. It felt like forever to get to the table, turn after turn it never came. I got mad at Nick, and thought that he told me the wrong distance to the finish. We finally saw the table and Chad said we had 1.5 miles to go. I scolded him not to bullshit me because I was convinced it was 3 miles from the table. A short while down the trail we saw the sign with 1 mile to go, I apologized to Chad about snapping at him.

(Crossing the finish line, finally the day is over)

We hit the final road crossing up the hill from hell and back onto the trail. We could smell the finish, the gallon jugs on the side of the trail the sight of the finish banner though the trees, this day was almost over. We hit the final stretch and jogged to the finish.

I sat down on the ground depleted. My time was over an hour slower than last year but this effort felt a lot harder. I took off my shoes and headed to the med tent. I laid down on a cot and felt the aching of my legs, feet and the burning of my chaffed body. I laid like a zombie for a couple of hours and wondered how Amy was doing.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Team Amy - Vermont 100 Race Report

This year marked the 5th straight Vermont 100 start for Brian and I - and we were hoping for our 5th consecutive Vermont 100 finish.  While I've figured out the 'shorter' ultra distances - the 100 mile race is still a bit of a puzzle - and I have yet to get one right.  I was hopeful that this year would finally be the year that I figured it out and ran well.

The week before Vermont 100 was incredibly hot and humid.  While I was gladly tapering in this weather, I still have difficulty sleeping and found myself dripping with sweat anytime I wasn't in my office.  As we drove up to Vermont on Friday, we watched the temperature gauge in the car hovering in the high 90s, and I started to get worried.  As much as I was trying to stay hydrated, I weighed in for the race up 5 pounds from my usual weight, so I must have been retaining fluids.  Camping out on Friday night was a sticky evening - I woke up several times covered in sweat. 

(The beauty of Vermont)

Saturday morning dawned a bit chillier, but just as humid.  As is tradition at Vermont 100, campers were awakened by 'Chariots of Fire' blasting from the loud speakers at 3am.  We were even treated to a fireworks display on the next hill before our 4am start.  In what was likely an omen for the day - somehow ants had crawled into my running shorts overnight, so when I got myself dressed, I literally had ants in my pants.  I got at least one bite in a delicate was not the way I wanted to start the day.

In the first few hours of the race, I ran easy and enjoyed the downhill.  I passed the first hour with another racer, but quickly found myself alone.  My mind wandered as I took in the beauty of Vermont, and as I reflected on the miles and hours of training that has gotten me here as well as the amazing people that I share those miles and hours with.  I thought about my trip to Wales and what an incredible opportunity that was.  I was simply enjoying the act of running.  I was doing my best to ignore the heat and humidity, as my body was already covered with a sticky sludge of sweat.

Around mile 15, my hamstrings started to seize up, and my happy bubble was burst.  My legs must not have been recovered from the World Championships if they were already tweaking out - that typically happened much later in the race so I was worried about having to shuffle for 85 miles.  A few runners passed me as I settled into a much slower stride and shuffled along.  At mile 22.5 (Pretty House), I told Brian's crew (Nick, Steph and Meghan, which I was sharing as crew for the morning), that I wasn't feeling it today and it would be a struggle. 

Quickly after Pretty House aid station, my stomach started to rebel - again, this was happening too early.  I felt nauseous and struggled to fuel and hydrate.  Where I typically enjoy the runnable sections of the course and marvel at the beauty of Sound of Music Hill, I found I was favoring the climbs where I had an excuse to hike and spending too much time staring at my feet.  Things were going downhill for me fast - I only hoped it would turn around.  I did my best to channel thoughts of last year's race - knowing that everyone struggles at times, and that things turn around as quickly as they worsen.

(The crew set-up for Brian and I)

I got to enjoy the company of many runners as I dropped back in the pack and struggled to make progress.  Luckily, I fell into stride with Nate as we crested Sound of Music hill, and he helped me put it into perspective - this might be a day where I let my 'dream goal' go, and just focus on earning a buckle...I should keep my head up, enjoy the day and the company of so many trail friends out there, and not feel disappointed if it wasn't my dream race day.  With that pep talk, I cruised into mile 31 (Stage Road), and explained to Nick, Steph, and Meghan my newly adjusted goals.  This would be a long day, but I was going to have fun and enjoy the day...but this might take me a while.

As I was leaving Stage Road, I saw Zac, a trail runner from Trail Monsters who was attempting to finish his first 100 mile race (it was his 3rd attempt).  As I passed him, I patted him on the shoulder and told him to come with me - I needed the company.  We used each other's energy to push through the next 10 miles - at times I would make us jog a small uphill, and at times he would tell me it was time to run at the top of a climb.  It was great to have his encouragement there and I was grateful for his company.  However, at the climb after Lincoln Covered Bridge, I had to let him go - he could cruise the flats and my seizing hamstrings weren't allowing me to do much of anything at this time - even a slow shuffle was painful and challenging.

Once I didn't have Zac's company, with the state of my hamstrings, I really thought my day was over.  I slowly trudged up the Lincoln hill - I even stopped to stretch a few times, and sat down at the aid station at the top of the hill, utterly defeated and out of ideas or inspiration.  I was trying to hold on for just 5 more miles until I could see my crew and tell them that I was officially dropping from the race.  I felt guilty - my crew was driving up from home, and would be meeting me for the first time at Camp 10 Bear.  I had recruited an amazing group of ladies who were basically new to the ultra and trail running scene - I got training buddies of mine who had been hearing my stories about these crazy ultras...I told them that if they wanted to live it for real, they should come on up!  How could I now tell them - 'thanks for volunteering to be here, but you can go home now'? 

With my crew in mind, I decided to give it one more attempt to salvage the race - I turned to 'Vitamin I' and crossed my fingers.  As I walked down the hill towards Lillian's, I wasn't optimistic.  However, just a mile after that, the painkillers kicked in, and I was able to shuffle again.  Greg caught me at this time, and we worked together to cruise in to Camp 10 Bear (mile 47.6).

(Karin & Liz, scratching their heads wondering what they're supposed to do with the pile of stuff handed off to them.  Luckily, they then found 'the binder' with my OCD instructions for everything.)

As I came through the crew station, I first heard enthusiastic cheering, and then saw a pack of ladies in florescent yellow shirts and pink flowers in their hair running towards me.  My crew, officially 'Team Amy' according to the shirts they were wearing, was exactly what I needed to see.  Once I saw them, I immediately knew that I was going to finish this race - they filled me with such enthusiasm and excitement that I was willing to suffer immensely to complete the 100 miles.  After being weighed in (up 3 pounds - yikes) which lead to a scary chat with the medical folks, I gave my crew the run down of my status.  It went something like this 'my hamstrings seized up over 30 miles ago, so I can only shuffle, I am already relying on Vitamin I, I feel like crap, things are going really badly...we're in for a long night - but I'm going to get this done!'.  They hiked me out of the aid station with a pep talk about how 100 miles is never easy, and I just needed to focus and keep moving forward.

At that point, I started to break the race down into manageable chunks.  I focused on making it up Agony Hill, then getting to Birmingham's where my friend Kenny was volunteering (and, as per our tradition, would have a beer stashed for me).  I passed Zac about a mile before Birmingham's and at first tried to get him to go with me - but once I saw he couldn't respond to my pace, I at least filled him in on the secret to my success...sipping beer at mile 54 (and I hoped he actually had some when he went by!).  After my few sips of beer (which amazed and confused the other runners around me), I was filled with energy and joy, and I ran strong for the next 5 miles until I saw my crew next at Seven Sees.

(Flanked by Team Amy's Alex and Karin, nothing seemed quite impossible)

I finally got a change of shorts at Seven Sees - the humidity had caused my shorts to chafe a ring around my legs (at the bottom seam), and chafe my entire crotch raw.  With new shorts and newly applied body glide, I almost felt like a new woman.  I focused on 11 more miles until I got a pacer.  I did have a horrible incident of peeing in this section of trail (as earlier in the race, it was sludge), but it acted like lava on my chaffing crotch - and I waddled for a few minutes waiting for the pain to dissipate.  Then, as I ran in and out of Margaritaville, buoyed by the cheers for Team Amy (my crew was recruiting everyone to cheer for me at this point), I knew I only had 8 downhill miles until I got a pacer.  I caught last year's VT100 champion, Kathleen at around mile 65, and hiked up a short hill with her.  It was great to share a few minutes with her, but seeing her typically strong hiking stride so hampered, I knew she was struggling.  After we exchanged a few words of encouragement, I was off to cruise the downhill and pick up a pacer.  I was sure, based on her history at this course, that I would see her again.

Returning to Camp 10 Bear, I was pleased - somehow I had turned around this horrible day.  It wouldn't be the finish I had hoped for, but it would be a sub-24 hour finish.  I was amazingly in 3rd place at the time - and I told my crew/pacers that they were supposed to do everything they could to keep me on the podium.  After a quick weigh-in, where I was down 2 pounds (yay, the first time ever, in 5 VT100s, that I have ever weighed in below my starting weight!), I got my gear for the next section and was off to hike Heartbreak Hill with Liz.  As Liz was checking what I wanted to eat for the hike, I requested a slice of watermelon - she looked at me and asked if I minded if she manhandled my melons...we all had a good laugh about that comment, and I knew I must be in a good mental space if I was appreciating the humor of the day. 

(Liz and Jess - how could you not have fun with these ladies on your side?)

Liz, a recent college grad, is young and super enthusiastic, and exactly what I needed for the 70-78 mile section.  I was mentally a bit tired, but she was so excited about the views and the trails and kept me in amazement of where we were and how we were doing.  At one point, she was expressing how much fun this was and how she wished she could run farther with me...I told her she might be singing a different tune when I puke on her shoes in a few miles...she responded that she needed new shoes anyway, so it was all good.  She was such a breath of fresh air.  As we got to Seabrook, we were greated by Meghan and Victoria who were working the aid station - they gave me some enthusiastic cheers and sent us onward.  The section from mile 75-78 are some of my favorite miles of the course, and Liz and I enjoyed cruising the single track through beautiful Vermont.  Her energy had reminded me that this is why we run, and I was grateful for that.

At Spirit of 76, I would drop off Liz and pick up my next pacer Karin.  At this point, my hamstrings were in some serious pain and my stomach was still a bit bloaty, but I was moving as best I could.  I got a quick hug from the aid station captain Zeke, and Karin and I were off to take on the next section.  After about 1/2 mile, we got to a trail junction with no markers directing us either way.  Karin ran back down the trail a bit to see if there was anything we missed, but she didn't find any directional markers.  We took the more obvious trail (maybe the other trail was a foot path and the course markers thought this was obvious?), and ran another mile or so without markers.  I was getting nervous.  When we popped out on the road, I knew exactly where we were - I had made a similar mistake when I was doing course checks, and I knew how to get back on course.  We took of down the road - knowing we had just added a few miles to my day.  As we merged back to the course (only a mile down the course for folks who had gone the right way), I was frustrated that folks I had gapped a while ago were now ahead of me.  I had lost about 20 minutes of time with that mistake. 

(Encouragement from Brian's pacer, Chad)

Quickly after that, I realized that we forgot to grab asprin, and I needed some.  We started begging everyone who we saw to take pity on us.  No one could help.  Finally, Nick P. passed us, and like an angel, he offered me one of the two asprin he happened to have on me at the time.  Karin offered him a potato chip in exchange - I don't think he was pleased with that offer, but he still gave me the asprin. (*Side note - I gave him a beer at the award ceremony - he sacrified for me and saved me out there...he told me the beer was much better than a potato chip.) 

Karin and I raced daylight - I was amazed that the sun hadn't set yet in this section, and began to optimistically believe that I might make it to Bill's before sunset.  If I could do that, it was possible I could break 20 hours - an unthinkable thought given my day.  So, we ran when we could, walked when we had to, and kept steady progress.  Karin, being an experienced runner herself, she knew exactly how to keep my mind occupied and thinking positive.  She marveled at the views of Ascutney with me, and talked enthusiastically about our running team, the Western Mass Distance Project.  The full moon rose just as we got the most impressive sweeping view of Ascutney (at mile 86), and the sun started to set quickly afterwards.  I had to hike the climb up to Bills in the dark - but considering how my day had gone so far, it was great to make it to mile 88 in the daylight.

(Team Inov8's Alex 'Airplane Noises' Jospe and Amy - 2/3rd of Team Giggles, reunited for another epic adventure)

At Bill's, after one last quick weigh in (exact starting weight) and change of bottle, it was now time to run the last 11 miles with Alex.  Alex, who is a member of the US Orienteering team (and a fellow Team Inov8 athlete), is a complete beast of a competitor, and I was excited to have her by my side to coax any energy out of me.  Luckily, I was feeling pretty ok - because at several times during my run with Karin when I wasn't feeling great, I kept telling her that Alex was going to kill me out there...I was nervous with how it would go down if I didn't feel good.  Alex kept me constantly entertained with her energy.  First, it was her excitement about the beauty of the trails.  Then, her dorsal fin came up the first time we saw headlamps ahead of us - if there was someone we could pass, she was going to make me do it, and she got really excited about reeling them in.  Next, Alex pulled some energy chews out of her sports bra, and started to offer me some fueling covered in 'boob sweat'...and when I didn't immediately take them, she said 'here come the airplane', flew the chew through the air, and made airplane noises until I would down it.  Luckily I was in a good mood and found this other times in the day, I might have wanted to slug her for that one. 

At some point in all this silliness, we passed through Polly's - and with how I was feeling at the time I told her was going to run straight need to stop.  Looking at my watch, a sub-20 hour finish was possible, but I didn't have much time to spare.  She traded off my bottle and we kept moving - 4 miles to go.  We shuffled along, and I looked for excuses to walk (there weren't many) and she kept me shuffling/running on anything that wasn't as steep as the wall at Mt. Washington.  We passed a few more runners.  As we saw the 1 mile to go sign, I was excited to be almost done and kept running up the super steep climb as long as I could.  After half a mile, I stopped to power hike for a second, and Alex exclaimed 'oh thank god'...seems she didn't want to run up that beast either.  With 1/4 mile to go, we turned onto the final trail, saw the glowing milk jugs, and I cruised it in...happy to finish this day out in 19:53, 3rd female.   Team Amy was at the finish line, completely enthusiastic and making noise as they had all day.  I collapsed into a chair as they fetched me a beer. 

(Team Amy reunited at the finish, and happy to be done!)

Somehow, I'd finished the race in the most unlikely circumstances.  It was the hardest 100 miler I've done - I had to work hard for this one and nothing came easy today.  It was an hour slower than last year's finish...but considering how my day went and how my body felt, I was pleased to only be 1 hour slower!  With the support of my amazing crew and pacing team (Team Amy), I had such a fun experience and was successful in completing my 5th straight Vermont 100 miler.  (I have to mention the yet-unmentioned Team Amy member, Jess, who is a newer ultrarunner but has a ton of ultrarunning smarts - she was the only real experienced trail ultra runner on my crew and was invaluable.)  Brian had likewise struggled throughout the day, and finished 5th overall at 16:05, also an hour behind his 2012 finish. 

Post race - we debated if we should head home or stick around for Sunday's awards ceremony.  The concern was that we were both so chafed that we wanted to shower and hope to kill any brewing infection.  We decided to head to White River Junction and hope we could get a hotel.  After a few attempts, we convinced one angel of a hotel worker to take pity on our pathetic looking selves and take a shower.  I don't know what plucked her heart strings - my pale face as I concentrated on not puking on her reception desk, the visible chafing marks around my legs from the race short I'd worn, the pathetic shuffle/walk that tooks us 5 minutes to walk the 10 feet from the door to the front desk, Brian's ginger walk as he tried to not rub anything in his crotch together for fear of further chafing in an already pussy mess down there, or the fact that it was 2:30am when we were having this conversation.  Either way, this lady took pity and allowed us free showers to at least knock the grime down one layer and remove any grit (possible infection) from the oozing chafing that was covering a frighteningly large portion of our bodies.  We both exclaimed as we looked at the damage on each other's bodies.  About the only non-chafed portion of my body was my feet - which were happily protected by my Inov8 Roclite 268s and the new Maximum Protection Drymax Trail Socks.

All in all - Vermont 100 was a memoriable experience, thank in large part to Team Amy.  Brian and I both earned our 500 mile buckles.  While neither of us had the day we had hoped for, we both realized that our finishes are still to be proud of and we're pleased that our 'bad day' is still pretty darn respectable.  I know I'll be back at VT100 in 2014 - it's just unclear if I'll return as a runner, or if I'll decide to crew, pace, or volunteer instead.  Either way, it's an amazing event that has become an annual tradition and party for Brian and I!

(Trusty race shirt and Roclites, beer opener/finisher award, and 500 mile buckle)

Friday, July 19, 2013

Friday, July 12, 2013

IAU World Trail Championship - Part 3 (Race Report)

July 6th dawned with a bit of heat, but plenty of enthusiasm.  It was finally the day of the World Trail Championships - a race that I had been dreaming of and focusing on for months.  As us athletes got ready for the race, it was amazing the similarities in pre-race rituals - from passing body glide around the team to applying sunblock on each other's backs. 

(Team USA pre-race rituals)
We were called to the staging area a few minutes before the race, and we marched in by country to the start area, as each contingient was announced.  Knowing that Tracy is similar paced to me, we lined up together.  As we worked our way behind the fast guys, we commented on how close to the back we were - this was definately different for me.

I had a few goals for the race.  Most important, I wanted to race strong - I've raced enough to know when I've given a good effort or not - and I was determined to finish the race without regrets or anything in the tank.  Part of that was that I didn't want to get sucked into the quick initial pace that would inevitably burn me out.  The course was a 1km road climb to get to the trails, and then 5 laps of 15km around a rolling circuit (with climb for the first 4 kilometers, then rolling for the next 8 kilometers, and a screaming downhill for the last 3 kilometers), followed by 1km down the initial road section after all 5 laps are complete.  With the opening several miles being uphill, I needed to go out easy and relax for the first hour.  My secret goal was to not get lapped by any USA runner, and certainly to not get lapped by Brian!

(Team USA heading to the start)

The race took off hard, the initial 1km road climbing didn't seem to slow folks down much.  I tried to relax and not go into immediate oxygen debt, but I tried to stay in contact with Tracy.  Michelle had taken off at the gun, but we knew she had the potential to podium, so I figured I wouldn't see her again.

After the entire first climb was completed (about 5km), I could still see Tracy and I was able to stretch the legs out on the first downhill of the day.  I looked up, saw an amazingly sweeping view of the hills of Wales, and felt my pace quicken.  I passed Tracy, and encouraged her to run strong - I was convinced I would see her again.

(Amy, passing through the lap/aid zone)

Halfway through the first loop, I caught up with Beverly Anderson Abbs - a true ultrarunning legend.  I was pleased to keep stride with her - not only because if I could keep up with her I knew I could run strong, but also because she could speak english and was super encouraging.  I also knew that she is very experienced, and running near her gave me confidence that I was running a smart race and not getting sucked into too fast of an early pace.  She and I would trade places and at times work together through the first 3 laps.

Still, the first lap felt a bit aggressive for me, so I worked to settle into a sustainable pace for the 2nd lap.  I was amazed by the caliber of athletes here, as well as the volume of incredible runners.  I've never done a race with that many females around me - or where I've been in contact with so many other athletes.  Everyone was here to race their hearts out.  At one point, I stopped at an aid station to grab a cup of water and was quickly passed by several females, then we would hit a short section of single track and I would surge past other racers, only to be quickly passed once we reached the runnable jeep trails by the ladies with better leg speed. 
(Brian and Ben, representing the USA and New England)
By the start of the 3rd lap, I was settled into my pace and slowly catching folks who had gone out too hard.  Surprisingly, on the top of the climb I caught and passed Michelle.  I power hiked with her for a minute to see what was going on - seems her ITB was flaring up and she was in some serious pain.  When I asked her what she was going to do, she responded that she would keep moving forward until she wasn't scoring for the USA team anymore - what a true champ.
As I passed her, I was very aware that I was now the leading USA runner.  The weight of that was heavy as I worked hard to do my country justice - but it also added some spring to my stride as I swelled with pride that I was leading the USA team.  I visualized my training buddies and trail friends sitting at home in the US, sipping coffee, and cheering for me from afar and jumping for joy that I was racing well.  The enormity of it helped me to push hard and stay mentally focused through the 3rd lap.  Towards the end of my 3rd lap, I lapped US team member Stefanie, who was having a rough day and was going to drop out.  All I could feel was sorry for Michelle, who now was going to have to run/hike over 30 miles on a gimpy leg...but if anyone could handle that, then it was Michelle - she proved to be tough as nails.
(Amy, taking advantage of a downhill)
On the 4th lap, I was running scared, passing folks and imaging that Tracy might be closing in on me.  Now that I was leading the US contingient I wanted to stay there!  I ran strong and focused on racing aggressive yet leaving enough in the tank to surge for the last lap.  The course was starting to deteriorate a bit, but luckily my Lite Trail Drymax socks in combination with the Inov8 TrailRoc 255s proved to be light yet aggressive and kept my feet happy through the worsening mud as well as the steep ups and downs.
As I started my last lap, folks were guessing I was around 20th place, so I worked hard to pick off as many folks as I could.  I felt strong, and I felt inspired by my USA teammates, my training buddies back home, and the numerous runners and family/friends who donated their hard earned money so Brian and I could be here.  I felt their support and used it to give me energy.  I ran with all my heart.  I surged with everything I had, and was picking off runners.
(Brian, running strong and steady)
The last 1km down the paved road to the finish was emotional - I was finishing my first World Championship race, and I was finishing strong.  I left it all out there.  I ran my heart out, and ran with complete pride in the USA jersey.  I lead my team, finishing 15th female in 7:24:25.  This time is a new 50 mile PR for me, and considering it was a bit hot and humid on race day, and the course featured 9,000 feet of climbing, I know it's an indication that I have faster in me.  Tracy ended up having a rough day, battling GI issues for most of the race, but still finished in around 8:30.  Michelle held true to her promise, and finished around 9 hours - earning her finisher award as well as the respect of the rest of us there.  I was completely honored to call these two ladies my teammates, and proud of our humble 10th place team finish.  I know how much passion and pain went into that result.
Brian ended up having a great day, finishing 2nd USA runner and 17th overall in about 6:25.  Considering he doesn't think of himself as a 'speedy runner', he did respectably well.  I was also pleased that Ben Nephew finished 3rd USA runner and 19th overall, just a few minutes behind Brian - that meant that all 3 New England runners ran strong and were scoring members of the USA team.
I do need to offer some thanks - because Brian and I would never have made it to Wales without the support of the New England trail running community.  While everyone's contributions made a huge impact, a few that stand out are: Dr. Weiss and Performance Health Center (always encouraging my dreams and keeping me healthy enough to chase them!), 413 Trail Runners (who keep me company for miles on the trails), Western Mass Distance Project (who get me out of bed to log some miles), Snenipsit Striders (the most active group in the area to get Brian and I support), and Steph Robinson (who house sat, cat sat, and transported us for this journey).  And of course, my sponsors who support my passion and give me the tools to do it successfully: Inov8 shoes, Drymax socks, and Gu Energy.

Level Renner posted articles about the race here: and here:

Ben also wrote up a race report, posted on IRunFar here:

Thursday, July 11, 2013

IAU World Trail Championships - Part 2 (The pre-race activities)

After enjoying the beauty of England and Wales, it was time to focus on the reason we were out there - the IAU World Trail Championships in the Gwydyr Forest in Conwy, Wales.  Brian and I previewed the course a bit on Wednesday (July 3rd).  We didn't follow the exact course, but got a feel for the terrain...which, unfortunately, was relatively non-technical.  Bummer!
(Amy enjoying the Gwydyr Forest Trails)
We then headed to the host city, Llundudno, and got to meet the rest of the USA team.  Llundudno is a beautiful community on the shore - a perfect place to relax.  The USA team was full of athletes that amaze and intimidate me, but I was proud that Brian and I got to participate.  It was nice to be around a bunch of like-minded folks who are as passionate about running and the trails as we are.  Brian felt right at home with his food allergies/issues - about half the team had restricted diets with vegan, milk allergies, and wheat allergies.
We celebrated the 4th of July by previewing the course, learning that while there was plenty of climbing, the course would certainly be non-technical.  The race would go to speedsters - Brian and I were nervous because that's not our strength!  But, we knew we would run as hard as we could and do the USA proud.

(Tracy and I previewing the course)

On Friday was the opening ceremony - our first chance to brush elbows with athletes from across the world.  It was amazing to see so many incredibly fit and enthusiastic athletes - but I was certainly nervous and anxious, just hoping to not finish last in the race.  On our way to the opening ceremony, we passed the White Rabbit and Mad Hatter - apparently Alice in Wonderland was written by a local author, so they celebrate the book in this region. 

(Tracy and I, with the White Rabbit and Mad Hatter)
On my way into the opening ceremony, a reported pulled me aside and asked if I was Amy.  I was floored - who over here know (or cared) who I was?  He was a french reporter and he asked a few pointed questions about USATF funding for the team.  His article was published on the French Trail Running website, and the rough translation of my quote is here:
"Concerning TEAM the USA, its presence constitutes already a victory, since selected had to launch a subscription on the Net, in order to finance their travel indicates Amy Rusiecki: “This world championship of trail is recent and the US federation did not want to help us, whereas it finances the 24 hours and the 100 km. For this reason, we have in heart to carry out a result here. We want to show with our official that they were wrong."
(Team USA, along with our local mascot)
It wasn't exactly what I said, as I'm sure some of it was lost in translation.  But, I guess it got the point across.  After I finished the quick interview, I quickly told my team manager, Jason Bryant, what had happened - hoping I didn't say anything wrong or get us in trouble.  He smiled, and handed me the flag to carry into the opening ceremony.  I was so proud.
(the Rusieckis - proud to represent the USA)
The opening ceremony itself was plenty of fan fare - each country was announced and walked in separately.  We were all given a local 'mascot' from the schools to escort us in.  Being the flag bearer, I got to stand in front of the ceremony as representatives welcomed us and officially called the World Championships open.  An interesting part of the ceremony was allowing local school children to ask questions of some selected athletes.  They asked great questions, I was impressed that this is a community that clearly understands running.

(Ben Nephew, Brian and myself - the New England contingient)

I left the opening ceremony a bit intimidated about the competition, but pumped to represent the USA and do what I am passionate about.  Next post - the race report!


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

IAU World Trail Championships - Part 1 (The trip before the race)

Brian and I had an amazing adventure in England and Wales - all leading up to the IAU World Trail Championships in Gwydyr Forest in Conwy, Wales.  We spent about 5 days visiting the Lakes District of England and Snowdonia region of Wales.  Brian being Brian, he of course wanted to bag the highest peaks out there, so that was much of our adventure. 
(The beautiful Lakes District of England)
Brian and I enjoyed the paths through the mountains in the Lakes District, and (after two attempts) we reached the summit of Scarfell Pike, the highest peak in England.  Our first attempt was unsuccessful because we got so confused trying to follow directions such as 'follow the beck to the tarn and then turn north between two pine trees'.  Without knowing what a beck or tarn was, not having a compass, and seeing way too many trees to distinguish which two were the 'two', we just ran up and hoped for the best.  We got a much better map for the 2nd attempt and got to the top.
(Brian enjoying the trails)
We enjoyed seeing plenty of free-range sheep throughout our trip.  I learned that you can get them really excited if you 'baaaa' back at them.  I also learned that the wool that they shed on the mountains is a great toilet paper substitute (I now understand why they show sheep during toilet paper commercials).

(Rush hour in England - sheep across the trails)

(Free range sheep)
We also visited Snowden, the highest peak in Wales.  On that peak, it was the strongest wind I have ever experienced - so the slog to the top was tough with the wind at our faces, especially trying to keep from blowing away.  However, the return trip was incredibly fast - I likely ran my fastest mile ever as I was aided by the high winds at my back.

(Hiking in England)

(High winds on Snowden - Brian is leaning into the wind and it's holding him up)
We visited a few castles during our trip.  Having never been over seas, I have only ever seen castles during movies and was amazed by their size and magesty.  I was also fairly amused by the signage at the castles - frankly, in the US these castles likely wouldn't be opened because someone would have gotten hurt and England, a warning sign is good enough. 

(Conwy Castle)

(Warning sign - basically listing the ways that the stick figure got hurt today.)
The most amusing part of the trip was likely the driving.  Just a reminder - they drive on the opposite side of the road, and the opposite side of the car...and you can only rent standard cars.  Brian was a trooper and figured it out, but it was scary at times!  Brian had a minor freak-out as we left the airport.  But, he quicky learned to channel his inner Nascar racer and was zooming around the narrow back roads at 50 mph, hitting my side mirror on brush along the way, and making me car sick.  Unfortunately, I was too nauseous to take pictures of the 'Cats Eyes Removed' signs that we saw - I am still curious about that one.
(What is wrong with this picture?)

However, this was just the pre-cursor to the IAU World Championships.  More on that later...