Thursday, November 6, 2014

Celebrating 'Masochism' - Mountain Masochist Race Report

This past weekend, Brian and I made our (what has become) annual pilgrimage to Virginia to run the Mountain Masochist 50 Miler.  It's one of our favorite races each year - with the beauty of the foliage, the mountainous terrain that we enjoy, the high quality race that Clark and his crew put on, and the awesome Virginia trail running scene. 

After my emotional run at Vermont 50, and a challenging month of reconnecting with my trail running passion, I was looking forward to run Mountain Masochist.  However, I knew that my fitness and my focus suffered in the past month, so I was aiming to enjoy the run, and stay mentally engaged and happy throughout the race.  I could not enter this race with any time or place goals - that would be counter to my hard work to get my trail mojo back. 

It was sprinkling at the start as we said hello to friends and shared hugs.  There were two girls from Vermont running, Liz and Lindsay; I was glad to have New England represented!  I also got hugs from our friends Paul and Meredith Terranova, who were in from Texas to do the race.  I was hopeful I would get to share miles with Meredith and the Vermont girls.  I took in the pre-race energy and reconnecting with friends...I need to remember this feeling of enjoyment.

(The sea of headlamps just after the start)
The race starts with about a mile of road, and I was immediately way back.  Breath, relax, don't race.  Immediately, the negative self-talk're fat, slow, and out of shape...why oh why do you do this?

However, as soon as we hit the trails, I was in my happy place again.  I pranced down the trails by headlamp, splashed through the streams, and enjoyed the silent company of fellow trail runners.  It wasn't until about 45 minutes in that someone around me spoke, and it was to show his awesome injury.  I was impressed that anyone could be faster than me at drawing blood.  Soon after that, I heard a voice behind me, and it was Liz (from Vermont).  We ran the rest of the first climb together, chatting a bit.

(Fall foliage that made the forest glow)

On the first single track, she pulled away from me...and I let her.  Don't race, let her go, run your own race, enjoy the day.  I relaxed into my pace and enjoyed the single track as the sun started to light up the sky. 

Most of the race was captured moments, snapshots in my mind really, as I experienced the 50-mile trail race.  As the sun crested the hills, the sky turned completely pink for several moments and took my breath away (or was it that I was climbing at the time?).  The rivers were bursting after the rain, and I felt like a kid as I splashed through twice as many rivers this year.  In the late morning sun, the leaves in the trees seemed to make the entire forest glow orange and yellow as I looked down on a reservoir.  I shared ultra war stories with two runners as we powered up the unrelenting grade from mile 16 to 18.  I caught myself grinning like a fool as I ran in solitude, simply embracing the moment and appreciating the beauty that surrounded me on these trails.  People would think I'm crazy if they saw me right now.

The wind kicked up, and it blew hard enough that I was barely moving forward despite running a gentle downhill grade.  At one point, I felt precipitation on my cheeks and realized it was a snow flake.  At the top of the out-and-back, I took the extra moment to look out and take in the incredible view of the valley below - the foliage creating a sea of colors before me. 

(Looking out over the foliage)
The snow kept falling harder, and I giggled as I squinted to see through the near white-out conditions.  How is it that two out of my three races here have involved snow?!?  I am in Virginia, right?!?  I kept getting splits on the ladies ahead of me, and I blissfully ignored the information, running with my heart and not my head. My hands grew numb (as I opted to not carry gloves, not realizing it would be below freezing towards the end of the race), therefore I didn't have the dexterity to fuel and hydrate...luckily, my spirits remained high as I drew energy from the beauty of my surroundings and the joy of the moments. 

(At least conditions weren't like "the snow year")
I congratulated myself on not falling as I turned off the last trail section...and then promptly fell on my face like a novice trail runner.  I ran the last mile with a smile, knowing I had reconnected with my passion for running, and experienced a wonderful day on the trails.  In retrospect, I am extremely pleased that, mentally, I was engaged throughout the day...the only negative thoughts were during that initial road mile.

Surprisingly, I finished 4th place female and only 20 minutes back from my time last year - earning me another coveted Top 10 Patagonia jacket.  (Liz, from Vermont, won the her first 50 mile race!)  The finish line was full of hugs, smiles, stories of the day, and friends, old and new, recounting their adventure.

(The beauty of the day)
This race might not have been my most focused effort, and I didn't have any major obstacle to overcome.  The adventure isn't as grand as other events.  However, this was an event that touched my soul and reminded me why I love trail and ultra running, which was exactly what I needed.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Trail Running in the Pioneer Valley

Recently, a local reporter approached me regarding trail running in the Valley.  He was trying to capture the culture of the local trail and ultra community - so I took the opportunity to show him first hand what it was about.  I took him for a trail run at the Notch and talked running.

The article is here:

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Caring for the B-dog - Amy's Crewing Report

Typically, Brian and I run the same races - it means that when we've committed to traveling to a race, we're both getting to pin on a race number.  Because of that tradition, we rarely get the opportunity to crew and pace each other.  This year, I've twice gotten to crew for Brian - at UTMB, and again at Grindstone 100.  Brian's likely one of the easiest runners to crew for, but it's still an adventure to take care of him throughout a 100-mile adventure.  When Brian decided to race Grindstone (only a few weeks before the race), his first step was to ask if I would travel down to crew and pace him - it would be a deal breaker for him if I wasn't there.

Grindstone 100 started at 6pm, so we arrived a few hours early to check in and get ready.  I snuck out for a short run along the course while Brian organized his stuff.  Just as I was finishing my run, it started raining...and kept raining.  We walked to the starting line in a downpour - I could only imagine that Brian was having flashbacks from UTMB, starting in the evening under pouring rain.  As crew, I know I shouldn't complain about the rain (the runners have it much worse off!), but darn, it's hard to stay warm and keep your runner's stuff dry in the rain!  (*Shameless Inov8 plug - my Inov8 Race Elite Stormshell kept my upper body warm and dry, and I found that the Inov8 Kit Bag is actually waterproof - so it was a great place to store all of Brian's dry/spare clothes!  I just struggled to keep my lower half dry, or to keep things inside the Kit Bag dry when it was open at aid stations.)

(Brian, almost ready to race - with me holding his raincoat)
Anyway, so despite the rain, the racers lined up.  A quick prayer was said, and the runners were off.  Then, all the spectators walked through the woods where we could see the entire race field go by, about 1 mile into the race.  It was great to see everyone, from Brian and the other leaders, to the first females, to other New England runners, to the back of the packers - it might be the only chance I'll have to cheer everyone on!

After the excitement of seeing all the runners, I then had a few hours to kill.  I wouldn't see Brian until mile 22 (3+ hours into the race), and it was only about a 45 minute drive.  I organized my crewing stuff, read in the car, stopped at the store to get myself food for the overnight, and tried to sleep (but couldn't that early on).  I anxiously waited at the mile 22 aid station, flinching at every headlamp that came up the trail sure that it was the front runners and not another crew.  The crowd built up, as crews for anyone in the race started to line the trail leading up to the aid station.  Finally, about a half hour behind course record pace (due to the rain, I suspect), the lead runner came through. 

It was hard to tell who the runners were, through the rain and darkness - I was trying not to blind them with my headlamp.  Luckily, Brian's running stride is distinctive even in the dark - he came through in about 5th place but within minutes from the lead runner, as were most of the top 10.  However, the look in his eyes was similar to his expression at UTMB - he was not having fun, running in the rain and the dark.  He grumbled a bit as we swapped out his stuff...but I sent him on his way with as much positivity as I could.

(Patagonia teammates Brian and Jeff sharing the early miles - photo by Katherine Hawkins)

After seeing Brian, I had to do my best to scurry back to the start/finish area and pick up the other part of Brian's crew - Jason Lantz, who couldn't get there until around 9pm at night.  It was a long vehicle shuttle to drive back, pick him up, and then drive to the second aid station at mile 35.  I was nervous that we could potentially miss Brian, especially when we took a wrong turn!  I was frantic - but luckily Jason also has some Mass-hole road rage, so he didn't think I was a nut as I swore under my breath at the guy ahead of me who stopped to let every driver coming down the road know that they were going the wrong way.  Eventually, after tailgating that would make any Boston driver proud, he finally pulled over to allow me to speed to the aid station. 

We got there with about 5 minutes to spare before the leader, Jeff Browning, rolled through the aid station looking fresh and easy.  Then, we waited and waited for the next runners...and most of the runners coming in looked like they had been through a war!  Brian was no exception - he looked beat up, and his spirits were pretty darn low - he grumbled something about 'this is the end of my season' to me as I changed out his water bottles.  Jeff had built a 15-minute lead on Brian, who was in about 5th place.

As has become tradition for Brian, he did get partially naked at this aid station - changing out his shorts...but he's becoming smarter about it; he did step away from the lit aid station table before he dropped his shorts.  (This lead to a funny conversation after Brian was gone, as Kristina Folcik-Welts said to me 'umm...did Brian really get half naked in the aid station?!?'  I had to explain to her that Brian does this often, and has zero shame about it.)  Despite how he felt, Brian was swift through aid station, and he got out while a few other runners were still collapsed in chairs. 

Jason and I enjoyed hanging out for a bit, cheering on many of the other top runners and lending a hand when we could.  The rain had only recently let up, and it was around midnight - a mentally challenging time for most everyone.  It was hard for many who were struggling to imagine that they would feel better once the sun came up, or for them to wrap their heads around moving for another 6 hours in anticipation of the sunlight.

After a while, Jason and I headed to the turn-around point at mile 50 to wait for Brian and the other runners.  Considering Brian's defeated attitude, I was curious if he would still be going, worried that he would be broken out in hives, and anxious about sending Jason onto the trail with a grumpy Brian.  We watched Jeff come and go, covering the last out-and-back (about 1-mile total) and out of sight before the next runners appeared - he had continued to stretch out his lead as everyone else struggled.  Jason said to me 'do you think his body knows that it's run 50 miles?' certainly didn't look it. 

We waited anxiously, and about half an hour behind Jeff, there were headlamps heading down the mountain - and I heard Brian's voice!  He was running in 2nd place with Mike Owen and feeling much better.  He dropped his gear with instructions as he headed to do the out-and-back...I prepped his gear and Jason got ready to pace Brian.  As they left together, Brian was in such a great mood that he told me he loved me and gave me a kiss.  Ahhh...what a sweetie!

I hung out for another hour, cheering on the front runners and helping as I could - and then went to drive back to the mile 65 aid station...only the car wouldn't start.  I guess I used the battery for too long at the aid station, as I was trying to stay warm and recharge Brian's headlamp.  Woops!  There was a bit of panic then some chaos as I got another crew to jump start my car - luckily someone else had jumper cables and was able to help me out.  It's amazing how idiotic I can be on little sleep!

So, back to the mile 65 aid station - and I had a bit of time to wait, so (with the car running to recharge the battery) I curled up and was able to get about a 20-minute nap.  I woke up in time to see Jeff blaze through the aid station - still looking fresh and holding on to a commanding lead.  Brian was the next through the aid station, now 35 minutes back but looking strong.  He and Jason were quick through the aid station and ready to tick off more miles.  Mike (who had been with Brian at the turn-around) was only 5 minutes back and in the hunt to catch Brian - it looked like the 2nd and 3rd place might be a tight battle to the end.

Again, I stayed to help out a few of the next runners, but tried to leave relatively quickly in hopes that I could sleep a bit more.  However, the sun came up by the time I reached the mile 80 aid station and I simply stared at the inside of my eye lids for a bit instead.  I changed into my running clothing, ready to pace Brian if needed - but hoping that Brian would decide to have Jason continue with him.  After VT50, I wasn't feeling great about my fitness, and I was nervous about trying to keep up with Brian if he was feeling good. 

Jeff came and went, and I waited.  With few runners within an hour of Brian, this aid station was quite lonely, devoid of anyone except Mike's crew.  About 40 minutes behind Jeff, Brian powered up the climb and into the mile 80 aid station.  He immediately looked at me with sad eyes, and said 'will you run with me?'...I could tell he really needed my spirit.  I told Jason to be prepared to jump back in with Brian if he beat me to an aid station - I wasn't confident I could do the entire last 22 miles to the finish at Brian's pace!

We swapped out Brian's gear, and I joined him as we jogged down the trail.  I was afraid that Brian had requested me because he wanted to fall apart - and it's much easier to do that in front of someone you're close with rather than someone you typically compete with.  Luckily, while his energy was a bit low, he was in relatively good spirits and moving well.  Once we were away from the aid station, I updated Brian on what I knew of the race behind him.  The last update had Mike only about 5 or 7 minutes behind him, and Adam Wilcox (another New England runner, yay!) was only a few minutes back from that. 

(Pacing Brian as he powered through the late miles)
Brian, who typically runs everything, apologized for any uphill that he had to walk - I just chuckled to myself, thanking my lucky stars that I could keep up.  He enjoys quiet while he runs, so I kept the chatter to a minimum, giving him gentle encouragement when he ran a strong section or powered up a tough climb.  We left the mile 80 aid station, and after rolling for a mile or two, the trail turned up into a killer hill - it wasn't a steep grade, but it was long and unrelenting.  Brian kept having me check behind us for Mike, certain that he was gaining ground. 

At the top of the climb after pacing about an hour, with no one in sight behind us, Brian got himself worked up.  The angry B-dog came out, and he started cranking up the pace.  I was struggling to keep up with Brian's frantic pace, as he worked to open up the gap to his chasers.  We cruised the downhill and flats into the next aid station at mile 87, with Brian taking advantage of the beautiful trails. 

(Enjoying the Grindstone course with Brian)

At the aid station, no one could give us an updated split on Mike and Adam, but Brian had closed a few minutes on Jeff - I reasoned with Brian that it was unlikely that those guys were closing too much on Jeff so he likely wasn't losing ground.  He stayed motivated, and hustled up the start of the next climb.  Eventually he calmed down and we power hiked up the last big climb of the race - which went on forever.  The footing was unsteady with mostly loose rocks covered with moss and I wondered how the runners had bombed down this earlier, when it was wet and (according to everyone's stories) foggy! 

We were glad as we reached the top and plummeted down the other side - down a steep gravel road.  Brian kept his eyes on the trail, as I looked ahead for the turn - I had been told that it was an easy turn to miss and I was determined to keep Brian on-course.  Eventually we turned onto some awesome single track, and Brian kept the intensity up on the flats and trails.  As we ran past some folks that were horseback riding, they asked what we were doing - I proudly told them that Brian was running a 100-miles, and he was in 2nd place!  They said 'the guy ahead of you wasn't moving as well' - which was likely not true, but it was nice to imagine that it might be true! 

We finally came to the mile 96 aid station - and we only had a few miles (maybe just over an hour?) to the finish!  Brian was feeling pretty worn down, and was relieved to learn that he was stretching out the gap to 3rd place, and slightly closing the gap to 1st.  While we didn't believe he could catch Jeff, it was helpful to know that he could finish respectfully close to 1st place.  He took a few minutes out of the aid station to regroup himself, hiking a few smaller climbs as he focused for the last push.  With about 1/2 hour to go in the race, I started to recognize the trail that I had run the day before...I told Brian he only had 1/2 hour to go, and he increased the pace.  We were tempo running, after he had already run nearly 100 miles (and over 18 hours!).  I was impressed, and proudly stretched my stride to keep pace with him.

(Brian and I, hand-in-hand at the finish line)
The last several miles flew by as Brian cruised the closing miles, and soon we were going around the reservoir (you could see the finish from there, which I pointed out to Brian).  At this point, he said to me 'you're finishing with me, right?!?', of course I was!  As we ran in sync down the finishing chute, he grabbed my hand and held it up - making me feel like it really was a team effort out there.  Brian had finished in 2nd place, in 19:08:01, good enough for the 4th fastest time on the course.  Jeff had finished strong, about 1/2 hour ahead of Brian...but Brian also opened up a 1/2 hour gap on Mike in 3rd place.

I am always incredibly proud of Brian - but experiencing his race at Grindstone made me especially proud of him.  I had gotten to experience, first hand, the determination and grit that Brian gives to every race he does, as I watched him overcome obstacles and remain strong throughout the race.  I also got to see that Brian struggles with the same emotions that we all do during these long epic events, but he does an amazing job of focusing and regrouping when needed - I could learn a lot from my husband; I certainly did that day!  Lastly, I got a much-needed confidence boost by running the last 22 miles with him, which was important after my Vermont 50 experience.  We both left Grindstone pleased with the experience, and with a renewed passion for trail running and the ultra running community.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Running on Emotions - Vermont 50 Race Report

Vermont 50.  The fall hits, leaves start to turn, and it's Vermont 50 time.  Way back, Vermont 50 was my first ever 50-miler.  Then, it was my first 'good 50 miler' when I surprised myself with a 2nd place finish.  Next, it was my first ultra DNF as the mud forced me to drop.  I feel like I've experienced highs and lows and everything in between here.  I've won the race (both 50k and 50 mile), watched Brian win 50 miler many times, and had friends pace me only to fall in love with ultra running.  Through it all, it is an annual reunion with New England trail running friends that ushers in the fall.

With the recent passing of Chad Denning, whose presence is everywhere at VT50, I knew it would be an emotional weekend.  The absence of his spirit was certainly felt by those who knew him, and by anyone who had experienced the race when he was there.  I was certainly overwhelmed with emotion just thinking about it.

(Chad's spirit was everywhere - the VT50 was dedicated to Chad)
On the other hand, I was ecstatic to have several of my Western Mass Distance Project ladies at the race.  There would be 5 of us starting the 50-miler (each with a teammate pacing us), 2 in the 50k, 1 on a relay team, and another few out there crewing - in total, we had over a dozen of the baby blue representing through the trails of Vermont.  I was so pleased that my passion for trail running seems to have inspired these ladies to challenge themselves. 

Brian and I arrived at Mt. Ascutney early Saturday morning - we volunteered to help out and fill the gap that Chad's absence left.  I spent the day putting up signs, marking out parking, moving donated product, and helping out at the Kid's Fun Run.  Perhaps not an ideal way to rest up for a 50-mile race, but watching the kids race and talking to them after they had finished their 1/2 mile, 1 mile, or 5k race was incredibly inspiring as they clearly showed the passion for the trails.  Of course, volunteering was helpful for me as I continue to learn all I can as the 2015 VT100 RD.
(Volunteering at the Kids Race on Saturday)

Sunday morning was a flash, as I got ready to line up - maybe I've done enough ultras to feel more relaxed and calm in the hour before I start.  I was pleased to see the WMDP ladies all geared up and ready to go!  Of course, the pre-race moments are full of hugs and high fives to friends before we embark on our 50-mile adventure.

(Most of the WMDP crew, pre-race)
The runners quickly strung out, and I found myself running with my husband - just another training day!  Since he is running Grindstone only 5 days after VT50, his plan was to run the first 12 and drop, then pace in his friend Jan for the last 10 miles.  Luckily, he chose to run with me and keep me company in the early miles.  I enjoyed his company, as my emotions were high and I wasn't in the mood to make small talk with strangers. 

(Brian peeling off behind me as we enter mile 12)
At mile 12, I was feeling good, and I kissed Brian before he stepped off the course.  I got a quick bottle change from the enthusiastic WMDP crew, then hurried along.  Quickly, I realized I had a shadow, my teammate Kelsey had been stalking me so far in the race.  I encouraged her to run with me, and we kept each other company as we ticked off the miles. 

(Leaving mile 12 with my 'shadow' Kelsey behind me)

I was feeling good, but was emotionally flat - my typical passion wasn't there.  Sharing the miles with Kelsey helped me enjoy the beauty as we crested Garvin Hill and got into the fun single track sections.  It was awesome to see some of the VT100 race committee and volunteers along the way - they lifted my spirits as they encouraged me along.

(Climbing Garvin Hill with teammate Kelsey)
Somewhere around mile 30, Kelsey and I were power hiking up a hill - and as we crested the top and she started to run, I didn't.  I don't know what happened, but it was like someone flipped a switch - I didn't want to be out here, I wasn't enjoying this at all.  I kept walking down the trail, drinking water and getting in nutrition, hoping this was just low blood sugar.  But, after several miles and no improvement, I knew my day was over.  My heart wasn't in this - I secretly wished I had signed up for the 50k, since I would be done now. 

Maybe it was the emotions of the day, especially once I was on my own and could wrestle with my feelings about the loss of Chad.  Maybe it's been too many races this year and I didn't have the emotional capacity to be mentally strong and push myself.  Maybe it was fatigue from traveling so much over the last month.  Maybe it was the heat getting to me.  My legs felt great, my mind was a complete wreck, I was just wasted.

(Shuffling in to mile 31, ready to quit)
I ran into the mile 31 crew station, and collapsed on the blanket in front of the WMDP crew.  I told them I was done, and that I didn't want to do this anymore.  They were having none of that, and did what they could to make me happy, handing me cold fluids and watermelon.  Jan, who Brian was supposed to pace in, filled my handheld with ice - I looked at him with jealousy, since he was allowed to drop! 

Vanessa, who has crewed for me at VT100 and knows that I have rough patches, gave me my space but reminded me that she's seen me like this before and that dropping wasn't an option.  After a few minutes, she told me it was time to get up and go.  Vanessa told me to be strong and show her what mental toughness was - she was supposed to run VT50 this year and couldn't due to injury so she was looking for inspiration for next year. 

(No matter how grumpy I got, you can't deny the beauty of Vermont in the fall)

I gave her my death stare (which she was familiar with, I had given her that at VT100 also) - thinking 'haven't I already shown you mental toughness with all my other races?!?  Didn't I show you mental toughness at VT100?!?'  She put her face literally 2-inches from my face and glared right back.  It was mid-day, in a field in Vermont, surrounded by beauty, and Vanessa and I were having a glaring contest.  It was ridiculous.  After a few minutes of this, she just grabbed my arm and picked me up.  She pushed me down the trail, then ran ahead of me (in a super goofy run, with her arms and legs flailing everywhere) saying 'I'm going to run goofy and be super annoying until you catch me'.  I glared as I shuffled towards her, and ultimately the trails.

(Karin, getting crewed by WMDPers Dawn, Janet, and Wayne)

Once I was away from the aid station, I walked again.  Again, the legs were fine and energy was ok, but I just didn't want to run or push the pace.  I strolled through the woods, over some of my favorite trails.  I wondered how I had somehow lost my passion for the trails over the last few hours.

At least I was making steady, but slow, progress.  Finally, about a mile before I picked my pacer, I had a surge of energy and enthusiasm.  I ran, passing folks as I powered up the hill, who had passed me as I walked the previous downhill.  I think I was just trying to rally my spirit, feeling bad that my friend Ashley had dedicated a day to help me through this race and I wasn't even trying.

As I approached the pacers, Ashley was fired up, and several other WMDPers (who were pacing my teammates) offered enthusiasm.  I was grateful for Ashley's company, although I explained to her that this would be a long 10-miles. 

(Kristin, embodying the WMDP team support)

She was awesome, and certainly encouraged me to move as well as I could muster.  We jogged through the twisty single track, gabbing about her son (Anders), our two pregnant teammates (Abby and Sara) whose due dates were just a few days away, Ashley's selection for the US Snowshoeing team, whatever we could think of to occupy the time.  Actually, it felt like a training run to share miles with Ashley, which got my head back a bit.  We slowly ticked off the miles - sometimes jogging, sometimes running, but at least making forward progress.  Ashley was a miracle worker to keep me moving and get me to that finish line.

(Finishing with Ashley)
Finally, we were on the last downhill and headed for the finish line.  I opened up my stride, knowing that this self-imposed torture was almost over.  At about 9 hours and 40 minutes after I had started my day, I had officially finished - I was immediately embarrassed with my efforts out there.

The highlight of the day was hanging out post-race with my teammates, as we eagerly awaited watching the rest of our team finish as we swapped war stories from our day.  Kelsey had run strong through the end, finishing just under 9-hours for 5th place female (1st in our age group).  I learned I finished 10th female and 2nd in my age group.  Kelsey Battige and Danielle had both done the 50k, finishing well - it was Danielle's first ultra! 

(Karin finishing strong - I love the sight of 'Western Mass' under the finish banner)

Karin finished strong, practically dropping her pacer Kate with her late race surge of energy.  Just two weeks after her 50th birthday, and she finished her first 50 miler.  She got 2nd in her new age group with that effort.  Nancy, also celebrating turning 50 (over the summer) finished the 50 miler, however she had a rough day and struggled to the end.  Luckily, she had an enthusiastic and prepared pacer in Kristin to keep her motivated. 

(Cheering at the finish with my teammates)

As the sun was setting, we watched Meghan make her way down the mountain and through the finish, with Jess pacing her in, as she finished her first 50-miler.  Meghan had attempted her first 50-miler at Bull Run Run this year, and got pulled on time at mile 37.  Watching her finish, the emotion of the day overwhelmed me, and I got misty.  It took her finish to remind me how incredible it is to run 50 miles in one day, and how much time and passion go into this endeavor. 

I was grateful to have been surrounded by friends on this emotional day.  While my race wasn't anything I am proud of, I was incredibly proud of my teammates who challenged themselves and overcame the distance to reach the finish line.  On a rough day, the WMDP ladies had a 100% finishing rate - showing our determination is strong!

(Meghan, early on during her first 50 mile run!)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Like Breathing Fire - Flagline 50k Race Report

"Running at elevation is like breathing fire" - Sabrina (Moran) Little, after our TransRockies Run adventure

Life has been a whirlwind since Brian and I returned from Europe - catching up on work, catching up with friends, and filling folks in on the adventures we had.  It seems like before I could blink, I was back on a plane and headed to Bend, Oregon for the Flagline 50k, which would serve as the USATF 50k Trail National Championships. 

Heading into the race, I didn't know what to expect.  I would be arriving the day before, so there was no opportunity to acclimate, however I didn't know if the elevation would bother me.  I have only once raced on the west coast (at Cascade Crest 100), so I didn't know what type of terrain to expect.  I haven't run a 50k in a long time, focusing on the longer races over the summer, so it would be interesting to see if my legs had any speed.  Regardless, I was excited to try a new race, put myself up against some of the best in the country, and to experience some of the hype that Bend has.

(Typical view from along the course)
The starting line was narrow, and the field was deep.  I lined up a bit back, knowing I am always a more conservative starter.  As we started, the trail narrowed to nearly single track, and I fell into a comfortable rhythm.  It was downhill for the first 1km or so...and then a small hill came.

Immediately, as soon as we were headed up, I was gasping for air.  Folks flew by me on both sides as I struggled to get up this small climb.  I was so embarrassed.  Apparently, even at 6,500 feet, my body needs some time to acclimate.  My legs were filled with lactic acid after only a few short miles.

(Beautiful, non-technical single track through the trees)
The race itself was a complete blur.  Perhaps I didn't have enough oxygen to process.  Perhaps after so many 50 mile and 100 mile races, a 50k race is just too short to think.  My thoughts from the race are flashes...

The trails were beautiful, a change from the typical New England landscape that I often see.  They were non-technical, so I could keep my eyes up and on the scenery rather than focusing on the trails to stay upright.  Frankly, at times the trails were downright soft, almost like sand, and I had to channel my snowshoe running technique to efficiently progress forward.

On the last uphill toward mile 20, there was a long grind of a climb.  I was embarrassed, I walked a grade that would be completely runnable for me at sea-level.  I was amazed at how much a bit of elevation could kick my butt if I wasn't used to it.  I felt like I was held to 50 mile or 100 mile race pace to keep my breathing under control and avoid oxygen debt.

(Top women at the US Championship)
In the end, I finished 6th place in the US Championship.  I had hoped for better, but given the elevation challenges I felt, I was pleased to have held on for a respectable finish.  The best part of the trip was meeting some awesome people, Denise Bourrassa and Ken Sinclair, who welcomed me into their home and showed me the trails (and brewery scene) in Bend - now I get what all the hype about this town is about.  All in all, an awesome trip. 

I was honored to have been mentioned in the pre-race article about the race:

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Throw-Back Thursday?

Do folks have Throw-Back Thursday on blogs?  I don't know.  Anyway, Level Renner reposted an interview they did with me just a few years ago:

With lots of talk about my bloody knees post-race, here's a few great images that capture my signature look...while I've had many more bloody knees than have been captured, you get the point!



Friday, September 12, 2014

A sad day for New England trail runners

It has been an emotional week for many of us in the New England trail/ultra running community.  Earlier this week, we were shocked with the news that Chad Denning, a well-known and well-respected New Hampshire ultrarunner, unexpectedly died last Sunday.  He collapsed while hiking/running on the AT in New Hampshire.

 (Chad, offering Amy a high five during VT100)

Chad was a talented runner, finishing on the podium more often than not.  However, it was his personality and selflessness that will be missed.  Chad was one of the most enthusiastic and optimistic guys we have had the pleasure to know - he would give us a big hug, calm our nerves about an upcoming race, and always be able to make us laugh.  He and Brian shared many miles, as Chad often volunteered to pace Brian through the VT50 and VT100.  He lent us equipment for races - always wanting to help us do our best, and having an optimistic outlook on what we were capable of achieving.

(Chad offering congratulations to Brian after pacing him to the finish line at VT100)

It is hard to know what to write about Chad, so I'll just point to the numerous articles that capture much of what made Chad an awesome member of this community, and a good friend.  His presence and spirit will be missed.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends, and trail running buddies as they continue to cope with the shock and the loss of Chad.

(Chad and Brian sharing mile as Chad paces Brian at VT100)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

It Ain't Over Till It's Over - Brian's UTMB Race Report

Race morning, I woke up at our campsite outside Chamonix around 7:00AM; a long time from the 5:30PM start.  Amy and I went to registration the day before and the free Chamonix Parking Lot was full by 9:00AM.  It was absolute chaos the day before, after 20 min of driving around I finally found a spot...well, sort of.  I had to wedge my car next to an R.V. and another car.  With the parking so close, I had to climb over to the passenger seat just to get out.  The lot was full of R.V’s and vehicles jammed in every available spot.  The scene in the lot was all about Mont Blanc; pudgy tourists getting ready to ride the lift up to Mount Blanc, mountain climbers getting ready to climb Mount Blanc, and ultra-runners getting ready to run around Mount Blanc all crowded the lot. 

After the anxiety of the day before, we actually got a parking spot in the lot with no problem.  I set up my thermarest in the back of the packed rental car and tried to rest as much as I could before the race, which equated to watching 2 Lord of the Rings movies; a good way to kill 8 hours. 

We walked over to the start around 4:00PM and it was absolute insane.  I never saw so many people crowding around the start of a trail race and the loud French announcer’s voice boomed over the crowd.  We found a place as out of the way as possible and sat down and I tried not to think about all of the energy around me.  Finally around 5:00PM they performed the race briefing, this was probably one of the shortest I ever heard before.  Essentially they said there are course markers out there, follow them.  It gets cold at night so be careful.

(Brian and Neal among the mass of starters)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time - Amy's UT4M Race Report

I'll admit it, I make some pretty dumb decisions.  As I look at it, I certainly have adventures in my life, as these dumb decisions often lead to epic adventures.  It turns out, the Ultra Tour des 4 Massifs turned into one giant epic adventure.

I initially signed up for this race when Brian was debating whether to accept his UTMB entry.  His first thought was 'Amy, I don't want to race UTMB if you can't race also', so I quickly found a race in the surrounding area that I could do.  The UT4M was a weekend before, and looked to be a similar style race - so I was hopeful to have a similar European racing experience.  The UT4M offered a 100-ish mile (~160km) race, which was a full loop around the mountains surrounding Grenoble, France.  There was a 50-ish mile (~80km) option that included the 2nd half of the loop.  Since our European trip would be mostly focused on Brian's race, I opted for the shorter, 50-ish mile race.

(Running in the fog, along the first ridge) 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Goodbye and Hello - Amy's Vermont 100 Race Report

Written by Amy Rusiecki

My Vermont 100 story, as always, started months before the actual race date.  Most years, it includes numerous high mileage weeks, some epic training runs, and a few nutritional mishaps.  This year, it included attending meetings, combing through numerous emails, and learning as much as I could about the behind-the-scenes of Vermont 100.  You see, this spring, it was announced that the current RD, the amazingly enthusiastic Julia O'Brien, would be stepping down and they were looking for a replacement.  I'm an ultra runner, I like hard work and dedication - and I am passionate about the Vermont 100.  I put my hat in the ring as someone who was interested.  A few months before the race, I was selected as the next RD for the Vermont 100. 

 (Myself as future RD, Jenny, the horse ride manager, and Julia, the current RD)

The first big decision was whether I would be racing or not - on one hand, I could learn so much by hanging out during the race and learning an aspect of the race that I never see.  However, the race committee certainly would understand if I wanted to run it one last time.  After much debate, I decided I would run the Vermont 100 this year.  However, the compromise was that I did arrive up at Silver Hill (the start/finish area) several days early to help set-up, volunteer, and shadow Julia.  While most of the VT100 runners were tapering and staying off their feet, I was running around, hunching over signs, and enthusiastically greeting runners, volunteers, and sponsors.  But, for the opportunity to run one the Vermont 100 last time, I didn't mind much.

(Studying the VT100 history books as we set-up)

It was incredible to see the transformation from an open field to the large infrastructure that is the start/finish area over a few days, and to note all the small preparations that the runners never see.  I am so excited to take on this responsibility next year, but also terrified by the enormity of it.  Luckily, the volunteers are amazing, and the race committee is fully committed to supporting the race - I know they will help out as I need and ensure the race continues on successfully!

(I may have sampled a few of the Chia Bars, whenever I got a spare moment)

One interesting story of note - as we were unloading gear and setting up on Thursday morning, a girl rode up on her bike, Hannah Roberts.  After chatting a bit, we learned that she was in the process of biking across the country - she left the Pacific Ocean in Washington in April, and arrived here in Vermont a day before the race, which she was planning to run!  She ended up finishing the 100-mile race in about 25 and a half hours!  Then, she had about a week left to reach the Atlantic Ocean in Maine.  I biked across the country, about 10 years ago, and can tell you that the thought of running a 100-miler, mid-trek, never crossed my mind!  I even recall sending my running shoes home after about a week - since I had initially thought I might run during my adventure, but quickly learned that I was exhausted after a day of biking and towing my gear.  I am incredibly impressed by Hannah!

(Hannah Roberts, pausing her cross-country bike trek to run the Vermont 100)

Anyway, after several days of work, hundreds of hugs with running friends, and a few precious hours of sleep, and I was lining up to start my 6th consecutive Vermont 100 - and my last VT100 for a while.  I proudly wore a bib that said 'future RD' while I raced, and had a goal to slap high fives with as many volunteers as I could.  For me, this race wasn't about being competitive and racing.  VT100 2014 was about running through the beauty one last time, seeing the race from the 'future RD' perspective, and personally thanking the volunteers that are so crucial to the race's success.

(Brian and I, ready to start!)
As usual, the race went out hard - in the darkness, I had no idea who I was near as we all jockeyed for space on the road.  I quickly fell into stride with Jason, who initially told me that (1) he was going to PR today, (2) he was going to do that by running a smart race, and (3) that would be accomplished by running with me.  I was grateful to have company for the early miles, as we chatted and passed the time.

(Jason and I, enjoying the early miles)

Running with Jason kept me honest, and helped me run a much smarter race.  We walked uphills early on, where it typically breaks my heart to walk that early.  We pushed each other to run again once we reached the top of a climb.  We reminded the other to hydrate and fuel.  The early miles seemed to tick by easily as we enjoyed the beauty of Vermont.  Before I knew it, we were past Taftville Bridge (mile 15), then through Pretty House (mile 21), up and over Sound of Music Hill, and onto Stage Road (mile 30).  It felt so easy and relaxed, like a training run with a friend!

Just past Stage Road, Jason was having a bit of a rough patch - not enough to slow me down, he just had a downswing in his energy level.  I kept him focused, doing most of the talking in that section and calling out the walking breaks and when to run.  I might have picked up the pace a bit, as I was excited to see my WMDP teammates at the Stage Road aid station!  However, while I had no illusion that Jason and I would run together the whole day - I wanted to stick with him for as long as it made sense.

(Jason and I - ironic that his shirt says 'pace team')
By mile 40, Jason was feeling better and I was having a downswing in my energy level.  The one bright spot in this energy low was running through the Lincoln Covered Bridge aid station where the Trail Monsters (who adopted the aid station this year) were full of enthusiasm!  We reversed roles as he took up most of the conversation, and helped to determine where we could run as we climbed up the Lincoln Covered Bridge hill.  By Lillian's (mile 43), we were both feeling good again and grateful for the company.

We cruised in together to Camp 10 Bear (mile 47) and I was so excited to see my friend Jen, who generously offered to drive up and crew me.  Jen had crewed and paced me through my first 3 100-mile races here in Vermont - she's awesome!  She's very detail oriented (so she makes sure I don't leave an aid station without the fueling I need), she's seen me at my worst with the puking and diarrhea in past races, and still always greets me with a huge hug and leaves me with an 'I love you!' as I leave the aid station.  I couldn't want to see her!!! 

As always, she had me in and out of the aid station in no time - getting me weighed in, giving me all the fueling I needed, and calling out 'I love you' as I continued on.  Ahhh...good times!

(Jen and I in the distance, walking out of Camp 10 Bear)

Quickly after the aid station, Jason caught up to me - his crew, while certainly very good, might not have been at the 'Nascar pit-crew' level that Jen is!  We again shared miles and stories as we ran along the Vermont roads.  At about 8:30, we passed the 50-miler marker - and I still felt relatively great (having run 50-miles, that is). 

Ever since about mile 7, I think Jason and I had only seen one other racer out there - so I was extra grateful for the company.  After mile 50, we finally started to see a few runners ahead of us as we passed a few 100 milers and 100k runners - it made me realize how lonely I would have been without Jason's company.

At Birmingham's (mile 54) is my favorite aid station - mainly because my friend Kenny Rogers always works that aid station.  We have a little annual tradition - he always has a nice cold beer there for me.  I ran into the aid station, with an extra bounce in my stride, happy to see the GAC crew (who adopted the aid station this year), and saw Kenny off to the side, cracking open a beer for me.  Jason and I shared a few swigs as we toasted the GAC crew.  It's been a great tradition and I was certainly grateful to do this one last time before I'm the RD!

(Enjoying a beer with Kenny, an annual tradition)

In the few miles past Birmingham's, I started to have a rough patch and felt my first unhappy belly of the day (which, for me, to last until mile 56 before I have stomach issues is a miracle!).  Luckily, Jason coached me through it as he encouraged me to drink and eat.  I was fortunate that this was on an uphill where I had an excuse to walk and get my nutrition under control.  I was passed for 2nd place female at this point, and Jason was perfect - reminding me to let her go and run my own race, it was too early to worry about it!

We were in and out of Seven Sees (mile 58) with a huge chug of coconut water, and an 'I love you' from Jen.  We quickly climbed up Prospect Hill and cruised into Margaritaville (mile 62) and I was already feeling much better.  Again, Jason and I shared stories as we ticked off the miles through Brown School House (mile 65) and were somehow already back at Camp 10 Bear (mile 70).  It all felt so seemless and fun!  At some point in this stretch, we got word that Brian was having a killer race - and was already through mile 77...a full 12 miles ahead of us! 

(Weighing in at Camp 10 Bear)
As I entered Camp 10 Bear, I heard Mike Silverman (the VT50 RD) on the mike announcing my arrival. It was great to hear the cheers, as I worked to weigh in and get my gear.  My WMDP teammate, Liz, was pacing me for the next section and was ready to go!  We leave the aid station with Jason and his pacer - we're quite the four-some.

Liz's enthusiasm fills me with energy, and I realize how well I feel for this late into the race.  It feels like a training run back home, as we cruise the single track and talk about our crazy adventures.  Before I know it, I'm running without the company of Jason for the first time all day - and we're about at Spirit of 76 (mile 77).

For the next section, I had recruited Darcy (who I ran with for almost the entire time at Cayuga 50 Miler) to pace me.  She is a strong and determined woman, which is exactly what I needed to get me through the next 11 miles - one of the toughest sections for me.  I gave Zeke (the aid station captain at Sprit of 76) a hug and then we were off.  I was beginning to really tire, but made steady progress as we powered ahead.  As at Cayuga Trails, the conversation came easily with Darcy - we both share a love for adventures, swapping stories about our past adventures or talking about the upcoming adventures.  My focus in this section was to make it to Bill's (mile 88) before the sun set, so I appreciated Darcy's constant motivation to take it one step at a time. 

(Focusing on the dirt roads, passing the miles - photo by Northeast Race Photo)

As we passed near the start/finish area (around mile 83), one of the aid station re-stocking trucks drove by and told me that Brian had just finished - the confirmed his time, he broke the course record by 6 minutes!  I was so excited to learn this!  I did happen to look at my watch, and realized that it took a whole 3 minutes from when he finished for the news to reach me.

Darcy is an incredibly centered person, and her talking about 'visualizing your successes' and the mind-body-spirit connection was amazing to pass the miles.  Somehow, we had cruised through my least favorite section and were on the climb up to Bill's (mile 88).  It was just past 8pm, and I was well ahead of the sunset!  Yay, it was a small victory.  I was excited as I checked in to the aid station, weighed in, and then picked up my last pacer, Carolyn.

(Loving the community feel of the VT100)
Carolyn is one of the most enthusiastic and positive people you'll ever meet, and is an aspiring ultra runner (she just has to graduate college first!), so I was very excited to be running with her through the last 12 miles and across the finish line.  Even though I knew I wasn't able to give 100% towards this race - what with my focus being on learning the RD side of things - at mile 88, I don't care at all.  I was running farther onto the course in the daylight than ever before, and I wanted to see how far I could make it before I turned on my headlamp.

It was around mile 92 when I reluctantly turned on my headlamp, and it was officially nighttime.  I don't know how to explain what happened, but once I was running by headlamp, I was so exhausted.  Maybe I pushed to hard as I chased the setting sun?  Was it metaphorical that without the sun I didn't have any energy?  Either way, I was 8 miles from the finish when I started to long for the end.

Despite this, Carolyn kept my spirits as high as they could be - telling me stories of her experience pacing at Western States 100 and talking about collegiate running.  I feel like I walked so many runnable sections as I was depleted.

(My WMDP teammates who volunteered in the morning, and crewed/paced me afterwards)

We finally made it to Polly's (mile 95), and for the first time all day, I sat down in a chair.  My crew tried to encourage me to get up and keep moving, instead a threw a mini-hissy fit as only a person worn down by 95 miles can.  They handed me my handheld bottle, and I opened the pocket, and started throwing all the fueling on the ground stating 'I don't want this, I don't want this' my mind, I was trying to lighten my load.  In their mind, they must have known what a crummy mood I was in.

After some coaxing, they got me on my feet and off down the road.  The only thing that would get me going at that point was the promise of a beer at the finish!  Carolyn and I walked and ran through the night, as I tried to just finish the race.  I figured a PR was out the window as I had been wasting time for over an hour now.  But, we kept moving towards the finish line, and towards a nice cold beer.

With 1 mile to go, I looked at my watch and was surprised to see that I could still get a new PR despite my slow closing miles.  I picked up the pace and 'sprinted' for all I had.  Poor Carolyn, who walked for hours with me through the woods, and was now chasing a crazed lunatic through the last mile.  Finally, the glowing milk jugs, and we were at the finish line - 18:47.  Good enough for a 100-mile PR, another 3rd place female finish, and 18th overall.  Oh, and good enough for a beer at the finish line.  However, I think I was most pleased about how many of the volunteers I got to personally thank and give high fives to throughout the day - I think I must have gotten at least 75% of them (and to the rest, my regrets!).

(Carolyn and I at the finish line!)
We hung out for a while, and eventually made it to our tent for some sleep.  The next morning, I was back in 'RD-in training mode' as I helped out as I could.  It was great to see my fellow runners and friends, and hear about everyone's accomplishments.  Jason, after running with me until about mile 80, ended up finishing in 19:15, good enough for a 45-minute PR!  I'm glad we both helped each other get PRs, and it's an experience that won't be forgotten - neither of us would have accomplished what we did without the help and support of the other.

After Julia (the current RD) was honored by the race committee and Vermont Adaptive staff, I was pleased to be handed the mike to congratulate the runners (and remind them to fill in the post-race survey which will help me be a better RD!).  After everyone left the post-race BBQ, Brian and I hung around and helped break down the site - watching as the dedicated volunteers took down the infrastructure that I had watched being built up only a few days prior.

At the end of the weekend, I was exhausted - from being a part-time RD and from completing the race myself!  But, I was energized by the enthusiasm and dedication of the volunteers, runners, and support crews/pacers.  As always, VT100 filled me with passion for the sport, and I can't wait to put my personal touches on the race moving forward.

(Being introduced as the new RD by Mike, a Vermont Adaptive volunteer)
As we drove home, completely exhausted on Sunday night, I said a 'goodbye' to Vermont 100 as a runner, and 'hello' to Vermont 100 as a Race Director.  I am excited for the challenge.
(For you VT100 runners, past and future, certainly reach out to me with any comments or suggestions for the future of the race.  I want to continue with the tradition of hosting one of the premier 100-mile races in the country.)
Julia and I were interviewed by DFL Ultrarunning Podcast, the interview is here: