Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Presidential Traverse FKT Report

So, I am not the smartest person sometimes - I think up some pretty crazy (what others might call stupid) things to do.  I am fortunate, however, that I have friends who are as crazy/stupid as I am.  They often think my ideas are brilliant.  I guess that's how adventures happen! 
This past weekend's adventure was in the form of a Presidential Traverse.  It's one of those traditional routes that feels like a right of passage for New England trail runners.  To add to it, we learned that there was no female fastest known time (FKT).  That meant that if we could do an honest effort out there, we could set the female FKT.  This all seems like a completely logical thought process, right?  Luckily, my teammate Kelsey Allen agreed.
The brilliant idea came into play when we decided to use the weekend when we were already in the Whites (to do the Mt. Washington Road Race) for our FKT attempt.  We both ran amazing races at Mt. Washington on Saturday, and would be a bit tired going into the Presidential Traverse on Sunday.  Like I said, that's how adventures happen!
So, we got a ride to our starting point - the Appalachia Parking lot.  Since neither of us has a GPS watch, I was going to use my camera (with a time/date stamp) to verify our timeline - it was as official as we could get.  We got a quick starting shot, then I started my watch and we were off.
(The start of our day, at Appalachia - time stamp 08:04)
We started up Valley Way, and ran the early sections.  We figured that runnable sections would be hard to come by - so we took advantage while we could.  Quickly, the trail turned up and we were hiking.  I could feel the fatigue in my legs (from yesterday's race) already.  But, after about an hour, we popped out above tree line and scrambled up the rocks to reach the top of Madison - run time 1:39.

(Kelsey at the top of Madison - time stamp 09:43)

With one peak down, we dropped down to the Madison Hut to refill our hydration packs.  Then, it was another scramble up Adams.  We lucked out, as the weather was nice and the breeze was just enough to keep us comfortable.  With the clear skies, we could see over to Mt. Washington - looking down on the dirt road section from mile 5-6.  Even across the valley, that looked like a steep climb - I again marveled at how I ran up the entire way just the day before.

We reached the top of Adams as my watch read 2:30 (segment time - 51 minutes). 

(Adams summit, with Madison in the background - time stamp 10:34)

Then, it was a scramble down Adams, and back up Jefferson.  One of my favorite things to do when I am hiking is to look back at how far I've come - the mountains offer a rare opportunity to appreciate that.  This route was no exception - we could see the peaks ahead and the peaks behind...I focused on the peaks behind.  By the top of Jefferson, you could see back to Madison and Adams, and I felt like we were making progress.

In this section, we ran into a group of runners headed the opposite direction - apparently doing a Presi Traverse themselves (but going south to north).  I was excited to see other trail runners out there!

As we reached neared the top of Jefferson, I could hear the familiar sound of the Cog Railway whistle.  At the top, we met someone who was an Inov8 fan (he noted my apparel and told me he loved Inov8s!), and showed me his Roclites - the traction was worn down, the soles were completely smooth!  I had never seen those before.  He was excited as he examined my Race Ultras as I told him all about them.  We reached the top of Jefferson as my watch read 3:21 (segment time - 51 minutes).

(Jefferson summit, with Clay and Washington in the background - time stamp 11:25)

After the scramble down Jefferson (where, I'll note, I was starting to get comfortable scurrying across the 'wobbly rocks')...then it was up Clay to Washington.  I had several moments of 'what was I thinking' as I climbed up Washington for the 2nd day in a row.  Why did I think this was a good idea?!? 

The summit of Washington is pretty deceptive - from about a mile away, it looks so close.  As you get closer, it looks farther away.  It played a few tricks on my brain...but we plugged away, knowing that things got easier after this summit.  Some clouds started to roll in as we hiked Washington - I knew we would have to keep an eye out, just in case weather got bad.  We reached the top as my watch read 4:38 (segment time - 1:17). 

(Washington summit, second time in two days - time stamp 12:42)

We took the time to enjoy the summit quickly - the requisite photo in front of the summit sign, plus a photo of short Kelsey next to the tall hiker statue. 

(Kelsey with the tall hiker at the Washington Summit)

From Washington, we were able to RUN consistently for the first trail segment in a while.  It was great to stretch out the stride - especially watching the clouds get a bit darker.  We refilled our packs again at Lakes of the Clouds before heading up Monroe.  We reached the summit as my watch read 5:23 (segment time - 45 minutes).

(Monroe Summit - time stamp 13:27)
From Monroe, it was an enjoyable trail run over to Eisenhower.  Both Kelsey and I were starting to tire a bit...clearly our Mt. Washington PRs the day before was having a bit of an effect.  At least we were on the 'easy section' now, and it was hard to not run when you have such fun trails.  We were stopped along the way by someone admiring my Inov8 Race Ultra Vest - so we chatted about that for a bit about that.  We reached the top of Eisenhower as my watch read 6:02 (segment time - 39 minutes).

(Eisenhower summit, with Pierce in the background - time stamp 14:06)
I did a little happy dance at Eisenhower, since we only had one peak left on the day (one more till no more!).  We could see it in the horizon, and it looked like gentle grades to get there.  Again, the love of trail running was stronger than the fatigue in my legs, and we ran most of the way.  I dropped my back at the trail junction (for the way down), not wanting to carry the weight for the out-and-back to the summit.  In hindsight, that was foolish, as the peak wasn't that far into the trail - I likely spent more time taking off and on my pack than I saved by taking it off.  We reached the top of Pierce as my watch read 6:29 (segment time 27 minutes).

(Kelsey at Pierce summit - time stamp 14:33)
From there, it was great to run downhill - although the rocky terrain was a challenge for my tired legs.  We both managed to stay upright, which (for me) is a minor miracle.  In the last mile of our trek, the woods got progressively darker - the clouds must have gotten pretty threatening up high.  I was glad when we reached the junction to send us over to the Mt. Clinton Road parking, then crossed the road, then saw the trailhead sign.  I stopped my watch at 7:12:30 (segment time 44 minutes).

(Finish at Mt. Davis Road - time stamp 15:17)

All in all, it was a fun (although fairly unremarkable) adventure!  It was nice to set an FKT in the process, but there is certainly room for huge improvement if any ladies give it a more focused attempt (without tired legs, maybe without the stops that we took along the way).  We lucked out that the weather was good, and that we didn't have any true adventure to report along the way (although it makes for a pretty boring read - sorry!).  As always for me, I think adventures are best shared with friends, so I was grateful to have Kelsey along as my partner in crime.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"Am I A Mountain Runner Now?" - Mount Washington Race Report

In CrossFit, there's a term they have for a weakness (or, as I like to put it, an 'area for improvement'), which is a 'goat'.  Some of my most dreaded CrossFit workouts were the 'love your goat' days, because it would force me to work on my weakest disciplines.  In every aspect of my life, I have strengths and weaknesses - but I do enjoy challenging my weaknesses, hoping to turn them into strengths (it's why I took up rock climbing, even though I have a severe fear of heights).  When it comes to running, I have felt that uphill running was one of my goats.  (My stomach/nutritional issues in long races is another goat, for another day.)  Signing up for the Mount Washington Road Race was a 'love your goat' day for me - it would test my weakness and hopefully help me overcome it.

Now, I should probably preface this by noting that I do happen to train with some of the best mountain runners in the country, so my standard is pretty high.  In 2013, the ladies of the Western Mass Distance Project had two ladies in the top 10 female at Mt. Washington which helped them finish 2nd open team, and they also won the National Mountain Running team title at the US Championships.  They are amazing - consistently running under 1:30 up Mt. Washington!  I run hill repeats with them, and am constantly humbled as they float up the climbs while I shuffle up the hill feeling ever foot of elevation gain.
(WMDP photo with the mountain in the background)
At the 2013 Mt. Washington race, I made a host of rookie mistakes.  The initial part of the climb felt so good that I was running with or ahead of our top ladies (who would finish 5th, 8th, and 11th).  It was basically the equivalent of the folks who sprint out ahead of the elites in a road marathon.  By mile 3, I was walking sections and folks streamed past me.  It was a long and humbling climb from there to the top, as my walking stretches got longer and the running stretches got shorter.  I had naively thought I could finish between 1:30 and 1:32 (just behind the 'true mountain runners'), and was embarrassed to finish just under 1:38.  At the finish, my suspicions were confirmed - I am not a mountain runner, and I was kidding myself to think I could ever be strong at uphill running.
So, flash forward to 2014 - and I was determined to learn from last year's mistakes.  I was going to start out easy, being sure to stay behind the WMDP mountain runners.  I would try to make it as long as possible before I had to walk.  I would try to improve upon my time, and try to not compare myself with those mountain goats I train with.  I even had a friend, Eric, who is an experienced mountain runner that had volunteered to pace me up the mountain - he was going for a 1:30 finish also, and had written out our splits to achieve that.  I planned to hold on to his pace for as long as I could, hoping that if I could stick with him long enough, I could likely break 1:32.
(WMDP team photo, these ladies constantly inspire me)
The race went off fast, as always, and I scrambled to keep up with Eric.  The first mile felt as hard as last year, but I was at least sticking to my plan - I was a stride behind Eric and behind (but within sight) of the top WMDP girls.  By mile 2, the WMDP mountain goats were mostly out of sight, and I had pulled up next to Eric as we matched his predicted mile 2 split.  Just past mile 2, Eric told me 'I don't have it today', and encouraged me to go ahead.
I kept my head down, determined to run until the mile 3 marker - which would be farther than I ran last year.  I started to catch up to Dawn, one of my teammates who consistently runs around 1:27 or 1:28.  I told her that I was nervous to be running next to her - she reassured me that I was strong and could do well here.  As I pulled slightly ahead, I regretted it...I figured I'd see her again, and soon.
Sure enough another half mile up the mountain, and Dawn was by my side.  I started to worry - was this where my wheels would fall off, only a mile past where things fell apart last year?  I wondered if I could try to hang on to Dawn and match her stride, but that seemed impossible. 
(Focusing as I climbed - photo by Acidotic Racing)
But, just as the negative thoughts started creeping in, I looked up and saw my mom standing on the side of the road, proudly wearing her 'Respect the Process' shirt.  I surged ahead to give her a high five, and in the process, got ahead of Dawn.  As I looked up, I saw that three of my teammates were coming back to me, and I worked to slowly reel them in - using them to motivate me to keep running. 
First, I passed my teammate Apryl, who was running her first ever mountain race, and while she was still doing incredibly well, I feared she made some of those rookie mistakes I had made the previous year.  Next, just past mile 4, as the winds started to hit us, I passed my teammate Kelsey.  She was running strong, as she always does, and we shared encouragement.  I think she was just suffering from the cold winds a bit.  Before mile 5, I passed my teammate Carolyn who was having a rough day but still had a smile on her face and cheered me on as I went by.  I remember glancing at my watch at the 5 Mile marker and it read 55 minutes, and I thought 'wow, if I can run 2.6 miles in 35 minutes, I can break 1:30'. 

(Grinding up a steep pitch - photo by Leo Kenney)
The dirt road section past mile 5 was the most intimidating segment of the race, and as I looked up it I wondered when I would be forced to walk.  But, with a few women to reel in, I focused on continuing to run and putting this tough section behind me.  Slowly, I was working my way up the women's field - even as my fatigue grew with each step, my confidence and enthusiasm was stronger with each step.  I saw one of my training buddies, Aaron, just ahead as he cheered on the race, and gave him a high five, feeling like I gained strength from his encouragement.  I had a bounce in my stride, and determination in my eyes. 
I passed the mile 6 marker at about 1:08, and started to believe that I could break 1:30 - I had 22 minutes to run 1.6 miles!  I got so much energy from that thought, that I willed myself to be strong.  I could look ahead, and see several ladies so I focused on passing them one at a time.  My mind started to play tricks on me - the road seemed to almost flatten out and get easier at times, but I embraced the thought.

(The Wall, I am the runner in teal towards the top)
Just past mile 6, one of my teammates Ruthie (who was injured, therefore not racing) was along the course and she started screaming her head off at me.  I harnessed her energy and put it towards my run - I would focus on running this next section strong for her, because she couldn't be out here running. 
In this section, I could look ahead and just barely pick out the jersey of my teammate, Ashley, running several minutes ahead of me.  I tricked my mind to believe that I was catching her, as I continued to push up the hill.  I was motivated knowing that I was running 2nd for my team, which meant my time would be scored - I needed to fight for every second and every position for my team.  I started to catch a woman who was doing a walk/run and worked over the next mile to pass her, first I beside her when she started to run again; next time I passed her while she was walking but she passed me while she was running; third time I got ahead of her early on her walk and she pulled aside me at the end of her run; on the fourth time that she walked, I didn't see her again.  She was great motivation to keep the pressure on.  I was so focused that I hardly noticed the clouds blowing in and obscuring our view - I was just staring at the runners ahead!

(Climbing the Wall)
At the mile 7 marker, my time was 1:20, and I knew I was breaking 1:30.  I was so excited that I found another gear in my tired legs, and surged across the pasture (a flat-ish section).  I tried to focus on reeling in one more female.  With about 1/4 mile to go, I felt like I was sprinting, as I finally clawed my way up one more spot.  It was a flatter grade, and with the smell of the Cog Railway in my lungs, I hammered as best I could to pass a women I that had been in my sights for miles. 
(Determination, focus, pain - photo by Joe Viger)
One last turn, and I was at the Wall, the last 22% grade kicker that the race throws at you.  It was so steep.  I wanted to walk.  I had run the entire course so far, so I didn't give in as I pumped my arms.  I also didn't want to get passed back after I had worked so hard for that last spot.  As I hit the flat section, with the finish line in sight, it read '1:27:xx' and the seconds were ticking off.  I pushed with all my heart, still not believing that I was exceeding my expectations.  Crossing the line, 1:27:52, I was ecstatic. 
(Photographer Joe Viger captured my elation at the finish!)
My teammate Ashley was immediately there to give me a hug and congratulate me.  In disbelieve, I exclaimed 'I just broke 1:28!', and then I asked her 'Am I allowed to call myself a mountain runner now?'. 
(Crossing the finish, with the clock at 1:27:50 - photo by Leo Kenney)
In the few minutes it took me to get through the finish line, my teammates Dawn and Kelsey had finished.  But, I made my way to the finishing stretch and screamed my head off for the rest of my WMDP teammates.  I was so excited for my race and put all my energy into encouraging them up the Wall.  In the end, our open team finished 2nd place, and our masters team won!  I was amazed by my time, as well as finishing as the 13th place female and helping my team get 2nd!
(2nd Place Women's Team)
I ran down, sharing the early miles with my teammates Kelsey and Apryl, and sharing the lower miles with fellow Inov8 athlete Jim Johnson.  The run down allowed me to see the views that I had blocked out or missed on the way up.  As I descended and thought about my race - I realized that I had taken a perceived weakness and overcome it - I had triumphed over my goat.  I had become a mountain runner, and I loved it!
(Running with the Cog Railway - photo by Joe Viger)

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Gorges Trails at Cayuga - USATF 50 Mile Trail Race Report

"Life is pain highness, anyone who says differently is selling something."  I am 37 miles into the Cayuga Trails 50 miler,  running a downhill with two other competitors, laughing, and quoting the Princess Bride.  I should have been hurting.  Heck, I probably shouldn't have been able to make it this far - and yet I was laughing, enjoying the company of others, and having an incredible adventure!  It's hard to imagine how I got to this point.

Brian and I signed up for Cayuga Trails 50 early in the year, when it was slated to be held on June 7th.  At three weeks after Massanutten, that seemed aggressive but potentially do-able to recover between the two races.  Then, Cayuga got moved up a week to June 1st and our recovery time was cut to two weeks.  It seemed impossible that we could run a challenging and competitive 50-miler only two weeks after a challenging 100-miler, but we decided to gamble.  If it wasn't such a beautiful course, we likely would have skipped it.  Instead, it became a fun experiment of trying to figure out just how far we could push ourselves. 

It's the waterfall views that make this course incredible.

Because of the short recovery time, I had decided before the race to let go of any goals - not look at my time from last year, not focus on a top 5 or top 10 finish - I didn't want any expectations that might take away from how incredible it would be to simply finish this race!  It was an odd feeling to stand at a starting line and wonder if your body could even cover the distance - I haven't had that feeling in a while, and found it unnerving.  We carpooled to the race with one of my WMDP teammates, Kelsey, who was also racing.  It was her first 50 miler, and her rookie nerves helped calm me down - I just focused on filling her with confidence which in turn filled me with confidence.

Kristina and I, pre-race.
The race went out hot and heavy - an inevitability when you gather so many talented runners.  I had to remind myself to let them go and take it easy - my only way to survive the distance was to be conservative and consistent.  I ran about the first 1/2 mile with Kristina Folcik, who said she wanted to take it out easy - but even she set an early pace that I knew would be suicide to keep, so I let her go.  I ultimately fell into stride with fellow Inov-8 runner Ashley Moyer and we shared the first 12.5 mile 'out' section (the course is a double out-and-back), swapping stories and getting to know each other a bit.  I know she's a super strong athlete and was freaking out to even be running with her - I felt I should have been well behind her!  But, she seems like a smart and confident runner, so while I was itching to run up some of the early climbs, instead I followed her lead and walked when she walked.  I relaxed when, at around 10 miles, a group with 3 women flew by us - it gave me confidence to have Ashley, steady as always, running with me and not giving chase (yet).  This certainly saved my race later on - Ashley's early conservative pace set me up for success.  

Ashley and I sharing early miles - photo by Steven Gorgos

One of the benefits and disadvantages of the double out-and-back course was that we got to see other runners throughout the race.   It was a bit demoralizing to see the lead men, running strong, on their first return trip - they were certainly going faster than last year (or am I going slower?).  The self-talk, which is always a challenge in an ultra, was loud and discouraging at Cayuga - I think in my heart I didn't believe I was recovered enough to finish. Then again, when I will I ever get to see some of these big names during a race that I'm also racing, so I did my best to silence the self-doubt and simply enjoy the experience.

Just past the first turn-around (12.5 miles), a girl that I had met at Bimbler's Bluff 50 last year, Darcy, caught up to me.  We started chatting, and the miles ticked off as we fell into stride with one another.  Darcy is awesome, and was running her first 50 mile race - I told her she picked a challenging, but beautiful first 50 miler.  We kept each other company as the conversation came easy and we both made sure the other didn't miss a fantastic view.  She ultimately became my savior, as her support and company made everything go easily from that point on.

Enjoying some singletrack - photo by Joe Viger.

Before I knew it, we were at the half-way point - 25 miles down.  We had seen the top runners on their return trip, including Kristina powering along in 3rd place and looking strong.  She was the only New England runner in the top 5, so we were both sending her all our speedy vibes.  We had also seen my Inov8 teammates, Yassine and Ben, looking strong and giving chase, and cheered them on.  I took a moment at the start/finish area to really assess my condition - can my body handle another 25 miles?  Is it possible that I could finish this, only 2 weeks after a 100-miler?  When are the wheels going to fall off?!?  The self-talk wasn't great, but at least I had amazing company to keep me honest and motivated.

River Crossing - Photo by Steve Gallow
With Darcy at my side, we started up the initial climb for the second time.  We spent much of the next several miles cheering on the oncoming runners (who were finishing their first 25 mile loop) and the miles went quickly.  I was excited to see that Kelsey was running strong and only a few minutes behind me.  We passed by fellow Inov8 runner Scott at some point, and I used that to buoy my spirits a bit.  Darcy and I were certainly working together and ticking off the miles - chattering about our super supportive husbands as we worked our way up the Lick Brook Falls climb, gabbing about previous trail adventures as we scurried down the Lucifer's Falls stairs, talking about having kids vs. not having kids as we enjoyed a field full of flowers, sharing in our admiration of ultra legends (such as Deb Livingston) as we splashed through puddles and shallow streams.

Ribbons of single track through the lush forest.

By the Underpass aid station (mile 32), the temperature was starting to rise, and I was getting a bit tired.  At the aid station, it broke my heart to see Kristina sitting in a chair - I tried to get her to come with me (which she wasn't ready to do).  I really just wanting to be sure she didn't drop out, but was pleased to see that Cassie Scallon and Kristina's husband Ryan were both taking care of her.

Anyway, I guess that's how I found myself just a few miles later at mile 37.  Darcy and I were cruising a downhill, passing some guy, laughing, and quoting the Princess Bride.  Still now, it is inconceivable how things were going so well, and how I managed to get there.

View from the top of Lucifer's Falls steps was worth the hike.

Just past the second 'turnaround' at Buttermilk Aid Station (mile 37.5), Darcy hit a bit of a tough patch - we were now well past her longest run ever.  But, selfishly I wanted her company, so I yelled at her to catch up and run with me.  She doesn't even know her own strength - she caught up to me and just continued to follow me - running when I ran, even if she was tired, because she was trusting that if I said we could do it, that she could do it.

Last climb out of Buttermilk, with Darcy matching my stride - photo by Steve Gallow
In that last 12.5 miles, we knew exactly what to expect - this would be our fourth pass of the trail.  I made a mental check list of the sections, so we could cross them off as we completed each.  Having Darcy by my side gave me strength and made me focus harder to get her a strong finish.  We kept passing folks, as I mentally checked off the landmarks - make it up the mile+ climb to the top of Buttermilk Falls, check. 

Stairs and waterfalls, a common view on this course.

Next was the mile across the open field and powerline section, which was now baking in the sun, and which Darcy had already said was making her nervous.  I pulled down my sunglasses and I dug deep to set a strong pace across this section, willing it to be over as quickly as possible and hoping to pull Darcy through this section as best I could.  We didn't talk the entire way, just focused on getting across the fields and to the shade of the trees.  Our first words, at the end, was for me to say 'yes, there's the shade'.  We passed a family out hiking just past this section, and I encouraged them to give us high fives - feeling that their enthusiasm was warranted as we finished the last sunny section of the day.  Open field section, check.

Beautiful single track running - photo by Steven Gorgos

Just past 40 miles, I was beginning to tire - my recent 100 mile race (as well as, perhaps, the two mountain running workouts I had enthusiastically done earlier this week) was certainly starting to take its toll.  I wanted to push hard, I wanted to lead Darcy to a strong finish, yet I was fading.  Darcy kept ever so slightly running away from me on the climbs - and I could tell that she was holding back to stay with me.  I encouraged her to go on, and she told me that the strength that she got from running with me was more important than the few minutes she might be sacrificing.  I was touched - to me, that's what ultrarunning is all about.  I was also incredibly impressed - Darcy was running her first 50 miler, and was still running strong after over 40 miles!  Her demonstrated strength and determination was helping me to find my inner strength and determination.

So, I did my best to stay strong for Darcy - in my mind, this was becoming a team effort and I was determined to not let her down.  We got quieter as I tired, it was taking all my focus to hang tough and keep up the aggressive pace.  For the last time, we plunged into the river crossing (check) and were in and out of the Underpass Aid station (check). 

Just past that aid station, we saw the next female ahead of us - and learned that passing her would put us in 5th (and 6th) place.  I was amazed - this was the most competitive ultra I've ever competed in, and I was still recovering from Massanutten, and yet we were within striking distance of a top 5 finish.  I tried to ease us past the girl, yet she latched on to our pace; about a mile later she shot past us.  Oh well - it was probably too good to be true, to think that we could crack the top 5 on a day like this.

Darcy and I working together - photo by Joe Viger

So, back to my check list - the climb up the Stairway to Heaven (Lucifer's Falls) marked the last long climb, and of course it was stairs.  We enjoyed the sweeping view at the top for the last time as I gave myself another mental check off my list.  We rolled through the lush green forest section (check).

As we neared the last shallow river crossing, the #5 female came into view again.  My dorsal fin came up, and I pushed the pace again - determined to make this pass stick.  After about a half mile, I checked to see that Darcy was with me, and that girl was not - mission accomplished.

Lucifer's Falls stairs - don't be fooled, they turn and go up, and turn and go up...

In and out of the last aid station (check) and on one last look back, I saw another female running just behind us.  I hadn't seen her at all today, so that meant that someone was closing harder than us.  I reacted immediately, calling on my pride more than my strength or speed.  I picked it up another notch - determined to hold my pace.  I urged Darcy to stick with me, yet she couldn't match my pace.  She told me to go ahead.  I had a moment of internal battle as I weighed out the desire to finish with her after all these miles that we shared versus the thought of slipping back another spot.  In that moment, I must have slowed a notch, because Darcy yelled up to me to keep a beer cold for her at the finish - and I knew it was ok for me to run my heart out and hold on to 5th place. 

Working hard in the last few miles - photo by Ron Heerkens, Jr.

So, I hammered the last section as best I could.  I have no idea how I had the legs to push this hard at the end, or really to have run as well as I had all day, yet I gave everything I had.  I was thanking my lucky stars that I shared miles with Ashley and Darcy, both of which kept me company and helped me run a smart and well-paced race - clearly I run best when I can share in the company of others and focus on the team effort rather than just my own.  With that thought, I crossed the last field section and went under the finish banner - 9:12, 5th female.  Cayuga Trails 50 Mile, CHECK!

Photo by Joe Viger
Darcy finished quickly behind me, an incredible effort for her first 50 miler!  I immediately hugged her and thanked her for all she helped me accomplish.  I enjoyed the atmosphere at the finish line as I watched Ashley power home for 8th place, Kristina rally to finish 9th place (with a smile on her face, of course), and Kelsey finish strong in her rookie 50-mile effort. 

During the awards, I was called up as the bronze medal in the US Championship - an unbelievable achievement for me.  It shows me that with a bit of luck and a lot of hard work, that dreams can come true.  It was an incredible day filled with so many memories.

US Championship podium, with a bronze around my neck

Darcy also wrote up her race report, which is much more eloquently written than mine, but shares much of the same story: