Race to Save the World 10k Race Recap

Race to Save the World 10k Race Recap

A few Saturdays ago Josh and I raced the Enoch Lee Race to Save the World 10k at Middle Run Valley Park in Newark, DE. A week before the race, while on our way to go mountain biking, Josh and I saw one of those yard signs (the ones politicians usually use) advertising for the race so we quickly Googled it to gather more information. A few days later, Josh convinced me to pre-register for the race as a way to celebrate the official start of my summer break. Although I knew I was no where near in race shape after a stressful semester of grad school, I figured it would be fun. After all, the course looped through some of our favorite trail running trails.

Saturday morning arrived and I ate my typical pre-race meal – peanut butter and banana on toast. The race began at 10 AM so we were able to sleep in a little bit and prepare for the day ahead of us (which we planned out to be a 10k race, followed by brunch, followed by a group mountain bike ride through the same trail system). We departed Josh’s around 8:30AM with race attire, mountain bike gear, and two mountain bikes.

My stomach was a bundle of nerves on our drive to the race. Multiple times I told Josh I felt like I was going to throw up (disclaimer: I never did). We arrived an hour early to the race, picked up our bibs, and waited anxiously for 10 AM to arrive. The morning was chilly and I felt unprepared with the clothing I had packed – shorts and a tank top. I scavenged up Josh’s arm sleeves and swapped out my tank top for a short-sleeve racing jersey. Josh paced around the truck and opened and closed his truck doors 5000 times.

Around 9:30 we decided to do a 1 mile warm-up. I was still a little chilly and my legs felt unprepared but by the time we ended our warm-up, I had decided to leave the arm sleeves in the truck. Better to start the race a little chilly, knowing I was going to warm up eventually.

Before the race started, the cadets from the University of Delaware (UD) did a flag ceremony and a group of women from a local church sang the National Anthem. It was Memorial Day Weekend so this was a nice touch to the morning. A family member of Enoch Lee, whom the race is memorialized for, made a brief speech explaining that race profits contribute to a scholarship for a biology major at UD. As a broke college student myself, I know how important scholarships can be!

The race started with a small loop around a grassy field before diving into single track. I started comfortably, not wanting to overexert early but also knowing that I needed to beat some of the crowd to the single track. I could see Josh up ahead at the front of the pack – go, Josh, go!

A lot of the race itself was a blur because the trails just kind of blend together. I knew that two women were ahead of me but didn’t have any intention to work to go catch them. The course terrain varied from smooth twists and turns to longer uphills to rewarding downhills. The trails were in great condition!

A local Delaware bike shop was stationed at the approximate half-way point with water and encouragement. It was nice to have people cheering out on the course as most of the course was isolated from spectator view. Trail runs are rarely spectator-friendly. After the water stop, there was a long uphill. It felt soooo long and I could feel myself progressively slowing as the climb continued. I probably could have walked faster, but I trudged along, my breathing becoming increasingly labored.

At the top, we were rewarded with flat, twisty single track. At this point, I was completely alone on the course and I couldn’t see anyone ahead of me and couldn’t hear any footsteps or breathing behind me. I just continued trudging along.

I didn’t recognize where we were in the trail system at this point in time even though Josh and I frequently mountain bike on these trails. The course followed trails we hadn’t looped through in over a year so I was completely disoriented.

Eventually the course landed us on my favorite downhill in the whole trail system. I was familiar with the downhill from mountain biking it and I knew exactly where the course was taking us!

After the downhill we made a left onto a long bridge and one of the race volunteers said “there’s a women not too far ahead of you”. That literally meant NOTHING to me. I was completely gassed. I hadn’t seen anyone ahead of me since about mile 2 and I definitely didn’t have the legs to go catch someone. So, I dismissed the comment and kept trudging.

I heard footsteps behind me and my gut told me it was probably a woman (note: I don’t look back ever during a race so I never know who might be closing in on me). The course crossed a stream (which I ran straight through, soaking my feet – no problem though, I wear the Altra Superiors which have optimal draining capabilities!). The person behind me, confirmed to be a woman once she asked me a question, asked “how much further?”. To this I said, “I have no idea”. Because 1) honestly, I had no idea where the finish line was in relation to where we were currently and 2) I don’t ever look at my watch during a race so I never know what mileage I’m at.

She ran right on my heels for 3/4 of the final uphill. For a second, I tried brainstorming ways I could get her off my heels (i.e. by sprinting up the hill) but I had no energy whatsoever to run faster than I was. I was simply in survival mode. My endurance meter had reached a big fat zero.

She eventually passed me and I felt bummed, knowing I had held 3rd overall female for 85% of the race. But I had nothing in me to try to physically react. So she trotted off, gapping me almost instantaneously. My only intrinsic goal was to keep running, no walking. And that’s what I did. Kept running until I crossed the finish line.

Once I got the finish, Josh offered me a cup of water. I stared at him and said “I’m at zero”. My endurance had expired around mile 5. The last mile was a slugfest. I probably could have walked faster but my own pride kept me running. We replenished with Gatorade we had brought and recapped our races.

Josh finished as the 1st overall male, 2nd place overall (figure that one out for yourself). He also had ran out of endurance which is to be expected considering he had only been running once or twice per week, not exceeding 3-4 mile runs (#naturaltalent). Regardless, I was proud of him. His natural ability to run fast amazes me time and time again.

I finished in 55:38, 18th/58 overall, 4th overall female, and 1/1 in my age group. Josh won a sweet travel coffee mug and a wooden phone holder (which he promises me to video chat with so he doesn’t have to prop his phone up awkwardly). I won a medal and some great S&S exposure.

I am glad that I did this race. Grad school had left me craving trail runs and races and, in a way, starting off summer break with a trail race was symbolic. Grad school requires endurance just like running. This race reaffirmed that I can be a grad student and a runner and be happy. I might not have as much endurance as I did last summer and the trails may challenge me even more so, but they will always be there for me to enjoy and for me to find bliss, serenity, and a welcoming running community.

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Xterra Trail Race Series recap

Xterra Trail Race Series recap

A few weeks ago I completed the Xterra Atlantic trail race series.  The series was four races, culminating with a half-marathon.  I’m slightly behind on blogging; however, after looking back I did recap the first two races of the series.  For brevity’s sake, I’ll just post finishing results for the first two races and recap the final two races of the trail series below.

Brandywine 12k:  1:05, 2nd overall female, 16th overall of 110

Lums Pond 12k:  57:28, 3rd overall female, 25th overall of 98

Wetlands 10k at Camp Edge: 

As the series progressed, I became less and less motivated to race.  I had no desire to race a 10k.  All I wanted to do was run an ultra.  I was craving the mountains, not the swamplands.  Yet, there I was on a humid Sunday morning pretending to be happy I was about to race.

It had rained for 4-5 days straight leading up to the race.  The local mountain bike team that my dad coaches practices and races at this venue – Camp Edge.  I’ve done numerous trail building days on these trails. I had even raced on these trails for the Sasquatch 5k.  I knew the trails didn’t drain well.  With 4-5 days of rain behind us, I knew that the course was going to be sloppy.  This also added to my lack of motivation.

I was happy that Jess was racing too.  I warned her about the mud and we both joked that we had signed up for a trail race, not a mud run.

“Sloppy” didn’t even do the trail conditions justice.  It was a disaster.  I went out hard for two reasons:  because I knew these trails inside and out, forwards & backwards AND because I knew the mud would get progressively worse as more racers ran through it.

Two women passed me around the two mile mark.  By mile three, I had mentally checked myself out of the race.  The trails were crap, I was sliding everywhere, and I did NOT feel like doing a second loop.

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This was one of the least muddy sections of the course

We ran through the finish line and turned right to head back out across the field and into the woods.  Here we go again.  Loop 2.  I gave up on running fast through the mud.  The mud was worse the second time around because now we were running through mud that 100 other people had already ran through.  I was frustrated.  I was agitated.  I was not having fun.

All I truly remember about loop 2 was focusing on not sliding in the mud and carelessly splashing through the puddles.  It was hot so the puddles were a nice relief.

When we exited the woods, my dad, Josh, and Steve were taking pictures.  My dad told me to pick it up and my response was an irritated “I don’t feel like it”.  I crossed the line as the 3rd overall female and 21st overall of 68, in 56:05.

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I was happy that Jess raced hard and finished 3rd in her age group.  I was super proud of her for finishing her first ever trail 10k and I hoped that she would attend the next trail race of the series with me!  I was also excited because we were all going to a wine festival after the race and I just love wine!

Disclaimer:  I won’t be doing this race again.  I didn’t enjoy the course conditions, I despise races that are two loops, and I just didn’t like the race atmosphere.

Big Elk Half-Marathon: 

I was hoping that I would be in tip-top shape going into the last race of the series; however, my running motivation had dwindled over the course of four months and my cycling motivation had peaked.  Due to work schedules, weekend events, and vacation, the training plan I had created for myself was merely a piece of paper hanging on my bulletin board.

My longest run leading up to Big Elk was 8 miles.  Despite failing at following the plan, vacation provided me with an opportunity to spend miles and miles on my feet, climbing up mountains.  I knew that the hills wouldn’t be a problem.  Instead, my endurance might end up being the problem.

On the morning of race day, we arrived to the starting area with 25 minutes until start time.  25 minutes to spare is considered rushing to me so I frantically ran from the parking lot to the bathroom and from the bathroom to the packet pick-up area.  I ran back to the parking lot, pinned my bib on crookedly, threw on my Ultimate Direction pack and ran back to the starting line.

The first mile was slightly downhill and I hoped that the crowd would eventually thin out.  I found myself leading a pack of 5-6 runners on some single track and I wished that they would just go around me instead of following so closely on my heels.  I was familiar with the trails so I knew what sections to be cautious through and what sections to speed up.

We ran past the first water stop and I yelled at a woman trying to pass me that she had missed the turn.  It pays to pay attention, people!  At the top of the next hill, Josh appeared!  I laughed that he was just standing in the middle of the woods.

Finally half of the group of people went around me.  A few still remained on my heels and I tried to shake them by speeding up.  They stuck close.

I was running faster than my comfort zone trail pace and by mile 6ish, my left knee started bugging me.  I couldn’t catch my breath and I just wanted to enjoy my time in the woods.  I pulled to the side and let a few runners go around me.  Finally, I could run in peace!

I spent most of miles 6-10 by myself.  I was content this way.  I listened to nature rather than the rapid breathing of myself and those that were once around me.  I finally relaxed into the race.  I was finally enjoying myself.  I even took breaks to walk up some hills.  All of this is my trail bliss.

The course went through a field with grass up to my hip.  I was frustrated because I knew this wasn’t truly a trail.  They just stuck flags in a grassy field to make things “interesting”.  The only thoughts going through my head were “ticks, ticks, ticks everywhere!”

When we got back on an actual trail, a few people came up behind me. I let them pass and I just kept at my steady happy-go-lucky pace.  Our course eventually met up with the 5k/10k course and there were a lot of runners on the trail now.

I passed a few people who were trudging through their shorter race and I knew we were getting closer to the end.  We ran through some streams that felt super refreshing.  By this point the top of my left foot was also bothering me so the cold water felt great on my sore foot.

The course exited the woods and brought us toward the finishing area.  I ran confidently towards the finish line and Josh yelled at me to smile.  I smiled.

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smiling

I crossed the line and looped back to find Josh, Jess, & Steve.  We talked about Jess’s 10k that she CRUSHED!  She beat her previous 10k trail time by 14 minutes.  We waited patiently for results, I changed out of my race attire, and then we waited for the awards ceremony.

I finished in 2:08:55 as the 4th overall female and 1st in my age-group.  The results posted online are incorrect (once again).  I knew my time would be around the two hour mark so I was more than content with a 2:08.  I had completed the trail series, Jess had crushed her 10k, and then we all celebrated with brunch on Main Street, Newark.

Conclusion:

I won the trail series for my age-group, therefore, winning a free entry to Xterra Nationals in Ogden.  I will not be attending Nationals because the plane ticket is far too expensive and by September I will be in full grad school mode.

Completing the series was more of a mental challenge for me rather than a physical challenge.  I found myself highly unmotivated for most of the races.  I enjoyed the Brandywine 12k the most due to the ruggedness of the trails.  Big Elk was my second favorite because I got to spend 2+ hours in the woods.  Lums Pond 12k was semi-decent because I’ve never been to that trail system before; however, it’s too flat for me and doesn’t benefit my strengths.  Wetlands 10k was my absolute least favorite race of the entire series.  The mud was annoying and I hate courses that are two loops.

Next year, I probably won’t run any of the races again.  It was something different for me to try this year in the interim of training for another ultra; however, my heart is set on ultras in the mountains.

It’s been real, Xterra, but now it’s time for you to crown another Xterra Champion.

 

Race Recap: Xterra Lums Pond 12k

Race Recap: Xterra Lums Pond 12k

This past Sunday I raced at Lums Pond State Park in Bear, DE for the first time ever.  I knew of some people that had ran and mountain biked at Lums Pond so I kind of knew what the terrain was going to be like ahead of time – flat, non-technical, but with a few scattered rooty sections.  None of these characteristics of the course played in my favor.  Truthfully, I have a better chance excelling on a hilly, technical, rocky course.  I wasn’t looking forward to this race at all and, honestly, I regretted even signing up for it.  I only signed up for it because it was part of a series of trail races and back in January/February I was desperate for some motivation to get myself out for runs.  So here I was on race morning, standing in a state park parking lot trying to find an inkling of trail serenity in a road-runner dominated field of runners (sorry, roadies).

Josh selflessly chauffeured me to Bear, DE so I was thankful to have him there to be my morning company.  I picked up my bib number and race swag and got back into Josh’s truck.

The morning was chilly but warmer than usual so I was trying to figure out what I wanted to race in.  I went for a warm-up with 3/4 length capris, an Altra sweatshirt, Sneakers & Spokes long sleeve, a base layer long sleeve, gloves, and my Team Altra buff.  I warmed up on the road for 10 minutes than discovered a trail that ended up being the last 1/4 mile of the race course.  By the end of a 15-minute warm-up, I decided I need to shed my base layer for the race.  I also decided I wanted to race in shorts and ditch the gloves.  Wardrobe malfunction!  My Sneakers & Spokes long sleeve was so long that it covered up my spandex shorts making it appear that I wasn’t wearing shorts.  DARNIT!  I tried pinning the bottom of the shirt up but it was a lost cause once the race started.

The race started on time and we ran across the parking lot towards the path.  We would be running one 6-7 mile clockwise loop around Lums Pond (literally, I giant pond).  I navigated around some racers and I could see 2 women in front of me.  I hoped to keep them in my sight, but that didn’t last long.

1.5 miles into the race I found myself pancaked on the ground.  My memory fails me, but I’m assuming I tripped on a root.  I had no chance to catch my fall.  One second I was running, the next second I was on the ground, and one second after that I was back to running.  The men behind me asked if I was ok.  I said bluntly, “yes, I’m fine”, as they sprinted around me.  Nothing hurt but I could see some blood on my thigh.  Not exactly how I wanted to run the next 5.5 miles of the race but oh well.

The course wasn’t exactly scenic.  There were a lot of little turns, some rooty sections, and very small “hills”.  The “hills” were basically speed bumps that slowed racers down a little but they took about 3 seconds to get up and 2 seconds to get down.  Not impressed.  I had lost complete sight of the women by this point, men were passing me left & right, but I just kept chugging along.  I was more focused on where I was putting my feet and less focused on catching anyone ahead of me.  My elbow started to sting but everything else felt fine.

I remember crossing a 200m mini bridge which was pretty cool.  I jumped over a few muddy spots to avoid soaking my Superiors.  We passed through a field.  Then we reached the part of the course I had ran earlier for my warm-up.  I knew I was almost done.  I heard Josh to the right and caught a brief glimpse of him with his phone out snapping pictures.  I crossed the finish line and they handed me a medal.

I looked down at my knees for the first time since I’d fallen and both were bloody.  My thigh looked like a bear scratched it up.  My elbow was still stinging.  I knew I needed to get my cuts cleaned up so I looped back to find Josh, told him I needed to clean my knees (which is actually when he even noticed my knees were scraped).  We walked over to the ambulance parked in the lot.  I asked them for some peroxide and they gave me saline water and a towel to clean myself up.  I sat haphazardly on the asphalt as I cleaned up.  They didn’t have any normal sized bandaids and I could tell that my right knee was still bleeding so the paramedic wrapped me up with gauze and medical wrap.  Josh told the paramedics, “she runs 50ks up mountains and doesn’t fall but here she is after a 12k…”.  Yes, the irony of it all.

31234945_2028515467407407_1324880377252151296_oI finished in 57:28 as the 3rd overall female and 25th overall out of 98.  The course was shorter than a 12k so technically it’s not a 12k PR.  I stayed for the awards ceremony and then left for the 2nd race of the day – spectating the NJ NICA race held in Alloway.  It was a busy but great Sunday.  I didn’t do a cool-down after the race because I spent my time with the paramedics, but I ran around the NICA course with Josh to cheer on the racers.

Would I race this again?  No.  The course wasn’t hilly or technical (despite the fact that I tripped on a root).  I thrive on challenging trail courses.  This was more so a cross country style race and those days of xc racing were over after college.  I don’t have the speed to keep up with those xc-type of racers.  I would rather go a little slower and be able to bomb some descents.  I still have a good story to tell as I take care of my knees.

Would I go to Lums Pond again?  Yes.  I would like to mountain bike there because I prefer non-technical trails for mountain biking (my mtb skills are lacking).  If I’m looking for a flat trail running loop and want to drive all the way there then I would run there again too.  But I’m not interested in racing there.  One and done!

Race Recap: Sasquatch Nighttime Trail 5k

Race Recap: Sasquatch Nighttime Trail 5k

Saturday night at 8 PM, I lined up for a 5k for the first time since 2015.  5ks haven’t been on my race radar for three years out of pure enjoyment of ultras and long distance races.  The shortest race I’ve raced in the past three years has been a four mile road race – a 4th of July tradition in my family that is a requirement for an afternoon BBQ invitation.  But, I couldn’t pass up a trail 5k…. in the dark…. on hometown trails…. with a bunch of family & friends.

All day Saturday, I was impatiently waiting for the afternoon hours.  I’d much rather race in the morning so that I can enjoy the rest of the day, eat whatever I want, and relax.  I was less than thrilled when I had to wait all day until I could race. I distracted myself with various errands/chores and I watched the Flyers clinch a playoff spot which was super exciting for obvious reasons.  I ate dinner at 4 PM because I wanted my stomach to be fully settled by start time.

I arrived to the course before 7 PM, snagged a convenient parking spot, picked up the race packets with my parents, and set out onto the trails with my dad and uncle to set up feather flags for our family business & local mountain bike team.  I was extremely confused where the course would be taking us despite knowing the trails inside & out from mountain biking there so often.  I asked my dad a bunch of questions about the direction of the course down certain trails but it didn’t clarify much.

By 7:25, I was wondering where Josh & Jess (Josh’s twin) were as I knew they should both be there by now.  I triple checked that my headlamp was actually on my head (my biggest fear was arriving to the starting line without my headlamp on my head and being forced to run the course in the dark – which would’ve been impossible & torturous).  My Altra Superiors were on snugly and I was ready to tackle the roots within the woods!  Without being able to find neither Josh nor Jess, and with no cell phone service to call them, I set out on a warm-up run with my dad, uncle, mom, and my mom’s cousin.

While out on the course we spotted the Sasquatches arriving to their designated spots on the course.  My dad told the mini Sasquatch to scare me but I told mini Sasquatch that I could out sprint him on any given day. After a ten minute warm-up, we arrived back to the infield where I spotted Josh & Jess.  I was a ball of energy at this point and just wanted to get the race started.  I chauffeured Josh over to my car so he could drop off his race packet in my car & hastily rushed him so that he could get a warm-up in before the race started in less than 10 minutes.  We ran through the in-field a little bit more – a short warm-up would have to suffice for him.  Josh told me he felt nauseous and had no intention of racing hard (more details on that later).

S&S sasquatch groupWe got to the starting line and ushered a bunch of Sneakers & Spokes runners together for a team picture.  We chit-chatted amongst ourselves, tested out the brightness of our headlamps, and waited for the race directors to announce any last minute instructions.  We were told that the reflectors on the trees would guide us through the course and that they should always be on our right – this proved to be extremely helpful knowledge throughout the race.

Before I knew it, they were saying “ready, set, go” through the megaphone and the field of runners surged off.  I remember feeling like there were a lot of people surrounding me that I knew all had to funnel into the trail ahead of us.  All I could do was keep sprinting across the field, hoping that some of them might just be energetic youths eager to start in a full out sprint.

With our headlamps on, we reached the trail entrance and I knew I was near the front of the race.  There was a pack of 6-8 racers ahead of me running three-aside on the trail.  In front of me was a lone runner whom I quickly passed through a sandy section.  The pack of runners ahead of me kept getting further & further away as I could see the light of their headlamps fading off in front of me.  I was running solo with nobody within sight ahead of me and no lights shining from behind me.

Alone, I focused on the reflectors to navigate the way.  I came upon the Sasquatch banging against a tin roof trying to scare us runners but I just chuckled as I passed by.  “One reflector at a time”, I told myself.  I came across someone’s headlamp on the ground and thought that whomever lost that better hope they can keep up with someone who still has a light!  Before I could figure out where I was, the course exited the woods back into the field.  I surged ahead knowing exactly where I needed to go next (home course advantage at it’s finest).  The field was pitch dark and there were just a few spectators out huddling near a small bonfire.

After a steady, low-grade incline on the singletrack, I saw headlamps shining at me.  Am I going the wrong way? How did I mess up the course already?!  Turns out, the course comes very close to intersecting paths but I took a left in my direction and they turned left in their direction.  Crisis everted!  

I continued to power ahead and soon saw a runner up ahead of me.  They were definitely within my reach so I made sure to surge up to them during the non-technical section of the course.  By the time we reached the next hill, I knew that if I could just power through the hill that I could gap them.  He didn’t let me get too far away though.  We reached the only road section of the course – a quarter mile of road until we dip back into the woods toward the finish.  The man got around me on the road but I knew that my strengths on the trail would prove worthy when we got back onto singletrack.

I made a power-move on the final turn into singletrack, nearly running myself into a tree.  I sprinted confidently ahead and saw two small silhouettes ahead of me.  Let me try to catch up to them.  So I kept my foot on the gas trying to catch up to the them.  I knew I was running out of course to catch them but I kept trying.

We exited the woods for the final time into the field and I strided as fast as I could toward the finish line.  I didn’t want the man behind me to catch me in a final sprint.  Race volunteers shined their flashlight towards my bib number so that they could record the finishers.  I stopped by watch at 23:33.

My dad and Josh walked up to me while I was still in the finishing chute.  “Did you win?”, one of them asked.  I said, “I think so!”.  They yelled out in excitement.  I ripped off the bottom of my bib number for the race volunteer & walked over to my dad & Josh.  That’s when they informed that Josh won the race!  HE WON!  I yelled in excitement so loud and gave him the biggest hug.  I couldn’t contain my excitement that we both won!

We walked back along the finishing stretch to wait for our friends & family.  I was coughing uncontrollably because my lungs hurt so bad.  I was still so so so excited that Josh won!  WOW!  We cheered on everyone we knew. This proved to be a difficult task during a nighttime race.  It’s impossible to see people running towards the finish line when it’s dark!

Once everyone finished and we shared our excitement for such a fun and great race, I changed into warm (and dry) clothes, put on my winter jacket and set out on a cool-down run with my dad & Josh.  We talked about our races and shared our excitement for such a cool race on our local trails.  We headed back to the lodge for food, water, and the awards ceremony.  It was so cozy in the lodge which made me happy!

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Jess, me, & Josh with Sasquatch, Mini Sasquatch, & Yeti

Team Sneakers & Spokes came home with 8 individual awards, a new 5k PR, and a racer’s 2nd ever 5k.  It was a fun & enjoyable night and being surrounded by awesome friends & family made the night extra special!

After the awards, I drove to Josh’s.  I reflected on the race and my excitement for Josh’s win.  When we got back to Josh’s it was probably almost 10:30 PM.  We were both hungry so we impulsively decided to make pasta. I ate icecream sandwich cake in the interim because I was so hungry.  By the time we ate pasta and showered, it was nearly midnight.  What a late night.

Reflecting back, I am more than satisfied with how my race went.  I raced hard, I ran confidently, I didn’t back down from the hills or other competitors.  This race boosted my trail confidence in regards to running fast on trails.  I know I can cover upwards to 31 miles on trails mountainous trails, but running fast on trails has never been my strong point.  Although I coughed for an entire day after the race, I would run this race again next year.  The race benefitted Ranch Hope and the leaders & volunteers of Ranch Hope are amazing individuals.

I don’t plan on running more 5ks – I think I’ll stick to one 5k per year & one 4 miler per year.  I prefer all other races to be 10k or more and trail races.  I just find trails to be my strength and I love the trail running scene/community more than anything.

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Just a “couple” of winners

I am proud of Josh for racing so strong despite having a rough Saturday leading up to the race.  I am proud of his confidence on the trails and his innate competitiveness that apparently just took over one mile into the race.  I am lucky to have him to stand next to as 1st place male and female of the race.

Thanks to Camp Edge and Ranch Hope for hosting a great trail race.  And much appreciation to the Sasquatches who didn’t scare me in the woods mid-race!

 

Race Recap: Green Monster Trail Challenge 50k

Race Recap: Green Monster Trail Challenge 50k

This past weekend was the Green Monster Trail Challenge 50k/25k/15k.  As my previous blog posts have summarized, I had signed up for the 50k.  Training went as well as it could have leading up to October 8th and I felt decently prepared to tackle the mountainous course despite being one of three people from New Jersey signed up for the race.  Pennsylvanians had an obvious advantage if they lived and trained in the mountains, but I knew what I was signing up for going into the race and I willingly accepted the challenge.  After all, I know I’m a mountain girl at heart.

Saturday – the day before the race

Because Wellsboro, PA was 4.5 hours from southern New Jersey, Josh & I planned to camp at Leonard Harrison State Park for the weekend.  I coached a cross country meet at Desales University Saturday morning/early afternoon, drove home, packed up my car, and then drove to Josh’s to pack up his Jeep.  We didn’t leave New Jersey until about 4:45 PM because of this hectic day.  This was not ideal by any means, but it was what it was.

Our ETA was 9:30 PM.  I knew I was in for a late pre-race night and navigating the twisty-turny roads of Wellsboro, PA in the dark made us both uneasy.  After a few wrong turns, we made it safely to the campground.  We set up our tent and canopy tent knowing that the weather forecast was predicting overnight rain.  I was asleep on our air mattress by 10:45 PM with the alarm set for 5:00 AM.

Sunday – Race Morning

After a restless night sleep that felt like only three hours, the alarm sounded.  Rain drops were hitting our rain fly and I exhaled numerous sighs of frustration.  A rainy 50k would make for an extremely long day in the woods.  I forced down a bagel with peanut butter and banana on it.  We left for the race at 6:00 AM.  The starting area was a 20 minute drive away and once again we found ourselves sketchily driving down dark, windy mountain roads – some of which were dirt.

We arrived to the USGS parking lot by 6:25 AM.  Josh and I walked the 1/4 mile to the check-in tent with our headlights on.  The rain had stopped but I kept my rain jacket on.  I picked up my race bib, swag bag, and directions to aid stations for Josh.  I also dropped off my drop bag in the designated spot.  Having the option of a drop bag is always very welcomed and I appreciated the idea of having additional fuel available to me at the aid station of mile 20.5 – thank you Tioga Running Company (TRC)!

By the time we walked back to the Jeep, daylight was starting to peek past the surrounding mountains.  I waited in line to use a port-a-potty (yuck!), then shed some of my layers.  The humidity of the day lingered so I opted for a tank top and spandex shorts.  I kept arm sleeves in my Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta just in case temperatures dropped on top of some of the mountains.  All previous racers I had spoke to about the race had told me that historically the race always started in freezing temperatures.  2017 was the exception as the majority of the racers opted for shorts and short sleeves.

The race director conducted a pre-race briefing around 7:15 which was followed by the national anthem.  My stomach was in knots.  I was beyond nervous about what the day had in store for me and I felt nauseous.  Josh tried calming me down and told me to run smart.  I mentally stored his advice in my head as I approached the starting area.

Sunday – the important race recap stuff

For the remainder of the race recap, I am going to break down the race through aid station to aid station recaps.  Instead of running the race as a 50k race, throughout the day I broke the race into 8 parts (there were 8 aid stations).  This made the 50k distance seem less daunting.  This allowed me to focus on one small goal at a time rather than one huge goal.  The farthest stretch between aid stations was 5 miles so with my mental strategy, the farthest “race” I would be running would only be 5 miles.  Be warned, this strategy might not work for everyone, but on race day, this was the best strategy I think I could have ever adopted.

Start to Aid Station #1 (Canada Run) – miles 0.0-5.0

By 7:25, all of us racers lined up at the starting line.  After a countdown, we were sent off to the trails.  I started the race conservatively and a lot of people were ahead of me.  But I wasn’t too concerned.  I didn’t let my adrenaline get the best of me.  The first 1/2 – 3/4 mile or so was on a wide dirt road.  Eventually we made a slight left at a trail head.  Here stood a man in a T-rex costume cheering us on.  I thought this was peculiar but I enjoyed the humor of the situation so early in the morning.

As the racers ducked into the single track, the trail wasn’t too technical but I needed to stay alert.  Everybody at this point in the race was still pretty close together so keeping an appropriate distance from the racer in front of me was necessary to plan my footing.

After some nice, flowy single track, we began our first climb.  I believe this climb started out gradual.  I was brought down to a power-hiking pace and made a few moves around racers that were hiking a bit too slow for my desire.  I politely scooted around them and continued the ascent.  The climb felt like it was at least 2 miles long.  If I recall correctly, I believe it got steeper as the climb continued.  My calf muscles and my lungs burned but with every step, I knew I was getting myself closer to the top.

The race course was designed to have climbs followed immediately by descents.  Once I reached the top of the first climb, I was rewarded with an enjoyable, flowy downhill.  I was cautious on the downhill as my glasses were fogged over from the ungodly humidity of the morning.  I was frustrated that I wasn’t able to see all that well and I felt like it was going to be a long, long day if I was running half blind the entire race.

We reached aid station #1 at the bottom of the descent.  I chugged a half cup of Gatorade then continued on my way to the next trail head.  Three miles until the next aid station.

Aid Station #1 (Canada Run) to Aid Station #2 (Baldwin Run) – miles 5.0-8.0

We were immediately gifted with another long uphill.  This uphill hurt worse.  It was steep, it was long and I felt like it was never going to end.  Honestly, I don’t remember too much from this ascent.  The downhill was a relief but my glasses were still fogged over so I was still running cautious (the struggle was real!).

I belief we ascended and descended a second climb during this stretch.  I remember feeling like I had just ascended two of Hyner’s SOBs that were actually longer in length.  Little did I know that the SOB-like climbs would continue.

During one of these climbs the man up ahead of me warned me that the trail was steep simultaneously as shale tumbled down towards me.  Steep?!  Yeah, I could tell.  I was reaching for rocks that were intact to the trail just to give myself a little extra stability.  I reached for a few trees that lined the trail just to pull myself up.  I was using both my feet and my hands to keep myself from sliding down.  One…step…at a time.

My legs were burning up these climbs but I kept telling myself that every step forward was a step in the right direction.

The field of runners was more spread out at this point as the three climbs had separated a lot of people.  After power-hiking at the top of the ascent to recover my legs and lungs, I happily started running with one or two runners who were keeping a steady pace.

At the Baldwin Run aid station, I picked up another cup of Gatorade and drank the whole thing.  I wasn’t ready for food/snacks yet but the aid station was fully stocked.  Three miles until the next aid station.

Aid Station #2 (Baldwin Run) to Aid Station #3 (Stone Road) – miles 8.0-11.0

The runners I had been running with departed the aid station at the same time as me so I knew I would be running with people for hopefully another three miles to the next aid station.

We reached yet another climb that was steep.  I peeked upwards a few times just to see that a few racers up ahead of me were still climbing.  So…many…steep…ascents.  Once we finally got to the top, I power-hiked to recover.  I ran for about 400 feet than started power-hiking again.  The woman behind me stayed in step with my tactic of run-hiking.  After a relatively “flat” section of the course, we were rewarded with aid station #3!

22281924_10210859858678015_2635698085745054548_nSpectators lined this aid station as it was one of the first aid stations that were safely accessible by car.  I spotted Josh immediately.  Everyone was cheering and their energy was contagious.  Josh ran stride by stride with me to the aid station tent.  He asked me how things were going and I told him “I feel like I just climbed up SOB three times in a row”.  He offered some words of encouragement.  I grabbed another cup of Gatorade and then continued on my way.  Two and a half miles until the next aid station.

Aid Station #3 (Stone Road) to Aid Station #4 (Broad Ridge)- miles 11.0-13.5

This was the shortest stretch between aid stations and it flew by!  The two runners I had the pleasure of running with stayed comfortably behind me throughout most of this stretch.  The man politely complimented me and my fellow trail chick on picking good lines to run down the technical trail.  I appreciated this uplifting compliment!

Before I knew it we were approaching the next aid station.  I heard this aid station way off in the distance as a local girl scout troop’s cheering echoed throughout the woods.  Their energy was perfect for this point in the race.

I wanted to fill up my pack with more water because I knew I was drinking a lot.  The humidity and heat required a lot of extra hydration.  I filled up the bladder at the water cooler and grabbed a Fig Newton.  That Fig Newton hit the spot!  Josh told me it was all down hill from here….ha!  Funny joke, Josh!

I spent a little more time than my fellow running buddies did at this aid station so I ended up departing back onto the trail alone.  Four miles until the next aid station.

Aid Station #4 (Broad Ridge) to Aid Station #5 (Apple Orchard) – miles 13.5-17.5

Although I could see my running buddies up ahead, they weren’t within distance of me catching them.

After about 1/4 mile away from the aid station, we hit Frankenstein’s Forehead…..the infamous Frankenstein’s Forehead.  According to my Garmin upload to Strava, Frankenstein’s Forehead is a 0.2 mile descent at -31.6% grade.  Although I didn’t have these statistics during the race, it was obvious that this was a steep descent.  The trail was made up of mostly loose shale which made it interesting.  I managed to only slightly slip once (thank you, Altra Superiors for your extra grippy lugs!!)

I am not that fast at descents so my previous running buddies continued to gap me.  I was cautious going down Frankenstein’s Forehead.  It probably would have been quicker to slide down on my butt, but I wasn’t in the mood to have dirt and rocks plastered to my spandex for the rest of the day.

The trail reached another climb.  There was nobody within eyesight ahead of me or behind me.  I was all alone simply moving forward from pink ribbon to pink ribbon.  I began to talk aloud to myself at this point.  First, during the climb, I created a song about going uphill and how with every step I took up the hill I wouldn’t have to take that step again during the race.  Then, when the climb became more gradual but still required a power-hike, I made a song up about the yellow leaves on the trees.  It sounds crazy, but the songs distracted me from the soreness of my muscles.

Finally at the top of the climb, the trail exited the woods into a pipeline opening on the mountain.  I spotted another racer trekking up the mountain and called out to him saying “are you in the 50k?!”.  He said yes and asked me where I came from.  I proceeded to point to the opening in the woods.  He seemed to be following the pink survey flags up the mountain which I knew was wrong.  He continued to explain to me that he was in 3rd place overall and that nobody had passed him all day.  My gaze drifted to the woods on the other side of the open pipeline field where I spotted pink ribbons and a yellow blazed tree.  During the pre-race briefing, the race director had told us to follow the yellow blazed trees when in doubt of the course direction so I proceeded to the woods and justified my decision to the apparent 3rd place racer.   He agreed that this was probably the right direction and he sped off down the trail.

Paranoia started pacing through my head.  What if I had somehow gotten off course, missed the next aid station in which Josh was probably waiting for me, and then somehow gotten back onto course to the point where I was now near the 3rd place guy?  I feared I had somehow cut the course.  There was still nobody within eye sight ahead of me or behind me (with the exception of the “3rd place guy” who had just sped down the trail).  Every possible horrible situation was going through my head.  Was I the lost one?  Was I going the wrong way?  Why was I so close to the guy in 3rd place all of a sudden?

As paranoid thoughts continued to race through my head, I heard a loud “F@#!”.  Uh oh.  Before I could process what might have happened, the guy comes storming back up the trail yelling “I already went this way and now I’m lost and I need to find my way back to where I need to be”…….oh shoot.  All I knew is that I was going to continue on my way following the pink ribbons and the yellow blazed trees.  I hoped and prayed that I would catch up to someone in front of me soon so that I could figure out if I was still on the right part of the course.

After about another 1-1.5 miles, I finally spotted someone ahead of me power hiking.  I kindly asked him what his mileage was and he said about 16.5 miles.  THANK GOODNESS!  This matched the mileage on my watch and a huge feeling of relief overtook me.  I explained to the runner that I had come across a guy that was lost who was apparently in third.  I thanked him for easing my paranoia and continued on my way.

After about another mile, I reached the next aid station.  Although this aid station was supposed to be unmanned, a volunteer was there with water, Gatorade and a few snacks.  I grabbed another cup of Gatorade.  The woman who I had been running with back through the last two aid stations was stretching out her calf muscles.  I continued back onto the trail.  Three miles until the next aid station.

Aid Station #5 (Apple Orchard) to Aid Station #6 (Hessel Gessel) – miles 17.5-20.5

I continued to run this section of the course alone.  It wasn’t nearly as hilly as the first half of the race and my legs felt relieved.  I knew that my drop bag would be waiting at the next aid station.  I also knew that Josh would be at this aid station along with several other spectators.

During the ascent in this section I attempted to eat part of my peanut butter and raisin wrap that had been effective in my previous 50k in 2016.  I took about four bites but I couldn’t quite stomach the rest.  It was too dry and it was taking me forever to chew.  I concluded that my race would be fueled off of Shot Bloks.

This section of the course wasn’t overly technical.  I was still focused on staying alert to keep my footing precise and efficient.  Towards the end of this three mile stretch, we were rewarded with a wide open fire road type area that was grassy.  This lead us right into the Hessel Gessel aid station.

22310643_10210859859438034_3305799624498574142_nI spotted Josh and he was taking pictures/video.  I was relieved to have reached this point.  It felt like the psychological half way point because I could re-stash my pack with fuel.  This aid station was manned with local cross country runners.  I added some more water to my hydration bladder.  Josh handed me another sleeve of Shot Bloks and I picked up two more Fig Newtons (thank goodness for Fig Newtons!) from the aid station.  I meandered back into the woods after receiving some more words of encouragement from Josh.  Five miles until the next aid station.

Aid Station #6 (Hessel Gessel) to Aid Station #7 (Frying Pan)- miles 20.5-25.5

Immediately after leaving the aid station, I started off this stretch of the course with 3-4 men.  We navigated down about five huge boulders.  I settled in behind a man wearing Altra Timps and proceeded to have a conversation with him about the Timps.  After 50 feet later, the group of men and I realized we had just ran in a circle as we had returned back to the boulders.  We had made a right at the bottom of the boulders instead of a left.  I discovered this mistake, navigated back down the huge boulders for the second time within 3 minutes and made a left to follow the pink ribbons.  Oops.

The group of men followed me down the trail back to another wide dirt road.  We crossed the road onto another single track trailhead.  I let them go ahead of me knowing that if it was a descent that I would be slower than them.  We settled back into a nice pace.  I heard Josh drive by on the dirt road ahead honking his horn and cheering for me – it made me smile.

Eventually we reached another climb and I politely scooted by the group of men as they were power-hiking slower than my normal power-hiking speed.  I continued to power through the gradual uphill.

All the previous race recaps I read of the Green Monster 50k stated that the 2nd half of the course is more runnable than the 1st half.  I can affirm that this is the truth.  I did A LOT of running throughout mile 17 to the finish.  I still conserved energy by power-hiking the climbs but there were a lot of runnable, non-technical sections of this part of the course.  It was a relief!

This section of the course navigated through some muddy sections – probably from the rain from the previous night mixed with all the runners who had already came down the trail that day.  It was sloppy and my shoes were covered in mud but I continued moving in the forward direction.

The trail wandered through 3-4 stream crossings before the next road crossing.  I originally planned to keep my feet dry but there was no safe way to cross via rocks so I decided to splash through the streams instead.  It was more fun to do that anyway!

Josh met me at this aid station too and told me that I only had two more big climbs to go.  Uuuuggggggh, two more climbs?!!? My legs were shot at this point.  I crossed another wide but shallow creek and started on my second to last climb.  Three miles until the next aid station.

Aid Station #7 (Frying Pan) to final aid station #8 (Scotch Pine) – miles 25.5-28.5

I ascended the second to last climb.  My legs were exhausted.  It felt like it went on for at least 2 miles.  Up, up, up.  Eventually when I got to the top, I was rewarded with a lovely downhill which I took full advantage of.

This section of the course was simple:  go up the mountain, come back down the mountain.  I don’t remember too much about this section.  I just remember that the final 400-500 feet of this section was on a ridge of single track trail.  I could see the aid station down below but I had to follow the trail to get there.  I crossed another wide, shallow creek and Josh asked me how I felt.

My response was short and simple:  “I feel like I have 54 minutes to run the last 3.75 miles to the finish.”

My goal going into the race was 1) to finish and 2) to finish between 7 and 8 hours.  I knew I was going to be extremely close to the 8 hour mark.  I had 54 minutes to ascend another long climb, descend the mountain, and run the 1/2 mile of flat road to the finish.

22310128_10210859858878020_9133001567192680943_nI think I spent a total of 45 seconds at that last aid station.  I chugged one final cup of Gatorade and started up, once again, another climb.  3.75 miles until the finish line.

Final aid station #8 (Scotch Pine) to the finish line – miles 28.5-32.2ish

I left the aid station saying to Josh, “I need to book it”.  I needed to book it all the way up this final climb.  Then I needed to book it all the way back down to the finish.  54 minutes.

I power-hiked for at least one mile up the final climb.  I felt like I was a woman on a mission.  Actually, I know I was a woman on a mission.  Even when the trail continued upwards, I got to a point where it was a runnable uphill.  I wasn’t moving fast but I was moving faster than I would have been power-hiking it.

I passed the man that had been lost way back at mile 15 as he was power-hiking.  I kept pushing myself to keep up a “brisk” pace up this final climb.  I was slightly panick-y knowing that I was going to be extremely close to that 8 hour mark.

I finally made it the top of the final climb and I expended all of my remaining energy on that final descent down the mountain.  I was hyper-focused on making it safely down the mountain in a fast and efficient manner.  I made sure I was putting my feet in the right places to avoid any unneeded ankle twisting.  I kept my eyes peeled for pink ribbons.  Now was not the time to get off course.  I have never ran so fast down a mountain ever before in my life.  Pure adrenaline is what made me forget how sore I was being 31 and 32 miles into the race.  I needed to keep running and I needed to keep running fast.

After what felt like 5 miles, I finally made it the end of the trail head.  The trail put me out onto the side yard of a Wellsboro resident.  As he sat on his porch, I quickly asked him where to go.  He told me to go down the road.

I made that final turn onto the road and I could see the finishing area.  I was running so fast down this road and I was terrified to look at my watch.  I hadn’t looked at my watch since leaving the final aid station because I was too fearful to see how much time I had remaining.

I was getting closer and closer to the finishing area and spectators were sporadically spread out along the dirt road cheering, clapping, and ringing cow bells. I finally got within eyesight of the finishing clock and I could read that it said 7:57.  I knew I was going to be under 8 hours and a huge smile came across my face.  I heard Josh cheering me on!  It was such a great feeling knowing I had accomplished my goal of finishing under 8 hours.

22308946_10210859860118051_2116784813890531647_nI officially crossed the line in 7:58:08.  I was handed a medal by a friendly race volunteer.  Josh walked over to me and offered me a congratulations.  All I could muster up was “I have never ran so fast down a mountain before ever in my life”.  I made it!

Sunday – Post-Race Happenings

Josh guided me over to a table and chairs underneath a pavilion.  He handed me a Gatorade and proceeded to exchange stories about our day.  We eventually walked back into the open area to sit in the warmth of the sunshine.  Josh had a beer from the local brewery that was offering beers.  I just wanted to sit and not move another muscle.

22279679_10210859858318006_5612210570519066878_nWhat. A. Day.

After slowing hobbling back to the Jeep, I changed out of my sweat-drenched clothes and soaked shoes.  I shared a few brownies with Josh.  I craved pizza so we researched local pizza places we could pick up a pizza from.  None of Wellsboro’s local pizza shops were open on a Sunday afternoon so we opted for a medium cheese Pizza Hut pizza.  We drove back to the campground and immediately opened the box of pizza.  I devoured four slices.  Yum!

I was asleep by 9:30 PM that night.  My legs were exhausted.  My body was tired.  I was ready for sleep, the sleep that I earned!

My Race Review:

Would I race this again?:  Maybe.  The 4.5 hour drive to the race makes for a long weekend of driving but the course is beautiful, the race atmosphere is perfect, the course is well-marked, and aid stations are fully stocked with ultra runner favorites.

How would you review Green Monster Trail Challenge as a challenge?:  Yes, the 50k is a challenge.  For those of you who have done Hyner, I warn you that Green Monster is by far a lot more technical.  The trails are rocky, rooty, and steep.  The course hits you with ascent-descent, ascent-descent, so there’s really not many flat sections of the course.  If you’re looking for a well-groomed race, do Hyner.  If you want more of a challenge in the technical area of ultra races, do Green Monster.

How would you review the post-race celebration?:  There’s free beer, free BBQ, and a table of snacks/drinks.  Although I am not a beer drinker and I’m a vegetarian, I thought the post-race celebration was perfect as it was low-key and relaxing after a long day in the mountains.  There were plenty of places to sit and enjoy the afternoon as other racers were finishing.

My Race Statistics:

Official Time:  7:58:08

10th overall female finisher

39th overall finisher of 79 (I’m a middle-of-the-pack kinda girl!)

1st place age group 20-29

Garmin distance:  32.4 miles

Average pace: 14:46/mile

Garmin elevation:  7,000 feet of gain/loss (advertised as 7800 feet, but at that point, what’s another +/- 800 feet?)

Mile split for mile 31:  9:50

Mile split for mile 32:  8:55

Total Steps:  72,175

Fuel:  8 shotbloks, 3 Fig Newtons, 8 small cups of Gatorade, and A LOT of water

Thank you, Josh, for supporting me through three months of training.  Thank you for being my chauffeur to and from the race.  Thank you for meeting me at so many aid stations when you knew I would only be there for a few minutes before disappearing back into the woods.  Thank you for buying me a pizza – my favorite post-long-run food.  Thank you for being the best supporter I could ever ask for.

And, Green Monster, thank you for a challenge.  Thank you for a wonderful day in the mountains, on these trails, and through the woods.  Thank you for forcing me to run down the mountain at sub-10 minute pace when I’ve already ran 30 miles.  Thank you for pushing me and making me a stronger runner.

For now I will rest and recover and relive the race through the stories I can tell and the lessons I can share.

What a race.

22449516_10210871685813686_310653901_o

Race Recap: Hyner View Trail Challenge 25k

Race Recap: Hyner View Trail Challenge 25k

Last year, I attended the Hyner View Trail Challenge merely as a guest to cheer on my dad and a bunch of friends as they raced through the mountains. However, exactly 9 days ago, I finished my first ever Hyner 25k.  I crossed the finish line with a huge smile on my face and a new sense of accomplishment for a race that one year ago I was terrified to sign up for.  This race boosted my confidence, gave me a new appreciation for the trail running community, and left me on a runner’s high for days after I had crossed the finish line.   Let me begin this recap the day before the race so all you readers can get the full digitalized Hyner experience.

Friday morning Josh and I prepared to leave for Hyner.  We loaded up my brother’s truck with our camping gear, food for the weekend, the basic necessities for personal hygiene, and layers of clothes.  (side note: we were driving my brother’s truck up to Hyner because Josh’s Jeep desperately needed a mechanic’s attention and my little ‘ol Rav 4 just can’t handle mountainous hills anymore)  We left Josh’s house a little after 10 AM, made a few stops on our way out of New Jersey (we checked to make sure my Altra Lone Peaks were packed in the truck three times before we left the roads of NJ), and before we knew it we were headed straight down the PA Turnpike towards the mountains.

After stopping at the Wawa before Route 80, we continued on our way towards Lock Haven.  Miles and miles later, we arrived in Lock Haven.  This would be the last town of cell phone reception for me (thanks, AT&T) but I wasn’t complaining because I was more than ready to be completely disconnected for the next 2.5 days.  After a scenic drive, we arrived at the airfield where we met up with our friend (Chad) who was already setting up his camp.  We pitched our tent, set out our camping chairs and prepared for a fun-filled weekend completely immersed in the trail running community.

We picked up our bibs and race packets, scoped out the “Run PA” gear, and returned to our camp.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the set-up of the temporary race weekend “campground”, let it be known, that these “campsites” are primitive.  There is no running water and no flushing toilets. Most of the men (and some of the women I suppose) opt to utilize the woods as their bathroom instead of wandering up to the “modernized” port-a-potties (*yuck!*).  Regardless of the toilet situation (or lack there of), I was perfectly content in my weekend getaway home.

Soon after picking up our race packets, we all took a 5 minute drive down the road to North Bend United Methodist Church that was hosting a spaghetti dinner for the racers and the community.  Last year we had visited this dinner and were pleasantly surprised by the large portion sizes (carbs!!) and dinner services.  This year was no different.  For a small monetary donation of your personal discretion, the three of us got full plates of spaghetti (with or without meatballs – thank you for appreciating us vegetarians!), side salads, bread, and dessert.  We consumed our carbs for the night and returned back to camp with full stomachs and pure focus for the race the next morning.

Shortly after we arrived back at camp, two more friends joined our camping area.  We socialized with some of our camping neighbors and talked about running (surprise, surprise, right?).  We decided to go to sleep a little after 9 o’clock but some of our other neighbors were still up enjoying the cool, crisp night.  I wasn’t bothered by the noise however, and soon I fell asleep.

I was woken the next morning around 6 AM by the sound of car doors slamming and people talking.  Although most of our camping neighbors and friends were sleeping, other racers were beginning to filter into the airfield to pick up their race bibs and packets.  Although, I was hesitant to leave my warm sleeping bag, I knew I needed to get up and start moving.

I ate my normal pre-race breakfast (peanut butter and banana on bread) and gathered my race gear.  Because Josh was driving the truck up to the top of Hyner View, I needed to make sure I had everything out of the truck that I needed for the race before he drove away.

The 50k racers started at 8 AM so Josh and I waited at the start of the bridge for our 50k friends to run by.  After they ran by, Josh and I returned to our camping area.  I double and triple checked that I had everything that I needed and then Josh drove away.  He needed to drive up to the top of Hyner View to cheer on our 50k friends at the top.

After he left, I used the oh-so-“clean” port-a-potties one last time.  As I was waiting in the very long line (apparently everyone wanted to see what the inside of the port-a-potties looked like…) I could see little silhouettes of the 50k racers up on the ridge on the mountain.  I tried to be excited that I would be trudging up there in less than an hour, but part of me was really nervous.  I knew what kind of pain I was going to be in climbing up Humble Hill – I had ran/hiked up it for “fun” last year in order to see my dad/friends at the top of Hyner View.  I knew Humble Hill was going to hurt – I just forgot how MUCH it was going to hurt.

I made my way over to the start line 10 minutes before race start.  I found a spot somewhat close to the front of the crowd.  I had been warned and coached by many experienced Hyner racers that I needed to be towards the front of the crowd so I didn’t get stuck in the mass of people trying to filter onto a single track trail 1 mile into the race.  I also knew I had to go out fast….really fast.  The race started and a bunch of people got around me.  Luckily, I knew I would have the entire length of the long bridge and then some more time on the road to get around the majority of the crowd.  My first mile?  A 7:14.  I had gone out at 5k pace instead of 25k pace but I knew it had to be done.  I made it to the single track before 80% of the field did so I was able to ease myself onto the trail without any drama.

The single track lasts nearly a mile until you start ascending Humble Hill.  I was trying to maintain a moderate trail pace because I didn’t want to slow the people behind me down.  I think I kept up nicely with the flow of the race at that point. There was someone a few steps ahead of me and someone a few steps behind me. We were spaced out evenly.

Before I could think very much more about it, Humble Hill appeared.  We started ascending, and ascending, and ascending, and ascending.  I had done this hill once before but this time around it kicked my butt.  Instantly, my heart rate skyrocketed and my calf muscles burned.  I tried to push off my thighs for extra leverage but nothing was doing the trick.  The initial ascent of Humble Hill felt like an eternity.  People were passing me left and right and rightfully so.  They were pushing themselves.  They were embracing the pain and exhaustion.  They were beating that hill.  I on the other hand was being defeated.  I just couldn’t get myself together long enough to push through the incline.  I was doubting my every thought as to why I thought doing this race would be a good idea. Climbing up Humble Hill, I couldn’t even shake the thought of “how am I ever going to finish this entire race with how I’m feeling right now?”.  I tried my best to embrace the challenge, but the effects of running in flat southern NJ wasn’t really helping me get up the hill.  I kept reminding myself that Josh would be at the top.  Josh would be at the top ringing a cowbell and telling me that I looked strong.  After what felt like 45 minutes of powerhiking up the hill, I finally could hear the cheers from atop Hyner View.  The sound of the crowd at the top seemed close but there was still so much hill to go.  I focused on taking one step at a time.  The kind and patient man behind me told me to just keep stepping forward and that I was doing a great job – (I’m sorry I don’t know your name, kind and patient man, but I really appreciated your encouragement at that moment in time!).

We reached the top and I saw a drone hovering to my right.  The woman in front of me lifted her arms up as if she was trying to get its attention but I didn’t have the energy to do that.  I could hear the cowbell and then I heard Josh’s voice telling me to smile.  I forget if I did end up smiling for him – I was just really exhausted.  We rounded the wall and Josh was on the other side telling me that I did awesome.  He asked how I was feeling and I just told him “that was really hard”.  He proceeded to run beside me telling me that I did great and to continue to do great in the remaining 12 or so miles of the race.  I hoped I would be able to live up to his expectations.18121755_10209473015007790_8458574863806390915_o

I passed through the Hyner View aid station and grabbed a few sips of Gatorade.  Then, we began the descent.  It was a long descent with many switchbacks.  A lot of people passed me on the downhill but I wasn’t concerned. I let go of all my racing instincts and opted to just be out there to enjoy the race. I pulled off to the side of the trail when someone needed to pass. I didn’t want to slow anyone else’s race down with my cautious descending skills.  We reached the bottom of the hill after a few miles and the hill got extremely slick with mud.  I was afraid of sliding down the hill so I was extremely cautious.  I probably actually would’ve been faster if I would’ve just slid down on my butt. But because I wasn’t necessarily in a rush, I just took my time.

A hiker had warned everyone that the stream crossings of Johnson’s Run were high.  He told us to be careful.  I knew I would be careful because slippery rocks are another worry of mine.  Our first stream crossing was gifted with a two logs that had been put together to make a make-shift bridge.  The next 15-20 stream crossings (and I’m not exaggerating saying 15-20), however, were a free-for-all. It was impossible to keep my feet dry so I just trudged through each stream crossing with a purpose.  At some of the crossings, the water was up to my knee.  I just kept trudging.  Even when we weren’t necessarily crossing the stream, we were running up stream.  I swear we were running up waterfalls at certain points (but I’m probably just being dramatic).

Johnson’s Run was a good long portion of the race.  I was enjoying the scenery and the uphill wasn’t nearly as torturous as Humble Hill.  I was enjoying the entire experience of the race.  I forgot about the pain of Humble Hill and was just out there enjoying the day in the woods.  After some time, we approached the Johnson’s Run aid station.  This aid station had American flags leading up to it.  I enjoyed that nice sentimental touch to the aid station.  I grabbed another two or three swigs of Gatorade and continued on my way.

We descended again.  This time, I was feeling a little more confident in my descents.  The trail reminded me a lot like White Clay where I ran frequently last summer/fall.  There were a few instances where my momentum got the best of me but I didn’t trip at all so I was surviving just fine.  At the bottom of this hill, there were two men pointing which direction to go.  I made sure I was going the right way for the 25k racers.  We began yet another uphill.

I was getting used to powerhiking by this point of the race.  The hills just weren’t possible for my body to ascend at a running speed.  My little South Jersey calf muscles just weren’t ready for the Hyner, PA hills.  I knew this coming into the race so it wasn’t a surprise to me when the hills zapped all my energy and momentum.  I wasn’t mad.  I was just accepting of the fact that I needed to powerhike in order to finish this race.

Another racer came up behind me and  I asked him if he needed to go around me.  He said my pace was the exact same as his so he didn’t need to pass.  We got to talking about where we were from and if we’ve ever raced Hyner before. This racer was from Lock Haven and he had finished the 25k numerous times. He was pleasantly surprised to hear that I was from the flat part of New Jersey and was a first time Hyner racer.  He told me I was on pace for a sub-4 hour finish which he seemed to be impressed with.  I hadn’t been looking at my watch during the entire race because I wasn’t interested in my pace or how far I had left to run – I was just out there to enjoy the day.

I asked the racer if the hill we were ascending had a name.  I had a feeling it was SOB (named SOB rightfully so) but I was told that SOB was extremely steep.  All we were doing at that point was hiking up switchbacks.  He informed me that we were on the bottom portion of SOB.  He warned me of what was to come but I ensured him I already had been told what SOB was going to be like.

We continued upward and that’s when I saw the real SOB.  All the racers in front of me were at a crawling pace.  Mostly everyone had both hands out touching the ground in order to get up the hill.  Everyone was taking cautious steps in order to avoid slipping on the loose dirt beneath their feet.  The hill was probably only 200m in length but it was a long 200m.  My lungs were burning again.  My quads felt like they were lacking power to push myself up the hill.  My calf muscles ached.  Hello, SOB.

There were a few spectators waiting along the climb of SOB.  One of them mentioned that we only had 100 more vertical feet to climb.  The other was ensuring us that we were almost there.  I’m not exactly sure how these spectators were standing so nonchalantly on this extremely steep hill but that was probably just dramatic thoughts in my head at that time.  I remember yelling out “THIS IS RIDICULOUS” to anyone who may have been listening.  I also remember thinking that they should’ve just put a ladder on SOB so that we could ascend easier (I sound like such a wimp saying that now that I have actually survived the race).

SOB was the hill that I had nightmares about last year.  I kid you not, this hill gave me real life nightmares in my sleep.  I remember the nightmare vividly.  I was trying to get up the hill and I was physically unable to get to the top.  I was clawing my way up a grassy incline and just couldn’t dig my hands into the ground to pull myself up.  I was just stuck at the bottom of the hill with no physical strength to get to the top.

BACK TO REALITY THOUGH….I made it to the top.  The hill wasn’t like the nightmare I had last year.  With the encouragement of the man behind me that ascended the entire length of SOB (from the switchbacks to the tippy top), I made it to the top.  I’m sorry I did not get your name or bib number to thank you but I hope that maybe the “man from Lock Haven that had raced the 25k many times before and was very much impressed by my southern-New-Jersey-flat-lander-speed-in-the-mountains” gets to read this blog.  Thank you, SOB companion, for encouraging me all the way to the top.

At the top of SOB, we were all gifted an aid station.  I walked up to the aid station with my legs feeling like jello.  I took another cup of blue Gatorade, took a deep breath, and continued on my way towards the finish line.  I knew that SOB was the third and final climb of the race and that the course was “all down hill from here”.  There was an occasional mini uphill along the straight path after SOB but nothing overly strenuous compared to the other uphills in the race.

I was thrilled at this moment in the race.  So thrilled, that I was running with a huge smile across my face.  I had made it up every climb of the race.  All that was left to do was run downhill to the finish….the finish line that was probably still about 3-4 miles away.

I was enjoying myself.  I knew what was ahead because I had ran down Huff’s Run last year after spectating at the top of Hyner View.  Huff’s Run was fun. Huff’s Run was downhill.  Huff’s Run got you that much closer to the finish line.

Because I’m a slower-than-average downhill runner, everyone started passing me again.  I kindly let people go by me knowing that I didn’t want to slow down their progress to the finish line.  The 1st place 50k racer passed me about half way down Huff’s Run.  Honestly, I had been hoping to hold the 50k’ers off until at least the road, but they are just too fast!  Clayton Bouchard, the winner of the 50k, passed me with such ease that I was in awe of how quickly his feet were effortlessly moving down the trail.  (We can thank Instagram for teaching me who Clayton Bouchard is – I’ve been following his Instagram account since last year’s Hyner – I’m not creepy I swear!).  Another 50k racer passed me on Huff’s Run too….those mountain runners are fast!

We finally reached the road which left about one mile remaining of the race.  I tried to increase my turnover now that I was on the road, but my quads were shot from the descents.

We crossed the bridge again and then I learned about the infamous “eternal” bridge.  Although we had all crossed the same bridge at the start of the race, the bridge running in the opposite direction felt 10x the length of the bridge from the beginning of the race.  Let it be known that….IT WAS THE SAME BRIDGE.  My run across the bridge took what seemed like forever!  By the time I got to the turn after the bridge, I felt exhausted.  People were cheering and clapping for all the racers.  It was a good feeling knowing how close to the finish line I was.

The finishing stretch hops back onto a trail.  Surprise, surprise….the trail goes uphill to the finish.  A short but steep uphill zapped my legs again – as if the other three climbs didn’t already do that.  I knew I was close because I could hear people cheering.  I powerhiked up the hill but once I got to the top I knew I had to run it in to the finish line.

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The final hill (PC: Robert Baguley)

I heard Josh before I saw him.  He told me I was doing an awesome job.  I rounded the final turn and saw the finish line.  Josh was running about 20 feet to my right through the leaves and brush still cheering for me (extra points for him for doing that!).  I crossed the finish line and knew I had left all my energy out on the course.  I was handed the famous Hyner hat.  I found Josh in the crowd and then instantly told him that I just wanted to sit down.

We sat down in the grass and I briefly reviewed the race with him.  Soon he told me to get up and I knew I needed to get out of my sweaty clothes before my body temperature started to drop.  I got changed into dry, warm clothes and Josh had checked the results sheet.  My official finishing time was 3:54:16.  I had finished 188th out of 850 finishers.   I was extremely content with a sub-4 hour finish.  I had met both of my goals.  #1: I had finished the race.  #2:  I had finished as close to 4 hours as possible.  I was now officially a Hyner 25k finisher!

The post-race party at Hyner is unlike any other post-race gathering I’ve experienced.  There’s free food to choose from (my go-to choice was 2 slices of pizza).  There’s free beer to choose from (not my thing but everyone else takes advantage of it).  There’s cupcakes.  There’s BBQ (also not my thing considering I’m a vegetarian).  And of course…there’s good company!

I grabbed 2 slices of pizza and then Josh and I went back to the finishing area to wait for our other friends to finish.  While waiting we saw people of all ages finishing their races.   We cheered everyone on as we anxiously waited for our friends.  We heard other race stories and shared our thoughts and opinions during certain parts of the race.  We were just a bunch of trail runners hanging out.

After our friends finished, we found a comfy spot in the grass to discuss the race.  We ate food and some drank beer.  My shoes were still soaked at this point from splashing through the streams but I was content.  I felt accomplished.  I felt like I had achieved my goals in their entirety and got more out of it the race than I ever thought possible.

We returned to our camping area and settled in for the remainder of the afternoon. People were filtering in and out of the airfield as their race was over. A lot of people went home but there was still a good handful of people that stuck around for another night of camping.  So many stars were out in the sky and the night was crisp.  It was a good way to end a long day on the trails.

So Hyner….Hyner is challenging.  Hyner is breathtaking (literally).  Hyner is inspirational.  Hyner is one big trail running community out for a run through the woods on a Saturday morning.  Hyner is what you make of it.  You can race it.  You can run it.  You can hike it.  Make it your own experience.  Most importantly, ENJOY your experience.  Not everyone’s race will be the same. That’s what makes it so special.

One year ago I was just a spectator at the top of Hyner View not fully understanding the challenges of the course.  I was the runner stuck between a transition from road running to trail running. I was afraid of something that would challenge me beyond anything I could imagine.

It took me one year to find the confidence to trail race to the capacity of Hyner. It took a year of going out with Josh to the trails and trudging along through the woods at a slower pace.  It took a winter of occasional nighttime hill repeats to make me feel like I could climb up mountains.  It took overcoming doubt in my mind.  It took patience.  It took effort.

But simply, it took my love and adoration for the trails to just go out there and enjoy it.  My trail racing days are just beginning.  Trail running takes patience. Races like Hyner take a lot out of you physically but give you a lot of strength mentally.  Don’t be the person that shies away from their goals.  Push your limits and just keep moving forward.

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PC: Joe Azze and Mountain Peak Fitness

 

 

Race Recap: XTERRA Brandywine Creek Trail 12k

Race Recap: XTERRA Brandywine Creek Trail 12k

This past Sunday, I ran my first race of 2017.  I hadn’t specifically trained for this race, I just integrated it into my training for the Hyner 25k – my real focus of 2017.  Here is my race recap of a greatly organized, fun, and challenging trail race I recommend to all my trail running friends!

The alarm clock woke me up at 5:30 AM on Sunday morning.  The instant the alarm started beeping, I became mentally unprepared.  It was the morning of Daylight Savings so I had lost an hour of sleep despite going to bed relatively early the night before.  I was lying in bed, underneath a warm blanket, with my face smashed into a pillow wondering why anyone in the entire world would want to schedule a race for the morning of daylight savings.  I also wondered why anyone in the entire world would want to sign up for a race on the morning of daylight savings.  What was I thinking back in December when I had signed up for this?!?!  Nevertheless, I grumpily forced myself out of bed.

The morning’s temperature was a brisk 19 degrees when I woke up.  By 8 AM, at race start, it was predicted to be a much “warmer” 23 degrees.  This is also probably a factor that played in to the fact that I was completely mentally checked out of the race.  My brain was telling me to stay inside, to stay warm, and to go back to bed.  I was not in a mood to race on that morning.  I wanted sleep and warmth.

But instead, thanks to Josh, I got myself ready.  I had my normal toast with peanut butter and banana for breakfast.  I put on my insulated tights, a high pair of Smart Wool socks, two Under Armour long sleeves, my Sneakers and Spokes long sleeve jersey, my lobster gloves, two ear warmers, and of course, my Altra Lone Peaks.  That would be my race apparel.  I layered up with my Sneakers & Spokes sweatshirt and my ski jacket as well, which I would shed right before the start of the race.

We headed out the door by 6:35 AM.  We made it to the race start by a little after 7 AM.  I picked up my race number and swag bag.  We discussed with the brave volunteers (kudos to you all for willingly standing out there in 20 degree weather!) that Josh needed to transfer his bib to my dad due to an unforeseen injury.  They luckily made that process quite easy!  I was planning on doing a 2 mile warm-up but the freezing temperatures kept me warmly inside Josh’s Jeep instead during the minutes leading up to the race start.  I managed to get in 0.80 miles of a warm-up with my dad wearing my ski jacket.  I was just too cold to shed layers.

Most of the racers remained in their warm cars leading up to the race start.  I only saw a few racers attempting to get in a warm-up.  By 7:55 a lot of the racers began to meander towards the unofficial starting line.  We simply lined up at the top of the hill.  I inched toward the front of the crowd so I didn’t have to spend my energy trying to navigate through people.  We started the race a little after 8 AM since racers were still slowly meandering towards the start.  I just wanted to get running so that I could get warmer.  Josh and my mom stood to the side bundled up in their jackets.  I was grateful for them coming out to stand in the cold to watch us run down the hill and into the woods.  Trail races typically aren’t very spectator friendly.  The race director yelled “ready, set, go” while standing on top of a brick wall.  And before I really had time to process that the race was actually starting, we were all pounding down the hill and running towards the woods.

After the downhill, we made a left into a double-track trail.  I remember seeing one woman in front of me.  I hoped to keep her in my sights the whole time. The first mile was mostly downhill and flat so we all started out very fast.  I eventually caught up to the woman on one of the smaller, more gradual uphills.  I knew I had an advantage on these hills and I knew the hills that were coming up in the race.  Josh and I had done many nights of hill repeats on these hills.  I knew what to expect in the next 7 miles of the race. I passed the woman and I became the lead woman in the race.   I wondered how much longer it would be until another woman came up behind me.

We crossed the Brandywine Creek and started up a climb that Josh and I call “the unknown trail”.  I’ve done this hill many of times and it’s a tough one.  I had promised Josh that I would not walk or powerhike any of the hills during the race.  Not only was I racing for myself, I was also racing for him.  I tried my best to “speedily” get up the hill but my “speedy” on hills can sometimes be slower than a powerhike.  But nevertheless, I kept my running form the entire way up the hill.  A woman came up behind me (that didn’t take long) and asked to pass me on the left.  I willingly allowed her to.  We began our descent down “the unknown trail”.  Next, we would be ascending Rocky Run.

After about another half mile, we crossed a stream which lead us directly into the uphill of Rocky Run.  They had kindly strung a rope across the stream to make crossing easier, but I had stupid-ly crossed on the wrong side of the rope which then required me to step over the rope when I got to the other side of the stream.  Stupid me.  We then immediately began our ascent of Rocky Run.  I had run up this hill many of times before too so I knew exactly what kind of pain my legs and lungs would be feeling.  A lot of racers around me broke their running form and started power hiking but  I tried my best to keep powering up the hill.  When I finally got to the top, I took one big deep breath.  The trail would flatten out a little bit until we descended the other side of Rocky Run.

This is where Josh and my mom randomly appeared in the woods!  They were hiking towards me in attempt to see my ascend Rocky Run but I had beat them to it (I guess I was just running too fast for them to make it there in time!).  They cheered me on and Josh told me that Rocky Run was “just a little hill”.  Little was an understatement at that point.

Shortly after seeing them, we started the descent of Rocky Run.  I’ve been told by Josh that I am a strong downhill runner.  In that moment of time, I felt invincible going down that hill.  I passed a gentlemen that was being much more cautious than I was.  I was weaving from left to right on the trail in hopes of finding the best (and smoothest) line down the trail.  I was leaping from point to point.  I felt like I was flying!  I wasted no time going down Rocky Run and running that hill so many times in the past gave me a huge confidence boost during the race.

We crossed Brandywine Creek again and ran on singletrack for about another mile before being led to a fielded area.  On the singletrack, I tried my best to hold a faster-than-normal trail pace for me.  There were muddy spots on the trail and I tried my best to avoid getting my feet wet – my toes would’ve froze! – but I also didn’t slow down in the muddy parts; after all, I was in a race.

When we turned out of the singletrack and into the woods, we were instantly greeted by the sights of a very large hill.  I commented aloud, “oh my goodness”. The man behind me commented back but I don’t remember what he said exactly.  We ascended the hill.  The course leveled off, went downhill, then uphill again.  The last mile of the race became a gradual uphill that went on, and on, and on.  I had no idea where the finish line was or how much further I had to go – I refused to look at my watch the entire race.  I tried my best to just keep moving forward.  My body hurt and I felt exhausted.  We ascended one last final hill and were gifted a downhill to the finish.  I was so relieved!  I crossed the finish line as fast as I could and as strong as I could.  The clock read 1:06.  This, I was content with.

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When I finished, I was handed a medal but I was too cold and too sore to process it all.  I tried my best to walk past the pavilion so that I could find Josh and my parents.  Josh was holding my ski jacket (best boyfriend ever!) which I instantly put on.  My body hurt so bad.  They told me that they thought I might have finished as the 2nd female finisher – I agreed with them since I only remembered seeing the one woman pass me near the top of “the unknown trail”.  This made me happy!

After a brief talk with my parents and Josh, I told them I needed to go get on dry clothes so I wouldn’t freeze in my own sweat (sorry for the gross image of that happening).  I slowly walked towards Josh’s Jeep while clinging to his arm, hoping to steal some of his body heat.  I got in the Jeep and exchanged my race shirts for dry shirts and a sweatshirt.

We walked back the finish area hoping they might have the awards ceremony soon.  The race director eventually announced that due to the frigid temperatures their computer systems had basically froze so they weren’t able to host the awards ceremony without seeing the official results. I was bummed that I wouldn’t get to be announced as the 2nd place female finisher, but I also was content because I wanted to go get a hot shower and just lie in bed.  The race director announced that awards would be mailed instead.

When we got back to Josh’s I took a hot shower.  I had no appetite, my body ached, and I was still cold.  I turned down scrambled eggs that Josh had cooked as a 2nd breakfast.  I just wanted to take a nap.  So by 11 AM, I was laying in bed wrapped in a blanket.  I didn’t move a single muscle.  I eventually fell asleep for about 2 hours.  Josh continued with his day and did things around the house but I was so ache-y that I just needed to stay still.

Eventually I forced myself to eat a piece of toast and real food later on. Due to losing an hour of sleep, being freezing cold for 2-3 hours in the morning and racing a challenging course, my body felt broken.

It took me some time to recover that day, but I looked back on it and was very happy with my race. It was a great course – about 100 feet of gain per mile which is pretty challenging for a trail race in Delaware – with some great ascents and descents.  It’s exciting to see my name in the top 3 female finishers.  This is the first time I’ve ever seen that.  My average pace (8:53/mile) was the fastest I’ve ever averaged at a run through the trails of Brandywine.  All of these factors combined have boosted my confidence a little bit for Hyner in a little over a month.  I know I’m not the fastest trail runner, but I know my strengths and weaknesses on the trail.  I feel strong, I feel more confident, and I feel like I’m getting more and more prepared for all the trail races ahead of me.

Huge shoutout to the race director of such a great race and all the volunteers who stood out in the freezing temps on a Sunday morning.  Shoutout to my dad for placing 15th overall and 2nd in his age group.  Shoutout to my mom for supporting me and my dad always in our races – no matter the temperature. And lastly, shoutout to Josh:  for pushing me to do hill repeats to make me a stronger runner, for supporting me always despite my complaints, fears, and doubts, and for bringing my jacket to the finish of the race knowing that I would be shivering uncontrollably without it – thanks for being my best friend!

Onward and upward to Hyner!

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Race Recap: Philadelphia Marathon

Race Recap: Philadelphia Marathon

Exactly one week ago I was sitting on my couch feeling exhausted, sore, and accomplished.  Just one week ago I finished the Philadelphia Marathon for the 2nd consecutive year with a one minute and 17 second improvement.  Three months of long runs, speed workouts, group runs, solo runs, happy feet, sore muscles, and mindful eating/drinking resulted in a 26.2 mile race that took me 3 hours, 45 minutes and 7 seconds.  But let’s not start at the finish line where this story would end, just like the race did.  Let’s start the two days leading up to the race.

Friday I worked at the marathon expo with Angela and Sparkly Soul.  Our adventures to Philly and during the expo are always exciting but what I liked most about working at the expo is that I was able to focus on the race without getting stressed about it.  I was surrounded by a bunch of other people who were running either the half or the full marathon.  I enjoyed myself at the expo because I enjoy selling Sparkly Souls!

Then, I went to work on Saturday.  The day wasn’t overly horrible, but I had a lot more time on my hands to worry about the race and the race day weather.  I wasn’t surrounded by other runners about to embark on a 26.2 mile race like I was at the expo.  I was left with my own thoughts, doubts, and fears.

When I got home I went for a quick 3 mile shake-out run.  The wind was already picking up speed.  I ate pasta for dinner and went to church to pray for serenity and acceptance of whatever weather I was going to face the next day.  It was hard for me to keep my doubts at bay.  I went to bed more anxious and nervous than I had been for the past 3 months.  I could hear the wind outside my window and I was worried my chances of PR’ing at the race the next day would be literally blown away (no pun intended).  My alarm was set for 3:45 AM so I went to bed early.

I woke up and the wind was still whipping.  My weather app showed temperatures would reach 48 degrees but the wind chill would be in the mid-30s.  For my race outfit, I opted for long leggings, a long sleeve light Under Armour, my Sneakers and Spokes jersey, my gloves that convert to mittens, and my standard Nike ear warmer.  I bundled up in extra layers as I walked out the door with my parents and Josh at 4:45 AM because I knew waiting around the corrals would be brisk.

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Race outfit with my Altra Torins!

I planned to get to the city by 5:30 AM which would leave plenty of time to find parking, get through security, and use the port-a-potties (ew!).  We arrived early so we sat in my dad’s truck for 15-20 minutes to stay warm.  When we arrived at the security gates, they told my dad and Josh bikes were prohibited so they locked them up outside of the secure zone and we continued on our way to the starting area.

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my favorite candid

I was completely disoriented due to the crowds and because the sun still wasn’t up past the horizon yet.  I had no idea where the starting line was or in which direction I would be running.  I eventually found the green corral and waited with my parents and Josh until closer to the start time.  My mom took a few candid pictures and I tried figuring out where the front of the green corral was.

I hesitantly started taking off layers and the chill in the air became evident.  I left my sweatpants, 3/4 zip, and sweatshirt with my parents/Josh which left me with a tshirt and a long sleeve over top of my race outfit.  I just wanted to be warm.

I’m not sure if I started in the correct corral.  All I do know is that I started in the middle of a corral on the right side of the street.  After the national anthem, the wheel chair and elite athletes started the race.  I began taking off my last two layers on top of my race outfit and tried finding a nice spot to start the race so I wasn’t tripping over clothes that had been haphazardly tossed on the sides of the corral.

Before I knew it, the corral I was in was at the starting line. I double and triple checked to make sure my Garmin had signal as we inched closer toward the starting line.   I was happily adorning my Altra Torins and unlike last year, I wasn’t worried about my toes bleeding half way through the race.  The wide toe box of Altras is my favorite!  We inched closer to the 26.2 miles ahead of us and everyone’s watches around me simultaneously beeped as we crossed the starting strip.  The race had begun.

I told myself to start comfortably – don’t go out too hard, pace yourself, don’t do what you did last year.  Easier said than done.  I ran my first mile in 7:24….not exactly what I set out to do but I consciously told myself to settle in to a more reasonable pace for 26.2 miles.  Just like last year I planned to look at my watch every 3 miles so I wouldn’t drive myself crazy looking at my watch 26 times.

For the first 5 miles of the race I was searching through the crowds to find my dad and Josh on their bikes.  They had planned to ride parts of the course to cheer me on.  I kept searching and searching but I just couldn’t seem to find them.  Worst case scenarios started running through my head…maybe someone stole their bikes after they locked them outside the secure zone or maybe they couldn’t get out of the secure zone for some reason.  But my thoughts were soon replaced by the overall sensory overload of the race – the noises, the weather, all the people – I was plenty distracted, but still curious as to where my biggest supporters were.

The run down South Street reminded me somewhat of trail running.  The road was completely uneven with ruts and holes down the entire length we ran.  Not nearly as tough as trail running, but I needed to find humor in something to get me through the next 20 miles.

At mile 6, I distracted myself by searching for a friend who told me she would be at mile 6.5.  I kept searching and when I finally found her I threw my hands up in some silly way and gave her a wave and a “hello”.  I was still very much happy at this point so doing that required little to no energy.

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still happy at mile 6.5!

The race continued toward the zoo and I remember my dad saying he didn’t have any plans on heading toward the zoo so I knew I’d be running the next 5 or so miles without seeing them.  Where could they be?!?!  There were musicians playing huge drums near the zoo which set a nice beat leading up to the biggest hill of the course.  I remember feeling like I was slowing down but I told myself to keep powering through the hill.  There were more musicians after the top of the hill who were playing drums.  The course took some weird turns that I didn’t remember running last year but all I could do was keeping running forward.

After a long down hill which I took advantage of, we began running next to the path for Fairmount Park.  We were approaching the half way point and that’s when I finally got to see my dad and Josh.  It was about time they showed up to cheer me on!   My dad yelled out that I was right on pace and I couldn’t help but think “right on pace for what?”.  I knew I was running fast.  I knew I was running too fast but I needed to just keep going.

13.1 miles in 1:44:55.  Simple calculations made me realize I was running for a sub-3:30 finish…what kind of torture had I set up for myself in the last 13.1? There was no turning back – what was done was done. I had 13.1 miles to go and I needed to hold on.  I was running to PR.  That was my only goal – I needed to PR.

The race rounded the front of the art museum.  The wind picked up significantly once we were headed in the direction of Manayunk.  I tried using the crowd’s energy to augment my adrenaline.  I needed to channel their energy into my legs, my body, my mind, my anything.

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The 30 MPH wind gusts made me feel like I wasn’t moving forward any more.  My feet weren’t landing underneath my body anymore; rather, they were landing slightly to the right of my body. I started cursing in my head.  Then out of frustration, I started cursing out loud.  I tried latching on to so many people in attempt to draft off of them.  I wanted them to block the wind for me.  Yet, every person I tried to draft off of was either running too fast or too slow.  Nobody around me was running my pace and I became frustrated by that.

I didn’t remember how far away Manayunk was until I was running against 30+ MPH winds.  It was so far away.  The wind made my hands cold.  I was using a lot more energy during my run out to Manayunk than I did in the cumulative 14 miles that came before this point.  A guy cheering on the side of the road said “only 10 more miles to go!”…“only”.  I wanted to be done.

I knew that I would also be without cheering from my dad and Josh from mile 15 on out because last year my dad didn’t go out towards Manayunk so he could make it back through security and to the finish area in time to see me finish.  My new goal was to find Angela.  My legs were cramping up, my handheld was empty of water, and I desperately needed a Shot Blok.  Without water, I couldn’t eat a Shot Blok so I reached a very low point in the race.  I was running with my hands on my quads because they weren’t functioning right.  I was getting more and more frustrated at my body for shutting down and I was getting even MORE frustrated at the wind.  I needed to find Angela.

I told myself to stop throwing myself a pity party and get myself together.  I found Angela and told her she looked great and to keep going (something along those lines).  I wished in that moment as she was running back towards the finish line that we were running together so that I could be around someone I knew.  I needed someone to distract me from my soreness.  But, she was ahead of me and she was running her own race so I had to find a way to get through it myself.

Because my handheld was empty, I switched to chugging Gatorade at every water stop.  Gatorade never tasted so good.  I was spilling it all over myself because I can’t run and drink from a paper cup simultaneously and I worried that it would make me colder.  To my knowledge, it didn’t really make me colder.

Finally I reached the turn around point in Manayunk.  My legs were still cramped.  My body was exhausted.  I wanted to cry.  I wanted to scream at the wind for making these miles miserable.  I started calculating how much time I have versus the miles I had left to run to see if I was still within PR zone.  Luckily, I was.  As long as I didn’t slow down to 12-13 minute mile pace, I would make it.  I told myself that’s completely possible.

There were hills in Manayunk.  There were people handing out beer outside of Manayunk.  There were runners cramping up on the side of the course in Manayunk.  There was wind in Manayunk.  I don’t understand how one little town throughout this course could suck so much energy out of me….but it did.

With 4 miles to go, I heard my dad and Josh cheering me on.  I was mentally distraught at this point.  I threw my hands up in the air after hearing them and covered my eyes trying to fight back tears.  I was getting myself all worked up and I wasn’t breathing properly.  I needed to compose myself.  I had about 45 minutes to run these last 4 miles and still PR.  I was racing the clock.  I couldn’t break down and cry right here 4 miles away from being done, from being wrapped in a warm heat blanket, or from finding my family and wonderful boyfriend and going home.  It’s only 4 more miles.

I switched to playing a little game in my head that Josh used to motivate me with during speed workouts at the local park.  He would pick someone anywhere from 200 meters to 1/4 mile away from me and tell me to go catch them.  I started doing that to keep my mind distracted from the pain in my legs but only a few people were getting closer to me – everyone else seemed to be getting farther away.

The finish line seemed close but not close enough with only 1.2 miles to go.  I told myself that’s only like 10-11 minutes more of running (because my pace was pretty slow at this point).  Finally, I could see the starting line.  My ears were attentive in attempt to hear one of my three supporters cheering for me.  I didn’t hear any of them but figured I’d just somehow missed hearing them with the thousands of other people in the crowd cheering too.

 

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I crossed the finish line and every muscle in my body hurt.  My watch read 3:45.  I knew I had PR’d and I was extremely happy on the inside despite probably looking unhappy to all the race volunteers.  My hands were numb.  A running acquaintance of mine wrapped the heat blanket around me.  When she asked me how I was, I said “I think I’m dead”.  Those are the only 4 words I could fathom saying at that point.

After receiving my finisher’s medal, I walked to the end of the finishing chute.  I grabbed a few snacks and a water bottle.  I was done.  I was done running.  My legs didn’t have to run anymore.  I could rest.  But first, I needed to find my family.

Last year I couldn’t find them so this year we had planned to meet up in the family meet-up area at letter “F” for my last name.  There was no family meet-up area this year.  I was delusional and completely out of it so my best reasoning was to stand in one spot until one of them saw me.  So I waited 5 minutes and I couldn’t see them anywhere in the crowd.  I was shivering uncontrollably.  I took it upon myself to ask to borrow a stranger’s cell phone to call my mom.  I told my mom where I was and she eventually found me but the police officer wouldn’t let her through to help me.  I hobbled over to my mom, past the stubborn police officer, and immediately questioned where dad and Josh were.  My mom said they didn’t get through security in time to see the finish so we still needed to find them.

We even20161120_111145tually all found each other and my dad and Josh congratulated me on a great race.  I was tired but still happy I ran faster than last year.  After Josh and my family helped me put on warm layers, my mom took a picture of my with my medal. I tried to look happier than last year because last year’s picture I looked grumpy.

We started the long, slow, cold walk back to my dad’s truck.  I couldn’t stop shivering and stepping off of curbs hurt every muscle in my body.  It seemed like the walk took 30 minutes.  But I got to tell Josh a little bit about my race which I was happy about.

After returning home and refueling with pizza, I was able to reflect some more about my 2nd official marathon.  Despite wanting to improve my time by more than just 1 minute and 17 seconds, considering the windy conditions I am very content with my improvement.  Three stressful months of training for 1 minute and 17 seconds of improvement.  It’s an unbalanced outcome but it’s an outcome I can be happy with nonetheless.

I don’t plan on running the Philadelphia Marathon again anytime soon because next year and beyond I plan on primarily trail racing.  My time with the Philadelphia Marathon has ended and a new chapter of racing for me will begin in April 2017.   I obviously didn’t learn last year not to go out too fast because once again I paid for my own stupidity in the second half of the race.  My 3:45:07 will stand as my Philadelphia Marathon personal record for many years to come.

The wind didn’t blow my attempt at a personal record away from me; instead, it blew me right in the direction to the type of racing I want to do from here on out.

Runner’s World Half Marathon – Race Recap

Runner’s World Half Marathon – Race Recap

This past Sunday I raced the Runner’s World Half Marathon in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.  This was the culminating race of the Runner’s World Half Marathon Festival after a weekend of various races.

Because I had to work a 12 hour shift on Saturday, this race weekend was slightly different than most race weekends for me.  I wasn’t able to visit the 2-day expo hosted by Runner’s World as I was forced to pick-up my bib on race morning due to other “adult responsibilities”.  I also wasn’t able to run the day before the race which was a huge mental barrier for me.  Because I worked 6:45 AM until 7 PM, I had little to no choice than to skip a pre-race shake-out run.  I didn’t want to wake up at 5 AM and go for a shake-out run because I feared running by myself so early in the morning and I didn’t want to run at 8 PM after work because that would cut in to my sleep the night before the race – after all, we had to leave for the race at 3:30 AM.

I consumed my carbo-loading pasta dinner after getting done my 12 hour shift, packed up some last minute things for race morning, and was in bed by 9:30 PM.  My alarm was set for 3 AM which would leave me with 30 minutes to get my race outfit on and get out the door.

I was grateful to have my mom with me on race day as my dad and Josh were racing an adventure race at Brandywine the same day.  We left the house around 3:35 AM and started out towards Bethlehem with the full moon shining high in the sky.  We passed about 7 total cars within the 30 minute drive to the highway we needed to get on.  The roads were dark and the rest of the world was still fast asleep.

Half way to Bethlehem, I realized I forgot my red Gatorade in the fridge so we stopped at a Wawa off the Turnpike since we knew we would have plenty of time to spare once we arrived to the race location.  I opted for a blue Gatorade and continued on our way.

We arrived at the designated race parking lots around 5:25 AM and nobody was around.  The parking lots were dark and empty, and I actually questioned whether I had the right date for the race.  We asked a security guard where to park and he directed us to a different lot.  Still the only ones parked in a huge parking lot, we gathered our belongings and I double and triple checked that I had everything I needed.

All of the pre-race emails designated these particular lots as the only lots available for parking, so my mom and I had no choice but to walk 1.5 miles to the Arts Quest building for bib pick-up.  Here we were, at 5:30 AM walking down Daly Ave in the dark past the start, Sands Casino, and the outlets both layered with warm clothes.

We finally arrived to the Arts Quest building and I was able to pick up my race bib and race shirt.  I am quite disappointed with the size of the long sleeve shirt I received.  Usually I fit comfortably into a small, but the volunteers at the shirt pick-up warned me the sizes were running small.  So, heeding to their warning,  I opted for a medium.  When I got home and actually put on the medium, the sleeves were about 2 inches too short, and the shirt just didn’t fit right.  Believe me, I don’t do these races for the race shirts or the medals, but if Runner’s World expected me to wear this shirt around to advertise their race, they’re going to be quite disappointed in me.

Regardless, my mom and I hung out in the Arts Quest building until about 7 AM to stay warm before walking 3/4 of  a mile back to the starting line.  I used the bathroom two more times (my nerves were really getting to me!).  We started our walk back to the starting line and by this time, Josh was awake so I was able to update him on safely making it to the race with ample time to spare!  While we were walking my mom and I also got to talk to one of the pacers for the race who was pacing the 8:25 goal-pace runners.  I told him I hoped to be ahead of his pace group the entire time and I hope I didn’t offend him.  He didn’t seem offended and he wished me luck as he continued down a different road to a warmer place to wait out the remaining time until the start.

At 7:25 AM I decided to go on a 15 minute warm-up run to get the blood flowing.  I ran back to the bathrooms at the Art Quest building since no bathrooms were available at the start line but was appalled by the line and couldn’t afford to wait in line.  I located another bathroom which was just as bad of a wait so I decided to do some exploring on my own and located a much less popular bathroom in the outlets at Sands Casino.  Turns out, there were about one hundred runners in this building waiting inside to stay warm until the race started – it wasn’t even that cold out!

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Picture from the starting line

After locating and using the bathroom for the third time that morning, I ran back to the start to meet my mom before the race started.  At this time, I opted to run in my spandex shorts, my Sneakers and Spokes singlet, and arm sleeves.  I had been debating all morning whether to run in my shorts or 3/4 length tights but running in shorts was definitely a good choice!  I striped off my layers one by one as the starting time quickly approached.  I told my mom to head down the street a ways as she would have a better chance of seeing me in the mass of people further down the street.

At this time, I also found Tiffany, our previous Altra tech rep for Sneakers and Spokes, and I was so excited to see her!  She had won the 3.8 mile trail run on Friday, and also raced the 5k and 10k Saturday, and here she was ready to take on the 13.1 mile race as well (click here to read her race recap!).  We were both very excited that we found each other in the mass of people.  We wished each other good luck and by that time it was just about time to start.

I found myself towards the front of the crowd as nobody seemed too ambitious to start towards the front.  After the national anthem, the gun was shot off and the mass of runners started their way down Daly Ave.  The start was on a downhill so it seemed that everyone was moving pretty quickly.  I knew it was going to be a fast mile but I felt comfortable and knew once it flattened out that I could settle in to a pace.  We made a few turns and crossed a bridge, then the uphills started.

My goal for this race was to run a 1/2 marathon PR of sub-1:41 but I didn’t expect the course to be nearly as hilly as it was.  It seemed that every half mile was either an uphill or a downhill.  The uphills got my heart rate up, and the downhills destroyed by quads.  After every downhill, it would take me nearly a quarter of a mile to regain a consistent pace and by that time we were going back uphill.  It was a vicious cycle and I remember thinking numerous times that I just wanted the race to be over and done with already….we were only 3 miles into the race.

The course weaved us through some streets of Bethlehem – the main street in Bethlehem which was lined with about 100 or so spectators, and back neighborhood streets of Bethlehem that got me questioning where I was.  I had no idea where I was the entire race and the neighborhoods we ran through were quaint and quiet.  The course wasn’t lined with spectators like big city races and I was actually somewhat disappointed that not more spectators were out and about – I was under the assumption that this was a big event for Bethlehem.  I guess I was wrong.

Mile 6 brought a huge uphill that seemed to go on forever.  I knew at the 10k mark that a text would be sent to my family and friends tracking me so that motivated me to get to that point but I still felt tired and ready for the race to be done.  I knew how much the uphills were slowing down my pace so I tried to make up as much time on the downhills as my legs would permit.  Other racers kept passing me – I actually don’t think there was a single person that I personally passed from mile 2-11.  Everyone seemed to be passing me.  I kept thinking that I must really be slowing down and I had a feeling that 8:25 pacer we met earlier was going to also pass me (he never did).

At the 10 mile mark the clock read 1:18.  After some quick calculations, I realized a PR was out of reach but I could try my best to run under 1:45.  That became my new goal.  We crossed the bridge again to get back to the finishing area and a fellow racer was alternating between running and walking.  I figured he probably just was cramped up or maybe pulled a muscle.  When I eventually did pass him I asked him if he was ok and he said he was fine.  I kept running hoping he was indeed fine.

We passed the finishing area and looped back around for an additional 1/2 mile until the finish.  At this time, I saw a fellow South Jersey runner that I know by association (check out her race recap here).  She told me I was doing a great job but at this point I felt absolutely horrible and I was sure I was running very very slow.  In the last 1/2 mile I got a painful stitch right below my rib cage that pulled with every step.  It hurt but I had no choice but to keep moving forward.

The finishing stretch included a local high school band playing pep songs, and spectators lining the last 200m of the race.  I tried my best to look strong and to finish strong but my legs weren’t moving very fast.  People kept passing me.  I just wanted to be done.  I crossed the finish line next to a man carrying an American flag.  My finishing time was 1:43.

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after the race – check out my Altra Torins!

I was handed a medal and a heat blanket.  It didn’t feel nearly as warm as the one after the Philadelphia Marathon but I was grateful for it.  I walked over to grab from an array of snacks.  I picked up some veggie straws, granola bars, and a chocolate bar (mmm chocolate!).  I met my mom at our designated meeting spot and she congratulated me.  We walked over to a sculpture and she took a few pictures of me.  I tried my best to look happy even though I felt physically drained.

My feet felt great in my Altra Torins.  I didn’t get any blisters and I was happy to have raced in my Torins as the race was sponsored by Altra – this was actually one of the main reasons I signed up to run this race!

My mom informed me that there was a platform that ran along the steel stacks if I wanted to go up there and check it.  This required me to climb 3 flights of stairs but I made it to the top.  I got an awesome view of the finishing area and the rest of the runners finishing.

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view of the festival from the steel stacks

After that, we made our way back to the car which was yet another 1.5 miles away.  This was a much slower walk than earlier in the morning.  Luckily when we arrived back to the parking area there were actually cars parked in the lots from other races.  That made us feel better about our choice to park so far away – after all, we were only following the instructions listed specifically in the race emails.

I changed into warmer clothes and we started our drive back home.  My legs ached and I was exhausted.  Although I didn’t run a 1/2 marathon PR like I intended too, I was happy with the fact that I got in a solid training run for my marathon.  The marathon is my bigger goal and this 1/2 was just conveniently at the mid-point of my training.  My splits weren’t as consistent as I would have liked them to be, but due to the rolling hills throughout the course I have accepted them for what they are.  Now I know that the next 2 weeks of marathon training before tapering need to be solid training weeks.  My body needs to be ready for 26.2 miles.

Race Review:

Organization – I would give this race an “A” for organization.  Offering race day bib pick-up was convenient and the race was very well organized.  There are two things keeping me from giving this race an A+ – the inconvenience of parking and not having bathrooms available at the start line.

Swag – I would give this race a “B-” for swag.  Knowing how big of a company Runner’s World is, I expected quality swag.  I am very disappointed in the situation with the race shirts.  However, I do like the medals that were handed out for the race – it also functions as a bottle opener!

Course – I would give this race a “B” for the course.  I wasn’t overly impressed with where the course brought the runners, as there were very many desolate and quiet sections of the course  (“how the heck did we get here?!”).  If you’re looking for a more challenging half marathon this is the race for you! Do not expect a PR, but do expect a nice challenge for both your quads and your calf muscles!

Spectator-friendly – I would give this race a “B-” in regards to how spectator friendly it was. My mom was only able to see me at the start and the finish. There weren’t very many spectators throughout the course, however most of the spectators congregated around the start/finish area.  If you’re looking for a race that will keep your adrenaline flowing for the entire course, you may want to look for a different race.

Would I do this race again?

Simply, the answer is no.  This was a one and done race for me.  I wasn’t impressed with the course and I’d rather find a 1/2 marathon closer than a 2-hour drive.   It was fun while it lasted, and I’m happy with such a great training run leading up my marathon but I wouldn’t go back to this race time and time again.

I am 100% looking forward to my goal race – the Philadelphia Marathon!  Time to put in some solid work this next 2 weeks before I start tapering!!

Dirty German 50k Race Recap

Dirty German 50k Race Recap

This past Sunday, May 15th, I finished my first ever ultramarathon.  I had signed up for the Dirty German 50k way back in the beginning of January because I knew I wanted to make the transition to ultrarunning.  I was itching for a longer race since I was officially fully recovered from my marathon debut back in November and I needed something to train for.  I had completed another Uberendurance race a few years back (the 1/2 Sauer 1/2 Kraut 1/2 Marathon) so I knew how well organized their races were.  I chose the Dirty German 50k because it was a trail ultra and I knew I wouldn’t want to do an ultra on the road.  It was also described to be “easy by trail running standards”.  In the description it said it would be a great race for 1st time ultrarunners.  This race was basically screaming at me to sign up.  So there I was on my computer on January 2nd signing up for this 50k.

received_10207427398541051Fast forward a few months and there I was on a cool May morning in Pennypack Park standing on the starting line surrounded by other racers.  I was wearing my Altra Lonepeaks, a neon SparklySoul, and my UltimateDirection Ultra Vesta pack.  I was accompanied by my boyfriend and training partner, Josh, who also had committed to running his first ultra on that cool May morning with me.  We had done 85% of all our long runs for the past few months together and we both had the same race goals so we decided to race it together.  Our goal was to run under 6 hours and as close to 5 hours as possible.  His speed and confidence running hills and trails mixed with my everlasting endurance and experience with longer distances made us a perfect team to race this ultra together.  So there we were together standing amongst nearly 200 other racers with an accordion playing German music before we were set off to run 31 miles.

I remember the first half mile to be rather crowded due to some congestion on the trail but I never felt like I was boxed in or stuck behind anyone.  There was always a way around runners if I needed to get around.  My anxiety about the start of the race was soon diminished as I settled in behind Josh and powered through some of the hills at the beginning of the race to get around people.

For the first 4-5 miles we were running with a few other racers as we settled into a pace that we knew we could sustain for the entire race.  We had set out to average about 10 minute pace but my watch kept recording splits in the 9 minute range.  I felt comfortable though and Josh didn’t feel like he was overexerting either so we kept the pace.

I passed a few women while hopping from stone to stone across the stream which allowed me to run right beside Josh now.  At some point in the race we also came across a dog owner trying to re-capture her golden retriever puppy who was just too excited to see all the runners.  Josh and a few other runners stopped to helped her but I (selfishly?) kept running.

There were also some sections of the course that were on pavement due to construction on one of the bridges we were supposed to originally cross.  Josh and I were pretty much alone at this point and we were both in very high spirits.  I was happy we were doing this race together and at this point it just felt like any normal Sunday long run we go on together.

Eventually a woman from NYC named Mary (shoutout to Mary!) who had raced this course before caught up to us.  She gave us a few pointers and tips about ultrarunning and Josh told her all about his race up at Hyner a few weeks ago.  I just listened in on the conversation and laughed at her clever race tips.  It distracted me for at least one mile and we got to meet a very nice person (hope you did well in your race, Mary!  It was nice meeting you!)

The miles were passing by quickly and I was barely paying attention to the mile splits we were running.  We stopped at an aide station I recognized that was near where we had started the 1/2 Sauer 1/2 Kraut 1/2 marathon.  I picked up an orange Gatorade and Josh asked for some ibuprofen which they graciously gave to him.  We continued on our way.  I ate some of my tortilla with peanut butter and raisins in it and Josh ate his Stingers.  Every so often we would pop a Shotblok in our mouth to replenish some electrolytes.  We were feeling good.

At every aide station after that we both would stop and grab a cup of Gatorade to maintain our electrolyte levels and to change it up from the water we were drinking from our packs (Josh has a Gregory which he loves and I have an UltimateDirection with I love).  Soon were heading back towards the finish line which would mark 25k complete.

As we were running up a hill, we heard a cowbell.  Josh made some snide comment about the cowbell and I predicted that it was probably my parents.  Surprise!  There were my parents standing at the top of the hill.  Josh surged up the hill and left me to climb up it myself (disclaimer: he’s a very strong hill climber so I’m used to it).  The next 2 or so miles we didn’t run together but I could still see him ahead of me.  I knew I would eventually catch him once the rolling hills stopped.  Some 25k racers who had started 30 minutes behind us began to pass me  – they were going sooo fast!  Regardless, before the completion of our 1st loop, I had caught back up to Josh and we were running side by side again.

Before race day, Josh had predicted that we would run a 5:15.  Through simple math, this would require our 25k split to be about 2:37.  We came through the 25k split in 2:23.  After some quick math we decided a sub-5 finish was completely attainable even if we ended up slowing down (which we knew was going to be inevitable).  Josh made us a new goal which would be to finish in under 5 hours.

received_10207427468102790So here were are back out on the course for the 2nd loop.  At this point we were pretty much alone except for a racer about 100m in front of us and whomever was sneaking up behind us.  We started passing 25k runners and 50k runners in the opposite direction as they were still working on their 1st loop.  A few 50 milers also passed us in the opposite direction, some of which were going much faster than we were.  I was amazed by how fast they were going for a 50 mile race!

We just kept running, kept drinking, kept eating, kept moving forward side by side.  At aide stations we took no more than 15 seconds to grab what we needed and continue to move closer to the finish line.  We had a deadline now.  One of the other racers called us a “pacing powerhouse” because we were running such a consistent pace.  This gave us the confidence we needed to continue moving forward at the pace we were holding.  We don’t know your name but we appreciate your compliment A LOT.

Along one of the paved sections I was feeling sluggish but just happened to look down at one of my mile splits and see 8:17.  At this point we were already 25 miles in to the race  – why did I just run an 8:17 mile in a 50k?  That was never a split I intended on running and I definitely didn’t feel like I was running that fast.  I decided to just go with the flow and keep running.

We also started running with a woman who was in the 50 mile race who was keeping an impressive pace (I think she was actually running faster than we were at some points).  She was extremely friendly and it once again distracted me from any soreness or fatigue I was feeling.  I don’t know your name but I hope you also did well in your race!

received_10207427470022838Once we were back on trails our legs didn’t hurt as bad from the pounding on the road.  By this point 95% of the paved part of the course was done.  We just had to finish the last 4-5 miles of trail and we would be home free.  We took one last cup of Gatorade at the aid station, saw one of our Instagram followers, saw my parents, and started running up another hill.  I knew at this point that we would be under 5 hours if we just kept pushing.  We did end up powerhiking some of the last few hills and we bombed the downhills as much as we could (well, at least it felt like we were bombing the downhills).  I just kept repeating over and over again that we were so close to being done.  Josh probably thought I’d never shut up about being close to the end.  So. Close.

received_10207427468822808The last few miles are a series of rolling hills but we just kept pushing.  We exited the woods with a little less than 4 minutes to get to the finish line before the clock struck 5 hours.  I knew we had it.  I knew we would run under 5 hours.  We ran towards the finishing stretch, made the last turn into the grassy field and made our way towards the finish line.  We crossed the finish line in 4:58:04.  My Garmin Forerunner 230 recorded we averaged about 9:40 pace – not too shabby!!  My legs hurt but I was happy.  We had totally crushed our original goal of being under 6 hours and Josh’s prediction of us running 5:15.  We had ran our sub-5 like the new goal we had agreed upon mid-race and we had finished our first ever ultra.

At the finish line two patient gentlemen ripped off our bib tags.  The one gentlemen also asked me my age and I was perplexed by this question.  I answered with a fatigued “22” and before I could process what was going on he handed me a box and congratulated me on being the 3rd female in the 20-29 age group.  Well, this was a shock!  Josh and I were handed a hat and a medal that also functioned as a bottle opener (pretty awesome medal if you ask me!).

We staggered further through the finishing chute, exchanged a sweaty hug, and reflected briefly on actually completing an ultra.  Shortly after, my parents found us and congratulated us on a job well done.  At this point all I wanted to do was sit down.  We staggered over to a bench and I slowly lowered myself onto the bench.  We took a post-race picture to further document our accomplishment.

received_10207427421301620I soon started shivering because the air was still a bit cool.  I changed into a long sleeve shirt and we all agreed to start walking back to the cars.  This is where the fatigue and soreness finally hit me.  I could barely pick me feet more than 1 inch off the ground and I had a half mile walk back to the car…uphill.  It probably took me close to 20 minutes to walk that half mile.  Runners who were starting their 3rd lap of the 50 miler probably thought I was being overdramatic or something.  I’m sure I looked ridiculous and because I was staggering I probably even looked like I was somewhat drunk.

Later that night Josh and I indulged in some wine (me) and beer (Josh) and pizza – the perfect way to recover from an ultra!  We reflected on the race and all the wonderful people we met along the way.  Surprisingly neither of us ever felt like we “hit the wall” during the race.  I think this is because we ran together the whole time which allowed ourselves to be distracted by any fatigue or pain we may have had been feeling.  Unlike my marathon last November when I still wore Asics, my feet never truly hurt and my toes never started to bleed all thanks to my Altra LonePeaks and their wide toe-box feature. (I am completely obsessed with Altras!)  Throughout the race, Josh and I also paid close attention to how much and how frequently we were eating and drinking.  I believe that our training was perfect for this race which gave us a great advantage with confidence out of the hilly and trail sections.

Just as this race was described, it’s a great 50k to start with for the 1st time ultrarunner.  The course was extremely well marked and not very technical.  Because of these qualities, I would recommend this race to anybody who is just entering the ultra world.  Uberendurnace races are always very well-organized and they always have great prizes, food, and music (i.e. the accordion player!)

We are both extremely happy and pleased with our ultra debut.  I am beyond excited that I got to accomplish one of my goals for this year.  I’m lucky enough to have done it with such an amazing guy – without him I definitely wouldn’t have done as well as I did.  Cheers to many more ultras in my future!  I can’t wait to do another one!