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.
I had the opportunity to be a guest on Denny Krahe’s Diz Run Radio podcast last week and I’m here to share my experience with you! The podcast is available at www.dizruns.com/612
The podcast aired yesterday and I am thrilled with the final product! I was nervous agreeing to the opportunity because I thought my life wasn’t interesting enough to be broadcasted on a podcast. I procrastinated for a week or so before committing to a date and time to record the podcast. Turns out, just like everyone always says, when it comes to conversations about running, you can talk for hours!
So there I was, mid-Thursday morning recording a podcast with Denny Krahe. We talked about how I fell in love with trail running, cycling, the importance of progressive training, goal setting, and cross-training, and even my ambitions in occupational therapy! Forty-five minutes flew by and before I knew it we were wrapping things up.
In retrospect, before the podcast aired, I was analyzing how much I thought I rambled or how my sentences seemed unstructured. In reality, after listening to the podcast in its entirety, I’m proud of myself for trying something outside of my comfort zone. I’m still definitely not the most interesting person in the world but, nevertheless, I enjoy sharing stories about running.
I am looking forward to doing another podcast in the future about running, cycling, goal setting, etc, because I feel like I have so much more to share! We only graced the countless running experiences I’ve had. Luckily, I have a blog where I can share stories whenever I feel like it.
If you or anyone you know loves to talk running and would like to share their stories, comment below! I would love to continue to connect with the running community so we can all support and share our experiences!
For now, Diz Runs Radio Episode #612 is available for listening. Check it out and let me know what you think! I’m just proud of myself for doing something so outside of my comfort zone!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
We 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!
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.
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!
Earlier today, I raced the Xterra Brandywine 12k. I finished 2nd overall female by a mere 40 seconds after leading for approximately 6.5 of the 7.3 mile race. Should I be upset? Maybe. Should I be mad at myself? Perhaps. But… I’m not upset. I’m not mad. It’s not a loss to me. I ran 46 seconds faster than last year on the exact same course in similar weather conditions.
I didn’t finish as the 2nd overall female because I ran slower than last year. My solitary goal going into the race was to improve my 01:06:36 finish from last year. Any other accomplishments throughout the race would just be an added bonus. I ran 01:05:50, finishing 16th overall out of a field of 110 (last year I was 44th out of 165). If that’s not something to be happy about then I don’t know what is.
What I’m trying to say is that not all “losses” are actually a loss. The woman that finished the last 3/4 of a mile faster than me might think I didn’t pace myself throughout the race or that I’m just “a young girl still learning how to finish a race in its entirety”. Truth is, that’s not me.
I knew what I was doing throughout that entire race:
I ran the 1st mile in 7:33 because I knew that any time I could gain on the downhill/flat section would be time pocketed for the gruesome climbs to come.
I didn’t power hike the climbs because I knew that the faster I could keep stepping forward, the sooner I would get to the next downhill.
I passed the men in front of me confidently and without hesitation because I was racing against them too.
I didn’t hesitate at the stream crossing because I knew that a moment of hesitation wasn’t going to resolve the issue of crossing the stream without getting my feet wet.
I didn’t flinch bombing down the rockiest downhill of the course because I’ve ran down that hill hundreds of times; I knew the best lines to take.
I didn’t try to navigate carefully around the muddy sections because I knew the quickest line was straight through them.
I ran the fielded, non-technical sections of the course with all the energy I had left because I knew there wasn’t much further to go.
I finished 46 seconds faster than last year because of all of these decisions, all of these moments, all of these intrinsic race instincts.
Races are just like life: if you try your hardest every single day to accomplish your goals, you will achieve success. Nobody can take away your successes. Nobody can diminish your accomplishments because their accomplishments seem “bigger” or “better”.
If you take initiative, if you take your goals into your own hands, if you make decisions to better yourself, than you are on your way to your own personal win – and sometimes that can be the best way to lose.
2017 is coming to a close and I’m sitting here trying to figure out how this year went by so fast, how I even survived this year to begin with, and how much I am looking forward to 2018. 2017 has been a year of many things: tumultuous changes, traveling, great trail racing, new ambitions, and faith in God’s plan. There’s been a lot of good in 2017 and a lot of what-is-going-on bad. 2017 started off decent, went through a wild spiral from March until August, and finished….decent. I’ve cried a lot this year and I’ve been stressed a lot this year, but through it all I’ve grown a lot as a person this year. Let’s review.
Josh & I started 2017 off with a run at Alapocas State Park. It was a pleasant day and I remember seeing some people rock climbing.
I became a proud 2017 Altra Ambassador and I’ve done everything I can to promote the perfection of the zero drop and wide toe box that Altra’s offer.
It snowed a decent amount at the beginning of January so Gwin and I did a lot of off-leash snow running together. She loves the snow and I love seeing her leap through the snow so excited!
We hosted a surprise 50th birthday party for my mom in January (her birthday is in April). Family & friends brought over balloons that reminded her she was turning 50 soon.
I started training for the Hyner 25k on January 22nd. I needed to do a lot of hill repeats to prepare so Josh and I did nighttime repeats at Brandywine (our go-to place for elevation). One night in the beginning of February the weather gods gifted us with shorts weather which made hill repeats slightly more enjoyable.
My brother left for Air Force Basic Training (BMT) the day before Valentine’s Day. We went out to dinner at The Cheesecake Factory then we went to PetSmart so he could buy an I’m-leaving-you gift for Gwin. He shipped out to San Antonio, Texas on February 14th.
I won a $25 gift certificate to Starbucks (note: I hate Starbucks) by reaching the most elevation logged on a treadmill within a 5 minute time period (note: I hate treadmills).
I began hating my job more and more. I was working 4:45 AM shifts which was destroying my social life, causing me excessive anxiety & stress, and making me a miserable person.
On February 27th, Angela & I set out on a 3-day road trip from NJ to Colorado. We vowed to run one mile in every state we drove through. We ran 1 mile in my hometown in NJ. We parked behind a McDonald’s and ran 1 mile in Milesburg, Pennsylvania along a farm road. We stopped at a rest stop in Middleburg, Ohio and ran 1 mile around the rest stop. We nearly missed our chance to run in Indiana so we made an impromptu stop at Indiana University Northwest. In Marseilles, Illinois we parked at a gas station and ran 1 mile through a farmer’s field and on a road where people had strange address numbers. We parked at a church and ran 1 mile on a dirt road in Earlham, Iowa. Did you know that Iowa is known as the state with “fields of opportunities“? We ran 1 mile at sunrise in North Platte, Nebraska before we left the La Quinta we stayed at. My first ever Colorado run was in Frisco, Colorado which officially completed our goal of running at least one mile in every state we drove in. Take a moment to watch my GoPro documentary of the entire road trip here!
What did I learn from this roadtrip? One: switching between 3 time zones within a three day time span is very confusing. Two: the route from New Jersey to Colorado involves an EXCESSIVE amount of fields. The landscape doesn’t change too much once you leave the mountainous part of Pennsylvania. The mountains of Colorado were the best sight in the world after 2.5 days of fields (plus their natural beauty of course). Three: our country is HUGE! There’s so much to see, so much to explore, so much to experience! Four: Colorado is BEAUTIFUL! I loved Frisco, I loved passing through mountain towns, and I loved Angela’s hometown (even the sloppy mess of the Colorow Trail).
I loved Colorado so much that Colorado didn’t want me to leave. I was about 15 minutes away from missing my flight from Denver to Philly thanks to a worrisome cop and Denver rush hour. This was the first of several stressful travel experiences of 2017. I sat on the plane facing the mountainous landscape (I was at a window seat). I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want to return to my stressful, crappy job. I yearned to stay in the serenity of the mountains. Ever since that plane took off, I’ve wanted to go back. In 2018, I will.
I transitioned from the Altra Torins to the Altra Escalantes. I felt like I was flying in my new purple Escalantes!
At the beginning of March, I started training my first at-home personal training client.
My first race of 2017 was the Xterra Brandywine 12k. It was 23 degrees at the start of the race and I was feeling sick to my stomach. I finished as the 2nd overall female. Josh wrapped me in a blanket and I was walking around as if I was a brittle icicle. It was so cold that their computers malfunctioned so they couldn’t give out awards. They promised to mail us our awards. I went home and slept for a few hours underneath blankets. They mailed me my award a few weeks later.
I wrote a lot of snail mail to Angela, my brother at BMT, and other airmen who were also at BMT with him.
On the 1st day of spring, Josh & I got free water ice from Rita’s Water Ice.
Josh made me a homemade heart-shaped cookie cake on my birthday. It was delicious!
I turned 23. Yay.
I experienced some serious mountain withdrawal.
On April 5th, my family and I travelled to San Antonio, Texas for Michael’s BMT graduation. It would be the first time we would get to see him since February 13th. Our flight arrived late to Dallas so we missed our connecting flight. Round two of 2017 travel stress began. The airline offered us tickets on another flight but when the plane arrived, there was no pilot scheduled to fly the plane. We were stuck in Dallas for a few hours at 11 PM. After a 45 minute flight from Dallas to San Antonio (note: the flight was shorter than the time we spent waiting for a pilot to arrive…), we arrived to our destination city around 1 or 2 AM. We struggled to figure out how to get our rental car because all the rental car companies were closed. We finally arrived to our hotel just in time to get 3 hours of sleep.
On April 6th, I started the morning by eating a waffle shaped like Texas at 5 o’clock in the morning. By 6 AM, I stepped foot onto Lackland AFB (the 1st AFB I’ve ever been on). We attended the Airman’s Run and Airman’s Coin Ceremony – both of which were probably the most “I’m proud to be an American” moments I’ve ever witnessed. Michael got base liberty so we got to explore the base and see where he’s been living for 7.5 weeks.
On April 7th, Michael graduated from BMT. We celebrated with town pass by visiting the Alamo, the Tower of the Americas, and attending a San Antonio Rampage AHL hockey game. I can officially say I’ve been to a hockey game in Texas now. I had pizza for dinner the 3rd night in a row.
On April 8th, I ran 3.5 miles in San Antonio with my dad. The part of San Antonio we ran through was sketchy. We also saw a few chihuahuas running along the road. I cannot make these things up. That day we went to USO to play games and eat lunch. We also explored River Walk some more. We went to Dave & Buster’s. For food, if you’re ever in San Antonio, River Walk is THEE place to visit for food. There is a lot of variety and authentic food for every desire! I was determined to eat guacamole while I was in Texas and I finally got some at dinner!
We left to return to NJ on April 9th after our goodbyes. Highways in Texas are confusing so we got lost driving to return our rental car. We had a connecting flight home but we didn’t miss our connecting flight this time. I returned home happy for my brother and determined to do something better with my future. Seeing all the airmen dedicated to our country made me realize that I need to do something good for the world too. I needed to do something good for me.
My job continued to cause me an immeasurable amount of stress, anxiety, and misery. My boss wasn’t listening to my concerns and my stress was causing me sleep disturbances and problematic fatigue. I yearned for change but felt stuck.
After 3 months of hard training, Hyner 25k arrived. Josh and I drove my brother’s truck to the mountains because we trusted the reliability of his truck. We slept in a tent at the base of Humble Hill just like we did in 2016. I finished the 25k in 3:54:16. All race details can be found here.
After Hyner, I went through a running hiatus. My legs were exhausted and my motivation to train was low. I was feeling physically tired and mentally exhausted.
I started riding my bike more which took the pounding off of my legs while still maintaining my cardio.
I explored many new places with Jess (Josh’s twin) including Menantico Ponds and parts of the Pine Barrens.
I started mountain biking again.
I began trusting the advice of my closest friends and family members who did everything in their power to look out for my well-being when all I could see was a tunnel of misery.
So…..I decided I wanted to become an occupational therapist.
I officially resigned from my job. Despite my worries about unemployment, my stress levels decreased significantly. I was focused on my goals of applying for and eventually attending grad school to become an occupational therapist. I was ready to leave behind what mental health effects that job caused me. I was ready to set forth on my new ambitions.
I started training three new clients bringing my client count up to four!
I attended my first ever wine festival with Josh and tasted about 50+ different wines.
I started volunteer coaching at youth track again. I also volunteered with NJ NICA at several NICA races as a course marshall.
My dogs became more and more adorable when they slept.
I became obsessed with watching the sunset along the river.
Josh & I built a garden. I bought us soil and the guy gave us “special dirt” claiming it was the best dirt around. We grew tomatoes, green bell peppers, long hots, jalapeños, and cucumbers. Our summer salads were fresh and delicious!
I started my observation hours for grad school applications. I observed 6-7 different OTs in multiple settings. Each OT left a lasting impression on me and made me realize that my ambition to become an OT was the right choice for me.
I learned how to change a flat tire on a bicycle.
On June 11th, Josh & I completed our first ever mountain bike race (Ramsey’s Revenge) at Brandywine. I did not finish last like I had anticipated. This would be my first of three mountain bike races in 2017.
I completed my 2nd ever mountain bike race 6 days after Ramsey’s Revenge. I got frustrated at a 65 year old man for causing me to fall. I watched my mom complete her first ever mountain bike race.
Sneakers & Spokes hosted a vintage bike ride/throwback run to the local ice cream stand. I wore my cross country shorts from 2012 and a sweatband.
I downloaded Strava and claimed some QOM’s.
I ran the Pitman 4 Miler. I did not PR, but I wasn’t actually trying to PR. I forget my time. I remember that I enjoyed it because I didn’t go out too fast for the first mile. I also wore my Altra Escalantes.
I missed Colorado and I missed Angela a lot.
On July 8th, I started training for my 3rd and final race of 2017 – Green Monster 50k.
Josh & I attended my friend’s wedding in Mifflinburg, PA. This was 2017’s travel stress moment #3. Let’s just say this… it was a really long drive to Mifflinburg. We camped in our tent after the wedding. The next day we stopped in Duncannon on our way home to hike on the AT. It was refreshing to stand on a vista again.
I began helping out at Sneakers & Spokes more frequently.
Wanting less stack height, I made the transition from Altra Lone Peaks to Altra Superiors. I began to love having more ground feel in the Superiors. The Superiors are now my go-to trail running shoe.
Josh & I attended our first concert together – Philip Philips & The Goo Goo Dolls! It was a perfect summer night with great music and good company (as always!)
About one week later, my mom & I went to a John Mayer concert. We made it into the venue with minutes to spare before a huge summer storm rolled through. I’ve lost count but I believe this was the 6th time I saw John Mayer. He performed fantastically!
I completed my 3rd and final mountain bike race of 2017 at Fair Hills. I didn’t come in last place but a lot of young kids passed me. I have no shame and I’m proud of myself for stepping outside of my comfort zone to even try mountain bike racing this year!
I attempted to train for my 50k with hiking poles. This lasted about three long runs but eventually I opted to leave them behind so that I could fuel properly and depend on my legs for power.
I completed and submitted my grad school applications. Application stress was over but now acceptance stress loomed over my head.
The country went crazy about the eclipse. I wore homemade eclipse glasses that my dad made so I could also stare at the sun.
My family & Josh & I biked on the Michael Castle Trail on a lovely late-August day. Then we ate at Grain H2O. Yum!
I got a job as an assistant cross country coach at the community college I once ran for. It’s weird how things came full circle.
I finalized a name & logo for my health coaching/running coach services. I called it Better Strides Fitness and officially made the logo. I created an Instagram, Facebook page, and Twitter for Better Strides Fitness too!
I was a participant in a 9/11 memorial run. That was another patriotic moment of 2017.
I got stung by a bee on the back of my ankle during a long run with the women’s cross country team. It itched for days!
Family visited us from California. We talked about the Philadelphia Eagles a lot. It was a pleasant morning.
I continued to crave returning to the mountains.
Josh & I attended Oktoberfest for the 2nd year in a row.
I worried a lot about getting accepted to grad school.
2017 travel stress moment #4: driving to Wellsboro, PA for my 50k race. Josh & I didn’t leave for Wellsboro until about 4:30 PM. It was a 5 hour drive to our campsite at Leonard Harrison State Park. Once off the highway, we had to start driving on winding, pitch dark, mountainous roads. It was terrifying, but we made it.
I sprinted down a mountain and ended up finishing Green Monster 50k in 7:58. I achieved my goal of running under 8 hours. I finished in the top 10 female finishers. Three months of training were once again successful. Check out the race recap here!
The night after my race we slept in our tent while a tropical storm passed over the mountain. The next morning we stood at the top of the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon and took a picture in the rain.
Josh & I dressed up as lumberjacks and won a Halloween costume contest. This was our 1st costume contest we ever entered together. We won a gift certificate to a local pizza shop.
I started working with two new health coaching clients – one of which is now 82 years old! I realized how much I love helping others work towards their goals. Helping others is my true passion in life and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
I got more and more excited about watching the Philadelphia Eagles games with Josh & I even learned the chant! Fly, Eagles, Fly!
After districts in Rhode Island, the women’s cross country team won Regionals in Delaware. I was a proud coach!
I got accepted to one of the grad schools I applied to. A weight was lifted off my shoulders. I am still waiting to hear back from two more schools (one of which is my first choice) but I am relieved and EXCITED knowing that I have the opportunity to begin my education to become an OT.
Gwin got bit by a dog on a 1.5 mile run we went on together. This was an extremely stressful afternoon for me because I felt guilty she got bit. We took her to the vet who assured us she would be ok. Gwin wasn’t allowed to run with me for 1-2 weeks which made me sad. I carry my pepper spray with me on every run we go on together now.
The cross country team traveled to Massachusetts for Nationals. We played Cards Against Humanity for hours and came home with two new NJCAA All-Americans. My first season as a cross country season had come to an end and I was proud of how the team had improved over the course of the season. The season was nothing like I expected it to be but also everything that I knew I signed up to experience – the highs, the lows, and everything in between!
I got a new job working retail. I HATE working retail but I needed a source of income to start saving up for grad school. I remind myself daily that this job is temporary. I remind myself daily that this is a necessary step in reaching my goal of becoming an OT. Retail is not ideal. Retail is not what I went to school for. Retail is not somewhere I want to stay for longer than I need to. This job is temporary aid in my ambition to achieve a bigger goal, a more meaningful future, & a lifelong career.
I celebrated my four year anniversary of vegetarianism.
I worked with Sparkly Soul at the Philadelphia Marathon Weekend expo. It was a fun (and exhausting) two days but I came home with a Thanksgiving Sparkly Soul and Christmas Sparkly Soul so I was excited!
All of my clients ran PRs at their races and accomplished their goals. I was once again a very proud coach!
I worked Thanksgiving night and I was very miserable.
My family hosted the annual Thanksgiving weekend nighttime trail run.
Josh & I built a snowman. We had a perfect snow weekend that included homemade crockpot vegetarian chili, hot chocolate from the local coffee/donut shop, a snow run, a late night walk around town to look at Christmas lights, and a Christmas movie!
Two of my clients gifted Josh & I tickets to a Flyers game in club box seats. I’ve never sat in club box seats before and I felt like I was being spoiled! I had the biggest slice of pizza I’ve ever consumed in my life and the most expensive glass of overpriced wine. Regardless, between the luxury of the club box and the Flyers winning the game, it was a perfect date night for Josh and I!
Angela came back to NJ! We went for a 2 mile run to celebrate our reunion! It was FANTASTIC!
On Christmas Eve, I went for a run with Gwin down our local trail. I attached two bells to her collar so she sounded festive running down the trail. I wore a Santa hat. We would’ve easily won an award for being most festive on the trail if there had been a contest.
Holiday festivities were fun! I was grateful, happy, and amazed of how much love there is in my life.
I began feeling excited for what 2018 has in store for me, for my family, and for my friends. There’s a lot to look forward to!
Running Stats of 2017:
Total Miles: 1,505.0 miles
Highest monthly mileage: September (189.2 miles)
Three trail races – Brandywine 12k, Hyner 25k, Green Monster 50k
One road race – Pitman 4 Miler
Shoes worn: Altra Torins, Altra Escalantes, Altra Lone Peaks, Altra Superiors
States I ran in (13 total) – New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Texas, Rhode Island, Massachusetts
Biking Stats of 2017:
Total Miles: 1,103.4 miles
Highest monthly mileage: June (262 miles)
June, July, August – three consecutive months with 200+ miles
Total Road Bike Miles: 767.1 miles
Total Mountain Bike Miles: 336.3 miles
3 races – Ramsey’s Revenge, The Challenger, Big Elk
After proofreading this blog post, I’ve come to realize that it lacks flow; however, this year hasn’t flowed smoothly either. It’s been a challenging year for many reasons. Both good and bad changes have tested me. Running has tested me. My body has felt exhilaration, exhaustion, and adrenaline throughout the year. I’ve found enjoyment out of cycling and seeking new QOMs. I’ve established a new goal for my future that will surely challenge me in new ways in 2018.
I’ve become a more resilient woman who learned how to stick up for herself. I’ve become a more determined individual who is focused on goals for a better future. I’ve become a more experienced trail runner who learned to push beyond comfort zones, to believe in herself, to race towards any finish line with a determined heart.
This 3700 word blog post doesn’t justify all the memories, experiences, and moments of the year but it does put it into words to reflect on in later years.
14 days until race day. Fourteen days. I’ve put in 10 hard weeks of summer training and here I am now just a mere two weeks away from 2017’s Green Monster 50k. It wasn’t until the end of week 9 when training caught up to my body. I’m not injured. I’m not sick. I’m not mentally defeated. Simply put, I’m just tired.
Last week’s 20 mile training trail run took a lot of physical strength. It was an unusually hot day for mid-September (low 80s by 10 AM). The humidity was at 100%. I was rationing the water in my Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta. It took me a long 4 hours and 25 minutes to log 20 miles with 3,005 feet of elevation gain/loss. To put that into perspective, I ran the Philly Marathon last November in 3 hours and 45 minutes. I covered 6.2 fewer miles and ran for 40 minutes longer. Yes, I was on hilly, technical, and tough trails compared to the smooth and relatively flat roads of Philadelphia but it just takes a lot out of a runner’s reserves to exert that much energy in a training run.
This past week was relatively uneventful until Friday when everything finally caught up to me. I hadn’t had a legitimate rest day for nearly 24 days. In those three weeks, I had logged 48, 50.5, and 54.7 mile weeks, in that respective order. Six of those 24 days, I had ran twice in one day. Two weekends ago, I ran an 18 mile long run followed by a 10.8 mile day the next day. I had logged nearly 60 miles on my bikes in those 24 days (which is actually extremely low compared to logging 60 miles per week during the summer months). I’m not listing all of these numbers to brag – that’s the last thing I am trying to do. I’m not listing all these numbers expecting pity. Every single one of those miles I logged were 100% my choice. I was feeling great. I was feeling strong. I was feeling like I was preparing myself fully for my upcoming race. But….it took my body 24 days to react to the amount of exhaustion I was putting my body through.
On this previously mentioned “eventful Friday”, I completed a 3.1 mile walk/run with one of my clients at 8:30 AM. Then at 1 PM, I completed a 4.5 mile Fartlek workout with two of my other clients. Then at 3:30 PM, I ran a short 2.6 mile recovery run with one of the cross country runners I coach. After that, I went to my local town’s 4th Friday event and worked there until 9 PM. Friday afternoon I still had it set in my head that I would be completing my last long-ish run during the upcoming weekend (15 miles of rolling hills rather than torturing my body with another 3000 feet of elevation gain/loss). After that long run, I would start to taper.
Fast forward to Friday night. My body was physically exhausted and my mind was trying to fight back – trying to convince me that I needed to get in my last long run before tapering. My mind was wrong, my body was right. Another long run would exhaust me even more. It would snag up my energy stores again. I wouldn’t be resting my body. I would be torturing it. So do you know what I did this weekend instead? I rested. I ran one mile yesterday with the women’s cross country team during their warm-up. I ate a slice of pizza at the mall. I went to a BBQ and had chips and salsa, cake, and cannoli dip. Today I stayed off my feet. I went for a no-pressure bike ride with Josh. I watched the Eagles game. I’m not running tonight.
Tomorrow I officially start my taper. The 15 mile run I thought I “needed “to run has no place in the remaining two weeks of my training plan. Regardless of if I had ran 15 miles this weekend or not, I still have a 50k to race in fourteen days. I’d rather be energetic and well-rested for this race than exhausted and broken down.
I don’t regret not running this weekend. I know that I won’t finish my 50k and wish that I had really put in those extra 15 miles. Sometimes training for an ultra takes guts, sometimes it takes determination, sometimes it takes perseverance, but most times it takes smarts and respect for your own body. The human body is an amazing thing. It allows us to do things that we sometimes can’t even imagine. Because it’s so amazing, we need to care for it, we need to listen to it, and we need to know when enough is enough.
Training for an ultra is humbling. It’s rewarding. It’s joyful. It’s tough. It’s mentally challenging just as much as it’s physically challenging. Nobody every said that training for an ultra is easy, but I can tell you that it’s always worth it at the finish line – no matter what you did to get there.
Training for an ultra is not easy. As a matter of fact, training for any race that you set a goal for (of any distance, short or long) is not easy. Training requires discipline, resiliency, and mental determination. Training can be extremely rewarding but it can also be exhausting. Runner’s highs are just as common as mornings when you force yourself to stop hitting the snooze button on the alarm. The physical training is just as tedious as the mental training. Doubts, fears, and confidence levels are constantly fluctuating. But if the goal is significant enough to you, you’ll find a way to overcome the obstacles you are bound to face.
This morning, the first of September, with a cool, crisp air that signals fall is coming soon, I was planning on doing hill repeats. I had everything ready to drive over to Delaware and run up and down Rocky Run and Bicycle Trail for 7 miles. But my body had different plans for me last night. I was awake for at least two hours feeling sick to my stomach. *(prepare for unnecessary details)* I threw up twice and just couldn’t seem to settle back in to a slumber. I knew even before the sun started to rise that I wasn’t going to be able to get my workout in. When the alarm went off early this morning, I just stayed in bed. I still had a weird feeling in my stomach. I was tired from being awake at 2 AM. My body was drained of fuel & liquids. Those hills would have to wait for another day.
It would’ve been ideal weather for a morning out on the trails. Disappointment still lingers in my head and mentally I know I need to get out and run those hills. Yet, I’ve learned through the years that listening to my body is imperative. If I were to force myself through the workout, my body would’ve fought back. I would be miserable. I would be weak. I would be hindering my goal rather than facilitating it. So here I sit, writing a “confessional” about a workout I couldn’t do.
Training for October’s 50k has met its fair share of challenges in the last 7-8 weeks. I’ve been overwhelmed with other life stressors – applying to grad school, applying to jobs, helping the family business, working with my clients, the list goes on. I’m not upset that all these things have accumulated over the past few months. Life happens. I constantly preach to my clients and other runners that flexibility is essential when it comes to training. You must be willing to be flexible with the training plan in order to achieve success. Sometimes we cannot control what life throws at us. However, we can control how we reactto what life throws at us. I try my best to react by “going with the flow”. Be flexible with yourself. Life is rarely a smooth ride but the destination is always worth a bumpy journey.
I have exactly one month and 8 days until my race. The next month and 8 days will include new beginnings – happy beginnings – , new challenges, and new ambitions. When I wrote up my training plan, I didn’t seem to schedule in life’s non-running plans. Even though the schedule has been and will continue to be altered, the end goal has remained the same. I want to finish this 50k. I want to embrace its challenges and learn from whatever the course throws at me. At the end of the training when I reach that finish line, I want to be a more humbled, grateful, and motivated person. I want to proudly say “I ran my best and I am a better person because of it”.
The Hyner 25k was just over one month ago and ever since then my running has been off. My weekly mileage hasn’t exceeded 17 miles. Actually, it’s been a struggle for me to reach a total of 17 miles. I took off my normal amount of time for post-race recovery and, instead of running, I started cycling more both on and off the trails to maintain some fitness. The runs I did complete were typically 3-4 mile runs at a sluggishly slow pace. On my runs, my mind would often wander to a desire to stop running and just walk or find a bicycle to ride back to my house instead (both of which I never actually did). As much as I wanted to take off from running and try to maintain my fitness through cross-training instead, I kept trying to go out and run in hopes that during one of these runs I would feel less sluggish. That feeling never came. Despite the short distance of my runs, 3 miles started to feel like an eternity. I would get to my half-way turn-a-round point and think “I really have to go all the way back now??“. A few weeks before I’d completed 16 miles up and down mountains and now a 3 mile run on a flat trail became a challenge unlike Hyner View Challenge itself. Maybe I was physically broken down from the 25k. I know I felt unmotivated because I didn’t have anything to train; I didn’t have a race to look forward to. I know I felt lonely on my runs because my running partners either weren’t able to run because of injury or had moved 2,000 miles away (you know who you are). Maybe I was going through race withdrawal. Actually…maybe I was going through mountain withdrawal. Regardless of this list of retrospective excuses, I tried to get over these boundaries. People told me to take more time off. I felt like I was indeed taking time off by running low and slow mileage but my body ultimately won the battle. I needed more time. I needed to stop running completely. So this is my running hiatus. I will probably run a few miles at tonight’s group run because I am obligated to as the shop owner’s daughter. I assure you that it won’t be fast and it won’t be strenuous in any capacity. I will ease back in to running as I prepare to start training for my fall ultra. I hope that I’ve given my body an appropriate amount of time to recoup itself. I hope that I return to running with some new found motivation. What ever the case may be, I now understand the importance of ample race recovery. Even though I didn’t run a marathon or ultra, my body was so strained by the race and the three months of training leading up to the race that it needed a break. It needed a hiatus.
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.
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!