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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Consistency and My First Ultra Win

Saturday Dec. 7, marked another anniversary of Pearl Harbor. It also marked the first Houston Area Trail Runners (HATRs) race, fun run, or speak easy run if you will on the Ho Chi Minh trails in Memorial Park, Houston. The race almost didn't happen due to issues with permits and potential flooding/ park trail closures. Luckily, the HATR group is headed up by an awesome guy, Rob Goyen, that went to battle with both the city and the park so that we could have our event. The catch was no advertising, and no signage could be put up at the run. Hence why I am referring to it as a speak easy race (the difference being, we weren't doing anything illegal - just playing by the city's specific rules). 

The race brought out some fun loving trail and ultra runners, as being a 6 hr event - there are no DNFs. The course was a 5 mile loop on the Ho Chi Minh trails, which is the premium spot for trail running within Houston city limits. All runners were invited to run as many laps as they wanted to or could complete within the 6 hour limit. 

The fun kicked off promptly at 6am with a nearly 60 runners crazy enough to brave the frigid temps (for Houston) and not scared off by the threat of a little water falling from the sky or mud on the ground. For the record, even this Yankee thought it was downright COLD at 27 degrees. 

As the race started I situated myself near the front, I'd say top 10 - an uncharacteristic move on my part; but I had a feeling that I really had a shot of doing well. Besides, with the amount of single track, I didn't want to get pushed too far to the back with the start. 

We started down the trail heading in the opposite direction of what I am used to running with the HATR group on Saturday and Sunday mornings.  It was incredibly dark and cold. After a few minutes of trying to stay with the rabbits to both warm up more quickly, and use the extra light offered by their headlamps, I settled into what seemed like a slow but maintainable pace. I had a feeling that this first night lap might be a bit slower than I wanted; but since I usually have the opposite problem, I was okay with that.  The trail winds quite a bit and has some nice little rollers the majority of the way. So once I got far enough back that I had to rely on my own light, I definitely proceeded cautiously, stopping a few times to check for markers, and yelling to the folks behind me where there were trees to jump over or duck under, sharp turns, or poor footing. I was especially careful to do this after I heard someone not too far back trip over some knarly roots. 

After what seemed like far longer than 2.5 miles I made it to the 1/2 way aid station with a group of 3-5 other guys running close to me. As we proceeded to the Bayou crossing, we got a little hung up and went slightly off course before a few runners with better eyes than our group tracked down the markers and got us back on course. 

From here, the course flies! It's a undulating single track that just winds around the outskirts of the park. This part of the loop has the best footing by far, and I could feel that I was making up time. I was warming up, and starting to wish I hadn't worn sleeves or gloves. In around 53 minutes I am through lap 1, and told that I am indeed the first female.

This news was pretty exciting. I'd never won a trail race before, so I had every intent of staying where I had positioned myself.  The sun was starting to come up and by the time I finished the second loop I felt super awake and ready to race.  At this point I still hadn't stopped for aid, as I was fully loaded with Gus and my 2L Nathan Hydration pack - my own sneaky time saving measure for ultra racing. :) And as I went by the aid station, I checked my watch and sure enough - I was about a minute faster.

The 3rd loop was one of the most fun loops, I was lapping some of the runners and enjoying myself immensely on the windy single track while I shouted words of encouragement to everyone I encountered.  I was down right chipper. And I was haulin'!  I finished this lap in 48 minutes and some change and was super thrilled that I was negative splitting an ultra! What the heck!!! Heading out for lap 4, I was determined to try to negative split the whole darn thing, and flew around the next 5 miles in 47:51, fast enough to claim the fastest female loop time prize for the event.  Yowza's.  

At this point I was pretty confident I was going to win the women's and just needed to hang on for a few more laps - my goal was to finish 30 miles in 1st for the women, and juuuussst over 5 hours so I wouldn't be allowed to start another loop.  I know, a bit of a slacker's aspiration....but it was COLD still, and 30 was my ideal distance for the week having only 1 other long run being the 26.2 mile training run I ran the Sunday before, and a long year of racing planned for 2014.

Lap 5 was a little unremarkable, I did start getting a little tired, but still did a good job maintaining pace coming through the loop in 49:22, which was just about perfect for my aforementioned goals, and my dream of negative splitting a freaking ultra distance event! As I got into lap 6, I debated how badly my legs felt and whether I should go for 35 miles.  As I approached the water crossing and came upon one female I had not seen previously during the race that was moving pretty well, I thought I might HAVE to run 35 to ensure she didn't catch me again!  A few minutes later I realized that 30 would be sufficient and put it in cruise control to coast in to the finish in 5:00:30, a PR trail 30 mile time, and on pace for what would have been a significant 50K PR.  As I got to the aid station, Rob told me I had 1 minute to start another loop if I wanted to. And I told him, that I was good, I timed it perfectly - I ran the fastest 30 miler I could without feeling obligated to run 35!

In the end I was 1st female and 4th overall. And I couldn't have been happier with my first ultra experience in Texas!  (I do hope it's a little warmer for the next one though!).  And despite slowing a little on the last 2 laps, my second 15 miles wound up being almost 4 minutes faster than my first 15 miles, and it was the most consistent I have ever run an ultra from start to finish. I couldn't be more excited to train and race here in 2014.

Happy Trails Everyone!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

TRI-ing to stay healthy!

A year ago, I was sitting on my hands anxiously waiting for the fourth Thursday of November -  and not for Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving day marked the first day I could try to start running again after sustaining a fairly severe pelvic stress fracture. Once Thanksgiving came, I started what seemed like an eternally long road back to fitness.

Now I should probably note that I had been pretty stubborn about going to the doctor. (I was having pain that was affecting my activity level in July and didn't get it diagnosed until the first week of September.) Had I not played the self diagnose game this process probably would have been a lot shorter! So lessons number one and two today: LISTEN TO YOUR BODY! AND if you think you are injured GO TO SEE THE SPECIALIST! (They have these nifty tools that can see things inside of X-ray and MRI machines.)

Ok, back to getting fit. This process was SLOW. I was trying to be very careful and was doing any exercises or activities that I thought would help me avoid a repeat injury. I picked up Yoga in January, and after a few sessions I could feel my muscles getting stronger and more flexible and being able to better support my posture, running, and climbing. This seemed like the perfect addition - until I pulled my lower back during a  class in February and spent several weeks shuffling about, understanding for the first time in my life what it is really like to have real back pain. You know the kind of back pain that wakes you up at night back pain. Lesson number three: KNOW YOUR EDGE - just because the guy next to you can get into a pose, doesn't mean you can or should!

In March a friend of mine recommended I take up triathlon as a good way to encourage non-impact cross training and reduce injury. After consulting two other friends (who happen to be on the board for the DCTRI club) I was quickly convinced that this was a solid idea.

With enthusiasm I jumped in the pool, started cycling, and adding a few Brick workouts (Bike/Runs) and two-a-days to my routine. I quickly did my first duathlon, and then another on some serious hills in Strausburg, VA and realized I loved every second of it! When the event photos came back from the Strausburg Du, I realized I was grinning ear to ear in every one! I didn't have my usual road-race grimace of embracing the suck. Nope, I was genuinely THRILLED!  The only other race photos of me that capture this much joy of sport are my trail ultra photos.
Strausburg Du - 1st in Age Group (out of 1), 6th Female!

Not only was I enjoying the multi-sport thing; but the biking was REALLY helping my running. My knees didn't ache, my speed was improving, and my periformis always felt GREAT after a bike ride. In fact, bricks are now my favorite workouts, because my body feels so good after a long bike ride. And for some reason, after 2-3 hrs on a bike, I can bang out 10 miles at a quicker pace, and with less effort than I can otherwise.

Also, I realized that with my typical running schedule (5 days a week, and no real distance other than the weekends), fitting in the biking and swimming wasn't all that difficult and gave me something to do in the evenings when I would have otherwise been chilling in front of the computer or partaking in more happy hours than are perhaps necessary. So I embraced the triathlon, and over the summer saw it pay dividends in both my health and my running times.

By the end of July when I curtailed my training to focus on selling the house and moving to Houston, I had set two huge ultra PRs in the 50 K and 50 Mile distance, and placed 16th overall in both races. Not only that, but I actually surpassed my 50K mark en route to my 34 minute 50 Mile PR. All of this with lower mileage on the feet due to amping up the biking and little to no speedwork. What the what!! I was sold. In addition, I did my first real Triathlon too - an Olympic distance tri. I thoroughly enjoyed this experience as well and banged out a sub 45 minute 10K after a 1500 meter swim and a 25 mile bike. My run split ended up being the 3rd fastest female run split of the day. Talk about feeling happy!

Just finished my 1st Triathlon!
In addition to all the awesomeness noted above, one of the best parts of this triathlon experiment is that for the first time in several years - I finished a season of racing without any significant injuries. I will definitely continuing TRI-ing in the future, and am already signed up for my first Ironman next September - Ironman Chattanooga. I highly recommend any runners consider adding some biking and swimming to their routine.

Happy Trails!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Coopers Rock State Forest Trail Running

While the Government shutdown continues to keep our National Parks closed and inaccessible, this weekend might be a great time to visit some of those fantastic State Parks.  A personal favorite of mine is Coopers Rock just outside of Morgantown, WV.  Granted, I am a bit biased since I grew up less than 10 miles from here; but it REALLY is an excellent place to run, hike, bike, climb, picnic, or just be outside.
Wild and Wonderful at Coopers Rock - View from Raven Rock
This park contains over 12,000 acres and is well known for it's rock climbing and bouldering and hiking trails. With it's location just off of Exit 15 of I-68, it is perfect quiet oasis for an early morning trail run as well.  The trails here offer incredible variety, from hilly to flat and technical to smooth dirt path and fire roads offering running paths suitable for all abilities.

When you enter the park, it is a 3.5 mile drive to the Overlook (or main) parking lot near the concession stand/store, picnic tables, and restroom facilities.  From here it is pretty easy to hop on any number to trails. As you are facing the concession stand, the trail off to the left will jog you down to the overlook.  This is a heavily used short little trail; but is worth the trip if it's your first time at Coopers.  If you look over the hill to the right of the concession stand, heading that way will take you towards Rock City, the Rattlesnake Trail and the Rhododendron Trail - all great areas to explore if you are doing a shorter run, or wanting to loop several different trails together for a longer run.  Rock City and the Rattlesnake Trail are again some of the more heavily used trails due to their parking lot and facility proximity.

If you head back up the road you drove in for just under a mile, you will find Raven Rock trail on the Right, just off an old fire road that is blocked by a metal gate.  This is, in my opinion 1 of the 2 must do trails at Coopers.  The trail from here is about 4 miles out and back with the summit at Raven's Rock at the halfway point.  The majority of this trail is very rocky and you are pretty much always gaining or losing elevation the entire way.  A little under a half mile to the top, the trail narrows to a single dirt track and goes steeply up hill. While getting to the top will require a little bit of work, the views from the top nearly parallel the views from the much more traveled Overlook, and you will see far fewer pedestrians en route.
Trail heading back from the top of Raven Rock

Another view from Raven Rock
Once returning to the main park road from Raven Rock, you can simply cross the road and will find yourself on the Roadside Trail.  This smooth dirt path runs along the main road from the Overlook parking lot to the first parking lot in the park. This is a great shakeout trail after the rocky and hilly terrain of Raven Rock.

If you follow Roadside trail as it winds along a short distance off of the main route you enjoy some very smooth double and single track that gently winds along until eventually spit you out on the advanced ski loop that goes sharply to the left.  A short ways down this path you will come to the Reservoir Ski Loop off to the left again.  This is the other portion of Coopers that every runner should explore. A nice undulating and sparsely used single track that winds back into the forest and eventually comes out at a little pond.  This trail is so peaceful and serene that it is easy to loose track of time and just enjoy the trail and the air.  If you continue on past the pond you can take several of the paths to weave your way back towards the parking area; however, please be mindful of how far east you are trekking and what trail you are on, as making a left on Ridge Trail is your last chance to loop back before heading to the edge of the park on Mount Chateau Trail.  The Ridge Trail will eventually meet up with Rock City and Rattle Snake Trail.

For more information on the trails of Coopers Rock please go to the official website and download their trail map.  Or click here and here.

Get out and enjoy the some of the state parks and trails this weekend everyone.  Coopers Rock is just one of many places folks can find some respite from the crazy world in which we live.

Happy Trails!

**A few words of caution:
1. Coopers Rocks is open for hunting.  So please wear bright colors if you head out during hunting season this fall.
2. A second word of caution, Rattle snakes and Copper heads are common here, and I have seen both in the area.  But if you leave them alone, they'll leave you alone. :)
3. Dogs are welcome! Please keep them leashed and clean up after them! And if bringing a dog, please be mindful of note 1.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Mohican 50 Miler - Race Recap

This past weekend I loaded up and headed out to the wild Mid-West of Ohio to a small town called Loudonville, located a ways off of I-77 and about an hour out of cell phone reception.  For me, this was the perfect setting for my next ultra adventure.  The Mohican 100Miler, 50Miler, and Marathon are held on the Mohican trails every June.  This year I ran the 24th annual Mohican 50, and in the process raise $1145 for St Jude's Children's Research Hospitals.

I honestly wasn't sure what to expect. I figured the course would have some rolling hills and be a somewhat run-of-the-mill course that would likely seem dull on the second loop.  I was pleasantly surprised to be 100% wrong.  Well okay, maybe 75%, there were LOTS of rolling hills.  However, the course itself could not be any more beautiful.  There was a lot of single track.  Not just any single track, but the kind of single track that trail runners dream of.  That nice narrow path that winds unbroken through the trees and is almost perfectly smooth except for the occasional rock or root.  Yet there was a lot of challenging sections too, where the trail was canted as you made your way down or up the switchbacks, or where there'd be long stretches of challenging footing - littered with roots and rocks and other toe grabbers.  And there was enough double track and fire roads to make sure you were still awake and switch it up a bit.  There was also a small portion of the trail that traveled down to the base of a waterfall and ran along in the ravine, close enough to allow the runners to feel the mist of the spray.  The trail was in a word, stunning.  I was thrilled, and enjoying every minute.

Waiting for the race to start at 6:00, I wasn't sure what to expect. I felt pretty fit, but my weekly mileage has been relatively meager.  And even though I've been supplementing the miles with some biking and swimming, I was a little uncertain.  However, as usual when the race started everything seemed to fall into place.

As we entered the woods I figured I was likely about the 7-8th female, and knew that there was a pair just ahead of me that I would catch in a few miles.  I didn't worry about it too much and enjoyed the gentle ups and downs and sure enough before the first aid station at 4.5 they were well behind me, and I wasn't going to see them again.  I flew through the first aid station around 38 minutes only slowing down long enough to ensure that the next one was only 4.3 miles away.  I hadn't planned on clearing the first aid station that fast, but I felt so good that I figured I'd just go with it.  However, I did make a conscious effort to pay a little more attention to pace on the next section.

About halfway through the next section I spotted another pair of ladies making their way up the hill.  Being a decent uphill hiker, I went to work. Shortly after the hill and before the single track resumed, I put them behind me as well.  These ladies were a bit more talented though, and while they were definitely behind me I could still hear them chatting, and see them on the switchbacks.  So when we came out of the woods at aid station number 2, I just kept on going.  I love the time I save by wearing a hydration pack and carrying most of my own supplies!  My strategy worked, as they must have pulled off for sustenance and I didn't see them again the entire race.

The third section was one of the longest and one of the most technically challenging ones of the race.  It started off on more smooth trail but eventually wound down and back up through the hills and over to a set of stairs that led down to the base of a gorgeous waterfall.  Once at the base of the waterfall the course ran along the ravine through the mud and over some downed trees criss-crossing back and forth across a creek a little ways down from the water fall.  Eventually the trail ran into a natural ladder made of tree roots.  This short little climb was like something out of Jack and the Bean Stock.  It was very unique and added a level of fun to my day.  Once up the ladder, the rest of the section was fairly uneventful.  But eventually after a very steep descent and a short run on a gravel road I arrived at aid station number 3, covered bridge.

This was the first aid station that I paused at. I paused just long enough to down some fluids and grab part of a PB&J.  And then I was off again.  I was 15 miles in and feeling great.  A few miles later I hit my first rough spot.  Literally.  Stubbed my toe on something and went rolling down the trail.  Got up and everything seemed mostly okay; but I had definitely twisted my left ankle a bit. After a minute or two of walking I went on running down the trail, trying to be a little more mindful of the rocks, and taking note that I might need to have that looked at at the halfway point.  At some point I made it to the top of Hickory Ridge, and skipped the aid station again as I went on down the path and back to the start / halfway point.

This section was 6.2 miles of mostly downhill, but there were several sections laden with toe grabbers.  I fell a second time, stubbed my right toe so hard I gave myself a sinister bruise, and caught myself from falling several other times.  However the most sinister part of this section is being able to look down to the right about 4.5 miles into the section and see the aid station.  But instead of going right at the end of the trail, you go left and up another hill.

Somewhere close to 4:35 I finished the first loop.  I spent a few minutes at this aid station filling my water, changing shoes, and finding my pack of Oreos I had tucked into my drop bag.  By 4:42 I was 26.8 miles in and back on the trail.  I was so happy to finally have Oreos to eat instead of Gu for the next few miles!  I blazed through the first section of the second loop, and actually barely PR'd my 50K time making it to the aid station (31.1) around 5:25.  The second section also went pretty smoothly.  These sections were definitely my favorite, on both loops.  Super runable, with hills spaced perfectly for hiking breaks.

At the second aid station I stopped long enough to grab some watermelon, and a piece of a sugar cookie and PB&J and took off down the only "new" section on the second loop.  A 2.6 mile section that steeply descends down a less traveled trail, but makes the course come out to an even 50.  On this section, (35+ miles in) I started to feel some fatigue.  But I was still cruising, and made the 2.6 mile jaunt just under my estimated time for the section. (I estimate as I go in order to give myself small goals along the course.)

At this point in the day (38+ miles in) I was starting to tire; but I knew I was well on my way to having an amazing race.  I went strong for what was likely another 2 or so miles, but the last ten miles were a struggle.  Eventually I recognized the trail enough to push to the last aid station on top of Hickory Ridge, and I even managed to complete the 5.5 mile segment in my estimated time.  But by the time I got to Hickory Ridge, I was pretty well spent.  At mile 43.7, I had been running for roughly 7 hrs and 58 minutes, and I had another 6.3 miles to go.

The final section was a very long 10K.  It was a struggle for me to not walk when the terrain got hard, or the downhills became steep.  I knew that I was already going to have a massive PR, and a pretty good finish.  It seemed to drag on forever.  Eventually though, I made it back to the campground.  And the last 800m, I even had someone to chase.  It turns out that they were too far ahead of me for me to catch, (I needed another 100m!), but in the end I finished in 9:09:42, a 34 minute PR!  I also ended up being the 4th female, and 16th runner overall!  A second top 20 finish for an ultra!!

All in all I had a fantastic day at on the Mohican trails, and I highly recommend this race to both veterans, and newbies alike.  I am seriously tempted to go back for the 100 next year.
Race Medal and first monetary award for placing in a  race!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Capon Valley 50K Race Report

The Capon Valley 50K takes place the second weekend of May every year in WV.  A fairly low key and low fee event, it draws about 200 runners to run through some rugged trail systems and on some gravel and fire roads that weave up and down the Capon Valley. Since it is only 2 hours outside of Arlington, I figured it would be a good early season fitness test, and would force a 50K training run on trails before my upcoming Mohican 50M in mid June.
By the time I arrived at the start and checked in, I was giddy to be back running my first ultra since last year's Western States even though the weather did not look promising. With the rain all week preceding the event, the streams were sure to be swollen, and the grey sky looming overhead was not going to disappoint.  Even still, I gathered with a crowd of anxious runners just before 7:00 and took off on what would be a very soggy and mud-filled adventure.
The first section of the course was fairly runnable with only two steep climbs.  This section proved to be a good introduction of what was to come.  About 1.5 miles in we started crossing back and forth across the stream on what seemed to be more of a game trail then an actual hiking trail.  Perhaps this was due to all the rain washing out the trail this past week, or perhaps it was the two deer that came crashing through the woods and across the stream  on the course that gave me this impression.  Either way, I was feeling pretty good despite the soggy feet and was enjoying some of the beautiful country views.  What was even better was that although I didn't feel like I was running above my ability, I was the 4th female going through the first aid station!
The next section was a mix of not so smooth footing on trails and gravel roads with several hills until we ran all the way down to the river only to make a turn and start hiking back up a much steeper part of the hill.  This part was a lot of work!  But at the top we were rewarded with some better footing, and easier to follow trails.  All in all I felt pretty good on this section, I was running smoothly and hiking quickly.  Guys weren't passing me, and it seemed like I made very good steady progress.  In fact, at the top of the steep climb another guy and I gapped the pack of 5 that was fairly together hiking up the hill, and by the next aid station it was evident that I was unlikely to see any of those runners again.
The 2nd aid station marked 10.4 miles, and I was in and out before 1:45 - which meant I was clicking off, on average, 10 minute miles despite the hiking and the wet feet.  Knowing this, plus knowing that I still felt really good was an excellent morale booster a third of the way into a very wet race!
The next section was fun!  It was only about 4 miles and was mostly flat except for 1 longer nasty hill.  The trail itself was mostly an old rail-bed path (with the railway pulled up).  The only thing that made it technical was all of the water made it hard to find the path of least resistance, and the several creek crossings ensured that your shoes didn't dry off.  About a mile into this section, I got a glimpse of a runner up ahead by about 1-quarter mile.  I couldn't tell for sure given the distance and the rain and fog, but it looked like they were wearing a tank top - which made it pretty likely that this runner was probably a chick.  Excited that my race was going well and that the 3rd place female was losing ground, I made sure to make steady effort on this section.  I ended up dropping the guy that I was running with, and started gaining ground.  By the time I made it up the long hill, I could tell for sure that the runner up ahead was a girl, and I also discovered that my effort was going to reward me with 2 people to chase instead of just one.  With under half a mile to go to the aid station, I caught and passed both the third place girl, and the guy she had caught and was running with.
At aid station 3, I was feeling confident.  I was still clicking off 10-minute miles, and needed to stop to refuel a little.  I grabbed some water and some potato chips while the 2 people I caught barely re-passed me by not stopping for aid, and then I headed off down the path.
Catching the girl again proved easier than I thought it would. I knew she was getting tired, since otherwise I wouldn't have caught her 5 minutes before. And I was able to use her fatigue to my advantage.  Less than 1/2-mile from the aid station we crossed the creek and started making our way down a section of trail that was practically a swamp.  While she seemed to be having a hard time with the footing, I was able to dance through the mud a bit more easily and at least mentally was trying to exude confidence and a lack of fatigue.  Within a couple minutes, I couldn't hear her behind me anymore and I was making up ground on the guy that she had been running with as well.  (I later found out that she dropped at some point, which was a bit disappointing, as I like to see everyone finish!)  After a few minutes of swamp land, we turned to the left and started hiking. And hiking, and hiking.  This would be the biggest climb of the race.  But the climb allowed me to catch the guy who had re-passed me at the aid station.  I caught him and ran with him to the next aid station, which marked 18.9 miles.
At aid station 4, I was starting to slow a little bit.  Partially from all the hiking, and partially because I am almost never on trails as washed out or muddy as these!  Either way, I was still feeling reasonably well and was enjoying the day.  The guy I was running with must have felt a little bit better, as he pulled ahead upon leaving the aid station, and I figured I'd be moseying down the path on my own for awhile.  And so I did.  This section was a joy, and was probably my favorite section of the race.  The footing was good, there was some honest single track, and the trail just winded along in a way that just felt right.  Apparently I got a little too lost in the joy of running on this section though, because somewhere along mile 21 I caught my toe on a root that was buried in a puddle and went flying.  This landed me both back in reality, and squarely in the mud.  But never mind, I got up, and was more focused than ever for the next three miles.  Focused enough that I caught the guy ahead of me again, and ran with him for a minute or two before leaving him behind about half a mile out from the aid station.  I was happy to see the aid station - my stomach was starting to turn, and I was out of water.
At this aid station, I needed to get some serious water both in me and in my pack, which was just about dry. So I rehydrated as they refilled my pack and then I was on my way again.  From here there were only 6.6 miles to go.  Now I just had to keep my gut in check for a little over an hour.  As soon as I left the aid station, I could tell that something was funny with the bladder in my hydration pack. It felt like water was gushing out of it and down my legs.  Hoping that they just spilled some water as they filled it up, I soon forgot it and headed up the next hill, and the guy that was now behind me was nowhere to be seen.  After what should have only been a few minutes of climbing but seemed like an eternity, the trail leveled off and the rest of the section was actually mostly downhill with a few short climbs thrown in to keep your on your toes.  Even still, this "short" 3.2 mile section was for me the hardest part of the race.  I was having stomach issues that eventually necessitated a pit stop, and I was starting to just get tired.  Somehow during this portion, I managed to catch 2 more guys, and eventually made it to the last aid station.
At aid station 6, nothing looked appealing. I grabbed some chips, and went down the trail.  In my tired state, I didn't grab any water. I was thinking that my pack certainly had enough water in it to get me home.  About 800 meters down the road, I realized my error and that my pack was actually empty with maybe 2 swigs of water left in it.  Well crap.  Another 400 meters and my body realized that I was pushing beyond any of my recent training runs and started shutting down. Double crap. For 8 minutes or so I did a run/walk until I wizened up and realized I still had Gu with Caffeine, and that was likely all I needed.  Once I got the Gu in me at the expense of the last of my water, I started to feel better and was able to start running steadily again. At this point the course just wound back down the hill the creek on the same trail we that we started on, and after zigzaggin 5 times across the creek there was 1 decent climb and 1 short climb and then a mile of downhill and flat to the finish. I was golden.  Somewhere in the middle of the zigzagging, a guy caught up with me and ran with me until about mile 30 at which point he ran about 10-15 seconds ahead of me and would finish 13 seconds in front of me.  But I was okay with that. I was going to hit a HUGE PR and according to him the next female runner was a LONG WAY back.  I just had to keep moving, and I was going to both massively PR and land on the podium for my first time ever in an ultra!!
Finally at 5:26:56, I crossed the line and very very happily learned that I wasn't 3rd.  I was SECOND! And I had managed a top 20 overall! I couldn't have had a better day on such soggy trails!  I am still elated, and am anxious to see how my 50 Miler in a little over a month is going to go.
2nd Place Female! 16th overall!

Happy Trails Everyone!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Pure Grit ^2 = AWESOME! -- Pure Grit 2 shoe review.

I'm always a little skeptical of trail shoe claims.  Especially trail shoe claims that are from the same line as a pair of road shoes.  But the Brooks Pure line fit my feet so well that I figured it was worth the shot.
Take 1: The Brooks Pure Grit Original.  Light (7.6oz), fast, fits like a road shoe, and an interesting lug pattern that was worth a go.
Results: Not impressed.  While I liked how the shoe cradled my foot, the swirly cool looking lug pattern was worthless on anything other than dry dirt. And outside of the toe box was so soft that even gently gracing the smallest rock with the front end of the shoe felt like knocking your foot into a chair leg.

Take 2: The Brooks Pure Grit 2.  After slipping and sliding all over snowy trails in the original version, I stopped by Road Runner Sports in Falls Church to see what else was available.  After trying on nearly every trail shoe there (which for the record they have the best in stock selection of trail shoes I have found in NoVa since the local chains tend to cater solely to the asphalt pounders (I checked)) I settled on the Pure Grit 2.  

Results: An AMAZING and major upgrade from the original.

Still comfortable after 24 miles of trails!

For starters the 2s have a wrap tongue that stays in place and is attached to the length of the shoe on one side.  Next, the toe box is mildly reinforced with stronger material which whether intended or not protects the front of the foot from trail debris.  Third, the shoe laces stay tied better - a small but very important detail.  Fourth, the shoe has a little more cushion which gives it a softer ride. And finally, the lug pattern is amazing!  Little diamonds stacked on top of little diamonds, with little tiny "grippers" in the middle to really grab the trail. And the lugs change direction in the middle of the shoe so that the front half helps grab the trail going up hills and the back half helps break a little running down hill.  Pretty freaking sweet!  And at 8.2 oz it's still a super lightweight and fast shoe.  After runs of various lengths of up to 4 hrs, and in various conditions (dry, snow, through and after water crossings, and even navigating piles of horse crap) these shoes continue to feel great, stick to the trail, and really impress.  I'm not sure what they'll do to try to top the shoe next year; but as far as I am concerned, I hope they don't change a thing!

SWEET LUGS! The PureGrit2 close up!
Happy Trails Everyone!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Theodore Roosevelt Island - Trail Review

Sometimes, I just don't feel like venturing outside of the beltway to find some trails for my run. Luckily, I can head on over to give a shout out to Teddy and do some short laps around the Theodore Roosevelt Island.

The island is a great little gem in North Arlington, right off the GW Parkway.  The parking lot is accessible from the North bound lanes of the GW parkway, and their is ample parking to go around if you get there reasonably early.  (I have arrived close to 10am and there were many open spots.) Another awesome thing about this park's location is that it links up with the Mount Vernon trail, so you can even run there via the well maintained and paved bike / foot traffic trail if you so choose.  Also, it is a stone's throw from the C&O Canal Towpath, and is directly next to an access point for the Potomac Heritage trail (same parking lot, right by car entrance way).

Each blaze green lap at Teddy is about 1.3 miles - so while I wouldn't head out there for a 20 miler, it is great for some shorter runs.  Also, on April 1, the bathrooms will open back up for the season - something us distance junkies nearly always note.  The laps are flat, the trail is well maintained, and you will usually see quite a few other people out for runs and walks with families and friends of both the two and four legged variety.  Despite the heavy use, and the 'as close to road without being asphalt' trails, it's a great way to satisfy the craving for some mud on the shoes.  It's also proven to be a fantastic wind blocker, thanks to the trees that cover the island.  If you live in NOVA and haven't checked out Teddy Roosevelt, I highly suggest you do even if you are not a trail runner.  It is a very enjoyable trail that breaks up some of the monotony of asphalt pounding.

More information on the park and how to get there can be found at

Help me raise money for St. Jude Children's Hospital! Your donation funds patient care, research, and is tax deductible! Click here to donate!

Happy Trails!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Something bigger than running.

I've been starting to increase my mileage and generally get back into the swing of training as I gear up for the Mohican 50 Miler in OH in mid June.  (As soon as I figure out the best way to format my training plan I will post what I think is a very reasonable 50 Miler training plan as well.)  Last weekend I had a very successful double with a generally comfortable 18 miler on Saturday followed by 10 miles mostly on trails on Sunday. And today, I had perhaps my best weekday run in a month during the "Snowquester" which lacked in snow, but did give me a day to work from home and fit in a mid day run instead of a 440AM run.

However, despite my good fortune of being back to logging miles, I felt the need to do more.  Not more for my running; but more in general.  So I've signed up to be part of Team St. Jude.  My initial goal is a modest goal of raising $1,000 over the next 3 months prior to my 50 Miler for St. Jude Children's Hospital.  I genuinely hope that some of you consider making a donation on my behalf.

I chose St. Jude as a charity to run for because of their dedication to pediatric medicine and research.  Not only do they help children that are far less fortunate than myself and may never know the joy of bounding down a path on a hot summer day; but, they provide their care at no cost to the families of the patients that receive it.

Please help me reach my goal by making a donation to St. Jude through the link here.

Thanks and Happy Trails!


Monday, February 11, 2013

Wildcat Mountain, VA - Trail Review

A couple weekends ago, I thought I had the perfect plan for a reintroduction to running on trails.  I was going to go do Old Rag early in the morning before the crowds, suffer on the perfectly manicured switchbacks that wind up to stunning views, and then enjoy running down the fire road on the backside.  However, due to a little bit of weekend snow and sub-freezing temperatures, I decided to stay a little closer to home.  Instead, at the suggestion of a new trail running friend, we headed out to Wildcat Mountain in Warrenton, Va.  I can say, I am happy that we did.

I had never heard of Wildcat Mountain, despite its proximity to Arlington, and its ease of access.  Wildcat sits right off of exit 29 on I-66 and is only about 45 minutes outside of Arlington.  The Mountain is maintained by the Nature Conservatory, and offers a very secluded bit of trail that offered both a pleasant and a stark contrast to the city streets on which I log most of my miles.  An excellent set of trail directions, an elevation profile, and directions to the trail head can be found here.  As such, my trail review is going to focus on how I perceived the trail, and the benefits that I think can be gotten out of completing training runs out at Wildcat Mtn.

The trail itself consists of a small web of trails on which we did about a 5.2 mile snow covered figure 8 style loop with just over 1500 ft of climbing.  It proved to be a difficult re-introduction to the trails off the bat as it starts with roughly a 400 or so foot upward hike on a slightly rough single track trail.  With this climb, I was quickly reminded to respect both the trail as well as what the day gives you.  After the first climb, things level off for a bit, and you follow a nice and mostly runnable section of trail for the with some steep downhills even until around the 2 mile mark where you start heading up again.  The second major uphill was not as steep as the first.  However, it did seem to be a bit longer. The elevation profile on the Hiking Upward page, (linked above), shows that to indeed be the case. Once we got towards the top of the hill we started to be rewarded for our efforts.  Near the top there are several old stone fences, and at the top of the loop sits an old farm house in a small clearing that gives a slight window to history.  The rest of the hike went much like the first half, with some good runnable sections, and some steep downhills, on which we were extra careful due to the ice and snow, until we found ourselves back at the small parking lot and thoroughly pleased with the days efforts.

All in all, Wildcat Mtn. provides a wicked training loop for any trail runner with a bit of masochistic tendencies.  Also, with the loop distance, it sets up perfectly for long run days, as the car can become a make-shift aid station so long as you have enough gumption to keep going after returning to it to restock.  I'd rate this trail about a 3 out of 5 in terms of difficulty (totally subjective, I know), with difficulty points being added for the less than manicured single track portions, a couple of steep climbs and descents and the stream crossings.  I'm not sure how much the snow impacted my score, so I will try to remember to update this when I do it in drier conditions.  I am very excited to get back out on there in the upcoming weeks, as the variation and technical level of the trail is enough to whip any level of runner into tip-top shape.

I'd like to see what my impression of the trail is when it is not a snow covered and slippery winter wonderland.  I'd also like to see if my new trail shoes, the Pure Grit 2's, make any difference with their newly optimized lug pattern over the 1's which I was wearing this time.  (Shoe review coming soon!)

Until next time, happy trails!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

It's dark. Be bright!! --nighttime gear review

It's January.  Probably one of the hardest months of the year to get motivated to run.  With the short days and the cold winters in Va. all of the runners I know are either on the dreadmill, running in the dark, or still in hibernation mode after their fall races.  At least during the work week anyhow.
I am running in the dark.  All this dark running makes me even more anxious for the weekend. On Saturday and Sunday, I can't wait to take in the sunlight, and get as much Vitamin D synthesis going on as possible!  But during the week, I am heading out for my runs in the dark.  On each of these runs, I am always genuinely happy to see other runners out logging miles.  However, I am often equally amazed at how many fail to wear any sort of reflective gear, or carry a flashlight!  While it's always fun to feel like a ninja, it's way more fun to NOT get hit by a car while crossing a street on your evening jog.  I would put money on about 80% of runners not carrying or wearing any sort of light or reflective gear.  And sorry folks, but a white tee-shirt does not qualify.
Now since you are reading my blog, I am going to assume you fall in to the 20% category, or you are a family member that thinks I'm a little silly for running so much anyhow.  Either way, thank you for humoring me and your reward is my review on the gear that I rely on to keep me visible when I am hitting the pavement without the sunshine. :-)
My Nighttime Running Essentials
For starters, I recommend that any runner that is expecting to be out between dusk and dawn don a reflective vest.  I recommend the Nathan Sport Streak reflective vest which retails for about $20-$25.  This little investment will make you visible 1200 feet away, is super lightweight (.2 lb), machine washable, and easily fits over any running shirt or jacket.  It also comes in sizes (not one fit all) and the newer versions even have an incorporated waterproof ID information card.  Without reflective gear, a runner at night is only visible from about 200 feet away.  If you like running as much as I do, please wear a reflective vest for those early am and late evening runs.
Next, I recommend a light.  At least one. I carry two.  A headlamp is a great hands free option, and is far easier to get used to running with than you may suspect.  I use and love my Black Diamond the Spot headlamp.  At $40 and available at pretty much any outdoors store it's a great value.  It's also light weight and in "Spot" mode, throws out 90 lumens of light.  Trust me, at 5am, that's a bright path to follow down the road.  I also find that it is light and bright enough for trail racing.  I wore it all night at Western States and didn't notice it at all.  The battery life is also exceptional, although after several hours of high powered use, the light will dim some, and it's one drawback is probably the 4 AAAs it needs to operate.  But in terms of light output, cost, and size, I find it to be a truly essential piece of gear.
Finally, I also carry a flashlight.  I prefer to keep to a small Princeton Tec AMP 1.0 light which fits easily in my hand, and is not uncomfortable to carry in my teeth thanks to the plastic/rubber handle.  The key to the flashlight is that in a really dark spot it gives some extra light, and if you have it with you, it may provide the light you need to change out your main light (headlamp) batteries without being completely in the dark.  Additionally, I like the plastic handle because it is not cold to hold onto in the winter, and the rubber side has a grip or two on it that prevents it from slipping out of your hand in the summer.  The Princeton Tec AMP 1.0 light retails for about $10-$12 and is also available at most outdoors shops.
I rely on each of these products multiple times a week and have had no issues with the quality of any of them.  I hope that all the runners reading my blog find this information useful. If you have had different experiences with the gear I mention, or think you have an even better piece of nighttime running gear, please leave a comment and let me know! In the mean time, imagine how hard core you look running outside on a dark rainy night with a headlamp on.  You. Look. Business.
Happy trails everyone!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Western States 2012 - Race Report

Western States 2012 –June 23/24
               Starting at 5:00 am in Squaw Valley, there was an awesome energy among both the participants and spectators alike.  This race is bigger than Boston for the likes of the subculture of running that is ultra-marathoning.  It is one of the oldest and most challenging ultras in the country.  Originating from a horse race known as the Tevis Cup, this run covers 100.2 miles and includes over 18000 feet of climb and 22000 feet of pounding descent.  The day was going to be much cooler than anticipated – actually down right cold for June, far colder than anticipated temps.  As the clock counted down to 5AM and we were started with a shotgun blast, I began the trek up to Escarpment with a little under 400 other ultra-marathoners.  Where usually people worry about going too fast in a race, the only folks going out hard here were the Elites.  Everyone else set out at a steady hike up the side of the mountain to Escarpment - a 3.5 mile climb of 2550 feet.
               Less than halfway up the climb it began to sink in that the race is more about enduring than finishing fast, especially if this is your first time taking aim at 100 miles, as it was mine.  About 1.5 miles in the wind picked up substantially and the gusts must have been without exaggeration upwards of 40 mph.  I couldn’t hike straight.  And then around mile 2, the hail started.  Driving wind, fog, and hail – this was the story for the first part of the race.  After 55 minutes of strenuous hiking I reached Escarpment.  After another short, but extremely steep climb I was over the ridge and on the backside of the mountain running on the most beautiful single track imaginable and finally semi protected against the biting wind.
Heading into Duncan Canyon AS - The volunteers were amazing!
               The next 7 miles to Lyon’s ridge, is a bit of a blur.  I felt great. The run was beautiful, and for once I felt like I hadn’t started too fast.  I reached the 10.5 mile mark right at 2:20. Not bad considering the first hour was almost exclusively hiking.  Miles 10.5 to 23 were a quite similar.  No snow on the course due to the dry and mild winter, and some amazing trail and beautiful landscapes.  That plus the amazing aid stations well stocked with chicken broth and Oreos were making my day – even if the temps were in the 30’s, the hail stuck around a bit, and I couldn’t see the valley from the high elevations due to the fog. 
               Then around mile 24 or so I began the trek up to Robinson Flat, mile 29.7.  This marks the end of the first 1/3rd of the race, the first weigh in, and the first point at which I would meet my sister, Kristi, to restock, and change socks.  Somewhere on those miles, maybe around mile 26 is the first real creek crossing.  I misstep and fall in.  Entirely soaking the left side of my body and completely zapping my energy and focus.  After several minutes of being upset at myself for falling and hiking / running towards Robinson I finally regain my mental game, but my hand is frozen and I notice both of my hands are swollen.  Finally, after 6hrs and 44min I reach Robinson Flat.  Still averaging my anticipated pace, things are looking up.  And then I weigh in.  Lucky for me the girl misreads the scale and records that I am only 3 pounds up from my starting weight; I’m actually closer to 5.  Knowing that this plus my painfully swollen hands that look like balloons means that I am retaining too much water and salt, I make a mental note to watch my sodium, and lower my fluid intake while the weather is still cold.  Then I head over to meet my sister for a change of socks.  Dry socks when you’ve already run 30 miles and are soaked and freezing can make you feel like a million bucks.  After some help from Kristi, since my hands aren’t working too well, I am ready to go.  At 11:51am I check out of Robinson Flat and am determined to make the next segment go better than the last 6 miles.
The next segment goes pretty well.  It’s very runnable.  I’m starting to warm up, and the swelling in my hands is beginning to decrease.  I’m feeling pretty good and the downhill doesn’t seem to be beating up my quads too badly.  Until I hit the two steep canyons -   two extremely steep, technical, downhills.  Each followed by an equally steep uphill with minimal flat between.  The steepest part of the canyons is a couple miles of knee jarring downhill into the first canyon followed by 36 switchbacks to get back up to Devil’s thumb on the other side.  After this climb, I know the steep trail and hills are really beginning to wear on me.  Somewhere in here I hit 50 miles around 11:30, too slow to meet my dream of 24 hours; but definitely still on pace to finish.  I make it to the bottom of the second Canyon, and give in to the fact that I’m going to spend a bit of time bandaging my foot at the top of the next climb, as all the steep downhill has obviously caused some serious damage to one of my toes. But I start the hike up to Michigan’s Bluff with gusto after stopping for watermelon and animal crackers at the bottom of the final canyon, Eldorado Creek.
After 2.7 miles of climbing and 7 switchbacks later, I see asphalt for the first time all day.  I have reached Michigan’s Bluff, the weather has finally warmed up to a nice 55 or so degrees, and I again meet my sister for a new pair of socks and a change of shoes.  Upon taking off my shoe, I realize that I was right about needing some foot attention and hobble over to the medical tent as my toenail is detaching from the base, and has caused a massive blister.  OUCH!  After what seemed like an eternity of poking, lancing, and taping I am on my way again.  I tell Kristi that I will see her in about an hour and a half at Forest Hill. Who knew blisters could be so incredibly painful!
Heading into Michigan Bluff Aid Station at Mi. 55
The next 7 miles are uneventful and eventually after 15 hours and 13 minutes, I make it to the 100k mark that is Forest Hill.  Here I pick up my pacer, Greg, a guy from San Fran that digs ultra-running, and has volunteered to run with me for the last 38 miles.  Man am I happy to see him!  We meet up with Kristi to grab headlamps and head back to the woods.  After updating him on how I feel – hiking is solid, flats and moderate downhills are still runnable, steep downhills have beaten down the quads pretty good, and I’m in good spirits about the race in general, we continue pressing on.  He’s a good distractor telling me about his recent trip to Spain and Italy, and how he got into running.  He’s also extremely motivating and patient as I start having a similar blister situation on my other foot and have to see the podiatrist a few more times before the end of the night.  And as the sun sets, Greg becomes my second set of eyes for rocks and roots on the trails.  Eventually, even with our pace slowing as the clock ticks on past midnight, and I really begin to feel the effects of the hours and the miles, we reach Rucky Chucky, the infamous river crossing and mile 78. 
The Rucky Chucky river is low enough this year to be crossed on foot with the help of some amazing volunteers and a cable to help us stay upright during the crossing.  The water feels like an ice bath on my quads, and comes up to the middle of my stomach.  It is refreshing on the legs, but very cold at the same time.  Once across, we towel off as best we can and start the 1.9 mile hike to Green Gate. 
At Green Gate, we see Kristi for the last time until the finish, and slowly squirm out of our wet clothes and into dry shirts, jackets, compression socks, and a final pair of fresh shoes and socks.  At 12:34am we head off down the trail, ready to endure the last 20 miles.
Although I had been tackling the whole day by getting to the next aid station, from here on out the next aid station became a goal versus a midway point.  All of the nighttime aid stations were lit up like little cities in the forest, and the volunteers were amazing.  The one that stands out the most is Brown’s Bar, mile 89.9.  We hit this aid station right around 5am, and the next segment might have been for me the toughest part of the entire race.  It was certainly, one of the slowest.  I was mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted at this point and had been downing everything from Mountain Dew to 2x Caffeine Gu packets and even coffee to keep moving – this in itself became difficult as at some point during the night I started becoming nauseous which forced more walking and more slowing.  Thinking that perhaps my salt intake was finally going in the other direction, I tried righting the situation with salt, that didn’t seem to help. I also tried eating less, eating more, drinking more, drinking less, but nothing seemed to really cure it. So I just kept moving slowly towards the goal.
At some point the sun came up.  I think I was still on the segment after Brown’s Bar.  And at some point after that we finally finished this segment and I realized that if I didn’t start making it hurt some, it was going to be a long morning.  I think with the sun, I finally got a little energy back maybe; but either way I started jogging more eventually making it to No Hands Bridge, and I knew that with a little over 3 miles left I was going to make it.  And once I reached Robie Point at 98.9, I thought I might tear up a bit.  And I think I would have, had I the energy to do so.  And then finally, Greg and I reached the track.  And Greg being as unassuming as he is, split off and I ran, and actually ran somehow, the last 200 m, managing to pass a guy on the track and finishing my first 100.2 mile race in 27 hours 17 minutes and 29 seconds. 
I didn’t ask Greg why he didn’t run in with me; but I think it was just another example of how incredible of a pacer he had been over the last 12 hours.  How his only goal was to get me to finish.  I felt really fortunate to have him as a pacer, my sister on the course for me, and all of the amazing volunteers over the course of the race.  I could not have done it without them.  But with them, I managed to accomplish something that a few years ago seemed impossible, and for several years had been my goal – I had finished the Western States Endurance Run, and had covered over 100 miles of difficult trail without stopping in a little over a day.  And now, I cannot wait to start training for another one.

Monday, January 7, 2013

New Direction

I did a lot of reflecting over the Holidays, and have come to the realization that my blog needs to take a new direction. I still fully intend to post on my ultra training efforts, failures, and successes. But if I am going to increase my digital footprint, I want to do it in a way that is beneficial to the trail running community at large. By doing this, I am hoping to create a beneficial trail running resource for trail and ultra runners.
To make this shift, my blog posts will begin to include trail reviews, gear reviews, and race reviews, as well as my success and failures at tweaking all aspects of my trail running such as nutrition, mileage, cross training, etc. As I continue getting back on my post-injury training cycle, I think the net effect of this shift will be two-fold. I will post more, and I will subsequently train more on the trails that drew me to ultras in the first place.
As I post more, I will slowly start categorizing and archiving my posts so that over time my blog becomes another resource for all the running geeks like myself that need to know exactly what the terrain and distance is of the trail they want to cover for their Saturday long hauls. It will hopefully also be a resource for nutrition and gear reviews, as every running geek loves gadgets.
To start getting my blog moving in the right direction I will be posting a few old race reports in the next couple days. Additionally, I hope to have something new up, perhaps a first gear or route review, by the end of the weekend.
Until then, I will say that I am happily working my mileage back up, and have just about settled on my 2013 racing calendar which should give me more than enough training to start on.
I hope everyone has a Happy, Healthy and Runderful New Year!