Sunday, December 5, 2010

There's nothing like nothing to lose!

Cruising along Sugar Hollow, trying to keep it together (this and all photos by Andrew Zapanta)

Last December, I volunteered at the Three Bridges Marathon, a new local marathon held in White Hall, Virginia at the base of the Shenandoah National Park (SNP). The course is USATF-certified and a Boston qualifier, perfect for those marathoners seeking a late fall race and a BQ on a *relatively* flat course. It is a 6-mile loop done 4 times with a 2 mile spur at the start, on a road that parallels the Moormans River and crosses three bridges as it winds through Sugar Hollow.

Low-key and a labor of love for the folks at Ragged Mountain Running Shop, 3B benefits Meals on Wheels and the Ragged Mountain Racing Team, a post-collegiate Olympic training and racing team coached by my friend Mark Lorenzoni. The ultra-like vibe, the beautiful course, and curiosity about how I would fare 9 years removed from my marathon PR (3:28, set in 2001 in Richmond), sold me once I decided to take a break from my usual December challenge, the Hellgate 100K. I waited until I felt recovered--somewhat--from Masochist, and filled out the last entry before it closed two weeks ago!

A wise man once said, "the hardest race distances are 100 miles and the marathon." No kidding. There is a reason I had not run a road marathon since 2002: pain and suffering. I finished my first marathon at Marine Corps in 1990 in 3:40 after a long day struggling with ITBS. After taking about ten years off of racing to have children, I ran my PR at Richmond in 2001 and attempted to top that in 2002 at Marathon in the Parks, but fell short with a 3:32. In 2002 I also ran my first trail ultra, and after experiencing the beauty of aerobic pacing on trails, racing another road marathon didn't make sense. It took me 8 years to find one that did.

My top-10 reasons to love the Three Bridges Marathon:

10. The setting. Beautiful Moormans River, the SNP looming above, the loop course for cheering others...and only 20 minutes from my house.

9. The vibe.
With 70+ half-marathoners sharing the course, it was awesome to see runners back and forth and give and take the good kharma.

7. The schwag. At the finish, I was handed a schwag bag with a homemade chocolate chip cookie, a coupon for deals at RMRS, a RMRS water bottle, and Three Bridges cotton gloves. The winners got a 100.00 gift certificate to dinner at the Clifton Inn (sweet!).

6. The entry fee. My 40.00 entry went to Meals on Wheels and supported the young bucks on the Ragged Mountain Racing Team. For an additional 15.00, I could have gotten a great looking adidas technical T.

5. The vibe...and the pacers! Did I mention the vibe? At 3B, one can have a pacer jump in at any time. I had pacers during loop 3 (Rick Kwiatkowsi) and loop 4 (Quatro and Erin Boyles) who blocked the horrendous head wind we encountered every 6 miles heading west. During the last 4 miles, Q and Eric Magrum, my PT who has kept me healthy for 8 years of ultrarunning, kept me in good spirits when my spirits bonked. Thanks, guys!

Quatro handing out water at the AS

4. The aid stations and support. Every 2 miles there was a rowdy group offering water, Gatorade, and assorted soup and yummies. Ultra celebs Bill Gentry, Quatro Hubbard, and Bill Potts manned the turn-around point on the east end and I was able to swap out bottles and gels. Where else can one have the best PT in Virginia cruise up and down the course on his mountain bike looking to help injured or cramping runners?

Eric Magrum, PT extraordinaire

3. The music. It wasn't the Rock N' Roll Marathon (thankfully...) but it was just as fun to hear songs we had requested that had been burned into a race-day CD, playing at each AS. I heard my song "Two Step" by Dave at least twice. Nice.

2. The distance. I have HUGE respect for my friends who are devoted to their marathon training. The marathon distance is a great challenge, and running 11:30 mile pace for 50+ miles for 9+ hours at Mountain Masochist was a lot easier than 7:45 mile pace for 3.5 hours!

1. Speaking of my marathon peeps...the absolute BEST thing about Three Bridges is, of course, the people behind the scenes who make it happen. From course measurement, parking logistics, aid stations, the fabulous finish line brunch (thank you Mike Gaffney!), the cheers and energy...this race has fabulous support. Thank you volunteers!

Bill Potts, Aid Station Chief

Bill Gentry, Aid Station Party Guy

As for my race...I was not sure what to expect four weeks after running Masochist, but I figured I had nothing to lose. Two weeks ago I ran a solid track workout with AJW coaching me (in person!), and felt great. Andy told me that, given my track times, I could run a fast race, but my goals were varied: first and foremost, I wanted to finish without any injury or issues. I also wanted to run close to 3:28 and see what my 47-year-old body could do with eight years of ultra training effect.

I was on pace for 3:28 after a conservative first half (1:44), but the wheels started falling off on the fourth loop as I was climbing into the headwind and losing energy. Q and Erin did their best to block the wind, but when Eric cruised by on his mountain bike, we started chatting about ultras, families, and friends and I realized I was cruising along at 8:50 pace...and liking it. So much for racing...I managed to hold on for a 3:37 finish time and first place female. It was so much fun to break the tape! Yay!

However, I was NOT proud when I discovered at the end that my full Hammergel flask was only 50% consumed...which meant I had only taken in 470 calories (counting 270 from my bottle of PERP) for the entire 3.5 hours. DUH. No wonder I felt like crap those last six miles. Another lesson learned: Nutrition is everything!

Many thanks to all the wonderful folks at Ragged Mountain Running Shop for dreaming up this fabulous race. We are so blessed to be able to live in a town where the running community is so strong, vibrant, and supportive. I was totally humbled by the marathon distance and honored to be part of such a fine I will go quietly back into the woods and mountains, where I belong!

"It's worth it all learning at last
The future begins with the past
Step out of the shadow it casts
And let the sun shine on your shoes
Kick 'em off in the rain if you choose
There's nothing like nothing to lose

We traveled so far
We traveled so far to be here"

MCC, from The Age of Miracles


Rooster said...

Yeah Sophie, awesome job! 18 years and still amazing...getting better and better. :)

And Miles 2 Go said...

So proud of you, Soph. Gigantic effort on a challenging day. Major-league tough you are.

Harry said...

Schwag bag? How'd I miss that?

Congratulations on your return to the marathon, Sophie. Not only the fastest woman, but the most stylin'.

Anonymous said...

Beast work :)

Sabrina Moran said...

Congratulations, Sophie! Awesome run.

Rick Gray said...

What does a person do when they step out of their comfort zone? They do just what you did. You ran great. Yea there is always something we can improve upon, but you have to remember that it is much harder to eat and drink when you are moving quickly. There are no walk breaks up a long climb in a road marathon. You had the whole ultra world out there for support and it sounds like they kept you in line and focussed on the task at hand. I am proud of you Sophie. You showed those younger chicks just what you are made of. Congratulations on breaking that tape!

Casseday said...

Congrats Sophie! Great job and glad you got to break the tape. Pretty impressive just a few weeks after Masochist.
- Adam

c said...

Nice report and good job on the Marathon!

Phil said...

A great way to start the day; reading a heartfelt story on Sophie's blog! I'm sure with some "extra mustard" in the training (and watching your race nutrition :-)), you could PR your next marathon if you desired. Oh, and it sounds like a wonderful event.

Sophie Speidel said...

Thanks, friends! This was such a fun race. It meant a ton to have the ultra celebs (Gentry, Potts, Q) out there alongside the C'Ville running community too. So fun to mix it all up! I have huge huge respect for those of you who run fast marathons. It was fun and "comfortably hard" for the first 20 and then it wasn't. Amazing how the switch goes so quickly.

I *thought* I knew nutrition and had it dialed in, but this race was a smack in the face that "snooze, you lose!" Wow. I had not really felt a bonk like that since MMT in 2005 and we all know how that turned out---ugly.

Rooster, I am taking a page out of your book and got WAY out of my comfort zone. VERY impressed with you and your new found love---mountain biking!

Thanks again for all the kind comments and support!

Gary Knipling said...

Soph, Good job for grinding it out for 26.2, and breaking the tape for the Win. Those are hurtin' miles with NO rest time. Nice outfit! - for both McAfees and 3B. See you back on a trail soon, Gary

AJW said...

Nice run! Way to hang in there. Looking forward to more runs in the future....

ultrastevep said...

Happy birthday, Sophie...