Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Blessings

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you have had a wonderful day celebrating with family and friends. When I was on my run this afternoon, I considered all I have to celebrate on this particular Christmas. Thanks for indulging me while I share my list, and please share yours, too, if you are so inclined...

Christmas truly begins for me with Lessons and Carols at St. Anne's-Belfield School on Friday, which is a wonderful school tradition based on the tradition from Kings College in Cambridge, with incredible music thanks in part to J.R. Ankney, one of my ultra buddies and our choir director...the (now) annual Winter Solstice 8+ mile trail run on Saturday with 30+ trail and road running friends, and then lots of hot coffee and lively fellowship afterwards at our fave hangout, Greenberry's...afterwards, Christmas shopping at Blue Ridge Mountain Sports with Bill Gentry and Quatro Hubbard and checking out the National Geographic map for the GRINDSTONE 100 course (*some* of us are considering it)...exploring the tree farm on a rainy Sunday run and finding cool new trails (don't you LOVE discovering new trails?)...decorating ginger bread cookies with Virginia...shopping for our "Secret Santas", a Speidel family tradition, on Christmas Eve day...another gorgeous run on Ridge Road on Monday and feeling totally recovered from Hellgate...reading Christmas cards from friends and family far away...seeing the Fedex guy arrive late on Christmas Eve day with Rusty's gift (a cool Garmin GPS techno device for his mountain bike---schweet!)...a beautiful church service with my family and my mom at St. Paul's followed by dinner at our good friends home, which has been our tradition for the past five years...singing along with Rusty and Chris Holden as they brought down the house with "American Pie", which they have done for the past five years...watching our kids open their gifts Christmas morning and Rusty and I having no desire to open ours, only to drink coffee and enjoy their excitement...hanging out with my mom and sister and chatting with my other family members, knowing they were all healthy and safe...tagging along with Rusty and his buddy Milton on their mountain bike ride in the afternoon-- they rode, while I ran the trails near UVA a bit before running home, a two+ hour jaunt through the Ragged Mountain Reservoir trails with a clear blue sky, brilliant 50 degree sunshine and late afternoon shadows falling along the trail, listening to Mary Chapin singing,

"Now we'll be led by eventide's hand
'Til then we'll walk through the gloaming
Back up the hill once again
Done with another day's roaming..."

I wish you peace and all the blessings of Christmas.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Hellgate 100K 2007: We are family

Every time I finish Hellgate, I say the same thing to myself and to the others around me: "I am NEVER running this race again." And the others always respond with, "Shut up, you said that last year." And for a few days afterwards I walk around truly believing that I just ran my last Hellgate, but eventually I come to terms with what draws me back, year after year, and by mid-summer I am looking forward to it again. Why is that?

Half Full

Keith Knipling quizzed me earlier this week about why I love Hellgate, and one thing I realized was that the midnight start (described by one cynical runner as a "cheap gimmick") is actually a psychological advantage for me: as an eternal optimist, I like the feeling of running into the light. I love running the fabulous Glenwood Horse Trail on the ridgeline above Bedford, with its slight downhill and views of the valley. I love the brutal climbs to the gaps on the fireroads and and the long descents. And, as I wrote in my previous post, I love the epic feel of the race, running point to point in the mountains in winter, in the middle of the night and all day long. Most importantly, I love the family feel of the event: On this Friday night in December, I am surrounded by my brothers and sisters-in-arms from near and far, friendships made through suffering together on training runs, 100 milers, and Horton events. Some are elite, national-caliber competitors and others are middle- and back-of the pack runners, but we all share the same passion for adventure.

Devil Trail

But there is also a huge reason to hate Hellgate. It is the trail that I call "Devil Trail." Like its namesake, this trail appears during vulnerable times during the race: just before dawn, after long sections with no aid, and on steep climbs. Devil Trail is covered in leaves and hides moving rocks and immobile boulders, and it is off-camber and very steep. When runners complain to Horton about the Devil Trail, he gets a creepy smile on his face, especially about the Devil Trail just before aid station 7 (mile 42) that parallels a perfectly runnable fire road. I hate the Devil Trail.

Sub-15 hours, blah blah blah

This year my goal for Hellgate was to once again attempt to break 15 hours (see my previous post for my 2005 and 2006 attempts). I ran nice and slow the first few hours and was very comfortable in the 40-degree temperatures. The weather was perfect and the only big challenge this year would be the trail itself. I had finally figured out my lighting and had great vision all night long, and I was eating and drinking enough...until we hit aid station 4, and the volunteers told us that due to road closures, they couldn't get our drop bags to us. This was a big problem for me, as I had put all my nutrition (flask of Hammergel, Sustained Energy mix, etc) in my bag. Now, I was presented with a dilemma: do I risk eating solid food, which had always presented me with GI distress during ultras, or doing I stretch out what I had in my pack (sport beans, six Clif Bloks, Nuun tabs, and two Clif shots) for another 20 miles? I went with the latter, and ultimately bonked on the Devil Trail at mile 39.


It was on this section Devil Trail that I came across Bethany Patterson. This was the same place I encountered her last year, when she dropped due to cloudy vision, brought on by cold and wind. This year she was having the same problem with her vision, and after commiserating with her for a stretch, she stepped aside and I led for awhile. We came to the Devil Trail where it leaves the runnable fire road and goes straight up the mountain. She said, "Since I am going to drop at the next aid station, I should take the fire road." Then, in the same breath, she said, "No, I'll take the trail just in case I feel better." Of course, as we progressed through the leaves and rocks, I knew she was wishing she had taken the road, but I was impressed by her positive attitude and toughness. As I pulled away, I realized I was now in second place, but what I didn't know until the finish line was that Bethany did NOT drop: she stuck it out and finished in tears, sobbing "that was the hardest thing I've ever done." Her integrity, guts and focus were incredibly inspiring.

This is a race, Sophie

So, I'm cruising along trying to refuel as fast as I can, after getting my nutrition from my drop bag at mile 42 (with help from Jen Henry who became my crew at each AS, and who I know was concerned about me because I was not my usual happy self---thanks Jen). I was just trying to make my sub-15 hour splits and keep moving, and was told by one runner that the women behind me were a "good twenty minutes back." I descended from the mile 50 AS at an easy pace, and entered more Devil Trail at Day Creek totally alone...one can see and hear for miles in that section, and I saw and heard no one until 2 miles from the next AS, when suddenly, a woman's voice echoed from the hills behind me. I knew it had to be Rebekah Trittipoe, because all day long I had seen photographers from the Roanoke Times come onto the trail looking for her...they were filming a very cool interactive media piece on Hellgate, and Rebekah was a big focus of the story. So, I had a little conversation with myself which went something like this, sans expletives: "Sophie, if you want to stay in second place, stop whining, suck it up right now, and get moving."

I came into the last AS and Gary Trittipoe at first thought I was Rebekah (I always take this as a nice compliment, as I am often confused for her in races since we both have brown hair in pony tails and wear white Montrail caps when racing). I told him she was right behind me (although I wasn't sure how far), filled my bottle, and TOOK OFF. I knew I had a 40+ minute climb up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and another 25 minute downhill to the finish. I saw Jeff Wilbur as he was running up the road and he told me I had about 10 minutes on her, but to not let up at the top. I also passed Byron Backer, a perennial top finisher, and knew I was making good time. Looking back every few minutes, I didn't see her blue Montrail jersey, so I knew it was going to be OK, but I still worked my butt off until I saw the finish line.


Finally, it was over. I scored my highest finish but second-slowest time (15:34). So much for sub-15! But as Horton congratulated me, I realized I had run a totally different race than ever before: I had overcome my low energy and negative thoughts to find another gear, and I am very proud of that. Minutes later, Rebekah finished in a Hellgate PR, followed very closely by Kerry Owens (in another Hellgate PR) and Bethany. Joined by Annette Bednosky, who had won the women's race two hours before, we all sat down on the grass and posed for pictures, cheering and laughing like sisters, relieved to have finished another incredible Hellgate adventure. My new mantra for Hellgate, just in case I decide to run it next year will be, "Devil Trail be damned, I've got all my sisters with me!!"

Here are my pics from the pre-race meeting and the race itself, and the results. Many, many thanks to David and all the volunteers for another memorable day and night, and special thanks to Rebekah, Kerry, Annette, and Bethany for being such great friends, role models, and competitors.

"Whenever we go into the mountains, or indeed anywhere in God's wild fields, we find more than we seek."

---John Muir, as quoted on the Hellgate 2007 entrants shirt

Monday, December 3, 2007

Coming up: Hellgate 100K (gulp)

On Friday (12-7) I will make my way down to Natural Bridge, VA for dinner and the pre-race meeting of the Hellgate 100K, which begins at 12:01 am on Saturday, 12-8. If I am lucky, I will be able to get in a good nap after dinner, and then the REAL hell begins: the wait until the start. But once we start this amazing race, all other worries, nerves, anxieties, and negative thoughts fly out of my head and all I have to do is think about the beautiful night, the sounds of the forest and other runners near me, and how gorgeous the sunrise will be. I love this race.

I have written extensively on Hellgate in 2005 and 2006, so this time I will keep it short and sweet: I look forward to this race each year because it is a sheer adventure, unlike any other race I have done. I love running the first section in the dark because it seems to suit my biorhythms better. I have been much more alert in the night section during Hellgate than I was at either 100 miler that I finished, mostly because I am fresh (and freezing). And I LOVE running most of the next day back to Camp Bethel, where we started the journey---it truly feels epic to be cast off into the woods in the middle of the night and then run home, to a warm fire and warm food! Wooo-hoo!

Aaron Schwartsbard has written the most helpful and entertaining description of this race (or any race, for that matter) that I have ever read here. If you are running Hellgate, thinking about running Hellgate, or are just interested in what all the fuss is about, spend some time reading his report. I plan to read it all week as part of my taper :-)

Here are some fun pics from the 2005 event.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


When I'm not racing ultras, I'm living a busy but satisfying life, one that I am most grateful for: I am a wife, a mom, a teacher, a counselor, a coach, a friend, and a runner. Sadly, this past year two of my students died suddenly, both while they were doing something they loved and were deeply passionate about....Doug was helping build a house in Nicaragua for a family, and Eleanor was competing with her horse at the highest level of three-day eventing, which had been her dream goal for years. I have watched their parents, siblings, and friends deal with their immense sadness and grief and have been inspired by their strength and courage. Despite my hectic days, I am grateful for this busy life, one that must be lived with purpose and meaning, and I am thankful for Doug and Eleanor's legacy, reminding me to live it with passion and an open heart.

With those thoughts in mind, today I ran the trails of the Shenandoah National Park with my buddies from the VHTRC. This is the club's annual post-Thanksgiving run, and I was fortunate to have been able to spend the day on the awesome trails of the SNP with these fine folks. I ran most of the 20 miles with my buddy Kerry Owens, and we had a great time laughing, talking, sharing race stories and upcoming race plans. Kerry is a tough ultrarunner who never whines, who throws awesome parties for the VHTRC, and who thrives on the tough, rocky trails of the Massanuttens. Thanks, Kerry, for the great day on the trail, and thanks to Q and Tom Corris who helped provide aid and maps for all to enjoy. I am so thankful for the VHTRC and the friendships forged on the trails of the Blue Ridge Mountains...races are great, but the hours spent with friends while training are the ones to savor.

Here are some pics taken out on the trail...including one a bear cub we saw at the end of the run.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

State Champs!!

Chapin's football team, St. Anne's-Belfield, won their eighth VISFA Division 2 State football championship in eleven years down in Horton country (Lynchburg) against Virginia Episcopal School, 42-22. Chape is the starting safety. Rusty and I are very proud parents! Go STAB!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Slow and Steady gets the PR!

Up until yesterday's Mountain Masochist 50, I had never run a race when "everything came together." I had a goal of setting a PR (sub-9:40) and hoped to break 9:30, but more importantly, I wanted to run a smart race, bringing together all the lessons I have learned in the past 5 years of racing ultras.

I knew I was trained well (see my previous post), I knew the course, and the weather was absolutely perfect for a race in the mountains, with a low of 32 at the start and a high of 55 at the finish. My strategy this year was simple: start more conservatively than last year, and try to have a stronger second half by eating and drinking consistently and keeping my pace steady throughout. By the halfway mark, I was on 9:30 pace and feeling good. I had been sipping Clif Shots every 15 minutes, and switching out Sustained Energy, water, and Nuun with water with every bottle change. Most encouraging was the fact that I was able to run a lot of the uphill sections with minimal effort---something I chalk up to training with long tempo runs at 7:15 pace on hilly roads, big mileage weeks of 70+ mpw, and the 9,000 feet of climb at the Odyssey 40 in September---perfect training.

Another awesome piece of support came from my brand new Ipod Shuffle, which Rusty gave me last week, and which I switched on before entering the notorious loop section. The ultra gods were smiling down on me as almost every song that came up ended up being a favorite tune for running, so I was adequately pumped up by the last 3 miles of the race, knowing I had enough time to break 9:30. But the rocky, leafy sections of the last downhill stretch slowed me down a bit, and since I was totally thrilled with the day thus far, I decided to chill and enjoy myself as I crossed the finish line in 9:34! It was particularly cool to see my hubby, oldest son and daughter at the finish---the cap to a perfect day in the mountains.

I was humbled to be in the same event as some of my ultra heroes---Nikki Kimball, Annette Bednosky, Bethany Patterson, and Krissy Moehl were all contending for the top spots (here is a cool photo of the top 5 women celebrating, taken by Sue Norwood) and it was a thrill to talk to them at the pre-race. This was also David's last Masochist after 25 years as RD, and it was very cool to be part of the celebration. And very fitting---Holiday Lake 50k was my first ultra, and Masochist was my first 50 mile---so setting my Masochist PR on such a perfect day was the essence of "bringing it all together." Here are my photos! Also, here is a photo of Andrew Thompson and J.B. Basham, taken by Sue Norwood, as they finish their DOUBLE Masochist...they started running at 6:30 pm on Friday night from the finish line in Montebello, arrived 12 hours later at the start at the James River Visitors Center, and then turned around to run their second 54 miles. They finished the 108 miles at about 11:15 race time. Incredible.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

25 years of Masochism!!

I am getting very fired up for my next race---the Mountain Masochist 50 mile Trail Race, otherwise known as MMTR. This event is part of the Montrail Ultra cup and is celebrating its 25 year under the leadership of David Horton. Next year, David will turn over the reins to Clark Zealand, so this is an extra special year to run the race, as it will be David's last one as R.D.

I have run MMTR twice before---in 2003, it was my first 50, and I suffered terribly with a hip flexor strain but managed to finish in 10:25 alongside Ryan Henry, whom I met on the trail and has since become a very good friend. In 2006, I ran a faster time (9:40) but I know I can break 9:30, so that is my goal this year.

Today, my training partner Bill Potts and I went into Ragged Mountain Running Shop here in C'Ville for some last minute coaching from owner Mark Lorenzoni, who has coached me for the past two years. Mark is an awesome coach and his wise words: "Even if you feel great, slow down!!" He is right. I hammered the first half last year and paid for it. This year, Mark had me run big mileage weeks in July and August and I did some intense speedwork in September and October, so I feel better prepared than ever. We'll see...the weather report looks awesome!

There will be some excellent women out on the trail...Nikki Kimball, Krissy Moehl, Annette Bednosky, and Bethany Patterson, just to name a few. Montrail will have many runners there and I am looking forward to seeing some of my Montrail-Nathan teammates.

It is absolutely gorgeous in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia right now---the leaves are turning and the skies are bright blue. I will run this race with a heart full of gratitude for my health and fitness, and the chance to play in the mountains all day with my friends. And the best part is that Rusty and Virginia will be at the finish line waiting for me...woo-hoo!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Virginia Slam

On October 13-14, 2007, my friend Keith Knipling completed the "Virginia Slam" of 100-mile trail races by finishing the fall version of the Wild Oak Trail (Hot TWOT)100 in a course record time of 27:11. The Virginia Slam is currently the Cold TWOT, the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100, The Old Dominion Memorial 100, the Old Dominion 100, and the Hot TWOT. Keith was the first finisher in each these events with the exception of Massanutten, where he finished third.

Quatro Hubbard and I had the honor of running the last 8 miles with Keith, and watching his calm and focused attitude at the end of this grueling event was extremely inspiring. He was running at an easy and comfortable pace and didn't seem tired or stressed, and he ran this final 26-mile loop in 8:03, which is considered fast for even one loop. The TWOT 100 has nearly the same total elevation gain as the Hardrock 100 (about 32,000 feet total, 8,000 per loop). Keith's time at TWOT was in the same range as the leaders of the 2007 Hardrock 100 (although Keith downplayed that comparison because of Hardrock's altitude). Nevertheless, it is a remarkable achievement. I took a video of Keith running with about a mile to go, and of the finish.

Keith's father Gary, with whom he finished the Grand Slam in 2006, was at the finish line waiting to greet Keith, along with Dennis Herr, the founder of the TWOT 100 and the first person to finish all four loops. Dennis' daughter Holly was also there to lend support. Here are the guys celebrating (click for larger):

Congratulations, Keith! Happy Trails!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Odyssey 40 Miler, 9/22/07

A few years ago, when I was still racing triathlons, I did the Odyssey Half Iron Tri at Lake Anna, VA. It was a tough race but very well-organized, and it had the added bonus of being held concurrently with the Odyssey Double and Triple Iron Tris (yes, that's double and triple the usual Ironman distance). It was very cool to share the course with the uber extreme triathletes, and watch them go their distances like it was no big deal.

Odyssey Adventure Racing is the organizer of these events, as well as well-known adventure races such as Beast Of the East and The Endorphin Fix. A few years ago they started the only full Iron distance off road race (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run) and today it is the only race of this distance and terrain in the US (there are others in Europe). Last year they added a half marathon and marathon trail running race, and this year was the first for the 40 mile ultra distance race. The races are held at Douthat State Park near Covington, VA, and knowing that the trails at Douthat are revered by mountain bikers and runners, I signed up for the 40 mile, along will a few other VHTRC friends. I really love the 40-mile distance, as it is always a perfect days workout, usually taking me about 8 hours to finish.

Because we were running three loops of a 13.3 mile course on a trail marked for triathletes (they were on their bike leg while we were on the trail, and would start their runs in the evening), there were mile markers posted on trees. Thus it was interesting (and deflating) to see one's mile splits change from loop to loop as the sun came out and the temperatures jumped. The total elevation gain for the 40 mile was 9,282 feet of climb,and the first 7 miles of each loop were on rocky, technical trail that lead to 6 miles of awesome downhill on wonderful, runnable trail and dirt road.

The loop format was deceptively difficult for me...after the first loop, I felt great. But after the second loop, the heat was on (it was 12 noon and in the mid 80s), and my cooler in the transition area, filled with ice-cold drinks, was beckoning. I saw fellow VHTRC and Montrail teammate Bryon Powell there, and was surprised, as he is always a top finisher...but he was calling it a day after falling badly. I also heard that Jeff Wilbur (scroll down to see him at Hardrock climbing Grants Swamp Pass) was also stopping after two loops and it was tempting to join the party...but Helen Cacciapaglia and Bryon were adamant that I get back out there, so off I went for the final loop (thanks, guys!). Needless to say, it was brutal knowing what was ahead and running alone for the entire loop, but also a good exercise for me in having a positive attitude and eating and drinking sufficiently. I came across one runner who was having big problems with the heat, but Greg Loomis had given him some gels when he passed him earlier, and he was coming back after sitting on the trail for an hour because of nausea.

I was hoping to run around 7:30 given my first loop split (2:20), but the heat affected my next two splits (2:40 and 2:53), so I was thrilled to break 8 hours in the end, finishing in 7:53. At the finish line, I saw Rusty who had finished third overall in the 56-mile mountain bike race (there were 11 other endurance events held on the trails and roads of Douthat as part of this race weekend), and we celebrated finishing with Greg Loomis, my training buddy who was worried I would beat him when we ran together three weeks ago...Greg finished second overall and beat me by over 30 minutes! I ended up third overall and first woman (though there weren't many women racing...).

Ed Cacciapaglia finished the 40 as well, and Kirstin Walcott, Jay and Anita Finkle finished the Half-M. Hopefully next year we can get a larger group of VHTRC friends to join us...despite all the other events going on alongside the 40 miler, the entire scene was very low-key and friendly, and Susanna, the trail race RD, was eager to hear our feedback (for Coke and fruit at the AS, for example). The adventure racing mindset is very much a part of this event, as the time cut-off for the 40 miler was 24 hours (allowing for the triathletes to finish), the aid minimal but adequate, and the course very tough...but as a new event on the ultra calendar, I expect more folks will come out to experience the great trails at Douthat State Park and that the minimal kinks of a first-time event will get worked out. I particularly enjoyed doing my race while Rusty did his and having him hand me an ice cold cappuccino Ultragen at the finish line! YUM!
Click here for more photos of this great day in the woods.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

VHTRC Womens Trail Half Marathon, 9-8-07

The VHTRC Women's Trail Half Marathon was my very first VHTRC event in 2002, and each year I look forward to coming back for a variety of reasons: for an anaerobic suffer fest "training run" for my longer ultras; for a great workout on the hilly BRR 50 course; for the camaraderie that only a race for women can provide; and to be able nurture dear friendships forged from this and other VHTRC events. The photo above shows me with wonderful volunteers Tom Corris, Gary Knipling, and Keith Knipling, who were just a few of the many folks who helped RD Margie Schlundt put on such a great race.

The 2007 edition of the race was hot, humid, and dry, thanks to weeks without rain. The trail was in good shape and despite the hot temperatures, some very fast times were run by some very fast women. In fact, I was marveling at how fast the ladies in the 40-45 age group were (this is my age group, of course). I had just read this interesting article in the New York Times about women runners getting faster as they get older, and the WHM not only confirms the author's observations about speed, but also about embracing competition: when women are given opportunities to be competitive in a supportive environment like the WHM, they can shed their inhibitions about being passionate and can find physical, emotional, and spiritual energy they never knew previously.

I was very pleased with my race this year. I was just a minute off my PR for this course from 2006 despite much hotter temps than last year and some annoying GI distress. I also appreciated the great competition from fellow VHTRCer Challen Edwards, who pushed me all morning and ended up with a huge WHM PR, over 7 minutes! It was also great to see VHTRC women Bunny Runyan and Luanne Turrentine, who are awesome race crew members at many ultras, finish strong. Yay ladies!

This is the essence of the WHM, after all: bringing women of all running abilities together who are willing to take risks, try something new, and challenge themselves and one another. I hope that the many women on the trail today who were first-time trail racers will allow their WHM experience to be a stepping stone to future adventures on (and off)the trail, and that those returning to the race were able to nurture their competitive drive, with passion and spirit!

Monday, September 3, 2007

The Shenandoah Mountain 100 Mountain Bike Race, Sept 2, 2007

Rusty decided last spring to enter his first 100-mile mountain biking race, the Shenandoah Mountain 100 (SM100), and I jumped at the chance to support him. He was my awesome crew at the Western States 100 in 2006 and has been a steady supporter of all my ultrarunning adventures, so this was my chance to help him, and perhaps share a bit of what I had learned in my 5 years as an ultrarunner.

The weather was absolutely perfect all weekend long...highs in the low 80s and very cool at night, in the 50s. We arrived at the Stokesville Campground on Saturday afternoon and found a perfect camping spot with a view of the southern end of Massanutten Mountain (how symbolic, as the Massanutten Mountain 100 was my first 100 miler in 2005!).

This was my first taste of the ultra mountain bike scene, and it was clear that these folks are a bit younger than us (mostly in the 20s and 30s, but there were a few hardcore 40-50 year-olds too), but just as laid back and fun as the ultrarunning crowd...in fact, they really, really like to party! This event was the final race of a national ultra mountain bike series, so "everyone" who was anyone was there (save for few who opted for the national championships out in CA this same weekend, including last year's winner and local fave, Jeremiah Bishop). However, all the elite women were there, as well as 24-hour solo champ Chris Etough and Floyd Landis, who was second at the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike race a few weeks ago.

The pre-race pasta dinner was delicious as was the Old Dominion Ale (OD was a race sponsor, of course!). We sat with a group of men who were a mix of newbies and old-timers to the race, and shared race plans and listened to their sage advice. The whole scene reminded me of Promise Land 50K on steroids: a huge campground that served as the race start and finish, a huge shelter where you could get food and beer all day, and friendly volunteers and family members cheering on the racers. In fact, the SM100 race director is the "other" Chris Scott, who is a sometime ultrarunner, having run a loop of The Wild Oak Trail (TWOT) a few times with the VHTRC. Chris is the voice of the race, giving helpful pre-race directions and handing out awesome awards at the post-race party with a mellow, funny attitude...it's no wonder this event was full (over 400 riders) and that it is "must-do event" for the serious ultra mountain biker. I was very impressed with the entire organization of this event.

Speaking of TWOT...in addition to crewing for Rusty, I was going to be able to get a little training run in during the race (the race organizers discouraged crews from meeting racers at each AS due to parking constraints). My VHTRC friends Bill Gentry, Ryan Henry, and Greg Loomis had agreed to meet me at the TWOT trailhead for a fun, 26 mile loop. We were able to see the top-5 racers (including Floyd Landis) during the morning, and the top-25 bikers at the end of our run while the bikers were descending (hammering) Little Bald. We had a great day out on the trail mixing it up with the bikers, while planning new adventures and sharing stories from past races. When we finished, Bill Gentry and I went back to the campground for food and drink before heading out to the mile 88 aid station. There we saw the back-of-the-packers after their brutal, bone-jarring descent from Little Bald, before their last 12 miles to the finish.

The finish line was a huge party. Race finishers received a pint glass from Old Dominion ale as their finishers award (as well as many age group and grab bag awards). The food was yummy (they cooked 500 pounds of french fries) and the beer plentiful. The best part, of course, was watching Rusty finish his first 100-mile race in great spirits amidst cheering and celebration! Who-hoo!

View all my photos from this very fun weekend here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Highland Sky 40

On June 16, I ran the fifth annual Highlands Sky 40, a very tough ultra presented by the West Virginia Mountain Trail Runners (WVMTR). The course starts at the base of the Roaring Plains trail and continues along the Eastern Continental Divide to the Dolly Sodds Wilderness, with every type of terrain imaginable: rocky single track, bogs, exposed dirt road, boulder-hopping, newly cut trail through old growth forests, and a bit of pavement. This race showcases the incredible beauty of West Virginia as well as the generous hospitality of the folks of the WVMTR. The pre-and post-race dinners take place at the Canaan Valley Resort, which is also where the finish line is (in front of the resort swimming pool, no less!).

I was the only member of Team Montrail-Nathan at Highland Sky this year, but Annette Bednosky, David Horton, Space Johnson, and Bethany Patterson have run this race in previous years. There were many runners wearing Nathan hydration packs...in fact, I wore my Intensity the entire race and was really glad I did, because I felt great about how I managed my hydration and nutrition throughout the race. Krissy, I kept thinking about you and your colleagues at Nathan while running...I love my Intensity!!

In my opinion, Highland Sky is one of the toughest ultras on the East Coast mile-for-mile (I believe Horton said those exact words after the first year he ran it). If you like highly technical trail but also love to run on single track and dirt roads surrounded by incredible beauty, this race has it all. The WVMTR does an amazing job and Montrail was a race sponsor again this year. Thanks, everyone, for a great adventure! Here is a link to my photos from the race finish line.