Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008: A Very Good Year

Virginia and Audrey on Trayfoot mountain

A few weeks ago, as I am sitting around the lodge after finishing my fourth Hellgate 100K in a PR time, I'm giving David Horton grief about how he seeded me this year--5th seed, my lowest ever. (Some background: last year at Hellgate I was 2nd overall woman but apparently experience and a high finish from the previous year mean nothing to Horton). Never one to shy away from a good argument, I get right to the point:

SS: "Horty, why did you give me my lowest seed ever this year?"
DH: "You didn't have a very good year."
SS: "Whaaaa you tawkin' 'bout? What about finishing Grindstone in my fastest 100 miler time ever? What about finishing third at Cheat 50 with Rebekah? What about winning my age group at Promise Land? Huh? Huh?"

At this point Horton was all the way at the other end of the room, on some other random tangent, like announcing to those in the lodge who the Best Blood winner was.


So, is it true what Dr. Horton says? Did I really not have a very good year?

If I define "very good" as meaning top-3 overall in every race I entered, then, no, I didn't have a very good year. (That's what Horton thinks is "very good", I think). But if I define "very good" as meaning finishing 1st or 2nd Masters woman in every race....then yes, I had a very good year. If I define it as meeting---no, exceeding--my goals for 2008, than I had a "FANTASTIC" year!

Here were my ultra goals for 2008:

1. Run faster, shorter races (ranging from 5K-40 miles) in the Spring/Summer with good Masters results...check.
2. Run more weekly mileage injury-free all summer in training for Grindstone 100...check.
3. Finish Grindstone 100 injury-free and without a huge death march at the end...check (I had a teensy death march in the last 5 miles, sorry Mikey Mason).
4. Break 15 hours at Hellgate 100K...missed it by 3:00.

But my "very good" 2008 was so much more than racing and winning and PRs for me. In no particular order, 2008 was really about

-caring for and loving our new puppy Jack
-feeling the rush of emotions while watching STAB lacrosse win States
-listening to my son's fears and worries while he rehabbed his torn ACL
-watching as old friend Tom Perriello, whom we knew when he was 9 and we were college sweethearts, get elected to Congress against all odds at age 36
-sharing the DC experience with my family as we visited the Museum of American History
-feeling the joy on election night when Obama won
-setting a goal to run another 100 miler and loving every moment of training and racing
-hiking my favorite Trayfoot Mountain loop with my family on a glorious winter day and then savoring Crozet Pizza afterwards
-enjoying spending time with my family over a glorious Thanksgiving meal
-watching my children flourish while attempting new challenges

Here are some of my favorite pics from 2008. I'll post my 2009 goals soon.

Vicki Kendall, David Horton and me moments before the start of Grindstone 100

Looking west at Afton Mountain from my sister's barn after Thanksgiving

Dorothy's Ruby Slippers at the Museum of American History

Celebrating STAB's boy's lacrosse state championship with Chapin

Hanging with the girls at the Masochists finish line

Me and my sweedie

Farewell 2008! Here's to a fantastic 2009, one filled with hope, new beginnings, and even greater adventures...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A warm Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone!

I hope you have been able to spend time with family and friends and aren't among the poor souls who have been stranded at airports because of bad weather. Perhaps you are among the lucky souls who are stranded at a Lake Tahoe ski resort? Here in Virginia, we are celebrating a warm Christmas, not a white one. My sister sings on her new album of wanting only two things for Christmas..."Peace on Earth and a snowstorm now and then..." but alas, she will have to wait another year...for snow on Christmas, at least. I'm still hopeful about the peace.

As much as I love snow, I also love the gift of warm, sunny days in December! It was 60 degrees and sunny with clear blue skies this afternoon, so after everyone had opened their presents this morning, Rusty and I left the family at home and went out to Walnut Creek Park with Jack---Rusty rode his single speed and I ran. Jack stayed between us on the trail, chasing Rusty and then waiting for me. It was so sweet to see his eager face as I rounded the bend of the trail. What a loyal trail pup! Rusty and I had a total blast out there and managed to stay together (the single speed kept him honest!). Next up will be some of the trails on the Grindstone course that allows mountain bikes, and then he will get a chance to see what all the fuss was about regarding Chimney Hollow Trail!

(That's me above with Jack, post-run, sporting one of my Christmas presents from Santa, a cool Atayne wicking T in my favorite color and a cool eco-message). Thanks Santa!

Here is the 2008 Speidel family Christmas card photo we would have sent to family and friends, but for a variety of reasons, we opted out of mailing cards this year. From our family to yours, we hope you had a wonderful Christmas Day with your loved ones, and that 2009 brings you all that you dream of, and more.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Fearless, Frigid, and Fast: A Recipe for a Hellgate PR, 2008

Let it slide,
Let your troubles fall behind you
Let it shine
Until you feel it all around you
And I don't mind
If it's me you need to turn to
We'll get by,
It's the heart that really matters in the end

---Rob Thomas, "Little Wonders"

Where do I begin to describe Hellgate 2008? What made it all come together for me this year?

Was it the full moon? We had the good fortune to run under the largest full moon in 15 years. I felt like we were somehow cheating to be able to run without lights for most of the night. The moon followed us all night and into the morning hours, and at one point, I was running on a ridge line with the rising sun to my right and the setting moon on my left. What a gift!

Was it the weather? Frigid temperatures, bright moon, bright sun. A perfect recipe for me. Besides the full moon, the pre-race chatter focused on what the temperatures would be up on the ridges...predictions were for lows in the teens with some wind. I seem to run my best in very cold weather, as long as I am appropriately dressed. We had these conditions before in 2006, so I knew the drill: tights, two wicking layers, a vest and a sturdy wind jacket, glasses, hat and gloves. After the race, many runners were regretting running in shorts and no hat. Ouch!

Was it the trail? We were spoiled this year with leaves that had been washed off the trail by the heavy rains that came the night before. The Devil Trail had been flattened somewhat, though the rocks were still there. But somehow this trail seemed "easier" for me than in previous years. Another gift...

Was it the conservative start and support from the guys? My friends Ryan Henry and Rick Gray were looking to pace themselves at the start and asked if we could all run together given my propensity for conservative starts. Soon we added Neal Jamison, Ed Duval, and Dan Lehmann to the group and we ran together up to Camping Gap (mile 15). They stopped at the AS but since I was feeling good, I kept moving. We were running 15-20 minutes ahead of Horton's sub-15:00 splits and once again I was following them with the hope of breaking 15 I shifted into "assertive running" mode and kept at it. Neal caught up with me and kept me company until mile 42, when he took off looking strong---an amazing example of the training effect, as Neal's longest run since racing the OD100 in June was 14 miles in August...he finished Hellgate in 14:45. Awesome job, my friend. Thanks so much for the great company and the push.

Was it my nutrition? At Hellgate, you need to eat, eat, eat. You are cold and running during your sleep phase, so proper nutrition is the most important factor in finishing the race. Over the course of the race, I ate two, 5-serving flasks of raspberry Hammergel, sipping some every 15-20 minutes. I also ate 6 Clif Bloks just before the start and drank 20 ounces of Sustained Energy in the first 10 miles. After that I drank 20 ounces of water with Nuun supplemented with plain water from my pack. At daybreak I ate an egg sandwich, and then added chicken noodle soup at every AS along with a few more gels and Clif bloks, all at 20 minute intervals for 15 hours. Never did I bonk or lose energy. It was one of those perfect days!

Or, in the end, was it all in my head...or heart? I was so calm and relaxed during the pre-race, it was almost scary. After three years of running Hellgate in a variety of conditions, I knew what to wear, what to eat, how I was going to pace myself, and I was very confident in my fitness. Training for and running the Grindstone 100 ten weeks earlier played a huge role, no doubt. One word seems to best describe Hellgate 2008 for me: Fearless. I ran without fear of the dark, the cold, or the trail. It paid off in a 13 minute PR, 15:03.

Rick Gray and me at the start of Hellgate, 11:58 pm 12-12-08
(photo by Bethany Patterson)

Monday, December 8, 2008


Hellgate's ridgeline near Natural Bridge, VA

On Friday I will venture south to Fincastle and Camp Bethel, the finish line of the infamous Hellgate 100K. Once there I will nab a quiet bunk bed location for napping, catch up with other Hellgate devotees, eat a yummy pasta dinner (but not too much), and listen to Horton as he gives his Hellgate pep-talk/warning/scary story pre-race speech. I will look around the room and see fear and dread in the eyes of the newbies and grins and smirks on the mouths of the old-timers. I will overhear the same conversations between runners and crew: Shorts or tights? Screws or Yaktrax? Hand-helds or hydration pack? Headlamp, hand-held light, or both?

I love Hellgate.

On paper, Hellgate looks ridiculous. Why would any runner want to run 100K in December in Virginia, starting at midnight? Horton started the race in 2002 and it has filled up every year, earlier and earlier. The first year I ran, in 2005, the course was covered in ice and snow, and yet I have come back every year since. Race night falls near my birthday, so I always celebrate the passing year's events in my head while running along the Glenwood Horse Trail in the dead of night. By the time the sun comes up, I am finished thinking about the past and ready for the challenge and the unknown of the future. I have written before that I love the way we run into the light at Hellgate---an optimistic view that is very comforting and very symbolic for me: It is why I run ultras and how I like to live my life.

Am I ready for Hellgate?

Heck yes! I feel fully recovered from Grindstone and have had a few weeks of awesome training runs---a course PR on the toughest 5K course in Charlottesville a few weeks ago and a strong final training run in the SNP last weekend give me reason to think that if I run my race, eat and drink well, keep my head on, and if the weather cooperates, I could break my PR on this course, 15:16, set in 2006. That's my goal, at least...but who knows what the weather will bring Hellgate 2008? The adventure is in finding out.