Tuesday, December 21, 2010

December rituals

I love December. The cold weather means great running weather for me, and the anticipation and preparation that comes with Christmas, and spending time with my family, make me feel at peace regardless of how tough a year it has been. My favorite day, other than Christmas, is the second Saturday in December, when I join my good friends for 66.6 miles in the Jefferson National Forest...otherwise known as Hellgate 100K. It is a race that has gotten under my skin, and one that I have written about for the past five years. This year, I chose to watch from the sidelines and crew and support my friend Stephanie as she went for her first Hellgate finish.

I love Stephanie's sharp wit, sense of humor, and the fact that she is a devoted mom to two boys, trying to balance the ultra life with everything else. She is also a very talented ultrarunner, and it was a privilege to watch her hammer the last three miles of the 66.6 mile course, attempting to break 17 hours, only to miss it by 41 seconds...all with her trademark smile on her face. Thanks, Steph, for letting me tag along on your Hellgate journey!

Here are two excellent and entertaining reports from the women's winner, Helen Lavin and fourth place female, and 8-time Hellgate finisher, Rebekah Trittipoe.

Another December ritual is the Winter Solstice Trail Run, now in its fifth year. It is held on the third Saturday of December, and when it was canceled last year due to blizzard conditions, I really missed it. The Solstice Run, as Bill and I call it, started with as just a few friends running the trails around UVA and has grown into a 45+ person trail run on the Rivanna Trail. Most of the runners are road aficionados, and the Solstice Run is the only time all year when they run on the trail; but for others, the Solstice Run is on their running bucket list, as they attempt (trail conditions and course closures depending) to run the entire 21-mile Rivanna Trail loop that encircles our city.

This year we had perfect Winter Solstice conditions: 2 inches of fluffy snow, cold temps, and 12 runners who finished the loop! It was a wonderful celebration of our local running community. Jen Nichols came all the way from Abingdon to join us, and she wrote a great review of the run here. Thanks, Jen! Q's photos of the run are here.

Finally, it wouldn't be December without my first run in the snow with Jack. Being a smart Aussie, he knows that Mom loves to run in the snow, so when he sees those first flakes start to fall, he gets very excited. We ran in the gorgeous snow of December 17 and loved every minute. The clear skies, cold air, bright snow...bliss.

Simple rituals tell our story...what are yours?

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 event...now 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