Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Time falls away at Hellgate 100K

I have been an ultrarunner for ten years now. It has been an amazing ride, filled with peaks and valleys of adventure, disappointment, satisfaction, fear, and lessons learned. The threads that weave the ultra community together are the shared experiences and bonds forged during training runs and races. We spend hours on the trail and during the post-run parties hashing the details of our favorites trails and adventures, and planning for the next one. Not surprisingly, many of my ultrarunning friends have a particular race that defines them, that they obsess over and look forward to more than any other. AJW has Western States, Gary Knipling has MMT, Keith Knipling has Cascade Crest, Steve and Deb Pero have Hardrock, Mike Bur has The Barkley, and I have Hellgate 100K.
I have run Hellgate six times, more than any other ultra in my career. For the first five, I became obsessed with breaking the 15-hour mark. In 2005, the "snow year", we ran on sheets of ice and over 6" of powder, and I finished in 15:56. In 2006, the "Leaf Year" we got to see the trail that was hidden from the snow...and there were leaves, piles and piles of them. I ran a bit faster, in 15:16. In 2007, the "Warm Year" I raced Rebekah Trittipoe for the last 6 miles and second place (my highest finish) in 15:36. In 2008 we had a full moon and excellent weather, and I just missed my goal with a 15:03. Finally, in 2009, I came rested and determined to break the barrier I had set before me and did just that in 14:58, but it took everything I had.

 After that race, I took a break from running the 2010 event. I wanted to jump off the intense cycle of focusing on time and splits and instead be part of the event in another, more relaxed way. I drove down on race morning to help my friend Stephanie Wilson achieve her goal of finishing, which she did in strong fashion in 17:01. I took photos, ran the last six miles, and hung out at the finish helping runners get food and showers. I loved being on the other side, but I missed being "out there," and knew that in 2011 I would be back.

My CAT friends Jen Nichols, Mike Stadnisky, and Christian Dalhausen were entered in the 2011 race and their energy and enthusiasm about the event got me fired up. There is nothing like being a Hellgate newbie, and I had a blast training with them, answering questions about the race, the trail, and what to wear and eat. I knew the special adventure that awaited them, and it was so much fun to be part of their preparation---perhaps that is the teacher and coach in me. We decided to start together, to run easy to Camping Gap (mile 13, about 3 hours in), and then go our separate ways if needed. Most importantly, I decided to not look at my watch for the entire race, and to just run on feel (aka "perceived effort"). This would be a huge challenge for me, as my watch has always been an integral part of my racing plan---I needed to know my splits so I could adjust accordingly...or so I thought.

After we sang "Oh, Canada" and "The Star Spangled Banner" we were off at 12:01 am. Jen, Mike and I maneuvered through the pack with Christian not far behind, and soon we were climbing together up to AS 2, Petites Gap. The moon was out, there was no wind, and the long climb up the mountain warmed us up. In and out of the aid station, we bombed down the single track of the Terrapin Mountain course and soon were climbing up to Camping Gap. Jenny had fallen behind a train of runners, and Mike was pulling me up the mountain. We turned off the lights and enjoyed the moonlight. It felt easy. I wondered what time it was and then told myself to let it go, and we ran down the Promise Land section where Mike pulled away and I was alone.
Sunrise over Headforemost Mountain, mile 25
Since I didn't have my watch, I used the moon and the sun to help me predict my pace. I knew that if I came into Jennings Creek (AS 5) in the dark, then I was moving well. I saw our super crew Bob Clouston and Drew Kreuger and they looked surprised to see me: "Don't tell me what time it is!" I laughed/pleaded. And, they didn't, instead directing me to the pancakes and eggs and wishing me well. After Little Cove Mountain (AS 6), Kristen Eddy passed me with a smile and a greeting, so I knew I must be moving well (Kristen is a national class adventure racer and very fast trail runner). Hmmm, I thought. If I am near Kristen, then I bet I am in the top 5! This was exciting given the strength of the womens field this year. So, I made a little deal: I could look at my watch at mile 40 (just once) so I could get a sense of where I was. I would be absolutely thrilled to be near 10:10 am (my fastest split to that AS). Just as I was entering the AS, I looked down and the time read: 9:53. YOWZA!

Horty greeted me with a shout,"Fourth Woman!" and I was in and out in a flash. Bob had a delicious burger waiting as well as a full bottle of Perp, and then I was off. No more checking of splits, no more looking at the watch...just run! And run I did, as well as think about why I had been able to run the first 40 in such a fast time. I believe it was a combination of Masochist fitness, trail knowledge, nutrition (I ate and drank almost 4,000 calories for the 66 miles), and most importantly, letting go. Letting go of pressure, of time, of stress, of the past...and being fully present. Letting go.

The rest of the race went by in a blur. I was thrilled beyond belief that I would be able to run in the solid 14s for the first time in my Hellgate career. Alyssa Godesky passed me on the last climb looking really strong, and I wished her well as we hoofed it up and over the parkway for the final downhill. The sun was higher in the sky than it had ever been before on this downhill, and I took it all in as I approached Camp Bethel and the finish: 14:41, fifth woman, and a 17-minute PR. But who's counting? Not me.

This is a retrospective I made of Hellgate in photographs and video, from 2005-2008. Take a look. You might recognize West Coasters, elites, VHTRC buddies, and long, lost friends. I watch this every year as I get ready for the race, as it reminds me of why I love it so: the people, the trail, and the adventure. And the music says it all.

Thank you, David Horton, and all the Hellgate volunteers who make this event possible and so very special.

"Let it slide
let your troubles fall behind you
let it shine 'til 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" .

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Race Within a Race: Masochists 2011

On Saturday I ran the Mountain Masochist 50 for the fifth time. I love this race for many reasons: the gorgeous fall foliage and views from the ridges; a course that has been more or less the same for 29 years; a great mix of technical trail, jeep roads, and lots of climbing (over 8,000 feet); and the wonderful friends and memories I have made over the years as a runner or crew member.

In 2003, "Masochists" (as it is known by the old guard) was my first 50 and I suffered greatly in the second half to finish in 10:25. I was injured in 2004 but was able to crew for my friend Mike Broderick and join many of my VHTRC brethren for a great reunion, which Anstr Davidson documented with an entertaining reflection on the race, its history, and David Horton. I came back in 2006 with more experience and proper training to run a 9:40, but felt horrible at the finish with toasted quads, and in 2007, I trained all year for a PR and was able to get it on a perfect day in 9:34:18. I then took a few years off from the race to run Grindstone 100 before venturing back in 2010.

Mike Broderick on the Wild Oak Trail, 2004

 Last year's race was bittersweet. We lost Mike to stage 4 lung cancer the day before the race (and his 53rd birthday) and I was determined to run as he would have wanted me to---within myself, smart, and patient. Mike was a beloved ultra and marathon coach who had trained hundreds of runners with that same philosophy, so with Mike's voice inside my head and spirit urging me on, I ran a 9:34:41, close to a PR but off by 23 seconds. I was thrilled to have come so close, but also emotionally drained and not in a huge celebratory mood, so Rusty met me at the finish line and took me back home...with a stop at Blue Mountain Brewery just a few miles away, of course...

This year, Masochists presented a new challenge: the final race of the Lynchburg Ultra Series (LUS). I had never been able to run the LUS due to schedule conflicts, so I was excited when the race dates worked out in my favor. I wrote on this blog in January that I wanted to "welcome change, seek out adventure, and take a chance at failure" in 2011, and this mantra has guided my training and racing decisions all year. The first three races in the LUS, Holiday Lake 50K, Terrapin Mountain 50K, and Promise Land 50K reward leg speed and turnover, while Masochists favors strong climbing and overall endurance, so I knew I had my work cut out for me. By the end of the spring season, I sat in second place among the women in the LUS standings, just 13:14 behind 22-year-old Jamie Darling, an up-and-coming LU graduate.

The concept of running a race-within-a race is really fun and satisfying, as many of my ultra buddies can attest. The challenge of going for an age group or overall masters win keeps training interesting and fuels motivation on cold dark mornings in the winter. Being only 13:14 away from the overall LUS title gave this year's Masochists training a little more of a focus on developing speed and strength for the the last miles when I seem to fade. My SNP adventure run in September gave me a huge confidence boost, as did a hard run on the Wild Oak Trail, the Buck Mountain Half Marathon as part of a 23 miler, and pacing Rob Colenso at Grindstone, where I was on my feet for eight hours. I also ran a lot of long runs incorporating marathon and tempo pace, and lifted at least twice a week, focusing on core and upper body strength.

CAT members Harry, Drew, and Cristina Krueger

However, the best decision I made was enlisting Harry Landers as my "handler" (another old-school ultra term for "crew"---a throwback to the 100 mile endurance horse races). Harry volunteered to help me on a whim about two weeks before the race, and I gave him my instructions for getting me in and out of the aid stations quickly. When I arrived at Long Mountain aid station (about 27 miles into the race), Harry told me where I was among the women (ninth), that there were two ladies just ahead, and that I was gaining on them. Perfect! I love climbing, and particularly love climbing the next section, Buck Mountain. The theme from "Rocky" plays on an endless loop from the aid station 3 miles away, and there are motivational scripture passages that greet the runners as they climb. Just like last year, I found myself getting very emotional as I ran by, thinking of both Mike and of my father, who had passed away in October after fighting pulmonary fibrosis for over six years. Regis Shivers, Jr. was on the trail just ahead and it was comforting to talk with him, as his father had died six years ago after struggling with cancer.

Leaving the Loop
 The next section after Buck Mountain was rolling, runnable trail and jeep road, with leaves falling all around and the sun shining, so with two Angels on my shoulder, I wiped away the tears and went to work! I eventually came upon Jamie and my friend Meredith Terranova, whom I met at Masochists in 2007, and both seemed to be having a tough day, so after chatting a bit I made my way up the mountain. I was feeling great and climbing well, and looked forward to seeing Harry again at the entrance to the Loop at mile 35. The Loop gets a bad rap, and I can see why. The first few miles were great running, and then it got rocky and technical. This would be the first technical trail of the day, and I found myself cramping a bit as I descended some slippery scree. It was the highest point of the race, so more climbing was involved, often over slippery leaves. My experience has been if you are on the edge of having a tough day, the Loop will either make or break your race. Fortunately, I managed to run it in under an hour and pass two more women as I was leaving, so I got a shot of adrenaline when I saw Harry and grabbed my bottle of Perpetuem. He told me that I had gained 4 minutes on Jamie, but this meant I still needed to run hard all the way to the finish to get beyond the 13 minute spread. Time to hammer!

The last 10+ miles of the race are a mix of long downhills and steep climbs on dirt road, and then a long, tough section on leafy trail. This is traditionally another place where MMTR races turn ugly, and I had prepared for this in my training. I knew that keeping my pace strong and close to my PR splits would be the only way I could make good time. I cranked up the iPod shuffle and the songs that popped up were great omens..."Clocks" by Coldplay, "Almost Home" by MCC, and "Little Wonders" by Rob Thomas (and my ultra anthem) came up 1-2-3 and I was hammering (at least it felt like it). I hit the last AS right on PR pace and thought, "Hmmm...I may have another chance at breaking 9:34:18 this time..." but then I told myself, "Shut up and run!" This became the mantra for the last, long 3+ miles to the finish. I hit the one-mile-to-go mark in 9:25ish, knowing that I just needed to run marathon pace to get the PR, and 7:45 later, that's exactly what happened, in 9:33:31!

At the finish, with Horton and Ashley double-checking my time
Horton yelled and pointed at me at the finish, most likely thinking, "I can't believe she is running as sixth woman when I/Clark seeded her 11th!" HA! I pointed right back at him, thanked Clark, and promptly lay on the grass, waiting for the rest of the field to arrive. This was the best part of the day: cheering for friends as they made their way down the road, digging deep for the PR, the top-10 placing or the final cut-off time. Everyone had a story and you could see it on their faces, in the way they ran, sprinted, or cried at the finish. Meredith arrived with her huge trademark smile, and Jenny Nichols, who came up to train many times with the CATs and VHTRCers, cruised in with a huge PR and for the final top-10 spot with the biggest grin on her face. I was so happy for her!

Jenny and me
 When Jamie arrived just a few minutes later, Horty and Clark went to work adding up our final LUS times, and when it was over, I had crept ahead by just 1:08. Jamie had worked incredibly hard and was visibly drained, and I am sure bummed that this "old lady" (as Horty likes to call me) was able to pass her in the standings. But she was very impressive with her 1:30 Masochists PR despite having a tough day, and she made me work for every minute of my race. I have written before that I relish the opportunity to race with other women as they always make me bring out my best, and this was no exception.

The rest of the evening was spent cheering the final finishers, road-tripping back to Lynchburg and the awards dinner with CAT friends Q, Bob and Joey, and enjoying the camaraderie that comes after a race like Masochists. Clark had told us at the pre-race meeting that 2011 may be the last iteration of this particular Masochists course due to Park Service pressure, so next year we could have a slightly altered course or something dramatically different. But what will remain the same? Running 50+ miles in the Blue Ridge mountains in November, chasing PRs and cut-off times, sharing race stories at the finish line, and being part of another Mountain Masochist with good friends, new and old.

Charlottesville Area Trail Runners (CATS) at the finish

Happy Trails!

Photos by Brock Nichols and Christian Dalhausen

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Runners await the start of the 2011 Grindstone 100

At the start of the fourth annual Grindstone 100, David Horton said a prayer that set the tone for the entire weekend. He prayed for the safety of the runners and crews, and then gave thanks for the privilege of being able to run this race.


For those who can run long distances in the mountains over trails, in beautiful weather surrounded by the support of family and friends, it is truly a privilege.

With Drew and his pacer Bob. Grindstone was Drew's first 100

 To share training runs and racing plans, give advice and tips, offer pacing and crew help to newcomers...

Clark Zealand, David Horton, Andy Jones-Wilkins
To befriend some of the greatest runners in the sport (who are humbled by the same injuries that plague the rest of us)...

Dowells Draft, mile 20/80

 To spend the day in the mountains with nothing to do but run, hydrate, eat, and enjoy the views...
View towards Elliott's Knob
To pace a friend in his second 100 miler, sharing news of the race, reminding him to eat and drink, and joining in as he hammers past at least 15 runners...

Rob Colenso at Lookout Mountain aid station, mile 72

                                         More than a privilege. An honor.

Congratulations to all the Grindstone runners and finishers, especially Drew Krueger and Rob Colenso!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

SNP Adventure Run!

Joe and me coming into Beagle Gap, Day Three
I have always wanted to try a multi-day run in the mountains. The idea of running with a goal destination each day in a beautiful place, with yummy food and good friends to celebrate with each night, and no real time goal except to finish, seemed like a great way to celebrate ten years of ultrarunning and to put those lessons learned to good use! So, inspired by the Tough Dirt Chicks and by stories from the VHTRC archives of multi day adventures in Shenandoah National Park (SNP), I asked my husband for crewing and parenting support (a critical ingredient), and when that was all set, I invited friends to join me for a 2011 Labor Day weekend trek from the northern boundary of the SNP in Front Royal to the southern boundary at Rockfish Gap, a total of 111 miles of trail.
Shenandoah National Park
As I researched the logistics of this adventure, I learned that there have been variations on the SNP multi day theme over the years. There is a crew that organizes an annual "leapfrog" run, with a U-Haul truck, aid, and alternating runners and drivers. One year, as a birthday celebration, another group ran from the finish line of Masochist in Montebello, hopped on the AT near the Priest and headed north to the SNP for a 4-day trek to Front Royal. More recently, Kevin Smith ran south to north with his wife and family crewing and camping along the way. Our group, comprised of Joe Clapper, Michelle Harmon, Marlin Yoder, Ragan Petrie and I, kept it simple: we would enjoy crew help from friends and family, utilize SNP water sources and wayside food stops, and bunk down at Skyland Lodge and Loft Mountain Campground. Through multiple Facebook threads we hammered out the logistics, set the day's mileages, reserved the rooms and campsites, and eagerly anticipated our long weekend of fun!

Ragan, Michelle, Joe, Marlin and me at Dickey Ridge trailhead
Day One: Saturday, September 3rd~ Dickey Ridge trailhead, Front Royal, VA 
Weather: partly cloudy, humid, highs in mid-80s 
Mileage: 41 miles (Dickey Ridge trail to Compton Gap, 10 miles; Appalachian Trail (AT) from Compton Gap to Skyland Lodge, 31 miles)

A successful ultra runner must learn to be flexible, and we learned the importance of this concept before we ever stepped on the trail on Saturday. It turned out that Michelle would not be running because of a nagging foot injury, and Ragan could only join us for one day. Tweaking the plans, it was decided that Michelle would crew for us while Joe and I went the distance. Ragan and Marlin would run on Saturday, and Marlin would crew on Sunday. My husband (aka The Saint) would drive me up to the start at 4:00am on Saturday and pick me up at the finish on Monday. VHTRC friends Kirstin and Tom Corris would join us Sunday for running companionship and crew help as well.

Michelle Harmon, crew extraordinaire
  After bidding farewell to The Saint, we cruised along the Dickey Ridge trail towards the AT. It was humid and sticky in the hollows and we didn't feel a breeze except on the ridges. Joe told me later that he knew we were in for a long day when he started sweating about five minutes down the trail, and knowing we were going for three days straight, it was important to take the pace very easy. We reached our first aid station at Compton Gap totally drenched with sweat but moving well at about 4-5 miles per hour.
At Compton Gap, comparing "AT miles" to "Skyline Drive Miles"

The next section to Elkwallow Wayside, mile 25, was brutal. Humid, hot, no breeze, and slippery rocks made for some serious suffering, and when we got to the Wayside at 1:30, I was craving ice and a popsicle. Fortunately, you can get everything at SNP waysides---burgers cooked to order, blackberry milkshakes, beer---whatever you need, they have. We fueled up at the car and headed towards Thornton Gap, mile 31, and the biggest climb of the day to Mary's Rock.
Joe suffering on the climb up to Mary's Rock

The trail between Elkwallow and Thornton Gap is lovely, undulating single track and a few short climbs. Ragan and Marlin ran ahead, while Joe and I stayed together. After meeting Michelle at Thornton Gap for the most delicious ice-cold Coke I have ever drank, we took fifty minutes to slog the 1.7 miles to Mary's Rock. However, it was worth the (partially obscured by fog) view, and once on the ridges we began to make good time to Skyland.

Joe atop Mary's Rock

 What drew me to the multi-day run was the chance to spend the entire day outside. I savored the notion of running from dawn to dusk to my room at the lodge,with a cold shower and a hot meal waiting! As we approached Stony Man at mile 41, daylight was waning, and the forest was filled with the sounds of the evening peepers and the Stony Man raven's call. It was heavenly. We arrived at Skyland at 7:12pm,  found Michelle and Marlin, and we were treated to the sight of a bear hanging out in a tree right next to the room. After showers, we had a delicious dinner at Skyland Lodge. I ordered crab fritters, sweet potato fries and French onion soup...as my appetizer. Then I ordered the wild salmon over angel hair pasta and a glass of wine. Joe called me an "eating machine" but that is what you have to be on multi-day runs. The food at the lodge was excellent, and we had a great time re-hashing the highlights of the day and planning the itinerary for the next one.
This bear hung out in the tree for hours at Skyland Lodge
Day Two: Sunday, September 4th~Skyland Lodge to Pinefield gap
Weather: partly cloudy, humid, highs in mid-80s 
Mileage: 35.5 miles on the AT

The next morning, Marlin drove ahead to Big Meadows while Joe and I were up and climbing Hawksbill, the highest point in the SNP, by 7:15. Once again the views were blocked by haze and clouds, but the air *felt* cooler and we were optimistic that we would have an easier day. Hmmm... but as we made our way to Big Meadows Wayside to meet up with Tom and Kirstin, it became clear that we were looking at another hot one.

Joe on top of Hawksbill with the sun rising behind Old Rag
We ordered a large breakfast at Big Meadows (egg sandwich on whole wheat toast and bacon for me), met up with Marlin, Kir and Tom, and headed down the trail toward South River Picnic area where we would meet Michelle. The sun started to shine and we started to sweat---a lot. The trail was lovely, smooth and often a net downhill, making for some easy running and lots of chatter.
Marlin, me, Kir and Joe at Big Meadows

After what seemed like forever, we finally hooked up with Michelle and the green Element aid station (and another ice cold Coke!) well after our predicted time of arrival. I was happy to stay with Michelle and have her pamper me, and was enjoying the non-race feeling of the run...no urgent feelings of time limits or splits or cut-offs. However, I also knew we needed to make up some time to get off the trail by dark, so we couldn't hang out for long.
looking happy, feeling crappy

 Eight miles later, at Swift Run Gap, we met up with the crew and I proceeded to have a meltdown. I was feeling hot, discouraged, confused by the disparity between AT miles and Skyline miles, and was NOT interested in another slogfest up to the Loft Mountain campground (our Sunday lodging), about 12 miles and 4-5 hours away. I don't know who suggested it, but the idea of going for another 2+ hours and 8 miles, and then finding a hotel and Pizza Hut, quickly got me out of my Pity Party and I had a new attitude and energy. 

The view from Hightop towards Simmons Gap

"Let's get this thing done!" was all I could think about as we cruised up Hightop Mountain. Michelle met us at the next gap with  mileages clearly mapped out. She told me, "You only have two more miles" and I was stoked. All I can say is that I felt like a total wimp compared to Jen Davis. I have no idea how she managed to average 47 miles a day on the AT, when I couldn't even run 35 one day without losing it.

We finished Day Two coming into Pinefield Gap, where Michelle was waiting with clean clothes, recovery drinks (Ultragen for me, beer for Joe) and we took off for Pizza Hut, a shower, and a comfy bed just as the rain started to fall. Day Two had taken us 12 hours for 35.5 miles, and we were feeling it! 
Joe finishing of the pizza while I obsess over maps
Day Three: Monday, September 5th~ Pinefield Gap to Rockfish Gap
Weather: cloudy, cooler, light rain, highs in mid-70s 
Mileage: 34.5 miles on the AT

Day Three began with the threat of heavy rain and flash flooding, but in fact we had the most enjoyable weather of the weekend! It was cloudy and cool, and after stopping at McDonald's for sausage and egg biscuits, Joe and I were chomping at the bit ready to roll. I knew this section like the back of my hand, and knew that we would be treated to a lot of ridge running and gorgeous trail. We were able to average 4-5 mph the entire day, and spent the day chatting, wooping, and taking lots of photos. I loved the feeling that I was "running home!"

Joe and me at the start of Day Three

The view looking west from Blackrock
It was also amazing how good I felt with the cooler temperatures. My legs were not sore at all, and I had a ton of energy. Michelle was able to spend more time hanging out and less time driving, as we met her every 8-9 miles. The trail was runnable, rolling singletrack, and as we got closer to my house, the faster and easier I ran. I told Joe, a veteran of many multiday runs, that the 3-day was my new favorite way to run 100 miles. I couldn't believe how well my body responded after two days of big miles, humidity,  and high temperatures. I was very pleased with my nutrition and credited Michelle with every step!

The rain came and went in spurts, and we ran a ton. We passed my favorite SNP landmarks: Doyles River, Jones Falls, Blackrock, Rip Rap/Wildcat Ridge, Turk Branch, and Beagle Gap. I texted Rusty to give him an ETA and we hit it on the nose: 4:08 pm, about 9 hours after leaving Pinefield Gap. We arrived at the southern boundary of the SNP just as the rain really began to fall hard. Woop! Rusty took our photo and we scrambled to the car for the drive down the foggy mountain to celebrate at Blue Mountain Brewery!
Joe, Michelle and me at Rockfish Gap!

What an amazing three days! In the end, as disappointed as I was that Michelle couldn't join us, it became clear that her expert crewing, calming influence, sense of humor, and ultra experience was the key to our successful finish. Joe was an awesome running partner who kept me highly entertained throughout the weekend. I am so grateful to them both, as well as to Marlin, Kirstin, Tom, and Ragan for their help and companionship throughout the weekend.

As we enjoyed eating delicious veggie pizza and sampling the brews at Blue Mountain, I thought about of the most important lessons of the multi-day run: keep the group small (and within your trail pace), have a solid itinerary plan with a few back-ups just in case; don't underestimate the importance of a good crew, a comfortable bed, and a hearty dinner each night; and be sure to count your blessings that you have friends and family who want to help you succeed.

 SNP Three-Day Gear:

Inov-8 Roclite 268s (right out of the box!)
Inov-8 team tank (Louis Garneau)
Patagonia skirt
Patagonia shorts
Injinji socks
Headsweat/Nuun visor
Nathan Intensity hydration pack
Nathan handheld bottle

Fuel/Electrolytes for the 3 days:

2 Hammergel flasks ( 5 servings each)
5 Clif Bloks packages
10 bottles of Cafe Latte Perpetuem
5 bottles of Lemon Tea Nuun
10 S caps
3 Cokes
1 Egg sandwich with bacon
1 sausage and egg biscuit
1 Popsicle
lots of Fritos
3 bottles of Cappuccino Ultragen recovery drink
plus huge amounts of appetizers, pasta, and pizza each night post -run

Photos by Michelle Harmon on Flickr here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tough Dirt Chicks

This is the year of the tough dirt chicks.

First, in late February, it was Jenny Anderson, mother of three and Spanish teacher, who took on the 506.8 mile Camino Del Santiago in Spain. With the support of her family and school, she took two weeks away to run/hike and experience the rich history of the trail and set a women's speed record in the process. She endured snow storms, rain, cold, no sleep, and injury to complete her pilgrimage in 9 days, 5 hours, and 29 minutes.

Jenny at White River 50

Then it was Anne Lundblad. Anne is a mom and full-time counselor at Warren-Wilson College, and a previous JFK 50 course record holder and World Cup 100K podium finisher. She took on the 77-mile Foothills Trail in South Carolina in April and set the women's Fastest Known Time (FKT) in 20 hours and 47 minutes.

Jenny, the legendary Rebekah Trittipoe, and Anne after setting the women's FKT on the South Beyond 6000 summits in 2009

Next, it was Jennifer Pharr Davis. I followed Jen on her quest to set the FKT on the Appalachian Trail this summer by reading excellent blog updates written by her hubby, Brew. Jen had previously set the AT women's speed record of 57 days in 2008, and this time she beat Andrew Thompson's 2005 record by a day to finish in 46 days, 11 hours and 20 minutes. Jen sums it all up in a very moving and personal tribute to the trail and her husband here.

Jen and me (with Rebekah in the background) at Holiday Lake 50K, 2011

Finally, just last Saturday, my blogger buddy Ronda Sundermeier (also a mom) fulfilled her dream of becoming a Leadwoman, which means she completed both the Leadville 100 Trail Race AND Mountain Bike Race, as well as the Leadville Marathon, 50 Mile trail Race and the Leadville 10K, all within a span of 7 weeks. And did I mention this was all at altitude? What is really impressive is that Ronda had no previous endurance biking experience, so she went way out of her comfort zone to learn the basics of endurance biking in order to achieve her goal.

Ronda, all smiles at the Leadville 50

I am in awe of these women. They looked their respective challenges in the eye and took them on with grit, grace, and guts. One of my goals for 2011 is to take a chance at failure, and these women took that risk, and then some. In fact, I was so inspired by their feats that I decided to take on a little multi-day challenge of my own in the next few weeks, just to see if I had a fraction of what they have in guts and perseverance.

My next blog post will report the answer!

p.s. It is fitting that Rebekah Trittipoe shows up in two of the pics. Rebekah is one of the toughest dirt chicks I know. She is a previous FKT owner of the Allegheny Trail and SB6000, as well as being a consistent source of wisdom for female ultrarunners as well as her high school cross country runners.

photos from the blogs of Jenny Anderson, Ronda Sundermeier, and SB6000

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Summer training

Yesterday was the annual Catherine's Fat Ass 50K, which is run on parts of the MMT 100 course as well as on lesser known trails and gravel roads in the southern Massanutten mountains. "Cat's" is a favorite summer training run for the VHTRC folks and friends. You get a free, fully supported run and a festive party in the parking lot organized by Jeff Reed with the help of many volunteers. For me, it is a fun reunion of friends and a great training run in the "cooler" environs of the mountains.

"Cooler" is a relative term, of course. Keith Knipling told me that the thermometer at his house in Alexandria read 90 degrees at 5:00am. Jeff told the runners that it was "cooler" on Friday as he was marking trail than it was last year at the same time, when Cat's was held in 105 degree temps. With heat advisory warnings blasting the print media and airwaves, and knowing that running a 50K in this heat and humidity was basically stupid, I was curious to find out how I could minimize any heat-related issues. I had read about an Australian study that proposed a simple method for increasing running endurance on a hot day: drinking a slushie (or, in 7-11 parlance, a Slurpee). So, as I drove the Charlottesville gang up to the mountains yesterday, we stopped off at the Elkton 7-11 where I got a large Fanta grape Slurpee. No one else in the car was interested in participating in my little experiment, so I had a control group of one. Not very scientific. Whatever.

We arrived at Cat's with plenty of time to meet and greet in the parking lot. I was actually a little chilly after slurping down the Slurpee, and gathered my frozen bottle of Perp and hydration pack for the run. Given the heat, I decided to run my version of Cat's again this year, which was a 25-ish mile version of the course that included the pink trail, which is my favorite. Every aid station had plenty of ice and water, and we had special trail magic in the form of Jack Kurisky's ice pops and Dave Yeakel's electric fan and watermelon. So as I ran along, I felt surprisingly cool and comfortable. We had lots of shade and a nice breeze, and took a lovely dip in Cub Run before heading up the Purple Trail.

Gary Knipling climbing the Purple Trail

The Purple Trail is the stuff of legend among the VHTRC. It has claimed many victims with its long, exposed climbs, dead air in the hollows, lack of water, and never-ending switchbacks amidst the rocks. It came at about 18 miles and 4 hours into the run for us, so we all needed to tank up well. I started the climb with Gary Knipling, and new friends Jim and Chris after indulging in ice cold water provided by trail angels at the trailhead. I was climbing well and feeling really good after the dip in the river, and loved bombing down the pink trail. Hmmm...was the Slurpee making a difference in my attitude? Perhaps. I do know that I totally suck in the heat but was moving well. The overcast skies and taking the time to get wet and hydrate well at each AS certainly helped, and knowing that the party was waiting in the parking lot didn't hurt either...

C'Ville gang...me, Drew, Mike, Chris, Christian, and Joey

The fast guys in the Charlottesville gang are making a name for themselves...despite the heat, Drew, Mike, and Joey all finished the 50K in the 5:30s or faster. It was a great day in the mountains!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Running through history

Yesterday I dropped off son #2 at a lacrosse recruiting camp at Gettysburg College. Since the middle of May, daughter and son have been either studying for exams, traveling to and from Richmond for lacrosse practice, or attending lacrosse tournaments and/or camps in Baltimore, Virginia Beach or Gettysburg. Mom has been either working, writing comments, or driving said children back and forth from their respective activities. And training has taken a well-timed back seat...but now it's time to get back at it!

After dropping off son #2 and making sure he and his roommate had plenty of Gatorade and water in the fridge, I was off. I had not run much in the month of June and was feeling itchy to do something new and cool...but I was also not psyched to run alone in the Catoctin Mountain woods or SNP on the way home...guess I just don't like looking over my shoulder for ax murderers or bears too much. But I was intrigued by the idea of running through the Gettysburg Battlefield (officially known as the "Gettysburg National Military Park") and was eager to get a history lesson along with my endorphin fix. I parked at the visitor's center, picked up a map, and noted the "trail" that wove in and out of the park---a horse trail used by the Gettysburg Equestrian Club and open to walkers and runners as well. Sweet!

Early on the the run I was overcome by the memorials to the various armies, infantries, and regiments.

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The weather was perfect---overcast, cool, and breezy. The gray sky added to the mystique of the day...I had heard about the "ghosts" of Gettysburg and it twas a bit spooky in places. The horse trail wound through fields and woods, and at one point passed a barn with a hole in the side of it---a hole caused by a Confederate cannon ball 150 years ago (according to the history marker in front). I ran by places with famous (to Civil War buffs) names such as Devils Den, Big Round Top, and Little Round Top. Nothing seems to have changed here, except for instead of tens of thousands of dead and wounded soldiers and animals, all that is left here are the (preserved) remains of houses and barns, many memorials, and the sound of the wind blowing across the fields.

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I ran the entire horse trail loop in about two hours, and saw one runner and one equestrienne. Both were polite and friendly. When I got back to the visitor center, I was rather pleased with my choice: instead of worrying about ax murderers and bears, I had plenty of reminders of the brave young men who died a century and a half ago... and I never felt alone.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

If you build it...

...many will come!

Harry Landers is my Charlottesville running buddy who is a Boston Marathon regular,an aspiring ultrarunner, and overall good guy. Last May he joined me and some friends for the awesome Rip-Rap/Wildcat Ridge circuit run, complete with the Super Secret Swimming Hole. This was his first long run in the mountains and he was a rock star! No whining, totally in control of his pace and cruising comfortably after 4+ hours...until he snagged his foot on the trail and took a tumble. No worries, though! Harry brushed it off with style and continued down the trail for the last hour of the run...with a broken collarbone.

Harry at the super secret swimming hole

Of course, the fact that he didn't mention this little detail to anyone until he pulled his shirt off at the finish endeared himself to the ultraunners present---what a tough dude! So, I named the run after him.

Thanks to Facebook, the 2011 Harry Landers Special brought together VHTRC, CAT, IMTR, Richmond Road Runners, and Boston Bound members for a wonderful day in the mountains. I enjoyed watching so many of my friends from different places meet one another at the start, run together on the trails, and exchange contact information after the run. I loved that! I especially loved seeing my friend Linda run her first 21+ miler in the mountains with nary an issue. Woop! So proud of you, Linda!

I also must send a shout out to Kirstin and Tom Corris for braving the 30-foot rope swing into Blue Hole, the fave swimming hole of the UVA student crowd. They were like kids in a candy store, swinging from that rope into the cool waters of the Moormans River below. Very impressive---that is one high leap!!

The CATs, Sabrina, Kirstin, and Jenny wrote awesome reports. Thanks for joining us, everyone!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Monalto Saturday, Three Ridges Sunday: good climbs, good times

Final climb of Montalto 5K--photo by Natalie Krovetz

Saturday I ran the Montalto Challenge 5K. I also ran it in 2009, which was the first year of the event. I love running hills and mountains and this is one big mother: 5K of anaerobic suffering and roughly 1300 feet of climb with a sweeping view of Monticello and Charlottesville at the finish line. All proceeds from the race benefit the Monticello-Saunders trail systems, which make the suffering all worthwhile.

My friend Andy Jones-Wilkins was in town getting ready for his new job as Head of School at Tandem Friends. He is also in the middle of training for his favorite race, Western States 100. AJW has finished the last six WS100 in the top-10, which means he is guaranteed entry for the following year. This also means his training can't suffer when he is traveling to the east coast, so he asked me to set up some training runs with some big climbing. Montalto fit the bill for Saturday, and Sunday we headed south to the Priest and Three Ridges, "the" place to get your climbing legs and trash your quads for any mountain 100.


The weather was gorgeous for a trip up the mountain...clear skies, cool 50 degree temps, and light winds. Eliza, Andy, Harry and I warmed up with an easy jaunt up the Saunders Trail, to check out the first mile of the race. The grade here was gentle, and we had fun catching up and sandbagging our race goals. Eliza was defending her "Queen of the Mountain" title that she earned last year as the first woman, and Kristen was coming back from a stress fracture. Harry was recovering from Boston, and Andy was hoping to get in a solid climb. My excuse/story? I was two weeks out of Promise Land and just hoping to stay close to my 2009 time of 26:35.

We also admired the stencils that were set every half mile up the mountain to the finish line:

(photo by Jay Alexander)

Once the race began, I was able to click off the first mile in a comfortable 7:20, my tempo pace on "flat" roads. Eliza and Andy were long gone, Harry was just behind me and Kristen was just ahead. We stayed like this until the Saunders Trail ended and we turned up Montalto. Then, BOOM. The grade was at least 12%, maybe more. Walking was required. But everyone around me was walking, so at least I wasn't alone. Since power hiking in ultras is my strength, I was able to make good time alternating hiking and running. Kristen (who is always about 15 seconds ahead of me in a "regular" 5K) was about five seconds up until the last switchback. I caught her here and managed to keep running instead of walking, even though I was suffering. Andy, who finished four minutes ahead of me as fourth overall, was standing at the top yelling "PUSH!" so, I did. I also gasped to the nice volunteer fire fighter who was racing next to me, "Pull me in..." and he did. 26:40 and second female. Thanks, Andy, Thanks, Fireman.

(photo of Andy and me--with Monticello just behind--by Audrey Lorenzoni)

Kristen was seconds behind me and Harry just after her, and we stayed on to cheer on the 230+ runners and walkers who made the trek. Wow! What an awesome event. It was so cool to finish the race looking down onto Monticello. After admiring the views, and taking photos, it was time to run back down the mountain and explore the rest of the beautiful trails that make up Carter's Mountain and Secluded Farm. We were able to get in around ten miles total before heading to Greenberry's and the rest of our Saturday.


4:30 am Sunday, Andy and I headed down to Montebello to meet Jeremy, Kevin, Marlin, Jenny, Drew and Nick for a trip up Three Ridges/Mauhar and then the Priest. We met the gang at 6:00am in a light rain, and after introductions and plans for meeting up after the run, the "Fast Guys" (Andy, Jeremy, Kevin, Drew and Nick) took off running up the AT towards Three Ridges. Marlin and I were quite content to hang out and take it easy, as we were coming off a full spring race calendar and very happy to not have to run fast! The Fast Guys made it look ridiculously easy as they ran uphill--Jenny (who caught us later) said she thought they were riding mountain bikes, they were hammering!

The Three Ridges/Mauher lollipop is a favorite run for many reasons. It takes me about four hours at an easy pace to run the 14 miles of the loop, and Marlin, Jenny and I did exactly that. We had a great time catching up on Jenny's recovery from her Camino de Santiago adventure, Marlin's summer Grand Canyon plans, and enjoying the beautiful wildflowers along the trail. Each time I run this loop, I discover something new...this time, it was the pretty white and purple flowers that we never see any other time of the year.

Mountain Laurel on Three Ridges

The Fast Guys ended up running Three Ridges/Mauhar in 2:40 and were bombing down the Priest twenty minutes after we had started climbing up. Whew! Marlin and Jenny kept climbing but Andy and I needed to get back to C'ville, so I peeled off and headed back down. It was a full 24 mile run for the Fast Guys and a solid 16 mile outing for me...and a perfect Mother's Day gift. My first back-to-back in a while, great climbing, and good friends, old and new.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Celebrating Spring at Promise Land 50K+

Apple Orchard Falls

David Horton's Promise Land 50K+ is a rite of spring for many of us in the mid-Atlantic region. Held on the third Saturday in April, it is usually rainy, sometimes cool, often humid, but always beautiful. The waterfalls of Cornelius Creek along the brown ribbon of single track offer peaceful sounds as we trot by, culminating with the breathtaking Apple Orchard Falls at mile 27. No wonder many ultrarunners consider this the most beautiful 50K of the year.

Cornelius Creek Trail

Promise Land was 50K number three on the Lynchburg Ultra Series calendar. It came four weeks after Terrapin Mountain 50K and ten weeks after Holiday Lake 50K. Of the three races in the LUS, it is the most difficult. It has over 8,000 feet of climb in 33-ish Horton miles, and the weather is always unpredictable---usually hard rain Friday night followed by clearing skies and warmer temps on Saturday (that is the pattern I have encountered in all five years I have run the race). This year was no different, and I was a *wee* bit concerned about the "heat" that was predicted---temps in the 60s+ is heat for me. In preparation, I did a bit of heat training in the weeks preceding the race, but basically I adjusted my time goals, ramped up my hydration and electrolyte intake, and embraced what the day and the trail gave me.

I was very excited about this year's PL---I had not been there since 2008, and was looking forward to camping out with Bill, Dan, Gentry, Jack, Marlin, and the rest of the IMTR crew. Bill brought his awesome camper, a tent, chairs and a grill and we were good to go by 4:30 pm on Friday. We sat back and watched folks roll in, shared stories about recent races (Bill had just run Boston on Monday), and sandbagged about our fitness and race goals. We also befriended a local beagle, whom we named Jack. He was a shivering, wet little guy when we rescued him from the hazards of the big bad world; after a night of eating burgers, dogs, and sleeping under the warmth of my towel, he wandered off to find his next meal.

Race morning arrived and, true to form, it was raining. I was secretly happy because I run best in cold rain...but it stopped just before 5:30 am and we were off in dry weather. Darn! I started in the back and found myself totally overdressed by mile 1, so I wasted time on the climb taking off layers. Before I knew it, we were popping out onto the Glenwood Horse Trail, which is also part of Hellgate 100K. Woop! I always get good karma on the Hellgate course and it felt great running in the cool foggy weather. I chatted with Gary, Kerry, and Rebekah as we climbed up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and felt good coming down into Sunset Fields to all the cheers and hoots!

Running into Sunset Fields with Rebekah Trittipoe

My race plan was simple: stay slow and easy in the early hours just in case the sun popped out later and baked me. And that's exactly what happened. As I descended the lovely Cornelius Creek Trail, I felt great but needed to hold back for the dreaded Colon Hollow section---the undoing of many PL runners. I passed Jenny here and felt badly for her---she was battling a cold and having trouble breathing--but knew she would tough it out with her great attitude (and she did!). I felt strong on the road section to the White Tail trail, and then it was time to drop the hammer. Here I passed about 20 people on the Colon Hollow climbs as the sun started to show. I kept drinking and popped an S cap each hour, and had no cramping issues at all. Woop!

At one point I came upon three young LU girls and a dude---they were power hiking this hilly section, so I joined them. The guy turned around and I saw it was Andrew Thompson, aka "AT"...and the current speed record holder for the AT! Cool. KEWL! Of course I am a total ultra geek so I chatted up Andrew on his AT experience, but the most-est cool part was talking Barkley, which he finished in 2009. Andrew wrote the most mesmerizing and well-written Barkley report I have ever read the year he failed to finish five loops, in 2005. I remember reading it and thinking...wow...he really went insane at Barkley...wow. If you haven't read it, take the time to do it.

Being a total ultra geek with Andrew Thompson at the finish

After talking dogs, jobs, and the problems with teens today, Andrew and I started to move past the LU chicas and powered into the AS at a good clip. As we climbed up Apple Orchard Falls, I ran as much as I could, but it was time to split off once I started power hiking. Andrew took off up the mountain and I climbed the falls with a big train of people behind me, making me really work it. I love this climb and tried to do it in 50 minutes, but I was feeling the heat and was sweating buckets by the top. I saw my buddy Bob Clouston from the Charlottesville Area Trail Runners and he was ringing the cowbell---thanks, Bob!

Finally at the top of the climb and ready to roll down to the finish!

The last five miles of Promise Land I usually feel crappy---sore quads, low energy, bonky---but this year I felt awesome. I was hoping that my conservative start would give me enough energy to catch up with the folks in my "race zip code"--typically Rick Gray, Marc Griffin, Marlin Yoder, Beth Minnick---but it was too late to catch them on the last downhill. I got to the final AS at 6:24 and hammered the last three miles in under 22 minutes for a 6:46 finish...my slowest PL ever, but feeling the strongest ever at the finish, and first female masters...I'll take it!

The look on my face says it all: feeling great and happy to be done!

The post-run was a celebration of our ultra community. Horton was there to greet and congratulate each finisher, Clark handed over the nice schwag (Patagonia shorts) and I got a nice Patagucci Ipad bag as well for the masters win. The picnic lunch, cooked by Nancy Horton and her friends, was delicious as usual and we had a great time watching the finishers and sharing stories from the trail. I met some new friends in Andrew, Jamie, Cheryl, and Danny, and got a chance to hang out with the usual suspects as well. It was a great day in the mountains.

Promise Land finish with Headforemost Mountain in the background

Results are here.

Keith Knipling's photos on Flickr are here.

Something special happened at the pre-race briefing...Jamie Darling, Horton's secretary, was surprised by her boyfriend with a marriage proposal, orchestrated by Horton, of course. Her report is here...very sweet! Jamie was trailing me in the LUS standing by only two minutes before Promise Land...love got the best of her on race day as she crushed me by 16 minutes! Woop!

Photos by Keith Knipling, Brock Nichols, and Bill Potts