Sunday, March 27, 2011

Going BIG at Terrapin 50K

Going BIG got me Pattagucci schwag. Thanks, Clark!

I coach the girls' J.V. lacrosse team at St. Anne's-Belfield School, and have done so for the past sixteen years. I love teaching and coaching 14-, 15-, and 16-year-olds. They are sponges---eager to improve, and they are still so young in many ways and unaffected by the mixed messages they get from the media about how to dress, how to act, and what to eat in order to be "cool." The girls lacrosse program at STAB has produced numerous D1 and D3 All-Americans, and the J.V. is the first stop for many who want to play at the next level. I am thrilled to be able to help them achieve their dreams by teaching them about attitude, visual imagery, positive self-talk, as well as practice behavior, commitment, and focus. We have a lot of fun learning about the intangibles to lacrosse and life success as I share with them a thing or two about the Barkley (which many of you know is coming up this weekend!!!).

We lost our first game of the season on Friday. The final score was 12-6; it was 7-2 at the half (them) but the girls made the necessary adjustments and in the second half we had a "better" outcome (5-4). As I rode the bus home on Friday night with the team, I was thinking all at once about the game and what went wrong---I really, really hate to lose-- and how I was going to regroup and get ready for my own race at Terrapin 50K the next morning. I was happy to have the distraction of the race so I didn't have the chance to ruminate all day about the loss. Sabrina sent me a note on Facebook that night with the message, "GO BIG" and that was my mantra for the day. Thanks, Sabrina.

For me, going "BIG" doesn't mean being stupid and shooting my wad in the first 15 miles (I like to believe that I am too "experienced"--a.k.a "old" according to Adam Casseday :-)-- to do that at this point in my ultra career). Instead, going BIG means taking calculated risks, being smart, and going into the pain cave at strategic times. Terrapin, with its mix of fast downhill road running, tricky, technical single track and big climbing, is a good race to be strategic. It is also a perfect race for my inov-8 Roclite 268s, which I wore right out of the box. There are many places on the course that allow fast running and others that demand quick, nimble, foot placement and comfort with technical rocky running. The 268s are a perfect shoe for this type of terrain.

I drove down to the start with Eliza, who was coming back this year to defend her course record of 2:06 in the half-marathon from last year and "redeem" herself after missing a punch. (All the runners in the 50K and Half-M are required to punch their bib number with an orienteering punch to prove that they followed the course). Last year Eliza missed the second punch. She told me that she was in tears at the finish, fearing that she would be DQ'd (she is a world class duathlete and they get DQ'd for things like that)...but Clark Zealand, the RD, simply shrugged and told her something like, "it's all good." Awesome.

Eliza, here at the 2010 Terrapin, beating the boys (and the entire field) to the top

With about 10 seconds to go before the start, after greeting friends and getting all my nutrition and gear ready, I stood in the crowd and yelled, "Go Eliza! Watch out fellas, she's going to kick your butts!" Eliza was laughing and waved me off, but I knew she was going to scare them. She was going BIG too and it was fun to share the race with a friend who likes big, hard goals like me. The start gong sounded, and the speedy half-Ms and 50Kers were quickly out of sight as we ascended up the mountain to the first aid station at Camping Gap.

As is my custom, the plan was to stay towards the back and warm up for the first hour by mixing walking and running, and then shake it out a bit on the downhill section to mile 9.4. Last year I hammered this section at a 6:30 mile pace, and paid for it later with cramping and bonking; this year my goal was to run this section at perceived marathon pace effort. My MP is *about* 7:45, and I have been doing a lot of training this spring at MP and Half-M pace. I ended up running it at 6:58 pace, but felt totally comfortable and in control.

The next section took us on the Hellgate 100K course. Longtime readers of this blog know how much I LOVE that race. It feels like home to me, and as soon as I got on the trail, I yelled, "Helloooo Hellgate!" Marlin Yoder was running just ahead and I heard him laugh. I let loose a bit on the single track, visualizing prior Hellgate runs and taking in all the good karma that I was feeling. It was here that I passed three women, including my buddy Jen Nichols who was running really well. We started my favorite climb back up to Camping Gap and Marlin was my rabbit. He kept a great pace just ahead and we did a good mix of power walking and running. I got into Camping Gap in 2:52, and Horton yelled, "Second woman! First old, old lady!" and with that news, I headed down the trail towards the Promise Land 50K course, feeling really good and energized. Thanks, Horty!

The loop in the Promise Land section has been a tough place for me in prior Terrapins. We climb to the highest point in the course, and at three hours into the race, it is a good test of the morning's nutrition and hydration plan. I had been alternating between a bottle of Perpetuem and my Hammergel flask all morning and was feeling really strong. In fact, I can't remember ever feeling this good on this section. I ran it in 57 minutes, perhaps a bit too fast, but I was telling myself that at this point in the race, it was time to GO BIG or GO HOME. It was time for a gamble, a little risk taking, to try to make some time on the first woman and separate from the women behind me.

I loved coming back to Camping Gap for the third time because I got to see my friends coming towards me. There was a solid VHTRC contingent out there: Bill Turrentine, Farouk Elkassad, Bob and Kari Anderson, Caroline Williams, Bob Coyne, and Linda Wack to name just a few. Everyone was so positive and upbeat, and their cheers gave me a new gear. I felt awesome. I knew the hardest section was coming up and was grateful for all the good vibes. As I left Camping Gap and started the steep, steep climb up Terrapin Mountain, I reminded myself that it was here last year where my race fell apart. I had neglected to take in enough salt and began cramping as soon as I hit the steep rock climb. However, I was prepared this year with "S" caps and had been taking one per hour. I also was repeating my favorite mantra to myself, "Smooth and Relaxed" all the way up the climb and this really helped me stay calm and keep the heart rate down.

Terrapin Mountain overlook---photo by Clark Zealand

After punching my bib at the Terrapin and Fat Man's Misery overlooks, it was time to hammer the sweet, sweet single track down the Rock Garden. The Rock Garden is Terrapin's answer to Hellgate's Devil Trail. It has the worst footing and is the most steep, technical section of any ultra south of the Massanuttens. It only takes about ten minutes to cover but loose, baby-head sized rocks perched precariously on a 15% grade slope tests the ankles and beats the daylights out of the quads, and is a challenge for even the experienced technical runner. Cramping becomes magnified and time put in the in the bank starts to slip away. I was very happy to get out of this section unscathed!

Finally, it was time to check into the last aid station and head for the finish. I got to the station in my fastest split ever, but somehow managed to lose time on the wonderful, beautiful, and totally runnable Terrapin Mountain ridge trail. How did that happen? I wasn't feeling bonky, just tired and ready to be done. Thank goodness Rick Gray caught up to me and pulled me along in his train. We hit the final road descent at 5:30, and I asked the guys, "help me break 5:45". Wow! Rick became a man on a mission, hammering down the road and yelling back at me, "C'mon Sophie! We're going to do this!" I kept telling myself all my usual standby mantras, "Smooth and Calm. Dig Deep. Quick and Light." The road flattened and the finish was in sight. Woop! I love the way Clark and Horton's races always end with a downhill finish.

Rick hit the tape at 5:43 and I was there a minute later---35 seconds off my best time at Terrapin, but feeling better than I ever have at the end of this race, under 5:45 and second female. What a perfect day! I am not sure I could have run a faster or smarter race, so I am going to bank this one and come back to it often when I need a reminder.

Close behind me came a stream of VHTRC, IMTR, and Lynchburg friends...Mike Stadnisky, Marc Griffin, Jack Broaddus, Beth Minnick, Jen, Martha Wright, Kerry Owens, Doug Sullivan, Rebekah Trittipoe, and David Snipes. Horton was at his very best announcing each and every finisher, and the post-race BBQ was really yummy. We hung out at the finish comparing race stories and cheering for our gang who seemed to win most of the age group and overall awards! Many thanks to Clark, Horton, and all the fabulous volunteers for another terrific Terrapin. See you at Promise Land!

Just a few of the many VHTRCers who finished Terrapin Mountain 50K: Marc Griffin, David Horton, Mike Stadnisky, David Frazier, Jack Broaddus, Martha Wright, me, Marlin Yoder and David Snipes---photo by Robin Grossman

Postscript: Eliza ended up going big and breaking her own course record in 2:01, first female and fifth overall...and guess what mantras my lax team will hear at practice this week as we prepare to take on three games in five days?

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Charlottesville Runner

My friend Steven Kozusko, a member of Charlottesville's Boston Marathon training group (aka "Boston Group"), started writing a blog a few weeks ago profiling local runners who were training for Boston (as well as other endurance athletes) and their Charlottesville lifestyle. The blog, "The Charlottesville Runner" does a great job of introducing local and cyber readers with area endurance runners: who we are, why we live in Charlottesville, what we love about our little town, where we train and, most importantly, where we eat and drink coffee after we train.

It's a cool concept and I am honored to be the focus of The Charlottesville Runner this week! Thank you, Steven!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


R2R2R 2005

Ba-lance: noun. "the power or ability to decide an outcome by throwing one's strength, influence, support, or the like, to one side or the other."

I've been thinking a lot lately about how ultrarunning forces me to strive for and keep balance in my life. After nine years of running these crazy fun long distances, I *think* I have found a good balance between home life, work life, and training, but every year brings different challenges. Let's face it---the sport itself is so extreme that talking about "balance" in ultrarunning is an oxymoron. But recently I have gotten a few requests from my blog readers and other runners to share what I have learned about how to maintain balance in my running life, and I am happy to oblige. I learn so much from others' experiences... so I hope this post can be helpful too.

Here's my list, in no particular order, on achieving a healthy balance with running and life:

1. "It has to be organic" My husband coined this phrase when he was talking about his mountain biking training, and it also applies perfectly to ultra training and racing. It has to fit the family schedule, the kids schedule, and the work schedule. If a race is crammed into the space between two or all three, I feel stressed and rushed, and unable to enjoy the moment. For example, I no longer race in April or May (with the exception of Promise Land this year---see below). I have too much going on with the kid's lacrosse seasons, the team that I coach, and work to have any kind of decent, competitive race in those months. It took me a few years and a few DNF's to figure this out, but now it's a no brainer. But it's not just in the springtime: throughout the year, family always comes first.

2. "But if it works, go for it"...another gem from my hubby. Promise Land 50K falls on Easter weekend this year which means no work or lacrosse games Friday night or I am going for it this year. And because I can run PL, I am also able to sign up for the Lynchburg Ultra Series (LUS) which I have never been able to do because of the spring schedule. Woop!

3. Be flexible...probably the greatest lesson of running ultras, learning to be flexible was a tough lesson for this (former) control freak, but one I am happy to embrace now. To me, being flexible means being ready to run in the early a.m. before sunrise or in the late afternoon after practice... being willing to cut a run short when a twinge flares up, or willing to extend the miles when the trail beckons and I feel great...and being consistent and committed about cross training in the gym and in the pool to give my legs a break. I have a few friends who are on the injured reserve list right now, and I feel for them. Being injured stinks but it can also be a huge wake up call. As I have gotten closer to 50, I have figured out that to avoid injury and burn-out, I need at least 1-2 days off per week, at least 2-3 days of pool running and strength training, and that my recovery runs need to be very easy and all on trail.

4. Above all else, SLEEP.. I love to sleep. I especially love to nap. As my kids have gotten older, I have made sure I get at least 8 hours of sleep during the week and at least that, with afternoon naps, on the weekends. I also avoid running too many days at 5:30 am and run in the daylight whenever work and kid schedules permit. Sleep is essential to my recovery and to successful racing. This means I have to run alone a lot, but as I have gotten more sleep, I have also gotten faster. Duh.

Catching up on my sleep at MMT, 2005

5. Eat a lot, and often. I am not a vegan, vegetarian, or committed to a trendy diet. Since I teach health and wellness at my school, I stay fairly current with nutrition trends and fads and what I know is this: to be able to train consistently at 50-70 miles per week and stay balanced emotionally and physically, healthy eating is a must. That means a good dose of plain yogurt, berries and whole grains for breakfast, fruit and protein mid-morning, a healthy, colorful salad and soup for lunch, dark chocolate or decaf skim Mocha from Greenberry's mid-day, then a huge dinner with wine and dessert at home. Or this could mean Margaritas, Red Hot Blues and the Santa Fe Enchilada from Continental Divide, or a sweet potato, Caesar salad and the entire Blooming Onion from Outback the night before doesn't matter. There is delicious food out there. We need to eat it.

6. It takes courage to say no. In the early years of my love affair with ultras, I said "yes" to every run invitation. 35 miles on the Massanutten Trail in late February beginning at 6:00pm and finishing at 8:00am? Sure. 71 miles of the Ring on the Massanutten Trail with very little training and experience? Of course! A midnight run on the (you guessed it) Massanutten Trail in the pouring rain for four hours? Wouldn't miss it! I agreed to all those runs due to a combo of peer pressure, FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), and naivete. As a result, I got burned out, injured, and almost died of hypothermia...and now I absolutely refuse to run on the Massanutten Trail except for once a year. The lesson? Don't be stupid. And see # 7...

7. Run what you love. This was perhaps the best advice I ever got. Achieving balance means being tuned into one's body, mind and spirit. I love to run long distances in the mountains on trails with good friends and beautiful views. Very simple. So, I avoid trails that don't feed my bliss, and I avoid running with negative people. When people say to me, "you HAVE to run _________ race", if it doesn't fit my definition above, I politely decline. Instead, I run races and in places where the trails are fun and fast and the people are full of positive energy. Among my favorites: Highland Sky and the WVMTR crew, Catawba, Grindstone, Western States, R2R2R, Hellgate, and any VHTRC event. Life is too short. Run what you love.

Western States 100, 2006