Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Hellgate #8...and 2013 in pictures

"You wouldn't have wanted it to be any different!!" David Horton yelled, just as I was approaching the finish of my 8th Hellgate 100K.

"You wouldn't have wanted it to be ANY different!!" he yelled again, just in case I had not heard him.

Oh, I heard him. Loud and clear. And, he was right. Despite my declaration that I would "never start Hellgate if it was raining and in the 40s," here I was, a little over 15 hours after starting, at the Hellgate finish line, soaked to the skin due to sleet, snow, and cold, hard, drenching rain. How did that happen?

The start of Hellgate 2013--photo by Stephen Hintzman

The start itself was lovely. Temps were in the mid-30s, there was no wind, and the trail was dry. David had warned us the preceding week that we were finally going to experience true "Hellgate weather" after years of perfect conditions. In fact, in the 11-year history of the race, this was the first "Precipitation Year" where we actually had wet stuff falling from the sky. Race week prep included trading Facebook posts about good waterproof jackets and shoe choices in addition to all the usual hand-wringing. But as we were climbing up Petite's Gap to the top of the Blue Ridge Parkway, it seemed like all the fuss about the weather had been for naught.

Not so fast. At around mile 12 and 3:00am, as we were climbing up to Camping Gap aid station, the sleet began to fall, followed by the snow. Huge, fluffy snowflakes covered the Promise Land section of the course. It was magical.

On the Hellgate course, around 4:00am -- photo by Megan Stegemiller

What I love about running in the snow in the middle of the night is that the trail is lit up, reflecting off my headlamp, and I only have to follow the footsteps in front of me...no worries about going off course! Fresh snow makes everything very quiet and serene, and I was having a wonderful time playing around in it, especially while descending the rockier sections---it made descents much easier, too.

It snowed for about 3 hours, and then, 4 inches later, it was over. But not for long. At around mile 35, the predicted cold rain started to fall. Hard. George Wortley took a great video of the race which shows how bad the weather became here. I was very happy running in just my Patagonia Cap 3 Zip Top, and didn't need to put on my Marmot Precip jacket until about two hours to go, when it started to become drenching. I had been making great time through the Devil Trail at mile 35, but the rain, combined with tired hip flexors (due to the slip, slip, slip-ping on the snowy ascents) started to take its toll. Megan Stegemiller and I came into Bearwallow Gap (mile 40) together in 3rd and 4th place, and as I ate my half a hamburger on the climb out, she and Amy Albu ran past me on the steepest uphill of the race. Yowza! That was some impressive running by Amy, a veteran ultrarunner, and Megan, a rising star in the sport. I was now holding on tightly to fifth, which (to me) is the same as being top 3 anywhere else.

The Forever Section through Day Creek is typically my undoing at Hellgate, but this year I made decent time and was still running at sub-15 hour pace. The creeks were overflowing, the leaves were slippery and slimy, and the rain was flippin' cold. Eating and moving well were the best strategies to get through this section in one piece. I was happy with my fueling plan---I needed to take in at least 3500 calories throughout the race and was using a mix of Perpetuem, Clif Bloks, Hammergel, eggs and the half burger. At the top of the Blue Ridge Parkway, with only 3 miles to go, I looked at my watch and it read 2:30. Typically this descent takes about 30 minutes, but not this year. My trashed hip flexors and cold hamstrings made sure of it. When I rounded the last corner in Camp Bethel, saw the clock read 15:07, and heard Horty's booming welcome, I laughed. The weather was so ridiculous, and yet so perfect for this race.

No, Horty, I wouldn't have wanted it to be any different!

The video I took during the 2008 Hellgate, with comments and photos of so many dear friends. Timeless.


I get a lot of grief for taking video and pics out on the trail, but 2013's photos reminded me why I do it. Here are some highlights!

January ~ New Year's Day Run in the SNP with the Harrisonburg crew along Jones Falls. Can't wait to do it again tomorrow!

February ~ Road trip with the VHTRC to the Uwharrie 40, one of my favorites races

Pam and Alan Gowen, me, Keith Knipling, Tracy Dahl, Rob Colenso, Beth Weisenborn and Sean Andrish

March ~ The Barkley Marathons. Enough said!

The Yellow Gate
with Craig Thornley
Me, Mike Bur, Jenny Nichols, Keith Knipling, and Gary Knipling
April ~ means all lacrosse, all the time. My wonderful JV girls lacrosse team after a run on the Rivanna Trail.

May ~ Montalto 5k, a race to the top of Montalto. Cool weather + fast girls = a 20 second PR.

with my sometimes-when-he's-running-my-pace training pal, Andy
May ~ Reconning the OD100 course with Jenny and hanging out at MMT 100

Jenny Nichols at the confluence of the OD 100, MMT 100, and Tuscarora Trails
May ~ Carter's graduation from St. Anne's-Belfield School

I love this photo, especially because my Mom is front and center!
June ~ Harry Landers Special (20 miles in the SNP with my Charlottesville and VHTRC trail friends)

July ~ Friday's After Five in Charlottesville with SGG, and a surprise appearance by the SGG kids :-)

Lindsay Goodrich, Anna Goodrich, Carter Speidel and Virginia Speidel singing "Hey Ho" while their dads play back-up

August ~ our family trip to Bald Head Island, the best week of the year.

Sunset on our last night
September ~ the Odyssey 40 and back to school --- this year I am run-and bike-commuting!

The view from my run home one evening

The view from the highest point on the Odyssey 40 course

 October ~ Mountain Masochist 50 training on the Fox Mountain course...

 on Three Ridges...

and with Anton Krupicka...

with the Richmond dirt chicks...

November ~ Mountain Masochist 50: This photo of Harry Landers, finishing his first 50 to the cheers of his beautiful wife Janis, is my favorite of the year!

and this one is close behind:

I love how Horty is saying "first old lady!" and Clark is smiling. I love this race.
Hanging with some of my people...
Megan Stegemiller, David Horton, me, and Jennifer Pharr Davis
The view from the highest point on the Masochist course...

and the spectacular foliage we ran through during the race...

December ~ Christmas with our kids, all home from college

and running with the girls on the Thomas Jefferson 100K course

What will 2014 bring?

Who knows, but here are my goals and plans, if it all comes together: stay injury-free, run a PR at Holiday Lake, volunteer at the inaugural Thomas Jefferson 100K, watch my son play his last season of college lacrosse, tour colleges with my daughter, run a girl's only adventure stage run, and finish Masochist (my 8th) and Hellgate (my 9th)... Lots of changes afoot in the Speidel house, but we are looking forward to the adventure.

Life is good...wishing everyone a Healthy and Happy New Year!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

More lessons from The Barkley, 2013

"There was a day when the Barkley runner need go no further than the trailhead to get out of the comfort zone.

You all know about the comfort zone.
That's where most ultras take place.
Running ultras is all about staying in the comfort zone.
All our strategies revolve around staying in the comfort zone.
All our advice is about staying in the comfort zone;

"Start slow"

"Walk every uphill"

"Don't take any chances"

For all the talk about exploring human potential, and seeking our limits, Ultrarunners tend to play it safe.
They line up "challenges" they know they can finish.
And run them carefully
Well within their "limits".

We believe that success is never failing.

--excerpt from 2010 Barkley report by Lazarus Lake, Barkley RD

I opened my 2010 blog post, "Lessons From the Barkley," with this quote, so it seemed appropriate to share it again as I reflect on my trip down to Frozen Head State Park last weekend. This was my first visit to the Barkley Marathons, a race that captured my imagination after I first read about it in a 2003 Trail Runner magazine article written by Neal Jamison...and then again when Mike Bur posted his classic 2004 report to the Ultra List. I have been an avid fan of the event for years, so much so that I created a "mini-Barkley" for my JV lacrosse team to complete each lacrosse season. When I realized I would be able to crew for my friends Mike Bur, Keith Knipling, and Eva Pastalkova this year, I jumped at the chance.

Much has been written about this event, considered by many to be the world's toughest ultra (14 finishers in 27 years, with about 12,000 feet of climb per 20-mile loop). The old timers and loyal followers associated with the Barkley seem both supportive and resistant to the rest of the world learning about their special event, and when the New York Times published a piece on the Barkley three days before the 2013 race, there was much hand wringing and worrying going back and forth on the Barkley email list about the article exposing some of the well-kept secrets of the event.  But RD Lazarus Lake reminded his supporters that *some* positive media exposure actually keeps the race alive amidst pressures from the park service and other groups that have not been so friendly in the past.

Mike Bur, Eva Pastalkova, and Keith Knipling before the start of the 2013 Barkley
 I traveled to Frozen Head Natural Area, outside of Oak Ridge, TN, with Jenny Nichols on Friday morning. We both enjoy geeking out on all things ultra, so it was extra fun to take in the sights and experiencing the lure of the race, LIVE. Jenny wrote her own thoughts on the Barkley experience on her blog. As her photos show, we had a great time running the "candy ass" park trails with our partner-in-fun Gary Knipling, hanging out in camp taking in the Barkley mythology--the Yellow Gate, the license plates, the chicken dinner--and watching the runners arrive at the top of Rat Jaw, a brier-infested power line climb where Book 7 was located along with a water drop, about 12 miles and 6 hours in the race (yes, that is correct, 12 miles in six hours). Rat Jaw is the only place on the loop where spectators are allowed, and runners are forbidden to take any aid or drop off unnecessary clothing, equipment, etc. Given it's location along the loop, it is also a perfect venue to assess the physical and emotional statuses of the runners.

Keith Knipling (foreground) and Mike Bur arriving at Book 7 at the top of Rat Jaw
 We had been expecting Keith up Rat Jaw sooner, but a few "navigational difficulties" eventually hooked him up with Mike Bur. Bur was going for a Fun Run (3 loop, 60+ mile) finish, one that been eluding him ever since bailing on 2.5 loops in 2005, and if there is anyone who knows the Barkley course and necessary mindset to be successful, it is Mike Bur. As they were tearing out their pages to Book 7, the veteran Bur commented, to no one in particular, "The biggest mistake of the Barkley virgin is hubris."

Teacher and student, Mike Bur and Keith Knipling, at Book 7

Hubris: Noun: Excessive pride or self-confidence;(in Greek tragedy) Excessive pride toward or defiance of the gods, leading to nemesis.

As he was tearing his page out, Keith was lamenting (Keith later corrected me by saying he was "f%&#ing pissed off") about his decision earlier in the race to leave ahead of the front running group that included veterans and Fun Run finishers Alan and Bev Abbs as well as 2012 Barkley finisher John Fegyveresi, before Book 2... and Bur, his longtime VHTRC friend, was encouraging him to keep perspective and stay with him for the remainder of the loop. It was an interesting moment, one that revealed an essential truth to "success" at the Barkley: patience is the ultimate tool and  reward, not speed. Keith is a fast and very experienced 100 mile specialist and Bur (a Last Great Race finisher in 2003) is more of a mid-pack guy. But at that moment the playing field was level as the veteran Bur was calmly teaching Keith a key to succeeding at the hardest ultra Out There. I got goosebumps listening in.

After Bur and Keith departed Rat Jaw,  Jenny, Gary, and I ran back to camp on the sweet, smooth, runnable North Old Mac Trail. As we ran, we discussed the idea of hubris. Where is the line between hubris and plain old confidence? How much confidence does one need to enter the Barkley in the first place? Can one be a successful ultrarunner without some level of "hubris?" Can one finish five loops of Barkley without it? Isn't the desire to take risks and stretch our perceived limits one reason we attempt ultras--and don't we need confidence to take these risks? Isn't the reason lots of really strong 100 miler runners (such as Keith) succeed because they have confidence that they can? And, the big question: "What does it really take to be able to finish five loops at Barkley?

Keith managed to finish Loop 1 in a time of 10:23, and he quickly turned around and went out on Loop 2, only to be defeated by extreme fog, cold rain, and mud--and the risk of hypothermia.  He ended up quitting at the top of Rat Jaw, 12 miles on his second loop. Bur finished his first loop in 11:03 and his second loop in about 22 hours. Eva, our third VHTRC hopeful, dropped a page from Book 9 en route to finishing her first loop. True to her tough and focused reputation, she opted to re-trace her steps six miles to find the lost page, to no avail, and was not allowed to continue, as per Barkley rules. With fog and rain rolling in on Loop 2, many observers back at camp predicted no one would finish all five loops. Despite the horrendous conditions, two runners became Barkley finishers 13 and 14: Nick Hollon and Travis Wildeboer, both of whom had finished numerous Fun Runs in the preceding years, as well as holding multi-day Fastest Known Times of long trails in the U.S. They finished Monday evening in 57:39 and 58:41, respectively.

Keith, after quitting on Loop 2 (photo courtesy Keith Knipling)
 "I just have a lot of regret which festers.  A lot of personal faults revealed.  I am thankful for the lessons learned and all the nice people I met...have no regrets about attempting it, just how I did it and all of the errors and missteps (literal) made because of who I am." 
                                                                          --Keith Knipling, in an email to friends after Barkley 2013

When I read Keith's email, my first thought was an emphatic "YES." When an ultra experience reveals a bit of ourselves to us, we can either stuff it away or embrace it. Keith came for the Barkley experience, hoping to run five loops, but like all  Barkley starters, he no doubt left Frozen Head a different person and wiser runner, determined to learn and grow from the experience. The Grand Slam, Beast Series, and multi-MMT finisher has a new challenge awaiting!

Bur finishing Loop 2 (photo by Keith Knipling)
At the Barkley success is about over-reaching our abilities,
and living to tell about it.
Sometimes success is getting your ass out alive.  --Lazarus Lake, 2010

Bur returned to camp, wet and muddy, after many hours navigating in the fog and rain. I had no doubt that he would finish the loop in one piece, given his experience on the course and extensive preparation. Jenny and I were not there to see him walk down the road into camp (as we had to get home for Easter with the family), but the photo above reveals what I missed: the expression of a man not defeated, but satisfied with his effort, given the reality of the course and the extreme weather...and one who will be back for that third loop.

Some people "get" the Barkley. Some don't.
But the Barkley is all about leaving the comfort zone.
The Barkley is about taking our chances with failure.
True success is not the absence of failure,
It is the refusal to surrender.  ---Lazarus Lake, 2010

After spending two days watching the Barkley unfold, meeting the runners and crew, and listening to quiet conversations around the campfire about past experiences, lessons learned, and fears revealed...I am at once humbled and in awe. Keith Dunn, a longtime Barkley supporter, looked at me at Friday's chicken dinner and said, "You know, we are watching ultra history being made." As an observer, the Barkley more than exceeded my expectations. The media tries to explain the essence and the lure of the event, but fails to fully capture the nuances and the feel. It is the ultimate "old school" ultra, one where there are no trails to follow with confidence markers, no aid stations along the course with food and comfort, no schwag or finishers medals, no pacers keeping runners alert and on trail. As Laz observed in 2010,

For all the talk about exploring human potential, and seeking our limits, Ultrarunners tend to play it safe.
They line up "challenges" they know they can finish.
And run them carefully
Well within their "limits".

The Barkley is our sport's most pure and ultimate test of endurance,  patience, and perseverance. And it was a privilege for me to be a witness.

Sophie, Bur, Jenny, Keith and Gary the night before the 2013 Barkley (photo by Keith Dunn)
Postscript: a few observations from Keith and Bur...

Bur: "My comment about hubris was firmly grounded in my own experience.  My
first year, I did similar to Keith but didn't make it as far, coming
in overtime for one loop.  I think it is hard not to do this,
particularly if you are fit and feeling good.  Had I stayed with Mike
Dobies and Craig Wilson like I had said I was, I could have gone
further...same thing happened - I was fit and grew impatient and
forged ahead, only to blow it navigationally, and then have them pass
me.  I almost caught back up --they were within eyesight going up
hell, I was only a few minutes behind.  But behind enough to make a
wrong turn and rather than take the trail back to camp, I went the
opposite way toward Mart Fields; the trails were not as well blazed
back then."

"One of the main reasons I persisted this year is that I've come to
realize that the only place and time that you can really "practice"
Barkley is *at* Barkley.  Nothing else really matches.  Making all the
little navigational mistakes that I made during that foggy loop 2 will
be useful to draw on in the future.  The other reason was, I've quit
at Barkley enough, it was time to just keep going no matter what."

"I think Eva going back for her page showed a lot of guts and character.
Not to mention, it provided her with some valuable extra practice
time on the course.  Just about anyone else would have sulked in camp.
So while it was persistent for me to continue on w/ loop 2, I think
she clicked it up a notch w/ her fool's errand."

Keith: "At Barkley, teamwork is absolutely essential.  Only when/if absolutely necessary (preferably on loop 3 or loop 4) should you leave the comfort of the group and go off on your own.  Otherwise, work with your "competitors" --- multiple eyes and minds are better than one person's.  This is how Jared Campbell finished last year.  He ran step for step with Brett until he was forced to separate on loop 5 [1].  Jon Fegyveresi similarly waited up for Bev through midway loop 3, until it was finally necessary for him to "be his own man." [2]

"I don't really regret at all dropping out on loop 2.  My feeling was that I had already tried to drop at the Garden Spot and the only reason I had made it to the tower was because of Henry (Wakely).  I would not have made it there on my own.  Ironically, at that point we had every reason to continue to the prison and beyond.  We quit just an hour before daylight, before sections that I had nailed navigationally the first time through.  But in my mind, there just seemed to be far more positive consequences for quitting than for continuing on.  I think this was mainly because of the disastrous first loop.  I had pissed away (or at least thought I had) any chance of finishing anything at the Barkley.  In hindsight, I probably should have stuck it out because stuff happens to everyone there (Bad Things…).  I know this lesson from many many ultras (things always get better) but I was so mad at my earlier mistakes and lost all composure to realize this.  Another lesson learned."

"I've thought about how far I could have gone had I stayed with the Abbs.  I *think* I could have stayed with them through three loops, perhaps pulling ahead on the third and making it in in time to consider a fourth.  But realistically, I think a fun run is the best I could have possibly hoped for in that weather.  And I might not have even done a third (although with company I think I would have tried).  It was tough and slow going.  I know I would not have finished 5.  In fact, when Nick and Travis went out for their fifth laps I did not think either of them would finish.  The climbs were just so slow.

From discussions I've had with Eva, I think she is in similar agreement on what her prospects would have been.  A fun run possibly, but probably no more.  Bur definitely gets my vote for VHTRC Performance of the Year.  He stuck it out and finished with a grin on his face.  Real persistence."

 [1] "Being a virgin, Jared was effectively tethered to me" (http://www.mattmahoney.net/barkley/12maune.pdf)
[2] http://www.mattmahoney.net/barkley/12fegyveresi.pdf

To be continued...

Saturday, February 16, 2013

VHTRC Road Trip! Uwharrie Mountain Run, 2013

Blue Train at Uwharrie: Pam, Alan, Sophie, Keith, Tracy, Rob, Beth and Sean

 Some of my fondest ultra memories are road trips with the VHTRC Blue Train. Two that stand out are the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim crossing in 2005 (with Vicki Kendall, Barb Isom, Laura Dewald, Linda Wack, Anita and Jay Finkle) and the 2006 Western States 100 road trip with Gary Knipling, Keith Knipling, Quatro Hubbard, Tom Corris, Scott Crabb, Bryon Powell, Prasad Gerard, and Bunny Runyon.

The Grand Canyon R2R2R fell into my lap; Linda Wack emailed a group of friends a year ahead of our trip date of October 1 and basically told us she had made all the reservations and logistical plans, and that all we had to do was show up! And what an amazing trip that was. This photo was taken the night before our run, looking southwest from the North Rim Lodge balcony at sunset:

 I took this photo as the gang ran down the South Kaibab Trail in the afternoon; we had successfully crossed to the South Rim via the Bright Angel Trail earlier in the day, eaten a hearty lunch at the Bright Angel Lodge, and were now on our way back to the North Rim via South Kaibab. I love this photo as it shows the immense scale of the Grand Canyon in a way that is hard to show with most photos. Needless to say, this was a trip of a lifetime, and I am so glad I accepted Linda's offer. Every ultrarunner should have a R2R2R crossing on their bucket list!

The following summer, a large Blue Train group was fortunate to get into the Western States 100 via the lottery. Nowadays it is virtually impossible to get into WS solo, forget about a group! 2006 was called the "hot year" which means it was 75 at the start at Squaw Valley, 110 degrees in the canyons halfway through the race, and 95 degrees at sunrise in Auburn on the second day. Despite these conditions, the VHTRC gang had a very high finishing rate (all but one of us made the cut-offs), Keith and Bryon won their age groups, and we had a total blast representing the East Coast on that sweet (some would even say, "candy ass") trail. WS remains as one of my favorite races, despite the heat, the blisters (oh, the blisters!!!), and the distance! Another bucket list item, for sure. Here are some fun pics:

This photo sits on my desk at home, and is a constant reminder of why I love our sport: the friendships made through shared adventure, and the amazing beauty of the trails we explore. This photo shows Quatro, Gary, me, Scott Mills, Keith, and Scott Crabb on the Escarpment with Lake Tahoe in the background. We had hiked up the Thursday before the race to observe the WS tradition of the flag raising ceremony, and couldn't resist a group photo. I love how we are all wearing some sort of VHTRC Blue, totally unplanned :-)

This photo makes me smile--it is so dated (love the throwback baggy shorts, hip belt, and handhelds)! I remember this moment exactly---I was coming into Michigan Bluff (mile 50) at 7:00pm, well behind my projected splits because of the heat. Yet, I was feeling good and really looking forward to seeing my crew--and to the sun going down. Rusty was crewing me along with Gretchen Garnett and he told me it was 100 degrees at 7:00 pm, really bad for crews as there was no shade to be found.

I was sad that we had to cross the American River in boats that year. I would have given ANYTHING to have dunked myself in that cool water, but the snowmelt in the Sierras that year yielded high water downstream, so we had to cross by rowboat. It only took about thirty seconds, but it was tough to get in and out of the boat without cramping big time. Rusty really wants me to go back to WS, since he had a blast crewing and biking the Tahoe Rim Trail...but I think my next WS trip will be as a pacer, and I am crossing my fingers for my pals who plan to enter the WS lottery (again and again!).

Sadly, the family schedule in the summer months has not been conducive to any more summer Blue Train road trips for the past few years, and I really miss them. So this fall I decided to gather a group for a trek down to the Uwharrie Mountain Run 40. We had previously made the trip in 2005, and I had raced in 2007 and 2008 as well, and was eager to get back with a VHTRC team. Uwharrie is "MMT Lite"--technical, rocky trail with lots of ridge running until you run down to an AS, and then back up to the ridge-- so it is a tough challenge for a winter ultra. Since my racing schedule focuses on November-March, I knew I would be in good shape, but I also knew I would be cutting it close in terms of recovery from Hellgate.

I rode down with Rob Colenso and we met up with Keith Knipling, Tracy Dahl Knipling, Alan and Pam Gowen, Sean Andrish, and Beth Weisenborn at the pre-race dinner. The RDs, a young couple who own Bull City Running Company, did a great job and even made sure that our table got three grab bag prizes--two beer glasses and a free pair of trail shoes!

Keith, Sean, Rob, Tracy, Alan and I were running the 40, while Pam and Beth ran the 20. In the team competition, the top-5 places across all three races count, so we knew we would have our work cut out for us given the fact that many other teams had more runners in all three races. But it was a blast cheering for each other on the out and back sections of the 40, and many runners commented later how much they admire our club spirit and the races we put on. Hail!

It was a great day out on the Uwharrie Trail, and we got some hardware to prove it! Sean finished as 2nd male after taking some time off from racing--it was great to see him running so well. Keith looked solid as usual and he finished 4th. I was hoping to once again make it into the "Brain Dead Club" for women who finished in under 8:00--my previous bests were 7:47 in 2005 and 7:53 in 2007--but I had an energy lull mid-race that set me back a bit. I finished in 8:07, good enough for second female. Tracy finished her first 40 miler looking awesome in 9:36, and Rob PR'd by 15 minutes in 9:02. Alan, Pam and Beth all finished strong and we were able to take third in the team results, despite having the most runners scoring in the 40 miler. Woop!

After hanging around the fire ring at the finish eating and drinking soup and other frosty beverages, we gathered at the local BBQ joint for some real Carolina BBQ and sweet tea (no beer at this place...dry county?) It was a great way to celebrate another Blue Train adventure. Next year, we hope more friends will join us at Uwharrie--the entry process is still a work in progress, but hopefully the kinks will be worked out for 2013. Until then...Happy Trails!

Rob, Sophie, Keith, Tracy and Sean at the Uwharrie finish line
Uwharrie results.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Looking back at 2012...while new adventures await!

The end of 2012 marks the sixth year of Shining's Ultra Blog.

 I am grateful to all the loyal readers and followers, and very much appreciate your comments and interest in what I have to say about life as an ultrarunner. As I look back on all the photos and posts between 2007 and now, a few themes have emerged: I love to run in the mountains with my friends, spend time outside with my family, and face new challenges (but not necessarily in that order!). This blog has evolved from a monthly log of training runs and race reports to a personal photo album and journal of moments that define who I am today as a runner, mom, wife, counselor, coach, and friend. I am so glad that I took the time to write as much as I did about my races, training, and various adventures over the years, as these posts continue to provide helpful reminders of what went well and what didn't, and help keep perspective on what I truly value. I very much enjoy sharing my ultrarunning journey with you, and look ahead to a 2013 that I anticipate will bring many new adventures and thrills :-). But first, a few highlights from 2012!
New Years Day 2012 Resolution Rendezvous with the Harrisonburg Rocktown Ridge Runners

The Catawba Run Around with good friends and gorgeous views
A third place podium finish at Terrapin Mountain 50K!
Hiking with my family in the SNP and then hanging out at Blue Mountain Brewery
Sweeping the Promise Land 50K course with Jenny Nichols--and getting caught in the apocalyptic storm on the mountain
Introducing the Priest and Three Ridges to Winslow, Beth, Rick, Tracy and Jack
Winning the Montalto Challenge---and the Polka Dot Jersey!

One of many Runs up Jarmans Gap in the SNP with the CATs

Pacing Jenny Nichols to her Grindstone 100 win with the help of fellow pacer and crew Rob Colenso
Rusty crewing me at Hellgate and then riding me in the last 6 miles---crucial to my race! With his help, I ran a PR of 14:33 and finished third overall female. A HUGE thrill, and so much fun to be able to share the trail with him at my favorite race!

Celebrating my 50th birthday at the Hellgate finish line with Horton, Clark, Nancy Horton, Rusty, Jenny, Keith, and all my VHTRC and IMTR friends---a really special moment.
A few words about Hellgate...the 2012 race truly delivered. It was my toughest Hellgate because of the warm temps (45 at the start, sunny and high 60s at noon the next day)-- I wore short sleeves and a skirt all night and day, and had to stay on top of my hydration and fuel all the time. The women's race for the top 5 spots (and Patagucci Nano Puff zip-tops) was tight. I was bouncing between second and and third place most of the race  and, remembering 2011 when Alyssa Godesky breezed by me in the last 4 miles for third, I worked very hard to hold off 100-miler specialist Kathleen Cusick for the final podium spot. Rusty was there starting at mile 40 crewing and pacing on his mountain bike, and it was so much fun grinding up to Blackhorse Gap (mile 63) with him scoping out the field behind me--this was the first time he had ever been in the race with me as a pacer. I had left the last aid station at Day Creek with Kathleen only 2 minutes back, and busted my ass to make more time at the top. Rusty rode by me as I crested the mountain and told me she was now 5 minutes back--enough of a cushion but never a guarantee. He said, "you are going to have to work really hard these last three miles---do you want me to stay with you?" and I said (nicely), "Thanks honey, but you can meet me at the finish!" as I was really suffering and not up to having an audience. Geez...it never fails that at Hellgate, I am either chasing the clock or being chased at this exact same spot year after year!

Keith Knipling giving me an incredibly thoughtful and fantastic 50th birthday photo :-)
Celebrating my 50th birthday at my favorite race with my husband and close friends was amazing...one of life's very special moments. To have PR on top of that was icing on the (yummy mocha) cake!

As I planned my 2013 race season, I once again stuck to what has worked really well for the past few years---the model of racing ultras between November and March, shorter stuff in late April and May, and easy fun training runs throughout the summer, with mini "off-seasons" at Christmas and  early April. This schedule works well given my family and work demands and I find myself fresh and ready to take on my "A" races (typically Masochist and Hellgate). For 2013, I added the Uwharrie 40, which I last ran in 2008, and the Odyssey 40, which I ran in 2007. I am pacing Jenny at Old Dominion 100, and crewing a few friends at a run that I am obsessed with but don't have the guts to enter.  Not to mention that I am in a new age group on the roads (50-54) and in ultras (Grandmaster, 50+). Woop!

The first day of 2013 was celebrated with an SNP mountain run with friends from Charlottesville and Harrisonburg---a perfect way to start the year. Here's to good friends, good health, and good fun in the year ahead! Happy New Year, everyone!

Jones Falls in Shenandoah National Park---a New Year's Day tradition