Friday, June 12, 2015

Bighorn 50 Training Cycle: With A LOT of Help From My Friends

Sunset Run up to Blackrock in the SNP to cap off a fantastic training cycle

 On Saturday, June 20, I am joining 35+ other VHTRC  friends who are running the 100, 50, 50k, or 35k options at the Bighorn Wild and Scenic Endurance Runs. Bighorn is the official "Blue Train" destination race of the year, and I'm excited to join my brethren from the East Coast as we descend on the town of Dayton, Wyoming and run through the beautiful Bighorn Mountains. Bighorn has been a bucket list item for me ever since the first Blue Train-Bighorn run in 2005, and I am thrilled that my hubby will be joining me on this adventure as we celebrate 26 years of marriage and the start of our first as empty-nesters!

 As I wrap up the training cycle for the  Bighorn 50, I am reminded --more than ever-- that for me, the essence of training for and running ultras is ALL about the relationships forged over many, many miles of mountain trails and shared stories about life, jobs, children, hopes, and fears. It's about "daring greatly" with Big, Hairy Audacious Goals, asking for help, feedback, and guidance and knowing that my tribe will support me unconditionally, even if I fail. And it's about sharing my own list of "things I wish I had known" with my fellow ultrarunners as they train for their next BHAGs and adventures. Putting together a logical, cohesive, and effective training cycle is a very satisfying feeling, and I'm cautiously optimistic that this Bighorn 50 cycle will yield a fun and enjoyable experience. A number of friends have inquired about my training this time around, so here it is in a nutshell...

Long, easy stuff. I started training in earnest at the end of March, after recovering from a mild calf strain as a result of cross-country skiing. It was actually good timing to be coming off an injury, as I found myself hungry and itching to get back to running after a 4+ week layoff, my longest break from running in years. The cycle began with lots of long, slow easy runs, gradually building my mileage up to about 50 miles per week through April. Each week included a quality day of either hill repeats or a hilly tempo run, and each weekend was spent with easy back-to-back long runs in the mountains at conversational pace. The Bighorn 50 starts at 8800 feet of elevation and descends the first 18 miles to 4200 feet, before a long climb of about 2100 feet in three miles before descending one more time to the finish. I asked my friends and Bighorn veterans Katherine Dowson (a previous Bighorn 50 women's winner), Beth Minnick, and Rachel Bell Kelley for advice on training. They encouraged me to work on my downhill (and mud!) running as well as trashing my quads in training, so the weekend runs focused on long downhill descents on trails and gravel roads. Fellow Crozet Ultrarunning Team member Annie Stanley is running the Bighorn 100, so she joined me almost every weekend, which was awesome. We trained on the TWOT loop twice in April (running both directions with 7500 feet of gain in a 27 miles loop), the Priest and Three Ridges (7500 feet of gain in 24 miles), The Priest-Three Ridges-wimpyPriest (28ish miles and almost 9775 feet of vert), the AT in Shenandoah National Park, and the Fox Mountain loop near Charlottesville, a hilly gravel road 17-miler, where we worked on MP, HMP, and 5K pace.

Annie and me on Three Ridges (pic by Michelle Andersen)
Speed. At the end of April, I added a quality day to the weekend runs with the first of five short races. The hilly and hot VIA 5k was part of a 15 mile day of running the  Rivanna Trail in  C'ville, and the next weekend I ran the  Montalto Challenge 5k (an uphill road race) as part of a 17 mile push on the trails of Secluded Farm and Carter's Mountain. Two weeks later I ran the very tough Crozet Trail 5k in mountainous Mint Springs Park (with ~700 feet of gain) followed up by the fabulously old school and very hilly Batesville 10k --a perfect quad trasher--as part of a 15 mile heat run. Finally, on June 9, I ran the first Ohi!ly 5K trail race in heat and humidity. AJW and I developed a fun and feisty rivalry over the course of these races, and he currently leads our series 2-1, having soundly beaten me at Mint Springs and Ohill while I crushed him on the Batesville 10K course. I am thrilled to have been able to use these local trail races as part of my preparation --- there is nothing like toeing the line week after week and getting a quality workout in, both physically and mentally! Thanks, Andy, for pushing me to improve my downhill running :-)

Cruising up Montalto (pic by Natalie Krovetz)

Heat. Ah, yes, heat training. When I was training for the heat of Western States 100 in 2006, I worked up to 45 minutes in the sauna, 2-3 days a week. This was critical that year when temperatures soared to 110 degrees in the Sierra Nevada canyons. Given that Bighorn has a lot of exposed sections and that I tend to suffer (aka suck) in the heat, I returned to the sauna at UVA's North Grounds Rec Center, and really enjoyed it. I used the time in the hot box to foam roll my IT bands, calves, piriformis, and shoulders, as well as to practice easy yoga (I'm pretty certain the lifeguards had a lot of fun talking about the wacky old lady in the sauna, rolling her butt over and over). Since I did this in the early morning hours, it was also a perfect time to meditate and stretch, and I emerged feeling calm, serene, and ready for the day. After my sauna sessions, I typically swam about 500-1000 yards nice and easy and then sat in the whirlpool on the pool deck for a few minutes. Adding the sauna, foam rolling, and easy swimming to the training cycle is something that I will stick with going forward--- being able to sit free of distractions for up to 45 minutes and stretch/roll out all the junk in my body (and my mind!) was a huge luxury and made a world of difference in my mood and outlook. And, dare I say, all the foam rolling has kept injuries at bay!

 Strength. I strength train 1-2 times a week all year long, and continued doing so during this cycle, in addition to using hill repeats for lower body work. Every other Thursday I joined fellow CAT Jason Farr for AJW's version of Man Makers: 3:00 "hard" (perceived 10K pace --almost redlining, but not quite) up an 18% grade trail followed by 3:00 hard downhill. 15 push-ups and a 30 second plank followed before a 30 second rest period. Then repeat, working up to 8 repeats two weeks from race day. Jason, who is training for the Tahoe Rim 100, swore by these for his Grindstone training, and I was looking for something new and challenging to add to my hill training.  Oof. Man Makers were killer. I included a few more hilly miles after our repeats for a total of 11-12 miles, and I can tell they have made a huge difference in my climbing and overall fitness as the weeks progressed. On alternate Thursdays, I ran with CAT Becca Weast for a hilly tempo run with 2 miles at MP, rest 1:00, and 3 miles at HMP  on a gravel road near UVA before running 3-5 repeats of the Ohill powerlines, with push-ups and planks in between. In the gym, I focused on kettle bell swings, single arm snatches, Bosu ball squats, lunges, and a variety of core exercises including planks, side planks, as well as Swiss ball and medicine ball work.

Boot Camp. A key part of the training cycle was the Bighorn Boot Camp over Memorial Day Weekend, four weeks out of race day. A number of the CATs and Crozet Running peeps were training for Highlands Sky 40 on June 20 as well, so it was awesome to share some training miles and race strategies together. We ran the Priest-Three Ridges-wimpyPriest on Saturday for about 28 miles and 9775 feet of climb; On Sunday, we tackled for the first time the super tough Whetstone Ridge trail, a fantastic 22 mile loop with about 5,000 feet of climb (and the first 9 miles downhill!), and on Monday, we joined about 35 other Charlottesville Area Trail Runners for the 6th Annual Harry Landers Memorial, which is about 21 miles and 4000 feet of gain on the sweet singletrack of the southern Shenandoah National park. Finishing that weekend feeling good after running over 70 miles and 18,000 feet of climb was a huge confidence boost for us all!

The Harry Landers gang

Now that the taper is in full swing, it's time to start packing for our trip out West. In addition to watching me run Bighorn, Hubby will be able to mountain bike on the trails, and we will visit Cody and Yellowstone after the race before he heads home for work and I head out to Squaw Valley, CA to help Gary Knipling finish his third Western States a 71-year-old! This June marks the first in 12 years where we don't have a travel lacrosse tournament or swim meet to attend, and while it is bittersweet to be entering our "empty nest" days, we are both looking forward to the freedom that comes with having grown children.

These women are authentic, real, and make me better. Annie, Michelle, and Becca.

I feel extremely fortunate to be able to run the Bighorn 50 and share the adventure with Hubby and all our VHTRC friends, and eternally grateful to my fellow CAT and Crozet Ultraunning Team buddies who supported me through this cycle. Thank you, dear friends, for answering the call to meet at 0600 or 6:30pm, joining me on "just one more" hill repeat, and keeping me honest by blazing past me running down the rocky stuff. Thank you for joining me in tabulating the minutiae of miles run and vert climbed, and ignoring me when I got bossy. Thank you for indulging me while I waxed nostalgic over the last days of my daughter's high school experience and fretted over the first days of my son's real world life. Most importantly, thank you for accepting me as I am.  You are the best :-)