• Jack and Jill Downhill Marathon - Nelle's Race Report

    Why this race?

    Mike and I set our sights on the Jack and Jill Downhill Marathon in North Bend, Washington not only as an opportunity to see a new beautiful destination after staying close to home for over a year due to COVID, but also with the intention of performing at a speed that gave us as much time below the Boston Marathon qualifying standard as possible to ensure we were accepted, as the cushion requirements have become increasingly more competitive. Mike, with his supernatural talent and years of top-level competition would likely qualify with ease on any course. I, still being in the youngest age group (18-34) for two more years and not being superhuman, needed to run well under the qualifying time of 3:30 (in 2018, it was 3:35!) but also under 3:22 (the slowest accepted for 2021 was over 7 min under the standard, whereas my previous qualifying time was 4 minutes and 46 seconds under the qualifying standard. This course being a very gentle downhill combined with my personal proclivity towards strong downhill finishes at ultra races suggested an optimal outcome for me, and so the training began specifically for this race in late May.

     

    The lead up:

    May was a tricky month for me because the winter and spring had been riddled with Epstein Barr virus intermittency that I’d recently calmed down, but in response to the COVID vaccine (Moderna) and other life stress, reactivated. Thankfully, it is largely resolved now. Treatment took a lot out of my energy stores, and my running performance tanked.  Nevertheless, the peace that I find in the flow state of running as well as in exploring mountain trails remained non-negotiable for my mental health, and I was not interested in wasting anymore race entries unless essential.  I resolved to train as I could and perform the best I could! Once Terrapin Half and Promise Land were behind me, I agreed to my doctor’s request to take a 30 day easy period and limited by long runs to under 10 miles and no easy runs over 6 miles.  My speed work was short and at my top speeds. At the end of May, I raced Conquer the Cove (3rd female) and found myself feeling very well.  I had stopped taking my pharmaceutical prescriptions for Epstein Barr and have not resumed them since. I experienced many side effects while taking them, and it’s nice to have my body back to myself.

     

    I always look forward to summer time, but I also dread summer training. However, just as I remind my clients to focus on effort and trust that the cumulative, consistent training in the soupy heat compounds come fall.  However, my race wasn’t in the fall; it was midsummer!  So I opted to take my quality sessions (once per week) to the treadmill, where I could get both incline and decline specificity for optimal race preparation.  Investigation of gym temperatures indicated that I was still training warmer than average race day temperatures in North Bend, so I found that encouraging. I know the treadmill isn’t for everyone, but solo training requires a lot of mental energy, and I was already training at speeds I’d never come close to racing before in the marathon distance, and too much stress physically and mentally was not worth the risk given the limited amount of time I had to train, not to mention the damage diminished confidence from failed workouts can have on race day performance.  

     

    I recruited friends for my long and easy runs, which was a huge boost mentally after some hot, late morning runs that I had taken on solo.  Not fun! Training partners are not to be undervalued in the process; if you don’t have one or a few, I highly recommend you start looking in your community!

     

    In this training block, later workouts included a half marathon at a progressive pace (PR: 1:32:30), a 14 mile race simulation (7:14 pace average), and a 10 mile progressive (10K PR of 43:32). I will be completely honest with you, the final 10 day taper was awful! I wasn’t injured, but my body was sluggish and sore from easy runs, a 4x800m workout (at 7:15 pace!), and climbing the stairs.  I spoke with a few friends on their preparation going for personal record marathon paces to gain perspective and resolve.  The taper is purely mental. But that doesn’t mean you don’t feel it physically! Regardless, trust your training, and don’t do anything dumb like sprint through an airport to make your (now boarding) connecting flight the day before your marathon...just kidding, you’ll still be okay! (This happened to us - the day before was more stressful than I’d prefer)

     

    RACE DAY!

    We woke up at 3:00 AM.  Coffee was preprogrammed and by 3:15 Mike had eggs scrambled and ready. I always struggle to eat on race day, but knowing the effort ahead of me, I knew fueling well was non-negotiable.  I applied body glide EVERYWHERE, KT tape under my sports bra, selected the 3:15 pace band from the three I grabbed at packet pick up (my B goal), and that time before leaving the house flew on by! We drove from where we were staying in Snoqualmie Pass all the way down to North Bend (30 min away) to load the buses. The wait to get into the parking lot was pretty long, but we managed to park and load onto a bus departing for the marathon start at Hyak Park with relative ease. We weren’t sure where the bag drop was, but it appeared to not be located here, so we loaded the bus with all of our drop bag items once we saw others seemed to be carrying extra gear onto the bus! The drive to the start was around 40 minutes long, during which we had witnessed the full moon (these definitely affect my energy, but I’d intentionally done a hard workout on the June full moon to train my brain and body to be successful in spite of it) above the mountains as the sky lightened, giving way to the sunrise. By the time we arrived, I was needing a bathroom!   Luckily, the lines weren’t long, and afterwards, we sat on the ground to wait a bit. It was around 5:40 at that time, and the race started at 6:30.  We took some pictures, and I made a final status post before going into airplane mode!

    Pre-Race Photos - Hyak Park

    I'm liking Mike's fauxhawk here.


    Document these shoes in their first race!

    not a bad view for bathrooms!

    Not a bad view for bathrooms, huh?

    Finally 6:10 approached and we dropped our bag near the start (and by bag drop) to begin our warm-up.  I felt pretty good, though the alph fly shoes felt so weird. I’d waited over a year to finally race in these shoes, so this was exciting!

     

    The race directors began announcing it was time to line up, stating the first wave would be 7:30 pace and faster.  Can I just say how hard it was to swallow my fear and move into the back of wave 1? I finished my leg swings, gave Mike a kiss and a high five, and moments later, this marathon was starting!

     

    The first half mile rolled. People were flying all around me. I looked at my watch several times to make sure I wasn’t being dumb (binary choices are my jam on race day!) and quickly realized the ease of 7:00 minute pace would result in inevitable misery later. Let the people go. Be smart and reel them in later.  Miles .5 to 2.5 were through the Snoqualmie Tunnel, hence the requirement for headlamps.  It was a really cool experience, but two important challenges lie within this section: 1) loss of GPS skews pacing slower and 2) uneven surface.  I rolled my ankle twice, but it didn’t hurt. I knew I needed to be very careful with my foot placement, especially given the shoe stack height.  I also realized that my effort didn’t align with the suggested pace on my watch, and while others around me may be pushing harder to make their effort align with their watches, it would be best for me to stay relaxed and rely on effort as my compass.  Towards the end of the tunnel, it was time to shut off the headlamp and place it in the bag for drop-off on the other side. The things we do while racing! That went without a hitch, and in the not-so-far distance I could see the mile 3 banner. I passed by it at 2.8 miles, which was an affirmation that effort reliance paid off in the tunnel, because I was only slightly ahead of the target 3:15 finishing time for that mileage.

    Where do I drop my headlamp?

    I was slightly concerned about how easy headlamp drop would be. Not the best photo, but okay!

    The light at the end of the tunnel!

    View emerging from the tunnel

    We came back another day to take these photos :)

    The view as you exit the tunnel. We came back another day for a run to reflect and capture the views!

    I’d had a smart start, but I was playing with fire in the first 10 miles.  The gorgeous views had me on cloud nine.  Mountains, ravines, rivers below, mature trees.  Just, wow.  The crushed gravel rolled under foot. I looked at my watch and YIKES… 6:50 current pace. This pace was 25 seconds under goal pace, no, no, no.  I pulled back from behind the person I was following. His pace was smooth, but too fast.  As there were no pacers, I needed to rely fully on myself today.  I settled back into appropriate pacing, varying from 7:15-7:25.  Right where I needed to be in order to avoid a wall in the final 10K.  I’d decided the first 10 miles is all about settling into pace and racing with the brain, outsmarting the survivor instincts that come with adrenaline. The downhill was definitely making it hard for me to keep my legs on target pace.  I refueled at 4 miles with a 1x chocolate huma, chasing it with Nuun endurance (mango flavor) from my handheld bottle. 

     

    I took water at every aid station, which was about every 2 miles.  I continued to check my elapsed time at each mile marker, noticing my total time and the projected 3:15 time were growing from 45 second difference to a minute and half (my time was faster). I took plenty of deep breaths recognizing that I just needed to keep moving forward while continuing to monitor pace and pulling back as needed.  I took another huma gel (berry) at mile 9. Fueling was going seamlessly.  At the half marathon mark, there were a fair amount of spectators, for the first time really! The ground was uneven and rockier here, so I paid careful attention, though I somehow managed to still roll my ankle on the early end of this course despite the sunlight. 

     

    Speaking of sunlight (and heat), the weather was pretty mild, 55º at the start.  While runners ahead of me kicked up dust from the trail, I could avoid breathing it in by running on the other side or making more distance between us.  The heat definitely became more evident as the race continued, but the sun was on my back instead of my face, and the towering trees provided shade protection from the sun. Really, perfect conditions for a large amount of the race, other than the full moon, of course.

     

    Back to the race.  After the half marathon mark, I noticed that gentle tugging in my calves and hamstrings and felt triggered by what had transpired at Promise Land.  Electrolyte tablets had remedied full fledged muscle cramps, so I knew I needed double electrolytes in my next huma gel at mile 14. When mile 14 came, I pulled out a 2x electrolyte strawberry lemonade flavor, took it, and chased it with electrolytes. Experiencing those tugs rattled my confidence a bit, as I was well into the second leg of this race (mile 10-20) where I should rely on my strength, and as my friend Sophie Lambert encouraged me, I called upon my power workouts. I’d run 14 miles progressively faster with an average of 7:14 pace.  By 15 miles, I’d already won by running further and faster than I ever have at 7:14 pace (which is what my watch was saying my average pace was at that time).  I’d tapered, my legs were healed and primed, and just as all races have high points, they also have low points. Here was mine, and I told myself it wouldn’t last. And it didn’t.  Any of you reading and hoping your marathon doesn’t hurt or have hard parts, they do hurt, but they don’t have to hurt the whole time, and the story you tell yourself influences this perception of discomfort, and that comes from a person with very low pain tolerance. Remind yourself this is temporary, call on your accomplishments in your training and past successes, and take a deep breath as you witness your mindset perform magic!

    One of the many bridges in the race!

    One of the many bridges on the course!

    And so at this point, it’s mile by mile.  I tell myself, it’s a gentle downhill, so just keep turning over. At mile 18, you take a huma gel (with caffeine). At mile 19, there’s a water stop. Throw water over your head and walk as you steadily suck down another cup of water.  Time is on your side.  Use the word “you” when you talk to yourself; psychologically this helps will your thoughts into existence. At mile 19, I passed a woman who before the race had said her goal time was 3:15 but had taken off.  I passed her at a strong pace, said good job, and never saw her again. Mile 20 approached, and it’s the final leg of marathon racing. Again, I recognized all the things that had gone well: waking up on time, loading the bus, not tanking in the first half of the race, my fueling plan going so smoothly, and finally, I’d now run 20 miles at 7:13 pace.  Again, I’d won.  By this point, I knew if I kept going no matter what happened, I’d PR... by a lot.  There was no attachment to the outcome because I’d already acknowledged so much success, and I wasn’t miserable.  I didn’t even want to quit.  The descent was flattening out, and again, I took this a mile at a time, aid station by aid station. Doing so gave me mini-victories, and you know I was victory-dancing in my mind! 

     

    As I approached the aid station at mile 21, a female ran up from behind me. She looked comfortable and smooth, obviously having found a way to run a more relaxed first half marathon than me, but it’s fine. This isn’t about where I stack up against others; it’s about my own personal goals, and my A goal was within grasp. We turned shortly thereafter for the first time off the long gentle downhill slope onto a dirt-packed winding double track. Oh man, this was my jam! Winding trail is where I lose all sense of speed and just flow. I looked down and found myself at 6:30 pace. No, no. Yes, I was in the final 10K, and it’s time to run with my heart, but not yet with wild abandon. Not yet. I pulled back and the trail gradually straightened out as we began running in more of a community park-like trail. We passed more and more half-marathoners, and then another female passed me. She also looked smooth, and so I took a self inventory. Was I relaxed and allowing my turnover to flow? Relax your shoulders, steady your breath, keep your stride strong but efficient.  Mile 22 came, and it was time for my final huma gel.  I took it, walked through the water stop to again toss water over my head and take another cup of water for drinking.  There was a man I’d run several later miles near, and I set my sights on gradually regaining ground on him, which I was able to do.  The other women were continuing to pull away, and 4 miles was still a long way to push at top effort without forsaking all miles prior.

     

    Mile 23 came surprisingly fast. 3.2 more miles, then 3.1 miles, then less than a 5k! So I focused on the mile I was in, pumping myself up with music and telling myself to just keep turning over and do the best you can do. You’ve come this far; don’t throw it all away now! I also thought to myself I will be so close to 3:10, my A goal.  I took a chance and shot for the moon and will be so pleased where I land. Just keep going!

     

    Mile 24 came, and I was amazed to see my pace not slow down, especially my average pace, which remained at 7:12, much faster than a 3:10 finish - did I avoid the bonk, the wall? I was running my strongest, most beautifully executed marathon ever! What an incredible day.  Just keep running and rocking out!

     

    As I write this, I notice that I feel compelled to make new paragraphs for each of the final miles, even though they clicked by pretty quickly.  I jammed out to my music and counted down approximate minutes. 10 ish minutes to finish. Only 10 ish minutes! Finally mile 25 arrived with a water stop. Again, I stopped for a cup of water to cool my head off and another final cup for drinking.  Another female passed me, also looking strong!  I began jogging again, feeling the fatigue finally take over, but I still managed to swing between 6:50 and 7:20 pace fairly consistently. Just keep going. It’s funny because it seems like not long after the 25 mile marker, I look at my watch and it’s already 25.3 miles, almost halfway through the mile - less than a mile to go!  I approached a photographer before a turn, turned on my happiest, strongest face, and ran past. I wanted photo memories that matched the excitement I felt within.

    Happy picture after mile 25!

    You can see how the chafing under my arms became... more severe. Luckily, I could not feel it.

    Another happy photo at mile 25!

    Just over a mile to go!

    About a tenth of a mile later, I could smell the finish and my pace was quickening, but so also was my heart rate, as well as an intensified perceived rate of exertion. I also realized I’d certainly finish in under 3:10, and processing that was both elating and shocking. So, I pulled back and gave myself a 20 second walk. Maybe I didn’t want it to be over and wanted to savor this success privately before I shared my victory with others. I could have kept going… maybe? I don’t know. I approached mile 26 and turned to see the finisher chute, lined with national flags, and I was so thrilled. I looked down at my watch to see 3:07 high. I was pushing to increase my turnover and also skipping songs to find one that matched my energy. This took a little while. I don’t even remember what was playing when I entered the chute.  

     

    I saw Mike standing on the left in between flags cheering for me. I yelled at him and yelled “yeah” with a raised fist.  I could see the clock now. 3:08 high, but I could still finish under 3:10, maybe 3:09! I smiled from ear to ear and crossed the finish line with an official time of 3:08:57, setting a personal record by 16 minutes 17 seconds! I qualified for Boston by 21 minutes 3 seconds as well as New York (3:13 and under) and Chicago!

    Video Screen Grab

    The screen grab I took from the finisher video was more flattering than the finish line photo, in my opinion.

    I learned soon after that I was 3rd in my age group and 11th female, but more importantly, Mike won the race outright in 2:41! Just amazing. He and I both saw to it that we had great races so that we could savor our victories the remainder of our trip in the Pacific Northwest. I had the race of my life (to date).  I believe that I suffered well and executed my race beautifully. Yes, I walked through water stops and walked for 15 seconds at the end, but I could because it improved my overall response to the heat and load, also allowing me to experience brief recovery intervals, which usually works for me very well anyway.

    Mike's Win!

    I'm so amazed and proud of Mike!

    Basking in our glory

    Basking in the experience!

    My technical notes and feedback for the course are as follows:

    • I found this road race to be the most beautiful road race I’ve ever run! So scenic, straightforward, not overly crowded, a trail runner's dream for road running!
    • GPS was fickle the entirety of the tunnel and intermittently throughout the course, so at many times, my intensity was based on effort and mile markers. Later in the race, the course does flatten out moreso, but the elevation profile doesn't indicate this.
    • The footing in the tunnel was challenging and wet in some places, so don't overlook the importance of quality lighting.
    • I do think the dust intensified chafing, particularly under my arms, so be liberal with body glide!
    • The alphafly shoes caused some blistering on my arches and beside my big toe. The blister on my arch thankfully popped around mile 19, but the other one was throbbing after I removed my shoes. I attribute this to usually wearing lime superfeet for arch support.  Also, beware of the stack height. The shoes took off a great deal of shock from the ongoing downhill, but it was easy in gravel to roll an ankle!

    Here is my data:

    SplitsObviously a good race!

    If you’ve gotten this far, I appreciate you taking the time to read my race report.  This experience was very special, and while I usually write race reports for trail races, I thought this road race to be the most beautiful road race I’ve ever run, and it was the race of my life!


  • Athlete: Daryl Brubaker C&O Canal 100 Race Report

    Of all the things that could almost break me during a race, I did not expect a lack of caffeine or temps in the 40s.

     

    When I picked up running six years ago, the idea of running a marathon was crazy but running 100 miles was simply unfathomable. However, as a national commercial said recently, “It’s only crazy until you do it”. So as my long runs grew longer, the line between crazy and unfathomable shifted. I don’t remember exactly when it happened but a couple years ago, I noticed that the 100 miler was trying to sneak into the crazy category…and I can do crazy.

    Race Selection

    My first time covering the distance was my self-supported trail run last spring which I finished in just under 30 hours. This proved that I could cover the distance and planted another “crazy” in my mind: 100 miles in under 24 hours. I decided that 2021 was the year to check this off the list and when MMT100 was postponed by COVID for the second year in a row, I went all in and signed up for not one but two flat 100 mile races. First up: C&O Canal 100. 

    C&O Canal 100 takes place on a 20-mile section of the canal near Harper’s Ferry. Starting at Camp Manidokan, runners drop down about 300’ of elevation to the towpath, do an out and back in both directions, and climb back up the short steep hill to the start line. Rinse and repeat. Twice. The format makes it very approachable and COVID friendly…but the devil lurks underneath. With a very long cutoff, fantastic aid stations, and mostly runnable terrain, C&O Canal 100 lures you in…then crushes your soul.

    Race Prep

    When I had signed up for C&O, I was pleased to find out aid stations were stocked with Tailwind and Honey Stingers which are my current fuels of choice. This allowed me to pack light with just a single drop bag mainly with different gear at the start line which I would hit twice during the race. Everything else would come from aid stations along the way. I didn’t even need to mix my own Tailwind. (Unfortunately, I didn’t anticipate that early aid stations would not have caffeinated Tailwind…or how much I would need it.)

    Under the coaching of Mike Fox (Excel Rocktown), training was relaxed and scaled up perfectly. However, as I started my usual spreadsheet nerd-ery a new “crazy” started to emerge. With Mike’s guidance, I knew that I would hit sub-24:00. However, as I started to set goals and make predictions, it seemed like I should be able to do much better with a sub 22:00…or maybe even sub 20!

    Race day logistics could not have been easier. I borrowed my brother and sister-in-law’s truck camper and drove up Friday night after supper where I parked 100 yards from the start line. That’s when I noticed my first problem. I had grabbed my stuff to brew some quality, pre-race coffee using the camper’s propane stovetop. Unfortunately, my coffee grinder wouldn’t work since the camper wasn’t plugged in. Rookie mistake but I didn’t figure that it would matter…oh how wrong I was.

    Race Day

    7 am is a relatively late start for an ultra. Took my time getting up. Started my pre-run routine (minus the coffee). Almond flour banana muffins and UCAN for breakfast. Multiple trips to the port-a-john. Short walk to the self check-in. A masked starting line. And Wave 1 was released from the gates.

    Loop 1 starts with a lap around a field to spread out before dropping down to the canal. Settle in. Hold back the pace. Find a rhythm. Start checking off the miles. The first marathon rolled by without incident as I chatted to a couple of the other runners. Mile 30 found me running solo and the rising heat started to lull me to sleep! I have never been tired during a run but as the lack of caffeine caught up and hit hard, I started to imagine how embarrassing it would be to fall asleep 35 miles into my 100. Somehow, I managed to drag myself up the climb back to camp with my eyes half closed, ditched my cold weather gear, filled both soft flasks with caffeinated tailwind, and downed a couple Cokes. 

    Jolted back to consciousness, I headed out for lap number two (miles 40-70). This was by far the best lap of the three. I put on my headphones and checked out. Before I knew it, the sky started to darken as the sun started to drop and rain clouds started to roll in. At this point, I took the first look at a pace card that I had set with splits for 20- and 22-hour finishes. I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was less than 30 minutes off 20-hour pace despite the rough first loop! This might actually be possible but I also know that implosions can happen fast in 100s and I didn’t want to lose 22 hours in the pursuit of 20. I decided to let it come and check back halfway through loop 3. The second climb back up to camp brought the first drops of rain and the darkness of night which would both accompany me for the final loop and the remaining eight hours. 

    Fortunately, they would not be the only company as my pacer for the final 30 (Jon Nyce) was also waiting at the top! We refilled my vest with a few packs of peanut butter crackers (only thing not at the aid stations), grabbed my rain jacket, and headed into the darkness. I had packed a dry compression shirt in my drop box but decided it was too much work to change. Afterall, why do you need a dry shirt 70 miles into a rainy 100 miler?!?...oh how wrong I was.

    Jon and I chatted through the next five miles while I still had the mental faculties to make coherent conversation. I gave him the outline of our course and what had been working for me up to that point. At mile 75, we hit the first turnaround of the lap, clocked my last sub-11:00 mile, and the real work began.

    “Be Calm. Be Strong.”  

    I have never leaned on a mantra as hard as I did over the next 20 miles as I employed every trick in the book to keep moving at some kind of reasonable pace. I discovered that repeating my mantra as I counted my breaths (yep, you read that right) helped distract my brain just enough to keep going. I’m pretty sure that I counted to 100 exhalations at least 7-8 times over the next 10 miles. I also had Jon keep me accountable for my run/walk intervals. I’d set the interval out loud and let him tell me when it was over to keep me from staring at my watch. We start running in ¼ milewe’ll run until the end of this mile…or… I’ll run until I meet the next runner going the other way. As the temperature dipped below 50 and the steady rain continued, my rain jacket and soaked compression shirt became less and less effective at keeping me warm. I don’t usually have issues with being cold on a run but I didn’t anticipate how cold 50 degrees and rainy could feel when your body ceases to generate sufficient heat. I was fine while running but that was becoming harder to sustain for any period of time. My walking pace was still very strong but that didn’t keep me warm. As I hit the aid station at mile 87, I legitimately started to wonder if I could actually finish the race. Within 30 seconds at an aid station, I was shivering so we would grab what we could and get moving as quickly as possible. At this point, my run was the same pace as my walk (and hurt way more) but it stopped the shivering. So I continued to alternate. Shuffle…walk…shuffle…walk. Mile 90 brought the final turnaround. With nowhere to go if I dropped and no heater to keep me warm (thank you aid station for not having a heater!!!), I grabbed a cup of soup and headed toward the finish line still wondering how I was going to do the final 7-mile segment to the end. My walk was starting to faulter and the cold was seeping in deeper and deeper. 

    At mile 92, a ray of hope. As I approached the final aid station of the race, my walking muscles loosened up and the rain lightened just enough that I could stay warm as long as I kept moving. We restocked at the aid station as quickly as possible to avoid seizing up and started the final segment. As much as I hated “walking it in”, this time it made sense as my walk was actually faster than my run. Any hope of a 20-hour finish had been chased off by the rain, but a 22-hour finish gave me 2.5 hours to cover the last 7 miles. If I could hold my walking pace of 15:00/mile, I should be fine.

    The next 2 hours took FOREVER!! Pacers definitely don’t get enough credit for putting up with their runners and Jon got to listen to a whole lot of grunting, muttering, and cursing (mostly) under my breath as I seethed with hatred at the final forever straight stretch. The course returned the favor with the final climb back up to the finish line. 300 feet of gain in a ¼ mile is bad enough on its own. After 100 miles, it’s way worst. Add in 8 hours of rain on a dirt trail and you get a 10-minute crawl up a muddy slip and slide. The last ounce of energy and body heat kicked me across the finish line with a time of 21:38:14 for my 22-hour finish and first belt buckle!!! I was thrilled to be done…and 90% satisfied with my race. 

    If you are a runner, this next part will sound very familiar. I decided many times over during the race that another flat 100 was never going to happen and, as I crossed the finish line, I confirmed that one last time. I put on dry clothes and fell asleep while shivering violently under a blanket in the heated camper. 

    “No WAY am I doing another flat 100!!”

    …on the other hand…my body held up pretty well, my training was successful, and—aside from the caffeine—I nailed nutrition. Also, I’ve already paid for Canal Corridor 100 in October…with a little caffeine at the start, some better weather, and/or smarter gear…I wonder…could I do 100 in less than 21?….maybe even sub 20?...

    Behind the Curtain/Randomness:

    • Coach: Mike Fox (Excel Rocktown)
    • Pacer: Jon Nyce, mile 70-100
    • Calories: 10,580 burned, 6041 consumed (I was aiming for 300/hour and got 280. Not bad)
    • Food: Toast Peanut Butter Crackers (6 packages), 3 cups of assorted soups, 4.5 Honey Stinger Waffles, 4 packets Honey Stinger Chews, 1 Honey Stinger gel, watermelon, 12 oz Ginger Ale, 36 oz Coke, 
    • Hydration: Generation UCAN (1 serving), Non-caffeinated Tailwind (22.5 servings), Caffeinated Tailwind (4.5 servings). If memory/calculation is correct, I consumer over 18 L of fluids :-O
    • Sodium: 20 Saltstick capsules plus nutrition and hydration for a total of almost 17,000 mg
    • Notable gear: first race with compression socks deemed a huge success!

  • Terrapin Mountain Half

    I’m sitting in front of my computer screen with a million things I’d like to share with you, but it’s hard to decide which to share first. 

     

    I am a high energy person negotiating living in a body affected by energy depleted conditions.

     

    Let’s rewind first to 2017 Mountain Masochist.  I was registered for the 50 miler, but had been diagnosed with relapse of Epstein Barr Virus, Babesia, and HPA dysfunction.  The former spring, I had trained through my treatment and participated in races when... maybe I shouldn’t have. I decided soon into my second treatment (which came with complications from the steroids and anti-malarials and antivirals) that participating in this 50 mile race would be lunacy.  At that time, I physically couldn’t run more than 12 miles in a week or run faster than ~11:00 pace without my heart rate soaring to 200 BPM.  I’d already pulled out of the West Virginia Trilogy races and now I was emailing Clark Zealand to say I’d like to come to the pre-race dinner (Scott Jurek was speaking), but I couldn’t race.

     

    Here I am in 2021, with a 2nd relapse in 5 months of Epstein Barr Virus, and yet also registered for Terrapin Mountain Half and Promise Land.  My doctor is taking my case to her mentor immunologist, as my previous care suggests proper treatment. I’m clearly not healed (there is no cure)! I could take on some IV Myers Cocktails or high dose vitamin C, as those have helped greatly in the past, but I really am traumatized by the needle part of that treatment protocol, and it’s been said that if I require that kind of treatment, maybe I shouldn’t be racing at all. Oof.

    August EBV labs:

    February EBV labs:

    I really did not want to email Clark again to tell him basically “boohoo, I’m sick again”.  My racing journey is not a sob story. I have shared my story to build awareness for 4 years, and I am annoyed to be so affected by these conditions that strike whenever my stress level crests above a certain threshold.  I have felt victorious, strong, and woman, but in the past month I have felt (more times than I’d like to shared) oppressed, hopeless, and unsafe in (even betrayed by) my body.  Maintaining a growth mindset is key in overcoming any challenge, but not one person can say doing so is easy!

     

    Hellgate 100K was a big ask on my body, and I believe I honored it.  I rode the high of my race experience and gave my body the space it needed to heal and recover for over a month before even trying to run again. I know that was not the fire to reignite this relapse.  While my recovery rate from workouts and various training tends to be longer than typical, I do not believe it’s the training that is causing a relapse. Overtraining in life? Yes, but my threshold is low, at least for now.

     

    As an integrative health coach, I understand that health and wellness isn’t just about movement and nutrition. It’s about joy, spirituality, relationships, career, and more.  I think about my joy and creativity.  The build up to a race includes strategy consideration, planning fun, adventurous training runs, visualization and manifesting success!  The journey to racing brings me joy. I need that in my life. I cannot cut it out and simultaneously say that I am living.  I could cut it out and say that I am surviving, though ultimately I think my soul would suffer eventually.  I’ll never forget paying a visit to John and Michelle Andersen at Crozet Running in early January 2017, and when I came up to the counter with various fuel sources, they noted that I was making my training runs longer again.  It felt so good to be seen, that I was returning. 

     

    My hope is that this is my last racing season where I am training under treatment. If you’re tired of reading about Lyme disease, the coinfections, the EBV, and whatnot… please let me assure you I’d love nothing more than to not be experiencing it at all and instead be progressing upwards and onwards.  I can’t count the number of posts where I’ve shared it all and then just minutes gone back and hit the backspace button until the bare bones of the post remain.  That insecure part of me doesn’t want to appear a whiny, “same sad story” human.  I do want to be seen and understood.  I do want to shed light on the appearance of high functionality masking the invisible debilitating symptoms that come with chronic disease. I had half a mind (maybe three quarters) to not even share this much.

     

    Enough of that.

     

    Terrapin Half:

     

    A couple weeks prior to the race, Mike and I drove out to run parts of the course. Originally intending to run 16-17, we cut the run down to ~13.  On the climb up the mountain, my legs screamed at me. This shouldn't be this difficult, but I was a few days into treatment and the burning fire in my legs had returned (much like in 2017, the 270 days of antibiotics year).  I shed some tears, and Mike just listened.  I spoke about how even though I think I’m good at racing ultras, maybe it’s time to hang my hat.  Maybe it’s just too much on my body.  Maybe I needed to take a couple of weeks off running entirely.  I was feeling sorry for myself and not really allowing myself to enjoy the new scenery on this warm, beautiful day.  

     

    We scrambled to the Terrapin Summit after a wrong turn, and struggled immensely with the technical descent for the next 2-3 miles.  I really suck at steep, technical descent. We quickly realized this race did not suit our strengths, at least until the Reed’s creek trail, which ascended, descended, winding around the curvature of the mountain. Give me rolling trails, and my body is magic. We navigated the frigid creek crossing and the rocky bombers back to the finish.

     

    When we finished, I honestly did not want to run the half. I didn’t intend to run it.  But as race day approached, I realized that I needed to follow through.  Treatment wasn’t fun by any means, and the course was very challenging, but I needed to toughen up and honor my commitment.

     

    On race day, Mike and I woke up around 3:30, left the house by 4:30, and drove to the start.  Packet pick up was smooth, but also weird, the climate largely affected by COVID protocols, and so the usual congregating and well-wishing before races just wasn’t happening. It was pretty cold outside, just below freezing, so Mike and I huddled up in the car to wait until it was time for his start.

    The start of races at this time require special consideration, like waves, rolling starts, field limitations, etc. It was determined that this race would follow a rolling start or window in which you can start the race, with chip timing so as not to punish those that choose to start later or in a smaller (or no) group. This would prove to pose a challenge strategically for those competing for top spots.  Personally, I believe that in this environment, those who are competing for top spots race by gun time, as I find it more advantageous to be chasing people down instead of being chased down.  

     

    So, Mike started his race right at 7:00, hoping that his top competition was starting right along with him.  Because I wanted at least 16 miles for the day, I began my warm up around the parking area and the initial road section of the race, which was fun because I could cheer on 50K runners as they started.   I felt I had fueled myself well with a GF oatmeal bowl plus my usual protein coffee.  I took an extra gel before the race and proceeded to the start line.  Leg swings and quad stretches and deep squats before standing behind the start line, taking advantage of that final seconds countdown.

     

    The race had begun, and I knew because of the crazy steep technical sections, my best strategy to position myself for a top finish would be to push hard on the flat sections and the initial climb.  So far, I hadn’t seen any females, but also what was I doing? I wasn’t racing; I was just out there for the run with no expectations other than not to die coming down the mountain. Ugh, the cognitive dissonance. I wanted to race, but my legs were saying “no, thanks!” One mile into the race, 8:24 split, I felt that was a strong mile, but the devil on my shoulder was goading me to turn back. My legs felt like absolute garbage. They were sore after my 5K shake out run. So annoying … and disappointing. But whatever, not every race is going to be amazing or “my day”, so onward progress. To have those thoughts that early in the race though? That was worrisome.

     

    Regardless, I began utilizing intervals of 100-200 running steps, 50 steps power hiking.  Hands went to my hips immediately. I started passing by other runners, both 50K and Half. Around mile 2, there was a creek crossing, and instead of teetering across and attempting to balance on the precarious logs or find the path of least wetness, I just barreled across the stream, leaving around 5 people behind me.  That water was freezing, but my body was on fire, so other than my toes, I felt fine.

     

    Parts of this climb were really quite gorgeous on this clear day, because the views through the barren trees showed how much we’d already ascended and more rolling mountains resting in the distance.  After a couple more miles, we emerged onto the parkway, and that was very rewarding to reach the first aid station. But the climbing wasn’t over.  Another 500 ish feet to the top of Terrapin Mountain Summit: big rock scrambles and hands on knees hiking.  I took my first race gel here (Huma chocolate mmmmm) at elapsed 50 minutes and dug deep to finish this nasty climb.  I passed more men, but still no women to be seen around me. That was exciting. Okay, so maybe I am racing after all. 

     

    After a long ascent, it was time to go down, down, down. I anticipated the frustration and danger of this section.  While I dreaded it, I suppose knowing it was coming prevented the whining that came with it a couple weeks prior, and also, I think the practice helped me improve my footing for race day because my splits were faster!  At one point, a group of men that I’d passed earlier had gained ground on me, and so I moved aside.  There was a gentleman up there taking photos, saying “aren’t your shoulders cold?” and “y’all around 15th place”.  I told him my shoulders felt great (I was wearing arm sleeves and a crop tank under my hydration vest) and had he seen any females? I guess he didn’t hear me because he didn’t respond. Oh well, onward.  We’d descended 1000 feet in a mile at one point, and it wasn’t long before we were reaching the rock garden and dangerously steep slip ‘n slide that was called a trail. Oh, how I HATED this section. I was sidestepping my way down and grabbing onto trees to prevent myself from butt-sliding the whole way down.  

     

    Finally, that trail leveled out (sort of) and the trail proceeded downward of course for another mile into the final aid station. This aid station included a ~.3 mile out and back (downhill, then uphill) and I knew that coming back up might unveil any competition.  Sure enough, as I’m doing all I can to look strong and confident (while also taking a gel), one, two, three women come bombing down the hill.  And here’s the kicker: I have no idea when they started. And I wasn’t about to ask!

     

    Thankfully, my adrenaline kicked in and I knew that if I wanted to place high (as far as I knew, I could still be first female, and until someone passed me, that’s how I was going to behave) I’d have to push and create as much distance/time as possible between myself and them.  But I also wanted to be realistic and remind myself that if I was passed, I would not quit trying. Getting passed doesn’t make me a “bad” runner. I would stay in this until the finish.  Finally, the section of the trail which was to my benefit: the rolling Reeds creek trail.

     

    While my legs were full of lead, my soul was also on fire. Let’s go!!!!!! Okay, some running up until breathless, and power hiking 50 steps.  Don’t look back; look ahead, and look FIERCE. This section would climb up into the mountain and then gently descend and then climb out of the mountain, again and again. I took another gel (not 20 minutes after the last one) as I fell into line with a couple of men, and running behind them helped me stabilize my heart rate and build in some recovery.  Finally, I think we all accepted that it was time for me to move on, and with maybe 3-3.5 miles to go, I took off and began flowing on the gently rolling descent.

     

    At one point, I felt like I’d lost control of my legs. My knees were knocking each other and my feet were hitting the ground in places that I didn’t plan for them to.  Neurologically, I felt like this could become a problem, and I almost turned back to alert the guys I’d been running with that I might need help.  I chugged some NUUN endurance to make sure I had plenty of electrolytes and breathed deeply.  That sloppy running has NEVER happened to me before.  Luckily, the problem dissipated, so it must have been electrolyte related, who knows?  I was pushing, and again, as far as I knew, I was in first!!! These longer trail races, it’s been a long time since I’ve led a women’s race.  Maybe 5 or 6 years?!? It felt awesome. I wanted to defend my spot!  

     

    Finally, I came upon the creek crossing, which was a fast flowing rapid.  I really didn’t want to waste any time here, so I took the most direct path from one streamer to the next.  Freezing cold but home free basically! Time to let gravity and turnover take over. This descent is fairly technical with it’s ruts and loose rocks, but FAR more runnable than the descent of Terrapin, and eventually the trail turned into dirt, then gravel, and with just after 1 mile to go, pavement.  I remembered pushing this section on our training run and the speed I was able to recruit, and so I did all I could to engage.  7:00 pace, 6:50 pace, 6:45 pace. I can do more. I can push harder.  6:40, 6:30, 6:10, 5:48 pace at one point.  I turned right towards the final straight away and there was the annoying bump of a hill.  It didn’t last long, and at the top of that, I could see the finish line arch.  Hang on! Strong finish, I could be the first chick, and I was so happy to have stayed present and in the game that whole race.  

    I finished in 2:23 +, and while my watch said 12.75 miles, other half marathoners had around 13.01. So who knows what the actual distance was?  The next female (Elisa Rollins) rolled in not long after I’d finished, and I cheered for her because I was grateful to her (and the others) because their presence helped me push myself, regardless of the outcome.  Not long after her, another female finished (Allie Zealond).  Together, we cheered for her.  Then, I took off for another 2 mile slog because I needed a longer run that day. 

    After I returned from my run, changed and slightly refreshed, I learned that through chip timing, I was 3rd female by around a minute to Elisa.  Allie beat Elisa by around 2 minutes.  I started my race at 7:30, Elisa started hers at 7:36, and Allie started not long after Elisa!  Craziness!

     

    As top finishers, we scored Patagonia top finisher duffels, in addition to the super sweet Terrapin mug and fleece blanket received by all finishers! I love my race swag!

    Meanwhile, Mike was out there racing still, and so I set up camp behind the finish line in my fleece blanket, drinking more of my still warm protein coffee.  He won his race, and as always, it was a joy to watch him compete! We spent the afternoon socially distanced with fellow ultra running friends, and that was long overdue and very much appreciated.

    I am so grateful to have finally finished a Clark Zealand race; this course taught me a lot about how to grapple with weakness.  It’s easy to work hard where it suits, but it’s character building to push and carry onward when the course plays directly to my growth areas.

     

    This race taught me the value of competition.  While I didn’t win, I can be happy for the women who beat me and simultaneously grateful for the environment their presence created to help me push myself to reach my potential.  

     

    The jury is still out on Promise Land.  I’ve had a hard time getting my long run mileage up, and my volume and days run/week is lower than usual, due to the effects of treatment.  I had big goals for Promise Land before this, and I’m not letting them go, but I also recognize that there are physical limits to my treatment and setting the bar unrealistically high is unfair to myself and even dishonorable to the healing my body is aiming to do on my behalf.

    It's still crazy to me that we climbed to the top of this! 


  • My 2021 Holiday Lake 50k++ Time Trial

    By Mike Fox

    Left the house at 3:45am, 2 hour drive to Holiday Lake.

    Turned off of Highway 24, along with 30 other cars to find the road to be covered in ice (it hadn’t been treated) and quite a few people that were nervous on the slick road. A Toyota Corolla tried to make it up a hill and failed. For some reason that made several others with 4x4 not want to try it, and they clogged the road. I drove around about 20 cars using the grass on the edge as traction, but then there was one stopped in the middle and wouldn’t move. Frank, Sean, and I were trying to convince them it was ok, but it was no use. They weren’t interested in trying anymore, and I couldn’t REALLY blame them. It was a complete ice rink.

     

    It’s only about 4.5 miles to the starting line from where we are. I COULD run there and make it. I mean, if you’re gonna run 50k (++), what’s another 8k. Plus, it would be an effective warm up!  But, I couldn’t leave Nelle and the girls stuck at the car. I would’ve been worried about them the whole time.

    Sitting on icy road exactly when I was supposed to starting the race.

    My preferred option was to attempt a gutsy move across the road to the far side and hook the grass again. Nelle decided it wasn’t worth the risk despite me giving her the “there are leaders and there are followers” speech.

     

    We decided to turn around and try a different route. At this point it was about 6:30am. I was supposed to start my race at 6:30am. …read that sentence again.

     

    We followed a new friend, Sean (Cate, maybe), onto the new route and it was just another ice covered road. One of his friends in a Tacoma was sideways in the road, stuck in the ditch, and blocking our way. Once again, we all get out to help. After trying to spot him out of his stuck, I suggested we hook a strap to him and try to pull him out by hand. I got a few weird looks, but I convinced our group that 5 guys could pull a small truck. If any of you know my rockcrawling background, you would know that I have some experience with this. So, we did! I hooked the strap to the front of the truck, we all grabbed hold, and I said “go”.   Ten seconds later, the truck was free and we were running back to our cars to try to make forward progress. Again, hugging the edge of the road, with two tires in the ice covered grass, we made it the rest of the way to the camp and starting line. It was now 7:35am.

     

    I went to Brenton Swyers, race director, and asked what to do. He said to get my bib number and start in whatever wave I could get into. At the time, I didn’t know it, but they were starting the 25k runners. All of the 50k waves had started on time. I am so grateful for them to be understanding and letting people start late considering the circumstance.

     

    The good news:  I’d actually get to run the race.

    The bad news: I’m going to have to run the whole race by myself.

    Quickly packing enough gels for the whole race in my bottle pocket.

    I packed 4 gels in my handheld bottle pocket. Time for a 50k++ Time Trail!

     

    It was 7:45 and I’m at the starting line. Frank Gonzalez was huge in this moment. He said, “I’ll see you in 2 hours, don’t go out too fast, I love you, Mikey!” The last part he had to yell because I was GONE!

     

    If you don’t know, the race is two virtually identical loops. When I ran this race a few years ago (I won in PERFECT conditions), it took me just under 4 hours, and that was my goal for today. But there was a problem. Actually lots of problems. The course was destroyed by the runners that started before me. The temp was right around freezing and it was raining. Traffic was a challenge and a blessing. Passing folks on a single track is tough, but without them it would’ve been very lonely (I enjoyed exchanging “good jobs” and seeing friends). I was racing, but I had to hold myself back. I had a long way to go, I’m not going to catch the leaders and I don’t know how fast they are running. It’s like I’m chasing something or someone, but I don’t even know if it exists.

     

    Only a couple times on the first loop did the cold bother me. One was the stream crossing which was about thigh deep. That water was quite chilly and made me ease back into speed on the other side. Another was the SWAMP at the bottom of the logged field before you get back to the lake. It was mud up to my knee.

     

    Finishing up my first loop, I could hear Nelle yelling for me across the Lake. I was feeling great! Almost like I had just finished my warm up and was ready to race. When I came through halfway, Nelle got some great pics of me, and Frank shared that I was almost EXACTLY the same time as the leaders through halfway!

    I'm a mess, but still feeling good.

     That was huge news. With all that had happened that morning, just trying to get to the race, having to do this effort alone. Today, I could accomplish something incredibly special. I told myself that many times. I can do something special today: win this race running all by myself. What a story that would be.

     

    The first couple miles into the 2nd loop were not great. My confidence was high though. My legs weren’t tired, and I remembered the first time I raced HL50k I didn’t feel good starting the 2nd loop either. All systems were “go”.

     

    However, I didn’t know what laid ahead. As trashed as I thought the course was on the first lap, the 2nd lap was WAAAAY worse. The single tracks seemed to all have mud rivers, running down them. The power line reminded me of the nasty mud you see around cow feed troughs. The gravel roads offered two options: solid ice that had you straight arming on every step, or slushy goop that splashed icy mud on your lower legs every step. The tree limbs were heavy with ice and blocking the paths. Attempting to brush by them resulted in a feeling as though someone had whipped my face with a leather belt. The pines with their icy needles were more like getting beaten in the face with a frozen pillow. I’ve run some icy, muddy races that I’ve been able to laugh off, but not this. This was very serious.

     

    Conditions aside, there was no one. NO ONE. Just me and aid stationers cheering every 45 minutes or so. I was 3 hours into a hopefully 4 hour run and didn’t see anyone. And my gels were sooooo hard to eat. My hands were too cold to open/squeeze them and when I did finally get it into my mouth, it was the consistency of chewing gum. I even tried to stick them inside my glove for 5 minutes prior to eating to warm them up, but it didn’t work.

     

    There weren’t any negative thoughts though. Most ultramarathons will likely have you questioning why you are doing this to yourself. That never crept into my mind. I was very focused and knew I was moving well. I kept thinking that I didn’t know how my legs were taking this abuse, and that I could STILL do something very special today.

     

    Unfortunately, the cold slowly started to catch up with me with about 5-6 miles left. First, it was my head. Everytime I blinked, my eyes would ‘shutter’ as though I had blinked 3-4 times rapidly. The ability to hear seemed to be leaving me. I didn’t hear my feet crunching ice or the rain/sleet hitting my hat anymore. Then it was my torso. My soaked shirt that was tight fitting at the start was now a bit baggy, had ice along the shorts line, and wasn’t protecting me anymore. In fact, it felt like barbed wire any time the cold breeze flapped it against my skin.

     

    I had ice balls and frozen mud tangling the hair on my legs. It felt like my socks were off my heel and were bundled up at my toes, but whenever I looked down then were just as they were when I started. Man, did my toes ache!

     

    I really had to be careful because I felt that If I were to fall, I might not be able to get back up. Legit concern at this point.

     

    The last couple miles included some short uphills that I reluctantly walked. I would like to say I “power hiked” them, but that would be a lie. I walked. I’m not going to say my legs were tired. It wasn’t a tired leg feeling. It was a “we’re reaching the end of our tolerance for this bullsh*t” leg feeling.

     

    Finally, I was at the top of the last climb and only had a few minutes of downhill road running to the finish. I did not sprint, but I didn’t walk either. David Horton gave me the news that I got 3rd by just a few minutes. I didn’t quite understand and so he tried to clarify. He said that top two guys (Jordan Chang and Daniel Rau) were only seconds apart. I honestly had a hard time comprehending, and a bit of trouble speaking, so lots of very cool people helped me inside and helped me change my clothes while wrapping me in blankets. Thanks everyone for that!!!

    Dead.

    Turns out that the top guys waited an hour for me to finish because they knew there was a chance I could beat them on race time. Unfortunately, my time of 4 hours 28 minutes was around 6-7 minutes too much and their positions stood. I took 3rd place.

     

    I didn’t stop at any aid stations, which is a shame because those awesome volunteers looked like they were having a great time despite the cold! That might have been a bad idea, but I didn’t want to give up even 1 minute of time. I took one of my gels every hour on the hour as I had done in my training runs, kept sipping my NUUN-laced water, continued to risk assess, and keep my effort as close to redline as possible without going in.

     

    Considering the pre-race events and circumstances, I can’t be upset. However, I still want to win one of the individual Lynchburg Ultra Series Races this year and place as high as possible overall. I have 3 more tries. I’m behind the eight ball if Daniel and Jordan are in the series. Next up is Terrapin Mountain 50k at the end of March.

     

     


  • 2020, a very "special" year

    A few people asked me about my training as a mother of younger kids, working full-time, etc.  Races are an exciting part of training, but they certainly don’t comprise the majority of the journey.  Good thing since most of them were canceled this year, right? Part of my training process is extremely creative. How can I integrate specificity, adventure, comradery, variety, and still balance having energy and time for family, relationships, and work?  

     

    First, I am a weekend warrior and a co-parent - my schedule is less familiar to nuclear families and more familiar to blended or single-parents.  With the current custody schedule, my children are with their father on alternating weekends, and while in the early years of my separation and divorce I struggled to strike a balance with running and babysitters, I’ve made it a point to rarely sign up for races or go on long trail runs when my kids are with me.  Actually, it was out of the separation and the deeply lonely weekends that shook my identity as a mother that spurred an interest in ultrarunning.  The weekends were so long, and I’d find myself running, then trying to sleep through them. I was new to the area and didn’t have many friends yet, so I wasn’t really motivated to do anything but run, eat, and sleep through the depression I was experiencing.  Ultimately, my counselor (who regularly hikes sections of the AT) suggested I start making plans for my weekends without my daughters, do all the things I was unable to do when I’d been married, yet still basically a single parent. At first it was difficult, but I soon started looking forward to my weekend adventures instead of dreading them. Those weekend adventures became a part of my creative training process.  Those weekend adventures actually led me to my now amazing husband!  So you really never know what gifts adventure may have in store for you if you don’t take them!

     

    Currently, I work full-time as a reading specialist, primarily working with kindergarten through 2nd graders.  I have spent the past 8 years in education! In this COVID year, I’ve taught 1st grade in-person and virtually, then interventions and class B teacher roles.  To say teachers are tired is an understatement, but we sure do love the kids.  I will say that being home, running became essential, to the fullest extent of that word’s meaning in 2020.  I’d sleep until 6:30, record a morning message for my students, feed my children, do some morning work and check in with students, then take my own children out for a 5 mile bike ride (AKA P.E.), weather permitting.  The afternoon would be spent checking activities and reviewing student work.  Screen time went way up, and we bought the blue light blocking glasses.

     

    So training!  One caveat I will mention here is that physically taxing activities obviously count as training, but so do the restorative practices, and some would argue that balancing and prioritizing the latter is the game changer in peak performance.

     

    Restorative Practices

     

    I have spent a moderate amount of time at Valley Cryo, though none initially during the pandemic.  If I had plenty of time, I’d sit in the Normatec boots, then sit in the sauna for 25-40 minutes, and then stand in the cryosauna at -210 degrees F* for 3 minutes.  This is around a 2 hour commitment.

     

    After every hard workout or long run, I will take my protein coffee (Bone Broth protein by Ancient Nutrition) and soak in a steamy epsom salt bath.  This is bliss BTW, and one day I’ll have a soaking tub of my dreams.

     

    Multiple times a week, I am foam rolling, stretching, and going through my Excel Rocktown Maintenance Routine.

     

    This winter, I invested in Faster EFT with Nicola, and that was a worthy investment!

     

    Finally, nourishment and sleep are a must.  Because I have attained remission for multiple tick-borne illnesses (Lyme, Babesia, Bartonella) and Epstein Barr Virus and strive to keep HPA Axis dysfunction to a minimum, I supplement with between 10-15 minerals, herbs, and vitamins daily.  Furthermore, my body recovers slower from workouts and feels stress more easily, so eating well and prioritizing sleep are a must.  You will not catch me hardly ever staying up past 10 PM, and if I haven’t consumed 5 servings of vegetables in a day, it’s an off day.   

     

    Training Runs and Milestones

     

    2020 began with Boston Marathon training.  Actually, Boston training began in early December with speed work (alternating intervals and threshold workouts) and a building series of long, tempo runs. I’d be waiting at the gym on alternating Tuesday/Thursday mornings waiting for the doors to open at 5:15 AM.  Mike led track workouts for JMU ROTC cadets, but my hands could not survive the combination of winter cold with the fluctuations in my circulation during speed workouts, so I hit the treadmill. Anyway, it was during these track workouts that I first began to take notice of the Corona Virus, and initially, it was a joke in daily phone calls with a training partner as we commuted to work.

     

    Speed workouts usually included mile, 1000m, or 2-3x2-3 mile repeats.  With my first self-trained marathon (Marine Corps 2015), I referred to Hansons as a training manual, but ultimately, I felt in my future training that 3 hard workouts in a week was too much, and I wanted more confidence with Marathon pace than 10 miles offered, so I was working toward 14 mile tempos (I ran a 12 mile tempo at 7:40 pace prior to my BQ at Shamrock and soon after, 6:33 at Promise Land, and the flow of that effort was amazing). I really appreciated the progressive build of the speed and strength workouts, but also wanted their “strength” workouts to be longer and faster. 

     

    I did race a 5K, Cardinal Point Wine Lovers 5K, and won the whole women’s race! It was not my fastest 5K, but a win is a win!  I am guessing most of the competition in the area was at the Olympic marathon trials the next week in Atlanta, and I’m okay with that!

     

    While in this Boston training segment, I ran my long runs early and mid morning, depending on the weekend, and in all conditions.  I did not run on the trails at this time, but I ran around 70 miles/week in my peak weeks, with a couple of two a days! That was very exciting.  The two a days occurred on speed work days (where I ran speed in the morning and slogged in the afternoon - that was really challenging!). 

     

    We were 5 weeks out from the race when schools closed down due to Corona Virus.  All of the research I’d done to support my personal health, and that of my clients indicated that endurance efforts longer than 2 hours would increasingly interfere with optimal immune function, and a couple of days after schools were dismissed for 2 weeks, the Boston Marathon was postponed, which did not come as a surprise, although it was quite disappointing.  I had hoped to run around a 3:18 at Boston and then run around a 3:13 at Chicago this fall. So during this time, I decided to truncate my long runs, stay off the over-crowded trails, and hit the track to learn pacing off the treadmill.  I’d focus on a 5K time trial.  I’d been chasing sub 20 for quite some time, and now seemed the right time to go for it!

     

    Not only was Boston postponed (initially), but also was my surgery in late April intended to alleviate my toxin load, which was disrupting my endocrine system.  I was much more upset about that, as I had timed it to occur about a week and a half after Boston, to allow for my immune system to recover.  I was in touch with my surgeon in Richmond frequently to see about the wait list (it had been scheduled since early October).  They resumed “elective” surgery shortly after my original date. My new surgery date was scheduled for early June, which was definitely starting to encroach on Boston training.  But I wasn’t going to complain. I wanted to feel better!

     

    Back to the 5K. By now I had had two failed attempts at the 5K.  Oh man, they were UGLY.  The first attempt was with Mike in a pace car out on Dry River Road.  It had just started to rain and the wind was blowing in my face. .62 miles into the time trial, I was well above goal pace and struggling. I stopped, screamed, threw my shoes into the grass, and started walking in the other direction. Running is stupid.  Poor Mike, also. I felt like such a failure; how can I coach people if I can’t do the darn thing?  Yeah, so many demons.

     

    Attempt number 2 was better, but still failed.  I devised a new course up near Turner Ashby High School that would spit me out on 42 and take me to the road by the river adjacent to the Bridgewater football stadium. I was doing pretty well, passed by Mike at this intersection at 2.32 miles and suddenly I just locked up, body and mind.  I buckled down to the ground, threw my watch into the grass, and cried again. So close - why did I bail? Running is stupid.  Also, I think Mike was done (with good reason) helping me push my brain to the limit of blowing up.

     

    Then within a week, I received a phone call from the surgeon’s office, and they offered me a spot on the surgery schedule for May 11th because someone wasn’t pre-approved for surgery. I took it immediately, figured out child care so we could be in Richmond by 7 AM.  But what about the 5K??? One more attempt.  It was a morning when my girls were with their dad, and Mike was getting ready for work.  I was quiet, stretching, methodically preparing myself for a last attempt at this endeavor.  Later, Mike said he sensed I was getting in the zone and took off for work.

     

    I grabbed my racing shoes and two pairs of easy running shoes.  I’d drop a pair at the finish line (right past the gate to enter Bridgewater track) and warm up in the other pair.  I moved my start line back further than before so that I’d be well past 2.32 when I reached my quitting spot from last time.  All the brain tricks.  I acquired GPS on my watch, started the carefully selected jams on my headphones/phone, and took off.  My first mile was a 6:14 with around 40 feet of climbing and 90 feet of descent.  The remaining miles were mostly flat, and I ran off the sidewalk for the majority of it, as the sidewalks were not even.  2nd mile, 6:18, this was going well. Stick with it.  I was turning onto the riverside road, past the point where I quit, running towards the incline at the end of the street, knowing I’d U-turn instead of going back up that.  My body was screaming, but my brain was aware of how I was going to break 20.  Reestablishing speed after that was so hard, but I hauled a$$ until my watch read 3.11 miles, 19:32 5K! I was so incredibly happy!  I called Mike, I called Bill, I called Caroline, as I was cooling down. Victory!!!!

     

    So then a few days later I had surgery, which came with some unexpected complications including Candida and an adverse reaction to surgical tape.  I was allowed to run after 3 weeks, and I ran my first mile time trial at 5 weeks post surgery in 5:55.  I began reintegrating some speedwork into my training, my proudest workout being the following:

     

    1x800 @ 2 mile pace, equal distance recoveries

    2x400 @ 1 mile pace, equal distance recoveries

    3x200 @ 800m pace, equal distance recoveries

    5 minute jogging recovery

    1x800 @ 2 mile pace, equal distance recoveries

    2x400 @ 1 mile pace, equal distance recoveries

    3x200 @ 800m pace, equal distance recoveries

     

    Woof! This was awful and awesome, if that’s possible!

     

    My final mile time trial was 5:34, at like 4:15 in the morning, before we headed out of town for a rock crawling event and socially responsible vacation, just Mike and I.  The high after these time trial pursuits, doing it all on your own, it feels very good.  My mental strength was becoming evident.

     

    Side note: Unfortunately, some people really cannot tolerate others’ success. I was told by someone I used to consider a friend that I was disingenuous and arrogant in my running performances, that my 5K didn’t have enough elevation to count, and my mile times were misleading.  Ultimately, I believe she felt threatened by my success, and her insecurity and poor behavior cost her a friendship.  Initially, I doubted and questioned myself, but in the end, her remarks had more to do with what’s going inside her head than with me.  For so long, I’d ventured into ultras and longer distances because of the adventure of it, as well as the reduced pressure to focus on speed (because I simply did not have it), and during that time, a natural pecking order for who is faster than whom had formed.  My improved speed derailed that status quo, I guess.  Clearly, I’m still working on letting this go.  Tapping is a great practice for this!

     

    Back to training: Before the time trials, I decided to get on the wait list for Jarmans Invitational Marathon in mid August. This race is dumb. I’d already finished it once (4th female).  Yet, it was 2020, and I was guessing Boston would get canceled, and ultimately, it was moved to virtual. So during our travels, Mike and I ran daily: 10 miles around Mt. Monadnock, which was highly technical, rocky, and gorgeous, 10 miles at Hamilton Falls, 6 miles in some God-forsaken black fly riddled trail (we bailed after being repeatedly bitten), and 6 miles around the Bed & Breakfast where we were staying.  Not long after we returned, I ran a Super Jarmans with John Andersen and Sophie Speidel (that was so cool), a 3x Jarmans (18 miles, ~5000 feet) with John and Sophie joining me later (that was so hard), and finally, a Jarmans descent for time (5K in 18:30) and a long run where poor Michelle Andersen dragged me along for 12 more miles.  

     

    Then I headed to Alabama and the beach with my girls for a trip to visit family that had seemed so terribly delayed.  A couple of weeks out from the JIM, the hay was in the barn, and so I enjoyed short to moderate runs in the southern humidity, then recovered happily on the beach during the day, soaking in the sun and playing in the water with my girls.  When race day was upon me, however, I did not feel great.  Something about summer weather cumulatively stresses my body too much, and something felt off. What in the??? Anyway, the 12:01 PM start of the JIM on the first Saturday in August was hot and humid.  After one climb (at a fair pace), my legs were protesting.  Oh boy… by the 3rd lap, I knew I’d be dropping, and I’m actually very glad I did, because I did need to finish the Boston Virtual Marathon the next month in order to “finish Boston” for the first time. I also scored a $50 Crozet Running gift card for being the first person to drop (haha!) and I got to hang out at the aid station and cheer for other people, which personally I love more than anything else about this sport. Becca Weast, John Andersen, and David Horton were at the aid station, and it felt so good to be around cool people again.  

     

    I asked Horton then about Hellgate, whether he thought it would happen, and he seemed optimistic.  A bold move, but I shared that I’d like to train for it; he looked at me and smiled, and I assured him that I wouldn’t drop like I did today.  I don’t think he believed me! 

     

    Onto the Boston Virtual Marathon: I ran an 18 miler and a 20 miler in Bridgewater, and my easy runs were on the faster side of easy.  I felt pretty alright, which was weird after I felt so off at the JIM.  The day of the marathon arrived, and Brittany, Liz, Aaron, and I got a 6:30 start to our 3 loop course.  We had pacers, pace cars, and an amazing celebration at the end, plus a beautiful chalked finish line, mimosas, and 3D printer medals from Corinne. Mike made an amazing street sign to signify the “right on Hereford, left on Boylston” we all so desperately had wanted to experience (Brittany, Aaron, and I were to be 1st timers at Boston). We wore our Boston 2020 bibs and Vinyl Cricut shirt designs I’d made to unite us.  Aside from walking a couple times in the final 4 miles, it was a pretty great event. 

     

    I had a couple of workouts and a moderate trail run at Rockfish Gap after this event, and then my body shut down suddenly.  Exhausted from custody tribulations that began in April and were continued to September, only to be continued until December 21, my body was responding physically to the emotional stress of co-parenting with someone who doesn’t honor co-parenting practices.  Labwork was ordered, and boom, I had a raging relapse of EBV.  I was with my dear friend Caroline when I realized I was possibly going into prolonged treatment again, and in spite of COVID, she enveloped me in a hug as I cried a few, fat tears. September and October consisted of 20 mile weeks.  I ran some speedwork, but I gave myself a prolonged recovery.  I was, to be frank, exhausted.  Given my high emotional sensitivity (remembering the mind/body connection) to environmental factors, I decided counseling (aka talk therapy) wasn’t enough.  I had the validation I needed.  What I needed were tools to make my emotional defenses so rock solid, that if I didn’t want you to hurt me, you couldn’t no matter how hard you tried.  

     

    It was then that I discovered Faster EFT, and I invested in 7 hours worth of sessions (plus a bonus session).  Nicola is powerful with language, validating, dynamic, and flexible. I highly recommend this if you struggle with mental toughness, past traumas, toxic relationships, or peak performance.  My most profound takeaway from working with her is that growth does not have to occur out of hardship (even though it can), and that I can release myself of creating hardship so that I can grow.  Pretty powerful!  Furthermore, we discussed my energy deficit, my desire for serenity, peace, and accessing my balanced, constant flow of energy.  This work, I believe, allowed for me to have such an incredible race at Hellgate.

     

    TRIGGER WARNING: Shortly after I had my initial consultation with Nicola, I, alongside many JMU ROTC cadets, survived a major gas explosion in downtown Harrisonburg, one that shook the nearby cities for miles and miles.  Never in my life have I had to respond to a catastrophic event in such a way, and the aftermath luckily was less damaging than it very well could have been.  I ran without looking back, with adrenaline pulsing through my veins, with holes in my jacket.  Luckily the injuries of the cadets were easy enough to treat at the local hospital, but others were airlifted to UVA.  I was taken aback by all of the concern community members expressed for us, for the running shop, but it was the invisible aftermath of this event that left me with severe concussions, fatigue, jumpiness, and most importantly, depression. I started wondering, what if I had just died instead?  Given the custody situation, my chronic illnesses, how horrible the explosion had been, I wondered if the world would be better without me in it.  Nicola met with me for a complimentary session to help me get through the trauma of the event, to let me process these awful feelings, to allow myself to re-engage in my gratitude for life, and so when several people reached out to me and said “I’m glad you’re alive”, it resonated in a way I imagine they couldn’t even understand.

     

    And so, having survived that explosion, I decided to seize the day and explore my options.

     

    On October 21st, I contacted Horton to inquire about the Hellgate application.  Initially, I had written the race off because of my relapse, but I wanted to see if I could get ready.  My determination to bounce back quickly by giving my body EVERYTHING IT NEEDED, including sauna, rest, meds, epsom salt baths, massage.  He said I needed to get my application in ASAP because November 4th they’d be selecting 100 runners to enter. I printed out the application, filled it out, wrote a special note saying that I believed I would finish because I’ve overcome so much already, and overnighted that puppy to Lynchburg University.  I was among the first 100 runners accepted, thank goodness!

     

    On October 31st, I turned 32.  An intmitate group of friends and I headed to Waynesboro to race a wine 5K.  I was strong, but I wasn’t as strong as I had been. The course was a hard one, but we had a great race.  I ran a 20:32 5K there (6:15, 6:38, 7:04 - I died on the last, very hilly mile).  I had committed to focusing on one race at a time, though I knew Hellgate was most definitely an A race.

     

    November 1st, though, belonged to Hellgate. It was a full moon, and I really wanted a moonlight run without staying up late to do it. Unfortunately, the moon was blocked by dense clouds -boooo!  A small group of friends plus Mike drove to the trail head for The Wild Oak Trail (TWOT, for short).  We ran up to Little Bald (7 miles and ~3000 feet of climbing) and returned the same way, at least mostly.  Liz found her flow and took off down the wrong trail, and when we realized she was missing, that was very scary. She had no water, no light, and no phone. In our haste to get back to our cars, we missed the turn onto TWOT from the dirt/grass road and went down, down, down until we realized we were off trail, which means we had re-ascend probably around 1000 feet of elevation in an additional 2 miles.  Luckily, as we approached the trailhead, we could hear Liz yelling out for us, and she came in from Tillman Road, unscathed.  Very scary, very grateful she was safe.  After we were all reunited, we celebrated 16 miles and nearly 5000 feet of vert.  A great first training run for Hellgate!

     

    The next weekend was one of those rare weekends where I go for a long run when I have the kids.  I didn’t love doing this, but I was invited to the event and therefore, couldn’t adjust the date to one that suited me.  This was the Mountain Masochist Underground 50K! I was supposed to run it this year, but along with Boston, Chicago, and a slew of other races, the 50 miler was canceled.  But I knew I needed some long runs and some vert, so Mike agreed that I should go.  

     

    This event was awesome!  Lots of leaves, single track, and challenging road climbs, plus beautiful sunrises and vistas.  Going out, the pace was an easy one, but going back, I decided I would chase after Bethany Patterson, who was in a hurry to get back to her own family.  I did okay hanging on during the gravel road climbs, but once that lady hit the single track, I never saw her again.  Skillz. Though a couple sections were a little dicey getting back, I finished the 50K (32+ miles) in ~7 hours 10 minutes.  Imagining doing that a little more than twice suddenly had me skeered, although I had intentionally blown myself up that week with a 5 mile tempo at 6:45 pace and a 600/200 relay workout.  The elevation was also just under half of Hellgate.  I purchased a mug from the general store, some craft high gravity beer for Mike, and drove home.  

     

    The next week, I headed to Wintergreen to spend time with my aunt and uncle and also to do a back to back long run weekend.  On Thursday, I ran 10x floating 400s at marathon pace, with general aerobic recoveries. That was hard! Then Friday, I ran a 9 mile moderate run, 12 miles on Saturday morning at Rockfish Gap, and while I’d hoped to run 3 Ridges + Priest from Reeds Gap, the weather was looking shifty, and I put contingencies into place based on the weather.  I was fearful that it would be pretty remote where I was, and I didn’t want to put myself in danger.  So I ran around 17 miles that day with over 5000 feet of elevation.  I ran from Reeds Gap to the Mauhar trail, to the 3 Ridges Trail, all the way down to the Priest trailhead, and then returning by way of 3 Ridges all the way back to Reeds Gap.  The rockiness in many sections was a lot to handle, and I think this run was the impetus for some improper patellar tracking in my left knee. However, I was extremely proud of myself for the amount of solo running I had done to this point, and especially with the wind whipping around me at such high altitudes.  I definitely questioned my courage, but this run taught me resolve!

     

    My knee had my attention on my next early morning easy run, and I assumed then that it was because my Saucony Shifts were dead. I’d had at least 500 miles on them!  I immediately ordered a new pair and used other shoes until they arrived.  New shoes, while exciting, did not solve the problem.  Bummer.  The following weekend, Mike and I took turns pacing a friend in his Country Roads 100K, which gave me around 20 miles of running (5 miles of tempo pace).  My knee by the end of this was so grumpy and stiff.  Time to start figuring this out!  I had Brittany take a look at it the next day, and two days later, Dr. Glazer was applying red laser therapy to it.  That helped briefly, but I knew what it needed was rest.  I needed one more long trail run before I could grant that.

     

    I was supposed to run with Sonja Wilkey the next weekend: 3x Jarmans + 1 Carlos.  A day or so before our run, she contacted me to say that she wouldn’t be able to make it due to injury.  The weather was looking incredible, and I was itching for adventure again.  I had attempted TWOT in the past, but weather had been icy and dangerous, meaning a bailed attempt and warm fireplaces at Cracker Barrel with Mike as we ate our weight in pancakes, bacon, and biscuits.  Mike agreed to join me at the road intersection around halfway, as I wanted to run a portion solo and in the dark, in preparation for the 7 hours of darkness I’d be running through only two weeks from now.  I was anxious about my knee and gave in to the temptation of ibuprofen.  I packed sweet potato muffins, gels, gummies, electrolytes, music, and more.  The temperature was cold but bearable.

     

    The first 7 miles to Little Bald were terrible!  I actually sat for a second and pouted because I felt so slow, texted Mike to tell him I felt like $h!t, and carried on.  I dreaded the second climb to Big Bald.  But as I finished the first of two steep miles, I started feeling better, encouraged by progress, albeit it slow.  As I crested the ridge, I saw Mike’s happy self trotting along the trail!  He fell in behind me as I proceeded down, down, down towards his truck, where surprises and aid awaited me.  He recorded a video of me jaunting along, and not long after, I rolled my ankle badly. I cried out, cursed, pulled myself together, and hobbled along until it didn’t hurt anymore! I was excited to be looking past the aid station instead of viewing it as an end point.  

     

    I had no time goal really. I wasn’t sure what to expect, putting all these different sections together that I’d run only separately.  We began the rolling ascent towards Hanky, and we just played in the woods. It was marvelous. The weather was perfect; the run was perfect; everything was getting better!  Hanky sucked, but hilariously so.  It was so steep; what else could you do but laugh?  

     

    Multiple times, I stopped to check that we were on the correct trail, particularly when we hit the dirt/grave/grass road.  By this point, I was feeling impatient. Less than 8 miles to go, now seeing a time goal come into clear view.  I wanted to break 7 hours.  Hitting the single track was exciting, but I’ll admit, I got a little frustrated at around mile 26 regarding when I’d see the turn off for the overlook trail.  I was skipping, jumping, leaping over the rocks, and d@mn, I felt amazing!  When I finally passed by that turn off, I knew it was time to start rolling.  27 miles in!!! Crossing the bridge was kind of hilarious because Mike started jumping on it behind me, and I didn’t know these ladies were approaching the bridge until after I teasingly told him off.  That was kind of awkward, but they were like “you’re amazing”, and I was like “it’s a great day!” and took off up that final climb. I hiked for maybe 30 seconds here to regain my breath, and then powered it home across the road and the final stretch of single track returning us to the trail head!  6 hours 10 minutes of moving time, 6 hours 40 minutes of elapsed time. I’m confident I can break 6 hours now! I look forward to going back!

     

    After this run, I committed to minimal running leading up to Hellgate. Instead, I focused on foam rolling, epsom salt baths, high protein foods, rest, and ibuprofen.  Two more appointments with Dr. Glazer included adjustments, exercises, taping, and laser.  Ultimately, my taper was pretty successful in that I was well rested.  While I was not without knee pain, it was the best it could have been given the circumstances, and I’m grateful the damage isn’t any worse! 

     

    I went on to run the race of my dreams at Hellgate. I had a great day, even better than the one I had at TWOT, with only maybe a cumulative hour of "ugh I hate this" the entire race. 

    The Year End Reflection

    The build up for Hellgate was quick and hard, but it was specific in many ways and full of adventures I’ll always be grateful for.  This year’s training taught me how to have courage, how to grow mental fortitude, and how to believe in myself because there will always be people who don’t believe in me or sadly are put off by my success.  This year’s experiences, and let’s be real, 2020 has been hard on everyone, have taught me that I can always keep going: another week, another few months, another mile, after failure.  There is always redemption if you seek it and commit to it.  As my trail dad Bill Gentry says, “It can’t always get worse.” Good days are only achieved by the Law of Attraction: believe in goodness and you will inevitably receive it.



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