Race Report: Richmond Half Marathon

I’m not exactly sure why or when, but sometime over the summer I decided to register for the Richmond Half Marathon on November 11.

It’s a convenient local-ish race and one I have quite a positive history with. While I’ve never run the half marathon distance, I’ve run the Richmond Marathon a total of three times. It was the site of my very first marathon (in 2009) and the third time I ran it (in 2014), I achieved a pretty big PR. Because of that, Richmond has always held a special place in my heart. Richmond is also known as “America’s friendliest marathon” and while that may be a bit of hyperbole, I have always appreciated the tremendous course support at the race.

Registering for the half distance this year created some training challenges, as I’d be coming off the Cloudsplitter 50k, just 5 weeks earlier on October 7. Suffice it to say, training for a trail 50k and training for a road half couldn’t be more different. The former requires a strength/endurance focus, while the latter, speed. I didn’t have much turnaround time – just three weeks – once I factored in recovery after the 50k and taper for the half. My training largely consisted of some of my “favorite” Team HPB speed sessions on the treadmill and one two-hour tempo run outside two weeks before the race. I was able to nail that tempo session, which made me feel fairly confident heading into Richmond, but you never know how you’ll feel on race day.

Speaking of race day, the weather leading up to race day was a bit of a puzzle for me. I usually run hot, but with temps predicted to be in the 20s, I wasn’t sure how to approach dressing for the race. I ended up packing three outfits with progressing levels of warmth – (1) capris and a lightweight long sleeve; (2) tights and a lightweight long sleeve; and (3) tights and a mid-weight long sleeve and a very lightweight wind vest. More on that shortly.

Richmond is always a Saturday race, which I normally love because you have Sunday to recover. However, this year, it presented some challenges for me. I had a work event the day before and it wasn’t something I could skip or leave early. My normal eating would also be thrown off, as lunch would be catered in and there weren’t any vegan options. I should have packed a PB&J, but hindsight is 20-20.

In any case, by the time I left the event and drove down to Richmond in rush hour traffic I was tired and starving. I’ve never, ever, moved so quickly to get in and out of an expo. I probably spent a total of two minutes running in, grabbing my bib and teeshirt, and running out. My bib number was 12666, by the way. Not a good omen.

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After I left the expo, I checked into my hotel (the Candlewood Suites, which I highly recommend if you’re doing this race!), ate spaghetti I packed from home, laid out all of my gear for the next morning, and went to bed.

On race morning, I settled on the medium warmth outfit – tights and a lightweight long sleeve. I followed my standard race morning routine with regard to breakfast, got in my car, and drove the ten minutes into Richmond only to realize that I didn’t have cash to park in the parking garage. #racemorningfail

Luckily traffic was light and I was able to scoot back to my hotel, grab cash, get back to the parking garage, and run to the start just in the nick of time. It definitely wasn’t an ideal way to start the morning.

By the time I got to the start line I was feeling really hot. I normally leave on a layer of throwaway clothes – at least a light shirt – at the start when it’s cold (and in this case, temps were in the low 20s), but I was so warm, the only extra layers I wore were gloves and a headband. I ditched the rest of my layers in the coral. I assumed I was warm because I had a bit of a frantic morning, but it ended up that I was coming down with a stomach bug – more on that in a bit.

My race strategy was similar to what I did at the Rehoboth Marathon in December 2016. I set my Garmin to only show my pace and distance for the mile (lap) I was in and as soon as the mile past, I put it out of my mind. I tried to focus on staying relaxed and getting into a rhythm, but I just didn’t feel right. I didn’t know I was getting sick at the time, so it was a mystery to me, but I just tried to focus on my cadence and nutrition. I’ve learned over the years that you can only focus on what you can control during a race.

At one point, the half course has an out and back section and I noticed there were some speedsters heading back as I was heading out. I figured I would probably see Alyssa during this stretch, so I moved to the right so I had a better line of sight. I did end up seeing her and I was able to give her a quick cheer. It gave me a boost, too, to see a familiar face.

I ditched my gloves and headband in the park (at about half way) and in retrospect, might have been better off in a tee shirt and arm warmers because it was warming up (or, I was warming up). I definitely should have worn sunglasses. It was really perfect fall racing weather with the brisk temps and sunny skies.

My only physical issue during the race was a tight left hip flexor, which I paused to stretch, but was otherwise able to work through.

The half marathon course was definitely not as scenic as I remember the full course being in my three prior Richmond Marathon experiences. Maybe that is true, maybe I am remembering incorrectly – OR, more likely, maybe I’ve been spoiled by all of the trail running I’ve been doing over the past year. In any case, between that, the cold temps keeping the spectators away, and not feeling quite 100%, I can’t say this was quite the usual Richmond experience for me. That being said, I kept my head in the game, focused on my nutrition, and ended up crossing the line in 1:56.28.

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Unfortunately, I didn’t have much of an opportunity to celebrate a solid race because after I got back my hotel and showered, I ended up getting quite sick with a stomach bug. I will spare you the details, but it was unpleasant to say the least and definitely not the ideal way to recover after a race effort (especially with a full marathon on the schedule just three weeks later).

The stomach bug was mostly better in about 24 hours, but I didn’t feel right for several days. With the short turnaround time to the Rehoboth Marathon, I didn’t have much time to rest and recover. Just one week post race I did a 3:30 easy effort so that I would get in at least one long endurance run before the full. That run actually went decently well, which was a pleasant surprise. I was even able to go to a “Friendsgiving” and have fun that evening, which is pretty good considering I ran over 21 miles.

Now, I’m tapering and focusing on nutrition, rest, and recovery for the next two weeks as I prepare for Rehoboth on December 2. I also want to keep stretching out the hip flexor so that I don’t have to worry about that on race day, and foam rolling to make sure I can stay injury-free for my last race of 2017. My goal in Rehoboth is to run a 4:10 or faster, which will be a challenge, but is certainly within the realm of possibility, as I ran a 4:11 and change there last year.

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Race Report: Cloudsplitter 50k

The stars have aligned and I find myself with a rare day off on the day after returning home from my big 50k, which means I can actually blog about my race in a timely fashion! #smallmiracles

While my Cloudsplitter 50k experience is still sinking in, I can absolutely without a doubt say that everything about this weekend was amazing and I will be back again next year!

So, let me back up and catch up on the blog from where I last left off, which was after Ragnar Trail WV in August. September was a really tough month for me with lots of travel and events. I lost a weekend of training to attend a USA Triathlon coaching certification clinic and to coach at a race in Williamsburg, VA; and another weekend to attend a family event in New York. I also ran Ragnar, Washington D.C., which was a TON of fun, but not ideal training for a trail race (and, if I’m being totally honest with myself, left me not in the best place on the sleep/taking care of myself front). Don’t get me wrong, all of those were good things, but my training definitely took a back seat.

Having fun at Ragnar Washington, D.C.

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In light of this, I wasn’t feeling super confident in the weeks leading up to the race, but as Megan said, we told too many people we were doing it to back out, so we were going to go for it and hope for the best!

Megan and I left for Norton on the Thursday before the Saturday race. Half of Megan’s car was filled with food. Truly, if we would have needed to, we could have driven cross-country and back and still had plenty of food to spare. #triathleteproblems

Traffic was nuts with the long holiday weekend and it took us something like 7 hours to get to Norton, which is the Westernmost city in Virginia, from Oakton (poor Megan tacked on an extra hour of driving before she even got to me).

Norton is a small town, with absolutely gorgeous mountainous scenery and the friendliest people you could ever meet. Megan and I joked that I need a “Norton’s #1 Fan” tee shirt for next year. More on that in a bit.

We didn’t do much on Thursday other than checking in to the Super 8 motel in Norton and going to bed.

On Friday, since we didn’t have anything to do before the pre-race meeting at 6:00 p.m., we went for a short shake out run (ohh-ing and ahh-ing over the scenery the entire time!) and then we made the short drive to Jenkins, KY to visit the Coal and Railroad Museum. The museum is tiny, but I think for both of us, it really started sinking in that this area of the country has been hit hard by the coal industry’s decline. These are hard working people who truly built America into what it is today, and it is a shame to see the area struggling.

We spoke to two older ladies at the museum and before we had an opportunity to tell them we were in town for the race, one of them shared how the warm winter led to an abundance of Copperhead snakes this summer, especially at night.

Megan and I just looked at one another without trying to show visible distress. Not exactly something you want to hear the day before a trail race that you are anticipating finishing in the dark, but bless her heart, she didn’t know that!

After a quick stop at the grocery store for even more food, we headed back to the hotel.

We both reviewed the race guide and website one more time and were happy to discover that what we thought was going to be a 35 mile race with almost 10,000 feet of climbing was actually going to be a 31 mile race with 7,700 feet of climbing. The race moved from Kentucky to Virginia over the summer and course profiles on the website hadn’t been updated until recently. While this was still going to be a BIG challenge, the easier course profile came as a pleasant surprise to two ladies who have been in better shape in their lives!

Megan and I originally met back in the spring or summer of 2015 when we were both training with Alyssa for our first Ironmans later that year. I can’t remember exactly when we met, but we really got to know each other at Team HPB Camp East that summer. That was back in the day of two-a-days every day and 100 mile bike rides. Neither of us has seen that kind of training in awhile.

Unfortunately, we found ourselves both taking a break from Ironman in 2017 (we’re calling 2017 “the year that work won”). As I’ve talked about a bit here, I started a new job about a year ago and getting into the swing of things there really took priority this past year.

In any case, Megan had messaged me back in April saying that she was thinking about doing a spring trail race and wanted me to join her. One of the races she was considering was the “Rhododendron Run” which was scheduled for June. I read about the race and it sounded amazing, but the date wasn’t going to work for me. She said another race on the same course was happening in October – Cloudsplitter. That’s when I really got excited. Reading the messages now is funny, but we had some discussion back and forth about doing the 25k versus the 50k distance. Megan said “We aren’t doing Ironman. We might as well run for 10 hours. Or 13 hours.”

So, fast forward to the pre-race meeting in Norton on Friday evening, I was starting to get really nervous and to question why we thought doing this race was a good idea. Everyone at the meeting looked extremely fit and I was intimidated. As I said, the Cloudsplitter 50k course consists of 7,700 feet of elevation gain over 31 miles, which is by far the toughest course profile I’ve ever encountered in a running race.

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The closest thing I have to compare that to is riding about 10,000 feet of elevation gain over 105 miles on my bike on Skyline. When something feels hard on a bike, it’s going to feel *really* hard on foot!

We both checked-in, got our bibs and race shirts, and checked out the race bling. I was excited to see the medals in person, as they are absolutely stunning and very different from other race medals I’ve seen.

We took our seats and then heard from Fred Ramey, the Norton City Manager. As I said on Facebook:

In all of my years of racing I have never received such a warm welcome from local officials as I did tonight from the City of Norton, Virginia! They were clearly so excited and appreciative about this race coming to their town. This area has lost a lot of coal industry jobs and their economy has taken a hit over the past several years. They are trying to reposition themselves as a destination for outdoor enthusiasts, and being here for just a short time, I can see why. If you like the outdoors, hiking, mountain biking, etc., this is a beautiful place to visit! I hope to come back again! Thank you for the warm welcome!

For the rest of the weekend, I referred to Fred as “my favorite city manager.” I have seriously never, ever, met someone so excited to have a race in his town!

We also heard from a wildlife expert (I believe his name was Seth), who spoke to us about some safety topics (e.g. “announce” yourself so that the bears know you’re coming), but also provided interesting information about some of the unique wildlife species in this area. For example, High Knob has something like 50 species of mussels, many of which are endangered. As an aside, you have GOT to take a few minutes and watch this video about Hellbenders, which are North Americas largest salamanders and can grow to two feet in length!

Seth was also really excited about the race being in town and you could tell was so proud to share High Knob with us.

The race director then explained the course markings. In addition to yellow dollar-sized blazes on the trees, we should also watch out for pink surveyor’s tape along the course. The surveyor’s tape also had reflective tape attached to make the marks visible in the dark.

We got back to the hotel and sorted through our clothes and food for the following day. We also packed up our shared “drop bag,” which we would be able to access around mile 9. It’s kind of like an Ironman special needs bag and I overpacked, of course!

On race morning, I made a game time decision to use my trekking poles after seeing several other racers with them at the start. It was also dark at the start, which we hadn’t expected, so I decided at the very last minute to wear my headlamp. Based on our paces from Ragnar Trail WV, especially when running at night on the more technical trail there, Megan and I estimated we needed about 12 hours to finish Cloudsplitter, so we planned to finish in the dark, but not to start in the dark. Thankfully, we were prepared. 

We took a quick photo, I took one last swig of Gatorade, the local boy scout troop fired a black powder rifle, and off we went!

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The first mile of the out and back 50k course is on pavement and mostly uphill. Less than two minutes into the race we overheard one of the runners say that she hadn’t practiced running hills because she does Crossfit. Considering the elevation gains on the Cloudsplitter course, I’m not sure that was the most advisable of training plans, but I digress.

Megan and I trotted along up the hills. Many people walked this, but we both wanted to warm-up a bit, and we most definitely weren’t setting any speed records. We got to the trailhead and proceeded to form a long train with other runners along the single-track course. We followed their lead and ran when they ran and walked when they walked.

This first section of the course (the most difficult for the 50k distance) included several steep sections that left me out of breath even hiking. We went up one particularly challenging climb only to see my favorite city manager standing at the top cheering us on, taking photographs, and directing us along the trail!

Fred Ramey took the photo below. I’m third in line here, wearing a dark colored hat. 

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I was definitely glad I chose to bring the trekking poles along this portion of the course, as getting my footing was tricky in several stretches.

At the first aid station, around 4-5 miles in, we checked in (in lieu of having timing mats along the course, runners needed to check in at every station by bib number for safety reasons and to ensure no one cut the course), and I grabbed some pretzels. The volunteers were fantastic, as they would be throughout the day!

We didn’t linger at the aid station because we wanted to be able to stay with our group. We were with a great group of runners – one 100k-er, a couple of 100 milers, another 50k runner, and I’m sure others who I couldn’t quite hear.

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One of the 100 mile runners, Aimee, has FOUR kids and this was her third attempt to finish a 100 miler. One man from West Virginia trained for an ultra running one-mile loops around his neighborhood when his wife was pregnant. So many stories. Everyone was chatting and very friendly. The experienced runners were answering questions and offering advice to us. We figured out that several of us had connections to Ohio – either living there or going to school there. It was like a party and it made the miles go so fast! Again, we followed their lead and ran when they ran and walked when they walked.

Megan and I kept reminding each other to eat and drink. She would yell to me “I’m taking a gel!” I would check-in with her “Are you drinking?” It was perfect!   

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The scenery was amazing. Unfortunately, most of my GoPro photos didn’t come out, but it was beautiful. Sometimes I would have to look up (even though it’s always advisable to look at your feet so you don’t trip) so that I could take in the views. Although this course usually has numerous water crossings, it’s been a dry summer and we had only a few tricky streams to navigate. The foliage was just starting to change and I was able to snap a few pics of the treetops.

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Soon enough we hit High Knob Tower, which we decided to visit on our way back, and then the second aid station shortly thereafter. I decided to leave my poles in my drop bag. I drank some Coke, refilled my pack with fluids, and on we went.

At the High Knob Observation Tower sign the first time around.

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We hit the third aid station, which was about .5 miles from the turn around for the 50k. We ran along a gravel road (it actually reminded my a bit of Ridge Road in Charlottesville) to a metal pail that housed a book. We had to rip a page out of the book and run it back to the aid station as evidence that we completed the full distance.

At this point, I was feeling fantastic and we were WAY ahead of our estimated turnaround time (about 90 minutes ahead of schedule). I had another cup of Coke, took some ibuprofen, and we started to head back the way we came.

Even though I felt great and would have loved to run more of the course on the return, we were either dealing with steep ascents/descents or lots of loose rocks on the flats.

This was one of the sections that had a lot of loose rocks. I can’t imagine what this was like for the 100k and 100 mile runners, who had to pass through this section after the rain on Saturday night.

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Unfortunately, most of our group was continuing on past the aid station, so when we turned around, it was primarily just the two of us heading back. We ran a few miles with Bobbi from Fail, Laugh, Learn, who I had the pleasure of meeting in person at Cloudsplitter (on the course, no less!) after connecting online through our blogs.

Being by ourselves, we had to pay much more attention to the course markings, as opposed to just following along with the group. There were a couple of times where I felt like I had gone a bit without seeing a marking, but we were actually always on course and just needed to go a bit farther to see a mark.

On our own on the return.

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We got back to the aid station with the drop bags, and although we didn’t think we would have access to them this time, our bag was, in fact, there. That was a pleasant surprise. I had some more Coke at this stop and I believe this is when I started eating my peanut butter-filled pretzels.

Shortly thereafter, we made it back to High Knob Tower and this time took a moment to check out the views. The photos don’t do it justice AT ALL, but you can see four additional states from the tower – NC, KY, WV, and TN. It was nice to take a bit of a break and we had been told at one of the aid stations that after the tower it was downhill, so it was a nice place to mentally regroup.

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We arrived back at the first aid station, which meant we had less than 5 miles to go. I was in a great rhythm at this point and didn’t want to stop, but one of the volunteers told me that the runner two in front of me had a bear “encounter” with three black bears. From that moment on, I kept thinking I was hearing things in the woods.

Megan and I started “announcing” ourselves, as per the wildlife expert’s recommendation. “Bears, we are announcing ourselves!” “Bears don’t like eating vegans anyway!” Megan had the best announcement of the day: “We have a dog!” I could not stop laughing about that one. All I could imagine was our Labradoodle, who is afraid of his own shadow, encountering a black bear and being scared out of his mind, but for some reason Megan thought a dog would be a *really* big deterrent to a black bear eating us for lunch!

With maybe 2-3 miles to go, Megan said I could run ahead, which I did. I felt a little stiff, and my feet were hurting, but I otherwise felt really great, and I was able to pick up the pace, especially once I hit the pavement for that last mile. 

I ended up finishing in about 8:45, which was much faster than our predicted 12:00 (but of course slower as compared with my last 50k which was around 6:30). 

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As I was waiting at the finish for Megan, none other than my favorite city manager arrived. Apparently, he saw Megan running toward the finish and gave her a high five. God, I love him! He was at the finish to take more photos and cheer the runners on. We chatted for a bit and I introduced myself. I had some water and then I saw Megan coming down the street.

Megan is a tough chick and even though she was clearly in pain, she finished strong, with a big smile!

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Back at the hotel, we assessed our blisters (NOT a good situation!), considered whether we were better off just throwing away our smelly clothes (we did not), ate all the food, drank wine, and watched the Golden Girls. It was the perfect way to end the weekend.

I can’t wait to go back to Norton for Cloudsplitter again next year!

Next up for me is the Richmond half marathon on November 11, followed by the Rehoboth full in early December. I’ll be returning to the PHUNT 50k in January and then focusing on the bike for Whistler. 

Getting my $h!t Together

I haven’t blogged in many months and it’s reflective of where I’ve been with my triathlon training this year.

A few weeks ago, my husband’s business sponsored a local charity race, and a lot of ladies from my running group were there. I haven’t seen them in awhile because my schedule has been so different since I switched jobs last November. It was awesome to catch-up with everyone after so many months apart, but inevitably one by one, they would ask me what I was training for. For the first time in 8 years, I didn’t have an answer.

I was planning to race Tupper Lake Tinman (which I raced in 2016) at the end of June, but after doing about a third (that may be generous) of the training I would need to truly race a half Ironman, I decided to volunteer at the race instead. I thought about racing the Olympic, but I haven’t really done the speedwork that I would need to race an Olympic, either. Since I had already requested the time off from work and we already had our hotel booked, I ended up using the time to take a relaxing vacation with my mom in the Adirondacks. We had a great time – drank wine, finished a 1,000-piece puzzle, sat by the lake, and watched movies. And I got in one very cool trail run.

 

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Volunteering at Tinman was fun, but of course, not the same as racing, and I think it helped me refocus my priorities a bit. It was actually a wake-up call for me. It reminded me that I feel my best when I am training, eating right, racing, and socializing with like-minded people.

In addition to volunteering, I also happened to listen to a podcast interview with one my former Team-HPB teammates, Mary Knott, on the drive to New York, and I think both of these things combined made me really appreciate how much I miss all aspects of my triathlon life – being in shape, training with friends, and coaching.

I decided to register for next year’s Tinman and I recruited a friend to race with me, as well. That gives me something to look forward to for next year at least, but I knew I would need something to focus on more immediately. I had registered for an October 50k many months ago, but I think part of me doubted whether I would really be able to get in the shape to get it done, especially without a coach. I have been thinking about the race, but not really focusing on it as a goal, since it feels so out of reach at my current fitness level.

Yesterday morning, I tagged along with my sort-of boss for a small group ride that reminded me how much fun it is to train with people. We only rode about 40 miles, but I love social rides in new places with great people and it was just what the doctor ordered to light the fire in me to get serious about training again.

And, then, on top of that, today was day one for the new Machine M3 women’s-only beginner triathlete training group. I’ll be coaching four ladies to finish their first triathlons at the Patriots Sprint Triathlon this fall. Chatting with these ladies at masters swim this morning totally brought me back to 2010, when I thought I might “someday” want to try a tri. It really reminded me how transformative and empowering this sport can be.

So, I sat down and wrote out my training plan for the next three months to get me race ready for the 50k – and I mean really race ready. Not “am I possibly in shape to finish this race?” ready. That’s a tall order because this race is no joke:

The Cloudsplitter 100 will take place on High Knob, deep in the heart of Central Appalachia, during the weekend of October 7-8, 2017. High Knob is located at the highest point in the Cumberland Mountains at an elevation of 4,223 feet above sea level. The 100 mile course, as well as the accompanying 100k, 50k and 25k distances, will wind along rugged, rocky and remote trails within Jefferson National Forest. Although parts of this region have been developed, strip mined or heavily logged, High Knob remains relatively untouched, and it is home to some of the greatest diversity of plant life in the Commonwealth of Virginia, making it a true ecological treasure. The unique trails on High Knob pass through dense forestland dotted with cliffs, water crossings, waterfalls, rock shelters, rhododendron thickets, caves and enormous sandstone boulders. This is one of the more physically demanding trails in the East, and it remains a significant unprotected wilderness area. On a clear day, four other states can be seen from the High Knob summit: West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and North Carolina.

This morning, after my workout, I texted my friend (I’m not using her name in case she hasn’t put it “out there” that she is doing this yet) to check-in. I think being virtual training buddies (for the race we will actually do together) is going to help me immensely on the motivation front (I hope she doesn’t mind getting texts from me every weekend, because that is totally happening!). She replied back about her training, and I immediately felt that training camaraderie I have been craving. 

So, my focus for the next three months will be the Cloudsplitter 50k. I plan to do a mix of trail runs, hikes, and strength work in preparation for the race. I also hope to incorporate some TRX training back into the mix. It’s not going to be easy – but nothing worth doing ever is.

Race Report: PHUNT 50k

Back in January, I attempted my first ultramarathon at the PHUNT 50k in Elkton, Maryland. You may remember that I ran the 25k version of this race (one loop) last year and even though it was Really. Freaking. Hard., I almost immediately decided I wanted to attempt the 50k (two loop version) in 2017.

The lead-up to this year’s race was much different than last year. I started a brand new job in November (call me if you’re buying a house in Northern VA or D.C.!) and my training took a backseat to trying to establish myself in my new position. I also ran 3 marathons in 2016 – actually, 4 if you count the Ironman – so I was definitely going into PHUNT more tired than last year. But, the flip side is that I was running better than I ever had leading into this race. I also felt like I had no pressure at all to perform coming off of my other fall races and it was more about finishing than anything else. So those were all positives heading into the day. My only real fear was not making the eight-hour cut off. I had visions of being at mile 29 and not being allowed to finish. Actually, strike that. I had the time limit fear and a very real fear of getting lost in the woods, since I can’t find my way out of a paper bag.

In any case, I drove up to the race on Friday after work and traffic sucked. It took me something like three hours and I was pooped by the time I got to my hotel, which was in Newark, DE. I’m going to be honest that it was probably the worst hotel I have ever stayed in (and I’m not afraid of cheap hotels), but I was really trying to stay within a budget. Next year, I’m upgrading.

The race starts late, so I got to sleep in, which was awesome. This race is fantastic for a lot of reasons, but one is that you get to hang out in an activity hall before and after the race. Shelter and real bathrooms – score!

Since I’m writing this post almost a full month after the race, my race report is not going to be the most detailed of my life, but here’s the abbreviated version.

For the first half of the race (one 25k loop), my main goals were running where I could run (in a trail race you inevitably end up walking some sections because of footing issues) and eating as many calories as I could. I got through the first loop at around 12 minute mile pace, which was awesome for me on that terrain.

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I had left a duffle bag waiting at the start/finish line with my nutrition for the second loop. I tried to move as quickly as possible to re-fill my Camelbak and stuff my pockets with food before starting out on the second loop. Almost immediately, it started sleeting and I regretted my decision to leave my gloves in “transition.” Luckily, the weather wasn’t awful. I would much rather run in sleet than rain and only a few portions of the course were muddy for the second lap, since it was relatively cold.

I definitely hit some low points during the second loop. For the first 6-ish miles I ran completely alone and didn’t even see another runner, since the majority of the racers only ran one loop and those of us doing two were so spread out at that point. At the first aid station, I finally saw another racer and I immediately latched on to him. We ran together and chatted for awhile, but at a certain point, he said I could go ahead, which I did. I actually passed a few guys (!!!) and then got passed by two couples. Both times, I tried to stay with them, but I just couldn’t. In retrospect, I definitely don’t think I was drinking enough during the second loop because my Camelbak was almost full when I finished the race, but at the time, I felt like I was doing okay with my nutrition.

I walked more than I would have liked to during the second loop, but despite that, I still ended up finishing in plenty of time – 6:38 for 31 miles.

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I’ve already registered for next year’s race because I know I can do better. That second loop wasn’t what I wanted it to be. But, I am still proud of the finish and for tackling another big, scary goal.

As always, I need to thank Alyssa for preparing me for the race and supporting me through every high and low in my life for the past three years. I also want to thank the volunteers, who were AMAZING! Even though the weather sucked, they were out there cheering for us like we were rockstars all day long. I also want to thank Carl Perkins, the race director, and the other folks who helped to plan and put on this event. I’m fairly certain Carl’s whole family is involved in various ways at this event and that is really going above and beyond!

This is a fantastic event and I’m so excited to be heading back in 2018!

 

 

 

Double PRs

I’m writing this on Christmas Eve, the first time I’ve had enough spare time to blog in THREE months, which is certainly a personal worst for me. I started a new job this fall and I’m still adjusting to my new schedule. I love the job. I’m working in sales for a title company (call me if you work in real estate in Metro D.C. area!).

In any case, even though I haven’t been blogging, I’ve actually been racing quite a bit! Back in October, I ran the Marine Corps Marathon as a member of Team Fisher House. I’m proud to have raised $2,655.00 for Fisher House, which is an incredible organization. I definitely encourage you to look them up if you aren’t familiar with the work they do.

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Leading up to the race, both Alyssa and I thought I could have a good day based on some of my times during my key workouts, but it didn’t exactly work out that way. I finished in 4:33 something, which isn’t a personal worst, but I knew I was capable of running a much faster race. So, despite quitting sports forever somewhere around mile 16 of the race, just a few days afterward I registered to run the Rehoboth Marathon on December 3. It’s incredible how easy it is for Alyssa to talk me into things.

In the interim, I ran the Vienna Turkey Trot, which is a great local race on a surprisingly challenging course. This event was a lot of fun, as many of my friends ran as well.

Okay, so now on to Rehoboth. I’ve had a really long season this year. I ran the L.A. Marathon back in February and then of course Marine Corps in October, and an Ironman, the Tour de Skyline, and several other events in-between. I’ve never done two marathons so close together (just five weeks apart). I really wasn’t sure what to expect of my body at all. I joked with Alyssa that I thought I would have a good race because my training was going so poorly. Alyssa told me to have fun, no matter what happened during the race.

I carpooled to the race with two of my friends who were running the half and I laughed so hard in the car that my stomach actually hurt the night before the race. We stayed with another friend from our running group, who was also racing the half.

The four of us headed to the race start on race morning, but we got there with *barely* enough time to use the porta potty before the start. I had no time to warm-up and was definitely feeling a bit anxious about the harried start.

The gun went off and off we went. I started off feeling good and just took the race one mile at a time. As soon as a mile was over, I stopped thinking about it and focused on the mile I was in. I actually did this so well that at a couple of points I wasn’t even sure what mile I was in until I saw the mile markers along the side of the course.

It was nice and cold, which always helps me, and as the miles ticked by, I knew I was on track to break 4:20, which was my goal for the race. While this race course is flat, there was a lot of wind and there were two particularly notable sections where we were running straight into the wind for an extended period of time. For the first, I was able to tuck behind the pace group leader for the 4:10 pace group. He blocked the wind for me, which was awesome. The second time, at mile 19ish, I was on my own. I saw my “lap pace” on my Garmin creeping up and I started to get nervous that it was the beginning of the end of my effort to have my dream race. But, I stuck with my plan and as soon as that mile was over, I tried to put it behind me. I fought for every mile.

On the last out and back stretch, where you are running through a beautiful wooded area, I saw the 4:10 pace leader again (he was running solo at this point). It didn’t seem like he was that far ahead of me. I yelled “I am trying to catch you!” and he said “You totally can!”

In my mind, I actually did start to think I could run a 4:10, which was good motivation to keep pushing hard until the very end, even though (spoiler alert) I missed it.

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I finished in 4:11, far surpassing my goal time, with my friends cheering me on at the finish. It was awesome! I couldn’t wait to get back to the car to text Alyssa.

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Of course, she had been tracking me and already knew, although, she joked that I owed her ten years of her life back because there was a huge gap in the splits and she was on the edge of her seat the entire time!

So, after this race, I was majorly riding the pain train for a couple of days, but I had registered for the Gar Williams half marathon on the following weekend, so…

Fast forward 8 days to December 11 and I was on the start line of a half marathon. I was there with two other friends from my running group (love my running group!). I, once again, had no idea what to expect from my body having run a 12 minute marathon PR the prior weekend. Alyssa and I had decided in advance that I would just run and see how I felt. It was up to me to decide whether I wanted to really try to race it or not.

Thankfully, it was another cold day and I started off feeling pretty good. I was ticking off miles at under 9:00 minute/mile pace and thinking I could definitely try to PR by breaking two hours. I hit the half way mark at 58:08, running 8:53 pace.

Around mile 7 or 8 though, my body realized what was happening and said “OH, HELL NO!” and the wheels started slowly coming off. My pace started slowing, and slowing, and slowing… I knew it was going to be tough to break two hours at that point, but I tried to employ the same strategy I used the weekend before in Rehoboth – just fight for the mile you’re in. Don’t give up.

I ended up finishing in 1:58:33. Another PR! Even though this was a terribly paced effort, I was happy to have held on.

This sport is so odd. Two years ago, every half I did, all I wanted to do was break 2:00 (see here, and here…) and I never could. And then, out of no where, I was able to do it the weekend after running a marathon PR. Team HPB is known for doing “doubles” (although, usually that means double Ironmans), but I did my own mini version of the double and was able to double PR.

Huge thanks, as always, to Alyssa. When I started working with her, my marathon PR was a 4:40, and we have slowly worked our way down to a 4:11. I would have never EVER imagined I could do that when we started working together many years ago.

Now, I would say that I’m looking forward to taking a bit of a break, but I’m registered for my first ever ultra-marathon, a trail 50k on January 14, so I’m off to the gym instead.

Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

Race Report: Ironman Mont Tremblant

It’s been more than one month since I raced Ironman Mont Tremblant and I’m finally getting around to writing up my race report. It’s a bit overwhelming thinking about how to sum up a 13+ hour day in one blog post, which is part of why it has taken me so long to get my thoughts on the blog. I also went on a trip to Europe post-race, which was AMAZING, but I will have to write about that another day. In any case, here is my race report.

The hubs and I headed up to Mont Tremblant on the Thursday before the race. My friend, Taryn, who I have mentioned many (many!) times before on this blog was racing, as were a few new friends I’ve made through a local women’s multisport group (message me if you want more info on joining up with that group!). I met up with two of these ladies, Sarah and Ashley, before the athlete briefing on Friday night.

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One of my Ignite teammates, Kevin, was also racing, as were several other athletes from the D.C. area. I loved seeing familiar faces in the days leading up to the race in and around the expo and transition. For the most part, I tried to stay off my feet but for a few short workouts to shake things out before the big day.

On Friday, Taryn and I rode part of the bike course together and, honestly, it scared the living daylights out of me. The section we rode was quite hilly and I think I was riding maybe 12 miles an hour average during the ride. Yikes! I went to bed on Saturday night excited about the race, but very nervous at the same time, knowing this would be a much more challenging bike course than I faced in Chattanooga last year. Of course, I hoped for a good day, but you never really know how things are going to go until you’re out there.

Race Day

On race morning, I reminded myself that in Chattanooga, things did not go as I would have hoped on the bike, but I was able to overcome those challenges and still have a great day. As I wrote on Facebook: “The good thing about having multiple flat tires in your first Ironman is that you know you can overcome (almost) any obstacles that come your way on race day!”

I met up with Taryn and we walked together to the swim start.

Before the race, Taryn, Ashley, and I got into the water and warmed up a bit, where we ran into Kate H., who is on Team HPB. It was very comforting to have the ladies to hang out with before the start. Soon enough our wave was called. Ashley and I walked into the water together and off we went. 

The Swim: 1:38:25 (86/112 AG)

I never really felt like I settled into the swim. I tried to get on some feet, but I just never felt like I was on the “right” feet. The swim continues to be something I need to improve on – and I will. Swim conditions were rough, especially during the section parallel to the beach and I’m a slower swimmer to begin with, so I honestly wondered when I got out of the water whether I had even gone under two hours. Yeah, it felt like I was out there a *really* long time. I didn’t wear a watch, but when I looked at the clock at the swim exit, I knew that while I was slower than I had hoped, I was not close to 2:00 (thank goodness!).

The run from the swim exit to T1 is quite long. I saw Jon and Taryn’s husband along the way and I said something to Jon about hating swimming and then scooted into the transition tent to change.

It had started raining as I was running to the change tent. We knew from stalking the weather forecast in the days leading up to the race that it was going to be a wet day, but I was hoping for intermittent light showers.

The Bike: 6:39:59 (47/112 AG)

Unfortunately, it was basically pouring rain throughout the entire bike ride (for me, at least) and I tried to balance riding safely with pushing the pace where I could. As you may have heard, there were numerous crashes along the course. Riding past bloody athletes laying on the side of the road was frightening, honestly, but I’ve ridden in the rain a lot this year and I know how to ride safely in rainy conditions. In addition to the rain, there was quite a bit of wind and I was afraid to ride in my aerobars at certain points during the ride (especially thinking about Alyssa’s windy crash earlier this year). But honestly my number one priority was staying upright and if that meant sitting up a bit, that was fine with me.

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I finished the bike in just under 6:40. The best part of the ride was that I had ZERO flats! I moved up from 86 to 47 in my age group, meaning I passed a lot of ladies on the bike. I was feeling good.

The Run: 4:56:43 (43/112 AG)

I loved the run the Chattanooga, so I was super excited to start my run. I saw Jon again as I was running out of the change tent. I waved to him and off I went.

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The first loop of the run went relatively well. I was pretty happy with my pace, especially since my stomach was not cooperating (this has been an issue for me at every race this year and is obviously something I need to address). However, when I got back to the village at the end of the first loop of the two loop course, I didn’t see Jon and I started feeling deflated when I realized I had to run the entire loop again. That’s when the wheels starting coming off. I really struggled on the second loop. I stopped to walk several times (which I did *not* do in Chattanooga). I was able to coax myself back into running, but I was definitely feeling down on myself for walking. I started spiraling a bit into negative thoughts. I reached halfway in 2:21:41 and really wish I would have been able to maintain that pace for the second loop. 

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I finished the run in barely under 5:00. This is my biggest disappointment and regret of the day. In my next Ironman, I *will* run the entire way. 

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What I liked about this race:

Mont Tremblant is gorgeous!

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We stayed in the village at Tour des Voyageurs, which is right next to transition and the finish line. We were within walking distance to many restaurants and a small grocery store. We parked our car and didn’t have to move it the entire time we were in Mont Tremblant. I would definitely recommend staying in the village if you race IMMT. It’s just so convenient.

I also really liked the bike course. If it hadn’t been raining, I think the bike would have been a lot of fun because of the opportunity to gain speed on the descents. I had to ride conservatively on the descents because of the slick conditions this year, but on a nice day, I think they would have been a blast.

What I didn’t like about this race:

The run is largely on a trail, so there are few spectators to cheer you on. In Chattanooga, I relied heavily on the awesome crowd support to get through my run and I really (really!) missed having that here.

Overall, I am happy with my day and proud to have finished a second Ironman. As always, I wouldn’t have been able to do this without Alyssa’s amazing guidance and support. She is the best! And a huge thanks to Jon, of course, for continuing to support my triathlon goals.

I’m not sure if I will race 140.6 again next year or not, but I know I want to do another Ironman at some point for sure.

Next up for me is the Marine Corps Marathon on October 30, which I am running for Team Fisher House. If you aren’t familiar with Fisher House, a Fisher House is a home where military and veterans’ families can stay at no cost while a loved one is receiving treatment. These homes are located at major military and VA medical centers nationwide, close to the medical center or hospital they serve. The program began in 1990, and has offered more than six million days of lodging to more than 277,000 families. Fisher House has earned four stars (out of four) from Charity Navigator and an A+ grade from Charity Watch.

If you are so inclined to make a donation to my fundraising effort, please know that we are extremely grateful for your contribution, no matter how large or small. Every little bit helps!

Race Report: Tupper Lake Tinman

When it takes me over a week to post a race report for a race I did well in, you know I’ve been really busy. With a job, second job, and hobby that all have the same busy season, the last couple of months have been insane. It’s all good stuff, but I wish it wasn’t all happening simultaneously. In fact, the only reason I was able to get to this today was that I can’t get our new office printer to work and I’m waiting for technical support. In any case, I really wanted to take the time to blog about my latest race – Toughman Tupper Lake Tinman – because it is such a fantastic event. If you’re looking for a non-WTC race to support next year, I can’t recommend Tinman highly enough.

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I chose this race not because I knew anyone who had done it, but because Tupper Lake is a place my family visited when I was a child. I have so many fond memories from trips there and when I heard about the race I couldn’t wait to go back.

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We aren’t sure exactly when this photo was taken (my mom thinks I was five and I guessed seven), but the point is that I would be returning to swim in these very waters almost 30 years later for Tinman.

This race would also be special because my mom would be spectating her first ever triathlon.

Tinman is a Saturday race, which I am a huge fan of, personally. That meant I left Virginia on Thursday to head up to my parents’ house (about a five and a half hour drive from my house) and then my mom and I left on Friday to drive to Tupper Lake (an additional four hour drive). We drove straight to packet pick-up at The Wild Center, which is an incredibly awesome natural history museum in Tupper Lake.

We arrived a bit before packet pick-up opened, so we sat at picnic benches in the woods and had our lunch. It was gorgeous. The weather was perfect and it was really the ideal way to start our time in the Adirondacks. Nothing says Adirondacks like having sap drip down on you from the tree tops as you eat your lunch!

I would have loved to walk through The Wild Center and their outdoor “Wild Walk,” but I knew that wasn’t the best idea the day before a 70.3. I will have to plan another trip back to Tupper Lake for that.

After I picked up my packet, we drove to our motel (the same motel we stayed in 30 years ago), which was literally right next door to transition. I took this photo standing in the parking lot of the motel and you can see that the bike racks are just on the other side of the fence. Note that we did not have to check bikes the day before, although if I had to, I would have easily been able to check on my bike throughout the night.

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The motel was exactly how I remembered it from 30 (ish) years ago. We were right next to the water. We even spotted this seaplane landing and taking off again from the window in our motel room!

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I did my usual pre-race routine on Friday, we ate spaghetti in our room for dinner (we were able to cook dinner right in our room, instead of going out, which was great), and then went to bed early.

On Saturday morning, it was actually quite cold. I believe the temperature was only in the high 40s. I walked over to transition (which is in a beautiful park, also right next to the water), got set up, and then headed back to our motel room to hang out with my mom until the start. I’ve never been able to do that before at a race and let me tell you, it was fantastic.

I wrote out a timeline for my mom, letting her know about what time of day I would be coming in and out of transition. After a rough go in Knoxville, I really wanted to redeem myself at this race, but you never know what to expect, especially when you’re racing a course for the very first time. So, I gave her pretty wide ranges for everything. For example, for the bike, I gave her a window between 3:00 and 3:30 to look for me.

My wave didn’t start the race until 8:30 (we were the very last wave of the day), but I did one last check in transition and headed over to the swim start a bit before 8:00 to catch announcements, since there was a not an athlete briefing the day before. It was definitely getting warm as I was standing around in my wetsuit waiting to get in the water.

The Swim: 42:58 (11/22 AG, 69/125 Women)

As I said, we were the last wave of the day and after standing around in the sun waiting for the start, I was happy to finally get into the cool water. The water was really the perfect temperature (I believe they said it was around 68 degrees) and you start off in a shallow area where you can stand, which I really liked. I did a quick warm-up in the few minutes we were allowed to be in the water before our start. I felt good.

Once the swim started, it was pretty chaotic. I think that for so long I would tread water at the start of races and let everyone go that I’m not used to being in the crowd yet. I definitely got a little freaked out with all the kicking and flying arms, but, as always, once I got going, I was okay. I was actually with a pack of other ladies for most of this swim, which has never really happened to me before. In fact, one of the other athletes and I basically did the whole swim side-by-side (I guess that means I should have tried to draft off her…?) to the point that when we exited the water she turned to me and said “great swim!” My swim time was a 42:58, which is fine. I am still waiting for all of my work in the pool to translate to a fast swim in a race, but after my swim issues in Knoxville, I was happy to just get through this one without incident.

I ran into transition, switched out my gear, grabbed my bike, and ran to the bike out, where I saw my mom cheering for me from just a few steps away. Another bonus of being at a small race!

The Bike: 2:57:45 (6/22 AG, 33/125 Women)

Going under 3:00 on the bike has been a goal of mine for some time now and you may remember that I was not too pleased (bitter?) about the fact that I probably would have done so, but for the course being more than 2 miles too long at Challenge Atlantic City last year. I was hoping to be able to finally break through that barrier at Tinman, but, again, after Knoxville, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

As is always the case for me, being a weaker swimmer, I spent much of the first portion of the bike at Tinman passing people. There were definitely some challenging climbs, as well, so I needed to try to strike that balance between working hard to get up the climbs and passing people and not blowing myself up in the first 30 minutes on the bike.

I tried to focus on my nutrition and, with the hilly course, making sure I was on top of my shifting. The course was really beautiful. There were a few occasions where I did a double take because of the beautiful views. I snagged this photo from the Tupper Lake, NY Facebook page – it isn’t me in the photo, but I wanted you to get a glimpse of just how stunning the views are along this course.

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The ride is an out and back, with the first and last parts having the most climbing, while the area nearing the turnaround is fairly flat. The course is not closed to traffic, but there is a very wide shoulder along the road, so this really isn’t an issue at all. The road surface conditions were good throughout the course.

Throughout the ride I really tried to keep my foot on the gas and I knew I was setting myself up well for breaking three hours. Everything was going along well until about the last half hour when my shifter broke and I couldn’t stay in the big ring. Suffice it to say, I was not happy and quite concerned I was going to let my sub-3:00 ride slip out of my grasp. Initially, I tried just holding the shifter down, but riding with a firm grip on your shifter for an extended period of time sounds a lot easier than it is. I finally decided I was wasting too much mental and physical energy on this and just needed to do the best I could using my small ring. I pushed as hard as I could, but I knew I was going to be cutting it close.

I rode back into transition and I was pretty sure I had broken 3:00, but I wasn’t positive until I checked the results latter that day.

The Run: 2:11:30 (8/22 AG, 33/125 Women)

By the time I got back into transition, it was getting hot. I decided not to wear my hat because I was afraid it would hold in too much heat. I knew I was going to need salt right away, so as I was running out of transition, I grabbed my baggie of salt pills and off I went.

This run course was kind of different in that it changed a lot as you went along. We ran through residential neighborhoods, we ran on a gravel path, we took a lot of turns. I kind of liked that I never knew what was coming next and couldn’t get bored. The course was well-marked and aid stations were plentiful. I haven’t mentioned them yet, but the volunteers were really great all day. The only negative about the run course was that there was very little shade at all and at this point in the day (with the 8:30 a.m. start) we were running in temperatures that were over 80 degrees, with the sun blazing down.

In addition to the heat, I had stomach issues for the second race in a row, which I obviously need to address before Mont Tremblant. This time, my stomach was feeling even worse than it did in Knoxville and I actually stopped to use a porta potty on the course.

I had forgotten to bring the wrist strap for my Garmin, so I did the entire run without knowing my pace or mileage. That may have been a good thing, since I wasn’t running my best. Between the heat and my stomach, a 2:11 run in a 70.3 isn’t bad for me, but it’s far from a PR. My best 70.3 run ever (by a lot) was a 2:02:16 at Challenge Atlantic City last year and while I know that was a special day for me, it does bother me a bit that I haven’t been able to replicate that kind of run in a 70.3 since.

I crossed the line and immediately asked my mom the time of day. I knew I was going to be close to breaking 6 hours for the first time ever (!!) in a 70.3, but without having a Garmin on the run, I had no idea how fast or slow my run had been. My mom said 2:20-something and I knew I had done it. I was thrilled!

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Final Time: 5:56:51 (8/22 AG, 33/125 Women)

After the race, there was a lovely picnic (with vegan options!) in the park (under a pavilion, so we were shielded from the sun), with live music and food, and lots of friendly conversation. Since we were right next to the water, there was even a nice breeze. It was perfect!

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You need to visit Tupper Lake! It’s so stunningly gorgeous. I promise you won’t regret it!

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The day after the race, I got back in the water (voluntarily!). You can see in the second photo below (taken underwater the day after the race), the water is amazingly clear.

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I can’t think of a reason not to do this race again.

Thank you to the everyone who made this race possible – the race director, volunteers, Tupper Lake Chamber of Commerce, The Wild Center and other sponsors, and of course the members of the community who have supported this race for over 30 years.

And a huge thanks, as always, to Alyssa for her guidance.

And, before I sign-off to throw our printer out the window, I have to give a quick shout out to Tupper Lake’s natural food store, Tupper Health Hub. You definitely need to stop by if you’re ever in the area. I love being able to “vote with my pocketbook” and support small, organic, vegan-friendly grocery stores when I can. I also recommend Skyline Ice Cream, which had non-dairy soft serve.