Cloudsplitter Training Update & Ragnar Trail WV

In what surely must be a sign of the end of times, I find myself with nothing to do on this Sunday evening but to recover from Ragnar Trail West Virginia, so I thought I would pour myself a glass of wine and catch-up on the blog.

Cloudsplitter training is going well. I’ve had a few training adventures since my last update, including running Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park with Megan in Front Royal.

If you’re at all familiar with this part of Skyline, you know that the first 4.5 miles from the park entrance to Dickey Ridge are almost exclusively uphill. It isn’t a steep incline, by any means, but it’s long and steady. We started by running downhill from Dickey Ridge (video here), which felt great until we stopped at the bottom to take a photo and then started running again. The quads definitely felt that descent.

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We headed back uphill at a much slower pace, but with the humidity, I was soaking wet by the time we got back to the car. For running just 9 miles, I was more sore than I would have liked, which means we need to tackle this one again in the coming weeks.

Last weekend, I did a long trail run on a trail that I haven’t run since last December, when I was training for the PHUNT 50k. I thought that surely the run would feel easier with all of the trail-specific training I have been doing, but, alas, trails are humbling. I always start with so much excitement that I wear myself out, and it’s a good reminder to me that I need to start Cloudsplitter with a very slow and measured pace.

I stopped around half way to send this photo to Megan, with the message “I’m dying!” or something along those lines.

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Why do trail miles always feel twice as hard as road miles?

The following day, I did one of my least favorite Team HPB workouts on the treadmill, thinking that running a hard workout on tired legs would be good Cloudsplitter training. Unfortunately, about an hour post-gradient set and near death, I arrived to coach our youth athletes and instead of riding around in circles at 15 mph, I ended up riding 20 miles with our junior team, which is a very different kind of workout! Did I say trails were humbling? Nothing humbles like trying to exercise with people who can’t even drink yet.

After a few easy swim and jog-only days, it was off to West Virginia for Ragnar Trail. I did a road Ragnar back in 2013, and while I didn’t love that experience, I knew this would be great training for Cloudsplitter.

The trail version of Ragnar is very different from the road version. You have a team of 8 runners, instead of 12. You camp out (something I haven’t done since high school) instead of moving from place-to-place in vans. There are three designated trail routes – one “red,” one “yellow,” and one “green” trail. From a central starting point, each of your team’s runners take turns running each loop one time. The first runner runs the green trail and when she returns, the second runner leaves for the yellow trail. When she returns, the third runner runs the red trail. When she returns, the cycle starts again with the fourth runner running the green trail. So on and so forth, until your eighth runner finishes her third run.

Seven of our eight runners are members of Moms Run This Town (MRTT), and Megan joined in on the fun to train for Cloudsplitter.

You’re always rolling the dice when you do these kind of things, but I have to say our team was awesome! Absolutely no issues or drama whatsoever and we didn’t have “that person” (unless “that person” was me!) who inevitably always pisses everyone else off.

Our theme was rainbows, which meant rainbow everything all weekend long – nails, wrist bands, tattoos, outfits, glowing hair thingies, etc. ((Photo credits go to my teammates, as almost all of the photos I’m posting were taken by someone else and at this point I can’t remember who I stole which pic from!))

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My favorite of the three trails was the yellow trail, which included running through a breathtaking pine forest. It was truly stunning. Yes, this was the least technical of all of the trails and probably did the least to help me for Cloudsplitter, but goodness, it was fun!

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It took our team a total of 29-ish hours to complete all of our runs, so we were running through the night. Megan and I doubled-up on two of our runs, so our night run was about 2:40 long (consisting of a red route and a green route) that started around 12:30 a.m. Running trails in the dark is MUCH harder than I anticipated, and I thought it would be hard. The fear of tripping and breaking a limb is real, and was especially so on the red trail, which was BY FAR the most technical of the three (the colors seem to have corresponded with the length of the route, as opposed to the technical difficulty of the route). We kept saying that if we got injured there would be no Cloudsplitter, so there was more power walking than running through much of the night. Thank God I’m from New York and power walking is in my blood!

This is Megan and I right before leaving camp for our nighttime runs. Sparkly hair thingies courtesy of our teammate Ashley.

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I ended up with about 22 miles total and my last of my three runs was the strongest. YAY for nailing my nutrition over the course of the first day! #thanksalyssa Whenever I wasn’t running I was thinking about what to eat and making smart choices. As soon as I finished my runs, I was getting in calories whether I wanted to or not. I think this is what made the difference between my first Ragnar experience and this one. I also felt absolutely no pace pressure from my team, which made the whole event so much more fun for me.

I loved getting to run with Megan (pictured in the GoPro shot below) and I think we are both feeling more positive about Cloudsplitter after this experience.

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I could honestly write a zillion more things about my time in West Virginia, but I will spare you all of those details. Suffice it to say, it was a great trip and I’m already looking forward to next year!

My only other update since my last post is that I registered for the 2018 iteration of Ironman Canada. I really missed doing Ironman this year, and although I have absolutely no clue how I am going to manage my day job, coaching, and Ironman training, I’m sure I’ll figure it out!

Two months to go! #cloudsplitter50k

 

 

 

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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: Rev3 Knoxville Half

Taryn and I headed down to Knoxville on Friday for our first half of the season. I hadn’t done this race before but heard great things about it from Alyssa and others and was super excited for the race.

Taryn and I stayed at the Four Points Sheraton directly across the street from the race expo, which was an awesome choice. I would definitely recommend staying at the Sheraton if you decide to do this race (and you should!).

Most of Friday was taken up with the drive, so we didn’t pick up packets until Saturday. After we got those, we hit the practice swim, which is always really critical for me, with swimming being my weakest of the three disciplines. Luckily, the practice swim went great. Everyone was super friendly, the swim was very low key, the water temp (68 point something) was perfect – I couldn’t have asked for a better start to race weekend. We also did a short ride and run, checked our bikes in at transition, attended the athlete briefing, and then went to bed early. The day before a race always goes by faster than I want it to!

With everything going so smoothly on Saturday, I woke up feeling positive and excited on race morning. I got up at 4:00 and we left the hotel around 5:15, which is when transition opened. No race number tattoo or directional snafus this time. We were able to walk to transition and get there by 5:30, which was great, and we had until 6:30 to get set up.

We thought an hour in transition would give us more than enough time to get ready, even if something went wrong. Sure enough, I had to visit the mechanics, as I couldn’t get a reading on the pressure in my rear tire (this is a recurring problem, as I need a valve extender on my rear tube and it’s constantly causing me problems). In any case, they were super friendly and helped me out quickly and efficiently. Huge thanks to those gentlemen for helping me out!

I also spoke to the race officials in transition (I had a random question about where I could put my bag because it was too large to fit neatly by my bike) and they were super friendly. The head official was from Atlanta and we chatted a bit. I loved the low-key, friendly atmosphere at this race from start-to-finish. It really makes such a difference in terms of keeping the athletes calm. The Race Director told us in the athlete briefing on Saturday that our racing experience was their top priority and it really showed throughout the weekend.

As I was finishing getting set up in transition, I happened to look down at my ankle. No chip. I stayed calm, and walked over to Taryn to tell her what was happening. She immediately stopped what she was doing and went to talk to a volunteer about getting me a new chip, as I retraced my steps trying to figure out where mine could have gone. Ultimately, I found it (it had slipped off when I took my pants off), but it was definitely a scare.

We finished getting organized in transition and started the walk toward the race start right around 6:30, with our wave scheduled to start at 7:00 a.m. It’s about a half mile walk from transition to the swim start, but it wasn’t bad at all. And, as a bonus, we were treated with a gorgeous sunrise. 

Soon enough the race was starting and the two waves in front of us had gone off. It was our turn and we walked down to the dock. It’s an in water start, and they give you about five minutes to warm-up in the water before the start. We jumped into the water and I felt good warming up. I was ready to go!

Swim: 45:25 (10/14 AG, 29/47 women)

Oh, the swim. My day did not get off to the start I had hoped for.

In terms of the race itself (as opposed to my personal performance) I actually really liked this swim. Our wave was quite tiny and we were able to spread out a lot at the start. It was a simple out and back course (with the back section slightly longer than out, since the swim start and finish were at two different points along the river) and the water temperature of 67 degrees was really perfect for a long-sleeved wetsuit. The sun made sighting for the first half quite difficult, but, generally, I liked this swim more than most. It should have been a great swim day for me.

It was not.

The problem came when my cap started creeping upward around the turnaround. If you know me at all, you know I am a rule follower. Always have been, always will be. The minute my cap started to slip, I was panicked about getting a penalty. At the athlete briefing the day before the race, they had emphasized littering as something they would be looking for during the race. Surely coming out of the water sans cap would be a penalty, right? I wasn’t sure. But I thought it was a possibility. I knew I couldn’t swim holding my cap in my hand. Especially since I wasn’t even half way through the swim. I had to figure something out and I had to do it fast.

I tried stopping several times to pull it down. This wasn’t working because my head was wet and the cap would just slide right back up. The only result was that I was messing up my goggles. It was one of those situations where time (and quite literally other racers) seem to be passing you by at warp speed, but you can only seem to work in slow motion. After several attempts, I knew this approach wasn’t going to work. I finally swam over to a kayak and asked the kayaker if I could hold on and try to fix my cap. I took my goggles off completely, took the cap off completely, and started from scratch. I finally got my cap back on my head, got my goggles back on, and started swimming again, but it felt like an eternity had passed while all of this was going on.

I did finally finish and get out of the water (volunteers pull you up on to the dock and then there is a bit of a run to get back into transition), but I was definitely shaken up.

Looking at photos afterward, it was very obvious my cap wasn’t on properly before the race even started.

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Photo from the Rev3 Facebook page.

Lesson learned to make sure I really pull my cap down completely before future races.

Bike: 3:15:33 (7/14 AG, 12/47 women)

I’ve done a lot of riding this month, including the Tour de Skyline, which entailed riding over 200 miles in 2 days with a ton of climbing. I thought I was set up for a super strong bike.

However, with the less than ideal swim behind me, I spent the entire start of the bike just trying to calm down and stop being mad at myself about my damn cap!

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Photo from the Rev3 Facebook page.

The course starts in the city and then heads out to the country. In the more rural sections, there were some spectacular views. It actually reminded me quite a bit of riding in Loudoun County. Hilly, but very scenic and green.

I would classify the bike course at Knoxville as a challenging course. Before the race, I had read in a race report that this is “not a PR course” and I think that’s definitely true. There is a lot of climbing and for some reason, I felt like I couldn’t really take advantage of the downhills as much as I normally would, which usually helps make up for the climbing on a hilly course.

There was a course marking snafu (not Rev3’s fault), but that didn’t impact my race. I thought the course was very well-marked with color-coded arrows and signs throughout. There were also a few special “caution” signs along the course and those were helpful. I really only found one turn to be especially tricky.

There were two turnarounds on the bike course and I was able to see Taryn twice along the course, which was nice.

My overall bike speed was slow – in the low 17s – which is slower than where I wanted to be. Even though I stayed on top of my nutrition throughout the ride, I definitely felt like I wasn’t able to go as fast as I had expected.

I finally got back to transition at 3:15, which was honestly pretty disappointing. I dismounted, ran back in to transition, and got ready for the run as quickly as I could.

Run: 2:18:19 (9/14 AG, 22/47 women) 

So, my PR for a 70.3 run is a 2:02, which I ran at Challenge Atlantic City last year. After my solid run at Monticelloman (a 54:14 on a challenging run course) earlier this month, I thought I would be in the same 2:00 ballpark here, but obviously, I thought wrong.

I didn’t start out strong and die in the heat or get injured or anything like that. I was just running slow from the get-go. I tried taking in extra calories along the run course, thinking that may give me a boost, but instead, all it gave me was GI distress.

At each of the aid stations (spaced about one mile apart along the run course), I took a gel or Coke or Gatorade. I tried ice in my bra. I tried ice in my hat. I really wanted to “fix” whatever my problem was, but nothing was working. I’m honestly not sure what I could have done differently to remedy the situation. I was just slow. 

The only thing that really hurt on the run was my feet. I am using a different brand of elastic laces this season and they are not as adjustable as the ones I used last year. My feet must have been swollen because my shoes were painfully tight (I wore the same shoes in Monticelloman without any issue). Although this wasn’t ideal, I don’t really think it impacted my race. It was an annoyance, but, again, I don’t think there was any clear cause to my bad run – it was just one of those off days.

Toward the very end of the run, two of the Rev 3 Team athletes ran up from behind me and were trying to encourage me along (thanks, guys!), but I really didn’t have anything extra to give. They ran past me and I just kept trying to put one foot in front of the other until I crossed the finish.

This ended up being my slowest 70.3 run EVER (yes, even slower than Syracuse, which is a much tougher run course) at 2:18:19. It was definitely NOT the run I had expected to have at this race.

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My final finish time was 6:25:52 (it hurts just to type that), which landed me in 8th place in my age group (18 out of 47 women).

In happier news, Taryn was waiting at the finish for me. She had a fantastic race and WON her age group! This was her second podium this month!

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We ended the day on our balcony, over-looking the expo, sipping sparkling wine to celebrate Taryn’s awesome day. It was the perfect way to end the day.

Despite my performance, Rev3 Knoxville was a great race. The volunteers, Rev3 staff, and Rev3 Team athletes were all fabulous. I loved the course. Rev3 puts on a fantastic, well-organized race. I loved this race and definitely plan to go back someday.

While my race was disappointing, I am trying to convince myself that I will come back stronger and smarter from this experience. Everyone has bad races – even the pros – and the only thing I can do about it now is to have a positive attitude and move forward.

As always, I want to thank my awesome husband for his support; Alyssa, who even called me after the race from somewhere on her journey home from Lanzarote to give me a post-race pep talk; Bobo’s Oat Bars; and all of Ignite’s fabulous sponsors.

Next up for me is the Tupper Lake Tinman half on June 25.

Race Report: L.A. Marathon (and Spectating the Olympic Marathon Trials)

I had a fantastic time in L.A. this past weekend, albeit short. From spectating the Olympic Marathon Trials, to running the L.A. Marathon, to spending time with my dear friend Ashley, this was most definitely a weekend to remember.

I flew out to L.A. on Friday to meet up with Ashley, who I haven’t seen since August 2014. I had to wake up at 3:00 a.m. to catch my early flight out of Dulles. After a brief layover in San Francisco, I landed at LAX around noon and met up with Ashley, who was coming in from Phoenix, at baggage claim.

Only in California! A sign at the airport in San Fran.

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We knew we were in L.A. when we stepped outside and the first person we saw was a little girl (maybe 5 years old) wearing sunglasses and Beats by Dre. L.A. oozes cool.

Ashley and I took a cab downtown and checked into our hotel – the Sheraton Downtown. Between waking up so early and the 3-hour time difference, I was starving, so the first order of business was getting some food. After enjoying some very yummy Asian food, we headed to the race expo to pick up our bibs. We somehow turned what should have been a short walk (the expo was just a few blocks from the hotel) into an adventure (we got a little turned around and ended up at the place where people were picking up their tickets for the Grammy Awards), but we eventually found our way. The expo was huge and we walked around briefly to scope everything out. After the expo, we hit the hotel gym (the Sheraton has super nice gym, by the way) for a brief, post-travel shake-out jog. We grabbed dinner and then – Type A personalities that we are – figured out logistics for the rest of the weekend. We decided where we would stand to spectate the Olympic Marathon Trials on Saturday, we thought-through our plan for race morning on Sunday, I figured out my coffee plan for the trip (priorities!), etc.

Saturday

On Saturday morning, we went for a brief shake-out run around downtown and then grabbed breakfast at the Whole Foods just a couple of blocks away from the Sheraton (another plus for the Sheraton). We showered and I put on my most patriotic outfit and off we went to watch the Trials!

Spectating! USA, USA!

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Spectating the Trials was incredible. There was a palpable buzz in the air. Ashley and I were actually nervous for the runners! We found a great spot to watch them walking to their warm-ups, which was awesome. They are all SO teeny in person – even the men. These runners have thighs the size of my arms!

I took a ton of photos during the race, but here are a few of my favorites.

Meb and Galen Rupp 

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Unfortunately, I didn’t get a great shot of Meb at the finish, but he was waving the American flag with one hand and pumping his fist/giving high fives with the other – it was awesome! He’s just the best!

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I am so thrilled with our women’s team. We couldn’t ask for three more fabulous women to represent us in Rio.

The winner of the women’s race, Amy Cragg, looking super strong and fresh at the finish.

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Desi finished in second.

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Shalane fought hard to hang on for third.

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Spectating the Trials in person was even more amazing than I hoped it would be. It’s something I will never forget.

The races ended in the early afternoon and Ashley and I took it easy for the rest of the day. We reviewed our logistics for the next day and laid out our clothes. We wanted to be ready to go in the morning. We had noticed the day before that the Sheraton’s gym had foam rollers and massage sticks (how awesome is that?), so we put in a solid foam rolling session before bed.

Sunday

On race morning, we woke up at 4:00 a.m., had our breakfasts, got dressed, and walked to the shuttle buses. For those of us staying at the Sheraton and other downtown hotels, free shuttle service was provided to the race start at Dodger Stadium and back from the finish in Santa Monica. It was so convenient that we only had to walk a couple of blocks to get on our shuttle. The whole process went very smoothly. It really made race morning a breeze.

We were able to hang out inside Dodger Stadium before the race, which was pretty cool. We took a couple of photos and hung out for a few minutes and then I headed out for my warm-up. It was actually a bit cold, so I was glad to get my body moving. In addition to the bathrooms inside the stadium, there were more than enough porta potties outside, so there wasn’t a long wait at all to use the bathroom before the race. Ashley and I went to the bathroom one more time, gave each other a hug, and off we went to our respective corrals.

Inside the stadium on race morning.

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I had some trouble getting into my corral. I couldn’t figure out where to enter the lettered corrals and had to slowly work my way through the very crowded general corral to find my place with the 4:15 pace group in corral D (there were five lettered corrals, seeded based on prior marathon finish times, and then a large general corral).

Even though this was a large race, the start was much smoother and quicker than the other large marathons I’ve done (Chicago and NYC). I crossed the line just a few minutes after the start of the race.

I wasn’t wearing a Garmin for this race, but my plan was to stick with the 4:15 pace group. The last time I tried to run with a pace group, I lost them at the very first water stop, so this time, I made a point of staying right with Jo, our pacer, even if it meant jostling a little in the crowds at the start of the race. I stuck like glue to that pacer for the first few miles, even though the pace felt really fast.

While the elevation profile really doesn’t seem bad at all, the course was quite hilly, particularly over the first six miles or so. Between the hills and what felt like a quick pace, I was starting to struggle. I knew it was WAY too early to be feeling that way and I had in the back of my mind the time I tried to run the Chicago Marathon in the heat and ended up walking to the finish in 5:20-something.

This elevation chart doesn’t do the course justice!

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At one point, we ran past a clock and I realized we were way ahead of where we should have been to run 4:15 pace (I was wearing a pace band that listed all of the splits for a 4:15 marathon). I wasn’t sure what pace we were running, but this was confirmation for me that it was too fast. Knowing it was going to warm up throughout the day, I decided to let the pacer go a little after mile 5.

This was not the start I was hoping for. I tried not to get upset and to just relax and settle in to a comfortable pace, which is easier said than done when you’re in a race, knowing you’ve already abandoned the plan at less than 1/4 of the way through!

In an effort to take my mind off of the pacing issues, I told myself to just do what I did in Chattanooga – just put one foot in front of the other until the finish.

The course was just incredible. Looking up at the mountains and the palm trees, the fancy shops and restaurants – I actually liked this course more than New York. Maybe that’s just because I grew up near NYC and went to law school there, so the sights there aren’t new to me. In any case, this course was spectacular.

At around mile 10-ish, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around to see my friend Cassie who also coaches at M3. I was so thrilled to see her, especially since I wasn’t feeling great. She reiterated what I already knew, which is that I really needed to calm down and settle in. We chatted briefly and then she ran ahead.

It was definitely warming up and I was trying to take in fluids at every aid station and stay on top of my gels and salt to ensure I was giving my body everything it would need to get to Santa Monica. The aid stations were just about every mile, which was fabulous. It really helps you count down the miles and gives you something to look forward to.

The crowds were amazing along the entire course. Their support was incredible. The volunteers were great, too – there were lots of kids volunteering, which was really cool to see. Everyone had words of encouragement. I loved looking at the crowds and volunteer groups as we went along. There were cheerleaders and drag queens and people who looked straight out of magazines – you just never knew what you were going to see next.

I think this was the most diverse race I have ever done in terms of both runners and spectators. So many people of different ages and sizes and colors. It was awesome! L.A. has an amazing program called Students Run L.A. (“SRLA”). From the SRLA website:

The mission of Students Run LA is to challenge at-risk secondary students to experience the benefits of goal-setting, character development, adult mentoring and improved health by providing them with a truly life-changing experience: The training for and completion of the Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon.

There were hundreds of students on the course. These kids were so fabulous. I was just so darn impressed with them.

The miles were ticking by and I had no idea where I was time-wise, but I knew I was going slow. I kept telling myself “only X miles left,” but I was hurting. Everything hurt – even things that haven’t ever hurt me on runs before. My toes were hurting, which was a first for me. I took some Ibuprofen, hoping that would help, and just tried to keep moving. When I got to the last few miles, I could finally do the math and see that I still had a chance of finishing in less than 4:30, but it was going to be close (heading into the race I thought I would be happy with anything better than a 4:30 finish time). That was good motivation for me to keep moving as fast as I could, despite the pain.

As we approached the finish in Santa Monica, there was a drastic weather change – it was noticeably cooler, with a fog that really helped cool things down. At this point, unfortunately, I was in too much pain to really capitalize on the improved weather. My hamstrings, quads, feet, hips, low back – basically, everything – was hurting so bad that I was running with a bit of a limp. I knew I was SO close and tried to push, but just couldn’t. I’ve actually never been hurting so bad that I couldn’t give a final push in a race, but there is a first for everything, I suppose. Several people passed me in the final stretch as they surged to the finish and I was just hobbling along.

As I crossed a few volunteers asked if I was okay because I was stumbling a bit, and I said I was. I was just in pain. There were tons of volunteers at the finish, which was great.

I got my medal, which is gorgeous. It’s two-sided and one of the heaviest medals I’ve ever gotten.

My medal.

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I knew I finished in just under 4:30, even though I wasn’t sure of my exact time. As I mentioned, I had said prior to the race that in light of the heat I would be happy with anything under 4:30, but in the moment, it can be hard to accept anything less than what you know you can do (and I know I have a faster marathon in me somewhere). I was tired and in a lot of pain, and disappointed in my time and I got a little emotional at the finish. But I was able to pull it together after I drank some water and ate a banana and recovery bar.

I found Cassie and we were able to chat for a bit post-race, which was great. She had a good day, even though her training had not gone as she had hoped, and I was very happy for her.

#Twinning with Cassie in Lululemon at the finish.

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I met up with Ashley and unfortunately she did not have the day she was hoping for. I was super bummed for her, but she seemed to be in good spirits.

We found the shuttle back to the hotel. The Sheraton offered a late (3:00 p.m.) checkout option for $80, which we decided was worth the money so that we could shower before getting on our planes. After showering and checking-out of the hotel, we grabbed lunch at The Counter, which was right by the Sheraton. They had great vegan burgers and fries – the perfect post-marathon meal.

We had enough time to grab a drink at the airport and then Ashley was off on her way back to Phoenix.

I was definitely sad to say goodbye to her, but I am so glad we did this. It was out of character for both of us to decide on a whim to register for a race across the country, but I am so glad we did!

My final race time was 4:28:06, which is less than 5 minutes slower than my marathon PR. All things considered, I’ll take it!

Final Thoughts on the Race:

I can’t say enough about this race. I’d love to do it again one day and would definitely recommend it to others. It has all of the benefits of a big city race without the negatives that usually come along with it. For example, when I did New York in 2013, I didn’t check a bag, but leaving the race was still a nightmare. We were directed through what seemed like at least a half mile walk, if not more, before we could exit Central Park and meet-up with our families. Here, the finish process was very easy and smooth. Similarly, pre-race in New York is nuts. You have to get on a motor coach super early in the morning and then sit outside on Staten Island for hours before you can start the race – in my case at 11:00 a.m. Here, walking to our shuttle bus at 5:00 in the morning was a breeze, and we could hang out in Dodger Stadium before the race and use real bathrooms. And, L.A. started at 7:00 a.m., so you didn’t need to make special plans for nutrition because of a late start. I actually even think the crowd support was better in L.A. in terms of crowds being spread out throughout the entire course. I will definitely do L.A. again someday. I loved it!

Travel Notes:

If you’re thinking about doing this race, I would recommend staying at the Sheraton. It was affordable, within walking distance to the expo, restaurants, Whole Foods, etc., and included the free shuttle service to the start and from the finish on race day. A taxi from LAX to the hotel was about $60 with tip. As I mentioned above, they also allowed for late check-out (for a fee) after the race.

I do wish they would have opened their coffee shop at 4:00 a.m. on race day to provide runners with the option to purchase coffee, bagels, bananas, etc. before boarding the shuttles to Dodger Stadium. I’ve never understood why hotels don’t do this for races. It would make race morning logistics so much easier for the runners (and families) and surely would bring-in enough revenue to cover the cost of paying employees to work.

Ashley booked our room as soon as hotel options were posted on the L.A. Marathon website, shortly after we registered for the race. I’m not sure how quickly it sold out, but if you want to stay there, I would try to book early.

I wouldn’t recommend taking a red eye home on the night of the marathon 😉

I’m so glad I went on this adventure to L.A. and I look forward to going back again soon!

 

Race Report: PHUNT 25k

Saturday was a day of many firsts for me. I ran my first race of 2016, my first 25k, and my first trail race. It was also the first of several races Taryn and I will race together in 2016.

Taryn convinced me to register for the TrailDawgs PHUNT 25k sometime during IM training last year. She ran the race in 2015 and we thought it would be a fun adventure. Alyssa’s roots are in ultrarunning and she has won the 50k version of the PHUNT (at least once, maybe twice?), so she was 100% on board with me giving it a try, even with the race falling just one month before the L.A. Marathon.

A few ladies from the running group Taryn and I belong to, “MRTT,” registered, too, as did another of Alyssa’s athletes, Beth. I was so excited to get to see Beth, who I haven’t seen since July.

The race was in Elkton, MD, which is almost in Pennsylvania, so we had a long drive on race morning. I drove thirty minutes to meet Taryn at her house at 6:00 a.m. We then had an additional two hour drive from her house to Elkton. Patty from MRTT carpooled with us as well.

The Race Site in Elkton, MD

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As soon as we arrived at the race site, I knew this was going to be a very different experience than running a road race. The first thing I learned was that the trail racing uniform is shorts, a long sleeve top, compression socks, hydration vest, and beard. The male grooming products industry is really missing out by not sponsoring these races!

It was much chillier than I had anticipated and I went back and forth about what to wear a zillion times. I made a last minute decision to switch out my tee shirt for a long sleeve (this turned out to be a mistake), we picked up our bibs (there were no timing chips – whaaaatt?!), adjusted our gear, and got ready to race.

I spotted Beth (and her awesome dad, who also ran the race) and we took a few minutes to catch up.

Reppin’ for TeamHPB at PHUNT

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We proceeded to the athlete briefing (which was indoors, thank goodness!), where the race director provided a brief overview of the course markings and then everyone started walking outside. I started noticing people running and realized the race was starting! This was just one example of how informal and un-type A this race was, especially as compared with triathlon.

Beth, Taryn, and I started running together. Right off the bat, it was very clear that the mud was going to be a factor. We were slipping and sliding even on some of the flatter sections at the start of the course. When we hit the trails, we had to run single file and there were definitely some back-ups where we were stuck behind other runners and had to wait to pass. Again, this was a new experience for me, so I just tried to soak it all in.

We ran into another MRTT runner, Anna, at the first aid station (around mile four) and it was great to see another familiar face on the course.

I really enjoyed running with Beth and Taryn, but it became obvious pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to be able to keep up with them (and was going to blow-up if I tried), so right after we ran through the first aid station, I backed off a bit and they ran ahead.

I tried to settle into a more comfortable pace for me. There were definitely some sections of the course that I had to walk, either due to mud, a steep incline or decline, or a combination of the two. There were also some water crossings that required caution. I’m not very coordinated (understatement of the century) and I really didn’t want to fall and hurt myself with a marathon less than one month away!

Have I mentioned it was muddy?

(photo credit Sean Toohey, top, and Patty Thompson, bottom)

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The scenery was beautiful, but I was trying to focus on foot placement and surely missed out on some of the views along the course. There were switchbacks in a couple of spots and I tried to see if I could spot Taryn and Beth running ahead of me, but never did.

There were some noticeable wind gusts, but generally, the weather was perfect. I definitely could have worn a tee shirt and shouldn’t have switched into my long sleeve before the race. We really lucked out, since it snowed during this race last year!

Even after I slowed down a bit, I still felt like I was struggling. I distinctly remember at mile 19 of my first marathon (in 2009) thinking I was in over my head and shouldn’t have registered for such a difficult race. I felt the same way about half way through the PHUNT. It was a much tougher course than I expected and everything from my waist down was hurting.

Alyssa didn’t want me worrying about my speed, so I did not wear a Garmin. There were no mile markers on the course, so I wasn’t sure about my mileage throughout the race, other than knowing the third aid station was around mile 10. We had been warned that the 5 (ish) miles after that last aid station were the toughest, so I tried to really stay on top of my fueling. As I thought I might be getting close to the finish, I asked someone running next to me if he knew how much longer we had to go. He replied: “For the first loop?” I can’t even imagine running the 50k on this course. My hat is off to those runners for sure!

On the Run (photo credit Ryan Goverts)

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The last little bit of the course is uphill and when you cross the line, the race volunteers hand record your number. They haven’t posted results yet, but I believe I finished in about 3:19.

I ran into Taryn as I crossed the line. She had a HUGE PR over her time from the prior year (over 20 minutes!). I was elated for her, especially since she had a tough end to her season last year and couldn’t run for many weeks. I’m so proud of you, Taryn!

I was definitely hurting as we headed back inside for the post-race food. (They had vegan soup, which I was thrilled about! So many races only offer post-race pizza, which I can’t enjoy. Thank you so much to the race organizers for accommodating vegetarians and vegans!) We met up with Beth and the other MRTT-ers there and everyone agreed it was a really challenging day. I was exhausted. I texted Alyssa to let her know I was near death and of course she was responding with words like “fun” and using exclamation points. I told her I would need a few minutes before I could even think about whether I enjoyed myself out there!

Since this was my first trail race, I don’t have much to compare it to, but the course seemed to be quite hilly (supposedly over 1800 feet elevation gain) and I was definitely hurting more than I would be running 15 miles on the roads. I honestly think this 25k was as difficult as any road marathon I’ve done.

Post-Race with Taryn, who had an awesome day!

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Yup, it was muddy! I didn’t even bring my shoes home!

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By the time we ate, collected everyone, and headed home, it was 5:00 p.m. before I got back to my house. I took a shower, ate dinner, and fell asleep at 6:30. Trail running is no joke!

It’s now Monday and even though I am still sore I can honestly say that I do want to try trail racing again. It was a huge test for me – physically and mentally – and a great change of pace from road races and triathlon. I may even do PHUNT again next year!

I would definitely recommend this race to anyone thinking about giving trails a try. It was a fun, friendly event; very affordable; and the post-race food was great. I also loved the medals, even though I’m not a huge hardware person. If you drive to and from Northern Virginia on race day, it is an all-day affair, but doable. The weather is always going to be a big question mark in January, but that’s just part of what makes trail running such an adventure! Just get out on some trails and hills beforehand because it isn’t an easy course.

Thanks to Taryn, Beth, Patty, and all of the other ladies who made the day so much fun! And, of course, thanks to the “TrailDawgs” for a great event!