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. 

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

 

 

 

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.