Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Return To Old Skool

One hundred kilometers of trails.  Point to point.  18 hours to get 'er done.  Plenty of well-stocked aid stations and crew access to more than adequately support me.   Everything on my side.  And yet, I couldn't get it done.  The score ... me:  0, Twisted Branch:  2.  I am by no means a fast runner but I will admit that I have never had to worry about cut-offs during a race.  It seems that most races anymore are geared toward helping you succeed and they are pretty generous with the cut-offs.  But Twisted Branch 100K is Old Skool.  No time for dawdling.  No gimmees.  You gotta work for every bit of it.  You need to know ahead of time what you need before you need it.  You gotta keep moving.  There is no time for a pitty-party.  For me, the cut-offs are tight; a reality that I have to go into this race with a race mentality.  I may not be racing other runners but I am definitely racing the clock.

For two years I thought I had it together enough to conquer this beast.  I tried specific diets, specific running foods, the "in-thing" of low heel-toe drop shoes.  And for two years I failed.  So this year there was only one thing left to do ... return to Old Skool.  Return to my roots ... my running roots and my soul.  I needed to quit going with the new trends.  First off I decided to go back to what is my heart and soul; I went back to eating a vegetarian diet.  It made my heart and soul feel good and light again.  I gave up the race specific foods and decided to listen to what my body was wanting ... healthy or not.  I changed up my shoe choice (more on that below).

This year I had a number of specific goals for this race, hoping they would help to keep me focused over the many hours.  And fortunately, I had some help on my side to help me achieve these goals.  The overall finish time was increased by two hours, so I now had 20 hours to complete it (and starting an extra hour early to have more time of cooler temps before the sun rose).  I had my trusty crew of Joe and an ace pacer, John, ready to kick my ass if I started to fail.

Goal #1:  Finish.
Goal #2:  Finish within the original 18 hour cut-off.
Goal #3:  Reach the Urbana Town Hall (mile 58.5) in the daylight.
Goal #4:  Finish the race and be back in my own house by the time the race officially finished.

The results:
Goal #1:  I FINISHED!!
Goal #2:  Close ... I finished in 18:06:58.  And I'm OK with that.
Goal #3:  I made it to Urbana by 8pm.  And it was still light out!
Goal #4:  Made it back home by 12:01AM ... ONE MINUTE off of my goal.  If I hadn't had that second beer I could have met this goal.  OK ... totally worth it to miss this goal because that second beer was necessary.  And so good.

So rather than go through moment-by-moment of what happened during those 18 hours, 6 minutes, and 58 seconds I would rather remember the highlights that helped me achieve my goals.

- It was an amazing day weather-wise with pretty pleasant temps and some amazing cool breezes throughout the entire race.
- I started out carrying water, electrolytes, gels, and some snacks.  My fuel for the day actually consisted of water, ginger beer, Dr. Pepper, Gatorade, tapioca Snack Pack pudding cups, one pierrogie, and a "lunch" of cheese quesadillas with sour cream.  But I gotta say, it was the ginger beer and Gatorade that really was my primary source of fuel and it worked.
- For once I didn't change my socks or shoes at all during the race.  A last-minute panic that I didn't have the "right" shoes for this race (because with the extreme ups and downs it is really necessary to have a shoe that holds your foot secure) brought me to buying a new pair of Solomon Sense Ultras just days before the race.  Actually, I had only 3.5 miles on them come race day.  These shoes have a 9mm heel-toe drop, way higher than I normally run in, but they worked.  They were amazing.  Somewhere around 21 miles I could feel a hot spot on the side of my left heel but it wasn't devastating.  I knew that nothing was going to stick to my foot at this point to cushion it.  And I knew if I took those shoes and socks off I would never get them feeling right on my feet again.  So I just soldiered on, sometimes the pain annoyed me, other times I was able to completely not notice it.
- I shared some great miles with amazing, strong people.  I feel very fortunate to be able to share the trails with you all!
- Joe was the ultimate crewman, as always.  At each stop he had everything out of the car and set up by my chair, ready and waiting with all the things I needed and didn't need (or want at that moment).  At each stop he was pushing me to get out of the chair and get moving.  Tough love.  And then there was my pacer, John.  Constantly asking me if I needed to eat or drink or take electrolytes.  Encouraging me to "just trot a little" when he felt that I was walking for too long (because I could have certainly just kept on walking!).  Those guys were key and I can't possibly thank them enough.
- Hitting the main Finger Lakes Trail (still light outside!) and knowing exactly where I was, exactly how far I had to go, and truly knowing about how long it would take me to cover these miles (because I have run this section so many times in training).  And it was so nice to be able to let John see these trails in the light so he could truly know how amazing our trails are here!
- Hitting Mitchellville Road and one of the volunteers there was Nate Huckle.  Now there's a blast from the past.  This was so Old Skool.  Nate used to run many of the old Finger Lakes Runners Club races years ago; a name I remember hearing and seeing in the results when I first started running.
- Getting to the Urbana Town Hall still in the light of day, knowing I was going to finish this race ... FINALLY!  And then having the dread come over me as I looked up at the mountain that I had to tackle.  It was still light out but I knew that once we entered the woods the lights would go out.  And John had lost his headlamp somewhere miles earlier.  And amazingly a friend had picked up the light and had given it to his wife who somehow got it to Joe.  The fates were with us.
- Across the highway, into the woods and into the dark.  Hearing noises that I wasn't sure what they were.  And then not giving a shit about the noises as I tackled the 32 switchbacks that lead us up the next mile of climbing.  I just kept thinking that so many runners ahead of me surely had to help keep the bears away.  I tried not to shine my headlight on the trees where the bear scratchings were that we saw just a couple of weeks prior when hiking this section.  And grateful that I was not alone here.  John did an excellent job of keeping me focused.
- Coming out onto Winding Staircase Road under the clear and starry sky and John asking me "do you think you can trot a little?"  And me answering ... no.
- My headlight started dying with probably a half mile to go.  And I really didn't want to stop and change batteries when we were so close to the finish.  John did a fantastic job of shining his light on the trail and getting me to the finish!
- All day long I just kept thinking I wanted to get to the finish so I could be done with this.  This 100K race is every bit the experience and difficulty of any 100 miler.  Hands down.  And then I crossed the finish line and remembered what a great feeling that is.  Having the support of so many friends and family and sharing this experience with them is such an amazing experience.  So there's that.  The score is now me: 1, Twisted Branch:  2.  I am still behind, and I have a score to even.  So Twisted Branch 2018, watch out.

Thank you to Scott and all of the wonderful volunteers who helped us all throughout the journey. We couldn't have done it without you!  And true to Old Skool ... the cotton race t-shirt.  I hope they never get rid of this.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Shoe Review: Salomon Sense Mantra 3

I am still on my quest to find the perfect shoe that will keep my feet happy for Twisted Branch 100K in August.  I have tried a couple of brands that I liked in the past, one being Scott, and found that the so-called "upgrades" that haven't been ... aren't.  I used to love the T2 Kinabalu.  Nice light shoe, that even at 11mm heel-toe drop still felt minimal, shed water and never left you with that squishy shoe feel ... well, it just isn't the same in the 3.0 version.  Scott "upgraded" the outside of the shoe which may hopefully fix the issue the old version had where the uppers just blew out after not many miles.  However, this has left the shoe feeling much heavier and less flexible.  I also felt that the sole felt thicker and heavier and, still at 11mm drop, felt like 11mm drop.  Like wearing a high-heel.  This no longer feels like the light ride that I fell in love with.  AND, worst of all, the sizing has definitely changed.  I have worn a size 10.5 men's in the previous versions of the Kinabalu and have always had a good thumb's-width between the end of my big toe and the tip of the shoe.  No more.  Size 10.5 and my toe is at the end of the shoe.  Thanks for killing my dream shoe, Scott.

I have recently enjoyed running in the Salomon Speedcross 3.  Unfortunately one of my worries about the shoe came true.  All of the reviews that I read said that the shoe can make your feet feel pretty hot ... not bad when you're slogging through wet cold mud, but not fun on a hot dry day.  I recently tried these shoes on the Black Diamond Trail (rail-trail type of terrain) and enjoyed them for about the first 3 miles.  These shoes have no business on this type of terrain unless it is just soft slop.  They were not meant for flat, hard surfaces.  I have taken note and this will not happen again.

So I started looking at the Salomon Sense Mantra 3.  I have run in older versions of the Sense Mantras and had a killer run in them at the 2013 Oil Creek 50K, but haven't run in them since because despite all that I loved about the shoe I did find it to be a bit stiff on forest roads and rail-trail type terrain.  So I was a bit hesitant when I checked out this new version.  When I first looked at the shoe online I noticed that it looked much wider, almost boxy.  Definitely not like the sleek narrow shoes that Salomon are known for.  So this sort-of turned me off.  The sole had also been changed and didn't look as grippy.  But then I started researching reviews and read nothing but good stuff.  I was looking for a shoe that would be equally as comfortable on forest roads, rail-trails, and single track trails.  I think I hit gold on this one.

Here is how Running Warehouse describes this shoe ... "Don't have time to head out to the mountains but don't want to be limited to the hard asphalt? Look no further than the Sense Mantra 3. With a dual-density midsole for cushioning and a lugged outsole for durable traction, this versatile shoe is ready to go straight from your doorstep to the awaiting trails. A snug fitting upper keeps your feet secure and protected from any debris that gets in your way."  OK, sounded promising.


  • Compressed EVA runs the length of the shoe for underfoot cushion.  Yup, cushy but not Hoka-esque and has good foot-to-trail feel.
  • Injected EVA in the forefoot provides underfoot cushioning.  No idea what this is but it feels good.
  • ProFeel Film is a thin TPU film in the midsole providing midfoot protection without losing ground feel.  OK, again, no clue but it feels good.
  • Contagrip is a uniquely designed outsole of differing densities, providing durable traction over varying terrains.  The lugs are tiny but sticky, so great on rocks and dry trail and not-deeply muddy trails.
  • OS Tendon system acts like a real tendon by flexing to provide stretch and balance during the heel-to-toe transition.  The shoe is definitely flexible and my feet feel totally comfortable on rail-trail surfaces, so I'm thinking this will be a great shoe for Water Gap 50K in the fall.
  • Open Mesh throughout the upper is breathable and quick drying.  Here's what I was really looking for.  I need good drainage for the creek crossings of CT50 and breathability for hot dry runs like how it could be for Twisted Branch.
  • Sensifit overlays on the upper wrap the foot for a close, secure fit.  Now this is what I'm talking about.  Salomon has hit it on the nose with this feature.  The shoe fits so secure, like a sock, that I don't experience that sloppy side-to-side and toe-bashing shit on steep downhills.
  • Endofit a sock like upper that yields unmatched comfort and fit.  See above statement.
  • Quicklace made from durable Kevlar fibers provides easy shoe entry and exit and a secure fit.  Another feature that makes adjusting the tightness and security of the shoe so easy.
  • Friction Free Lace Eyelet makes for quick and easy one pull lacing.  Yup.
  • Lace Pocket tucks laces out of the way while running.  Definitely cool ... no snagging the loops of your laces on roots.
  • OrthoLite Sockliner is composed of anti-bacterial material for reduced odor and moisture while adding cushion directly underfoot.  Always a plus ... will be put the test more after a few more wet runs.
  • Propriotection provides a individualized feel while protecting your feet from rocks and debris.  Again, no idea what this is but it sounds good.  I ran on some mildly rocky stuff today and my feet felt like they had good protection.  Probably not a huge selling factor for this shoe since I don't think it is meant for running on seriously rugged trails, but still a nice feature if you have to hit some rough spots on a normal trail terrain.
One thing that is not mentioned in the description of the shoe itself or its technologies is the wider fit of the Sense Mantra 3 compared to its previous versions.  This version really has an almost Altra-type toe box.  There is a huge amount of room, so much so that it really threw me off when I put it on.  I was not expecting a Salomon shoe with this kind of room.  I worried that this roominess would lead to a sloppy feel.  My worry was quickly relieved.  One yank of the quick laces and the shoe becomes a second skin on all the other parts of the foot while still leaving the toes the ability to move in freedom.  I ran downhill on some sections of trail today with steep pitches and experienced so minimal forward movement of my foot in the shoe that I would easily say it was NO movement.  NO toe banging on the front of the shoe.  I also hit some water and it drained well and didn't leave me feeling squishy.

I gotta say, Salomon is hitting it OUT OF THE PARK this year with their shoes.  I am pretty certain that the Sense Mantra 3 is going to be my shoe for the upcoming Thom B 52K and Cayuga Trails 50 mile races; it has all that I am looking for for the type of terrain that I will find in both of these races.  And we'll see how things go from there but I feel pretty confident in saying that this shoe is looking like a hot contender for Twisted Branch.  It is so far passing the biggest test ... secure fit on steep down hills ... one of the biggest issues I had at last year's race.

So if you have worn the Sense Mantra in the past ... well, this is not the same shoe.  I really have to say it is better than ever.  And all I can say is ... Salomon, I wish you had a place for us mid-to-back-of-the-packers ... we are the ones who could give an honest review of the durability and comfort of a shoe since we wear them LONGER and tend to put a little more poundage on them than your average elite racer.  Think about it.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Shoe Review: Salomon Speedcross 3

Those who know me know what a running shoe fanatic I am.  I have numerous times been in love with a certain shoe only to have it disappoint me at some point and thus causing immediate break-up.  I am by no means an elite runner but my feet do get the elite treatment during ultra runs.  I am constantly aware of everything that happens with them.  At last year's Twisted Branch 100K my feet were one of the biggest things that went all wrong, resulting in a disappointing DNF.  This year I will go back to Twisted Branch with a better knowledge of the course and a better knowledge of what I need to do for my feet to make this a successful race.

Which brings me to this shoe review.  I have been on a quest to find the perfect running shoe and I think I have found it in the Salomon Speedcross 3.  A few years ago I was drawn to the minimalist shoe movement.  I liked how light the shoes were, how they made my feet feel, and how they made me feel more connected to the trail.  What I have come to realize is that there is nothing minimal about me.  At 5'11" and 155# I am anything but a minimally sized runner.  And running over 50 miles at a time, my feet no longer enjoy feeling every little rock and root on the trail.  I have come to realize that I need more cushion and more protection.  Don't get me wrong, minimalist running shoes are not necessarily totally evil.  If nothing else, running in them has taught me better form and has fixed some other issues I had.  I still enjoy running in minimalist shoes for shorter distances but when it comes to ultras I just need more.

The Salomon Speedcross 3 is anything but minimal.  They are the knobby-tire bike of trail shoes.  I have run in numerous Salomon shoes but have never found one that has been the all-in-one package that I dreamed of.  Flexibility, traction, cushion.  I want it all.  The Speedcross 3 has an 11mm heel-toe drop (according to one site, another says 9mm, but really, at that height, does 2mm really matter??), which is the highest I have run in in years.  I worried about this a little ... at first.  I bought the shoes on a Friday, went for a 2 mile hike in them, and then wore them at the Muddy Sneaker 20K on Saturday.  I was amazed at how good they made my feet feel.  First of all, the lugs on these babies are ridiculous.  They just eat the ground up.  The cushioning and flexibility are super impressive.  Years of running in shoes from 0mm-4mm heel-toe drop have taught me to land mid-to-forefoot and because of this I didn't even notice the higher heel-toe drop.  They shed the mud like nobody's business; I never had mud caked-up on the soles.

One concern that I did have that I had read in numerous reviews of this shoe was how they can make your feet feel quite warm during warmer weather runs.  I did experience this last week during a warm dry day but this was only one run so I will have to do more warmer weather runs with them to know if this is going to be an ongoing problem.

Salomon has dialed it in with the Endofit sock liner thing.  One thing that killed my feet at Twisted Branch was the sliding around inside a sloppy shoe.  The friction on the bottoms of my feet wreaked havoc.  With the Endofit liner and those awesome speedlaces on the Salomons I experience minimal movement inside the shoe.  Even on the super steep downhills.

I am strongly considering wearing these shoes for Cayuga Trails 50.  So today I gave them a trial run through some creeks and they totally lived up to the challenge.  I thought they drained well, although retaining some squishiness in the foot liner, but no more than any other shoe I have worn.

I don't normally write shoe reviews but during my run today I was just so freaking impressed with so many aspects of this shoe that I couldn't stop thinking about them.  I would like to use them for Twisted Branch because I think they will handle the steep elevation changes quite well.  The only issue that concerns me is the August heat and how warm these shoes can be.  But time will tell how much of an issue this really is.

All in all, I have to say that these shoes are a total winner.  I have been running most recently in the Salomon S-Lab Ultra SG and love them but they just do not have the support or the cushioning that I know I need for the longer runs.  The Speedcross 3 has it all and more.  I'm a fan.

Here is iRunFar's review of the Speedcross 3 ...  Gotta say, they hit it spot-on.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Twisted Branch 100K ... so twisted

A 100K race that I don't have to drive hours to get to?  And it's on trails that I have never run?  And it's point to point?  And it's beyond my 50 mile race comfort zone BUT IT'S NOT 100 MILES?  And the finish is less than an hour drive back to my own hot shower and bed?  Sign me up.

And that's how it all started.  I had sworn off signing up for any more 100 milers and I needed a new challenge.  The 100K trail race distance is sorely lacking in our area of New York State and so I was especially excited when I heard about the new Twisted Branch 100K.  And I love point to point races because I feel like I am actually travelling somewhere.

I am always leery of new races.  Will it live up to my expectations and what I have become spoiled with?  From everything I had read about this race it sounded perfect.  The weather leading up to race weekend was nice and cool, almost fall-like.  Unfortunately that is not how it stayed for race day.  Here is a brief recount of what I can remember from the race.  I had my usual down times but overall, I can absolutely say it was just plain fun.

FRIDAY.  We had a nice drive to Hammondsport to pick up my race number and packet.  It was a beautiful clear, sunny day, although a bit too warm for my liking.  The race schwag was superb!  Awesome shirts (thank you ... I don't need yet another tech shirt!  the nice soft cotton blend shirt is so sweet!).  A nice little tote bag, coffee (that I have yet to try but it smells amazing!), snacks, and cool stickers.  I was already liking the style of this race.

On to the Bristol Woodlands Campground which was about a 20 minute drive from the start.  I had really wanted to camp at the start at Ontario County Park but unfortunately after multiple phone calls and messages left they never called me back.  And I decided that 20 minutes drive would not be that bad.  We asked the campground owner for dinner recommendations and he hesitated, especially when we asked for good food.  He suggested this little café in Honeoye called The Mill Creek Café and gave us a photocopy of the menu.  The food looked amazing but given his reaction, we didn't expect much.  But it was about 10 minutes away and we had no other options.  Well, the place didn't look like much but as we drove around the back of the building the parking lot was packed!  The food we saw people eating looked as good as the menu had sounded.  And they had GOOD BEER on the menu!  The food was fantastic and after a nice fish fry dinner and a couple of Ellicottville Pantius Droppus Imperial IPAs, I was ready to get some sleep for the next day's journey.

SATURDAY.  2:53 am.  I woke without the alarm going off.  The full moon was so amazing and I was ready to roll.  Coffee and some eats in hand and we were off to the race start.

I loved the old school feel of this race.  Everybody walk to the start, ready, set, GO!  And we were off into the darkness of the trails.  It was already hot and humid and I was trying to just go at an easy pace, which is hard when everyone is so packed together on a narrow trail.  I feel obligated to keep up the pace so as not to hold those behind me up.  The footing of the trail was awesome.  Very little mud, not many roots, very runnable.  Unfortunately I quickly realized that I had not made a good shoe choice and was a little pissed that I wouldn't be able to do anything about this until I saw Joe at the 20K mark.  So I just tried to focus on trail and not falling.  There were cool reflective arrows at some of the major turns that lit up nicely in the light of the headlamps.  Even though small, these arrows reflected so nicely that they were easy to see.

I got to the first aid station and I was ready for some real food.  Unfortunately there weren't many choices other than some candy and chips.  I don't drink sports drink so I settled for some Coke and ate the cheese crackers I had in my pocket.  The sun was now up and we were out on a road for a bit, so it was a good time to walk and regroup.  The group I had been running with had left me, which was OK, since I needed to get into my own head.  I had missed a major turn just before the aid station because I was busy following the group, who obviously missed the turn.  I needed to pay more attention on myself and not just follow along.

Finally I got to the 20K aid station and Joe ... and my Altra Superior shoes that I should have had on right from the start!  My left foot was already bothering me and I hoped it wasn't too late to fix this problem (that I knew was a result of the first pair of shoes I had on).  And I was getting very hungry.  And the sun was really up at this point and it was getting warm.  The nice volunteers offered me some TailWind but all I wanted was cold soda.  I got a nice cold Dr. Pepper from Joe and it was heaven.  But what I really needed was some real food.  There was some cold grilled cheese at the aid station, so this would have to do.  I grabbed my trekking poles from Joe and headed out for the upcoming big climb.  I was further behind time-wise that I had wanted to be and Joe seemed a little worried about this, which then made me a little more worried.  Fortunately I am a pretty strong uphill hiker, so I hoped that this long climb would give me a chance to get some time back on my side.  It was hot and humid and the horseflies were swarming me like crazy!  Holy hell ... I don't think I have ever been attacked by horseflies out in the woods!  Deerflies and gnats, yes, but never horseflies.  And they were huge!

The trail was pretty easy to follow ... just keep following the orange blazes that were painted on the trees.  Some trickier sections had orange ground flags put out to mark the course, but unfortunately many had gotten trampled by earlier runners and not so easy for me to see.  Fortunately, I was not going at any blazing pace and I know how to follow a trail, so I just kept my eyes peeled for the orange tree blazes.

By the time I got to Joe at the next aid station I was probably really getting into a calorie deficit.  It was so hot out (which I despise!) and I hadn't eaten much because I just wanted some real food ... bacon would have been a welcome sight at this point!  And my feet were feeling the burn of the downhills.  So when I got to Joe it was time for more Dr. Pepper.  OK, I'm not bragging here my any means, but I have to say that I don't ever remember being in a race where I have had to worry about the cut-off times.  Somehow it just works out that I hit the spots at the right time.  Well, on this day I was really beginning to worry about the first cut-off.  I was pushing as hard as I could, climbing well, but falling apart on the downs.  Downhill running is just not my strength.  At all.

I lubed up my feet and changed my socks, ate a little bit but still just wanted a big bacon cheeseburger.  Or hot grilled cheese.  Or pizza.  Anything hot and greasy would have been welcome.  But I didn't have long to worry about this because Joe was urging me to get moving so I wouldn't miss the cut-off.  So I got it into gear, my feet started feeling better, there was a nice long uphill climb, and I was back in action.

I hit the first cut-off mark at 28-ish miles with about an hour to spare.  Sweet.  Things are going to be OK, I thought.  I drank more Dr. Pepper and grabbed some snacks.  By this point I should have had something more meal-like in me and not having this is likely why the wheels just kept falling off.

I had a great time going through the cornfield, completely blind except for the orange ribbons that I just had to trust would lead me out.  That had to be the coolest part of this race!

I normally never wear a GPS watch during races but this time I thought I would try it because when I start to get tired and mental it is just helpful to have some idea of what mileage I am actually at.  And it was helpful.

The volunteers at the next aid station, mile 36-ish, were a welcome site in the middle of the woods.  Unfortunately they had very little soda by the time I got there and again, just snacks of candy and chips.  But the chips were greasy and salty and tasted amazing.  Sorry to those behind me ... I drank the last of the Coke.  And I loved every drop of it.

Holy crap.  Still more climbs.  When I looked at the elevation profile on the website, I saw the MAJOR ups and downs, which made the smaller ups and downs in the middle look not so bad.  Well, maybe, just maybe, I should have looked at the scale on the chart to notice that those "little" ups and downs were still pretty impressive.  And they were.  Wow.  Thank goodness I didn't give up my trekking poles the last time I saw Joe.

I pulled into the 39-ish aid station with only about 15 minutes to spare to the cut-off.  Wow ... and I had an hour in my favor at the last cut-off.  This race was the real deal.  I was starving and the bacon at the station was apparently long gone.  Fortunately another runners crew person gave me some that he had in his stash.  It hit the spot.  And I downed two chocolate milks which about a half mile later I realized was not such a good idea.  Everything in moderation; I should have stuck with just one.  And what I wouldn't have done for a beer at this point.  I cursed out loud on the wicked little switchback section that seemed never ending.  I was truly beginning to wonder if I was going to make the last cut-off but I decided that I would just keep going until they wouldn't let me go any longer.

I hit a dirt road section that passed some houses and I heard (and then saw) some barking dogs.  If they had come after me I likely would have had to just lay down and play dead.  Maybe I wouldn't have to play ... I was feeling pretty dead at this point.  And then my GPS watch died.  How appropriate.  I knew I was 40-some miles into this thing and I just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  My friend Barbara caught up to me and we commiserated a bit about whether we would make the last cut-off.  At this time I told her that this race, mile for mile, was definitely tougher than the toughest 100 miler that I have finished (Virgil Crest 100).  No joke.  Again, this race was the real deal.  But it was awesome.  I never regretted being out there.  The trail was so beautiful and I knew that I was going somewhere.  I was actually going toward something and I just had to keep moving forward.  And then we hit another long steep climb and a little more wind just left my sails.

I hit the mile 46-ish aid station at a pretty low point.  Looking at how long it was taking me to get to this point, I just couldn't see how I was going to make the last cut-off.  My sister had driven a long way to run that last 4.5 miles with me and I so wanted to do this with her, but I was falling apart.  And then I got to Joe.  And the hot greasy cheeseburger he had waiting for me.  And that cold Dr. Pepper.  I whined a bit and he blew me off, like always.  Thank goodness he doesn't listen to me.  So I grabbed that greasy burger, tossed the bun away, and headed off down the trail, determined to make my best effort to try and make that last cut-off.  My friend Amy said something about a cooler with water in it on the trail that was out there for the runners.  It really didn't make sense to me until I saw it.  Unfortunately, at this point I didn't want more water.  I was ready for another soda and some company.  I had neither.  So I just put my head down and climbed some more.

Eventually I saw another person in front of me.  Dan!  I had wondered how his race was going.  We chatted a bit and then I just kept moving.  The burger was kicking in and I needed to take advantage of this surge.  But by the time I got to the 54 mile aid station the surge was gone.  I think I only had 45 minutes at that point to make it the last 5.5 miles to the cut-off.  I wasn't going to make it.  It was dark and the trail was getting trickier in sections and there were still some brutal climbs and descents.  But I was proud of myself for not giving in and accepting a ride to the finish.  I was going to get to the next aid station on my own two feet.  I was going to keep going until I wasn't allowed to anymore.  The full moon was out and it was beautiful in the woods.  And I was at peace with my defeat.  I did all I could.  I was going to just enjoy these last 5.5 miles, enjoy the journey, enjoy that I started at one point and made it all the way to another point on my own.  Not a 100K run but an effort that far exceeded my last 100 mile effort.  This race really made me work for everything I got.

The trail was a little hard to follow with no glow-sticks or reflector tape to keep me on track, but I found my way.  And I was pretty happy with myself for that.  I felt very strong and pleased with myself for keeping on trail, although I would repeatedly question myself if I was still going the right way until I saw another white blaze.

I finally made it to Urbana.  About 45 minutes late.  The first time I have ever been cut-off at a race.  Maybe I should have been upset but I just wasn't.  I did all that I could, left it all on the trail.  I travelled 59.5 miles from one place to another.  That was so cool.  And now I could have a beer.  Even cooler.  And sit down.  We had some good laughs here and it was all good.

During this race I kept thinking this 100K with an 18-hour cut-off is not for the mere mortal runner.  And I swore that it probably just wasn't for me.  Well, I now think otherwise.  I know what to expect, I know what I have to do to be successful, and in 2016 I will come back immortal.  I will finish this.

Thank you to the RD for making this wonderful event happen and to all of the fantastic volunteers and may amazing crew husband, Joseph, who did their best to try to get me to the finish.  Thank you to my sister and her husband who drove a long way just to see me sit in a chair and drink a beer.  This is ultrarunning.  Some days you get to the finish, some days you just finish when you finish.  Being a part of an inaugural event was certainly an amazing experience.

Monday, May 18, 2015


If I could save time in a bottle
The first thing that I'd like to do
Is to save every day
'Til eternity passes away
Just to spend them with you

Time.  Something I rarely think about when I'm running ... other than if I have enough time to get in as much run as I can before I have to go to work or clean the house or whatever other chore is on the list.  Not thinking about time allows me to enjoy just being.  Unfortunately, when I am actually in a race not thinking about time can be detrimental.  After all, the point of a race is to compete against the clock, mostly to try to reach a goal I have set for myself.

A little over two weeks ago I ran the Rock The Ridge 50 Miler, a benefit for the Mohonk Preserve.  I had been wanting to do this event for a couple of years now and this year decided to go for it.  The pictures of the area struck me as stunning and with the terrain that the course is held on (carriage roads) I had hoped to run a reasonably fast 50 miler (fast in my world).  I did have a fun time and I did reach my goal of running sub-10 hours, but in the process I did remember how stressful it is for me to run against the clock.  Because I was focusing on the time I didn't really take in the beauty of the area, one of the major reasons I had wanted to run this race.  And Joe was not with me, as he had his own race to run in Salamanca that day.  I never have as much fun when he's not there.  So despite my "fast" run, the day just seemed long.  Very long and hard.

If I could make days last forever
If words could make wishes come true
I'd save every day like a treasure and then,
Again, I would spend them with you

But time doesn't always move so slow.  And the reality is, there is not always enough time.  And sometimes you have to pay attention to time; there are times when this is absolutely crucial.  And the days after my race never made me realize this more.  I debated whether to tell this story but if only one person reads this and it makes a difference, then I guess it was a good thing to tell.

My husband Joe is a runner.  He golfs, mows the lawn, plows snow, and is just generally a very active person.  And Joe had a stroke.  Now there are ads all over television about smoking and its consequences.  I don't think you can get through a 30 minute television show without seeing at least one of the stop smoking ads.  I have never seen a single television advertisement on the signs to look out for if someone is having a stroke.  There is a single radio ad that I hear only at night when I am driving home from work about the importance of time and getting someone you think is having a stroke to treatment.  But that is the only time I hear this ad ... after 11pm when I am driving home.  But this is important information and people need to know that TIME is so very very important.  It can make a difference in possible treatments and the quality of outcome for the person.

Fortunately Joe was very lucky.  But he did not know the signs of stroke and when his symptoms started I was at work.  When I did notice what was happening we got straight to the hospital so that testing and treatment could get started.

Joe is doing very well now and finished The Rat Snake 18K trail run just 9 days after the stroke.  He is an amazement.  Some may question if running a hilly 18K trail run was a wise thing to do after having a stroke.  But the reality is, why not?  You never know what time will deal you; use your time doing what you love.  I ran the run with my sister, her longest run ever.  It was all time well spent.
I don't want to get preachy, but when Joe said he did not know what was happening to him, that he didn't realize he was having an emergency, it made me realize that I take my medical knowledge for granted.  Some of what I think is common knowledge is not.  So if you get nothing more out of this post, please take note of the signs to watch out for if you think someone is having a stroke.  And don't hesitate to get straight to the EMERGENCY ROOM.  Every minute counts.

F - Face.  Is the person's face symmetrical?  Is one side drooping or not moving the same as the other side?
A - Arms.  Can the person move both arms equally?  Is the grip strength equal in both hands?
S - Speech.  Is the person's speech slurred?
T - TIME.  Seek EMERGENCY medical attention immediately.  Call 911.

So we will continue to do the things that we love to do.  I don't feel the urgency of the clock in terms of running/racing finishing time; I feel the time urgency to enjoy as much as I can in the time that I have.

If I had a box just for wishes
And dreams that had never come true
The box would be empty
Except for the memory
Of how they were answered by you

- Time In A Bottle, Jim Croce

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Finding Me - Tales of Athena

sometimes things just get a little overwhelming.  sometimes, no matter what the cost, it's good to take a step back.  numerous times I have paid well for my mistakes.  this time it only cost me $175 and "losing" this money was truly worth it.

this past Monday was the boston marathon and I was supposed to be there.  but for some time now it just couldn't get excited about it.  Wow.   The premier event, that for so many of my early running years seemed an unattainable goal, and I couldn't get excited about it?  nope, it wasn't happening.  now some may wonder "how could you give up BOSTON"?  this was not an easy decision.  just getting in to boston is special, I know that.  but I also did not want to go just to go.  if I was to run it I wanted it to be just as special as it was the previous five times I have run it and I just didn't feel like that was going to happen this year.  maybe it was the long cold winter that just depleted my energy; I'm not sure.  I do know that there are some who still probably cannot understand why I didn't want to go to boston but not going was something I had to do for me.  and honestly, staying home, unplugging from social media, and just taking time to focus on what does make me happy was exactly what I needed.  I already had five days off from work so why not take this opportunity to relax and rediscover my running happy place.  it was time for a little retreat.

DAY 1.  I uninstalled facebook from my phone.  this was supposed to be my time to find my happy place and I did not want any distractions.  joe and I finally got to do one of our favorite runs up through the woods above our house, out to the "shit can", a rusted-out metal garbage can that just sits out in the woods.  it has been there for many more years than we have and of all the things that have come and gone in the woods, the shit can has remained.  this was our first opportunity to run this route this year since the snow had finally melted in the woods; I think this is the latest into the spring it has taken for this to happen since we have lived here.  the highlight of the day:  our first red newt sighting of the year.  and then another.  and another.  the forest road was absolutely littered with newts and it became a real challenge to try not to step on them.  we finally got out to the shit can only to find ... no shit can.  the only thing that remained was a rusty ring that was the rim of the can.  wow ... how disappointing.  now what will we call this run?

we got back to the house and I added on a little 0.6 miles because I just wasn't ready to go in.  what a peaceful run in the trees under a clear blue sky and not one single car (or person) was seen.  after a nice little rest and time of doing absolutely nothing we headed out to meet my sister and her husband for a little trail time.  we parked one car at where we would finish and drove another to upper treman state park and ran the finger lakes trail.

DAY 2.  the thought was still there ... "wow, I could still change my mind and go to boston".  and that would mean stopping to clean the house (because I can't stand to come home to a dirty house), packing, and missing a day of running on a beautiful spring day.  the thought passed and I hit the forest roads for a nice 11 mile run by myself.  again, so peaceful and only me and the birds in the trees.  and the squirrels that scared the crap out of me every time one shot out from a pile of leaves and ran in front of me.  and I had my first live snake sighting of the year.

DAY 3.  sunny, clear, and cool.  yes, as I headed out for my run I thought "I could still make it to boston if I left now".  and then I started running.  and I thought about how easy this felt and there was no anxiety and the thought of boston once again passed.  I had a beautiful cool 5+ mile run by myself through the woods where joe would meet me at the other side.  we met up and headed out to Hammond hill and ran the Thom B. trail run course.  I thought about how for so many years I could not run this course without the race markings and now how I just know my way instinctively through the trails.  and it was awesome.  and for having run this course so many times ... for the first ever time we missed a turn right before the finish.  and even this worked out in our favor ... the trail brought us right out to where we parked our car and just in time to see a good friend as he was getting ready to head out on the trails.  we talked with him for a bit and then stopped to visit some other friends and had a nice chat with them on their porch in the sun and breeze.  and then it was a stop a Hopshire Farms Brewery for some time of just standing around and chatting with the owners and drinking good beer.  and it was at this time that I realized that there was truly not a chance I would make it to boston now.  it was real.  I would not be there.  I was going to miss out.  and I felt OK with it.

DAY 4.  marathon Monday.  I woke up to wicked winds and pouring rain.  and I was so happy that I did not have to run today.  the tv satellite network had graciously turned on Universal Sports for free this week and we would be able to watch the marathon as it was happening.  I got in a quick 5K row on the Concept II, showered, and relaxed by the warm coal stove with a hot cup of coffee as we watched the pre-game show.  we had our own little boston marathon party with me and joe and another friend.  it was great; it was like the superbowl party of running as we discussed weather, running tactics, who was dying and who was making a move.  it was actually very cool and very fun.  and joe and I had fun describing the unfolding events to our friend who had never been to the marathon.  "This is Wellesley ... you can hear the screams for a mile before you even get here".  "This is Heartbreak Hill ... it's not really much of a hill".  "There's the Citgo sign; you see it from way out and it takes forever to get to it".  "OK, he just turned down Hereford ... next is the left onto Boyleston and you can see the finish but it's so far away".  ok, so I would be lying if I said I wasn't a bit sad not being there but it was so cool and fun to have this time with someone who has never experienced it.

DAY 5.  it's over.  the marathon is over and I didn't run it.  and I'm ok with that.  another run in the morning and another run in the afternoon completed my last day of vacation.  I felt relaxed and excited for my 50 miler that is coming up in less than 2 weeks.

so that was my boston marathon weekend.  and maybe you are wondering about the title of this post.  on one of my alone runs I did a lot of scattered thinking.  thoughts just flowed through my mind with no logical sequence.  and that's when I got to thinking about Athena.  well, Athena is the nice way of naming the larger women's category that some running races still recognize.  while some women may find this insulting, I am so happy that there are still races out there that recognize this category.  seriously ... how can I compete with those skinny young (and even not-so-young) ladies?  I am proud to be Athena.  and I am happy to be able to run and I am happy to be happy with my running again.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Of Winter, Roads, Racing, and Simplicity

OK ... March is almost over and technically it's Spring.  But guess what?  It's still below 20 degrees every morning when I wake up, it is still a white blanket of snow once you are within a mile, in any direction, of our house, and so in my eyes it's still winter.  And as much as I have tried to embrace some love for the roads I am just not feeling it.  I want my trails back.  Now.

This year I skipped doing any February races to give myself a break from running and "racing" and just have some fun with some non-training running and XC skiing.  Yup, that was fun.  I didn't really have a plan for March except to try to get ready for April and the fact that I am registered to run the Boston Marathon.  Not really sure what I was thinking there, but unfortunately the way race entries go anymore there is not much time to contemplate "should I or shouldn't I?"  You wait and you will likely not have to think about it ... you will get closed out and the decision will be made for you.  I guess that's how I ended up registering for Boston.

So in the event that I actually decide to run Boston (I'm still up in the air on it) I thought I should actually get some road training in.  When I was sick of running on the roads and sick of the cold I tried the treadmill for some good turn-over training and mental training to work on overcoming the boredom.  The last two years that I ran Boston (2007 and 2008) I found this awesome small town race in March that turned out to be the perfect pre-Boston prep.  The Wurtsboro Mountain 30K.  So I decided that since I had no other March racing plans this year this would be a good challenge.  My friend Karen is also running Boston and decided to race it, too.  Yay ... girl road trip!

So let me say, the first clue that this race could be a ball-buster ... it has the word "mountain" in the name.  It may be 7.6 miles shorter than the marathon, but mile for mile, this race is tougher than any hilly marathon I have done.  Rarely do you see flat road.  No, it's not easy.  And I love this distance for a "race" ... I would never run this kind of effort running 18+ miles on my own.  This race is full of tough love.

Karen and I arrived in Wurtsboro a little over an hour before the start; just enough time to get our stuff, relax a bit, and decide what to wear.  The temps were projected to start in the mid-20s for the start but rise into the higher 40s by the time we would finish.  It alternated between overcast and sunny and I finally decided on 3/4 length tights, compression calf sleeves, two lightweight long sleeve shirts and a singlet, my very cool light-weight FLRTC beanie, light gloves, and sunglasses.  I have trained all winter carrying a water bottle with NUUN and I like the fact that I have my own drink to sip at when I want and not have to rely on aid stations, so I decided to wear my waist-pack and carry a bottle.  Then there was the biggest decision ... which shoes to wear?  I really wanted to wear my Altra Intuitions but they have ZERO traction unless running on a dry road.  The roads that day were still coated with wet slushy snow.  Well, I've done a lot of road running this winter in trail shoes and this day I was very glad that I brought my Altra Lone Peaks with me.  Yup ... I would be racing a road race in trail shoes.  Guess I know where my heart is really at.

The race started at 9am and the sun was out pretty bright.  And pretty quickly we were headed uphill.  This race does not start to even remotely level out until close to mile 5, and even then it's not flat, just less hilly.  Mile 1:  9 minutes, 35 seconds and I was passing people.  5K:  30 minutes and change.  At this point I passed a woman and man running together.  Little did I know that this would be the last female runner I would see.  The sun was quite warm on my back and I was sweating, sort of regretting putting on that second long sleeve shirt.  I thought about stopping to take it off but decided I better wait until the higher elevations and see how I felt.  And I was glad I waited since the sun went back under and it was a bit cooler higher up.

I felt like I was pushing a bit but not red-lining and just trying to stay within myself.  I never really had anyone running along side of me.  And I never really felt like walking, which made me happy.  I thought of my friends running trail races in MD and NJ in the snow and I embraced the sloppy roads in their honor.  The Lone Peaks just plowed through the crap and the traction was excellent.  I just kept focusing on getting to the point where I would have more miles behind me than I had in front of me.  I tried not to get mental but I did have a little moment at the 15K point where I thought "holy crap, I have to run what I just ran all over again" and it seemed a little daunting.  So I tried to just focus on one mile at a time.  At the 10 mile aid station there were women screaming "first female" as I came toward them.  What?  They must have been yelling about someone ahead of me.  So I just smiled, thanked them, and kept running.  And so this has nothing to do with the race, but here's my real question ... how is it that I am not even face to face with these people, I'm running with my face all contorted, wearing a winter beanie and sunglasses, and they STILL recognize that I am female yet when I go into a store not wearing a hat, face fully exposed, smiling, and I am greeted with "can I help you, sir?"  Hmmmmm?  Just something to contemplate.

Back to the race.  This is one of the most beautiful road courses I have ever run.  Amazing houses to look at.  Awesome tall trees on both sides of the road.  Running streams along the road.  And very little traffic.  And the hills NEVER stop ... it truly "rolls" the entire course.  Somewhere after mile 10 I caught up with one of the early starters.  I could see one of the guys from my race start time up ahead but there was no one behind me.  The most challenging part of this course, I think, comes around mile 12 where it is just a gradual climb of rollers for the next 6 miles.  And I believe the miles truly get longer here.  We now had changed directions and the wind just seemed to disappear and I started to get a bit warm.  I did have to drop my pace a bit as my stomach started feeling a bit queasy and slowing the pace some did relieve this.  At mile 14 I was again greeted by the mile 10 aid station group (another cool thing about this race ... the mobile revolving aid stations).  The women again screamed that I was the first female!  Now I knew there was no one else around me and I smiled and asked them if the snow had scared all of the super speedsters away.  I felt like I was running strong and fast (for me) but I also know what the women's winning times have been in the past.  And then I thought, crap, no way I can ease off now; who knows where the second place woman is.  Crap.  I was getting a little tired, mostly mentally.  Physically everything was still feeling pretty good.  But I was ready to be done and I so wished this had been a half marathon and was SOOOOO thankful that it was not a marathon.  Around mile 17 one of the aid station ladies pulled up by me in her truck and said that second and third ladies were about a mile behind me duking it out.  And I thought if they were pushing each other I certainly had better not ease up; they could easily push each other to the point of catching me.  FINALLY mile 18.  I started to feel like I couldn't breathe and had a little coughing fit.  Thank goodness it was short-lived and I could finally see the elementary school ahead and knew that's where the finish was.  I had nothing left.  If those ladies had come up on me I don't know if I would have had any fight in me.  I was on empty.  Thank goodness they did not catch me.  I finished in 2 hours, 38 minutes, 28 seconds ... a big PR for me on this course.  And Karen finshed in 2:57, good for her age group win.

Some lasting impressions of this race for me:

1.  I love these small town races.  I do not enjoy the big-scene races with a lot of hype.

2.   This is one of the last "old school" races (in the good company of the Tromptown Half Marathon/5K and Forks XV) and that's one reason, despite it being a road race, that I love it.  1: The cost.  $32.  Most 5Ks come close to that anymore.  2:  Paper entry form.  Forget that additional computer registration fee.  The only additional cost is the stamp.  3:  Not another tech shirt.  Just about every race gives tech shirts now.  I miss the good old cotton t-shirts.  This race gave out knit winter beanies.  Very cool.  4:  No schwag bags full of crappy advertisements that just get tossed in the garbage.  Nope, not here.  We got a hat and choice of giant bag of Goldfish Crackers or Goldfish Cookies.  I love races that give out feel-good food.  And 5:  Hand-made awards.  You feel the RDs love with these.

3.  Other than Karen, I did not know any of the other runners.  This was good.  It let me focus on myself and not fall into that need to try to race another person.

4.  OK, my winning time is not all that good when you look at past winning times (or the top 10 female finisher times, for that matter!), but as Diane Sherrer once said ... it's all about who shows up.  And those speedsters didn't show up that day.  Which is why it was me walking away with the Pepperidge Farms cookies (OK, there was a cool cowbell trophy, too).

5.  I won a road race.  This is not an everyday occurrence for me.  Headline should read "Old Fat Female Wins Road Race Wearing Trail Shoes and Waist Pack".  It's good to be in the Masters category - those ladies are a tough group and I am proud to be a part of them!  And fat - I am a proud Clydesdale runner and I work hard with beer and food to maintain my status.  And as for the shoes and bottle pack ... can't help it, I am a trail runner at heart - and they work.

6.  This past summer I switched to a High Fat, Low Carb diet and I am seeing the benefits of this.  I probably still eat more carbs than many on this "diet" but it is much much lower than I used to eat.  I don't deprive myself when I want carbs - I am not giving up beer or pizza.  I just use them as my treats.  But eating less carbs has taught my body to tap into my fat stores - and I have a pretty good supply - for energy.  I had a Lara Bar (210 calories, 10 grams fat, 31 carbs) a couple of hours before the start of this race.  I never felt hungry during the race, never felt the need to take in any fuel during the race, and felt energized throughout.  I drank about 10 ounces of water (with NUUN electrolyte tab) during the race.  And I felt fantastic.

7.  These get-er-done-in-one-day races and then kick back and relive the fun with friends and beer are fun.  I need to do more of these.

So yes, I had fun at a road race.  But if I said I wasn't looking at the scenery and trails that I was running by and wishing I was running there, I'd be lying.  I am still up in the air as to whether or not to run Boston.  Fortunately I have paid dearly ($$) for the luxury of being still being able to decide.  I just can't get excited about it and it's not where my heart is at.  I know it is a privilege and an honor to be able to run there, but I don't know and probably won't until the last minute.  I am fortunate to have had to opportunity to run five Bostons pre-2013 bombing.  The logistics are so different now and I get that, but it is all just giving me a headache now.  I want simplicity.  I just want to run and lose myself in the woods.