Tag Archives: TARC

My First Ultramarathon

I say “first” because then I went and signed up for a 50-miler a few days after this race, because an ultramarathon is an addictive thing. I want more. I want to do this for days.

Pre-Race Calm, and the Weather

Last weekend I finally ran the 32-mile ultramarathon race I have been training for (TARC Fells Winter Ultra). Unlike almost all the races I have run in the past two years, I did not have an anxiety dream the night or a few nights before. I have had terrible anxiety dreams before my last two marathons. I had an awful anxiety dream a few months ago, when I paced someone for the last 25 miles of her 100k (in the dream I forgot my shoes, among other things!). So you’d think, since I’ve psyched myself out of ultras for the past few years, I’d have a doozy of a dream. Nope.

Screen shot 2015-12-12 at 10.00.36 AM

Photo credit: Douglyss Giuliana

Well, OK. I did dream that I showed up for the race and ran two or three loops but then found out I’d arrived too early and hadn’t picked up my bib … so I had to get my bib and start over! But this dream didn’t bother me.

Seriously, I have never been so calm before a race. The only drama was the previous night, when I was checking the weather and really torn between shorts and capris (looked like 30 degrees at start of race, increasing to 39 degrees … but since I’d be going slowly, I wouldn’t get as hot as usual … see my dilemma? I get really hot when I run). My friend Dana checked in with me to say good luck and when I told her I was down to the huge question of “shorts or capris” she said shorts.


Turns out she was checking the weather much closer to the race location than I was (don’t ask, but it looked like closer to mid- or high 40s later in the race). So I made a last-minute decision for shorts. THANK GOD. I ended up in shorts and a T-shirt, with arm warmers both up and rolled down, depending.

Anyway. I’d told my husband and kids that if they wanted to come watch — and I totally didn’t expect them to or need them to, and it’s a tricky race to spectate — I might be passing by Panther Cave at 8 a.m., 10 a.m., noon, and 2 p.m. That was a rough estimate based on my plan for two hours per eight-mile loop, allowing myself two-and-a-half hours for my final loop.*

This worked perfectly with my training, expectations, and the prediction that UltraSignup had for me (the registration site makes predictions based on your past races and the general field of racers). UltraSignup had me at a finish time of 8:37, which was pretty close to what I’d predicted for myself. My “hope” was 8 hours. I’d be happy with 8:30 (that means eight and a half hours). And I’d be fine with 9. Honestly, I knew it was a tough course and that a lot of people don’t finish, so my main goal was to finish my first ultra … smiling.

*They showed up!! But I missed them, because my timing was all off. They went and got lunch and came back … and I missed them again!


I also had shoe issues in the weeks leading up to the race. My trail shoes (NB Leadvilles) were pretty worn out. I’d tried one training run in an ancient pair of Salomons, stiff and heavy, not ideal. I tried some runs in my old Leadvilles, which felt mushy. Mushy like you’re running in your grampa’s old floppy wool socks. Not exactly responsive, you know? And I did my 24-mile training run in a brand-new pair of Cascadias which turned out to be too narrow for my poor triangular flipper feet (why oh why do you all keep narrowing your toebox??). While they were nice, my pinky toes deserved a lot better, and I wasn’t going to risk trashing them on race day.

I bought a new pair of Leadvilles, which I didn’t get a chance to run in before the race. Crap. You know how it can take a little time to get the lacing adjusted just right, especially if you have big deep feet like mine? Yeah. (Did not wear them.)

Race Day

I had my drop bag ready (warm clothes, a baggie of ibuprofen and spare contacts and this and that — and I am really impressed with how weirdly organized I was for this, even though I didn’t need any of it), the plastic heat blanket I’d been given two weeks earlier at the Philly Marathon (I walked the half with a friend), food, a thermos of of coffee. My hydration pack was all packed and ready … though I didn’t have my snacks well organized, it turned out, with just one Honey Stinger Waffle available to me and the rest of the stuff unreachable unless I removed my pack (love my hydration pack, but it’s a pain to remove it/put it back on).

I was so calm before the race. I have never been so calm before a race. I even offered to help set up tables with the race director. I chatted with people. I met a lovely woman in the Portapotty line (I ended up going in the woods) who totally cranked on the trails and remembered my name and greeted me each time we passed and she won for the women in my race (go, Hannah!).


I think this is Loop 2 for Hannah. She rocked it. Photo credit: Jeff LeBlanc

I think this is Loop 2 for Hannah. She rocked it. Photo credit: Jeff LeBlanc



My plastic heat blanket was awesome; I pulled off my sweatpants and wrapped the heat shield around me as a a quick and easy way to stay warm.

First Loop (Miles 0-8)

Screen shot 2015-12-11 at 10.39.58 PM

Loop 1. Photo credit: Jeff LeBlanc.

First loop, great. Except instead of running it in two hours, I finished in an hour and a half. Oops. Crap. I’d be sure to pay for that later, right? The course was  short lollipop stem and then the loop, and you had to go down the stem each time to check in at the Start/Finish area each time.

When I paced Annette at her 100k back in October, I’d been a little embarrassing at the aid stations. They’re so full of food! Sandwiches, soup, candy, chips … and I hadn’t eaten well before the race, and a few times Annette left without me while I chowed down (sorry, Annette!). This time I was better prepared and better fueled, and my goal was to spend as little time in the aid stations as possible (there was an aid station at the Start/Finish and one at the halfway mark).

First loop, I breezed in, checked, in, ditched several layers, ate fast, and headed out again. Didn’t even stop at the halfway aid station.

Second Loop (Miles 9-16)

Second loop, stopped at halfway aid station, hugged my pal Alyssa, and marveled at the fact that I was standing out in the woods in December in New England, eating fresh raspberries. Amazing!! Isn’t that amazing? I don’t think I even stopped at the Start/Finish this time except to check in my bib number.

Oh, so here’s the deal: You could run the loop in either direction. I did two counterclockwise, one clockwise, last loop counterclockwise. I had mostly run alone so far. I’d passed my sometime massage therapist standing on a rock outcropping (“Hey, are you here for me?”). I’d run for a bit with a nice guy named Will from New Hampshire, who gave me a gel when he learned I’d forgotten to bring any (THANK YOU, WILL!). He handed it to me on a flat, smooth section of trail, and of course I tripped and fell flat on my face reaching to take it from him.

Funny moment: Will and I passed an older gentleman out for a walk, who stepped off the trail to let us pass.

“You look good, you guys,” he said encouragingly.

Will said, in the most polite, sincere, earnest tone imaginable: “You look good.” I don’t know if he added “sir” but he might as well have. It was tremendously funny to me.

Near the end of that loop, though, I recognized a tattooed calf (this happens when you run behind someone even once) and realized I was running near a guy named Eric, who I should not have been anywhere near, because he’s really fast … so I was still ahead of schedule (that loop was about 1:45).

Change of buff, ditched a few top layers, still happy! Photo credit: Jeff LeBlanc

Change of buff, ditched a few top layers, still happy! and wow is my vest adjusted all wrong!! Photo credit: Jeff LeBlanc

Third Loop (Miles 17-24)

I caught up to Eric again, somehow, and others. It was nice to run near a group of people for a while. But I felt weird. Dizzy. Lightheaded. I couldn’t talk to them. I knew we had one more small hill to get over and we’d be at the halfway aid station.

I thought I might black out.

Ahead, one of our pack turned his ankle. Runners stopped, gathered near him … “Are you OK?” I asked, hoping like hell he wouldn’t need me because I was about to sink to the ground and what is wrong with my head and he smiled and said, “I’m OK” and others were with him so I struggled on, mile 20, my head is a balloonkeep moving

Aid station. I ate a lot of quarters of PBJs, and there were pickles, so I ate those too. I ate and ate. My group caught up, fueled, ran off. I watched them vanish up the hill. I couldn’t care. I felt weird. I felt better. I could run again. I should go. I left the aid station.

I was alone again. I couldn’t lose more time. Sure, I’d lost a lot of time at the aid station, but I still needed to keep this loop to two hours. But then there were only orange and green blazes, no white blazes.

For chrissake. I’ve been running these trails for 11 years. I backtracked. I couldn’t find the white trail. I stood there in the trees, still lightheaded, confused. Where did the Skyline Trail split off?

Soon enough, a runner trotted up from the opposite direction. I greeted her, thanked her, and ran off from where she’d come. Hooray! Back on track! I checked my watch. OK, you need to keep up this pace to stay in your two-hour limit. Hahahahaha. The minute I picked up speed, after cruising up a hill, I realized I’d lost the white blazes again.

I cursed myself for choosing to go the opposite direction on the third loop. I’d already directed several runners who’d missed turns, but now here I was missing all the turns and going off trail. I wasn’t dizzy anymore, at least. The food had kicked in. I felt solid again, and I’d simply not paid attention in my quest for speed.

Oh, did I not mention the Yeti? TARC standard. I was sad to not see him this year, and then -- loop 2 -- there he was! Where I needed him! Out in the woods! And we high-fived and I said I was so happy to see him. Which is weird because I have absolutely no idea who was in the Yeti costume this race.

Oh, did I not mention the Yeti? TARC standard. I was sad to not see him this year, and then — loop 2 — there he was! Where I needed him! Out in the woods (not where this photo was taken)! And we high-fived and I said I was so happy to see him. Which is weird because I have absolutely no idea who was in the Yeti costume this race.

I found the white blazes again and made it back to the Start/Finish. Someone tried to take my pack to refill it, but I wouldn’t let her. I guess I still felt weird (also, my hydration pack is a pain in the butt and if you don’t get the top on right, it leaks all over my back). I didn’t know what I wanted from the aid station. The race director came up and asked if I was OK, and I babbled at her. But I was OK. Just not making a ton of sense. The aid station had cola. Cola! I haven’t had soda in more than a decade. It was cane-sugar sweetened, no high fructose corn syrup. I had three mini dixie cups of it and it was divine. My god. So good.

Fourth Loop (Miles 25-32)

And off I went. This time, I remembered to grab my visor. Remember, I knew from all my training runs to have this? It was on my “must have” list from the beginning … and I forgot it for the first three loops, which probably contributed to my dizziness. Sharp bright sunlight hitting from above, below, the side, straight on … With the visor on, I had a lot more control.

(Oh, control! My shoes! The old mushy Leadvilles! As I said, like running in Grandpa’s old floppy wool socks that puddle around your feet! Sure, my tread is worn almost smooth on those things, but they stuck when I needed them to, going up rock or down rock. They never slipped, they held fast, they might have been a little thin on the cushioning since they’re so old and worn, but they got me through! Thank you, New Balance!)


Photo credit: Douglyss Guiliana

I could see, and I was fueled, and I’d had cola. I had a sandwich in easy reach (confession: sandwich is still in my hydration pack nearly a week later! I will remove it tomorrow). This last loop, I’d allowed myself 2.5 hours, but I did it in under two again.

Finish time: 7:22. Second in age group, ninth woman finisher. More than an hour under my projected time.

Screen shot 2015-12-11 at 10.09.40 PM

In my favor: Extremely mild weather, good health, good training, a sense of calm. Visor for the fourth loop.

Surprise factors: My old beat-up trail shoes held up admirably. I thought I had my fueling down but didn’t make it accessible so all but one fuel waffle was available. I didn’t expect my first loop to be that fast and thought it would come back to bite me, but it did not.

Etienne. A TARC staple. He was just out for a run but it is always a joy to see him.

Etienne. A TARC staple. He was just out for a run but it is always nice to see him.


Oh, and I forgot about this, but I was bitten by a dog in the third loop, maybe mile 23. It was leashed, too! (There were a lot of off-leash dogs in the Fells that day, some not very voice-trained.) It bit me on the wrist, but I had on thick arm warmers and my Garmin, and it didn’t break the skin, and I didn’t want to stop and hassle the owners about it.

Post-race: Ate a lot of chips, ate a big dinner (burgers — thanks, husband!). Was hungry as hell the next day (there was just not enough food for me) but my body felt fine. Quads hurt Monday/Tuesday (the downhills!) but then fine. I ran 5.5 miles today, all fine. I feel like this was much easier to recover from than a road marathon. I’d like to run 10 miles tomorrow but just don’t have time.

Next step: I signed up for a fall 50-miler but am quite sure I need to run another ultra before then. This stuff is addictive!

(There are more pictures of me, from Douglyss Giuliana.)

Big Thanks

Bill Howard, who agreed to meet me for a weekday loop and calmly agreed a third loop would be good for my state of pre-race calm.

Dana and Justine and Florentien and Alison and all of you who were never fazed by this idea but instead encouraged me.

Hilary, who met me for a weekday loop and tried to give me an “out” (which I refused), and Lein, who cheerfully came along for a loop one day.

Dana again, for suggesting shorts.

Samantha and Carolyn, online support.

Ardith, all the boot camps and running (Burpees????).

Chris, who not only didn’t mind my taking time for six-hour runs (WHAT) but also knew I’d want burgers the night after the run and got the stuff and MADE THEM. Yeah. While fending off kids so I could just eat chips and shower and feel pretty buff. Thanks for all of it.

All my awesome running people, road and trail, SRR and Weekday Pancake Runners and TARC, because you all are fantastic and supportive and you believe.

TARC, who always put on the best races and aid stations and cheering and support.



Running Coach

For a couple of months now I’ve thought about hiring a running coach.  What if I spent the summer working with someone who would create an individualized plan for me so I could train harder and get faster and stronger ? What if a running coach could get this aging old body to a marathon PR this fall without injury? Wouldn’t that be amazing?

And wouldn’t that be an incredible luxury? And where would I find the time for this? I can’t even make it to my running club’s track workouts. Pipe dream, baby.

I’m also not sure how to find a running coach who would be a good fit for me. Who could work around my schedule and who really gets me and who would help me train hard but not get hurt. Someone who would take me seriously.

Today I went for my first trail run in many months. Last summer when I was training hard for the Lehigh Via Marathon, I didn’t go out on the trail too much toward the end, in case of spraining an ankle. And then I didn’t run all fall, anywhere at all, and the winter was shall we say “intense” and I was training for Boston and didn’t even want to attempt the four-foot-deep post-holed frozen snowpack in the woods. And then I’ve been recovering from Boston or had other weekend stuff. But today I finally got to get back out there with my trail running people.

It was fantastic. It’s so beautiful in the woods. Wild violets grow so tall there, and the strawberries at the edge of the meadow were blooming. The woodpeckers were very loud, and chickadees had a nice call and response going.

And the people. I’ve run with some of them before, but not much, and I really didn’t know them. It doesn’t matter on the trail. My trail group is one big friendly helpful family of trail-running goodness. At one point I found myself running behind a guy I think I’ve run with once or twice before but whom I don’t know it all. I was following him up one of the rocky hills and finally decided to say what I needed to say.

“Excuse me,” I said. “I feel weird saying this, but you have really nice foot placement.”

Foot placement matters on the trail, especially if it’s the sort of rocky, rooty singletrack we were on. You have your head down for your own footing and can’t help but watch the footing of the person directly ahead of you. And some people, honestly, I just can’t watch without wincing. Their feet flop. Their ankles roll clumsily with every step. They stub on roots. They stumble. Their feet are all over the place.

This guy? Like a dancer, every footfall so deliberately and securely placed. Such a joy to see. That is such a trailgeek thing to say, but trust me. Nice foot placement is really lovely to watch.

Well. It turns out he’s a running coach, and we talked about my form, and some things I want to fix, like the way I do a serpentine twist with my upper body. It shows up in every race photo of me, and it’s getting worse with every race. He said my legs and feet position look good, but I pointed out that my upper body is a wreck, running-wise. I’m pretty sure it’s just downright inefficient at this point.

We talked about how engaging my core might help keep my upper body from twisting all over the place, and he suggested a basic abs exercise. We talked about what he does, how he does it, where, and how much it costs. He’s not going to make me an Olympian, but he could help me fix a few things about my form that might ultimately help prevent injury, which in my book is a winning situation. He’s a Pose coach, which is like Chi running but by a different name.

I have to decide if it’s the right move for me or if I should just not bother, but the bottom line is, if you see nice foot placement, say something.

Mud and Logs: TARC Spring Classic Race Recap

Saturday, April 26 was the TARC Spring Classic, a morning of trail races ranging from 10km to 50km, with a half-marathon and marathon in between. I, as usual, signed up for the 50km (that’s 31 miles) but, as usual, realized that I wouldn’t be trained in time. *sigh* So I ratcheted down to the 10km and offered to volunteer after my race.

Volunteering is a big part of races, both road and trail, and though I’ve run many a race, road and trail, I’ve never volunteered before. It was time to give back.

The weather on Saturday was cold and rainy, as promised. It wasn’t yet raining when I left my house at 6 a.m. and drove around town, picking up various trail-running friends both old and new, on my way out to Weston. It didn’t rain as we hung out at the trailhead, organizing our gear and waiting for the pre-race meeting. It didn’t start to rain until about a mile into my race.

I’d never run any trails in Weston. They were beautiful. The course was a 10k loop, with each race distance running the appropriate number of loops (marathoners and half-marathoners had an extra little bit to run to make up the distance difference). It was mostly singletrack, mostly a soft pine floor, often quite narrow, with a few little hills. The course was very well marked (thank god, because at times the trail looked fairly untrodden). It also had its fair share of rocks and roots and—best of all—mud pits. Genuine actual mud pits, lower parts of the trail that were just really muddy after all the rain. Oh, and a small stream crossing or two.

There were some rocks and roots arranged through the water and mud if you wanted to keep your feet dry. I was only running one loop, so I didn’t worry much about that (wet socks= blisters).

And there was Purple Woman. When our race started, I was just behind a line of guys. I caught up with them and stuck with them…..meaning I was the first woman….

…until Purple Jacket Woman caught up with me. I caught a flash of dark purple over my shoulder. Crap. I’d better push it.

We came to our first real mud/water crossing. A slight hesitation, and then I went right through it. Yup, cold and wet. But I gained some space from her. I pushed hard. I heard heavy breathing behind me. Was that man-panting or woman-panting? Man, I thought, but I wasn’t certain until Yellow Jacket Man passed me. We mostly stayed together for a while.

The course had some sharp turns but was really well-marked, so I didn’t really have to think or look around much. Just run.

And then at mile 5, a flash of dark purple again. What?? Where had she come from? Why now? I wanted first place so badly! When the trail opened up just enough, I asked Yellow Jacket Man if I could pass. I passed him and cranked it up. She was still too close for comfort.

Oh, hey, is that a big water/mud mess ahead? We were now on the stem of the “lollypop” of the course, meaning that mud pit had been trampled, by now, by all 400 runners of the day (the other races had started all at the same time, just after our 10k started) , plus the three guys in front of us. Here I come, water. With the tiniest concern for footing, slipping, and twisted ankles, I plowed right through.

This is NOT me, but it's one of the muddy areas on the trail during the race. Photo Credit: Topham Photo

This is NOT me, but it’s one of the muddy areas on the trail during the race. Photo Credit: Topham Photo

It was enough. I blasted into the finish area, fourth overall finisher and first woman finisher for the 10k. First. I have never been first before. I have placed in my age group (as in, “second woman in the 40-49 age group) but never just first.

Josh and Bob (in charge of the race) brought me over to the tracking tent and told me to pick out a log.


Yes, a log. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? It’s even engraved: TARC Champ 2014. And that’s a Yeti footprint on it (hard to see).

I immediately changed into dry clothes (and if you think it’s tough to wrestle a sweaty sports bra off your body, try wrestling a sweaty, rain-wet one off. Nearly impossible) and headed to the aid station to help. First I helped in the tent-covered hot food area, where we heated soup and boiled potatoes and heated water on big camping stoves. Then I was sent out into the rain to the water station.

As runners came in, we offered them water or some kind of sports drink. After awhile, many were unable to open their own water bottles for refills, because their hands were too cold. So we helped them and watered them and sent them on their way.

A few blasted right through the aid station without stopping, including Sam Jurek, who won the ultra in a mere 3:35 (I know, right??).

I stayed as long as I could before it was time to leave for another engagement. I needed time to scrub off all the mud and the sweat. It was hard to pull away, though—the camaraderie at the TARC races is unbeatable, and it’s even better when it’s raining and you’re helping with the race, as it turns out.

I’m looking forward to volunteering next month at the TARC 100 while I ramp up my own mileage for the 50km at this year’s Fall Classic….because this is my year to run an ultra, finally. I’m doing it.




TARC Fall Classic Trail Race Recap

The weekend before last I had the joy of running the TARC Fall Classic trail half marathon. I love the TARC runners (TARC stands for Trail Animal Running Club) and the Fall Classic. Imagine running with a bunch of people who are really laid-back and focused on the fun of running and supporting each other.


Absolutely gorgeous morning for a race, right? Here, runners amassing behind the barn for the pre-race meeting.

Absolutely gorgeous morning for a race, right? Here, runners amassing behind the barn for the pre-race meeting.

There are several races in the Fall Classic: 10k, half marathon, full marathon, and ultra (50k, or about 31 miles). This year, I’d hoped to run the ultra that day (50k) but realized, about a month before the race, that it wasn’t the best idea for me. So I ran the half instead, with the goal of beating last year’s time. You’d think it wouldn’t be that hard, since last year I ran it as a fun run with some friends, but my training really flagged once I gave up the plan of doing the ultra, and my Achilles is sill a little tender.


Beautiful fall woods

Beautiful fall woods + random hound

In my favor, I’d be running with a friend who’d raced a very fast half marathon the previous week. I thought maybe I’d stay ahead of him and feel fast and powerful.

Ha! Have I mentioned my occasional ego smackdowns? As it turned out, I barely kept up with him…and not even for the whole race.

But also in my favor, I was powered with PerfectFuel chocolate (more on this in another post!) I ran the first 11 miles at a pretty lively pace; then I slowed down immensely. My friend left me on a hill, as did a woman I’d been trying (and unable) to pass for three miles, and I slogged along alone for the rest of the race.


I’m not ashamed to admit I limped up that little hill and when I saw the photographer on the other side, I ran down it, smiling. It’s true.

It was nice, actually — I was finally all alone in the early-autumn woods, losing myself in the patterns of the yellow leaves…which covered one particular rock, on which I tripped and sailed, Superman-style, landing face-down on the trail.


“Down!” I yelled, to no one in particular. After a moment I got up. “Up!” I shouted, even though there was no one else in sight. I had dirt inside my bellybutton. But I wasn’t injured, and I was, in fact, giggling, because everyone trips at some point on a trail run, and I kept on running, and I finished the race ten minutes faster than I had the previous year….

to finish

Out of the woods, the final stretch around the field toward the finish line. Who’s so happy about that last tenth of a mile?

…which made me first in my age group and fourth woman overall (1:56, if you must know– slower than my road half marathon times, but not terrible). Not bad at all, really. It’s nice when all the faster women run other races, so that I have a chance of placing!

And then there was this:

one of four food tables

one of four food tables

The famous post-race/aid station. Four tables heaping with food (I mean, HEAPING). I went for the boiled potatoes dipped in salt, but there was plenty more to choose from.

I’ll be back next year, if not for the ultra then for the half again.

Thanks for another great Fall Classic, Trail Animals!