Tag Archives: trail running

Loony on Loon: Loon Mountain Race Recap

For reasons I can’t articulate well, I signed up for the Loon Mountain Race weekend before last (July 3). It’s a NE Mountain Running Championship race. Or the championship. To pick people for the U.S. Mountain Running Team.

I had no fantasies of even meeting people on the team, let alone running anywhere near them, but it can be fun to race near far behind the elites.

I hadn’t been running much, and I hadn’t been running any hills, and while I’ve done several trail races, I had never done a mountain race. It’s a whole different thing.

It was spectacular. The race had a really good feel to it, in terms of overall vibe — laid-back but mostly well-coordinated. The route was great. The trails were gorgeous. There was some not-quite-single-track through the woods (the nordic ski trails), with plenty of mud. There was up. There was down. There were cross-mountain views that made me want to throw out my arms and sing “The Hills Are Alive.” There was steep up on loose fill. Not gravel, not dirt, but what can only be described as “loose fill.” Have you ever tried to run up steep loose fill that’s slipping away under your feet?

Loose fill is fun! PHOTO CREDIT: SNAPacidotic

Loose fill is fun! PHOTO CREDIT: SNAPacidotic

Then there was a long steep uphill. The woman next to me, a three-time Loon racer, warned me there’d be a big downhill before Upper Walking Boss, the last big uphill (at a 40% grade). She was really nice. And then we crested our hill and she was gone. I don’t know how anyone runs downhill that fast without just falling and rolling, but she flew. I struggled along behind and then started up the Boss.

I knew to use my core and stay upright and push my hips toward the hill, but I’d been doing that for more than an hour and my core was TIRED. Imaging holding plank pose for a week or something. Yeah. Looking up, it was clear there was no human way to climb that grassy wall that looked about five miles high. And I couldn’t physically walk right up it.

I turned sideways. One-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight. Backwards. One-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight. Sideways the other way. One-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight. Forwards. One-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight.

I kept on like this until I finally looked down and realized I’d somehow gotten halfway up! So what if I looked like an insane spinning person. I was getting up that mountain as fast as I could. Which was, to be honest, no faster than the people just walking up it. It’s possible some of them passed me when I stopped to rest.

Kept counting. Changed count to six. Changed count to four. A sign indicated 100m to go. It looked like a few miles, honestly.

Got to a cheering crowd at a crest. [Links will take you to Scott Mason’s official race photos.]

“Where’s the finish? Over this crest?”

“One more crest! You’ve got it!”

Random guy to plodding me: “Pump your arms like you’re running!”

Right. I couldn’t possibly run but there was no reason to trudge like I was headed to hell. I pumped my arms. It helped a ton.

Second crest. Cheering crowds. Was this the finish? Cowbells.

Timing clock was up above some scree. Up there. No one’s up there. Not even a “Finish” sign. I kept going. Timing clock. Dying. Moon landscape. I crossed two timing mats and the clock.

“I’m DONE! I’M DONE I’M DONE I DON’T HAVE TO GO UPHILL ANYMORE I CAN STOP I’M DONE!”

That was me. Some guy was pouring cups of water. I stood by him and drank and drank and cheered that I was done.

I went back down to the upper crowd to cheer in friends and strangers. A woman came hobbling up the hill, limping badly, lurching side to side. I threw down my water and went to her side to run her in. “Hey, you’re almost there. The worst is over. The finish is just up there. You’re gonna be OK. Let’s just get up this part. We’re almost there. See the clock? Come on. You’re doing great. Keep it going. Come on.” She crossed the finish line; I ducked out just before the timing mats and got her some water.

And that was that. My friend Dana had very kindly gotten up early to drive me from our campsite to the race and bought a gondola ticket to be near the top to cheer me and take pics (but somehow we never saw each other, whatever). I got conflicting info on where she was and ended up walking almost halfway down Upper Walking Boss before realizing I’d be insane to go further down, because I’d only have to go up again.

I found her at the gondola. We rode to the bottom and she gave me a beer (I know! What a friend!!). I got her a bagel with peanut butter. Her tired dog slept. I sat through the awards ceremony (a 12-year-old girl finished 6th in women). Then our campsite pals met us and we all spent the afternoon hanging out by the river.

Now I want to do more mountain races….and some hill training, too.

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.

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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.

What.

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!

Shoes

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)

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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!)

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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.

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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.

 

 

24 Miles in the Woods

I did another long trail run this week. I wanted to have a stronger run than I did last time, and I wanted to do three loops of the trail I’ll be racing on in a few weeks, just to know that I could. The race is four loops, so three seemed to be a good training peak — the 20-miler, if you will, if this were a marathon.

A fellow trail runner (and ultrarunner) agreed that three loops would be a good confidence booster.

Three loops, by the way, is 24 miles. That’s hard to think about sometimes, these days, so I simply viewed it as three loops.

Thanks to the excellent local trail running community, I found someone to run with on Wednesday. He would join me for two loops, and I’d do the last alone. We had a similar training pace goal of two hours per loop (don’t scoff: with this trail, that is a healthy pace).

There's a lot of this on the trail.

There’s a lot of this on the trail. As in,THIS IS THE ACTUAL TRAIL. See the blaze on the tree up there?

Unlike my two-looper a few weeks ago, I wasn’t sleepy this time. Nor was I craving eggs and toast. I’ve really been packing in the protein, by which I mean eating ridiculously large amounts of red meat. Yes, I do occasionally consider going vegan, but I love beef. Keep your chicken, pork, and fish, but I need cow. I crave it. Maybe it’s an iron thing. Anyway, I’ve been eating a lot of it, and I’ve been feeling really strong.

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Gorgeous, right? I love this trail. It’s so much fun to run, and so beautiful.

The first two loops went great. I stayed at two hours per loop, bidding farewell to my running partner halfway through our second loop (he wanted to slow down a little and take it at his own pace). I made a very quick stop at my car to refill my water bag (the bag itself didn’t leak this time but the mouthpiece did, so I had a wet leg instead of a wet lower back. I’m still not sure what I’ll do on race day — use it, or carry a handheld, which might annoy me).

Oh, also this time I brought new fuel with me (and was in new shoes — apparently my thing this year is to break out brand-new shoes for my prerace long run!) What’s that about nothing new on race day? Right! That’s why I headed out for a 24-mile trail run in fresh-out-of-the-box Cascadias and some Honey Stinger Waffles, which I’ve never tried before (YUM). I also had a peanut butter chocolatey granola bar from Costco. Probably on race day I’ll need a little more fuel but hopefully not much — I don’t want to lose a lot of time in the marvelous aid station.

I was definitely going to keep to a two-hour goal for the third loop. I kept track of my pace this time instead of just meandering along. I mean, I noted how long each mile was taking me. I hit the fire tower (about halfway) a little early, wooo-hoooo! Right after that, I ran into a parent of one of my son’s friends, and he asked how long I was running, and I said I was at mile 19 (!!!) and then had to revise it to say “halfway through my third loop.” I mean, come on, isn’t that so much easier to think about?

On I ran. And ran. I didn’t quite push it, but I wasn’t easing off.

And I finished that third loop in 1:55, five minutes ahead of my goal.

Talk about a confidence booster! I now feel a lot more ready for the race. I know anything can happen on race day — GI issues, ice, blinding sleet, a turned ankle. But I’m excited. I’m a lot more excited than I’ve been about a race in a long time. I’m glad my first ultra will be on my home turf, even though this is one of the tougher trails around.

And now it’s time to eat, run, rest, repeat. And head to Philly to visit and old friend and do the Philadelphia Half Marathon with her. And eat some more. Did I mention my appetite has been insane?

This race is a big head game for me. It feels like the perfect goal for me right now, running-wise. Can’t wait ’til race day!

Running in the Woods

You know when you want something so much you can almost taste it? That was me today. I woke up craving runny eggs and sautéed spinach and buttery whole wheat toast. Instead, I got dressed in the dark and headed to the woods for a four-hour run.

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My friend Hilary was meeting me for the first loop — the first two hours. I am training for my first ultra (and I’m actually going to run it this time and not talk myself out of it a few weeks before!). This race is 32 miles on some gnarly raw single track, all rocks and roots and hills and climbs. As the race description says, “A nightmarish course of rocks and roots with a bit of elevation thrown in.” That sums it up.IMG_6650-0.jpg

There’s also a 40-mile version, but I’m not ready for that on this course. I chose this race because it’s very local, where I first started trail running, and it’s so notoriously difficult that many people don’t finish it. Plus it’s in December so it could be sleeting or snowing or raining, or just icy-leaf-covered.

So I’m pretty excited about it. We ran the first loop slowly. It’s an 8-mile loop. For some reason I’m really tired today. Around mile 6, Hilary was asking me if there’s coffee at these races. I said it depends on the race and on who’s running the aid station. And then I had the brilliant thought that I should bring my little thermos full of coffee and have it in my drop bag at the race.

BAM!

I was facedown on the trail. My knees, one elbow, and both hands had landed on rocks and roots, neatly missing the softer dirt in between. I rolled onto my back and blinked.

“Do you have ibuprofen?” she asked.

Ibuprofen, I thought. I should put that in my drop bag, too.

We finished the loop and I was so tired and still thinking about eggs. Two eggs, over medium. I wanted to be done.IMG_6647.JPG

“I won’t tell anyone if you don’t do a second loop,” she said, climbing into her car.

“Well,” I said, “I would know.” Here was that voice, though, telling me I should go get some coffee and then come back. Go get some coffee. My to-do list is a mile long. I have a bunch of phone calls to make, jobs to apply for, things to take care of. I am bleeding from a lump on my knee. 

Once alone, I texted another friend, Dana: “I am super tired and completely wiped out hitting rocks with every joint. I don’t feel like going for lap number two.”

A text back: “Ugh! Hang in there! Second wind about to hit!”

What? Did she just basically tell me to get out there and do it? 

Eggs. Eggs and coffee. They could be mine. So fast. So easily. I could listen to that little voice in my head telling me to give up, give up….

No. I started my watch again, pulled out half a PBJ, and headed out again, power-walking while I ate. And then I began to run again.

I knew if I just went out for an hour, I could be done….because then it would take me an hour to get back, so I would have no choice but to do the whole loop.* This time I went clockwise. Rumor has it counterclockwise is easier, and what better time to check the truth of conventional wisdom?

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They’re right. Counterclockwise is much easier. Clockwise has all the steeper uphills. I shamelessly walked every hill. I went on. Two miles. Blinded by all the sunlight coming through the unleafed trees and glaring off the shiny oak leaves carpeting the trail. Visor. I’ll need a visor. Three miles. Oh hey, 5.5 miles, still blinded by the sun and shiny leaves. Six. Almost done! In this direction, the climb to the fire tower was near the end of my run. Fire tower! A mile to go! Half a mile!

Done. I’d ignored that little voice of defeat in my head and I went out and did it. A 16-mile trail run today.

And then I got into my car and drove right to the diner and ordered those over-medium eggs and some coffee and spinach and the buttery whole wheat toast. Honestly, I didn’t even really want all that food at that point, but darn it, I’d been wanting eggs since the alarm went off at 5:30, and I was going to have them, even if I didn’t quite feel like I needed them so much anymore.

Who knows how the race will go? All I know is I trumped that little defeatist voice today. And that was what I needed.

 

*You might be thinking, “Two hours to go eight miles? Really?” Yes, really. I ran one loop last weekend with some really fast guys, and we did it in 1:41. I could probably do maybe two loops at that pace or near it, but then I’d really slow down after that, and I’m not trying to get anywhere fast. I’m trying not to sprain an ankle. This is not a trail you run really fast on — well, I don’t, anyway. And that’s fine.

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.

TARCrainylog

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.

happydownhill

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.

Oof.

“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!

“Don’t Give Up”: Back into Ultra Marathon Training

I’m back! Back to running! I got my mojo back, or my groove on, or whatever. A lot can happen in a week, and after practically giving up my ultramarathon goal last week (and almost giving up on running altogether), this week I decided to buck up, fight harder, and stop whining.

OK, well, part of why I decided to get it together was that someone commented, on Facebook, on my “I give up” post:

Pish Posh Julia! Get out there and do something. You got me running. I’m running my very first half marathon mid September. I’m starting to burn out. But if I can turn it around so can you! Let’s do this!

Pish Posh, I think, is what nice people say instead of Bullshit or Are you fucking kidding me? Pish Posh. I should try using that expression for a while. The commenter in question is someone I have known since kindergarten. That is a million decades ago. She had really cool blue eyeglass frames, which apparently I talked about a lot, and I clearly recall when my mom first met her: “I’ve heard so much about you and your blue glasses!”

Anyway, we didn’t stay close through high school, but we spent much of our childhoods together, and we’ve reconnected on Facebook. And when she pish-poshed me, I recalled when she started running, not too long ago, with a couch-to-5k program. I encouraged her, reminding her she could do it and totally had it in her.

And here she is running her first half marathon and throwing my words right back at me. That, friends, is what got me off my ass. It’s what made me think, Wow, yeah. How often have I said, “You can do it! Baby steps! Mind over matter! Believe!” to a new runner? How did I manage to forget that mantra?

So pish posh, I decided to believe in myself again.

Saturday, I ran 7.25 miles on trail. I could have run farther, but I’d gotten a ride to the trail head with some other runners and had to head home when they did. The next day I went and ran another 7.5 miles on trails. Yes, my legs felt a little tired.

Tuesday, I missed my run, but Wednesday morning I got out there and ran 10 road miles. Ten miles! Before breakfast! A weekend long run, midday! It helped a lot that one of my running friends joined me for the middle five miles.

Thursday, five trail miles.

Today, another rest day. Tomorrow, I run 10 or 15 miles with a local trail-running group and then Sunday, 15 or 10 (depending on what I run tomorrow) with some of my usual trail-running friends.

I’m trying to get to bed earlier, eat more protein, and take better care of myself so I’m motivated. I’m starting to think like a runner again, in terms of nutrition and such, which feels nice and normal. One change I’ve made is to add protein powder to my day. I used to scoff at the stuff, arguing that you should just eat real food. Yes, yes, you should. But mornings here are harried, and I often found myself not eating breakfast. So I bought protein powder and now make a point of downing a glass after a run. It helps.

Speaking of going to bed earlier, I’m going to bed now. I have a lot of miles to run this weekend (but oh! Not as many as next weekend, which calls for 26 miles one day and 10 the next! Are you kidding me??).

I can do it. Thanks, Mary, for the kick in the pish-posh. 🙂

 

 

 

New Balance 1210 Review (and PlanetShoes, too!)

It’s no secret that I love trail running. My favorite races have always been trail races (especially last fall’s trail half marathon), and I’ve recently decided to give up my road marathon plans this year and train for a trail ultra instead. (Oh, yes, really — I just registered this morning!)

So when PlanetShoes offered me the chance to try out a new pair of New Balance shoes, of course I chose some trail running shoes. After some trial and error, I ended up with the Leadville 1210’s. My current trail shoes are the New Balance Minimus 1010, which are fantastic but which I don’t love for long runs. I do love them for shorter runs and rely on them for all my regular trail runs, which are about 4.5 miles long.

side

The New Balance Leadville 1210’s are marketed as a shoe inspired by the legendary Leadville 100, which is a crazy-tough 100-mile trail race (steep, at high elevation, etc.) in Leadville, CO. They’re a shoe designed to carry you on for miles and miles on trail, a shoe for ultra-runners. And since trail ultras are in my future, well, these were an obvious choice.

[Of course, I consulted with my local trail ultra-running group to find out if the 1210’s were a good choice for a trail runner with wide feet — the answer was YES!]

The Leadville 1210’s are lightweight. The tongue is connected on the sides to the shoe upper, to keep out debris. The tread is surprisingly…small.

bottomon

lugview

Such small-looking tread and outsoles that my trail running friends assumed they were road shoes and said, “Oh, so those will be OK for trail, too?” They do look more like a hybrid shoe than the rugged trail shoes I’m used to.

As an East Coast trail runner, I’m used to big lug soles and serious traction, shoe bottoms that are not dissimilar to my mountain bike tires: designed to give me traction no matter how deep the mud, to push me forward to matter how wet the roots or how slick the rock.

Typical Trail

Typical Trail

The first morning I was to run in my new New Balance trail shoes, I awoke to heavy pouring rain at 5 a.m. I dozed off again, hoping for a change in the weather. By 6:30 a.m., when I hit the trail, the rain had mostly stopped, but the water on the trail was ankle deep in places.

That’s when I remembered that Leadville, Colorado is a dry, hot place of sand and gravel, not mud and roots and mud and rocks and mud and everything all slippery. Oh, dear.

My running partner was slipping and skidding all over the place when we got to the really rocky parts of the trail. Me? Surefooted as a mountain goat. Also, when I went through ankle-deep water, they drained very quickly, instead of holding the water so that I’d slosh heavy-footed as I ran. The 1210’s emptied fast.

closeup_mud

Mud, dried.

When I wear or use anything new, I’m hyper-aware of it, constantly checking for flaws, even subconsciously. With these shoes, I forgot I was wearing them. I completely forgot about them, which to me is an excellent sign in a running shoe, especially since I have a wide forefoot and usually find shoes to be a little snug there.

to

I ran another regular weekday trail run in them and then a nine-mile weekend run (for the longer run, the trail was dry). The comfort and traction were just as good on dry trails as on the wet ones.

In short: The New Balance Leadville 1210’s are an excellent shoe for wide-forefooted trail runners, even on the wet/muddy/slippery/rooty/rocky trails around here. I am so happy I’ve found my new long-run trail shoe, especially as I’m gearing up to run my first trail ultramarathon this October.

The only con — and this is a weird one — is that my socks tend to slip down a little more easily in these. If I’m extra-careful about lacing through the higher eyelets and tying a little more tightly, I can avoid this problem. Also, wearing socks a little higher than my low-cut ones might help. fro

Another thing I like about these shoes and the chance to review them: New Balance is a local company that produces a consistently quality product. And PlanetShoes has an incredible array of products as well as this:

This company is green, people, in many ways. They have a real commitment to eco-ethics.

Even nicer, PlanetShoes recently partnered with New Balance to donate 300 pairs of shoes to Big Brother/Big Sister of Massachusetts Bay in Boston! How cool is that?

Disclosure: PlanetShoes provided me with a free pair of New Balance shoes for review purposes. All opinions are my own.

 

That Uncomfortable Shirt: Blogger to WordPress

I haven’t been here as much as I used to be, “here” being my blog.

I was thinking about that on a run today (a run! Yes, a run! I am running again! Regularly! It feels amazing). You know how some shirts are uncomfortable so you never wear them, or you have that one pair of pants you always avoid because they just don’t feel right?

flor_trail

Not me. A running friend.

That’s part of why I’m posting less, I think. Ever since I made the move from Blogger to WordPress, blogging hasn’t felt as simple for me. My blog doesn’t quite look the same. It doesn’t feel the same. Things look all different when I’m writing here, and when I post. I was on Blogger for 11 years before switching to WordPress. It was like home. Now I feel like I’ve moved to a new, unfamiliar place and am still finding my way around.

Other things are changing around here. I’m writing less about the kids, partly because Max really prefers his privacy as he gets older and partly because, well, when I’m with them they run me so hard that by the end of the day I cannot remember the amusing things they’ve said and done.

I’m also writing less about myself. Some recent problems with hormonal birth control (yes, you can have a bad reaction to it! Yes, your estrogen levels can unexpectedly soar, causing untold problems and mayhem for yourself and your family!) led to…well, it seemed time to keep some stuff private.

Which is unfortunate, and which I really hate, because I have had so many women contact me to tell me how my blog has really helped them, how they felt so relieved to find out someone else was going through the same thing…but it’s clear that if I’m blogging publicly, I can’t completely put myself out there. So if you’re suffering from postpartum depression (PPD) or premenstrual dsyphoric disorder (PMDD) and want to talk or ask me anything or wonder if something’s “normal” for what you’re going through and if you’ll be OK again, email me or contact me on Twitter. I just can’t do that here anymore, and I’m sad about that.

You’ll also notice more sponsored posts around here. I’m not selling out, honest. I don’t take every sponsored post that comes by. But I’m taking on a few.

My Dietbet/back-to-fitness plan is going OK, not as brilliantly as I’d hoped. I’ll have more on that in a future post. At least I’m back to running, though, and yesterday morning I met my trail group for my first trail run since January! It was as glorious as you can imagine. So happy to be back out there!

runningFinn

Not me. A running dog. And blurry because have you ever tried taking a picture of a running dog while you yourself are running down a trail? Tricky!