A new job, a new home, a new city, a new career, a new interest……all of these provide the opportunity for new beginnings, to explore, to see from within yet also gain perspective from outside your world and to create a story along the way. For me, this is a new beginning – to share my adventures, my perspectives, my stories of life, love and the outdoors.
7 years since I consistently ran and raced competitively. 7 years since I raced the 2011 Cast-A-Shadow snowshoe 6 hour race solo. 1 year since getting back into the running scene. If you don’t know me, I can be competitive, so yeah, I may have had something to prove to my 30something year old self.
The months leading up to this race, aka CAS as the locals call it, sure didn’t set the scene for crushing my younger self. One month into some solid training found me seized up with a back strain followed on its heels with some version of the cold/flu thing. It was a frustrating month (as my coach can attest), not hitting nearly the mileage or time on feet training runs that, as memory recalled, I had hit so diligently those 7 years prior. I was feeling slow, undertrained, unmotivated, and ready to take CAS off the race calendar. However, my coach (Ascend Endurance Coaching) patiently listened to my squabbling, firmly yet encouragingly advised patience with the process, and re-worked the training plan accordingly to accommodate those minor setbacks. “Give it a couple more weeks until you decide,” he said. My husband was also right by my side during those difficult weeks with constant words of support, telling me “You’re so strong!”, “You are working so hard!”. I tried to believe him.
At last I was able to get in a 3 ½ hour snowshoe run 3 weeks out from the race. Although the first 3 hours were slow and I was tired and questioning whether I would be prepared for 6 hours, I kept plugging away. And as the sun spread its rays down through the woods and across the fields, soaking me with warmth and energy, a transformation of body and mind occurred. I think a little smile may have even formed across my face.
The following week I snowshoed the trails for a solid 3 hours and as I finished up that run I thought to myself, I didn’t work this hard and spend the last 2 weekends snowshoeing for hours to give up on this race. Bring it on!
Friday evening was filled with race dreams and Saturday morning was filled with more nervous energy than I anticipated. I was so ready – mentally I had prepared for any type of weather and physically I felt taper week was quite successful. I had big goals, which seemed achievable given this year was a trail race due to lack of snow and I had more than 6 hours thanks to Phil seeing his shadow (if the groundhog sees its shadow meaning extended winter weather you may start your last lap before 6 hours is up). The race started at 1pm and my husband (racing also) and I arrived an hour ahead to check in (yay, no bib numbers for solo racers!), suss out the scene, stretch, and get geared up. I headed out to the start line feeling confident and ready to lap it up!
My goal: 50k (13 laps before 6 hours). I quickly settled into a steady pace, legs feeling strong, sharing stories and laughs with fellow racers and my husband for the first 4 laps, and before I knew it, 15 miles passed by. I was pleasantly surprised at how good I felt, yet a tad worried about my pace. Here I was trucking along without pace slowing snowshoes or deep snow and relatively flat terrain. Both quite different conditions than the majority of my training runs. Fortunately, one of my skills is pacing. I reminded myself to stick with my pace – everyone out here had different goals, some using this as a training run and not going the whole 6 hours. Run your race.
Chatting it up Lap 1 (Photo: Rob Richard)
Kerm keeps me company on Lap 3 (Photo: Rob Richard)
After many laps of smiles and a high five, the mileage crept up and daylight started to fade. I trained and prepared for the endurance to get through 6 hours, but not necessarily the mileage I aimed to achieve. I also found myself significantly lacking simple math and recalling the length of each lap (~2.25 miles), at one point thinking I would be lucky to make marathon distance (I was behind one lap count) and a later lap announcing I was going into my marathon lap (whoops – that would be the next lap)! Regardless of my miscalculations, all the while I kept eating and sipping – stay fueled, stay hydrated, just keep moving.
High fivin’ and feeling good! (Photo: Rob Richard)
As I approached the finish of lap 12 (27 miles), I felt pretty exhausted, cold, and my feet were super sore from wearing traction. I told myself I had one more lap in me, but I wouldn’t have time for 2 and I relinquished my 50k goal. I was okay with that, I had accomplished what I could. I paused. My friend and Goose Adventure Racing RD Mort Nace was at my side to help – “Do you need anything?”, “Are you getting enough calories?”, “What can I get you?”. I replied…..I just need a breather…..and get these damn microspikes off my feet! “How about a salt potato?”. It was as if a kid was just asked if she wanted an ice cream (oh wait, that would be me too, but I digress) – my eyes lit up – YES! Mort ran inside and next thing I knew I was walking into lap 13 with a big ‘ol hot, buttery, salty potato on a fork. Wow – not only was I thinking how amazingly delicious was this salt potato, but it literally re-powered my brain and I realized, these loops are only 2 miles! I looked at my watch – oh, and YOU HAVE FORTY MINUTES! Forty minutes…..2 miles…..HOLY CRAP, I got this! I chucked the remainder of the potato into the woods, stuck the fork in my hydration pack, and got my ass moving. I pretty much hurt all over at this point, but who cares – 2 miles, easy jog, walk the couple of little inclines, plenty of time…..all of this re-playing through my head to get me through the lap.
Finishing up lap 13 with 15 minutes to spare I shouted out – I’m going through to get my 50k!! See you in half an hour! And off into the darkness I went, making my way around each familiar corner, cautiously over the few icy spots, all the while wondering where my husband was, I hadn’t seen him since lap 4. Up a little incline, around this corner and the oh so familiar rooty section along the creek – the last stretch before the home stretch. I was already ecstatic, I passed 50k and was now into my longest race distance to date. And to more perfectly close the chapter of this amazing race day, in the glow of my headlamp I saw my husband. A huge congratulatory hug and a few tears shed, so proud of both of us, I resumed my run, I was ready to cross that finish line.
6 hours 15 minutes and 32 miles after the starting ‘shout’ I crossed that finish line for 3rd place female. Yeah, take that 30something self.
I am fortunate to have an incredibly dedicated and knowledgeable coach and a supportive and encouraging husband and running partner on this journey. Here’s to the next adventure.
I was really looking forward to entering the 4th week of my training cycle (for what I thought was to be my recovery week) because I worked my butt off the last 3 weeks and subsequently played even harder over the weekend to jam in as many snow filled activities before it all melted – long snowshoe run, followed the next day by a skate ski and classic ski (because why not?), followed the next day by a great Fit1 Outdoors class. I was physically ready to cut back the miles, mentally prepare for the upcoming holiday, and let my body and mind take that very necessary week to rejuvenate.
While playing in the snow all weekend felt great at the time, I felt fatigued during my Fit1 class, especially in my lower back. I sensed in the back of my mind that all that classical ski kicking trying to catch up to my friends as I chased them around the pond may not have been the smartest idea I’ve had lately. Turns out that I literally did work my butt off and sure enough by Tuesday morning, my back essentially gave me the middle finger – a sure sign there were some lessons to be learned in my coming days.
Lesson #1 – Emotion: Be it a minor injury, or one that changes an entire year’s plans, it’s okay to allow yourself to feel those ‘negative’ emotions, just as you allow yourself to feel that post workout runners high or shear happiness from being out on your favorite trails. This too is part of the process, of riding that thrilling roller coaster full of dips and peaks, twists and turns, as day by day you progress through your own personal journey. Sleep more, be sad, shed those tears, be frustrated, hug a loved one, find consolation in your best friend or trail sisters who surely can relate and provide that extra support you need, and perhaps that extra little push to get you back on that uphill climb. Processing these emotions and listening to my feelings made me realize how much running means to me now. I just wanted to run.
Lesson #2 – Patience: Day by day. This is my general outlook on life lately, be it an in-season or off-season training period, but it certainly applies when a significant activity is removed from your daily routine, no matter how temporary. Working your way back to that regular routine is often a struggle for strong, determined, self-motivated athletes (heck, I’ve seen so many comments and articles recently on athletes having difficulty managing a recovery week!); hence, therein lies the difficult practice of taking things one day at a time. Although we know in the grand scheme that a week or two won’t be a major setback to that longterm goal, let’s face it, we all know that it feels like we are missing months of training. Instead, focus on the present. This is the time to take a deep breath, let the body heal, find some peace in the activities we are often too busy to accomplish. As I told my husband while his broken pelvis was healing, and he in turn reminded me this last week when I felt I was doing nothing over my 5 day holiday vacation, “You aren’t doing nothing. Resting and healing your body is your task now. You are doing something.”
Lesson #3 – Trust: It’s a hard thing to do, whether the process is working to increase your speed, or working through injury. For me, it is a dip in the roller coaster due to injury. Now, to trust my husband who says that that pain will go away soon yet I’m hurting, to trust my coach who says that this too shall pass when next week seems so far away. Even if you have previously experienced injury and know that you come out the other side ready to fight, it is hard to think of a few days or a few months ahead, or certainly for some a year later. Be calm and surround yourself with those you can lean on for support and trust. They are there to help you through.
Fortunately my injury is temporary. After processing the emotions and exercising (ahem) some patience, the pain dissipated, my range of motion increased, walking started to feel normal, and best yet – I got the thumbs up to go for a run.
“Trust the process you must.” ~Chris Dunn, Ascend Endurance Coaching (or Yoda, whomever said it first)
It began with a scheduled phase in the training cycle, coming off my first 50k I had three whole weeks of “Transition”. This was a time to recover, let the body heal, enjoy activities that I don’t have time to squeeze in when the days are filled with work and focused training. I was going to embrace this phase, knowing it will pass quickly as time tends to do, and let myself do what I wanted with each new day. I hopped on my bike, enjoyed a paddle, explored new places, and even made a quick trip to the Adirondacks on the most perfect day for a hike up to Whiteface Mountain. I love adventuring, whatever it may be.
I planned to give myself the time I needed to go for my first post-race run (let’s be honest – it took a few days before I even felt comfortable walking normally around the office). Everyone is different in so many ways. The volume of training the body can handle, the types and frequency of foods needed to fuel an endurance event, and certainly the recovery plan. By the way, I find it interesting that there are so many resources available about training and preparing for a race, but near silence on post-event expectations and body/mind management. Isn’t that period just as important as any other to an athlete? Anyway, I digress. The point being that I would run when I was ready and I trusted myself to let me know when that time came. I just didn’t realize the time would come during the process of loss and grief.
My Transition phase quickly took on a whole new meaning in less than a week out from my race as I learned the shocking news of the sudden death of my brother (at age 50). Now I wasn’t just transitioning from healing my body and mind from months of training and 6 ½ hours of racing, I was unexpectedly transitioning into the change our family had encountered. The relationship with my brother was quite distant, so for several days my focus and concern was for my parents – my dad in particular who had maintained the closest relationship. I thought I was fine, until I wasn’t, until the shock wore off and I broke down with sadness of the loss for my one sibling, for my parent’s son. Nearly a week after his death is when I got the message – YOU NEED TO RUN. The urge literally knocked me out of my exhausted, sad state. It was almost 2 weeks since my 50k and I had no idea how I would feel. Will I be slow and tired? Will I feel fit and fast? Really though it didn’t matter, because as my feet felt the trails beneath me and my soul soaked up the peace within those woods, this became a run for Michael. My heart beat when his no longer could.
As my family grieved and life inevitably moved on, the official Transition period ended. I was ready to get back to some structure and looked forward to my strength routine as I entered the off-season. Working to build back my strength is the primary goal of this period, so running was sporadic and unstructured, but I found myself antsy to get out when I could and once again excited for those long runs (I love my weekend long run adventures!). I started noticing that both rail trail and single track trail runs were [unintentionally] faster than pre-race. Was this an aberration of my Garmin or is something really happening here?
It’s been nearly 5 years since I was primarily running, yet as my strength builds and my legs explore more and more miles, I can feel my body transitioning. Now, I’m feeling more efficient and ‘flowy’. My legs just going without much thought. My mind seeking the next opportunity to get in some miles. It’s been an interesting road on this nearly year long journey back to running. One thing for now is clear – I just want to run.
“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” ~Marcus Aurelius
It was HOT! Yeah, yeah, many people would say that they train and race in 90+ temps all the time, but folks – this is VERMONT, at the end of SEPTEMBER!! I think we hit only two 90 degree days all Summer and well, technically, it’s now Fall. Anyway, more on embracing that heat and humidity later…..
My story goes back to earlier in 2017 as goals for the year were discussed, unsure whether this would be a “running” or a “biking” year. See, my husband had a multiple fracture pelvic break July of 2016 in a fluke bike accident and, needless to say, he wasn’t going to hop back in that saddle for training rides of any duration any time soon. The good news is that he was cleared for activity that December, a mere 5 months after the accident, and started immediately running. But, I digress……..after nearly 6 years of training and building my skills and endurance on the bike I was at a crossroads. I could either continue the biking without my training partner (which certainly is feasible, but for me biking hours solo is just not quite as pleasant as running hours solo), or choose to run again. I did have a bunch of ‘bucket list’ running races in mind from years back when we were running and so, after much discussion, together we decided – running year. Initially my goal was Twisted Branch 100k (August); however, after coming off a minor back injury from December and a subsequent foot injury in February, I turned to another race that was on my list – Vermont 50. Given that it had been a good six years off from any consistent or high volume running, I somehow made the smart decision to sign up for the 50k rather then the 50 miler. Must be the “wiser with age” theory – who knows.
Unfortunately, my motivation and enthusiasm to run didn’t quite equal my excitement for this new endurance goal. As I worked to build my base miles, I frequently questioned myself wondering “where was my love for the trails?”, “you used to love trail running, why doesn’t this feel like it used to?”. I just couldn’t find my trail running groove, I missed biking, I was frustrated and struggled with the decision I made to make it a running year. Meanwhile, my husband (Ken) and I had a few local races on the docket for May and July to use as training runs and I just kept plugging away at my training plan.
May 7, 2017 – MedVed Madness 15 miler. This was the day! The turning point when I found my groove. I re-discovered a connection, my legs carried me through the woods, my feet moved across the rooted earthy ground, I smiled, I relaxed, I ran. My mind and body made the transition and accepted this new path I had chosen.
Over the next few months, although I was no longer on my bike, I was riding the runners high, loving the trails, the parks, the woods, my weekend long runs once again what I longed for as each Monday rolled around. I tackled two more races, Ontario Summit Half marathon and 0SPF Half(ish) marathon, both on more trails I love and I was quite pleased with my performances. During this time, I also took on a coach.
Everyone has their own reason(s) for hiring a coach, but no need to go into all of that now. Sure, one can internet search for a training plan or purchase a book to guide you along the way, but I wanted more than that and in the 2 short months of working with my coach Chris of Ascend Endurance Coaching, I would quickly find part of what I was seeking. See, in my strong-willed, go-getting, goal driven ways, the training plan I was following (although I thought I was modifying accordingly) ultimately led me to an overtrained state in Week 19 of my 24 week plan. I had been here before exactly 5 years prior, just a couple of weeks before the Leadville 100 Mtb, and it isn’t a fun place to be – the classic signs of fatigue, slowness, lack of motivation, etc.. Great, here I was again, not caring about getting out on the trails and feeling sad that my excitement for my first 50k seemed nearly buried in the quicksand. Thankfully, I had a whole 5 weeks to turn things around this time. My coach essentially but on the breaks, kindly indicated he would take the reigns from here (“have at it” I believe I said), and subsequently managed to reach out a hand and week by week pull me out of that quicksand and set me down at the starting line at the base of Ascutney Mountain in Vermont feeling the best I could on race day – oh, and did I mention……..it was HOT?
My husband and I arrived in Vermont 4 days before the race, extending the trip to enjoy a little anniversary celebration and explore the area. We already knew at that point that we were looking at 90+ degree temps on race day, so rather than fret or waste our energy stressing about it, we drank water – lots and lots of water (okay, there may have been a beer or glass of wine tossed in there). I was starting to feel recovered from the place I put myself in 4 weeks prior, but was a little anxious about how I would feel on race day. It seemed like so many weeks since my longest run (which was 21 miles). Again, trying not to stress or waste energy – save it for Sunday I told myself, because I have done what I can do at this point and race day will be what it will be. Those few days leading up to race day happened to be, well feel, a little cooler and less humid than forecasted. Our Saturday morning ‘shake-out’ run felt great and my legs were raring to go. As I awoke Sunday morning, September 24th, the weather app would inform me we were not to be so fortunate that day – already it was 90some percent humidity, 60some degree dew point and projected 80some degrees well before noon.
Our start time was 8am. The juxtaposition of the fire can and down jackets because it felt ‘chilly’ struck me as quite ironic as we walked down to the starting area that morning. “This isn’t going to be a PR day for anyone” says the RD as we gather at the mandatory pre-race meeting. Yup, I hear ya loud and clear. Deep breath……stay hydrated……it’s minutes to go time.
Someone yelled “GO” and we were off – I was swooped up in the energy of the racers bathed by the already warming sun, put a smile on my face and made my way down the road and into the first few miles. I was doing my best not to start out too fast, which was difficult considering the beginning was paved and hard pack dirt roads. In fact, for several miles I felt like I was the car doing 75 in a 65, yet everyone else was passing me. Am I really going that slowly? Do these people realize we have 30 miles to go? Am I the only one concerned about the impending heat and how that will make me feel in 20 miles? I told myself to relax, calm down, race YOUR race, and don’t worry about what everyone else is or isn’t doing. This was lesson #1.
Unfortunately this course only allowed for 2 crew stops along the way – hey, I will take what I can get. So I knew our friends Terry and Rebecca would be waiting for us at the Mile 13 aid station. I felt good for that first third of the race, way ahead of my goal pace (which was partly due to the nature of the terrain), and was SO excited when the course popped out of the woods and I could see the tents down below at the bottom of the field. I was doused with an ice cold wet sponge (thank goodness by the way for those and the the hoses throughout the day!), greeted with hugs from Terry and filled up my bottles to stay hydrated (my Orange Mud HydraQuiver Vest Pack 2 worked out great for this race as it allowed me to have both water and my Skratch Labs hydration mix handy throughout the race as well as plenty of room for fuel!). I gave Rebecca two thumbs up as a I headed out of the aid station. “You are looking great and ahead of your pace”, Rebecca yells. Then came mile 15.
Coming in hot to Mile 13 aid station
Hugs from Terry
Thumbs up for Rebecca
My race plan broke the race down into thirds and as the miles passed, my body started feeling the effects of the mercury rising and the sun beating down. Here I was, in the second third of the race (and what would become the most difficult mentally and physically). My pace slowed, at times I didn’t even care if all I did was walk…..but, the words of coach Chris rang several times throughout those miles – be present, be tenacious, be grateful. So, I did my best to shut out the pain, ignore the heat, enjoy the spectacular country views of Vermont, pick up a jog and just be thankful, be grateful that I am out here and able to do this. Thoughts of my husband literally living in a recliner for 2 months last year, staring out the window at all the cyclists riding by on those sunny Summer days passed through my mind – heck, if that’s not motivation enough, not sure what is. It was at mile 21 I caught up to this couple that I had seen throughout the day. I had a slight burst of energy and was a bit ahead of them keeping up my walk/jog the best I could thinking if I just stay ahead of or with them…..then I heard talk of her sub 6hr 30min goal and how that essentially wouldn’t be feasible at this point….I picked up my stride, picked up my walk/jog frequency…..and never saw those 2 again. My last third was ahead of me.
At this point, I honestly don’t recall much of those next several miles – I remember thinking, wow, I’ve run further than I’ve run all year, oh hey, I’ve run more than a marathon and – does that say “WATER” (pointing to a help yourself hose)….uhhhh YES PLEASE!! Then I distinctly recall thinking, oh crap – when is the next aid station? How much fluid do I have left? Wow, this exposed stretch of road is REALLY hot, I’m tired of running on the road, and I just feel like I’m out here baking in the sun. Then, like a mirage turned reality, I see Rebecca…..wait, what are YOU doing here?!
Mile 27.5 aid station. Last friendly hugs, fill up on fluids and a quick douse under the hose……SEE YOU AT THE FINISH LINE!….I yell back. Three miles, this is it, you can do this.
From where it came, I’m not sure. Maybe because, well 3 miles can’t be that bad, or probably most likely, I just want to get out of this damned sun and get this race done! I pushed ahead and next thing I knew I caught up to another couple of runners I had seen throughout the day – this woman who I saw was strong and keeping a decent pace and hours earlier had thought to myself “just keep her in sight”, and here I was latching on to this 5 person pace line, which she was leading. This wasn’t going to be easy, but she was still walk/running and I told myself to just hang on for the ride. I took a quick peek at my watch and realized we were on pace for a sub 6:30 finish. I honestly couldn’t believe that this would be possible given the conditions of the day and knowing that I had fallen well behind my original goal pace. But here was an opportunity presented right in front of me to set a new goal. Even though the day may not evolve as expected, this doesn’t mean it’s not possible to re-set your goal for the day. Lesson #2.
Two miles to go, I’m still holding on to the pace line. One and a half miles to go – we pop out of the woods and the final stretch takes us back and forth and back and forth, continuously, as we wind our way across and down the mountainside. Another quick peek at the watch – this is happening. I’m MAKING it happen. I am not letting myself cross that finish line with a ‘3’ as the second digit – I can see that finish line from a mile away! I am literally willing myself down that mountainside, baking some more in the sun, running on legs that hurt and feet that are sore, but I don’t even care. Nothing really matters right now because I am so damned determined and running as fast as my legs will allow. Then I see the quarter mile sign and oh, there’s Terry on the bridge. I’m so excited I can’t stand it.
You’ve got this……JUST DON’T TRIP I’m telling myself as I flew those legs down that final uneven stretch and glanced up at the finish line clock….8:26 and change (the clock was 2 hours ahead). A few strides later and………I did it! I crossed that finish line under 6:30……6 hours 27 minutes and change.
I pulled the quote at the start of this story from a recent blog post from my coach – how timely I thought because I could directly relate. I certainly didn’t have power over the heat of that day, but the power over my mind did allow me to dig deep and find the strength that I needed to achieve an outcome of which I am very proud. Never underestimate the strength you hold within. Lesson #3.
Kudos also to my husband who achieved his goal of finishing a challenging 50k only 14 months after breaking his pelvis – thanks for being my training partner, I’m proud of you too!