Sunday morning I awoke to the same horrible news as you probably did. While I was sleeping, a man entered a gay club in my hometown of Orlando and opened fire killing 49 people. I was devastated. And concerned for my friends. I decided that I would go ahead and get in my 14 mile trail run. As I headed to the trail via subway, I had time to think. The more I thought, the more upset I became. The longer it took for friends to check in, the more concerned I became. By the time I hit the trail, I was a mess of emotions and choking back tears. I spent the next 3 hours stopping every 5-10 minutes to check my phone. I was checking to see if my friends had checked in okay, but at the same time was fielding replies to some of my posts calling for friends to please stop blaming guns at this sensitive moment and shift their attention to supporting the LGBT community which, for good reason, was reeling. My emotions went to some very dark and painful places on that trail.
I have not run since that morning. I just haven’t had the motivation. Like everyone else in the world, I’ve been trying to process this insanity and have been grieving for my communities–both Orlando and the LGBT community. It is a “cut back” week in terms of mileage so I’m not really doing any damage aside from losing some conditioning. But when I think about running now, especially when I think about returning to that trail this weekend, I cringe a little. It’s like the trauma of that morning is now directly associated with running. I’ve had this happen before to a much lesser degree when I’ve had an exceptionally horrible run, but never to the point to where I start to question if I want to run again. Yes, in the past day, I have questioned whether I want to run again. Despite knowing that the best possible thing I could probably do for myself right now is get out there and work through this and make running my safe space again, my therapy.
And this is why I love running. I questioned whether I should follow my Saturday post with this because they both likely read fairly negative, but I think it’s important to document these emotions. This is all a part of the journey of being a runner for me. A part of my distance traveled. I don’t run to win races or even PR. I run because of how it changes me. How it makes me stronger not just physically, but mentally. I run because it allows me to know myself better, to help me acknowledge aspects of myself that I may not have otherwise realized, and to push through perceived limits. I run because it makes me a better me.
Has it really been over 2 months since my last post? Well, let’s just get updated then. My physical therapist cut me loose in February and I have been maintaining my injury with daily stretching, strength work, and weekly acupuncture. I’ve managed to build my mileage up to about 20 miles a week. I still have some back and neck pain from time to time and have set up weekly massage and acupuncture sessions for the next month in an effort to finally break this stuff up for good.
About 3 weeks ago my neck acted up pretty severely and I was really nervous that I was regressing. I had been adding a little bit of speed work to my training so I decided to shift my training to lots of easy and some aerobic running with nothing at or above threshold. I’ve also been reading up on Lydiard training and trying to apply some of those principles to my tiny (to him) amount of weekly mileage. I’ve been wearing my heart rate monitor again to keep me reigned in. I have to say that I have really been enjoying my workouts and am also starting to see some improvement which is promising.The past few weekends I have been running long on trail, too, which just makes my heart so happy. I’m now cautiously optimistic about being able to complete at least a marathon in the Fall.
Yep, you read that right. I turn 40 in October and in addition to considering Jungfrau which I had earmarked as my fantasy 40th birthday race way back in 2011, I started considering running an ultramarathon. What the heck is an ultramarathon you ask? According to Google, “An ultramarathon, also called ultra distance, is any footrace longer than the traditional marathon length of 42.195 kilometres (26.219 mi).” I started looking at the shortest common distance race beyond a marathon which is a 50k (31.07 miles) and narrowed it down to a couple of options within driving distance.
Why an ultramarathon?
I wanted to consider something that seems completely out of reach. I’ve run a marathon and I know I can do it. The thought of tackling 31 miles which will likely take 6.5-7 hours to complete feels like a significant challenge. The training will be a significant commitment and challenge. Another thing is that I’m not in love with road marathoning. I love distance running, but running long on road doesn’t have the same appeal to me as trail. Sure, I could do a trail marathon next, but again, I know I can do that distance and I’m not particularly keen on upping the ante by throwing in a bunch of elevation or technical trail while my injury is still lingering. Having an excuse to be on the trails for hours every weekend is also a big motivator. And to be completely honest, I’m curious about the mental aspects of running an ultra. I know I am tenacious and have the ability draw strength from adversity, but where is the line?
My criteria for selecting my first ultra
Out-and-back, point-to-point, or single loop course
Driving distance from NYC
Reasonable elevation (esp no steep declines)
Well supported course (no heavy pack needed)
Well-groomed trails (reduced trip hazard)
(The considerations in parens were to reduce the risk of aggravating my injury.)
About 2 weeks ago I settled on a race in Pennsylvania that’s about 2 hours away. It’s a point-to-point along the Delaware Water Gap with cumulative gain around 2,500 feet with corresponding loss. “A great mix ranging from rail-trail feeling cinder path to singletrack, the non-technical and rolling McDade Trail is a perfect venue for a relatively fast and scenic fall trail 50k.” reads the description on UltraSignup.com. A video of the course from last year’s inaugural race sealed the deal for me.
I shared with a few running friends to confirm I wasn’t overlooking anything. I also shared with one of my dear friends in Brooklyn who I am going to ask to be support that weekend including driving me back home after the race. Most of my running friends will be at the peak of their marathon training before heading into taper for their big races and the thought of sharing this with someone who was friends with me long before I started this running journey makes it all the more special. I had intended to wait another few weeks to register because I wanted to lock down a training plan and get to better place with my back and neck, but on Friday (yesterday) I pulled the trigger. I very rarely favor my heart over my head, but betting on my tenacity (getting me to the finish of this thing) seems like a pretty safe bet.
So on Saturday, October 8th at 7am I will board a bus to the start of my first ultra. At 8am, I will start my run which I hope I will complete in less than 7 hours. I’m interested to see how this journey over the next six month changes me.
It’s Tuesday night and I am headed to a bar in EV. It’s not typical that I would be headed to a bar on a week night. I’m headed there to meet up with a bunch of trail and ultra runners from my new running group, Trail WhippAss. After 2 ciders and a little conversation about race schedules, I have committed myself to my longest race to date–the GLIRC (Greater Long Island Running Club) Greenbelt 25K.
Mike (Stinkfoot & Chafe) picked me up around 7:15 am. It was a cool and grey morning, but the forecast was for sunny skies and a high of 77. It only took about 30 minutes to get out to the start in Plainview, NY on Long Island. Nestled in a small industrial area, the GLIRC headquarters provided a humble start to the race. We grabbed our bibs, got geared up, and headed to the start where everyone was very friendly and chatting about the course. The 50Kers had headed out an hour earlier so it was just 25Kers hanging out and waiting for the start. Pre-race announcements were made and me, Mike, and two of my friends, Natalie and Ash, lined up at the back of the very small pack of runners. The plan was to take it easy and treat it as a training run not a race. Most of us will be racing the Brooklyn Half Marathon just a week after this race.
The beginning of the race leads out of the parking lot and onto a few roads before you hit trail. We were pretty much back of the pack with just a few people behind us. Natalie set a good conservative pace and I was feeling good. We hit the first aid at 2.16 miles right after our first road crossing. I wanted to stay on top of nutrition and hydration so I paused at the station to take some pocketfuel, drink some water, and refill my water bottles. The rest of the group headed off without me and I told them I would catch up. Back on the trail it took a little longer to catch up to the group than I had planned since I was taking it so easy. We stuck together at the next aid at 3.46 and headed up to the meadow at 3.76. In the meadow we ended up breaking up into two groups with me and Mike taking the lead. Mike and I stayed together for a short while. I’m not quite sure where we got separated, but he wasn’t very far behind me.
When I got to the Route 108 crossing (5.66 mi) there was a runner that was injured and I asked if he needed help. He asked if I could call headquarters to have someone pick him up. I had left my phone in the car, but Mike was headed towards us at that point so I asked if he could call. No reception. So we told the runner we would let them know at the next aid station and headed back out on the trail.
I knew that going into miles 6, 8, and 10 there were substantial climbs. What I didn’t realize was just how substantial. The substantial climbs meant there were some significant descents as well. At some points there were steps built which were a foot or two difference between steps. Following my typical trail race protocol, I power hiked the ascents and charged the descents–well, the ones that I could anyway. By the time I got to the halfway point at 7.86 miles, I was feeling good, but really over the hills. I was in great spirits and had been saying “good morning” to all of the hikers that I passed and cheering the runners that had passed me on their way back to the finish. I paused for a bit and ate and drank and chatted with the volunteers. After a minute or two, Mike appeared and made his way down to the aid station, too. I took my time eating and refilling my bottles and chatting. I had found out that the only restroom on the course was just a little walk next door to the library so I decided I should go. (It ended up being a quarter mile round trip.) By the time I got back, Mike was gone, but Natalie and Ash were there. They were also in good spirits, but also over the hills. The three of us took off together hoping to stick together for the mean hills. At the first good descent I charged down and before I knew it they were no longer behind me. At some point soon after I noticed that my knees were bothering me a bit, but I didn’t think much of it and kept pace. I was hoping to catch up to Mike.
Just before mile 9, I caught a glimpse of Mike ahead of me on the trail. I gave a loud “YIP YIP” and he hollered back. I figured it would just be a few minutes before I caught up. But it wasn’t another minute or so before my knees really started to act up. It was the outside of both and it was a sharp pain so I knew it was my IT bands. My hips were pretty tight before the start and I had thought maybe they would loosen up once I warmed up. I stopped for a minute after the next road crossing just after the 10 mile mark to stretch my IT bands. There was an unmanned aid just a few hundred feet from there so I headed over to fill my bottles and take a salt pill. That’s when I saw Natalie and Ash. I gave them my other two salt pills and we took off for mile 10 together.
Natalie set the pace and I tried to hang on. I was able to keep up with her for most of it, but my knees were really hurting. The downhills were especially excruciating and I could no longer run them. I just needed to get to the meadow at mile 11.66. The meadow is flat and from there it is less than 4 miles to the finish. “Where is the meadow?!” I kept asking with each turn even though the distance on my watch told me we still had a little while to go. Finally, FINALLY we reached the meadow. Natalie and I paused for a celebratory photo and to make sure Ash was still behind us. Ash and I took a couple more photos as Natalie ran ahead. With the end so close, she was ready to go.
The next 2 or so miles to the last aid station were difficult. I was able to keep up with Natalie, but just barely. She got a little ahead of me, but I caught up at the aid station. I had to pee at this point so no bottle refill needed as I hadn’t been drinking much over the last mile or so. I did indulge in a few candies which were the sweetest tasting little slices of heaven. Since it was nearly 12:30 there was much more traffic on the turnpike that we had to cross. We waited several minutes to cross, but at this point we were getting near 4 hours on the course so I couldn’t have cared less. We finally crossed. Just 2 miles to go.
The last two miles were hell. No really. Every step I took while running hurt and I could barely walk down hills. As I hobbled down hills, Natalie pressed on. I could still see her, but there was no way I was catching her. I decided I would just walk until I got out of the woods or at least until I came across the next course marshals which happened around mile 15. I put on a smile and did a slow trot passed them, thanking them for coming out and volunteering. When I turned out onto the streets for the final half a mile I could see Natalie ahead of me. And then she was gone. The last half of a mile was downhill, then uphill, then downhill before entering the parking lot to finish. At this point all I could do was walk. As I headed back to the parking lot for the finish, a runner who was leaving rolled down their window and offered encouragement. And as I got within earshot of the course marshal directing us into the finish in the parking lot, he encouraged me to finish strong. He said, “if you start running now, no one will know you were walking!” I told him there was no way that was happening. I didn’t think my legs could even run at that point.
As I turned into the parking lot, the first thing I saw was my friends, Chris and Erik. They had surprised me and showed up at the finish. There was no way I could walk it in. I started to shuffle my feet. That’s when I started to hear everyone at the finish line cheering for me and saw that Mike, Natalie, and another trail buddy were there hollering with cameras at the ready. I felt a little silly that I couldn’t actually really run and made jokes as I hobbled in. I tried to push myself into a run, but my legs just wouldn’t do it. (And I felt a bit like I would fall over if I tried.) A man at the finish held up my medal and I felt my face light up. I shuffled directly to it with both hands reaching for it. Mike got a photo and I don’t think I have ever seen that level of joy on my face in a photo. It was pure bliss. It took me 4 hours, 15 minutes, and some change, but I got it done. Longest race ever (15.78 miles total) and most elevation change ever (2231 gain, 2267 loss).
The next few minutes are pretty blurry. I know I hugged a lot of people and there were photos taken. I also heard there was beer and rushed off to grab one. It was a Yuengling, but it might as well have been the best craft beer that I have ever had. It tasted magical. By this time it had started to lightly drizzle. I stood in the rain and drank my beer with my friends. I didn’t want to keep my non-runner friends waiting in the rain so I headed out with them while Mike hung back to cheer in our friend that had run the 50K. I proudly wore my race medal to lunch where I enjoyed soooo much barbecue and a couple of beers.
After I got home, I started tending to my “wounds.” I iced and elevated my legs. I did some gentle yoga focusing on IT band stretches. Later that night, I laid on my back with legs up against the wall and massaged my IT band from hip to knee. I went to bed hoping for the best. I was a bit surprised when my I woke up after just 7.5 hours of sleep. Surely my body needed more? I gently rolled out of bed, sure that my legs were going to be stiff and painful. To my surprise, my knees felt pretty good and my only significant soreness was in my hips and glutes. Heading downstairs for brunch was slow going, but not necessarily painful. The human body is truly amazing.
This is the second race in row that my body has “betrayed” me. Last week at Bear, I suffered from abdomen cramps and this time it was my IT bands. I now truly believe that “bad” races are the most rewarding experiences. I’ve learned so much about myself through the past two experiences and I wouldn’t take them back for the world. At the end of the day, it’s the heart not the clock that counts. I can try to convince myself that my finishing time is an indication of performance improvement, but it really just serves the ego. I think it is totally natural to want to be better than you were before. Or even to be as “good” as your peers. But I want to hold on to the fact that I am not doing these races for performance. I am doing them for the experience. For fun. To spend a day out on the trails doing awesome things with awesome people. There is no way to quantify an awesome experience.
Race fuel & hydration notes
Nathan double 9oz bottle belt
Pre-race dinner & breakfast
Mashed potatoes & chili (for both meals!)
170 pocketfuel .5 hours
100 vanilla stinger 1.25 hours
170 pocketfuel + 53 1/2 banana = 223 2 hours
100 vanilla stinger 2.5 hours
100 vanilla stinger 3.25 hours
2 small gummy candies, a few chips at last two aids
1 salt tab at unmanned around mile 10
Total: 700-800 calories for 4.25 hours, 165-185 calories per hour
Start: 18 oz
First aid: 18 oz refill
Second aid: 9 oz refill
Turnaround aid: 27 oz refill (Could have been 18 oz)
Unmanned aid: 18 oz refill (Could have been less/more)
End: 5 oz left?
Total: 85 oz of water total, 5.5 oz per mile
Felt great the entire time. I think the salt tab was timely. Definitely drank more than I do typically and think it helped. Don’t think I could have skipped the bathroom at the turnaround through without having to use the woods on the way back. Didn’t drink nearly as much on the way back as I did on the way out. Didn’t get through 18oz after the unmanned aid around mile 10.
Back in the Fall of 2011 when I was just getting back into running via a Couch to 5K program, before I had even run my first race, I stumbled across The North Face Endurance Challenge site. I was immediately intrigued. I had no idea at that time just how challenging the courses are, but I knew I wanted to do it someday. All of the running delays in those first few years lead to this race being put off several times. I had no intentions of registering for the North Face Endurance Challenge this year, either. While I felt confident I could tackle the 5K, I had gotten it into my head that I now wanted to race it at a longer distance and would put it off yet another year. Enter Stinkfoot & Chafe.
I met my trail partner, Mike (sorry buddy, I know you were hoping for a boss trail name, but I am at a loss at the moment), through an online running group. We crossed paths a few times at Fall road races and kept in touch through the Winter sharing race links and checking in on each other’s injuries. During this time, I had been thinking a lot more about trail running–watching lots of documentaries and even daydreaming of moving from the city to somewhere with more access to trails. So when he texted me on November 25th with an invite to a trail race, I really wanted to jump at the offer but was injured with more guarantee races to finish so I had to decline. Flash forward to early February when I was returning from injury and Mike was generous with the race links and persistent on getting me out on the trails. After a reluctant acceptance to an offer to run an easy 3-4 mile in Pound Ridge, I was hooked on trails. By the time Mike had gotten his mind set on the North Face Endurance Challenge half marathon, we were both signed up for several other races in the weeks leading up to it and after it. Needless to say, I was apprehensive about signing up for this race. After 6ish snowy and icy miles during a recon run on the course, it was apparent that the half was a little overambitious. I still wasn’t 100% on adding another race to my calendar, but since he agreed to do the 10K and another friend expressed interest, I registered. So it was officially happening. I was going to race TNEFCS on Bear Mountain.
The North Face Endurance Challenge 10K at Bear Mountain
The course for the 10K is pretty straight-forward. You run 600 feet and change up the mountain and then 600 feet and change back down the mountain. It isn’t a straight climb the entire time nor is it a straight descent, but for the majority of the first half you are climbing and the majority of the backside is downhill. The course is pretty technical in places with plenty of roots and rocks while other parts of the course are very runnable trail. This was going to be the most elevation I had done to date so I was a little nervous, but given I had a few (3) trail 10Ks under my belt along with some solid training runs I felt like it was going to be manageable. Maybe a little challenging and painful, but definitely manageable.
We decided that it would be ideal to try to stay up by Bear Mountain the night before. We could grill out, enjoy the finish festival, and hopefully cross paths with some of our pals running the ultras on Saturday. We got lucky and scored two rooms at two of the places right on site. When we arrived, I scored an upgrade on my room so me and my friend, Alicia, got to stay in eye shot of the festival. We setup the grill and popped a couple of beers and took in the atmosphere. We even got to meet up with some of our running group buddies. It was an awesome time. But there was a race the next morning so in addition to being aware of nutrition and hydration, I was also aware of getting enough rest. We retired to our room early, around 8, and were shutting off the lights by 9pm.
Before the race
The next morning I woke up with plenty of time to get to the start right outside our inn. Got some coffee, spent some time lounging in the lobby and watching runners trickle in to the festival, and leisurely got ready for the race. At this point, I was regretting a little bit that we had decided against the half marathon. My return to running has gone better than anticipated and the challenge of a longer race was alluring. But we had others joining us, another girl friend and her roommate, and we had missed the window to change distances. So I mentally prepared myself for the shorter, more intense distance and headed out for a nice warm-up loop around the lake. By the time I got back, went to the restroom, escorted everyone back up to the room for some bug spray, and made it back down to the start we only had to wait about a minute to start moving. I looked around at the runners in our wave and made a last minute decision to hop into the wave before. We started at the back of the pack, but I figured since it was a faster wave we would end up with a nice cushion between that wave and the wave behind us.
The start was pretty gentle. Run across a field, through a parking lot, and then hit the gently rolling trail. At about a half mile in though, we hit a pretty steep downhill that was also pretty rocky and wet and it was a complete bottleneck. So right off the bat, I started leap frogging passed runners who were cautiously hiking down the rocks. We then hit a good incline which I power hiked part of then a nice flat then another incline and well, you get the picture. The first half of the race was pretty slow going. I tried to power hike up most of the steep inclines to save myself for the flats and more runnable inclines. My friend, Alicia, ran with me most of the time and just before the aid station at 2.6 miles we caught up with our other friend who had come out for the race. I downed a Honey Stinger at the aid station along with some water and was excited to put the first half of the course behind me and fly down the mountain.
It was right around the half that I start I getting an abdomen cramp. I’m not sure if it was my pre-race food choice which I had changed up for the norm, the salt tab I took before the race which isn’t my norm, if I wasn’t drinking enough water, or if just the banging of running up and down hills was the cause, but it forced me to walk for about two minutes before it faded. After that little hiccup, I started attacking the downhills, flying passed runners, and even had a little tail of runners following me down the mountain. The descents were pretty rocky and the rocks were loose so foot placement was key. At one point I realized that I was running so fast with so many people following me that I didn’t think I could stop and if I fell it wouldn’t be pretty. Alicia was more cautious on the downhills, but would catch up on the flats. (She is a much, much faster runner than me!) At 5.65 miles, I felt a very sharp stabbing pain in my abdomen. It hurt so bad that I doubled over in pain and yelled. I had to step off the course and was stopped for a full minute. I knew Alicia was behind me and there was no way I could run so I just camped out for a minute. She came by and I tried to run, but couldn’t. So for the next three excruciating minutes, we walked. It hurt so badly that I was concerned that it was some kind of internal organ issue. I pushed on the pain and mentally prepared myself for the possibility that I was going to have to walk the rest of the course. I was swearing and angry and a little scared. And also very lucky that my friend stuck with me to support me!
Around 5.85 miles and four minutes after the initial stop, I was able to resume running at an ~8mpm clip fighting the pain. Around mile 6, with just .2 miles to go I had to walk yet again for less than a .1 of a mile. At this point we were back to the parking lot and just had a short run on asphalt to the grassy finishing chute. I told Alicia to leave me, but she refused. Even when we got to the grass and the finish was within our sites and she asked if I wanted to race to the finish and I told her I couldn’t she stuck with me. When we got within sprinting distance, I said, “LET’S GO!” and took off for a finishing kick. 1:15:42 official finishing time.
After the race, we grabbed our medals and headed over to grab our shirts which were being screen printed with our race distance. The inn had a buffet brunch and we had time for all of us to shower in our room so we made a reservation for brunch and dined like kings and queens. It was so awesome to shower and change into clean clothes post-race and so much fun to have so many friends racing with us and join in a celebratory brunch. There were five of us in total. Three were trail race newbies which made it even more special! As we packed the car and started to head back to the city, I couldn’t help but be a little sad to leave the mountains. I’m really looking forward to spending the rest of my long runs through to my July 4th race (excluding the Brooklyn Half) on trails. I definitely feel like I have found my home.
Just after the race, I was happy that I completed the race, but also super bummed that cramps had taken me out twice with the second being during a particularly speedy clip of downhill. I had been saving myself on the first half of the race to race the second half full out and to be taken out and finish with gas in the tank was truly disappointing. I estimate that I lost about 4 minutes in total to my mystery ailment. It’s even more of a bummer given my 1:10:32 finish at VCTC UEC 10K a little over two weeks before. That race had a lot less elevation so to come close to that time would have been pretty awesome and a great indicator of improvement. These thoughts plagued me in the hours following the race despite my elation of having done the race and with friends. I guess old habits die hard. I had told myself that all I care about with trail running is getting out there and finishing, but I can’t help pushing myself to do my best and measuring myself via finish times. I’m not sure whether it was just because this race has been so important to me for so long, but I intend to be more mindful of shutting these types of negative thoughts down in the future. I truly believe that no one cares about your times but you and that it is such a horribly egotistical thing to focus on. I want running to be a joyful experience, not some goal-oriented activity! To that end, I won’t be sharing splits for this race.
It’s only been a little over a month since my last update, but it feels like a lifetime. I’ve raced 3 more trail races and run a couple more training runs on trails. I signed up for 16.5 mile trail race and am about to sign up for two more trail half marathons. You may have noticed there has been a healthy amount of trails happening with more in the future. It’s probably safe to say that I am love with eating mountains for breakfast.
Trail runs 3 & 4
Back on March 22nd, my trail partner and I headed up to Bear Mountain to scout part of the North Face Endurance Challenge Series half marathon course. He was convinced that we should do the half marathon and I was apprehensive. It had snowed that week so we knew that there would likely be snow on the ground, but what we didn’t anticipate was for it to be iced over. We also didn’t anticipate some of the route that I mapped to be non-blazed roads which with the snow cover were difficult to track. We put in 6.85 tough miles, postholing for some to get back on route, and over breakfast at a nearby diner decided we should only do the North Face 10K. A week later I hit the trails of Wissahickon Park in Philadelphia. It was gravel road with rolling hills so much easier than the week before so picked up the pace and extended the distance. It was a great time.
Trail race 2: Van Cortlandt Track Club Urban Enviro Challenge 10K
Two weeks later on April 12th I raced my second trail race. It was in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. I didn’t really intend to try to race it hard, but once the horn was sounded I couldn’t help myself. I had run part of this course last year for a cross country race, but this course took us into another part of the park which had more technical trails (read: roots and rocks) and some single track (read: limited ability to pass). It was a nice hilly course that did a double loop with a nice flat, gravel road finish. There were lots of road team singlets and obviously fast runners who were being taken down by the hills–trying to run up them then having to walk at the top to catch breath and cautiously tiptoeing on technical descents–and I felt a bit of pride at my strategic approach to the race. I power-hiked up most hills and was able to keep pace with the runners ahead of me while not getting winded. On the second loop I was able to plan better to pass people before single track and technical descents and made up time by being more aggressive on those downhills. I hopped over logs others were climbing over on all fours and basically just felt like kind of a bad ass. And it all paid off when I ran through the finish in 1:10:35. I felt so great after that I came home and ran a 3 mile tempo run. Two days later my lower back hurt so bad that I needed to take some vitamin I for a few days. Bubble officially popped.
Trail race 3: Leatherman’s Loop 10K
Two weeks later on April 26th my trail partner and I headed out for Pound Ridge for the historic Leatherman’s Loop 10K. This race has been around for 29 years, refuses to take on sponsors, just recently moved to timing chips, and features mud flats with shin deep mud, multiple stream crossings, and a couple of sand hills. Needless to say, we were stoked. What we didn’t anticipate was the sheer volume of runners and the inevitable congestion on the trails. The first quarter mile is run across a grassy field then all 1000 runners bottleneck onto narrow, technical double track. Add to that some mud and streams and runners who for some reason are afraid to get their shoes wet or dirty and you have a recipe for frustration if you aren’t reminding myself about your zen place. After the first couple of miles it did thin out enough that you weren’t forced to walk because of people ahead of you making that choice. The mud flats were fun, but a little concerning–the mud had so much suction that I could feel it pulling off my shoes! Again though, I felt like a bad ass because I seemed to be one of the few okay with getting dirty. I wasn’t feeling 100% for this race because I had done a training run the day before, had a couple of mimosas with brunch after my training run, and didn’t sleep well the night before and only got about five and half hours of sleep. So I felt like I was really pushing myself through most of it, but not keeping my expected pace. I was able to pick it up a bit towards the end in The Pines and was flying through at 9-10:00 min mile which felt awesome. By the end I had made friends with an old dude wearing red pepper shorts and we ran through the finish together. Official time: 1:24:49. And I was officially pooped. Not much soreness after this race, though, which let me know my cross-training and form adjustments were paying off.
As I mentioned at the start, at some point over the past month I also added myself to a wait list for 16.5 mile trail race that is taking place on the 4th of July and am eyeing two more trail half marathons–one two weeks after I run the Brooklyn half and one a month after the 16.5 mile race. After the Brooklyn Half I am planning to do all my weekend long runs on trails. At some point I will have to go back to road running for my NYC Marathon training, but in the meantime I am going to eek out every little bit of dirt pounding that I can. I have a shirt in my closet that says “Loyal to the road” that I bought at the 2013 NYC Marathon expo. It’s funny how things change.
Just a note, I am writing this three weeks after the race. For some reason I just haven’t found the motivation to write out a report for this one despite writing up a report for this past Saturday’s road race the same day. I think this pretty much epitomizes my attitude towards structure in regards to trails and why I am beginning to love them so much.
Props go to my trail running partner-in-crime, Stinkfoot & Chafe, for encouraging me (read: harassing me) into doing this race. At the time of registration, I had been on exactly one real trail run in the snow which happened two weeks prior and was as challenging as it was fun. I was reluctant to toe the line so early in my trail career (haha, I said career), but after viewing an entertaining video of the course about 10 times and ordering some legit trail shoes I decided I was in. My shoes arrived the day before the race after yet another eventful couple of days trying to actually receive my delivery (#nycproblems) and I was worried that they were going to be a little too big. Other than that, I felt pretty prepared for the 20 degree (12 with wind chill!) run in fresh snow.
The course was just off a golf course on Staten Island. We got there early so we could pick up our bibs and swag (fleece cap and NUTELLA!) and make a pit stop at the clubhouse. The one thing I really hate about winter races is how cold you are in the corrals at the start so I was very happy that we were able to hang out in the clubhouse until just before the start. We made friends with an older fellow who told us lots of interesting history about golf courses on Staten Island. When they announced five minutes to start we started out towards the start line for a course description and then wandered over to the start. No corrals, no colors or numbers dictating pace, just line up and then head out. In less than a minute, we had left the signs of civilization behind for the of the snowy woods.
The course was great. It was fairly packed single track and we had placed ourselves fairly well in the pack so not only were we not getting passed, but we didn’t do much passing throughout the duration of the race. Stinkfoot and I stayed pretty close throughout the course with him getting away from a few times which was expected as he is a faster runner. We eventually ended up behind an older gentleman who I nicknamed “Crazy Tights” because of his graphic print tights. We had picked up another in our small pack, a woman who easily and readily added to my and Stinkfoots meandering convo. At a certain point we all needed to pass Crazy Tights which became interesting as I think he may have been hard of hearing. This was made evident when overly excited snowshoer almost ran him over after making all kinds of witty remarks for him to move on his approach. I ended up finding a little run-off single track and we passed him without incident.
Approaching the half mark and only aid station, I knew I needed to do three things: Tighten my shoes, blow my nose, and eat a Honey Stinger. The aid station volunteers were super nice and luckily one of them had a tissue. She was kind enough to not only give me one, but shove a spare in my hydration vest while I fiddled with my laces. We continued our pause with a quick photo and Honey Stinger then started back on the course. It was around this time that I noticed that my water had was starting to freeze in my hydration pack tube! I tried to keep sipping regularly so it wouldn’t freeze completely.
The second half of the race seemed more challenging than the first. The elevation profile didn’t change much, we picked up the pace by about a minute and my heart rate followed. By the time we got to 5 miles, I was feeling it but pushed through. We managed to pass a few people in the last mile or so of the race which felt oddly satisfying. By the time we got to the final stretch and saw our exit from the woods I was ready for the end, but also bummed it was almost over. The last stretch of the course was covered with patches of ice which made for a pretty anti-climatic finish excluding the man in a gorilla suit that was cheering us on and the other runners who were hanging out in the cold to cheer us in. After our finish we returned the favor for a few more runners.
The finish was the same as the start so we were back by the clubhouse which was awesome. We were able to grab our bags from the car and get some warm gear on and have a beer in the clubhouse! After the beer we headed for our now traditional post-trail run diner breakfast. Hot food after a long, cold run is so amazing!
I ended up placing 7th in my age group out of 17th which translates to front half of pack which I have never been! Not bad for my trail race debut, if I do say so myself. But it’s not about placing or pace for me and it never has been. And that is part of the reason why I feel myself enjoying road racing less and less. It is awesome to do a supported, uninterrupted run in which I push myself for no other reason than to check my training progress, but all that goes along with that–the cost, the crowds (oh dear lord, the crowds), the PR-driven post-race chatter, all of it–is just so unappealing to me. My heart feels free and happy on the trails and the community is so, so wonderful. My “A” race for this year is the NYC Marathon so I will continue to focus on road through 2015, but I fully intend to keep sneaking out to the trails whenever possible!
If someone were to ask me this question, I would immediately respond “Road.” But deep in my heart lies a burning desire to be on the trail. In my heart, I am a trail runner. And I hope that one day that will be all that I run. In the meantime, I will have to be satisfied with weekend jaunts to the hills and mountains just North and West of the city.
Sunday morning on the trails
This morning I got to take a lovely jaunt up to Pound Ridge, New York to Ward Pound Ridge Reservation with my friend, Mike. We had planned to do NYARA’s Hike-a-Thong today, but with it postponed because of trail conditions we decided to head out on a different trail. I am still coming back from my injury and my mileage is pretty low so we decided we plan for a 3.7 mile loop with a 4.5 mile option. I don’t have trail running shoes and I didn’t feel like making the hike into the city yesterday to buy some so I opted to wear my road running shoes with Yaktrax that I bought last Winter, but never ended up using. Mike had scouted the trail for us yesterday and thought that would be okay with some good wool socks. So at 7:30 am this morning he picked me up at the Dunkin’ Donuts and we headed out for the hour or so ride to Pound Ridge. By 8:45 am we were at the park and ready to head out on the trails.
As soon as we hit the trail I realized that my shoes were going to end up wet. The snow on the trail wasn’t packed so we were sinking with every step. I had worn my heart rate monitor and within the first .15 miles my alert was going off. I shut it off and ignored the fact that I am supposed to base training right now.
The first 3 miles of this run were all an incline so it definitely had our hearts pumping. The loose snow made for unstable footing and there were spots where we were doing more power hiking than running. Around 2.5 miles we had an option to head back to make it a 3.7 mile run or extend to 4.5 miles. We were feeling good and having fun so we opted for the 4.5 miles. As soon as we turned on the trail though, things began to change. The trail was about 6 inches wide, 6 inches deep, and a few inches of powder. We were slogging along, hiking for about .75 miles before we hit the next trail we were supposed to take. It was even worse than one we were on! So Mike pulled out the map and figured out a different route for us. It was around this time that I decided to just jog a bit. To my surprise, running was better than walking! It was definitely shaky and we were head down the entire time, focused on not rolling an ankle, but it was definitely much more fun than the slow slog we had been on. The elevation at this point had leveled out a bit, too, so we were able to jog at a decent clip for awhile. Still, the footing was unstable so a good clip was really a 14 min/mi. At any rate, this is probably why we missed the blazes for our next trail.
At about 4.5 miles, Mike pulled out the map to figure out why we were still in the middle of the woods and not at the car. Somehow we had screwed up and turned right instead of left. I was leading and reading the blazes, but somehow there was a miscommunication and I had turned on Red Yellow instead of just Yellow. We had been jogging at a good clip as it was all decline at this point so we decided to just keep with it. It turned out to be a happy accident. The last mile was our fastest and before we knew it, we were back at the parking lot. Other highlights from the run included me spotting a deer track and us being passed on the trail by a cross country skier being pulled by a husky with a little husky-like pup bringing up the rear. Such an awesome day!
Moving Time: 1:27:27
Avg Pace: 17:54 min/mi
Avg Moving Pace: 16:07 min/mi
Best Pace: 8:29 min/mi (Not sure I trust Garmin here. I would say it was more 10mm at the end of our run.)
Weather: Hazy/Overcast, 30º w 25º WC, 80% humidity, 5mph wind
Garmin distance: 5.57 miles
GPSies distance: 5.45 miles
After the run
I headed to the port-a-john and then we headed back to the car. My shoes and two pairs of wool socks were soaked through. No blisters, though! We changed into dry socks and shoes and headed out for brunch. We stopped at the same diner that we had stopped on the way out (so I could pee) and it was PACKED. The wait was short though and before we knew it, we had tons of food and boozy drinks in front of us. A well-deserved reward after an almost 700 calorie workout! At this point some of my digits were still numb and I was chilly from still being in my damp run clothes so the warm restaurant and food was amazing. We practically inhaled our food then headed back to the city.
My calf was bothering me a bit this morning, but I felt okay running if we took it easy. I stretched a bit and once we started the run, I didn’t notice any pain. My right ankle/achilles did start to bother me pretty early on though and then my right knee started to act up a bit. After a couple of miles, though, they seemed to be okay. I was surprised when we got back to the cars and I took off my shoes and my feet are sore! I know that tomorrow all kinds off places that I don’t typically work will be yelling at me, too. Looking forward to the wonderful post-workout pain. Break it down to build it up stronger!