The Great New York Running Expedition

A few weekends ago, I had the honor of aiding runners completing the The Great New York 100 mile Running Expedition. “The Great New York 100 Mile/100KM Running Exposition is an informal, small, low-key event that nevertheless promises to be an unforgettable running experience. It is an urban adventure, a running tour of New York City, beginning and ending in Times Square.” The 100 miles takes runners from Times Square to the Bronx over to Queens down to Coney Island back up through Brooklyn over the Brooklyn Bridge back into Manhattan to finish where they started in Times Square. It is supported by volunteers every 5-10 miles and by the entire city as runners have access to many restaurants, retail stores, and bodegas along the way.

tgnymap

Back in January, I proposed to our local officers group for my trail running club, Trail WhippAss, that we sponsor one of the stations. The later stations tend to be harder to staff so we agreed to take mile 80 which wasn’t being staffed by it’s typical crew because one of them was running the race. I was super excited to contribute, but having never organized an aid station and never having run or even witnessed a 100 miler I was also little nervous. By the week of the race things started to fall into place and by Saturday I was confident that we were going to have the best aid station ever!

Mile 80 Stock List
Water
Gatorade
Coke
Flat Coke
Mountain Dew
Beer
Watermelon
Oranges
Potato chips
Boiled potatoes with salt
Pickles
Twizzlers
M&Ms
Salt tabs
Baby wipes
Paper towels
Sunscreen
Bug spray
Aquaphor
Tiger balm
Basic first aid supplies
The stick
Foam roller
Yoga mat
Foot roller
Tennis ball
Music (until 9:30pm)

The morning started out a little bumpy as my Zipcar was defective and most of the cars close to me weren’t available for the time I needed. It took almost 2 hours to get it sorted and skipping my run, but eventually I found a car and made my way to it then out to Kmart in Queens to pick up some supplies. Then it was down to Sheepshead Bay in crazy NYC traffic. Our station was to start at 4:20 and I got down there around 3:30, but didn’t find parking until just after 4pm. My two teammates that were meeting me had similar issues so I hung out on the sidewalk while they unloaded their cars then went off to park. We were soon joined by Mariele, Michael Wardian’s sister, who was going to be pacing him for the last 20 miles.

Wardian was blowing through the course at lightning speed and we were a little concerned about getting setup before he got to us. We also weren’t exactly sure where the RD wanted us to setup and I had been told he had a specific spot that he wanted us. As time ticked on, we got more and more nervous that we wouldn’t be ready. I sent a photo of the area to the RD and by 5pm we had received word on the spot and started to setup. The RD stopped by with water and gatorade and we fully were setup by 5:30pm with the help of Mariele. Around that time, some fellow teammates who were crewing Wardian showed up and gave us some information on how he and our other teammate, Otto, who was pacing him were doing. Soon after we saw them crossing the footbridge and heading right for us. Wardian was in and out pretty quickly about 10 minutes to 6pm.

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Setting up the Trail WhippAss mile 80 aid station. Photo credit: Helen Clark.
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Trail WhippAss ladies stocked and worked the mile 80 aid station. From left to right: me, Anna, and Helen. Wonderful ladies to spend a day with! Photo credit: Helen Clark.
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Receiving water and Gatorade for our aid station from Byron and race director, Phil McCarthy. From left to right: me, Byron, Anna, Phil. Photo credit: Helen Clark.
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Me, Anna, and Mariele. Photo credit: Helen Clark.
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Team mate Otto assisting Michael Wardian (TGNY100 winner) with his ice bandana. Otto paced Wardian to the mile 80 aid station where his sister, Mariele, then paced him the last 20 miles.
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Michael Wardian receiving aid from team mate Louisa as I (white singlet & TWA hat) and his sister, Mariele (left, in hat), watch. Wardian was blowing through the course so fast that we were concerned we wouldn’t be setup in time. Photo credit: Helen Clark.

After the excitement of Wardian, we settled in for a bit. We were expecting to see other runners soon, but as it turns out we had a couple hours to wait before that would happen. We enjoyed the sunset, took turns walking across the footbridge to Macy’s to use the ladies room, snacked, and talked about running. Around 7:45pm we were joined by some family/crew of the next runner who was in second place. He was through and out by 8:38 and right after we got our third place runner, the first female, who was out by 8:46. Another runner came through at 8:58. He was a little disoriented in regards to directions on his turnsheet and we were a little concerned with him finding his way to the next aid station. I was in contact with the aid station after us and let them know to look out for him. As the hour hit 9pm, our only known bathroom closed and it was starting to get dark. The area was still pretty populated by pedestrians, though.

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Anna hamming it up in her TGNY100 tee and newly purchased tights. Anna was our potato expert and pusher in the later hours.
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Anna aiding Ryan Thorpe, our second runner and the TGNY100 third place finisher. Photo credit: Helen Clark.
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First female, Charlotte Dequeker, smiling and looking strong at mile 80. She was our third runner through the station. Charlotte took fourth overall in the 100 mile race. Photo credit: Helen Clark.

As we went into the night hours, we were supposed to have a male join us at the aid station for us safety reasons. There was only one dude that volunteered and I had let him know that we needed him overnight. As we got close to end of shift, I let our other female teammate, Helen, know it was fine for her to go. I was confident that our teammate wouldn’t let us down. If he was running late, it was probably because he was looking for parking is what we figured. She headed off and it was just me and Anna left.

It was about an hour (10:15pm) before we got another runner and I still hadn’t heard from our missing teammate. I sent several messages and reached out to another officer who knows him and he messaged him, too. Nothing. The area was still pretty populated so we felt okay, but knew it would die down at some point and we were on the opposite side of the inlet from a nightlife area by a residential area so we knew we get some drunken partiers heading by is in the wee hours. I tried reaching out to other male teammates, but no one could join us. I didn’t want to bother the RD and volunteer coordinator unless I absolutely had to and since the area was still pretty busy I felt we had a little time. Around 11pm a guy showed up that was hoping to bump into some friends that were running. He had swung by this aid station last year and was familiar with the race. By 11:45pm when his friend came through, he had offered to stay with us as our overnight guy. Relieved, we got ready for the overnight hours which promised to be busy.

Between 11:45pm and 3:30pm we saw runners every 10-20 minutes in varying degrees of exhaustion and pain. Another teammate, Jürgen, came through around midnight and was happy to see we had stocked the beer he had asked for. He was looking strong and it felt great to be able to help a fellow WhippAss. As we got to the later hours runners were more deteriorated and our chairs started getting more use. The 3 of us turned into a sort of pit crew attending to runners in various regards. I was responsible for tracking and time and was also communicating with the aid stations before and after us. Additionally, I played the role of nurse/caretaker–offering recovery tools, salt, aquaphor, wet wipes, etc. Anna was our resident nutritionist and perfected the art of squishing and salting potatoes. She was also very good at talking the runners into eating. The three of us all chipped in on filling water bottles, serving soda and gatorade, and helping with runner morale. The road next to us had some pretty crazy drivers so we also took turns guiding the runners across the street. For the almost 4 hours in the overnight hours, we never really stopped moving because the runners were coming in so regularly. Between runners we restocked, tidied the area, and prepared for the next round. It was chilly and Anna and I had to pee for several hours. I eventually I ended up wandering off into the neighborhood to find a bush.

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Team mate Jürgen (yellow tank) checking out the spread while I (on right) track time of oncoming runners. Photo credit: Jürgen Englerth.

Around 2:30am we had a runner come in who none of us realized was a runner. He looked as though he was wearing street clothes and had no pack or bottles. He sat down and gave me his number and told us he was going to take a nap. We all laughed and thought he was joking, but it was no joke. He instructed us to wake him up at 3:30am, but our station was scheduled to close at 3am so we compromised. Anna happened to have a pillow which she gave him (it was cold and she had pulled some pillows and blankets from her truck earlier while we were waiting for runners) and he wandered over to a bench to sleep. At 3am, we delivered his wake up call and it was timely as our last group of runners, a fairly large group, had just arrived. They were all quite delighted to see him and they all took off together.

The sweeper was running a little behind and let us know that there were still 2 guys out on the course. We started to clean and pack up anything superfluous. The next to last runner arrived as we were starting to clean up and looked a little rough. We attended to him as we loaded our cars and the sweep arrived. Next thing I know, the poor guy was emptying his stomach all over the ground. He was so apologetic and I felt so badly for him. We poured extra soda and water for him and the sweep grabbed the quarter of watermelon that was left and tried to get him to eat. The sweep had let us know that the last runner was still quite a ways back and that we should go. He was going to be circling back to him with supplies as long as he stayed on course so he wouldn’t need our aid. As our last runner (next to last on course) headed off, the sweep walked with him. He wandered off with that entire quarter watermelon–a piece as big as his head–into the night. I was very excited to check the results on Monday and see that he made it to the finish. At 3:30am we signed off our aid station.

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Mile 80 signing off at 3:30am. So many thanks to the dude in the middle for sticking around to help us out in the overnight the hours!

Exhausted from almost 12 hours of volunteering, I hopped in my rental for the 30 minute drive home. I had my rental until 10am so I decided that in honor of these amazing runners, I would test my own abilities in the morning. I’m not adapted to functioning on little sleep and will typically put off a run if I haven’t gotten enough. But the next morning, on 4.5 hours of sleep, I returned my rental car and ran 6 miles in warmer weather than I typical venture out in (mid-80s). It was nothing compared to what the runners I had seen the night before had done, but it was my own little tribute to them. (And a good confidence builder for Hood to Coast.)

Later that afternoon as I rested, I reflected on the night before and how much the experience changed me. I felt sad that I would have to wait another year to do it all again. If you ever get the chance to work a late aid station for a long race, I highly recommend it. It’s such a rewarding experience. I’ve already spoken to the volunteer coordinator about coming back next year and he is happy to have us back at mile 80 again. Though, I may have to find a few more races to volunteer at in the meantime because a year is just too far away!

Race Report: GLIRC Greenbelt 25K

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.

Pre-race

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 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.

Course shot 1
I really wish I would have gotten good shots of the REAL steps that were to come. I was too focused on making my way through them, though.
Course shot 2
Some more of the more tame part of course.
Course shot 3
This and the meadow were may favorite parts of the course. This was heading out to the halfway point.
Course shot 4
Another shot of my favorite part of the course.

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.

Race shot
Feeling strong before the halfway point.
Race shot 2
Feeling good before the halfway point.

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.

Course shot 5
Favorite part of the course, but on the way back. It was right around here that my knees started to really hurt.
Course shot 6
Roots anyone? Not sure how people were running through this part of the course!

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.

Meadow selfie
OMG WE MADE IT TO THE MEADOW!!!

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.

Through two fallen trees
No said anything about obstacles.

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.

The finish

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).

Finish
Shuffling into the finish. My legs refused to work how I wanted them to, but I was still smiling.
Receiving my medal
So.freaking.happy.
Post-race selfie with friends
Non-runner buddies surprise me at the finish. Can’t even put into words what this meant to me!

Post-race

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.

Final thoughts

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

Gear
Nathan double 9oz bottle belt

Pre-race dinner & breakfast
Mashed potatoes & chili (for both meals!)

Fuel
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
Water
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
Notes
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.

Race Report: North Face Endurance Challenge 10K at Bear Mountain

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.

Trail Twins

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.

Trail twins
Same shirt, same hat, jeans, we even have a pair of the same running shoes. It’s like we were trail twins separated at birth.

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.

Course information
This is no joke.

Race weekend

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.

IMG_5643
The start/finish festival with our inn in the background.
Run club meet-up!
Run club meet-up!

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.

Warm-up run view
Not a bad view for a warm-up run.

The race

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.

Leader of the pack
Evidently I was leading a pack at some point.

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!

Running downhill
Charging down the hills! I was feeling strong and ready to tackle this race.
Running through the mud
Mud makes me happy!

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.

IMG_5647
Post-race. Ready for a shower and food!
Me and Alicia
Love this girl and so glad she spent the weekend with me! Thanks for not leaving me at the end of the race, Alicia!

Post-race

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.

Mountain views
Can I wake up to this every morning, please?!

Letting go

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.

Time flies when you are having fun

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.

Top of the Pines at Bear Mountain
Highest point on our Bear Mountain training run. The trail actually had us scramble up over these boulders.
Snowy tracks at Bear Mountain
It was iced over snow in most spots at Bear Mountain, but there were occasions where we had slight reprieve on melted spots.
Stream crossing at Bear Mountain
Caught my trail partner mid-jump during one of stream crossing at Bear Mountain.

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.

North Brooklyn Runners at Van Cortlandt Park.
Was surprised at how many of my road team showed up for this race. Didn’t see any over trail running group. Probably because of the short distance!

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.

Sand hill at Leatherman's Loop
Climbing a sand hill at Leatherman’s Loop. Notice the guy in front of me on all fours. It was steep and slippery.
Mud flats at Leatherman's Loop
Mud flats at Leatherman’s Loop. I felt lucky to not lose a shoe.
Stream crossing at Leatherman's Loop
Final stream crossing at Leatherman’s Loop. Was still muddy after this!

You can see more photos from Leatherman’s Loop on The Distance Traveled on Facebook.

Trail junkie

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.

Cold Feat 10K Race Report

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.

 

New trail shoes
New trail shoes! Unfortunate that the turned out to be a full size too big. Anyone need a Women’s size 8?

 

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.

 

Swag
Swag score! Embroidered fleece hat AND a jar of Nutella?! This is my kind of race!

 

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.

 

Jumping
I love snow running!

 

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.

 

Aid station
Looking good at the halfway point!

 

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.

 

Running the snowy course
Running the snowy course.

Splits   Elevation and pace

 

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!