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Race Report: Grindstone 100- Part 1

Anyone who has ever trained for and run a 100-mile race knows that the entire experience is one of endurance, perseverance, and mental fortitude. By the time you get to the starting line, you have spent countless hours on the trails, analyzing your training, contemplating your nutrition, committing to recovery, and preparing for the experience itself. The full commitment can be a challenge, and certainly necessitates an understanding partner and family members (if you have others), and it means sacrifices in other areas of your life.

So, by the time we arrived in Swoope, VA for the Grindstone 100, I could have very easily already been exhausted. However, I managed to balance my training block perhaps better than I ever had, while also training harder and putting in more miles than ever before. Although I didn’t register for Grindstone until July, I had been targeting a Fall 100-miler much longer, so this race was the culmination of quite a bit of training. After a full year on the East Coast, running the technical trails and collecting more vert than I had ever seen, I felt ready to tackle a race like Grindstone. I had fared well at the Georgia Death Race, which had given me a lot of confidence, and I was ready to test myself against a Hardrock qualifier.

I have the best crew!

I have the best crew!

I started watching the weather on Monday, and the chance of rain was present, but the percentage was low, and I wasn’t too concerned. However, by Tuesday, Hurricane Matthew came to life and had the southeast in his sights. When Thursday rolled around and I needed to finalize my packing, the chance of rain was at 90% and it wasn’t scheduled to stop until almost 24 hours into the race. I packed my rain shell, plenty of extra socks, and other dry layers, and did my best not to worry all that much. The epicurean and I (along with Looper) planned to arrive at the start/finish at Camp Shenandoah around noon on Friday to get checked in and set up camp since we (well, really just her since I’d be running the whole time) would be camping out. We hit rain just south of D.C. as we drove down, but it was fairly light so I didn’t get worked up about it.

When we arrived, the rain was light but steady. I had just enough time to walk to the main cabin, pick up my bib and race packet, and get weighed in before the pre-race briefing started. I absolutely love the environment at ultras and trail races, and this was one of the biggest ultras I had been too. I’m always fascinated by the conversations, the gear, and the humbleness of the runners at these events, and Grindstone was no different. The RD did a wonderful job outlining the race and providing us with all the necessary announcements, and I was happy to sit back, sip a cup of coffee, and listen.

Getting ready in the tent...Looper would rather snuggle up!

Getting ready in the tent…Looper would rather snuggle up!

A 6PM race start makes for some interesting nutrition and sleep planning, and I can’t say I’ve ever really been in that position before. We had been up since 6AM to get on the road, and I had every intention of trying to take an afternoon nap, but I was far too wired to really calm down. I ate a Subway sandwich around 2pm so the meal had enough time to digest before I committed my stomach to the endurance effort. We rested in the tent, out of the rain for a bit before I got changed into my running clothes. I’ve always been one to plan everything out, and opt for having the gear for any scenario just in case, and this race was no different. I felt confident with my choices going in, and overall, everything worked out pretty well for me. There were a few changes I would have made, but more on that later. My starting line gear consisted of:

  • Petzl Nao headlamp
  • lightweight beanie (I took it off after 2 miles)
  • short sleeve tech shirt
  • Saucony rain shell
  • Northface Long Haul shorts
  • compression calf sleeves
  • Darn Tough wool socks
  • Dirty Girl Gaiters
  • Altra Olympus 2.0
  • Salomon S-Lab 12 pack w/ 2L bladder (tailwind)
  • Black Diamond Distance Z trekking poles
  • Honeystinger chews
Suited up, with Looper's help :)

Suited up, with Looper’s help 🙂

When I initially registered for the race, the 6pm start was appealing because it meant I’d be running through the night with fresh legs, which would presumably help with so much climbing and a highly technical course in many parts. I lined up for one final bathroom stop and then gathered near the starting area, and said my parting words to the epicurean. I wouldn’t see her until the 3rd aid station, which was around 22 miles in, so she had some time to take a nap back in the tent. We lined up, Craig, the RD, had some final announcements (including warning us about a random group of night-time mountain bikers out on the course), and then we were off. I was determined not to go out too fast, recalling my experience at the Mark Twain 100, and luckily the narrow single track and technical rocky and rooty course made it much easier to slow down. We hit a brief bottleneck about a 1/2 mile in due to everyone needing to climb down a short embankment, but after that, the running was consistent.

Let's get this party started!

Let’s get this party started!

Start to Dowells Draft (AS #3)

The first few miles were comfortable, and I was moving along nicely as the sun set. It was nice to have at least a fleeting glimpse of light before being plunged into darkness and the rhythmic bounce of headlamps. I held out as long as I could before turning on my headlamp, and was able to wait until leaving AS #1 (Falls Hollow). Up until this point, the trail had included some rolling climbs, but as soon as we left Falls Hollow, the trek up Pilot Knob began. A good portion of this steep climb was on a service road, and we were required to summit, punch our bibs with a hole punch, and then roll back down a bit before hopping back on a trail. The steep incline and 2500 ft of climbing in less than 5 miles was a wake-up call for my quads, and I pulled the trekking poles out to assist with the climb. Little did I know that I wouldn’t put them away again, and they would prove to be an incredible asset.

Almost 300 people started...how many will finish?

Almost 300 people started…how many will finish?

After the climb, the Dry Branch Gap aid station approached pretty quickly, and I stopped briefly to fuel up. The race is cupless, so they offered everyone the opportunity to purchase a Ultraspire silicone reusable cup, and it worked like a charm throughout the race. By this time, I was at peace with the fact that I would always either be going up or going down, as there didn’t seem to be any flat, easily runnable sections on this course. I forgot to mention that the rain hadn’t quit and was still coming down light but steady. I was in the middle of the pack as I usually am, and the trail was still in decent shape, mostly on account of there being more rocks and roots than dirt to become mud. I tackled a long downhill section and rolled into the Dowells Draft aid station (#3) and happily met the epicurean. I was 22 miles in, and feeling pretty good at this point. I had done a good job of conserving energy, and the temps remained a bit warmer because of the rain. I had shed my rain shell a while back, and was fine being a little wet because I was staying warm (and didn’t want to overheat in the fully seam-sealed shell). I enjoyed some ginger ale, along with some pretzels and cookies, and the epicurean sent me off. I wouldn’t see her again until the next morning at the turn-around and she was eager to try and get some sleep.

Dowells Draft (AS #3) to N. River Gap (AS #5)

The next 15 or so miles were a bit of a pleasant blur. I was feeling really good, and tucked in behind a few other runners for many additional miles along the way. After around 1500 ft of climbing in the next 5 miles, the following 10 miles were mostly downhill running, and I was moving comfortably. By this point, the rain had thoroughly soaked everything, but I was still feeling fairly warm. There hadn’t been much mud yet, and my gaiters had kept my shoes relatively dry, which meant my socks and feet were relatively dry as well. As I rolled into the N. River Gap aid station, I was in a positive mood. I enjoyed some delicious and hot pirogies, along with some other snacks. I was making decent time, despite the weather conditions, and I’d had company on the trail up to this point.

I finished fueling up, and headed out for the 7 mile climb up to the Little Bald Knob aid station (#6). I had no idea what was in store for me on the Grindstone grind, but this soul-sucking section would test me in a number of ways. Stay tuned for Part 2 and find out how it went, along with the rest of the race!

Race Report: Labor Pains 12-Hour

I often find myself commenting on the paradox of age. As we grow up, we form very clear impressions of what it means to be an adult. Then we become adults, and find that we don’t feel anything like we thought we would. Well, perhaps this isn’t your story, but it certainly summarizes mine quite well. I don’t see this as a bad thing, of course. I’m excited by past, present, and future adventures, and I value greatly the playful spirit and sense of wanderlust that comes with running, hiking, and generally being curious about the world. I wouldn’t dream of changing it, and it was that spirit that led me to this race.

For the first time last year, I decided I would start running my age in miles on my birthday every year. In part this was motivated by a good friend who has done the same thing for the last few years, but more generally, it just seems like I really nice way to celebrate my birthday doing what I love. This year, I was lucky enough to discover the Labor Pains 12-Hour Race in nearby Reading, PA, which just happened to fall on September 4th, the day before my birthday. All of the reviews were positive and it seemed like a great way to take a short trip and enjoy the day with the beautiful epicurean and Looper happy to come along for the ride.

It was a relatively short drive up to Reading, and was made even shorter by the lack of traffic on Sunday morning. We packed some camping supplies so that the epicurean and Looper could set up shop and relax during the day, and watch the event unfold as I returned to the starting area after each 5 mile loop. We arrived in plenty of time for me to check in, pick up my bib and shirt, and for us to claim a spot near the finish area. The race is organized by Pretzel City Sports, and they have quite a bit of race organizing experience. I was impressed from the very beginning with how things looked, and could tell it was going to be an enjoyable day!

All set for a fun day of running and relaxing!

All set for a fun day of running and relaxing!

A record crowd of close to 300 people showed up to test themselves at various limits, and we all lined up for a few announcements before the 7:30AM start time. One of the neat things about a timed race like this is it allows everyone to set their own goals. That might mean running their first marathon or 50K, or pushing themselves even further. Regardless, the relatively short 5-mile loop meant you had a chance to see people repeatedly and you were rarely alone out on the course. This was a welcome treat throughout the day, and it made the miles fly by that much faster.

I wish I could have taken Looper along for a few loops!

I wish I could have taken Looper along for a few loops!

I knew going in that I wasn’t planning to push myself quite to 100%, but rather use this as a hard training run in preparation for Grindstone, and run at least my 37 miles in the process. I hadn’t read much about the course itself, other than it being mainly trails with a few road crossings. I foolishly assumed it would be relatively flat for some reason as well, and I was proven wrong on that front pretty quickly!

The course began with a sharp climb up a hill onto a service road, before dipping into the woods. The first half of the loop had significantly more gain than the second, and I was surprised so see that I had already climbed 400 ft by the time I reached the aid station around mile 2.5. The first half of the course was slightly more runable than the second, but in general, it wasn’t a terribly technical course. My standards have certainly changed over the past year, but the smattering of tree roots and rocks didn’t give me much cause for concern. The second half of the loop was much more runable and rolling, aside from two larger climbs almost immediately after the aid station.

Oh, I should also mention that I may have broken one of the bigger rules in running from the get go too. I decided this race would be a good time to test my new Altra Olympus 2.0s for the first time 🙂 I’ve worn new shoes for the first time at races in the past, and Altras seem to work really well for me so I wasn’t terribly concerned. I figured it would be the perfect way to put them through the paces and see if I wanted them to be my go-to shoe in a few weeks. The added cushion, better grip, and flexibility of this Olympus update did not disappoint! I avoided the first iteration of these shoes because they were just too stiff, but Altra completed a major overhaul before releasing the 2.0 and the result is a phenomenal long haul trail shoe.

Relaxing w/ our "lap dog"...

Relaxing w/ our “lap dog”…

If I had to venture a guess, I’d say that the comfort and cushion of my shoes probably contributed to me running a tad bit faster than I had anticipated. The weather was in the 50’s and humid at the start, but overall very comfortable, and the trails were in great shape. I was having a blast on the rolling hills and enjoying being a part of a great running community for the day, and the miles simply melted away. Every time I passed through the finish line to have my lap recorded and ran over to check in with the epicurean, I was feeling great and it felt like I had just left. I was making great time and feeling really comfortable on the trails, and it was a wonderful boost of confidence. It would seem that this most recent training block was paying off, despite all my complaining about the heat and humidity!

I monitored my nutrition throughout the day, and had no problem taking in a variety of food and drink, which meant I never felt on the verge of a bonk. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t consider pushing myself well past my birthday mile goal, and I felt like I could have kept running forever. I was most definitely in the zone! However, I dialed it in and did my best to remember the long goal and not get greedy in the moment. By the time I finished my 6th lap (30 miles), I had talked myself down off the ledge, and I committed to only running two more laps.

I’m pretty sure this decision brought me some much-needed relief, and it made the last two laps that much more fun. As an added bonus, the race started serving beer at the aid station at noon, and I happily enjoyed a nice cold IPA with the knowledge that I was nearing the end of my day. By this point, the sun was shining and it was beginning to get a bit warmer, which meant the epicurean and Looper were heating up without any shade to speak of, so my decision to cut myself off was certainly supported. I completed my 8th and final lap, pausing at the halfway point to enjoy a second IPA, and enjoyed the steep, rocky climb up to the finish area one final time. I walked over to the timing station to tap out, and they told me they’d leave my tab open just in case I decided to come back 🙂

I had 8 laps and 40 miles under my belt in a little over 7 hours, and I was feeling great. Last year, I probably would have felt somewhat guilty for not continuing, but I had accomplished what I wanted to accomplish, and I was making the smart choice to head home, relax, and recover. The timing for this race is perfect for my birthday run, and I may very well be back next year to tackle a different challenge. This year, though, it’s all about the long game…and that game begins on Friday at 6pm.

MD H.E.A.T. 50k Race Report

The race may have occurred several weeks ago, but make no mistake…the heat is very much still a factor in Delaware. Of even more consequence is the consistent 80-95% humidity, which leaves me wondering if it’s about to rain every day! I was talking with a friend this past weekend about the need for rain because the ground was so dry locally, and it occurred to me that I didn’t even realize it had been so long since a solid rain. The humidity leaves me feeling like it’s always damp and sticky outside. This feeling was the backdrop for my second consecutive running of the MD H.E.A.T. 50k on August 27th.

Last year, this race was my first stab at an east coast trail race, and the 6,000 ft. of vertical gain served as quite the wake-up call. It may not sound like much, but it was quite a bit for this Midwestern transplant. Oh, what a difference a year makes! The course was virtually the same this year, aside from a few adjustments for washed out trails, but running it felt entirely different this year. It was a nice reminder that I’ve been putting in a lot of work over the past year to increase my leg strength and climbing ability.

This year, I was lucky enough to have a friend from Iowa fly out to join me for the race. Ben has been training for the Twin Cities Marathon in October, and naturally saw his first attempt at the 50K distance as a perfect training run to test his endurance. It’s always nice to know I’m not the only one with a backwards logic 🙂 As I did last year, I woke up around 3:30am on Saturday morning, and hopped in the car for the quick drive down to Patapsco State Park in Maryland, where we loaded onto the bus around 5:45 for the short drive into the closed park.

I found Ben on the bus, we exchanged our groggy greetings, and we got settled near the start. The RD called everyone together a few minutes before 7:00AM for some quick announcements, and then we made our loop around the start/finish area and onto the trail for the start of the race. We fell into a comfortable pace/rhythm pretty quick during the first of two loops, and the small group of entrants spread out enough that we weren’t tripping over each other on the mostly single-track course.  I had a very visceral memory of the course from last year, and went in prepared for the hilly, technical nature. However, before I knew it, we were 5 miles in and moving along really well. The well-stocked and enthusiastically-staffed aid stations came up quickly, and we focused on moving quickly between them, while still maintaining a comfortable, conversational pace.

My recap of the race and the course itself last year provides plenty more detail regarding the various twists and turns, stream crossings, and steep climbs that awaited us. The memorable Grist Mill climb (all 47% grade of it) was waiting for us around mile 5.8 again, and I relished the experience in a much different way this year. I’m pretty sure Ben cursed my name for celebrating the climbing opportunity, but it was much more fun this year!

We hit the giant stone wall around mile 15 feeling pretty good, and gingerly tackled the climb and descent, managing not to face plant in the soft, muddy ground near the Patapsco River, which was an accomplishment in and of itself. We paused for a few moments at the start/finish to re-hydrate and take in some more calories. Ben’s shoes happened to be water proof, which might make the stream crossings more manageable, but also did a lovely job of keeping in all the sweat on this warm, 90& humidity morning. He was able to ring out his socks before putting them back on, while I pulled out a dry pair of socks and was never more happy to have remembered to pack them! I was much more familiar with the course this year, so I skipped my larger hydration vest, and opted for a bottle and smaller waist pack, which definitely contributed to my not overheating as much.

The second loop was, as expected, a bit more crowed due to the 25K race that had started around 9AM. We completed the first loop in a little under 3 hours and were feeling pretty good, so we kept the pace going. I had been worried about my pace prior to the start of the race, knowing that Ben is considerably faster than I am, but it would seem I have indeed developed a bit more speed myself in the past year. We were both running comfortably, and still able to carry on a conversation, which is exactly what I wanted out of the race as a solid long training run. I excitedly pointed out to Ben at the 26.3 mile mark that we had now run longer than he had previously gone, and it was fun to think back to my first 50K in D.C. at the Northface Endurance Challenge in 2011. We kept pushing along, and were both happy to get through the halfway point of the second loop, since the climbing was definitely front-loaded.

The time continued to tick by, and we moved along, enjoying the beautiful morning. I was once again reminded of how lucky I am to be able to venture out into the woods like this and explore so freely, and it served as a good reminder of my desire to keep my running sustainable. As we ran the final few miles, the reality of the distance caught up to Ben a bit, but he pushed on very well, and we were greeted by children with water guns as we crossed the finish line. At that point, we were both soaked through anyway, so washing off a bit with clean water was a welcome relief!

The post-race spread was impressive as always, and a cold beer tasted quite good after running 31 miles! We lingered and filled up a bit on the excellent spread, before deciding to call it a day and head back to the cars. The epicurean and Looper had stayed home this year, so I was on my own. Based on how I probably smelled after the race, I’m guessing she was happy she didn’t spend a few hours in the car with me afterwards as well. I ended up finishing almost 30 minutes faster than last year, and more importantly, felt much stronger the entire time. It was once again a great race, and certainly nice to see a familiar race and be a part of his first 50K experience. I have no doubt he is going to kill it at the TC Marathon this year, and I’m definitely feeling much more confident about Grindstone as well. All told, it was a great way to spend a Saturday, running the trails, and living the dream. Keep #chasing42 everyone!

 

Race Report: Voyageur 50

I grew up in the land of 10,000 lakes. In reality, it’s more like 11,482 lakes of 10 acres or more. Thus, you’d think I spent a great deal of time on the water, and my youth was awash with typical lake activities like fishing, boating, and swimming. In reality, I lived relatively close to only one lake, and spent next to no time out on the water, aside from some “swimming” in depths that never went over my head. My asthma and the socioeconomic realities of life meant I spent more time reading about lakes and trails than I did enjoying them. Thus, when I discovered the North Shore of Duluth as an adult, and then discovered trail running even further along in my journey, I instantly fell in love with the trails that crisscross the shores, ridges, and bluffs of Lake Superior. As luck would have it, the epicurean, despite her high water standards courtesy of a youth filled with Atlantic fishing excursions with her father, developed a pretty quick love affair with Duluth and Lake Superior as well. Thus, when I realized that the Voyageur 50-miler just happened to be on the same weekend that we were planning to travel back to visit my family, it only made sense to plan a trip up north and spend some quality time on some amazing trails.

We rented a car and drove  the short 2 hours 15 minutes up to Carlton, MN (race start location) on Friday the 29th. Luckily my mother was able to join us, and it had been a good 35 years since she had been to Duluth, so she was eager to see how drastically things had changed. We got checked into our hotel and drove down the road a mile or so to packet pickup, which was an easy-in, easy-out endeavor. Carlton was holding their annual celebration “Carlton Daze” over the weekend, and I walked up just as a youth run was beginning, and it made me smile to see so many young children lined up and ready to give it their all. Then we drove the 20 additional miles up to Duluth, and spent the evening walking around the lakeshore, and eating a delicious Italian meal at one of our favorite restaurants, which we happily discovered now had a gluten-free menu, which meant we were back in business!

All smiles after a lovely evening in Duluth!

All smiles after a lovely evening in Duluth!

After dinner, we walked around a bit more and then headed back to the hotel. I got all of my gear situated for the morning and we relaxed before hitting the hay relatively early. 4:30AM came early as it always does, but I was thankful that the starting line at the Carlton High School was mere minutes away so I didn’t feel rushed. The epicurean drove me to the start and I arrived around 5:30AM, in plenty of time for the 6:00AM start. This was the 35th running of the Voyageur, and you could feel the history in the air as runners young and old gathered to tackle this out-and-back course. For some, like myself, it was the first time running the race, and for a select few, it was incredibly the 35th time they had toed the line!

Trail sunrises are the best! (Photo credit: Endurance Kennels LLC)

Trail sunrises are the best! (Photo credit: Endurance Kennels LLC)

There were a few brief words of encouragement from the race director, and we were sent on our way with the characteristically unceremonious “go” being uttered from a megaphone. After a brief stretch on a road leading to a paved trail, the course hops onto a several mile stretch of rocky, rooty, technical single-track along the Knife River. The reviews of the race I had read indicated that getting to this section as quickly as possible to avoid being stuck too far back in a single-file conga line was important, so I pushed it the first mile or so to make sure I didn’t get stuck too far back. The sun was just rising and it was a beautiful sight to see the steam coming off of the rushing water. It was hard not to stop and take pictures, but I did manage to get my phone out while I was moving- it was too beautiful to pass up!

How could I not stop for a quick picture?!

How could I not stop for a quick picture?!

The first aid station was 3.4 miles in, just over a beautiful swinging bridge in Jay Cooke State Park. I’d run these trails before and was excited to cross the bridge and know where I was, which doesn’t happen very often! I was feeling strong, and only stopped long enough for a glass of water before continuing on. The next 7 or 8 miles flew by pretty quickly, and I fell in sync with two other runners just after the first aid station, so we started running together and had some great conversation along the way. One of the best aspects of the trail running community is how genuinely kind and social everyone is, and how easy it is to fall in step with someone and end up chatting for hours.

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The three of us reached the infamous power lines section feeling strong and ready to tackle them. I’d heard this section referenced repeatedly as a challenging and difficult section of steep climbs so I was bracing for the worst. The climbs were definitely challenging due to the extreme grade, but they were all relatively short, so I didn’t mind them in the least bit. I was ultimately more nervous on the descents due to the slick, muddy path downward. The sun was still making its way up in the sky at this point, and the cool air gave us some much-needed relief, but also reminded us that it would be much hotter on the return trip!

Nothing reminds you to slow down like a rocky stream!

Nothing reminds you to slow down like a rocky stream!

After tackling the power lines, there was a short section of ridge line running, complete with ropes to pull yourself up on a particularly steep and precarious ascent, and I had a blast channeling my inner mountain goat. We emerged from the forest and spent a few miles on some rolling gravel roads before heading up to Spirit Mountain. As we were crossing under the ski lifts and looking down the ski slopes towards Lake Superior and Duluth, the views were absolutely incredible. I reached the top of the mountain, and other than a quick pit stop to allow for the end stage of digestion, I was feeling great. I had a blast bombing down the mountain on trails and service roads towards the final aid station and turn around point at the Lake Superior Zoo.

I was feeling good on Spirit Mountain!

I was feeling good on Spirit Mountain!

I reached the turn around point aid station and saw the epicurean and my mother immediately. I was all smiles as I rolled in and greeted them calmly. They helped me fill up my hydration pack and mix in some more Tailwind, and I ate some snacks and a few glasses of ginger ale, and I bid them farewell. They left to go spend the afternoon in Duluth, and I took off to tackle the course in reverse, beginning with an ascent of Spirit Mountain. I fell in step with another runner, and we began geeking out over ultrarunning related topics. It was fun to have a conversation with someone as passionate about the sport, and who followed the “stars” in the sport as closely as I do and we had a great conversation. Near the top of the mountain, we picked up another guy, and the three of us continued on together, making our way back to Carlton.

Such beautiful views!

Such beautiful views!

The return trip was relatively uneventful, other than to say that I was still feeling really strong, and could tell I had been doing a good job with hydration and nutrition. The temps rose into the low 70s, but after the brutal heat in Delaware for the past month, this felt like heaven! I eventually pulled ahead of the other two I was running with, or more accurately, they pulled up because they weren’t feeling as good, and I carried on alone for a few miles. This chunk of the race really allowed me to reflect on how thankful I was to have the opportunity to be out there, in a place I love, doing something I love. My concentration seemed to lock in and I noticed each foot fall as I hopped over roots and sidestepped rocks, splashed through small streams, and set small goals for myself during climbs. I reached the ridge line again, and enjoyed the slightly different perspective.

Still feeling good!

Still feeling good!

Near the bottom of this section, I caught up to a guy I had been leapfrogging for several miles. We got to chatting and ended up running together for the remainder of the race without ever really talking about it. Our paces seemed to mesh well and an unspoken understanding just sort of took hold. We approached the power line section again and tackled the hills with relative ease, despite the sun high in the sky. After this chunk of elevation change, the final 10 miles flew by relatively quickly. We took our time through the rocky final miles to make sure there were no twisted ankles, and enjoyed the comfortable pace. We reached the final section of the trail and emerged out onto the paved trail we had taken to start the course, and it felt great to know were close. With about a half mile left, he looked over at me and asked if I had anything left in the tank and I said sure. We picked up the pace and sprinted in strong across the finish.

It was a memorable weekend!

It was a memorable weekend!

I crossed the finish line in 10:15, which was good for 71st/ 271 and very respectable. I claimed my finisher’s mug, and took a deep breath. My mother and the epicurean were waiting for me at the finish, and I greeted them with the same smile I had given 25 miles earlier. Happily, there were showers available in the high school, which meant I could clean up a bit before hopping in the car for the drive back. My legs were certainly feeling the effects of 50 miles, but I still felt strong and happily felt as though I could have turned around and done it all over again. This was a great test of my endurance leading up to the Grindstone 100 on October 7th, and I’m looking forward to this final training block. More than anything, this race was an opportunity for some new memories and a chance to share something I love with the ones I love. Ultimately, that’s what #chasing42 is all about 🙂

Race Report: Dirty German 50-Miler

I still remember the nervous energy bubbling out of me when I lined up for my first 50-mile race at Surf the Murph. I had no idea what to expect and would soon be running into uncharted territory. In the two years since, I’ve tackled this distance and those beyond with increasing regularity. Somewhere along the line, I stopped being nervous about the distance and learned to simply embrace the day and enjoy the miles, much like I do for most marathons and 50K races. I am beginning to realize that this can be both a blessing and a curse!

On the one hand, I’m very relaxed leading up to the race and don’t make any significant adjustments to my training. This means consistency can remain in place leading up to the race, which is always a plus for a busy schedule. That being said, I did try to taper somewhat the week leading up to the race, and I kept my weekday mileage relatively low and easy. This had as much to do with the necessity of recovery after 35 miles at Market to Market the weekend before, however. The danger in this relaxed state is complacency and the risk of loosing perspective on the significance of such a race. Luckily, my tendency to over prepare for most things means I’m not likely to become complacent and that was certainly the case with the Dirty German 50-Miler, which I made sure to give the respect it deserved.

This was my first PA race and meant crossing another state off of my 50 States quest, which was exciting. It was also a rather unique race in that it was a trail race completely within the city of Philadelphia, which was pretty exciting! The beautiful epicurean was out-of-town, working and playing hard at a conference in Montreal, which meant I was on my own for this one. I tried my best to get to bed relatively early on Saturday night, but I always seem to find it more of a challenge to get quality sleep when I’m on my own, even if it was a treat to be able to once again sleep in my own bed the night before a race.

Definitely a laid back, low-key finish area!

Definitely a laid back, low-key finish area!

The race was part of the Dirty German Endurance Fest, which included 25K, 50K, and 50 mile distances, all within the wooded confines of Pennypack Park in Philadelphia. I woke up around 5AM, and was on the road by 5:45 for the hour drive up to Philly. I was able to pick up my packet the morning of the race, and I arrived a bit before 7AM, in plenty of time for the 7:30 start. The course was three loops of 16.67 miles, mainly on rolling single-track, with some paved and gravel sections woven in throughout the park. As promised, the course itself was certainly not technical, or extremely hilly, which in some ways made it that much more dangerous because there were no obvious points where walking/power-hiking made sense. The result was some fast times in all three distances.

The weather was relatively cool and overcast for most of the day (as it had been for weeks, it seemed), and the trails were in great shape despite a fair about of precipitation this spring. I took off, along with the rest of the 122 person field, at a comfortable but mildly aggressive pace. I was doing my best to be conscious of not going out too fast, which, as you all know, is no easy task for me. I’d say that I actually did pretty good on the first loop, considering the simplicity of the course. There were a few decent climbs, and some smaller hills to push through, but the majority of the course was smooth, rolling, and lush with greenery thanks to the new spring foliage.

It was a great day to be out on the trails!

It was a great day to be out on the trails!

The aid stations were well placed, popping up every 3-4 miles, and staffed with energetic and supportive volunteers. The course was well-marked and I had no trouble finding my way through the rollercoaster trails that made up this urban park. I was fueling well, managing my pace and overall feeling great when I came through the first loop in 2:33. I kept on running, knowing that there was an aid station just up ahead as I began the second loop. I topped off my water bottles, drank some Coke and ate some pretzels, and was on my way.

At some point relatively early on in the second loop, things began to go mildly sideways. My pace slowed as I realized I was still moving a bit faster than I could maintain over 50 miles, and I began to let a few more negative thoughts creep in. Mental toughness has always been my strength, and I knew in the back of my mind that I could push through and overcome my doubts, but that didn’t stop the DNF gremlins from sneaking in and setting up camp on my shoulders. I knew I could drop down to the 50K without any issue, and I knew that would mean getting home a bit sooner, getting a bit more rest, spending more time with the critters, and probably getting some more grading done since the end of the semester was only two days away. Needless to say, I came up with plenty of reasons to finish the second loop and call it a day.

However, each time my mind went to a darker place, I went through a mental checklist of my body and my running, and recognized that I was still feeling good, I was hydrating well and taking in plenty of nutrition, and my legs had plenty of miles left in them. This mental checklist made all the difference, especially since I probably went through it 4 or 5 times over the course of the 16.67 mile loop. I was plenty comfortable with the route by now, so I was able to let my mind check out in some sections as well, which was made a bit easier due to the lack of technical terrain. I came up on the finish area at the end of the loop, sprinted through, and hit the third loop hard.

As soon as I refueled at the first aid station, took an S-cap and some Coke, and remembered I was now on the third loop, my mood instantly changed. I was much more alert, attentive to my surroundings, and able to take in the beauty around me. I’ve been consistently excited over the past year by the sheer number of state parks and trails I now have access too, and I was pleased to add Pennypack Park to my quiver. Despite passing under numerous overpasses, and seeing signs of urban debris that I wouldn’t necessarily see in other parks, I still thoroughly enjoyed the route and the opportunity to explore yet another new trail system. I ticked off the miles with relative ease, made sure to thank the aid station volunteers for their time and commitment, and flew through the third loop with ease.

The race sweatshirt came in handy at the end...as did the finisher's medal!

The race sweatshirt came in handy at the end…as did the finisher’s medal!

I hadn’t been paying all that much attention to my time after the first loop, which was probably for the best. However, when I crossed the finish line in 8:49, it occurred to me pretty quickly that I wasn’t too far off a PR, and I probably could have hit it had I pushed a bit harder. However, I felt great, had a smile on my face, and was ultimately quite pleased with a great day of running! I stuck around for a bit to enjoy the atmosphere, cheer on other finishers, and soak in the whole experience. The excitement of everyone around me and the energy being exuded was yet another reminder of just why I love the trail and ultra-running community so much. I don’t need a space blanket, staged finishers photos, or a tent city full of promotional products. Just give me the smiles, genuine happiness, and a cold beer at the end and I’m set. Incidentally, there was no beer to be found at the end of the race, which was a bit surprising considering the German theme. Perhaps it was a City of Philadelphia issue? Oh well, I enjoyed my own beer and pizza when I got home, and made sure to use my bottle opener finishers medal. It was up to the task of #chasing42, and so was I!

Market to Market Relay- Iowa: The Speedy Streakers Have More Fun Than You

Tradition is a powerful motivator, much like friendship. It’s been a strange, transitional year filled with more changes, opportunities, adjustments, educational moments, challenges, and triumphs than I’ve experienced in quite some time. In fact, I’m pretty sure my life hasn’t been this topsy-turvy since I graduated from college. I’ve done my best to stay positive about everything being thrown at me, but the reality is that there have been good days and bad. Without a doubt the hardest part of leaving Iowa was leaving such an amazing group of friends. My running journey began with Team Vardo and our paths will forever be linked. So, I was understandably quite excited to make the trip back during the first weekend in May so see so many amazing people, and run a relay event that I’ve been able to participate in for the last 4 years.

Welcome back to Iowa!

Welcome back to Iowa!

My flight was much too early on Friday morning, but the Philadelphia Airport was of course already a buzz when I arrived around 6AM. After the requisite waiting, I did my time in a steel tube and landed in Des Moines mid-morning. Several friends were there to greet me, and it was wonderful to see their smiling faces when I got off the escalator! We hopped in the car, and it was go time. Friday afternoon was all about relay prep and we managed to stop for lunch in Des Moines as well before heading back to Ames. Ironically, it was in the low 80’s when I got there, which was much warmer weather than Delaware had seen to that point. My body wasn’t necessarily acclimated, but it felt great to feel the sun beating down on me.

We met up with some other friends around 3pm for a short run. I had to keep my streak going 🙂 It felt strange to be “visiting” as we ran through campus and along roads I have logged so many miles on in the past. It was still great to be back and most of my sense of direction returned as we marked out our route. After about 5 miles, we headed back to the gym to shower, then grabbed a drink at a nearby restaurant before heading to dinner to meet up with a larger group of Vardos. It was fantastic catching up with so many people, and the caring and thoughtfulness that made me fall in love with this crazy group came out instantly and it was as if no time had passed. Of course a year had passed so there was plenty of catching up to do, and the time went by far too quickly.

Visiting The Pig again this year!

Visiting The Pig again this year!

After dinner, the Speedy Streakers piled into the van (minus one teammate benched by family obligations) and down to Jefferson. We stopped at The Pig (bar) for our customary drink and dollar signing, and the bartender greeted us with smiles and sarcasm, just has she has every year! I was pretty tired at this point, and it was probably for the best that we made our way back to Nicole’s parents’ house and got settled for a few hours of sleep. Our starting time of 8:30 the next morning was later than we’d started in the past (I think we may have overestimated our speed!) but it did mean sleeping in a bit longer so nobody was complaining.

The Speedy Streakers run again!

The Speedy Streakers run again!

Everyone got ready, pulled out their costumes, and had some light breakfast before we piled back into our moving base for the day and made the 5 minute drive to the starting line. We didn’t end up with an overall costume theme, although the ladies (and Ben) did manage some spectacular sock monkey costumes! Our goal this year, as every year, is to have fun first, and to run second. I wanted to run as many legs with as many people as possible this year, and I certainly had the chance to make that happen. I ran the first leg, as I’ve done every year, along with several others, and we traded off and Eric and I kept running for the second leg as well.

Are you sure you're ready for us?!

Are you sure you’re ready for us?!

The weather had cooled a decent amount, and storms were threatening during the morning but nothing much came of them, aside from a short delay for lightning in the area. The legs ticked off pretty effortlessly, as we were all really familiar with the route at this point, and we made sure that numerous folks were running each leg so everyone always had company. The overall mood was perhaps a bit more mellow than in previous years, but the pudding and Jell-O shots were still flowing freely. It felt really comfortable to be back there, in that place, with such an amazing group of friends, during that event. In many ways, it almost felt like home in a way. I suppose that’s the result of being so completely comfortable with a group of people and an area, eh?

Ticking off the miles!

Ticking off the miles!

I ended up running 5 of the first 8 legs, and the morning hours flew by quickly. I was determined not to push as hard as I had in previous years so I still had some juice for the late stages, and I finally succeeded this year. I ended up running 8 of the 17 legs in all, including the hilly detour leg at the end, which didn’t seem nearly as bad as I had remembered it from a few years back. Thank you, Delaware hills! We made our way to the finish area and waited for Carla to come in on the anchor leg so we could all join her and cross the finish line together. She looked strong coming in, and we all made the final push through the finish line as they announced our names, and we picked up our finishers pint glasses. Another M2M Relay was in the books!

Miles of smiles :)

Miles of smiles 🙂

The evening ended up being pretty low-key as well, as we made our way back to our hotel room to shower and head out for dinner and drinks. We ate at a new pub/restaurant with enough beers on tap to make my head spin, and it was a perfect way to close out the night! Everyone slept soundly, which made getting up at 6AM all the more difficult. I got dressed quietly, along with Lani and Steve. I was able to say goodbye to everyone, even if they don’t remember it, and we headed to the airport so I could catch my 9AM flight. Leaving was bittersweet as I said my final goodbyes and began my journey back to Delaware. Leaving a place you called home for so long, as a visitor, for a new home, is a strange feeling, and it left me with plenty of mixed emotions. This trip was a much-needed means of connecting with many people most important to me, and at the same time a difficult reminder of just how much has changed, even if the people haven’t. The Speedy Streakers, and the Vardos as a whole will always hold a special place in my heart, and I’m now more committed than ever to making sure I maintain those connections and those friendships for the long haul! The Delaware Chapter of Team Vardo is stronger than ever, and waiting to welcome others to the world of East Coast running 🙂

Finishing strong!

Finishing strong!

 

Tradition, family, and running are interconnected for me. You simply need to return to some races…they mean more than simply a medal or a finish time. Times and logs never tell the full story. The power of running rests between the miles, in the conversations, the smiles, the trust, and the memories. Remembering that is as important to #chasing42 as any race will ever be!

Race Report: Delaware Trail Marathon

I truly enjoy the travel that accompanies many races. I’ve had the opportunity to visit parts of the country that I would have never sought out without a race, and I am certain that these experiences bolster my quality of life. However, there’s something to be said for a race in your backyard that requires minimal planning, very little travel, and being able to sleep in your own bed the night before. I’ve had that scenario play out for shorter races in the past, but this was the first time I’ve ever lived this close to a full marathon, and it ended up being a great opportunity to cross Delaware off my list and spend more time on trails I am quite comfortable running.

The April 30th Delaware Trail Marathon is put on by the Trail Dawgs, a local trail running group that hosts events throughout the year, and doesn’t take itself too seriously in the process. The laid back approach works well, and represents everything I love about the trail and ultra community. This particular race is held in conjunction with the Triple Crown, which challenges runners to tackle a half marathon, 10K, and 5K back-to-back-to-back. It also happens to be the only trail marathon in this tiny little state, and is held at White Clay State Park, which is a mere 15 minutes down the road from me. For all of these reasons, I was eager to race and hang out with some great folks along the way!

Photo Credit: Tom Davis & Jim Kniskern

Photo Credit: Tom Davis & Jim Kniskern

As I indicated, I was able to wake up around 6AM, throw on my clothes, have a light breakfast, and be at the park in plenty of time to pick up my packet and be ready for the 7:40 start. The course itself is two loops of the half marathon course, which meanders through White Clay Creek State Park. Although there are no significant climbs, the rolling hills still mean a decent amount of elevation gain, which I would be reminded of after the first loop. The half marathoners were sent on their way at 7:30, and the small group of marathoners (36 in total) lined up quickly and we were unceremoniously sent on our way.

And we're off! (Photo Credit: Tom Davis & Jim Kniskern)

And we’re off! (Photo Credit: Tom Davis & Jim Kniskern)

I’ve run these trails several times in the past, but didn’t necessarily grasp the overall layout of the terrain. So, when I looked at last year’s results and saw the 4 hour winning time, it briefly crossed my mind that I could podium this year. Needless to say, this is not a possibility I’ve ever considered when lining up for a marathon. Thus, I went out with the lead pack and actually led the race for a good half mile before reality set in, and I slowed to a more comfortable pace on the rolling hills. The trails were in great shape, and the cool weather made for a perfect morning of running. I knew I shouldn’t be pushing it all that much, but I still managed to go out too fast, and the pace definitely caught up to me by the end of the first loop.

Did someone say creek crossing? (Photo Credit: Tom Davis & Jim Kniskern)

Did someone say creek crossing? (Photo Credit: Tom Davis & Jim Kniskern)

My favorite element of the winding course was the opportunity to cross White Clay Creek itself on 4 separate occasions. As you know, we’ve been getting plenty of rain lately, so the water levels were relatively high. This meant knee-deep water as we waded across the creek. My Lone Peaks drained really well so my feet dried out pretty quickly, and the cold water was a nice shot of adrenaline each time I jumped in!

Photo Credit: Tom Davis & Jim Kniskern

Photo Credit: Tom Davis & Jim Kniskern

I completed the first half in around 2 hours, and knew I had to pull up significantly, as my legs were feeling the burn. This had as much to do with a lack of recovery and sleep as anything else, and I had to remind myself that I was using the race as a long training run. I matched paces with another runner for the second loop, and we spent the next 13 miles running and chatting about all sorts of topics, which made the miles fly by that much quicker. More than that, it was a perfect reminder of why I love trail running so much. Smaller fields, and more shared experiences means you are always much more likely to end up meeting new people and having great conversations!

Beautiful single track! (Photo Credit: Tom Davis & Jim Kniskern)

Beautiful single track! (Photo Credit: Tom Davis & Jim Kniskern)

My running was itself pretty uneventful, and I was able to maintain a pretty even pace. The trails aren’t terribly technical so footing was rarely an issue, and it was simply a matter of relentless forward progress. The two of us came into the final stretch and ended up crossing the finish line at the same time for 10th and 11th place finishes. We received a coffee mug and a small medal, and made our way to the park pavilion for some food and drink. I hung out for a few minutes, and then hopped in my car, which was parked right at the start, and drove home to tackle the rest of the days chores.

It was beautiful in its simplicity, and I certainly won’t argue with an 11th place marathon finish, even if there were only 36 runners. There are many ways to keep #chasing42!

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