Sunday, May 29, 2016

2016 Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile

The Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile put on by the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club takes place in the George Washington National Forest, which also happens to be where I grew up.  The course has gone through changes over the years but at one point in time, the race started and finished a mere half mile from our house.  This year, I finally hit the button and registered for the lottery for the 22nd edition of MMT.  Lo and behold I made it in.  This year there were still runners on the waitlist so I was lucky to get in my first time entering the lottery.  

You get bonus mileage with a course total of 103.7 miles. Some of my Strava segments of the course: 

I haven’t considered myself a natural 100-miler and I also don’t consider myself a naturally strong technical runner.  This was the perfect race for me then!  It was hard to quell my competitive nature, but I knew my best approach to having an enjoyable day was to put competition aside and focus instead on taking my time and making sure I was staying on top of my nutrition.  Ian also recommended I take walk breaks downhill (run 5 minutes, walk 30 steps) to preserve my quads since this has been an issue for me in the past.

While training had gone well this year, races had not.  This threw another doubt into my head.  Combine this with the fact that labwork before and after Lake Sonoma 50 Mile showed something wasn’t right (chronic sinus infection?), I confirmed to myself that a relaxed approach was the best approach. 

We did our usual and took a family road trip to the east coast, first stopping in New York to see Ian's family and then to New Hampshire/Massachusetts for Wapack and Back 50 Mile.  Ian’s race report here:  After Wapack, we headed down to Virginia just in time for Mother's Day.  

Race week was spent making flourless peanut butter cookies and rice krispie treats, formulating my fueling plan, and organizing aid station stops for my crew.  I needed to rely on my crew for almost all of my race day nutrition, so I wanted to have everything as organized as possible for them. 

Thanks to Meredith Terranova for brainstorming some awesome fueling alternatives (cookies and rice krispies).  They worked wonderfully!

By the end of 27 hours, I consumed almost all of a batch of cookies and over two-packs of cane sugar soda, not including my other sources of fuel.  The goal was to take in more solid food than I usually do.
Fueling plan (*Note Meredith did not review this, so she may have changed things drastically!)


On Friday, my parents, Ian and I made the trek out to the start line about 30 minutes down Fort Valley for check-in and the pre-race meeting.  Then it was back home for a quick dinner and to catch a few hours of sleep.   We had to be up at 2 a.m. for a 4 a.m. race start. 

Race Check-In.

4 a.m.: Go time!  The first four miles are on road before hitting the single track and taking on Short Mountain.  Short Mountain is no joke and immediately the slogan “Massanutten Rocks” came to fruition.  The race was still bunched together and I reminded myself to be patient through here.  A) I didn’t need to fall in the dark and; B) it was a long way to go.  Eventual race winner and 8-time finisher, Kathleen Cusick came rolling by early and I could tell she wasn’t messing around that day.  I was already focusing on putting the calories in but I think I did a bit much because my stomach started to get wonky an hour in.  I’m sure my crew of Mom, Dad, Mema and Ian (plus Super Bee and Sycamore) were excited to hear me whining about this at the first stop, Edinburg Gap. 

Edinburgh Gap Aid Station
Photo by Paul Encarnación

Following, I break down the course based on when I saw my crew.  There were plenty of other aid stations between these listed.  

Edinburg Gap (Mile 12.1) to Elizabeth Furnace (Mile 33.3): I slowed down even more and let my stomach settle.  By Woodstock Tower aid station (Mile 20.3), I was feeling good again and started making time on the ridgeline.  This was a very nice section of trail.  After leaving Powell’s Fort aid station (Mile 25.8), we started into sections of the course familiar to me.  We started a gentle uphill on a gravel road, which I've run many times, and my left IT band started aching.  I became even more diligent walk/run breaks on all the downhills.  Going into Elizabeth Furnace, my knee was getting worse.

Had to say hi to the dog leaving Powell's Fort.
Photo by Paul Encarnación

Entering Powell's Fort
Photo by Paul Encarnación

Elizabeth Furnace
Photo by Tim Toogood

Elizabeth Furnace (Mile 33.3) to Shawl Gap (Mile 38):  I quickly saw my crew at Elizabeth Furnace and made the climb back up to the ridge.  Then it was down Shawl Gap, a very well known section for me, also known as "the bus hill."  After a few miles, Shawl Gap comes out on Panhandle Road.  Memories of tall grass and chiggers on the last 1/4 mile of the trail are never forgotten.  The race goes right on Panhandle, but I joked I was going to go left and be back home in less than a mile and a half…or was I joking?

Shawl Gap Aid Station

One of my favorite photos from the day!  My parents, Ian, Grandad and
good neighbors, John and Nancy, were all there to show there support.
Mema is standing just outside the photo.

Shawl Gap (Mile 38) to Habron Gap (Mile 54): I saw my crew again at Shawl Gap, along with my Grandad and our good neighbors John and Nancy.  I left the aid station and turned onto Panhandle Road, the road I’ve been running since middle school and have logged countless miles on.  It was both nice and frustrating to be on familiar ground…frustrating in the way that I felt like I should be making better time on this 3-mile road section even if it is ridiculously hilly.  At Veach Gap aid station (mile 41.1) we were back on the trail and set in for a 2-mile climb back up to the ridge.  The pity party was building but once I got going on the ridge, I felt okay.  We also got hit with a big thunderstorm.   It got chilly but I was fine with the rain, at least until I stopped moving later on. 

The ultimate low point was going down the purple trail to the aptly named Indian Grave aid station (mile 50).  Lots of runners passed on the 4-mile stretch of road between Indian Grave and Habron Gap.  Once I got to Habron Gap and my crew, I was convinced I was done. 

This is what the pity party surrounding an aching knee looks like.
The rain from earlier also caught up to me and the shaking started.

Habron Gap (Mile 54) to Camp Roosevelt (Mile 63.9): After a long pity party of sitting in a chair, freezing and getting my IT band rubbed out by my Dad (thanks Dad!), Ian and I walked over to the trail and I contemplated further whether I wanted to go on.  I can say that I didn’t want to continue, but I took the first step up the next climb.  I’m glad I did!  This ended up being one of the best sections of the day.  My IT band was looser and I could run.  I also spent a few miles chatting with last year's runner-up, Amy Rusiecki, which was a lot of fun and good distraction.  Everyone was surprised to see me at Camp Roosevelt in a timely fashion.  Here, Ian joined me for the long haul to the finish line. 

Camp Roosevelt (Mile 63.9) to Gap Creek I (Mile 69.6): I continued to feel okay and we were covering ground.  The most notable aspect of this section was that we were basically running in a creek bed there was so much water flowing down the trail.   We arrived into Gap Creek I just as the sun was setting.  Perfect timing!  We donned our head lamps and moved on. 

Gap Creek I (Mile 69.6) to Visitor Center (Mile 78.1): Leaving Gap Creek was one of the rockier sections of the course after you climbed Jawbone Gap Trail.  Other than Short Mountain, up until now the ridge lines had been fairly smooth.  Not this one!  We were still making time but the terrain definitely slowed us a bit.  The road coming into the Visitor Center was nice to see even if I couldn't run too quickly down it.  At the Visitor Center, my crew loaded me up again.  It was getting chilly now so a few minutes by the fire were key. 

Visitor Center (Mile 78.1) to Picnic Area (Mile 87.9): Infamous Bird Knob takes place on this section.  Ian had run this section a few days prior, so having someone who knew the route and could tell me what was up ahead kept this section from being too daunting. Otherwise, I can see how many runners would have a difficult time with this section at night.  It's quiet and you don't see many other people, if any.  The tater tots and strawberries were awesome at the Bird Knob aid station!  

A section of Bird Knob Trail
Photo credit:

Picnic Area (Mile 87.9) to Gap Creek II (Mile 96.8): Everything was still moving right along when we left our crew at the picnic area (while at this aid station, 2nd place woman got ahead of me)...then we hit Scothorn Gap.  This was the never-ending, backsliding climb that I started to have another break down on.  Like most of the course, this was a very wet section of trail.  Where the heck was the top!?  It was only a 1.5 mile, but it felt like 5.  Once we crested, I lost more time on the downhill section into Gap Creek II.  My IT bands weren't having it. 

A classic George Washington National Forest sign.  

Gap Creek II (Mile 96.8) to the Finish (Mile 103.7):  I was tired at Gap Creek II and frustrated I couldn't move quicker, but overall I was still okay.  We were so close to the finish line now, 7 miles to go, and I knew the sun would be rising soon.  We saw our crew one last time, sat by the fire for a few minutes and went back out to take on Jawbone Gap Trail climb one more time.  Once again coming down off the ridge, I was barely making forward progress.  The road was a welcome sight, but it was also the longest 5k ever when you're slogging.  Not to make it too easy, there was one more small climb on the dirt on the backside of the camp.  I think it was a mountain!  Across the bridge to the finish and through the field, we were there!

Thank you again to my crew: Mom, Dad, and Mema.  And to my fiancé, Ian, for doing double duty of crewing and pacing.  I couldn't have and wouldn't have wanted to do it without you all!  Also a thank you to Dr. AJ Gregg for working with me to get my body stronger since my last 100 mile attempt.  Things weren't perfect but it was a vast improvement.

Finish line area on Sunday morning


Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile belt buckle

We might both be a little delirious

With RD Kevin Sayers

Another shot from the day
Photo by Paul Encarnación

Monday, February 29, 2016

2016 Olympic Trials Marathon Weekend

The lead up to the 2016 Olympic Trials Marathon was much different than in 2012.  I was coming into the 2012 Olympic Trials Marathon with a recent 2:32:55 PR and was running for adidas-McMillanElite, so there was greater pressure to perform well.  It ended up that I raced in 2012 with a gnarly head cold, but it was still a solid performance for me despite feeling rough.

Competing at the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials.

Fast forward to November 2015 and I still didn't have a qualifier for the 2016 Trials.  I had run Eugene Marathon earlier in the year with the intention of securing my qualifier.  I ended up 2nd in the race, but only ran 2:44.  As soon as I had decided I wouldn't go for a last chance qualifier in January, USA Track and Field released the change in qualifying standards on December 11th, meaning I was now in.  I was now entering the Trials as one of the last qualifiers, a far different position from 2012.

Ian quickly put together 9-weeks of marathon training and I hit the pavement running by the following Monday.

Pre-Trials mandatory technical meeting.

The calm before the storm.  The start line the day before the race.

By race day, I had put in a strong 9-weeks of training compared to my last couple years.  I was thrilled to have been able to complete all of the training (exception of when Super Bee took off, frightened of gun shots) and to have hit training paces closer to where I feel I should be.  Granted, I wasn't logging the 100+ mile weeks that every other Trials qualifier in Flagstaff was doing, but it's all relative and I was happy with where I was at.

Bottles for race day.

Super Bee and Sycamore helping me gather my race day necessities.

Originally, I wanted to aim for a sub-2:40 at Trials.  As we got closer to race day and the forecast for temperatures in the high-70's to low-80's became certain, Ian strongly advised I back off that goal time and start much more conservatively.  This was the best decision.  When the gun went off, I just felt out of sorts but not terrible.  By half-way, it wasn't coming together despite starting conservative and my pace started slipping.  In the middle two 6-mile loops, I'd walk every time I saw Ian and confirm that I should finish out the race even though I wasn't competing anymore. I had some nausea that was coming in waves, but otherwise I was physically fine.  Let the trudging continue!

Still competing at this point.
How can you find yourself alone among over 200 runners?
The loneliness of the long distance runner...not to mention it's quite warm at this point.

The day of the Trials also happened to be my 30th birthday!
Birthday roses from my parents were delivered to our hotel room the evening before. 

Many runners had to drop or ended up in the medical tent receiving IV's due to the crazy warm conditions, all spurred by the first ever live television coverage of the Olympic Trials Marathon.  I was very happy to have finished in one piece in 2:54 and 100th place, 66 spots ahead of my starting position.  This was my slowest marathon ever, but not every one can be a PR.  Overall, I was grateful to have been a part of this year's Olympic Trials once again.  Sure, there were some organizational issues that have been discussed post-event, but that's a whole other blog, and there are others who have already addressed these issues in their own blogs.

I like this graphic by Tracy Green of the stats from the race:

Graphic by Tracy Green.

One of the neatest aspects of this Trials, was the huge representation by Flagstaff runners.  We had at least 13 runners (I know I'm missing someone) who live and train in Flagstaff year round qualify for the Trials.  For a smaller mountain town at 7,000 feet that's pretty impressive.

A few of the Flagstaff athletes:
Matt Llano and Kellyn Taylor of HOKA NAZ Elite.  TRF PRO members Nick Arciniaga,
Danny Mercado, Nick Hilton and Tyler Jermann.

With the Trials being held in Los Angeles, we had a huge support system make the trip to cheer on the athletes in person.  Thanks to them for bringing more of Flagstaff to the streets of LA!

Flagstaff getting ready for a day of cheering!
Group photos by Stephanie Del Giorgio.

I can tell hard work went into these signs.
Of course my personal favorite is "Bee Super," a play on my Border Collie Super Bee.
Ian completing his dual role of boyfriend and coach on the course.

Super Bee representing the finishers medal while Sycamore looks on.

Nap time post-trials.

If a birthday and running in the Olympic Trials wasn't enough, how about a fender bender trying to get out of LA.  We were so close to surviving the big make it even better, it was a hit and run.  The other car sped off and didn't even hesitate to stop.  Thankfully everyone was okay and once the wrecker pulled the fender off the tire and the police report filed, we were on our way again.  

Poor truck has been through a lot!

Wait...we're not done yet!  The weekend had yet more to bring in terms of excitement.  After we got mobile again, we headed to our original destination of Joshua Tree National Park....

Where Ian proposed!

Engagement ring next to a Joshua tree.  

I had no idea this was coming so it really was a big surprise.  I had never been to Joshua Tree and we've talked about taking a trip, so I assumed it was a typical detour on the trip like we are apt to do.  It wasn't planned to happen on Valentine's Day but that's the way it unfolded.  The best part was, no one knew beforehand except for my parents.  That's a big secret to keep!

Photos from Joshua Tree National Park.

Skull Rock in Joshua Tree.

Tired dogs after a short run in Joshua Tree.

This will certainly never be a weekend I'll forget!  There was intrigue around every corner.  Next up will be a return to the trails and ultras this spring.  

A big thank you to Ian for getting me to the start line and to HYPO2 and Dr. AJ Gregg for keeping the body healthy and strong.  

Thursday, September 10, 2015

From Eugene Marathon to a Grand Canyon Double Crossing to 50k Trail Championships

From 3 camps to 12 races to traveling, it's been a busy spring and summer.  There's still much more to go!


I kicked off the spring with an attempt at the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials Qualifier ('B' standard: 2:43, 'A' Standard: 2:37) at Eugene Marathon in May.  Nothing went terribly wrong during the race, but I somehow managed to run my slowest marathon to date, 2:44, and missed the qualifier.  On the flip side, this was by far the best I've ever recovered post-marathon.  I did 99% of my training solo, and I believe part of the issue was that I got too comfortable in my day to day runs and workouts.   Let the speed games begin!  I've since dedicated the next months to working on challenging myself again.

But not quite yet!  First, time for a Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim with Ian Torrence (part with Chris Rennaker).  This was only my second time running in the canyon, the first being in 2010 after I ran my first marathon (Houston).  With temps topping out at triple digits, stomach issues and a challenging route, needless to say it felt like a death march coming up South Kaibab at the end of the day.  Thankfully we made it out before sunset even with my slow hike.

Finish to the Rim to Rim to Rim.  At least we're
still smiling!

Next up the McMillan Running Ultra and Trail Camp headed by non other than Ian Torrence.  We had a fun few days talking and running all things trail.

Campers and counselors at Schultz Tank.

Super Bee made sure everyone did their extra curricular
stick throwing.  Nicolas excelled at this activity!

First local race of the summer was Aravaipa's inauguaral Flagstaff Extreme Big Pine out at Fort Tuthill.  I opted for the two-loop 27km option.  After running with one of the guys for a loop, I found myself on my own the second loop but still came away with the women's win.

HOT SUMMER NIGHTS!  This was also a new race series that was the brainchild of Ian, but is backed by Team Run Flagstaff.  Over June, July and August there were three Wednesday night trail races consisting of a 7k, 5k and 3k.  I tied with Nick Arciniaga for the overall win at the 7k (even though he could have buried me) but word got out and the last two races were more competitive.  First female for the series!

June's 7k with Nick.

July's 5k.
August.  Trying to keep up with Nick Arciniaga
and Brian Tinder.
Photo by Martos Hoffman.

August 3k.  Photo by Martos Hoffman.

Western States Uphill Challenge.  This year they rerouted the course to go up the trail.  Not having done much bouldering and trail climbs recently, it was a bit of a shock to the system.  The cool thing was this was the first race my Mom has been able to do in years, which was really awesome.  Not an easy first choice!

Mom and I at the top of the summit.


In July, I decided it would be a good idea to run the Fourth of July Downtown Mile.  The course is at 7,000 ft., consists of two loops and is not void of hills.  I was 3rd female in 5:11 which I will take since I haven't done any specific training for a mile.  Always feels good to run fast and make it hurt!

Fourth of July Downtown Mile.

The following weekend was Hearts 911.  This year they reversed the course, so we climbed the very technical and rocky Heart Trail to the top of Mt. Elden then descended down Elden Lookout Road (dirt) to the finish.  I much preferred this direction since I'm not a fan of technical descents.  Not one of my stronger days, but I worked the downhill much better than in the past.

Growler refill for the win for my Dad and Ian to enjoy.

Between Downtown Mile and Hearts 911, Ian and I helped out at the Rob Krar Ultra Camp.

Saddle of Mount Humphreys - 11,800 feet.  

Me, Ian, John Onate, Rob and Stephanie Howe.

Super Bee also had a birthday during Rob's camp.  5 years old
and loving life!

Because I couldn't get enough climbing....Team Run Flagstaff's Snowbowl Hill Climb.  Seven miles of ascending up Snowbowl Road with no breaks.  I was 2nd to Janet Cherobon but we both ran under her previous course record.  This was not an easy one!

Back to Virginia for Coach Tanner's high school camp.  Our cross country programs in Warren County have come a long way and this was Coach Tanner's first year putting on a high school camp.  I was honored to come back and give a talk to the runners.

Leading the campers through drills at Skyline High School.

On the left, high school teammates Joseph and Amanda who are now coaches in Warren County.
Our high school coaches, Coach Tanner (Right) and Coach B (Front).

State Champs flashback!  Joseph was State Champion in the
high jump.  I was State Champion in the 3200m.  

August kicked off with the finale race of the Hot Summer Nights series.  After that it was Big Brothers Big Sisters Half Marathon.  There was a lot of rain the night before which made for a very muddy course, but I still went for the course record.  I did get the record by a few minutes and was 3rd overall.

They made us redo the pre-race kiss so it could be captured on film.

Our uncoordinated decisions to wear black were good ones!
Displaying the mud we collected along the way.

Another year of fun at Gaspin' in the Aspen 15k and another event Ian RD's.  I was a minute off my CR from last year but it was still a fun day.

Running through the meadows at Gaspin'.  
Photo by Kristin Wilson.

Did I mention my Dad also came out this month and helped us with house projects?  House projects also included clearing trees off the Gaspin' course with Ian.

Dad ripping up laminate for the new tile floor.

Last but certainly not least were the USATF 50k Trail Championships which were hosted by Tamalpa Headlands 50k this year.  Thanks to Diana and Tim Fitzpatrick for putting on a great event.

I had never been to the Marin Headlands before, so this was a new experience.  All I knew going into the race was to expect a lot of climbing and descending.  I don't worry so much with climbing but I knew the downhills would be a personal challenge for me.  I've been working all year with Dr. AJ Gregg at HYPO2 on my strength and I have gotten a lot stronger especially with my quad control, so I had that extra piece of confidence going into the weekend.  I felt I was lacking some on my course-specific training, but that was my own fault and something I was aware of going into the weekend.

Race day brought rain and heavy fogs, which is one my most favorite racing conditions.  I really had to pay attention to course marking though so I didn't miss one of the turns early on.  Megan Roche took the race out hard, but stopped to tie her shoe a few miles in.  I wasn't planning on being in the lead that early but I had no choice once she stepped off.  By mile 8 though, Caitlin Smith had passed me on one of the descents.  From there I was hovering 1-2 minutes back until the very end of the race.  For some reason, my legs were getting sore by 4-5 miles in (maybe that course specific-training?).  Ultimately this slowed me down, but I was very happy with my nutrition (thanks Meredith Terranova!) and with my effort and energy levels.  Energy-wise I never tanked or hit a rough patch.  Both energy and nutrition (day to day and in racing) was a big struggle last year, so this is great progress for me.  So far, Tailwind has been working well and fingers are crossed this continues.

At the end of the day, I was second to Caitlin, which is my second time finishing runner-up at the 50k Trail Championships.  The first time was at the 2013 Bootlegger 50k to Michelle Yates.

Women's Top Ten including Nike Trail teammate Lindsay Tollefsen (3rd).
With Angela Tieri who placed 5th.  I have been honored to
work with Angela through McMillan Running and to see her achieve
her well-earned goals this year.

All of these running camps and races make Super Bee and Sycamore very tired!  A big thank you to Ian for the support and for doing all the driving on our long road trips.  Also thank you to Dr. AJ Gregg, Meredith Terranova, Nike Trail Running, Nathan Hydration and Team Run Flagstaff Pro.