Capon Valley 50K is a fabulous spring race in West Virginia. A hilly, technical course with countless stream crossings, luscious mud to play in, friendly and welcoming volunteers at the aid stations, lots of friends who come back year after year and a most delicious barbecue chicken dinner at the end – what’s not to love!? This is one race that will always be on my spring calendar.
Here are a few sights from the 24 Hour ATR run in Prince William Forest. Each 10K loop was technical, hilly, beautiful and green with spring. In a 24 hour race, runners are challenged to see how far they can go in a set time period. Eva Pastalkova won the women’s event with 106 miles – a course record! She was incredible out there! I was happy to do 62.5 miles, 10 loops, for a 3rd place finish. An abundant aid station was set up at the start/finish of each loop, so runners didn’t really have to carry anything other than a water bottle with them. Athletic Equation runs a well-organized and wonderfully supported race, with 100% of proceeds going to charity – the Semper Fi Fund and Navy SEAL Foundation. It was a fabulous day and night to play in the woods!
Trail running is my passion. I love the time in the woods, being serenaded by nature and her magnificence, pushing my body as far as it can go, breathing in the joy and beauty of the trails. Over the past five months I have been lucky to find a group of like-minded, fun, funny, talented, inspirational and spirited trail runners to share many miles with. Spending the day on trail with friends was a great way to celebrate my birthday weekend. And seeing a bear just made the day complete! Running on trails is great…running with friends is fabulous.
Life is good.
Bluebells. Friends. Challenging trails. So much fun. A fabulous day on trail!
The blossoms were out in all of their magnificent glory tonight. Perhaps they were even more beautiful this year because we had to wait so long to see this harbinger of spring.
Warning: This post is more about food than trail running…although I do think the two are inseparable. Without proper fuel, our bodies can’t perform at their best. And I’ve experienced this exact thing over the past several weeks. I just finished my first 90 mile training week and am truly amazed at how good I feel. I know a lot of my blog readers are interested in performance and doing well in running and in life, so I wanted to share a big life change that has made a huge difference in my running and my life.
On March 10, I woke up with an overwhelming urge to CHANGE SOMETHING. I had been reading about the #Whole30 on Twitter and a friend at work shared a blog post with me. I had read a lot about Paleo and this sounded similar. I was intrigued. I was extremely open to a restart or a detox or whatever you want to call it. I was excited to learn something new. That morning I read through the #Whole30 website, downloaded the book, It Starts With Food, and decided to venture into a #Whole30 eating commitment (I read this word somewhere – I like “commitment” instead of “diet”. It’s empowering and speaks to honoring and making a commitment to myself.). My refrigerator was full of “good” food I didn’t want to trash (homemade lentil soup, hummus, oatmeal, etc.), so I started that first week with no alcohol, no sugar and no dairy while I finished off the grains and legumes in my fridge. I officially started the #Whole30 eating commitment on Sunday, March 17. Today is Day 14 of eating mindfully and eliminating all alcohol, sugars, grains, legumes and dairy. It is Day 14 of eating wonderfully prepared meals full of vegetables, fruits, lean, grass-fed meats and lots of yummy fats like coconut oil, clarified butter, ghee and olive oil. It is a huge commitment, but as the book says, this is not hard. “Quitting heroin is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Birthing a baby is hard….It’s only for 30 days, and it’s for the most important health cause on earth – the only physical body you will ever have in your lifetime.” So while it’s been challenging, it has not been hard. And it’s been a lot of fun!
Here are just a few of the changes I’ve experienced in only 14 days of eating whole, clean, good foods:
-I’ve had shoulder/arm pain for over a year. Acupuncture didn’t help and my regular doctor said it was tendonitis from the repetitive motion of running. (an arm injury from running…seriously?) I had pretty much resigned myself to pain getting in and out of my sports bra, pain while writing on an easel in my job as a kindergarten teacher, pain on long runs, and the inability to do push-ups or other arm weight workouts. I woke up last week and the pain was GONE. Completely gone. It hasn’t returned, despite a 50K and a 90 mile training week! I’m certain the pain was caused by inflammation due to a grain, dairy or sugar intolerance. Whatever the cause, I am just thrilled that I can do my push-ups again and am in NO pain.
-I’ve had eczema all of my life. It’s on my hands and can be a real problem, sometimes reaching the point where I would need a steroid IV to get it under control. It is now completely gone. My hands are in great shape and this alone is worth never having a cupcake again.
-I’ve had issues with blood sugar since I was a kid. I used to go through my day with lows and highs – intense food cravings an hour or two after that bowl of oatmeal for breakfast…NEEDING my sugar fix mid-afternoon, feeling shaky and like I was going to pass out frequently through long runs and everyday life. These feelings are GONE. I have a steady feeling of energy and have not experienced the lows and/or highs at all. This has been amazing in my long runs. The HAT 50K was one of my best runs with no dips in energy and no shakiness at all. I fueled that run on homemade gu (sweet potato baby food, coconut milk and applesauce), bananas, and Peter Rabbit Organic fruit packets.
I am also sleeping better and waking before the alarm clock. The #Whole30 plan asks you not to weigh yourself, but I do know my clothes are fitting a whole lot looser. I am cooking WAY more than ever before and trying new foods and recipes. An evening of playing around with food as I prepare dinner and lunch for the next day has pleasantly replaced an evening of having a beer or two on the couch. I am mindful of what I eat and am enjoying food so much more. My head is clearer, my body is stronger and I am overall a lot happier. I’m looking forward to the next two weeks on the #Whole30 and to a future of Paleo, healthy, whole & clean food eating!
I had a lot of questions about this before I started. Perhaps you do too. I would recommend reading over the website and searching the #Whole30 hashtag on Twitter. If you want the answers to “WHY no sugar/grains (but oatmeal is GOOD for you!)/legumes (peanut butter?!?!)/dairy????” then read the book, It Starts With Food. The authors do an excellent job explaining all of this. I can’t begin to explain it here. I can only share the remarkable results that I’ve had. And we’re all an experiment of one, yes? Happy eating!
The 25th running of the HAT Run 50K took place in Susquehanna State Park in Havre de Grace, Maryland on March 23. It’s a fun ultra with great aid stations and plenty of single track trail to play on. Although it’s a big ultra (over 450 runners) it was very well-organized with plenty of aid, fabulous volunteers and great swag, including a technical hat (of course), a technical tee and an Under Armour hooded sweatshirt with the race logo embroidered on it. One to put on the calendar for next spring!
A fun day in the mountains with the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club!
A beautiful blue sky trail run on my favorite local trail with the promise of spring just around the corner.
A winter 50K put on by the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club – Hashawha Hills starts at the Bear Branch Nature Center in Westminster, Maryland. It’s a 2 loop course that takes runners on a wild ride through frozen and muddy fields, hills, streams, fire roads, and horse trails surrounding the park. Great day playing on trail – and a most fabulous finishers mug made by a local potter.
A snowy run on the Appalachian Trail from 522 south towards Mt. Marshall.
The Icy 8 – an 8 hour race put on by Athletic Equation – was a fun day of 8 mile loops in icy temps at Lake Anna State Park. This was a particularly beautiful section of trail with a cushy bed of pine needles to run on.
A winter day on trail from Shawl Gap to Signal Knob and back down the Tuscarora Trail. Icy, snowy, rocky fun with lots of climbing and amazing views as a reward.
A wonderful trail that runs along the Potomac River, starting at Roosevelt Island. The trail is fairly technical with some small bouldering places, rolling climbs (with a few steep ones thrown in) and beautiful views. A nice getaway very close to Washington, DC.
I started running in 1983, and I thank my junior high and high school coach, Coach Bugg, for making me the runner I am today. Whenever I go home to visit my parents, I just have to get a run in on my old cross country course. Lucky for me, the local mountain bikers have extended my high school cc course into an amazing network of sweet single track – right in my parent’s neighborhood. Here are some sights from my own “turkey trot” – Thanksgiving day trail run.
While many people were out shopping with the mobs in malls, I was lucky enough to be on the top of the world with my running club. Black Friday was the 9th annual running of “Vicki’s Death March”, otherwise known as the Shenandoah National Park’s “greatest hits” trail run. The run started in the Old Rag parking lot and went up White Oak Canyon to Hawksbill summit, following the AT to Skyland, Little Stony Man, Corbin Cabin, Nicholson Hollow and back to Old Rag. Lots of climbing, a fair amount of rocks, roots, leaf cover and even a little ice. It was a gorgeous day, with a bright blue sky and warmish temperatures – a perfect day to play on trail.
“Grit, endurance, temporary loss of sanity. You might need all of these if you want to attempt Grindstone. If you want to finish, well, just keep in mind this is, without a doubt, the hardest 100 miler east of the 100th meridian.”
The registration website makes sure you know what you are getting into. I knew, and willingly (happily, even?!) signed up to complete my 1st 100 miler. Go big or go home, right?! It was an epic adventure in which I had to dig deep, endure, and temporarily lose my sanity. But I did, and I finished in 36 hours and 33 minutes.
The race began at 6pm on a Friday. I arrived at Camp Shenandoah around noon under blue skies and bright fall sunshine. I found a parking spot next to Charles West, a friend I met at the training weekend. We chatted while I packed and repacked my drop bags, checking off my lists and thinking through what I might possibly need over the next 101.85 miles and 36 hours or so. I didn’t have a crew, so I had to make sure those drop bags had everything I might need. The race briefing was at 1pm, so I dropped off my drop bags in the growing piles next to the main cabin and headed in to have lunch and listen to the briefing. Clark went through the course highlights, gave away a bunch of fun schwag (love my UltraInspire water bottle!) and then Dr. Horton gave a short talk where he repeatedly told everyone “don’t be stupid”. He updated the weather forecast and said it may start raining around 4am Sunday morning with temperatures dropping. I knew there was a good chance I’d still be on the course so I went back to the car and added a heavy rain jacket, gloves and a hat to my drop bag. This proved to be the best advice I ever took. Thank you Dr. Horton!
At 5:30 I was dressed, Body Glided, headlamp on, hydration pack filled and walking to the starting line. I was nervous, excited and really just ready to run. Waiting around all day made me antsy and I couldn’t wait to get going. It was good to see Rob Colenso at the start who warned me that the last 5 miles would be the longest 5 I’d ever run, (true.), Gary Knipling and his crew Quatro (who would save my race many hours later!) and Mike Campbell who gave me a big good luck hug. It was real – I was doing this! Excitement won over all the other emotions and I toed the line with Charles and a newly found friend Jessica, and we were off! It was a slow start as we took off around the dam and had to wait to get onto the trail. I momentarily thought how hard it was going to be to climb up back onto that dam some 36 hours later (and it was – especially in the rain) but soon we were navigating rocks & roots and playing on the trail. This is what we came here for!
The first night is really a blur. I’m not one of these runners that can remember every climb, aid station and overlook. They all kind of merge together into one experience. The stars on the climb to Elliot’s Knob were unbelievable. We stopped for a minute and turned off our headlamps just to soak in the beauty of being out here on this amazing race. I stayed with Jessica on and off for most of the first night. It was so great to have someone to talk to and the time really flew by. Around 3am is when things started going bad. I found myself sleep running – waking up 2-3 feet off trail stumbling around in the brush. Thankfully, this never happened on the trails with 1000ft+ dropoffs to the side. Being tired was the one thing I wasn’t really worried about beforehand – I can usually power through tiredness. It never occurred to me that this could be the biggest thing to overcome. I really don’t remember much of those hours. I was fighting hard to stay awake and not face plant on the trail in a sleep walk. Around 5am I saw a headlamp barreling down the trail at me. My first thought was oh,no – something’s wrong! I’m really off trail or someone is hurt – but no, it was just Karl Meltzer on his way BACK already. Amazing! We figured he was about 40 miles ahead of us. That woke me up for a few minutes, but I soon found myself sleep running again.
I got to the North River Gap aid station, mile 36, at 5:30am. At that point I just wanted sleep. And lots of it. I was worried about going back out and falling asleep and really injuring myself. I sat by the fire while I changed my headlamp batteries and Gary Knipling and Quatro Hubbard came over to talk to me. They said I could sleep for 15 minutes and they would wake me up. But I was really worried that if I fell asleep it would be all over and I wouldn’t be able to get back out. Plus, the cut off for that aid station was 6:30, so I was really cutting it close. Quatro then offered me a 5 Hour Energy Shot. I’ve never had one before but I was willing to try anything at that point. WOWZERS!! It saved the day. I drank that nasty, yet wonderful, elixir down and I was off…the wrong way. We realized we were off course when we got to the hanging bridge – that we had already crossed. We ran back to the aid station and Quatro got us back on course. Huge thank you to Gary and Quatro!! By that point I was wide awake and full of energy. I took off climbing up toward Little Bald. The sun was rising and it was simply gorgeous on that trail. I put on some music and just celebrated being alive, being able to run for hours and played on the trail while I climbed, climbed and climbed that 7 mile climb to the top.
Saturday was another blue sky, fabulous fall day. The miles clicked by as I headed to the turn around point. I loved seeing all the runners and pacers headed back already. Smiles, high fives and tons of encouragement really raised your spirits. The breakfast burritos at Little Bald Knob AS were amazing. Knowing that I would see my mom at Briery Branch motivated me and I was feeling great. My mom was waiting around 10:30 with warm washclothes to wash my feet and change socks (a key thing for me not getting blisters, I think), iced tea for a caffeine boost, a dry shirt and sports bra (again, key for no chafing) and a can’t-be-beat mom hug, kiss and so much encouragement! I had sent her a text to bring another 5 Hour Energy Shot so I put that in my pack for the second night and I was off. I met back up with Charles here and sang my way up to Reddish Knob. The colors were magnificent and I took a minute to take a picture and soak in the fact that I was halfway there!
My next goal now was to get back to North River Gap where my pacer extraordinaire, Kate Montgomery, would be waiting. I was feeling good, running the flats and downhills, power hiking the climbs (thanking Jen Jacobs at least a zillion times for telling me to train by climbing on the treadmill – made all the difference!) – making sure to eat and drink. Nutrition was never an issue throughout the race. The aid stations had wonderfully appealing food and I stayed away from anything sweet. The grilled cheese, soup, potatoes, oranges and burritos were perfect. I leapfrogged most of the day with Jessica and Charles and just enjoyed the trail. I ran into North River Gap around 5:30. I was now hovering at about a half hour before cut-off time – too close for comfort. I knew that I needed to keep moving, speed through the aid stations and manage my nutrition. I took my second 5 Hour Energy Shot, picked up Kate and we were off! I was so lucky to get Kate to be my pacer with only a week’s notice. I truly don’t think I could have done this without her. She was a fresh mind, fresh legs, encouragement beyond belief, great conversation and simply the best pacer I could have asked for. We headed up Lookout Mountain talking, laughing and moving at a good pace. I knew the cutoff time was close but I felt strong and confident that we could make it. Kate kept a constant stream of good conversation going sprinkled with many “you’re doing great!” comments.
As the second sunset of the race fell, we started passing people on the trail. I felt like we were moving at a good pace and Kate confirmed that. I really had no recollection of doing this part of the trail the night before. I knew there was a sweet downhill into Dowells Draft, but other than that could not remember what else was ahead of us. Probably a good thing I didn’t remember…the climbs and descents in the last 30 miles of this course were extreme. They seemed to go on forever. I am quite certain that rocks were added to the course after we ran it the first night. Ha! I do not remember the miles of steep climbs, loose shale rock (VERY loose rock!), narrow rocky trails, and drop offs that my headlamp beam couldn’t see the bottom of – but they were certainly there on the return trip! Kate would ask me what was coming next and I had no clue. I finally just assumed it was more climbing. Or descending. More often than not, I was right. On Crawford Mountain the dinosaurs came out. I kept seeing baby dinosaurs eating leaves and just hanging out on the trail. They were mixed in with real estate signs, jack-o-lanterns and a variety of other weirdness. Thank goodness for Kate who would just laugh and say, “keep running – no dinosaurs there…”. Only a few times did I stop and grab her arm and insist that I was seeing something that wasn’t there! It’s wild what your mind can create with sleep deprivation and 80+ miles on your legs. They made for some good laughs though!
At Dry Branch Gap we were well ahead of the cut-off time. I was thrilled that we had made up time and zoomed in and out of the aid station. Charles’ crew was fabulous – changing my headlamp batteries, pushing food on me (in a good way), smiling and encouraging. I’m so glad he shared his great crew with me! At this point I realized that we would not see another sunrise – my goal! We left the aid station with thoughts that we only had a half marathon to go! Those last 13 miles were long, challenging and fun. I was still feeling really strong and running the flats and downhills (it actually felt a lot better to run) and power hiking the climbs. We powered on, with Kate keeping track of time and miles, my nutrition and encouragement. I began to realize that I was really going to do this!
The final 5 miles were indeed the. Longest. Five. Miles. Ever. (thanks for your honesty, Rob!) We left Falls Hollow AS with an escort across Rt. 42, the promise that we just had a “small mountain” left to climb, and the warning that rain was on the way. People kept asking what I needed and I remember saying, “I just want to run!” I was ready to see that finish line and hug the totem pole. Thank you Dr. Horton for your weather statement at the briefing! I had my heavier rain gear on and was warm and dry as the cold rain started a steady downpour at 4:40 am. We ran/hiked/slipped and slid through the final 5 miles. The trail turned into a shallow, wet creek bed (reality) – full of happy smiling skeletons, black beans, mini pumpkins and tombstones (not reality). I just went with it and ran my way through my Halloween hallucination. Kate and I pushed on and finally came to the 1 mile left sign. I could smell the barn! I got quiet as I thought about all the training I put into this, and how bad I wanted this. I reflected on how FUN this had been – really and truly. That was the word that kept coming into my head – fun. I had just spent 36 hours playing on mountain trails. It doesn’t get any better than that! Kate slid down the mud slide and helped me climb down it, then climbed up the other side – and we finally came out onto the dam. Everything was pitch dark, but I knew we were at the Camp. We ran that final mile around the dam, down the road and to the finish chute! I was all smiles as Clark came out and gave me my buckle and finisher’s shirt and then I finally got to hug the totem pole. 36 hours and 33 minutes after starting this adventure I was the 11th woman finisher out of 17 who started and the 100th finisher out of 158 who started, 108 who finished.
Grindstone was the hardest race I’ve ever done. And the most fun. I am so lucky to have a body that can do what I ask it to and a mind that will also play along. I’m lucky to have friends and family who support this crazy love of mine. I love the community, the sense of accomplishment and the pure high that comes from finishing 101.85 miles. I can’t wait to do it again! Thank you to Clark, the tireless volunteers, my many trail running friends and the fabulous Kate Montgomery, my pacer, who kept me smiling, happy and enjoying many hours on the trail. See you on trail again soon! Happy trails and happy running.