Average Joe Trail Runner

You Won’t Know Unless You Try

This is going to be a quick update post. For the last 1.5 months with another 5 weeks still to come, I have been in PT for what I thought was going to be a simple hamstring strain. However, It’s been anything but simple. I have fallen from being able to easily complete 40-50 mile weeks with relatively no issue to barely being able to eek out a 5k today. I have dealt with the lows of not being able to run for over a month. I have had to give myself numerous pep talks through out the weeks to keep my sanity. I have had to drop a race, and consider dropping another one, and even worst consider dropping my entire year.

This was supposed to be a big year for me. Western States 100 qualification and my first 100 miler, but its been far from ideal or wanted. Through the weeks of PT, I have learned a lot. I’ve discovered a the importance of stretching, icing, and strengthening my body. I’ve learned how important bio mechanics are to my sport. I have gained a new appreciation for learning to rest. I have learned there are times to trust experts, but more importantly there are times when you need to trust yourself. All the research in the world can tell you something is not good for you, but each person is different and what works for an entire statistical population may not work for that one person. This was my biggest mistake. I stopped doing yoga because someone who I trusted as an expert said yoga for runners was not good. Well maybe for some it isn’t, maybe based on the research that person has done, but for me and knowing my body and how it works, it is the best thing I can do. This was a mistake, but a lesson well learned.

I was considering dropping my next 50 miler. I have 2 months to train for a 50 miler, then a 70.5 miler 1 month later, which is my qualifier for WS 100. I have 13 hours to do the 50 miler and I have to go sub 20 for the 70.5 miler. These are both difficult races, with Laurel High Lands 70.5 miler being the most difficult race I have attempted to date. I confided in my running partner and good friend, and her is what she told me: “you won’t know until you try.” Simple, honest, and frightening advice.

Facing the most adversity I have had to face so far, I am attempting all my races this year. It will be hard, there will be and have been many low points, and I am completely in the dark on this, BUT I wont know what I can do until I try. I began my ultra journey looking for limits, and it seems I am starting to find them. But you know what? I am fueled by those limits because I will break through all of them. Maybe not this year, but in time I will get over the walls. There are some dark days on the horizon, but through dark, you find light that will guide you through. Trust in your journey and trust in yourself.

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Dealing With an Injury

It’s been awhile since I have posted. Last year was awesome! I ran my first 50k, then 3 others, and PRed it all the same year. I ran a 50 miler, and did it with no issues. I met a group and community of runners who are small and niche, but are awesome human beings. I put in the miles, 2,200 to be exact. But the biggest thing that happened was something that I hadn’t planned on; I injured my hamstring. An injury at this point and time is not an option.

A few weeks ago, I noticed my left leg was in pain from the knee up along the IT band after 8-9 miles. I thought it was an IT band issue, and I could barely put weight on it after 13-14. Long runs were impossible, and training was slipping. I tried a few more long runs after that, and still the same issues. Finally, I threw in the towel, and said let me rest it a full week and go see an orthopedic just in case.

Lesson 1, learned the hard way: Don’t google your injury; go see a professional. Google had me thinking it was PCL tear, and I was done all year. There goes my 100 mile dreams out the door. I instantly stopped, and bided my time. After meeting with the ortho, I was diagnosed with a simple hamstring strain. The best case news ever. My RX was aleve twice a day, cut running by 25-50%, and PT for 4-6 weeks. Not too bad. He never once told me stop running, or said I run too much. In fact, he didn’t blink an eye once at the drop of a 100 mile race. His resident on the other hand was a little taken aback; this made me chuckle inside. “Yes, yes. I am that crazy runner person, and you probably won’t make me stop.” Upon leaving him, he told me that there is a PT he wants me to see as he specializes in long distance runners. With in that day, I made an appointment and was on my way to recovery!

Lesson 2: Find people who will support you and know what they are talking about. To say PT has been the most informative and rewarding experience of my life is an understatement. Upon initial consultation, I once again was not looked at as the crazy runner, even though my PT, Don, and I were quite jovial about ultra runners. Instead, I was looked at as athlete! This is something I still struggle with to this day.

Lesson 3: Just because society doesn’t look at you one way, doesn’t mean you are anything less. My PT has referred to me as athlete since day 1, and I am one. I may not be fast, have the body of a “normal” runner, but that’s not the case and I am proud of this. If you run and race and run some more, you are a runner and a athlete.

Lesson 4: Don’t let your weaknesses define you, let your weaknesses build you up strong! This has been the hardest lesson to learn. Even though I can run what some consider fast, I don’t do it well at all! At PT we analyzed my running form. The usual suspects came out. I run with a narrow gait. Literally, if there there were a tight rope while I was running, I could run on it very easily. That’s how narrow my gait is. I over pronate. I also drop my hips slightly, and my cadence (SPM) is low. But what was interesting to find is just how narrow my gait is. Every third step on my right side I cross that line, ending up cross legged for a second. To correct I swing my leg around restart a new line, and the pattern repeats. This is the biggest issue, as it’s causing undue stress on my left leg.

Its great to know all this, but what is better is how to fix it. I put in my time in running, that’s no question. Where I lack, however, is strength, particularly in my hips, abductors, and core. So my prescription is to strength train and become strong. I was really down about all this, until I realized, this happened now for a reason. It’s not to put me down or shove statistics in my face. It’s to show me where I need improvement. Sometimes, we just need a kick in our rear end to make it to that finish line.

For now, this runner is slightly down. But I’ll be damned if I am beaten and out! I will work on this, I will improve, and I will conquer this year strong. My motto is weak now strong later. 100 miles, I will destroy you before you destroy me.

The Art of Patience

As runners, we are taught from a very early stage that overcoming anything is only a matter of time. All you have to do is be willing to work hard and be consistent, and eventually you will achieve that goal; all you have to do is be is patience.

For me, this is my absolute downfall! I have no ability to be patient with anything! Today, I was talking with my coach. I brought up this crazy notion of switching my upcoming 50k [Grand Canyon 50k] to the 50 miler. At the beginning of last week, they released updated course details. The course is now net vertical loss, with large portions of the race being completely downhill. In fact, the first 20 miles of the 50 miler are straight down hill. What better time and conditions to just go ahead and run my first 50 miler, right?!

I took last to week to internalize what this meant. Was I good enough? Did I put in enough training? How do I feel? What does my body tell me? What does my heart tell me? With all these questions swirling in my head, I took the time just to think. What better way of doing so than to go hit the trails. Saturday and Sunday were spent mostly, with me, myself, and I. Sunday being in pouring down rain… but I digress. The alone time allowed me to think, to reflect on my training, to reflect on my soul.

Today, I emailed my coach letting him know the plan. He came back with the best, and most logical answer: no. If not for him, I would have switched today to run a 50 miler. So when my soul and my heart are saying yes, then why did I not go ahead with it? Well because I didn’t take into account my race schedule. I was thinking in here and now. Three weeks after I complete Grand Canyon 50k, I will be pacing a good friend of mine for her attempt to qualify for Western States. I will need to be fully recovered by then to be able to do my duties as pacer. Sure in my heart and soul I know I can run 50 miles. But the recovery afterwards would be hard, and I would not be ready to go for pacing.

This is where I lack patience. I find something I like, and I just want to go for it. In ultra running, I am finding more and more this is an absolute skill you need to hone to become good. I am also finding that this lack of patience has also emerged in other areas of my training. Particularly in pacing. When it comes to any slow build up in speed, I flat out suck at it. I feel anxiety when I am going slower. I feel as though people are judging me for not going faster, or that I am being looked at as someone incapable of being a runner. But this so detrimental to my training. I need to work on being comfortable with running at slower speeds. Sometimes the only way to get faster is to go slower, and I want to get faster… much much faster! This is something I am working on, though. It will take time.

However, Grand Canyon 50k will be run for a PR. Conditions are too good not to attempt. My coach did agree to let me do this, at least. The goal: sub 6! I will need to play this race smart, though! I will need patience to get through.

What are your greatest weakness or weaknesses? Take time think on this, as we only are as strong as our greatest weakness.

Becoming Ultra: Race Recap – North Face Endurance Challenge DC 50K

“A champion is not made when he succeeds; a champion is made when you look back at the seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, and months he has spent preparing.” – Eliud Kipchoge

Flash back to about 4 months ago, and there I was; a deer in headlights. I had no clue how I was going to prepare for an ultra marathon. I had just completed my second marathon, and here I was, signing up for my first 50K, which I still haven’t run, yet. NFEC DC was a race completed on whim. Was I ready for it, you bet your bottom dollar I was!

For the past 4months, I have devoted myself fully to hitting the trails and pavements. I stuck true to the training. It was cold (at points bitterly so), tough, and at times demoralizing. You feel like you are pushing yourself to your max, but you just aren’t going anywhere, as I felt in my last marathon about a month ago. However, the high points of training with all my friends made it all worth it. I consider myself extremely lucky to run with a group of experience runners. Runners who have completed 50Ks, 50 Millers, and even a few 100 milers. Their wisdom has rubbed off on me, and I did what I set out to do.

On April 9th, 2016, I completed my first 50K, and it was the most fun running experience to date! For those of you whom don’t know me, it’s important to note that 4 months ago I stood at a crossroads: leave running or continue on. Running marathons and road had become boring and somewhere along the way of completing my first marathon, I lost my passion. But I can with 1000% certainty, the trails saved me! I have rediscovered myself as a runner again, forming a deep passion for trail running and endurance racing.

I had a few goals for this race. Being my first 50K, the only goal was to finish and be able to walk afterwards. I did have a time goal to do a sub 7, and even a stretch goal of doing it in 6:30. Since it was my first, I didn’t want to push too hard, and I have to consider that I am going to be running another 50K in mid may. With those points in mind, I decided sub 7 was perfect.

The course is listed an intermediate course. It’s an out and back course, with loop in the20160411_003536000_iOS
middle. If you do the 50 miler, you get the distinct pleasure of doing the loop 3 times, but the 50kers only had to do it once. My GPS recorded 2,031 ft. of the elevation gain and 2,146 ft. of loss. It’s a beautiful course that runs along the Potomac River. There are wildflowers everywhere and the water views are breathtaking, especially during the mid-loop. This would have been a great course to run for my first ultra, if the weather did not produce what it had the days before as well as on race day.

One week prior, we all heard devastating news: Saturday’s forecast was SNOW! Snow in April?! You’ve got to be kidding me! Snow is the last thing that we want to hear during an ultra. As the week progressed on, so did the forecast. Snow, snow, snow, rain, hail, sleet, snow… It was so bad, I had to stop listening.

Race day started early, like 3 am early. I was driving with 2 of the 4 musketeers, the other already being in DC to start her 50 miler at 5 am. I had my hearty breakfast (steel cut oats, butter, and banana with plenty of coffee). It’s rehearsed and works like magic! But even before breakfast, my nutrition was on point. Over the past few weeks I have been working with a nutrition coach, Lauren Schafer from Live-Full, to hone in my nutrition for endurance running in general. We have made a lot of discoveries about my diet: not getting enough carbs during the week, over eating on the weekends, and definitely not getting my pre-race nutrition right. A few days before hand, she even helped me gleam some light into my race nutrition. I was over eating during racing, which is why I was feeling bloated and sluggish. With her guide and wisdom, I completed a 10 day fat load and a 3 day carbo load.

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Myself, Deneen, and Tim

Her one tip that really stood out in my mind was around my racing foods. During a race, I can’t really stand gels. In fact, I hate them. I have had bad GI experiences with them, so I really don’t use them. I have found that Hammer Nutrition and Huma gels work. I carry these with me as a precaution, if I were to run out of food. I also will take one gel 20 mins before the start of a race, tip number 2 from Lauren. My main nutrition is perpetuem from Hammer. This stuff works perfect for me, so far. No GI issues, keeps me full, and is pretty easy carry. I will also sub in Honey Stinger chews. If a race has PB and J sandwiches, I will use those too. I prefer as whole as possible when it comes to nutrition. But Lauren did warn me, that in longer races your body will stop feeling hungry as its diverting blood flow from digestion to your legs when you run. The best tip she gave me was to find something that you can keep getting calories from while in this state. For me, that is Mountain Dew. She even told me if that’s all you can get down, do it; it’s the one time she will endorse consuming such a monstrosity of a drink. With all these tips in mind, and my rehearsed breakfast consumed, I headed out to meetup with my friends Deneen and Tim.

After an hour car ride, and a quick shuttle ride, we arrived at the start line. We headed 20160409_104604000_iOSdirectly to get our bibs, and then to bag check. As soon as we got to bag check, the rain started. When I say started, I mean poured. It was 6 am and an hour before starting. For the next 40 mins, it rained. We knew what we were going to face out on the trails was not going to be pretty, and boy were we right.

But that wasn’t going to stop me from having fun. I had already accepted the fact that it was going to be cold, wet, and muddy. I moved on and decided to have fun. It was my first ultra and I was excited to be running it.

As we lined up to pass through the notorious red arch that all do when the run a NFEC race, I let all the cares in the world go and focused on the task at hand: get back to this start line as fast as possible. And we were off. My friend Tim and I decided to stay together.

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Tim was a great pacer for me. He kept my pace reserved, even though the first 2 miles of flat fire road were done quite fast. But once we hit the trails, we backed off and settled into an easy 12 to 13 min pace. Once we hit the trails though, it became apparent that the weather had destroyed the trails. For the next 9 miles, we plowed through mud that was, as Tim descried it, like brownie batter.

It was annoying at first, being able to barely run and having to use our stabilizer muscles a lot more than we are used to (later this would prove to be even more true). Although our pace had slowed considerably to account for instability, we plowed on. During the 8th mile, we ran through snow, sleet, rain, and hail. Yeah that was the mother load of weather patterns all in one mile. Although the conditions were tough, Tim and I made the best of it. Laughing and chatting our way through the first twelve miles. Before I knew it, 3 hours had passed and we are at Great Falls aid station (12 miles) where we began our 7 mile loop.

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Ohhh the mud!

As we ran in, I headed for the water to replenish my perpetuem. The plan was to drink 2635959036496831492 scoops every two hours and supplement chews and PBJs. As we finished up, I heard some say “Sandy’s here.” The other member of the 4 musketeers. I peeked my head around, and sure enough it was her. She was just coming in finishing her first loop for the 50 miler. Everyone finished up refueling and left for the loop. It was great to run with her for a few, but since Tim and I had “fresh” legs, we left her to plow on ahead.

The loop was no joke! I knew the majority of the elevation came in the loop. There were huge climbs, but we stuck to our plan: walk the hills and power on the down hills. The down hills were great allowing us gain some valuable time. The views also were great! Some of the most beautiful river views I have seen!

Around mile 15 to 16 my stomach started to not feel good and I started to get that feeling of phasing in and out of it again. For a small flash of a second, I thought it was going to be the DC marathon all over again. I knew I had to get something in me, so when we got into an aid station, I ate an entire PBJ and downed some Mountain Dew. I hadn’t been drinking my perpetuem to this point, so I needed some calories. Around this point too, I started my enduralytes, also from Hammer. They are like salt tabs with some extra vitamins. Later, having these would save me.

With extra calories, I started feel better in minutes. We had another 3 miles to go to reach the end of the loop and the last 12 miles back in. We passed by the Potomac Falls, and I stopped and looked out at the beauty of the area. It truly was breath taking. For a few mins, Tim and I just took in the sights not giving a care about time.

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Blue bells were everywhere!

After taking in the sights, we put our game faces back on, and made it back to mile 18: the turnaround point. We got in, and Tim said to me, go ahead without me. I looked at him, and I said are you sure. He said yes. I was feeling okay at this point. But right then something clicked for me, I felt a wave of energy fill my body, and I knew that I could finish this back half with a negative split. With Tim telling me to go, I grabbed some Mountain Dew and told Tim I was heading out. I left Tim and it was me, myself, and I for the next 12 miles. I looked at my watch, and saw I had 3 hours left to get 7 hours.

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I knew I could do 12 miles way faster than that, and that was first time I thought to myself “I could get 6:30” and I could do negative splits. 12 miles before this, I had said to Tim “I am going to kiss that 6:30 bye.” Yet somehow that had now come back into my sights, and I wanted it bad!

With that goal in mind I went to work. I passed people left and right. I felt an 20160411_161820000_iOSoverwhelming surge of energy filling my body and pushing me on. I knew the next 12 miles were going to be tough. And they were extremely tough. For 8 miles I fought with my quads and calves consistently wanting to seize up. I knew that if they did, I would be done. So I played it smart. Kept to my plan of taking eduralytes every hour on the hour. I remembered reading of Hal Koerner’s story where was having similar issues with his calves. A runner had given him salt tabs, and that gave him the ability to run while barely staying on the edge of cramping and not. I knew that this would apply here.

I made sure that I used perpetuem, as it also has some enduralytes mixed in with it. And drank Mountain Dew. I wasn’t really feeling hungry, but Mountain Dew, as Lauren advised it would, was just enough for me take in. I passed 60-70 people in the end. Each time I would get some sort of encouragement from them. I used this drive me forward.

Despite my legs wanting to seize up, I pushed through. I knew when to stop and give them a quick massage, going slower to let them recover, and push the downhills hardcore. I had done a lot of training on downhill running, and this proved invaluable here. In the last two miles, the flat fire road section, I punched the pace to 8:30 miles after being completely drained and legs in awful condition. It didn’t matter, I knew that I could do it and finish strong.

Crossing the finish line I looked down at my watch. 6:30 something. I literally almost broke down in tears. I told myself a sub 7 (and by sub 7 I literally meant 6:59 would have been completely acceptable) would be good enough for my first ultra. But chasing that 6:30, passing all those runners, and doing negative splits, was the best feeling in the world.

To be sure of my time, I headed directly to live results tent, put in my bib number, and stood there in awe. The screen read 6:38. It wasn’t the 6:30, but in my book it was better. It was a number that represented hard work, months and months of hard work. It represented my strength to push my body beyond its limits, and to go further than I could imagine myself going. I represented my passion for a sport that I was about to give up. I represented me. The conditions were bad, my body beaten up, but I had done what I set out to do more and then some.

The race that was done on a whim proved to be an amazing experience. I had no hopes to do so well, especially after coming off a horrible marathon a few weeks beforehand. I only wanted to run. I only wanted to enjoy what has become a defining feature of my being. I only wanted to enjoy the company of other runners who are just as crazy I am. But what I ended up doing was rediscovering myself as a runner. I came to the trails lost like a deer in headlights. However, today the trails guided me to find myself and strength again. I claim to be the average Joe of trail running, but today I feel like a champion.

To all my friends who have I come to know over these past few months, I want to thank you for being a great inspiration on me. A special thanks to Tim for running with me and keeping me on pace for the first half and for telling me to go when I needed to go; you truly pushed me without knowing it! To the other two musketeers, Sandy and Deneen, thank you for being a great inspiration. You both really have bestowed in me the joy of running trails! You have shown me that the body knows no limitations as long as you believe in yourself. To all my CCR running friends, thank you for rubbing your wisdom and running expertise off to me, even just a little. I stuck to the plan and prevailed.

I am still grinning ear to ear. I am excited to have just entered this sport, and can’t wait to run even further. Ultras are tough, challenging, and all so worth the reward. I will always be average in terms of speed, but I will always feel elite at that end. A mile is mile no matter what pace it’s done at!

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Quick Updates

So a few updates that I just want to get out to everyone real quick.

First, in my regular fashion, I have moved the date of my first 50k up to this Saturday of course! On a whim, I have decided to run North Face Endurance Challenge 50k. I am excited to finally get my first ultra done! I have trained hard, and really taken the steps to make sure everything goes well. I am now completing 4 ultras this year, maybe another one…

This brings me to my next update: I have started to work with a nutritionist in order to really focus in on a key aspect of running, eating. I learned my lesson with my last marathon, and I promised I would change that. I am working with Lauren Schafer from Live-Full, its been awesome! In a few sessions, she has really helped me hone in on some key issues with my diet. I am excited to continue working with her, and taking my training the another level. We are already focusing on my pre-race diet, so I know I will definitely be ready for a 50k.

Finally, I have been asked to contribute regularly to Charm City Run’s running blog! Their website is http://www.charmcityrun.com/blog. I am so excited for this opportunity! In my posts I will be focusing on trail running specifically giving pointers and trying to bring some different character to their content. The other contributors are mostly road runners, so hopefully I can offer the readers a different perspective of running. Check out my first post here: http://www.charmcityrun.com/blog/2016/3/29/from-the-road-to-the-trails-finding-and-loving-trail-running.

That’s all for now. Keep running happy!

Average Joe Trail Runner.

 

 

Race Recap: Hershey 10K

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View of farmland and alpacas out back of my friend’s house.

This was my third time running the Hershey 10K. I went to school in the middle of Lancaster County PA, right outside of Hershey, PA. This is a very special race for me, as this was my very first 10K. Since completing this race in 2014, my friends and I have come back each year to complete it again. It’s a great race and I 100% recommend to anyone who wants to have a fun, well run, and challenging course.

I decided that today I wasn’t going to run this race at my pace. I was running this with my best friends from college, Amy and Mike (now married, aww), as well as Amy’s brother, John. Amy is the first person who I started running with, and even though she doesn’t run as far as me, she is still a runner and a good friend who is very near and dear to me. This year, rather than doing what I do most years, which consists of running my pace and not seeing my friends until the finish, I decided that I was going to run this race with them. That’s right pace, speed, time, place, etc., none of that mattered to me for this race. It was simply to have FUN; something, I had forgotten until I started running trail.

We got up early and made our way to the start. Rain was in the forecast, and boy was it pouring when we were driving! By the time we got to Hershey, though, the rain had subsided and it was perfect running conditions. Temperature in the 50’s, overcast, and about 2,200 other runners. Perfect!

We made our way to the start line, and the port a potties (of course). After a quick stop to take care of the usual runner’s business, I headed off to the start line to get quick pick of all us. The GoPro is slowly becoming my new best friend!

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In order: Mike, Myself, Amy, and John

We decided to just stay up at the front. Unlike most races, the Hershey 10K isnt really a race that elites enter to race. Its one of those races that really is meant to be for fun and enjoyment! With anthem over, race started in a matter of seconds. And bam we were off and running. Being at the front, may have been a bad idea, as we started off way too fast for the pace my friends wanted to do.

Trying to slow them down was a challenge, but within a few mins we glided down to the desired pace (that and some intense glares from Amy…). But the damage from starting too fast was already done. Mike’s ankle had started to hurt him. Within a mile or two, he wasn’t feeling too good. So, I decided from that point I was going to stick to him no matter what! I waved Amy and John on, and took over as pacer for Mike.

Sometimes, when you are feeling bad, you just need someone who is going to push you when you need to pushed, but also listen to you and make sure you get some rest. This even more important when something is hurting you. I decided to that I would adapt one of my tricks for utlra races for him. In ultra’s, I like to practice a 5 min run 2 min walk rule when something has gone wrong. So I adapted that to a run 1:30 min and walk 0:30 min rule here. I kept advising Mike breath deep, because the more oxygen he got into his system, the more his muscles could receive to perform better.

He even said to me at one point “I run my own Pace!” Well, there you go folks; that’s how you do it right there! I decided to let him do exactly that. I knew where all the hills and descents were, so I made sure to keep him solid for those parts, but the rest was him. Truly, an inspiration right there. Grit your teeth, suck it up, and get it done! Spoken like a true runner!

With this method, and his own grit, we managed to catch up to Amy and John a few times and finished right after they did, just in time for our finish line selfie!

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Post race include the usual euphoric rush of endorphins, as well as a pretty sick goody bag. Hershey hooks you up! Not only do you get a medal, long sleeve tech tee, custom bib, but the best cookie at the end! Not a fan of oatmeal raisin usually, but the Hershey Lodge oatmeal raisin cookies are the bomb. Unfortunately due to doing a fat load phase in preparation for my next 50K, I am not allowed to eat said cookie, yet (I’ll explain fat load and my racing diet preparation in a later post).

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Bibs this year, made mine even more custom #photographerissues

After loading up and driving back, we decided to do lunch real quick. I mean c’mon the only reason I run so much is so I can eat all the food!!! And I did, but within my fat load constraints. Chicken fajitas with peppers, onions, tomato, lettuce, sour cream, cheese, and avocado mixed up. Talk about yummy! Pretty healthy, too.

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I can honestly say that today was one of the most fun races I have done to date! I love doing the Hershey races, and being able to do them with my good friends is the cherry on the top! Sometimes, you just need to go out there and have fun with it! No stress, no worries, just you and good vibes all around!

I am reminded today of a something Sally McRae has posted on her Instagram:

“I eat mountains for breakfast and chase sunsets across the peaks”

To me this shows just how much passion she has for the sport of ultra running. I may not have the ability to chew mountains up like she does, right now, but I do have that passion. So I will continue to chase sunsets, until that time I find her strength and power!

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When you see a sunset like this, sometimes you just have to pull off to the side to selfie!

Runners Summary:

A little about this particular group of runners. Amy, as I have mentioned, was my first running buddy. She is a zumba instructor, English teacher, and runner. She runs everything up to half marathons, including our other favorite race: Hershey Half Marathon. Mike is Amy’s husband, and one of my oldest friends from college. He is a runner, too. He runs the same with Amy. What’s great about Mike is his positive attitude. Even when all hope seems lost, he is there trucking along ready to finish any race he sets out to do. John is a runner, too. Although, he wouldn’t have called himself one until we finished today. You see, he’s never run a race. That’s right! He went total beast mode today and whipped out a 10K like it was nothing! I foresee a marathon or 12 in his future, even though he may not! muahahaha! Must convert all the runners!!!

All three of these runners proved their grit today, and inspired me! You see, all three of them were able to run the race for themselves. They said we are going to run our race and our pace, and that’s exactly what they did! I am quite envious of this attribute, as I often lack the self-control to do such a thing. I will often find myself coming out of the gate too fast and not reaping any benefits of my haste in the later half. Today they showed me I have a long way to go, if I want to get better as a runner.

Location and Course:

The race is located right in the middle of Hershey, PA. In fact, it starts and ends in the park. The race has you run around the park for the first 4 miles, then you finish in the last two miles in Park. Its so much fun to run in the park, especially since there are no lines! HA! All the mascots are out cheering you on, and the volunteers are great! You have two water stops, so no need to bring water with you. I still carry a handheld, as its a personal preference of mine. I would advise being accustomed to hills. There was about 500ft of total elevation change on Garmin today. The first few miles are a steady incline, so be ready to push some hills. Also, the park is extremely hilly. I made the mistake of not being ready for hills my first time, and it was tough! But the views are amazing; so you will always have something fun to look at and take in.

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Found some CCR runners, Hershey’s iconic Ferris Wheel

 

Mantras

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A good friend of mine recently queried her social followers about inspirational running quotes. In response to her, I couldn’t think of a particular quote, but what immediately came mind were two mantras that keep me running.

The first is “keep moving.” This is the one I keep in my back pocket for when I am in a dark place. It reminds me to focus on the task at hand: moving. One of the best pieces of advice I offer to anyone who is considering running a marathon and beyond is running is about 30% physicality and 70% mental. In long distance, endurance running, you are you own worst enemy. Your body and mind will try to get you to stop by all means possible. The mind is evil and can come up with some pretty crazy ways of getting you to stop. I often will chant “keep moving” at this point. It reminds me to get out of my own head, put one foot in front of the other, and to keep going. Next thing I know I am moving and running again.

The next is “the process.” This is more of a way of life than a mantra, but I still want to discuss the meaning of this. Every runner has their good times and bad times. This reminds me that good days will happen, and will be awesome! However, bad days are going to happen, too. They will suck, and they will be hard to overcome. You think you are doing everything right and feel like you are giving your all just to feel bad. But you can’t let them drag you down. You get back on the old dusty trail and you keep moving forward (see how these coincide!). This mantra reminds me that my journey is going to be filled with ups and downs. I am going to have ride out the downs and enjoy the ups.

Always find a few mantras that work for you. Every runner should have a few as they are pillars to your success. Without them, you can crumble and break into pieces. But with them, you can overcome anything that life may throw your way.

What are your favorite running mantras?

Community

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Taken at the finish line of HAT 50k

I first started running with my best friend from college, Amy. We lived, and still do, in separate states, so we did it virtually with one another. We both were using the C25K plan to work up to our first 5k. We would send each other encouraging text messages and cheer each other as we took to social media. Although, I didn’t run with her at the same time or in the same place, it still made the training bearable and fun at times. We had our ups and our downs, but the comradery of doing it together was what really kept me going with running.

We did our first 5k and another one right after that, and we even kept going completing a 10k together and doing a few half marathons together. However, when I made the decision to complete a marathon, it was me, myself, I who had to bear the weight of training. Back then, even though it was only a few months ago, I never thought of joining a running group. I’ve found that the further the distance you go, the less and less people you find doing it. Most people wouldn’t guess this about me, but I am actually a very shy and introverted person at first. Once I know someone, I’ll open up…a lot! Like we’re talking flood gates opening and my real personality coming through!

So, marathon training was completed solely alone. It wasn’t so bad, however. I kept myself honest, and made sure I got all my runs in. But somewhere along the way, I lost my drive for running. It was mind numbing to go out for 20 mile run, and see nothing but road. With no one to share in the post run euphoria, I just felt lost. But I got it done, and always stayed positive. I felt like something was going to change. Like I was going to find my next challenge or my next new path. It’s funny how these things work… you just have this feeling, and BAM… it happens.

One of my inspirations of wanting to run ultra marathons is the watching the Ginger Runner YouTube channel. Seeing all these amazing sights and the joy on the faces of all the runners, made we want to do the same. To the internet I took, and with my spirits low and sights set high, I took a chance and signed up for the Grand Canyon 55k. And yes, I did this on a whim. No idea how to train, how to prepare, or what I was going to do. Up until then, my only experience with trail running was none. So I had no clue where trails were around me or how to navigate them once I did find them.

In these situations, I like to arm myself with as much knowledge as possible. I ordered Hal Koerner’s Field Guide To Ultrarunning to get started. It was a great book with a wealth of knowledge and experience laced into its pages. Anyone who is thinking of running an ultra or heck even those of us who do, I would definitely recommend you pick this up and read it. Then to internet I took again. I stumbled across my local running store’s page and found they offered a ultra training group. I have never considered joining a running group, but I took a chance. I emailed the coach, and got some preliminary info on it. For me, this was a big step, literally a leap of faith if you will, but I said what else am I going to do? So I signed up, and it was a chance that paid off with great dividends!

The first day I was nervous, to say the least. The group was small, only 14-15 people. Like I said before, I don’t do well when I don’t know someone. We met for a 8 mile easy run (at that time, it wasn’t so easy for me running wise). The group was very close and everyone knew each other well. Great, another barrier to overcome. But from that first run, something felt different. The group was extremely welcoming, friendly, and warm. It was like I just fell right into the grove. Over the course of the next 4 months, we’ve grown to know each other become great friends!

Long runs became fun again. Hard workouts, harder and more competitive! And the end of the runs, a time to recant and bask in the euphoric feeling a beating another run! Since joining the CCR running group, my energy for running has grown exponentially. I find myself yearning for long distances, pushing the pace, and pushing my limits.

What I’ve found in ultra running is that the distance, pace, or running itself doesn’t
matter. What matters is the people you do it with, the friendships you form, and the community supports no matter what! As long as there is a smile on your face and you’re filled with passion to do something, you know you have truly found your place.

 

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My Running Tribe

HAT 50K

Yesterday, I had the immense pleasure and honor to spectate at the sport I love so passionately! On March 19th 2016, 329 individual runners set off to complete the HAT 50K endurance race. This was the target race that my running group with CCR had been training for. I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to run this, as I am still off due to last weekend’s marathon, so I decided that I would show up to support in anyway possible. I also decided to practice a passion of mine that has been developing for about a year and half now, photography. I’ll talk about this in a moment here.

That morning, the four musketeers (our self proclaimed name since we run together on other days that we don’t meet with the larger group) met up to carpool to race. Accompanied by great racing friends and a spouse or two, we made our way up to race. With bad weather looming (A.K.A. snow… really snow in march?!), we weren’t expecting too much in the way of sights. But mother nature decided to spice up the morning, and delivered a soft, yet stunning sunrise!

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With registration completed and everyone checked in, we made our way to the start line and drop bag location. The runners made their final preparations, and headed to the start line. The race started and everyone took off.

My goal of being here was to be there for anyone and everyone who just needed someone there encouragement to keep going. Sometimes all it takes is a friendly face in and some words of encouragement to keep you going. And I definitely think I was able to do that!

My other goal was to capture everyone doing something they love! I have been slowly nurturing my an interest in photography, specifically landscapes and sports. There are all these little moments that given the right eye, a good sense of creativity, and some know-how with a camera can be captured for everyone to see. When I trail run, I have my little sports digital camera with me. It gets the job done plus its waterproof, shockproof, and trail runner proof. But what I haven’t been able to do is take my larger camera out for a real test drive. Sadly, I just don’t see how running for 20 miles with a 200 mm lens is possible. Today I really wanted to test my skills and see if I could get some good shots of my friends! One of the best perks about races is to see the photos of you doing what you really love to do, so I wanted to make sure that I captured that for all my friends.

Today, I discovered a few things:

  1. I am a photographer. Amateur at best, but a photographer none the less.
  2. The CCR ultra running group is filled with a bunch beasts! All of them finished under 8 hours. Tough race for tougher runners.
  3. Its not always about time, pace, speed, or place. Its about finishing. Its about the friends. And its about knowing you did your best.

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Current Race PRs and Goals

Currently, I have completed 3 marathons, 20 or so half marathons, and too many to count 10ks and 5ks. Here are my PRs:

5k: 23:37

10k: 50:06

Half Marathon: 1:56:38

Marathon: 4:02:03

My first marathon was Baltimore Running Festival in 2015. This was very special marathon for me, as it was my first, but more importantly, it represented 6 months of dedication and hard work. Going into this race, I had heard all the warnings of not doing Baltimore as a first marathon. For those you who have not been to Baltimore, let me tell you why. This race is filled with nothing but hills. For someone who is starting off very long distance running, this is extremely daunting. There is 3 mile hill from the start; yes, 5k straight up a steep hill. If you aren’t good at pacing, then this can be your downfall, as it is for most. But it doesn’t stop there. Nope, hill after hill for 24 miles. Its a brutal race that even some elite runners shy away from, as pacing is greatly affected in this marathon. Now it isn’t so bad. After 24 miles of brutal hills, you’re reprieved with a 2 mile downhill stretch straight to the finish line. Thank you Baltimore for your kind gesture of helping us make it to end! At the end of this race, I found myself in an extremely emotional state. You see, at mile 22, I hit the wall, hard! I found myself in dark lonely corner with no end in sight. With a delirious pep talk to myself, while barely holding on to my pace, I pushed through to the end! For me, this point was that one point where I finally realized just how much I had accomplished. I went from being knocked out for a week after a .10 mile all out sprint to running 26.2 miles in 4 hours. My goal of this race was to get a 4 hour marathon, and that’s what I did!

My next marathon was 1 month later, the NCR Trail Marathon. For those of you who don’t know me, yet, let me tell you when I do something, I go all out! So of course after my first marathon, I came to the most logical idea that completing my second marathon 1 month later was completely possible! And if you don’t get this now, you should: I am about 50% sarcastic 100% of the time! So yes, as if taking on Baltimore wasn’t hard enough, I figured I’d throw a back to back marathon attempt in there. Well, I did it! It was hard, and my body was still recovering from Baltimore, but I pushed through and finished! Surprisingly, I finished in 4:10. Considering the fact that I just started running a year before this and my first marathon was 1 month before, I was incredibly impressed with being able to accomplish this.

After this, I took some time to think what was next. I knew I definitely enjoyed running the longer distance, and more so the aftermath of euphoria accompanied by completing such tasks. But what was there left to do? Keep going on marathons, do more half marathons? Well, I took to internet and did some research… EUREKA! I found my answer: Ultra Marathons! Literally, within 2 days of completing my second marathon, I was signed up for the D.C. Rock & Roll Marathon and the Grand Canyon 50K (there I go, going all out again. Seriously, someone needs to stop me!)

Up until this point, my training was all done by me. I have never once hired a coach, gone to classes, consulted someone else for training with my running. But for this, I knew I would need some help. So I took to the internet again, and found my local running store (Charm City Run or CCR) offered ultra running training groups. Great, sign me up and done!

I say this with the utmost sincerity and non-sarcastic tone I can; CCR was the best decision I made in my running career thus far! For the past 3 months, I have been able to meet and run with some of most awesome people I have met! The group was a well established, close knit group of friends that welcomed with open arms and warm hearts! There are a mix of runners there, 50k, 50 milers, and 100 miler runners. Seeing them run like they do and getting to hear the journeys they have all went through has really inspired me to become a better runner!

Through this, we have trained to run trail ultra, so my next race was going to a little out there for the training I have been completing. In my euphoric state of completing my second marathon, a road marathon right smack in the middle of 50k training seemed appropriate. Oh boy was I ever wrong!

I ran D.C. Rock & Roll Marathon a week ago now, and I have had time to reflect on this. This was my worst race to date. At mile 5, I hit the wall and I hit it hard! I had no energy, and felt like I could sleep while running. The next 21 miles turned out to be a battle against my thoughts rather than to finish. Don’t worry, I finished, but it wasn’t exactly the same feeling that I had from my first 2 marathons. I wasn’t defeated at all though. This race was particular special in the fact that I raised $1,000 for St. Jude Children’s Hospital. It was a personal goal of mine to make a difference through running. With completing this race, I checked that goal off this year! But I was upset with myself. I define a race a way to honor all the hard work and countless hours of training that I put into the race. The race is not won by one day, but a culmination of several months of training sacrifice. In this race, I did not honor that and I did not honor myself. So what happened? Nutrition happened! My carbo load was a mess! I completely restricted my caloric intake and my carbohydrate level to basically nothing. The few days before the race, I was eating practically nothing, and the day before I had very little. Lesson learned: carbo load folks! I also had a mess of a taper; the weekend before my race, I did 12 mile run and 10 mile run. Not much of a taper there. Combined with my inability to fuel, my last marathon was mess.

This regrettably needed to happen! The universe has mysterious ways of telling you stuff. I now know what I need to do for my next race! I’ll chalk this marathon up as a training run. It gave me what I needed; a reality check and kick in the rear end!

My next race is my first ultra: the Grand Canyon 50k. Again, there I go diving straight into hard, unforgiving races. This race takes place through the north rim of the canyon. Its a straight up hill run with 2,000ft of elevation gain to the top. You start at 8,000 ft above sea level and end right above 10,000 ft. The combination of elevation and altitude should make this a tough race, but I embrace challenge all the way!

After this race, I will be pacing my friend for Laurel Highlands 70.5 miler and Mountain Lakes 100 miler. I also have the Frederick Half Marathon and 5k challenge (appropriately named the “Nut Job Challenge”), Blues Cruise 50k, and JFK 50 miler. I am sure I will sign up for more races, and will keep this updated. I can say for sure: I am stoked for this year!