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Preparation

The past two weeks have kind of flown by. They’ve both been part of my “extended taper”, so I’ve only hit 40ish miles each week. I had intended to get closer to 50miles this past week, but with my uncle’s wake and funeral and my cousin’s wedding all happening the same week, I had a hard time fitting in my miles and I was emotionally and physically drained by the weekend. Running almost always makes me feel better, and on Saturday I really wanted to get my 10 miler in, but I was barely able to stay awake and felt the beginnings of a sore throat so I scrapped the run.  Luckily, I was feeling mostly rested by Sunday and had a chance to get 15miles in to round out the week.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve done a lot of preparing for VT100.  I’ve gotten some extra hill repeats in with the low mileage. I’ve tested out new shoes, my potential race-day outfits, and some new fuel sources.  Later this week, I’ll be creating a race plan with approximate split times at crewed aid stations for my stretch goal time (a time that shall not be named… yet) and a sub-24hr pace. The ultimate goal, of course, is to finish in under 30hrs, but I do think with my training and previous performances at the 50 mile distance it’s not unreasonable to aim for something a bit more aggressive. The last time I wanted something this badly was my PhD and I put 5 years of hard work and sacrifice into that, so I’m going to distill that drive and motivation down to 24hrs of effort. I’m not afraid to play the long game and be patient, but I’m still going to do my best to race this thing if I have it in me.

In terms of preparation, here’s the stuff I’ve figured out so far (with a little bit of gear review thrown in).

Light:  I’m loving Foxelli headlamps! They are $12 on Amazon and are incredibly lightweight and bright. The one I have runs on 3 AAA batteries (not rechargeable). They have other models that are bigger and have rechargeable batteries – I’m just more focused on something lightweight for this distance.  I got one for each of my crew members so we know we will all have plenty of light and extras floating in the car if we need them.

Packs: I’m going to be using two different packs for the day.  I usually use the Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra Set for most of my running. I’ll using it through for the later miles and definitely by the time I pick up my pacer. It’s a simple, lightweight pack that carries two flasks. It also has plenty of snack pockets – an important feature for me! I used it through all of Wapack and Back and loved it.   I also love that Salomon actually caters to runners of different sizes. I was able to get a XXS and it fits perfectly over a singlet as well as over my full winter running gear.

If the weather is typical for July, I’m going to want to run without a shirt during the heat of the day. This is really hard to do when you’re wearing a pack because of chaffing! One thing the Salomon pack doesn’t have going for it is that the lining of the inside of the vest is a hard mesh – this is great for breathability, but if you wear it on your bare skin it’ll rip you to shreds.  This weekend I took my Nathan VaporHowe out for a 15 mile test drive while just wearing a sports bra on a hot day.  It was perfect! There was no chaffing issues, and the material was soft and breathable.  The pack weighs quite a bit more than the Salomon, but it is also a 12L so it isn’t intended to be minimal. I want to use this pack through the heat of the day when I may take off my shirt.  It also can hold more stuff which I may want early on in the race when I only get to see my crew a few times.  It also has the option of putting a bladder into the pack. I don’t think I’ll need that, but if it’s a really hot day, I’ll fill the bladder with ice and throw it back there to cool me down.  I can’t say enough good things about this pack. It is clearly designed by a woman for women and comes in a variety of sizes.  I got the XXS and it fits really well. I think I could have gone up to the XS if I wanted to wear it over a lot of gear.

Shorts: I just picked up a pair of Outdoor Research Essentia Shorts and I am in love. They are lightweight, UPF 50+, and they dry quickly.  And… they have snack pockets! I ran my 15miler in these and they are definitely my shorts for VT100.  The XS are a little big in the waist (that’s always an issue for me), but fit well across the hips and thighs. They are really easy to move in and I felt like I was wearing next to nothing, in a good way!

Socks: I was chosen as a Farm to Feet ambassador for the VT100! I’m a huge fan of Merino wool socks and I’m looking forward to trying out their line these next couple weeks to see what is going to serve me best for the 100. I’m eyeing the Boulder Midweight (it has insect repellant built right in!!) and the Blue Ridge Compression socks.  I’ll be sure to update soon on what I decide to wear for the race!

Shoes: I plan to have a couple pairs of shoes with me for the race. I need to talk to others who know the course well, but I think I’ll be starting the race in the Altra Paradigm 2.0s if it’s relatively dry. They are a highly cushioned road shoe. I had sworn off Altras because they were too wide for my midfoot and heel – I always had to use lace lock lacing and had to pull the laces so tight it looked like I was lacing a football.  The Paradigms seemed to have fixed this issue.  They are considerably narrower and the heel cup feels much more stable.  They are definitely a goofy-looking shoe (as are most Altras, in my opinion), but the cushioning cannot be beat.

I have a new-ish pair of Topo Athletic MT-2s I ran Pineland in and I really like those for muddy trails.  I think I’ll be finishing the race in those since the last 20 miles or so have some of the most trail running.  I’ve also considered getting another pair of Terraventures since I had a pair I wore at Wapack and have since run to the ground. It’s probably worth getting them and having them in the arsenal!

Fuel:  The bulk of what I’m going to be eating for the 100 is going to be liquid (or semi-liquid).  At Wapack and Back, about 80% of what I ate was in some sort of squeezable or drinkable form, so I’m going to do a similar thing for VT.

I just ordered two dozen Munk Pack squeezable oatmeals. I love every flavor and I looked forward to them so much during my 50miler earlier this year.  I also ordered another case of Shine Organics Calm banana, pumpkin, coconut, chia squeeze pouches. I used these at Wapack as well.  I got some Clif Banana, Beet and Ginger packs. I haven’t tried them before, but I love all the ingredients in it and ginger is so good for my stomach that I’m going to try them on a couple runs leading up to the big day.  I’m also going to try out Spring Energy packs. I like the idea that they are real food and some have caffeine in them. I’d like to steer clear of GUs if possible. I definitely use them pretty regularly, but they can sneak up on me and make me sick to my stomach. I want to avoid that as much as possible.

Extras: I will have salt tabs (one package every 2hrs) and Gin-Gin ginger candies with me at all times. You never know when you need to hand one out or take one! Ginger candies saved my VT50 back in September. I was in ROUGH shape from miles 32 to 42 and once I had a couple ginger candies and some ginger ale I was back in the game.

 

Training recap

June 12-18

Mileage: 40.8 running, 5.2 walking

Time on feet: 8h32min

 

June 19-25

Mileage: 40.9 running, 7.6 walking

Time on feet: 8hr50min

100 bodyweight squats per day this week

 

If…

If…  by Rudyard Kipling
If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, 
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, 
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, 
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating, 
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise: 
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster 
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken 
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, 
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, 
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools: 
If you can make one heap of all your winnings 
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, 
And lose, and start again at your beginnings 
    And never breathe a word about your loss; 
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew 
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you 
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’ 
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch, 
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, 
    If all men count with you, but none too much; 
If you can fill the unforgiving minute 
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
On Saturday, my Uncle Bobby died from complications arising from late-stage ALS. He was 70 years old.
His son Brian read this poem at his funeral.  Brian told us all that Bobby had pulled him aside in 4th or 5th grade and made him read it and said to him “This is what it’s all about. Do you understand?” Bobby wasn’t a man of many words – none of the Gillespie men are – but he knew how to pick them.
I’ll think of Uncle Bobby out there on the course in a few weeks. I’ll keep the third stanza in my pack and I’ll dedicate the last “unforgiving minute” of my race to him.

The build is over

I finally did it! I hit 70 miles (officially) this week and went over 1000 for the year! The training plan I kind of Frankenstein-ed together from a few books, my 50miler training plan, and some of my own idea had me hitting 70 miles as my peak weeks.  I have now put in two weeks right about there.  From my experiences at other distances, I planned that this week would  be my last really big week.  I take 2 weeks for a marathon taper and I took 3 weeks for my 50miler taper when I “A-raced” VT50. I assume 4 weeks or so of an extended taper for VT100 is going to make the most sense.

This week was a fun mix of road and trail.  The main thing I tried to do was simulate the climbs of VT100 as best as I could here on the flat Seacoast.  My friend Alex and I went over to Mount Agamenticus in York, ME twice this week and practiced run-walk intervals on a long dirt and gravel road that leads up to an auto road. The climb itself is about 2 miles with the first 1.5 miles of it at a 4% grade with the last .6 miles on the auto road that averages a 10% grade with some sections as steep as 17% grade.  It’s tough.

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Wednesday we went out there for Global Running Day and hit 11 miles of 4min running/1minute walking intervals on the hilly roads surrounding Mount A, and then did two repeats of the auto road to end the run.  We averaged <10min/miles and gained almost 1,400ft.  It was a great workout but it didn’t trash me.

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Saturday was “mini Vermont” day. We started our run saying we would be happy with 20 miles and about 3000ft of gain. We started running at 10am on one of the first hot days we’ve had in quite some time.  About 5 miles into the run, we said how 25 miles would be a good distance since “we’re already out here.”  We were 17 miles into the run when Alex started talking about finishing our run with two repeats up the .6mile auto road to round it out to just under 28 miles. I came back with “If you’re doing it, I’ll do it.” So, the run ended up being 5hr5min long, 27.8 miles, and with a gain of 3703ft – still averaging 11min/mi counting our stops to fuel.  After we got home and our watches uploaded and we realized one more trip up Mount A (which would have brought  us to 7 times up that monster) would have gotten us over 4000ft and we were both kind of disappointed that we didn’t dare the other one to go up one more time.  If one of us had said “Let’s do another” the other would have went. Alex and I are the same kind of crazy.  We had a ton of fun out there. We talked about everything under the sun, laughed a lot, named our cars the Batkucar (back-to-car) aid station, and planned out some race-day strategy for VT100.  We also followed it all up with ice cream.

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Today I rounded out my mileage with a solo 8.2 mile trail and hilly road run (700ft gain) in 90+ degree weather. I was a bit tired and it was hot, but all in all it felt great and I even accidentally set a CR on Strava on a hill climb on a trail I run all the time. I think it was because it’s not nearly as steep as anything I had been running earlier in the week so it didn’t phase me much to just power up it. I followed the run up with a pint of ice cream for good measure.

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So, what’s in store for the extended taper? My plan will be to keep the next two weeks of training in the 50s for mileage. Then, I back off considerably the final three or so weeks before the race. I have run an ultra-distance run every other weekend for the past 6 weeks (May 15th Wapack 50miler, May 29th Pineland 50k, this Saturday 28miles). I have made it through the toughest part of the training cycle uninjured and having learned a lot from races and other who are far more experienced than me.  There are absolutely no guarantees when it comes to this sort of distance. I respect it. I’m terrified of it. But, I feel very confident I’ve done everything I possibly could running-wise to make completing 100miles a possibility.  Now I’m going to ride out the next month staying healthy, rested, hydrated, fueled, and treating my body and mind with respect and care. I’ll start by trying to heal up these toes!

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I am in awe every day of what my body has done and what sort of stressors it responds to. I’m so grateful for the fun I’ve had and the lessons I’ve learned while building to these peak weeks. Time to trust to trust the training and the amazing machine that the human body is.

 

Training recap

Mileage: 70.1 running; 9.5 walking (Average gain per running mile was 98 ft!)

Time on feet: 14hr 51min

Recovery

I’ve run a lot this training cycle. It kind of hit me a bit this week when I was looking back at how many races I entered since the start of 2017.  Granted, pretty much all of them were just “training” – I was going to give a good, solid effort, but there was no real tapering and none of them were “A” races.  Wapack was the closest thing I had to a real race, but the goal there was just to finish without breaking my face, or leg, or anything else!  I’ve had my eyes on VT100 with every mile I’ve run, and miles I’ve decided not to run, this whole year.

Here’s the breakdown on racing since 1/1/2017:

  • Whitaker Woods Snowshoe race (4th woman)
  • Moose Mountain Runaround Snow Shoe race (4th woman)
  • Florida Half Marathon (1:38:XX – 3rd AG with first 6.5 at 8min pace as a warmup)
  • Eastern States 20miler (paced a friend at 8:06min/mi pace)
  • Boston Marathon (3:38:XX in very hot temps, so kept it relaxed)
  • Run for Shelter Canicross 5k (22:49 for Zorro’s 6min PR!)
  • Wapack and Back 50miler (13:44:00 – 3rd woman, only 3 women went the distance)
  • Pineland Farms Canicross 5k (25min for another 6min PR on a course with Zorro)
  • Pineland Farms 50k (5:23:34, 10th woman, end of a 70 mile week as a training run!)

 

So, last week I decided to back off a bit. I was at a conference for a few days and I was just feeling a bit drained. I took my runs nice and easy and even got back in the pool for the first time since January 2016!  Rest and recovery is just as important as running when the goal is to get to a 100miler start line healthy and ready to attempt to push the limits of what’s possible.

 

So, instead of a long post, here are some pictures of Pineland, a very cool prize package I won through a Yeti Trail Runners Instagram contest, and some random shots from a 15 mile trailventure!

 

Pineland

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Miscellany from my birthday week!

15mile trailventure on National Trails Day!

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Training recap (5/29-6/4)

Mileage: 42.5miles running; 4.2 walking; 0.8 swimming!!

Time exercising: 9hr10min

Pineland Farms Race Recaps!

 

This week I got to revisit Pineland Farms Trail Running Festival! I basically did a repeat of last year’s races. Zorro and I did the canicross 5k and I went back the next day to run the 50k. Pineland has such a great festival atmosphere. The start/finish area is in a big field and teams set up tents and camps around the whole perimeter so you’re always bound to see someone you know.

Zorro and I are part of the Kurgo Running Team this year so Pineland was a great event for our second race this season! Before the race we met up with the Kurgo team and some friends from SIX03 Endurance who were there running the canicross, 5k, or 10k that morning.  Pineland’s canicross race is really big — 210 human-dog teams!  This means the race can get pretty chaotic at the start. Dogs are barking and pulling to get going. Racers have to watch out for other dogs and leashes that can trip you from behind or the front.

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Since Zorro had a strong race the week before, we settled ourselves in the first third of the starting pack. I knew Zorro would want to go out fast. He likes the first mile of a race and slows down to some extent by the end – the question is always how much he’ll slow down.  The race started and Zorro darted out ready to sprint.  The first mile is downhill, so Zorro was pulling and having a great time passing a lot of people along the way. I figured I’d let him do whatever he wanted pace-wise since it was all for fun. He was averaging 6:45min/mi pace for the first three quarters of a mile, then he started to slow down quite a bit. We went through the first mile at 7:35min/mi. Then, Zorro wanted to stop every few feet to pee on things or drink water.  We went with it. Our second mile was 8:38 with a pretty long water stop break.  By the last mile Zorro was pretty much done.  The last mile has 130ft of elevation gain and he had slowed to a trot. He pooped – twice – and we were just jogging it in.  Right as we were turning the corner into the finish line I heard someone call out from behind me “On your right” to indicate he was passing.  I started to move over to give him space and then I was down on the ground.  His dog had decided to go to my left while the human ran to the right and his leash caught me behind my knees and pulled my feet from right out under me.  I landed hard on my left hip. It hurt a lot and was pretty scary for Zorro. Our last mile was a 9:55min pace, even with the wipeout. Zorro had an official time of 25:26! A huge improvement over our 33:28 from the year before! We even got 3rd in our age group!

On Sunday, I went back up to Pineland to race the 50k.  I learned how to race ultras last year when running a bit of my first one with my friend Scott.  He started walking an uphill and I was surprised since he is one of the strongest trail runners I know.  He said “Walk early and walk often.” I followed his advice and finished feeling pretty strong and happy and like I definitely wanted a bigger challenge.  Within 24hrs of finishing my first ultra I signed up for VT50.

This year I got to share Scott’s knowledge with his girlfriend, Holly.  She was recovering from a pretty nasty ankle sprain that had sidelined her for a couple weeks and I was at the end of a 70 mile week. We knew we had to be conservative to get the job done and we have very similar road race times, so we decided to run the race together. She knew she may have to DNF if her ankle acted up and I knew I would have to back off if I started feeling really fatigued to make sure I avoided injury.

We ran every step of the race together. Even the step where I (for no apparent reason) face planted about 10 miles into the race in almost the exact spot where Zorro and I were taken down the day before.  Holly and I celebrated at mile 22 when I hit my biggest mileage week ever. Then we celebrated again at mile 26.3 when Holly hit her longest run ever. Then we celebrated again with a big hug when we crossed the finish line together – uninjured, strong, happy, and with Holly being an official ultramarathoner!  It was an amazing experience to share with such an awesome person.  I loved being able to share a bit of the experience I had gained over this year of ultra running with her along the way just as Scott had done for me the year before.  We finished in 5:23:36 which got us 9th and 10th women and 3rd and 4th in our age group. Not bad for a training run!

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In other notable moments from the day… SIX03 Endurance won the 50k team prize for fastest four team members.  Mick Arsenault, Alan Bernier, Alex Shaffer, and I rounded out the placing.  My friend Heather qualified for VT100 with a great 50mile finish after some setbacks earlier in the month.  My friends Tracy and Randy overcame so much for their 50 mile finish – they hit me in all the feels.

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All in all, it was a great week. I hit my highest mileage ever, I feel strong and uninjured, I got some experience falling and getting back up, and I got to run a lot of miles with my pups!

 

Training stats

Weekly mileage: 69.6miles running; 0 walking (The dogs mostly ran with me this week!)

Time on feet: 11hr 7min

 

 

 

 

Zorro

I spent the last week recovering from Wapack and Back. This meant only running when I felt like it and only for as long as it felt good. I mostly felt fine, but there was a deep tiredness in my muscles and a little hitch in my right Achilles (the one I had a partial tear in a couple years ago), so I took it very, very easy.  I’m happy to say that while I only ran about 20 miles last week, I’m going into this week refreshed and healthy!

In other news, Zorro and I were selected to be part of Kurgo’s 2017 running team! He got some great Kurgo gear to run in, and I’ll be attending events and promoting the Kurgo brand. I really believe in their mission and their products.  They have let me bring my dogs up mountains, keep them safe in the car, run canicross races, and open up a few beer bottles along the way! 😉

This past weekend was the 4th Annual PAWS New England Run for Shelter. It’s a small, very low-key dog-friendly 5k in Chelmsford, MA. I ran the 2014 race with my dog Tulah, but she is very dog-reactive so that was her last dog-friendly 5k. Now she sticks to training runs where she and Zorro are the only pups. In 2015, I brought Zorro to hang out at the race because I was only a month out from the partial tear in my Achilles and couldn’t run.  I missed last year’s race since it was the same day as my spring marathon, but this year I was able to run it with Zorro!

Zorro’s last two 5ks were about 30minutes each. He stops – a lot. I always let him since doggie 5ks are more about having the dog enjoy the experience than running fast. We sit on the side of trail and we stop for water and treats. He just loves hanging out with other dogs and getting petted by everyone before and after the race.  This year, he stepped up his game.  Zorro was off and running in 3rd place in the race right from the get-go! We ran a 7 minute first mile and even took the lead for a bit before he needed to stop to pee, and pee again.  He finished in 22:49 – a 6+ minute PR!!  I cannot get over this improvement – not just in his time, but because he is the happy, goofy dog that he is today!

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Zorro is a special dog. He was completely feral when I adopted him over three years ago. He was supposed to be a foster. I had just given my first foster over to his forever home the day before, and I decided to go straight into my  next foster.  PAWS New England showed me pictures of a small, terrified dog who was scooped out of the shelter hours before he was going to be euthanized in December 2014. At that point he was called Gibson. He spent a month in a foster home in TN where he cowered in a corner by a couch for most of the time he spent inside.  I was told he was happy when he was outside playing with other dogs, but that the second he saw a human he shut down. I live alone, have a playful dog, have a small fenced-in yard, and live on a street that dead ends on to a cemetery.  It seemed like a perfect situation for a scared dog to learn how to be a dog.

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I picked him up from a transport truck in a parking lot in Maine, and I was shocked to see how deep his fear ran.  All the other dogs, even if they were a bit skittish, would come off of the truck on their own.  Zorro had to be put into a crate that I brought inside the transport truck and then carried to my car. He curled himself as far back into the corner as he possibly could and averted his eyes any time I looked at him. He had a big gash on his leg that was oozing and he shook uncontrollably. I had no idea when I was driving to the drop off point that I was adopting a second dog that day, but within a day or it became pretty clear that Zorro wasn’t going anywhere. I had a visiting vet (Seacoast Veterinary House Calls) come to the house and we started him on Prozac. We hoped it would take the edge off his fear so that he could learn.

For the first couple months, Zorro sat in a crate all day by his own choosing. He would go outside to go to the bathroom on the front step of my porch twice a day. I had to leave the back door open for 30 mins at a time and leave the room so he would get up the courage to make the 10 steps from his crate to the porch to go outside. This was the winter of the Northeast’s Polar Vortex. My heating bills were astronomical.

After having Zorro for about 4 months we moved from working with his regular vet to a behavior specialist, Dr. Michelle Posage, because we weren’t making much progress. She came to the house and did a consult with me for 2 hours.We worked on teaching me how to approach Zorro in an appropriate way, how to use food to reinforce, and how to know when it was OK to have Zorro take steps out of his comfort zone. Dr. Posage let me know that Zorro, while he had promise, was going to be a life-long project and that he may never get truly “better.”  I felt like she finally gave me permission to be devastated about his prognosis and even gave me permission to start thinking about the horrible possibility that I might need to humanely end Zorro’s suffering if he didn’t improve. We added Trazodone to his medication line-up.  He was taking enough medication each day to kill a person my size, but it was just helping him to calm down. The hope was that it would relax him enough to start allowing me to touch him and for him to start to move freely on his own.

After about 3 weeks on the medication and with my new knowledge on how to approach and train a fearful dog, Zorro started to learn. It was such slow going, but he was starting to take steps toward me.  We worked on him targeting my hand with his nose. If he nosed my hand, he got pieces of boiled chicken or cut up hotdogs.  For a vegetarian, I was going through a lot of deli meat. After 6 months with me, he took his first step out of my kitchen into my dining room. After another 2 months he was regularly spending time sitting in the backyard. About 9 months into having Zorro he played with a small foster puppy I brought into the house to help Zorro feel confident. Around this time Zorro was diagnosed with heartworm disease (he had probably contracted it when he was a stray, but the tests take 6mo to show up as positive). He had to be treated with painful injections and lots of rest. He took it in stride.

Thanksgiving week, 11months after he came to live with me, Zorro went out my front door for his very first walk. He was nervous, but he trotted next to me for about 100m up my road and then came back. The next day, I put him on a 30ft leash and let him walk around a neighbor’s backyard. The day after that, he went for a half mile walk in the cemetery at the end of my street.

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The progress came in leaps and bounds after those initial outings. He went on walk  carrying huge sticks in his mouth proudly all winter. He started to wrestle with Tulah.  He had his first overnights at other people’s houses and climbed his first mountain. By the following spring he was going on runs with me and Tulah.  A year later, he was off his medications and he’s now the friendliest, happiest, and most gentle little soul you’ll ever meet.


Zorro still has his quirks. We don’t really snuggle. It’s only happened twice where he’s just laid himself down next to me to cuddle. He’s terrified of thunder. He’ll flinch if someone goes to pet him without letting him sniff them first. He whines when he doesn’t know what to do with himself or how to get comfortable. He still won’t sit on the couch in my living room.

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A rare snuggly moment!

Tulah is the canine version of me – a best friend to do crazy stuff with. Zorro has taught me patience and love like I never knew was possible. I absolutely love my other pets and I would do anything for them (the vet bills alone prove that), but I know that they’d be OK without me.   Zorro is my souldog. He has a part of my heart that I don’t think any other animal or human could ever have.

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Training recap

Mileage: 19.8 running; 8.2 walking

Time on feet: 5hr 39min

Gratitude

I mentioned in my Wapack and Back race recap post, that I was asked to write the keynote speech for the Psychology and Neuroscience commencement ceremony at UNH.I gave the speech today, but I wrote a lot of it, or at least came up with the ideas, when I was running the race last Saturday. I figured I’d share it here.  This is where my mind was out on that course and where it has been for the last couple years. For that, I’m grateful.

It’s a pleasure and an honor to have a chance to speak here today. I would have never guessed 11 years ago, when I was graduating from UNH’s Psychology and English programs, that I would be back here giving a commencement speech.

I’ve only been out of college for 11 years, so what possible words of wisdom could I have to share? (That’s what you’re supposed to do at things like this, right?) So when planning this speech I started thinking about what’s happened the last 11 years that has made my life better.

I graduated summa cum laude. I was published. I earned a PhD. I got my job here at UNH. I ran some marathons. I bought a house. I adopted and rehabbed two feral dogs. I ran some ultramarathons.

I think I’m better off and happier now than I was 11 years ago, but why? Was it because of having some successes? Maybe. After most of these milestones I was definitely happy, but it didn’t last all that long. After many of them, there was a big let-down. A sort of “That was it?” feeling that lingered after the happiness faded.

But in the last couple of years I’ve realized that let down feeling doesn’t happen nearly as much anymore and I’m happy even when I’m not necessarily succeeding in traditional ways and I bounce back more quickly after disappointments.

I was thinking about that this weekend when I was running a 50mile race that took me almost 14hrs to complete, and I finished in last place. In the past, this would have devastated me – I probably would have dropped out. But instead, I was so happy. I was grateful for the opportunity to finish a race that gives you so many reasons to want to quit. I was grateful for family and friends who had wished me luck (even though most think I’m crazy), and grateful for the volunteers who gave up their Saturday. I was grateful for my health and a lifestyle that made it possible for me to even attempt something so ridiculous.

That’s when it hit me. The reason I’m happier now than I have been in the past is because there’s been a shift in my thinking. Gratitude has become a much bigger part of my life and it has made all the difference.

So, being a psychologist, I wanted to know why. What does psychology have to say about the relationship between gratitude and happiness? I’m a cognitive psychologist, so a lot of this research was new to me (and I’m sorry if I’m simplifying it!).

Research by Watkins and colleagues has shown that participating in a “gratitude exercise” such as thinking about or writing about a person for whom you are grateful increases participants’ experiences of positive emotions immediately after the exercise when compared to control groups that wrote about neutral topics. Other studies have found that these effects can be long-lasting. A study by Seligman and colleagues found that participants’ experiences of well-being could be enhanced for up to 6 months if they wrote down three things they were grateful for each day for a week in a gratitude journal.

Research has also focused on not just experiencing the emotion of gratitude, but the trait of being a grateful person and its relationship to well being. Wood and colleagues found that people who score higher on scales measuring how often and how intensely they feel gratitude tend to handle stress and setbacks better. More grateful people tend to use more positive coping strategies like seeking out emotional support from others and planning for the future and use fewer negative coping strategies like substance abuse, blame, and denial when faced with obstacles.

I read some of the questions from different gratitude scales, and I think for most of my life, I would have scored somewhat low on these measures. I used to approach life and any successes I had as things I achieved against all odds or in spite of circumstances that were stacked against me.

  • I earned my PhD, but I’m a first generation college student whose parents were raised by immigrants – I would have had it easier if I had access to resources that other grad school classmates had.
  • I’ve run marathons, but I’ve had some major medical setbacks – two that almost killed me – I bet I would be faster if that hadn’t happened.

Make sure you can still recognize injustices in the world – they are definitely there. But, it can be so easy to go through life feeling like you’ve been handed the short end of the stick or like the world owes you something. Own this feeling if you have it, but see if you can change your perspective.

For me, that internal narrative has shifted and I’m happier because of it.

  • I’m grateful for the amazing mentors I had who helped me navigate the foreign world of academia. I’m grateful for parents who worked long hours at multiple jobs who taught me the value of hard work. And I’m grateful that I can relate to my students who have had similar upbringings and experiences.
  • I’m grateful for my health and the friendships I’ve formed while training for these silly races. These benefits are so much more important than a time on a clock.

I can’t share any secrets about landing the right job, getting the right degree, marrying the right person, or making lots of money. I’d tell you if I knew! But what research and my personal experiences have taught me is that it’s the attitude toward the successes and failures that you’re sure to experience along the way that makes for a happier and more fulfilling life.

You’re done with finals and writing papers, but I’m going to give you one last writing assignment as a UNH student.

A 2012 study by Toepfer and colleagues found that participants who wrote and sent four meaningful, emotional letters of gratitude to people in their lives over the course of a few weeks showed higher scores on measures of life satisfaction and happiness and lower scores on symptoms of depression than those that did not write letters of gratitude.

Write a letter of gratitude to someone, maybe even a few people. A teacher, a coach, a boss, a friend, or your parents. Someone who has supported you through successes and failures. Someone who has forgiven you when you hurt them. Someone who has taught you something valuable. Someone who helped you to feel capable when you doubted yourself. Give them the letter. It’ll probably make them happy to receive it, and research suggests that just by writing it may make you happier as well.

Practice gratitude. Try to make it a habit. Start now.

Congratulations, and good luck in your next chapter! We’re all grateful that you shared part of your story with us.

Wapack and Back

For the past two weeks what’s been occupying every free thought in some way or another has been the Wapack and Back 50miler hosted by TARC. I stayed up until midnight back in February to sign up for one of the 30 slots in this race because it’s supposed to be one of the hardest 50 milers you can find. There is over 10,000 ft of elevation gain and 10,000 ft of elevation loss over the 50mile course, with much of it coming in steep grades over tough terrain. As of 2016, the top ten fastest women’s times ever posted on the 10-year-old course were between just under 11hrs and just over 13hrs. My logic was that I ran VT50, which has just under 9,000 feet of gain, in 9hr44mins while having 10 miles of terrible stomach issues, I should be able to do well. Maybe I’d even have a chance of breaking 13hrs to get on the list of the 10 fastest finishes. How much could a thousand feet of gain and some rocks slow me down? I laugh about my logic now.

Here’s why:

  1. I’m not the strongest runner on technical terrain. I’m super-cautious and I slow down to a walk if there’s a chance there are loose rocks or slippery roots under my feet.  I love running trails, but I’m not all that fast on them and, for the most part, I don’t really desire to be.
  2. I hate running steep downhills. I groan and grumble even when I see a steep downhill on a paved road. I especially hate running on technical downhills. My legs just aren’t strong enough to take the pounding. I feel unsure of my footing and my quads put on the brakes which strains my knees so I brake even more and then the whole eccentric muscle contraction cycle takes over and my quads are entirely trashed within a couple miles.
  3. This would only be my third ultra. As of less than a year ago, I had never run longer than a marathon.

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The reality of the race started to hit about last weekend and I started to have my doubts.  I convinced my friend Alex we had to go to Pawtuckaway State Park and run 16miles on technical trails and do a lot of elevation gain.  I needed to have a good run on some technical terrain to feel like I even had a chance of finishing the race.  Luckily, it was probably my strongest showing on terrain like that since I started making the transition to mostly trail running last year.  I was able to keep Alex, who is a strong runner on technical trails and downhills, mostly within a couple hundred meters on the most technical sections of the trail. I’m sure I was working harder than he was on the run, but it was the first time he wasn’t minutes ahead of me. It could have also been because he was in the middle of his biggest mileage week ever. Hey, I’ll take it!  He seemed to notice my increased strength on this type of terrain, so that was a promising feeling going into race week.

On Friday, I drove out to Windblown Ski Area to stay in a tiny house/cabin on the property the night before the race. When I pulled up, I realized I used to cross country ski there all the time in high school. It brought back a ton of really fun and happy memories.  The Wapack Trail runs right through the property, so it was a great find for the night before the race.  I stayed alone and ate 3/4 of a large spinach pizza, read a couple chapters from “The Inner Runner” by Jason Karp, watched a beautiful sunset, and went to bed pretty early for my 3:20am alarm. It was like Walden, with pizza and spandex.

Wapack and Back starts at 5am from Watatic State Park in Ashburnham, MA. It was still dark, so everyone had their headlamps on.  I placed my drop bags containing my fuel and some extra dry clothes on the tarps headed to Windblown at miles 9/34 and the north end of the trail at mile 21.5 – the turn around.  Without much fanfare, the race got off to a start right on time. We passed through a gate to get on to the trail, and I thought to myself “I won’t be seeing this gate again for awhile.” Sure enough, I wouldn’t see it again for almost 12hrs – and I wouldn’t be finished with the race.

As we wound our way up some technical, steep uphill I could see the sun rising through clearings in the trees.  The trail markers could be a bit tricky to find (yellow triangle blazes on trees and rocks) in the dim light. I like uphills, so I worked pretty hard on the early climbs knowing that I would slow to a near walk on technical downhills. Within about 4 miles I had settled into 3rd place woman and it was clear there was going to be no catching the women in front of me.

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This is a fairly “runnable” section of the course, believe it or not.

As we were approaching Windblown (probably 7 or so miles into the race) there were about 5-6 of us all clumped together as we navigated the jeep roads and cross country ski paths in the area. I would catch and pass the group on the uphills and they would pass me or catch up on the downhills.  At Windblown (mile 9) the trail crosses the street – something I didn’t know – so while I had put a good minute or so on the group, I had to wait for them to catch up again so I could figure out where to go. The aid station was across the street and up a way in an off-road parking area. I never thought to look for the blazes going up the highway!   I arrived at the aid station with a couple other people, but tried to take off pretty quickly and make up a bit of the time I spent standing around looking for the trail.

The next section of the trail is very runnable with some less-technical downhill and even a bit of road to get back onto the trail. It was great to get moving for a bit through that section before the next major climb at mile 12 to go up Burton and over to Temple Mountain. At this point, I was basically alone and would be for almost the rest of the race. From mile 12-16, there were some technical trails but nothing too crazy or steep so I still felt like I was moving. My hiking was strong and I was running good stretches of trail at a time.

Then, the craziness hit. Wapack and Back is gets its reputation because of miles 16.5-21.5! There was an aid station at Miller State Park where there was a port-o-potty (yay!) and a really encouraging crew of volunteers waiting. I chatted a bit with the volunteers, grabbed some ginger ale and headed out across the street to the trail. I almost stopped dead in my tracks. Facing me was a huge rock pile. It was the trail.  This was when I realized Wapack was no joke. Pictures can’t do it justice, but here are some photos from the race.

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I don’t know what is just ahead of me yet. (Photo J. Bigl)
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Up! (Photo J. Bigl)
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Down (Photo J. Bigl)

While there are some beautiful forested sections of the trail after the rock pile, I barely remember them because all I was focusing on was that I heard the downhill coming off of Pack Monadnock down to the turn around point was going to be rough. I also knew I was likely to start seeing the 21.5 mile racers who start at the north end of the trail at 9am. My friends Tony and John would be out there and I was excited to get a chance to see familiar faces after almost 4.5hrs of running mostly alone. I saw them briefly when I had about 3.5 miles until the turn around. I said to Tony “This so so freaking technical”, and he said “Just wait!”.  I actually found running to the turn around point not quite as bad as the previous miles, but I knew with my race I was going to have to do everything again, this time in the opposite direction.  At mile 21.5, I grabbed a slice of pizza I had packed in my drop bag, some more ginger ale, a MunkPack (so good!), and headed out again.

I knew I had a long climb coming right out of the turn around (700+ feet in 1 mile), and it was going to be a long, slow slog of technical trail and rock scrambles to make it back to the aid station at Miller State Park, but it was a goal I kept in mind the whole way. The climbs weren’t bothering me, but the downhills had started to take their toll. My lower quads and knees were screaming with every step whether it was running or walking. Going down the huge rock face wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but I slammed my left shin against a rock really hard and felt the throbbing from that for a couple miles. I stopped and chatted with the guys at the Miller State Park aid station for a bit and said I was so happy to have that section over with. It was then that I confessed I hated downhill and technical running and I wasn’t really sure I had any business being out there.  They laughed, but reminded me the worst was behind me at that point.

The next thing I knew, I was nearing Windblown again. I had miscalculated in my dumb, tired runner brain the distance, so when I got to the aid station at 34 miles (for some reason I thought it was going to be 36), I was thrilled. I grabbed another piece of pizza from my other drop bag, but realized about a half mile from the aid station I had forgotten my MunkPacks I was planning on bringing with me. I had some emergency GUs with me, so I knew I’d be OK to get to the next aid station, but I really wanted my oatmeal.

Most people hate the climb coming up out of Windblown to Barrett Mountain, but I had no problem with it since it was just grass and not very technical. I felt strong and happy, but I knew my pace had suffered so much during the technical sections from 16.5 – 26.5miles that a 13hr finish time was out of reach, but I was still hoping to salvage something close to 13.5hrs.  I met up with another runner who was suffering from very sore knees and said he was dropping to the 43 miler. I passed him on the way up, then got lost at a section of clear cut trees at the top of the climb and couldn’t find the trail to go down.  He called out to me a couple times as he was heading down so I could bushwhack my way through to get to the trail. I never saw him again. I think I motivated him a bit to get going again for the rest of the race! I hobbled down the hills and was passed by one woman who was going to go on to win the 43 miler. She could still run downhills and I was so jealous. I finally hit the runnable jeep roads by Binney Pond again.  I loved this section even more on the way back. It felt so good to move at a reasonable pace again. I had to take a few more walking breaks than I was taking on the way out, but everything felt fairly controlled and manageable.

I got to the aid station that was 3.5miles out from the start/finish area. If you’re doing the 43miler, this is really just 3.5 miles from the finish line. If you are in the 50mile race, you have to go back to the finish and then head out again to hit that aid station again, and then come back to finish line to get the full mileage.  I got to the Binney Road aid station at 3:45pm, meaning I had 1hr 15mins to get back to the starting line to reach the cutoff time to be allowed to continue on to the 50mile race. When I checked in there, they asked if I was going to “finish-finish” (a term I heard from other runners along the way who were in the 50 miler), and I said I would if I made the cutoff.  As I ran off from the aid station, another woman caught up to me who was running the 43 miler was just arriving at the aid station. The volunteers called out to me “We better see you soon!” and I called out “I hope so!”  Thinking back, I can’t believe I was telling them I was hoping to have to run another 10 miles at that point. I’m glad my brain had basically shut off and could only focus on finishing 50 miles.

There is a reasonable, but not very technical climb coming up into Watatic from this direction. Somewhere during this hill I saw the women’s winner of the 50 miler coming back to hit the Binney Road aid station again.  She was looking strong and determined and leading a pack of guys. They were essentially 6.5 miles ahead of me at that point. She was on pace to run just over 11hrs for the race — the second fastest time ever posted at the race for women. Completely badass.  I saw the rest of the field on my way back into the start/finish area and congratulated them.  I saw a lot of them as I was hobbling down the steep side of Watatic and they were climbing it. Again, I was asked “Are you going to finish-finish?” and I said yes. Again, I have no idea why I was readily agreeing to run another 7 miles on such shot legs.

I made it to the start/finish area and saw my friends Tony and John there again. I made the cutoff with about 25 minutes to spare. I ate pretzels, a banana, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some broth (I love broth!), and headed out again, this time with company.  Tony and I had talked a bit about him potentially pacing me for the last 7 miles if I needed it. He said he saw it in my eyes when I came in that I was going to need some company.  I remember coming in and saying “Can someone come with me?” even before I touched the gate.

I cannot thank Tony enough for the next 7 miles that he did not have to run, but did anyway. He PRed his 21.5 mile race, which meant he had blown apart his legs for 4 hours much earlier in the day, had cooled down, and had even gotten changed, but still came back out with me. We did the huge rocky climb to the top of Watatic at a fairly reasonable pace and I continued to have to hobble the downhill off the mountain. There was about 1 mile of runnable jeep road to the Binney Road aid station and I tried to do as much running and fast walking through there as possible. It was the first time I had company for the whole race, so I was talking Tony’s ear off. I was telling him about my plans for a graduation speech I have to give for my students (more on that in another post). When we got to the aid station, I was so excited to see my new friends and thank them for staying out there while I was being stubborn and needing to finish this thing. They were a huge motivating factor in heading back out. At that point I found out I was going to be the last official finisher – I was the last one to make the cutoff at mile 43 who headed back out.  We grabbed more snacks and headed back. This time when I got to that gate it was going to be over. I was pretty ready for that.

My spirits were pretty high, all things considered. I was laughing about how I was going to be so proud of my last place finish. I was running and hiking pretty well on the uphills and flats. The downhills had become nightmarishly slow. My legs weren’t strong enough to run at all on them anymore, so the agony was prolonged as I sidestepped down every single downhill.  I was trying to find lines that had no rocks so I could move a bit easier, but it kept leading me into shrubs or dead ends.  I called it getting stuck in a “wuss corral”. Tony found that pretty amusing.  I gave Tony my phone and told him I wanted him to get pictures of me touching the gate when I finished. We shuffled back down Watatic, and hit the last stretch of flat trail and I started running! The volunteers were great and clapped for me as I came through and touched the gate in 13hrs 44min 20 seconds!

I spent the next 20minutes talking about all that I ate on the run, what I was going to eat after the race, and what I wanted to eat at that moment (#priorities).  Luckily the finisher medals were awesome sugar cookies!

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Mmmm. Morning-after race breakfast!

So, what did I learn from this race?

  1. Don’t try to compare yourself to anyone or a clock when it comes to trail racing.  The courses are so different and the sizes of fields are so varied, there is no real way to make predictions if you haven’t raced a course or against a particular person before.
  2. I have to start doing more strength training. Single-leg squats, barre classes… all the stuff I don’t really like, but I have to do them. My biggest weakness was not feeling steady on my feet going down technical downhills. Some of that is fear of breaking my face, but I wouldn’t be so scared if I felt like my legs were strong enough to take the impact without collapsing under me.
  3. My hiking and running stays in pretty good shape for a long time, even when my quads and knees are shot. This gives me hope for VT100 because none of it is really technical. I kept on saying to Tony any time we hit a technical I needed to walk over “I wish I could just run!”
  4. I can stay positive, even when I’m faced with the the terrain I am most weak on for about 14hrs. I never cried. I never seriously entertained the thought of quitting. I never got all that grumpy. On the way out any time I hit a big downhill I didn’t like, I said to myself, almost as a reflex, “Remember this is an uphill on the way back and you feel strong on uphills”.
  5. It’s amazing to be out there with people who are so much better than you. I don’t often end up at the back of a pack. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever even come in in the bottom half of a race before this.  This race attracts serious, experienced ultra racers who seek out tough terrain. I’m not one of them by a long shot. I probably had no business being out there, but I was able to hang and hit the cutoffs. The two other women who went 50 miles have sub-24hr 100 mile finishes under their belts, and have raced over some of the toughest terrain that the East can provide. It was a privilege to finish last if those are the people I was in the race with.
  6. You aren’t doing this alone, even when you’re running for hours by yourself. There are aid station volunteers who are there to keep you motivated, and friends who are there to support you either in-person, on training runs, or through messages. I finally realized how important pacers are. When Tony joined me, all of a sudden it was a different race and I could refocus and get the job done. Having a support system makes this possible.

 

Not to toot my own horn, but I feel like a complete badass.  I have never felt this strong or accomplished in an athletic pursuit. This race is no joke. It gives you every reason to want to pull the plug. I stayed strong, positive, and stubborn as hell. This was the experience I needed to feel ready for VT100. Now, I just have to recover. My sore, scratched up legs will serve as a momento mori.

 

Training recap

May 1-7

Mileage: 50.5 running, 2.6 walking

Time on feet: 8hrs 46min

 

May 8 – 14

Mileage 54.4 running, 3.3 walking

Time on feet: 14hr 4mins

 

Dixon’s Revenge Trail Race = Success!

This past weekend was Dixon’s Revenge Trail Race hosted by SIX03 Endurance and North Country Hard Cider.  This race has been something I have been looking forward to all year since it was my first time serving as a co-race director for a trail race. We went big for the first year:  We had a canicross 5k, a 5k, and a 20k race that were running largely concurrently. This might have been foolish, but it ended up going just about as smoothly as you could hope for an inaugural race.

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Race directors enjoying the after party!

On Thursday of last week, Tom (the other race director) and I went out to the 20k course to mark the trails. We were shocked by how wet the course had become since the Sunday before when I had run a preview with a couple friends. There were 50 meter sections that were ankle deep that we had to throw logs and boards down in so people would have a chance to make it through at least a bit dry.  It was a long slog for us – we went out to start marking at 9:15am and didn’t make it home until after 2pm.  We did 8 miles of walking and “bridge building”. I’m looking at it as great “time on feet” training.

On Friday before the race, I spent most of my day at North Country Hard Cider getting the beer tent set up, working on getting the prize bags for the Canicross race ready (thanks Kurgo!), and leading the normal Friday night pub run.

 

The morning of the race, I couldn’t sleep. I was wide awake at 2:30am after going to bed at 11pm. I was so excited to get the day started, and of course a bit nervous.  We had no idea how many entrants would show up the day of the race and it was SIX03’s first time hosting a long trail race. There’s a lot that can go wrong when you’re dealing with water stops, road crossing, trail markings, and of course we even added dogs into the mix! Tom and I were out doing last minute markings of the course and dropping of jugs of water for the aid stations by 4:30am.

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Sunrise on our way to the venue after course marking!

Our first volunteers showed up around 6:30am and got the registration table ready for bib pickup. Shortly after that, the water stop crew showed up to man their posts.

At the start of each race we reminded the runners that the course was going to be MUDDY.  We had a late melt this year with snow all the way up to April 1st and a rainy week preceding the race. Luckily trail runners are an adventurous bunch who are always up for a challenge and didn’t complain too much about knee deep water in some sections of the course!

Our first race was the canicross at 8am. We had 22 participants run with their dogs. I have never seen a more organized and friendly group of people and dogs at a starting line.  Everyone was so respectful and kept their dogs under control, even when they were barking and ready to get going!

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The race went off without a hitch. The dogs came back happy and muddy and the humans came back smiling!  Here are some photos from the finish! We can’t thank Kurgo enough for providing prizes for the top 3 male and female finishers and for giving every dog an awesome collapsable water bowl as a participant prize!

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Shortly after the canicross finished, we got the 20k runners together to give them a rundown of the course and its markings. We were thrilled to have over 50 runners sign up for the 20k!  We warned them they’d get wet and that it was going to a mushy 12 miles. Everyone was in good spirits and headed out at 9am.

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We weren’t really sure how long it would take people to finish the race since we had never really tried to push the pace on the course before. We assumed somewhere around 1hr 30min for our fastest male finishers, and we ended up with the winner finishing in 1hr 18min!  Unfortunately I don’t have a ton of pictures of the 20k race because I had other duties that had to be attended to at the registration table.

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At 9:30 we gathered the 5k runners and sent them off on their way.  It had warmed up considerably by this point which was good since the 5k course had knee-deep water at mile 2.  We ended up with 65 runners in this race.  The turn out was absolutely amazing for a first year!

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All in all, we only had one person get lost on the 20k course, we had no major injuries, and no dog incidents. The race gods were definitely smiling down upon us.

The after party at North Country Hard Cider was fantastic! There was cider (of course) and beer from Smuttynose and Garrison City Beerworks. We also had a mobile woodfire oven from Embers Bakery come to make some amazing pizzas. I ate 3/4 of one by myself.

 

Even with all of this going on this week, I had my biggest running mileage week ever! I didn’t even count the running around that happened at the race on Saturday!

Would I do the race director thing again? You betcha! I’m really looking forward to organizing more trail races – specifically, I’m looking at creating a canicross race series for this year or 2018.

 

Training recap:

4/17- 4/23

Mileage: 45.8 running, 3.3 walking

Time on feet: 8hr 17min

 

4/24-4/30

Mileage: 61.8 running; 10.2 walking/hiking

Time on feet: 14hr 19min

Oh, Boston you’re my home

I love the Boston Marathon. I’ve loved it my entire life. I remember watching it on TV as a little kid and following it obsessively as a high schooler on the track team. I lived on the course in graduate school and stood outside in awe, cheering the runners as they went by my little section of the Green Line. I saw Uta Pippig crap her pants on national television and go on to win the race in 1996. I watched Meb take the laurel crown back for Americans in 2014 in a year that we so desperately needed a champion.  I watched in horror in 2013 as the events unfolded after the bombing.

My family is from Boston. My parents were raised there, children of Irish immigrants, and I was born there. I lived there for 5 years when I was getting my PhD and it became home again. The city, and its marathon, will always have a piece of my heart.

On Saturday before the race, I got to see the world premiere of Boston: The Documentary as a guest of my mom’s boyfriend Bill Rodgers. Yes, *that* Bill Rodgers – the 4 time winner of Boston and NYC marathons.  The Boston Pops played live and we got to see it in the gorgeous Wang Theater. All the top runners were there milling about and getting interviewed. I highly suggest getting a chance to see the film if you can. It was only in theaters one night, but there is supposed to be a DVD release in the near future. The film is extremely interesting and tastefully covers the 2013 bombings, but still provides great entertainment, excitement and a historical perspective on the race and what it has meant to its competitors and the city for the past 121 years.

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We met Scott Jurek!
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The crew after the film

Needless to say, after watching the film on Saturday and going to the expo on Sunday, I was excited to run. I was lucky enough to get a chance to run Boston for the third time – this time was the first time I qualified (3:20:02 at Maine Coast Marathon 2016).  I’ve been training for the VT100, so I really didn’t taper much leading into the marathon. The plan was always to run it as a training run, but at Eastern States in March I realized that BQ pace felt like a jog to me for the entire 20 miles. The week before Boston, I decided to cut back a bit on mileage and actually go for a BQ since the weather was projected to be the mid-50s/low-60s.  The plan was to go out at 8:05-8:10 min/miles for 16 miles, try to hold that pace through the Newton Hills, and then hammer it in at sub-8min/mile pace for the last 5 miles.

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Mother nature had something else in store. Sunday the temperatures neared 90 degrees in the city and it never got under 65 degrees overnight. Even lining up for the start in Athletes’ Village, it was clear it was going to be a hot day. I was running with my friends John and Rhyan who had BQ’ed last spring with similar times for the first mile or two when they went to go for a quicker pace. I decided to try to stick to my original plan as best as I could, despite the heat and the excitement. Unfortunately, I had reset my watch earlier in the week and my watch was only giving me “current” pace rather than my normal “lap” pace, so I only could see my splits after I’d go through a mile marker. I was fairly on pace, but I did have a couple downhill miles that went sub-8min in the first 6 miles – something I didn’t want to do until miles 21-26. By mile 8 or so it was clear it was going to be a very long, hot day. I caught up to John and Rhyan and they were both not feeling well. We stuck together for a little bit, but by about 13 miles in, they had dropped back and I didn’t see them again.

The last two times I ran Boston, I was so surprised how quickly the scream tunnel at mile 13 would come up. This year, it felt like forever to get halfway.  I was feeling OK, but it was SO hot. I was taking a sip of Gatorade at every water stop, then swapping sides of the road to grab a water at the next water stop in the same mile. I just figured I’d continue to keep my pace and stay hydrated and see what happened. I went through the halfway point at 1:45- basically perfect pace to run a 3:31 or so marathon which is 4 minutes under my BQ time.

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The second half was where things started to get a bit rough. It was clear from the people around me that we were hitting hard times. People were pulling over with leg cramps and to puke every few seconds. I saw so many bloody nipples. Then there were the people with “the leans” – when you see it you’ll never forget it. Runners can’t stay upright and they look like they are bending into a C-shape. Once someone starts that it’s just a matter of time until they are down. I had to stop at a med tent at mile 17 to tell them that there was a runner coming up who they might need to pull. He was covered in blood and vomit and leaning so badly I don’t know how he was still moving. Around mile 18, I caught up to my friend Scott who was having a tough race.  I made him smile through a photo station, but quickly I realized he wasn’t coming with me to the end. I said goodbye and good luck and kept on trucking up the hills.

The Newton hills were very uneventful this year. Since I’ve been training on real hills so much, a few bumps on the pavement weren’t going to mess with me too badly. I did slow a bit knowing that any extra effort I gave could put me on the wrong side of heat exhaustion. I chugged up the hills and was very ready to see SIX03 at mile 20. I made a promise with myself that if I got to them at 2:50 or under, I’d run right by them and go for the BQ.  Sure enough, I saw them and I was at 2:47 – I had a chance to get the BQ if I ran 7:40min/miles or so for the last 5 miles of race. I ran by SIX03 and whooped and yelled and smiled and gave high fives but kept going without stopping. In retrospect I wish I stopped, but at that point I was still on BQ pace.

I got to the top of Heartbreak Hill feeling good and with two ice pops that I got from an adorable little boy and his dad. I requested green ones and I ran miles 21-22 with two freeze pops sticking out of my mouth like walrus tusks while weaving through people to get to open fire hydrants and hoses spraying water on to the course.  As I rounded the corner into Chestnut Hill/BC the heat got to me. All I could smell was sweat, beer, and BBQs and my stomach flipped. I got woozy and felt a little lightheaded. The heat finally got to me. My legs were fresh, but if I wanted to drop to pace to get a BQ I was going to send myself to the med tent. It was game over and time to jog it in.

I ended up getting to stop and see my brother and sister-in-law around mile 23.5 and hang out with them for a minute or so (calculated from my Strava data moving vs. elapsed time) and take some pictures. By that point, I was just having fun with it, but those who had been pushing hard were really feeling bad. I watched so many people stop and puke and stretch out cramps. I felt like sometimes I was the only one still running around me since so many people had slowed to a stumbling walk.

 

The last two miles or so of Boston always get me. You’re in the actual city and the crowds are 10 people deep. It’s pure euphoria. I can’t help but smile and every year I’ve gotten a little teary eyed coming into Kenmore. I can’t help but get overwhelmed by the feeling of gratitude and privilege I have to run the world’s greatest race in my city. I didn’t buy my race photos, but in every single one I’m grinning like a complete fool.  Right on Hereford, left on Boylston. The finish line is still almost a half mile away, but it’s there and you can see it. To the left is the bar I used to go to my first year in graduate school and drink frozen margaritas on hot days. I felt like such an adult.  A few blocks up is the restaurant where I had my PhD defense party and my brother’s college graduation party. And then, it’s over.

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This year, while my fastest Boston, I finished in a slightly disappointing 3:38:08. I would have liked to BQ, but the marathon is a cruel beast and you’re a victim of circumstance. As I came across the line, I almost immediately saw my friends Liz and Tim who had press passes. We chatted and I found out many others in our club has either dropped out or had tough days.

In the days following I felt really conflicting emotions.  I was very proud of myself for running a smart race in tough conditions, but I also felt really guilty. It wasn’t my A race, but I ran pretty decently and ended up having a fun day. A few others I knew who were really focused on Boston didn’t get to finish. It felt wrong that I was training through it and didn’t even taper or train specifically for a marathon and still could pull off what I did.  My legs didn’t hurt and I was running the next day like nothing had happened. I guess this means very good things for my VT100 training, but it also felt somehow unfair to others who had worked so hard for it watch the day blow up in their face.

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So, all in all, I’m OK with it. I still love Boston. I may even want a BQ for 2018 – who knows? For now, the plan is to take this week easy as a “recovery” and then gear back up and tackle a 50 miler on May 13th!