With only a little less than two weeks until my first 100 mile ultramarathon, the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100, it’s difficult to summarize my thoughts and feelings. It seems like the last few weeks have gone by in a flash and there’s a ton of things swirling around my head. I am both terrified and ecstatic. It’s still a bit unfathomable to think about waking up at 4am and running for 24 hours straight. There are so many unknowns going into a race like this, such as the weather (high heat during the day, cold mountain tops, and thunderstorms), fueling (taking in enough calories, staying hydrated, not becoming nauseous and puking), the terrain (very technical with LOTS of rocks, not tripping and breaking any bones), and so much more.
These unknowns are also what make the race so alluring. While the unknown can be scary, it can also be exhilarating! I have no idea how my mind and my body will hold up over 100 rugged miles over 24 hours of running, but I’m excited to find out. Pushing oneself outside of their comfort zone is a fundamental way to experience growth. I’m fully anticipating experiencing extreme highs and lows during the race, but am looking forward to breaking through all the outer layers and possibly learning something new about myself.
I am beyond thankful to have a team of selfless and dedicated friends who are genuinely excited to crew and pace for me. Having crewed and paced others at several races varying in length, I know first hand how self-less an act this is. These people will spend an entire day driving around the back woods of Virginia meeting me at predetermined aid stations throughout the course to fuel me up, be there for anything I may need, and cheer me along. Then they will switch back and forth to run with me through sunset and into the night over the last 38 miles of the race.
To give some background of just how self-less crewing and pacing an ultramarathon are, check out this Runners World article detailing the many pros and many cons.
I would be infinitely more nervous if I didn’t know that I would have these friends there to keep me moving; one foot in front of the other. Knowing that I have the support of so many friends and family will definitely be something I draw upon when I lit low points during the race. In a wide range of ways, many of my friends and family have inspired and helped me throughout the years of running and are part of the reason I will tow the starting line at 4am on May 18th.
I’ve been signed up to run my first 100 miler since early December. I’ve thought about running a 100 miler for some time, and always intended on using my race as a means to raise money for a cause that is important to me. I had considered a number of charities but none had really clicked with me. Some time had gone by and with my race approaching, I figured I would just run the race for myself. Then I heard that a friend from high school had recently been diagnosed with Leukemia. It definitely hit home, having someone who was so young and had spent so much time growing up in the same environment and town as myself, diagnosed with cancer. Those who battle cancer know what it means to persevere and push on no matter what, because sometimes all you can do is keep moving forward; one step at a time, with your eyes set on the horizon.
Therefore, I will be running the MMT 100 to raise awareness and collect donations for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in honor of Brittany and all those who are unrelenting in their fight against cancer.
Please consider donating any amount here.
More information on Brittany and her fight against Leukemia can be found on Facebook.
It’s been a little over two weeks since the bombings at the Boston marathon. I was incredulous when I first heard reports that two bombs exploded at the finish line of the marathon. I immediately thought of all my friends who were running and spectating at the marathon and began reaching out to fellow RVRR club members to try and see if everyone was unharmed and accounted for. It took some time, but we were able to confirm that all of our friends and fellow runners were safe. The whirlwind of events that transpired over the week following the bombings had me in sort of a funk. Driving home from work on marathon Monday, I kept thinking about how excited I was to run my first Boston three years prior and how accomplished I felt when I crossed the finish line, the same place that had now turned a day of joy and celebration to terror and sadness.
I did what most runners likely did that afternoon, I laced up my shoes, put on my blue Boston marathon tech shirt and went out for a run. My run helped clear my mind a bit, but I still had a feeling that this attack was somewhat personal. The assailants didn’t only attack innocent men, women and children, or an entire city– they attacked all runners.
The first woman to run the Boston Marathon, Katherine Switzer, is known for her famous quote, “If you’re losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon”. I couldn’t agree with this statement more. It is very inspiring to watch a marathon; not only to observe the individual runners triumph over completing 26.2 miles, but also to observe the many spectators and runners who are complete strangers, cheer and celebrate each other along their journeys.
The tenacity and kindness of runners and marathon spectators alike couldn’t have been more evident after a horrific attack such as this. From the Marathoners who ran through the finish area straight to donate blood, to those who ran to the aid of the victims within seconds of the blasts. Along the marathon course, spectators offered blankets, water, and food for the thousands of marathoners corralled outside of the city.
Being runners, we will do one thing that runners do best; we will persevere. It’s this unwavering mentality to push on no matter lies in front of us, no matter how much it hurts, or how far we have left to go, that is one of the great qualities that runners are known for.
To Hell and Back Again…
Hellgate Elevation Profile - Photo by The Roanoke Times
There were only 139 runners
stupid enough to run this race. The Hellgate 100k is known as being a one of a kind race, as the race director, David Horton
, created the event to inspire humility. Previous race winner, Eric Grossman described Hellgate
as being the most representative race of what an ultra means to David Horton, with it’s “huge withering climbs, brilliant wide-open vistas, plenty of brutal technical terrain but also miles of free running.”
This race was like no other I have ever run, starting from the very beginning. Zsuzsanna, Barry, and I met up around 8am Friday morning for the 6.5 – 7hr drive to the finish of the race. We arrived, spoke with David Horton, and the Grindstone 100 RD, Clark Zealand and picked out our bunk beds. Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical of sleeping in bunks in this cabin for the weekend, believing I would really want to have my own space and sleep in a real bed after missing a night’s sleep to run 60+ miles. However, finishing a race and being shuffling distance to clean, dry clothes, bathrooms and showers was beyond appreciated. After a great pre-race dinner, we headed back to the cabin to lay down for a bit before the pre-race meeting. David talked about the weather and course, highlighted some of the top runners and milestone runners (9 shooting for 10 Hellgate finishes) and tried to find rides to the start for all of the runners.
Then we had roughly 2 hours to kill before heading to the race start. All of the bunks quickly filled up with nervous runners trying to grab any amount of sleep possible before venturing into the woods for an all night run. As seems to happen all so often, it felt like I finally was able to fall asleep just as someone turned on the lights for a quick gear check before our 10:50pm departure. I quickly geared up and headed out front to meet up with my ride. Two of the other runners in the car have run the race a few times and were reminiscing about some of the previous years and how mild the weather was this year. I asked if they had any tips for a first timer and they replied to start out slow, hike the first few big climbs, and be diligent in keeping an eye out for course markings, as there are many turns that could be easily missed.
We arrived at the race start, a very nondescript parking lot in the dark woods. We checked in and lined up on the trail. With a few minutes before the 12:01 start, we sang the national anthem and David said a short prayer for the safety and well being of all the runners. A runner followed with a prayer of his own, asking for the well being of the race director, who was scheduled for open heart by-pass surgery on Monday morning.
12:01 am – Here Goes Nothing
Photo by Jack Anderson
Despite Barry and I settling into a solid pace for the first few miles, we were constantly being passed by other runners. We felt like we were running fairly quickly and agreed to maintain our pace and let everyone else go, as we wanted to be conservative for at least the first half of the race. After the first 3 miles or so we hit the first aid station and made a left onto a dirt road to begin our climb up to Aid Station (AS) 2 at Petites Gap.
1:00 am – Aid Station or Moon?
On the drive to the race start a few Hellgate veterans offered a few tips, one of which was to run out of AS 1 until you turn right and hit some of the steeper terrain. There it would be smarter to conserve energy and hike the rest of the way. Planning to run fairly conservatively for the first half, I took this to heart and planned to follow their suggestion. However, after running for quite some time after AS1 and traversing a few switch backs, I kept thinking to myself “where the heck is this going to get steeper?” The dirt/gravel road maintained its grade for the majority of the 2+ miles to the top, all the while zig-zagging back and forth offering views of all the bobbing headlamps below. About half-way up the climb, there was a bright, foggy light at what looked like the top of the climb. Barry and I questioned if it was the moon, or lights at the aid station. It wasn’t until a switch-back or two further where our perspective changed and we were able to confirm that it was indeed the moon and we unfortunately could not see the top of the mountain or any signs of the aid station.
3:00 am – Hide and Seek
We could see the aid station with a bonfire and Christmas lights for some time leading into AS3 Camping Gap but we zigzagged all over before finally arriving at this aid station. Honestly, I don’t remember too much about this section except that I was starting to get fairly sleepy. I was very happy to be running with Barry. I never got terribly sleepy, but I was yawning for a while and definitely voiced a few times how tired I was. I believe this was the section where we hit the fog. All of a sudden we just ended up in fog which made visibility very sketchy. The tiny water particulates essentially blinded you from the light from the headlamp. My handheld light did little to make it any better. As quick as we came into the fog, it was suddenly gone after a few miles.
7:00 am – Where the Heck are You Sun?
Photo by Kristin Eddy
Having recently run the Stone Mill 50 which starts in the dark at 6am, I anticipated that the sun would rise around the same time, and that I wouldn’t need my headlamp any longer come 630-645. However, the mountains of Virginia had different plans for me. 6am comes and goes and it’s still completely dark. 7am comes and goes and while the sky is getting a bit brighter, a headlamp/handheld is still needed on the wooded trails. I’m completely bewildered why the sun hasn’t really shined its light on us yet. It wasn’t until around 8am where it was bright enough for us to turn off our headlamps and run by the light of day. While mentioning this to apparent phenomena to Zsuzsanna after the race, she asked where we were in the race. Barry and I calculated that were likely about half way between AS5 and AS6. Zsuzsanna mentioned that the sun came up at the normal time around 645 and that we were on the West side of the mountain, thus the delay in sunlight getting to us. Whew, so I wasn’t going crazy out there!
8:00 am – Half Way There?
AS 6, Little Cove mountain, is where i first started understanding what everyone meant when they kept mentioning “Horton Miles”. Doing the math at this AS, I figured I had about 30 more miles to go and needed to run that in around 5 hours in order to hit 14 hours. This didn’t seem all that possible, yet I was fairly sure we were on pace for somewhere around a 14 hour finishing time. Therefore, we had to be further in the race than the advertised 34.5 miles. I didn’t let this get me down, as I knew I was making good time. So I pushed on, not knowing how far I truly was into the race or what time I was on pace to finish at. This was okay by me, just another small mental speed bump to get over wondering whether I had 20+ or 30+ more miles to run.
10:00 am – Hamburger & Body Glide
This section seemed to go on for quite some time and was actually the coldest time during the race. After the sun was up, we would run through some really chilly sections, cold enough that I needed to put my thin gloves back on a few times. This is another section I don’t recall much from, except from AS7, Bearwallow Gap, where we were able to access our drop bags for the second and final time. Rolling into the aid station, I was greeted by a very excited David Horton who checked us in. Then it was on to business; drop headlamp, empty garbage from pockets, restock with Hammer gels, and refill my hydration bladder. I jumped at the offering of some real food, the first of the race for me, and enjoyed 1/2 of a hamburger. I also burdened one of the aid station workers to apply a generous amount of Glide to the chafing on my back caused by my pack.
12:00 pm – In the Zone
Photo by Kristin Eddy
Barry and I rolled through AS 8 somewhere around noon. As was true with many other sections throughout the race, AS 7 to AS 8 seemed to go on forever. I couldn’t recall if that was know as the “forever section” or if the next section was. Going through the aid station, I stopped for a bit of electrolytes, ate 1/2 a quesedilla, and was informed by a volunteer that this next section of 7.6 miles was known as the forever section. I took two Ibuprofen as a preventative measure, and decided to put my headphones in and see what I had left in my legs. Barry and the other runners pulled ahead while I slowed to eat, and prep for the last ~13-16 miles. I rolled past Barry and suggested he also take an Ibuprofen, as he was struggling with his knee, and let him know I was going to see what I had left. I pulled ahead and wouldn’t see Barry again until the finish. I got into a nice groove running down this washed out dirt road section, getting an expected boost from my music. The course made a right onto single track trails which were primarily covered in leaves and rolling in terrain. I was able to keep a solid momentum, running the majority of everything and moving along at a solid clip. I started picking off a few runners and rolled into the final aid station feeling strong. I paused long enough just to take two swigs of mountain dew from the bottle and I was on the final section of the race. The next 3 miles were a continuous climb straight up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. I was focused and power hiked the entire club, mixing in short sections of running. This climb went on and on and on and around each bend, you were offered of a view of more climbing ahead. This also provided a great line of sight for any runners that were up ahead, and I was motivated to continue powering up the climb, passing 2 or so runners. I came to the top, crossed the road, passed the 2nd place female and her pacer, and prepared myself for 3 downhill miles to the finish.
1:30 pm – Alive
Think back to the last time you truly felt alive, I mean truly alive; blood pumping, heart beating, smile on your face, every emotion running through your body, yet you don’t really feel any single one in particular; you’re just completely in the moment, alive and happy to be, feeling a bit invincible. It’s not an emotion we are lucky enough to experience too frequently, perhaps for the better. Climbing 3 miles up the last mountain, I knew I had some juice left and that I would give everything I had once I reached the top, crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway and began the final 3 down hill miles to the finish. I was racing to finish under 14 hours and try and catch as many people as I could, I was racing to run away from everything, and I was racing to go nowhere in particular. The last 3 miles were the perfect grade down, not too steep where you have to slow yourself down with your legs or risk having a ridiculous leg turnover. The trail was wide, packed, rocky fire road which was extremely runnable making it was easy to blast down the trail. I ended up running the final 3 miles in somewhere around 19 minutes and passed 4 runners. I popped out on the dirt road and knew it was only a short distance to the 1 mile mark, I was definitely moving at 6 minute or quicker pace at this point. I rounded the corner to the campground and only had a short uphill road section to the finish line outside our cabin.
1:48 pm – To Hell and Back Again
After finishing and thanking David for allowing me into the race, and saying how great the experience was, I shuffled inside to change my shirt and grab a towel and made it back outside just in time to see Barry finish strong in 13:58 and change. My final time was 13:48:47 and I placed 24th overall out of the 139 runners who started. I am more than happy with my race and finish time. Hellgate is truly a special race with everything from the communal lodging for the weekend to the course and terrain. Running this race has given me great confidence to run my first 100 miler.
A few take aways I had from the race:
Photo by Kristin Eddy
Food - Eat when you can. There were a few sections where I was focused/not feeling great or was exhausted and I wasn’t eating much. When I would “come to” I doubled up on Hammer Gels to help keep the calories up. This seemed to work well and I didn’t have any real stomach issues.
Run when you can, power hike when you can’t – The course was definitely not short of climbs. Some where very long (3+ miles) and gradual, others a bit shorter and steeper, there was really a mix of all types of climbing. I ended up running a good majority of these. However, when I needed a break I would power hike and try to keep at a solid and steady pace.
Hand held Flash Light – I was hesitant to bring a handheld flashlight, as I had just purchased a new, powerful headlamp, however i was fearful something would happen to it, or the batteries would go and I would be alone in the dark without any light to replace them. Ultimately the hand held was pain the butt, but was glad I had it in a few sections. After eating some food from my pack, I was able to tuck the light in up front when I wasn’t using it.
Volunteers Are an Underrated Race Component – I must mention that the volunteers were truly top notch. Coming into aid stations, everyone was helpful and provided tremendous support. They were quick to refill my hydration bladder at almost every stop and were even willing to rub glide on my back chafe from my pack. They were quick to find my drop bags and told me to get running when I was done and they would zip it up and put it where it needed to go. I can’t say enough great things about all the volunteers and how truly I appreciated them all!
20-25 Hammer Gels
1 package of Cliff Blocks
2.5 packages of Honey Stinger Chews
1 Honey Stinger Waffle
1/2 a hamburger
1/2 a quesadilla
1 cup broth & noodles
1 mint cookie
~10 orange slices
~2 handfuls of potatoes
2, 5 hour energy shots
A few cups of GU brew
Clothing & Gear:
North Face tech t-shirt
New Balance MT 110 shoes
Salomon Exo IV Calf Tight Sleeves
Drymax Lite Trail Socks
Nathan 1.5L Hydration Pack
Petzl Myo-Rxp 2 Head lamp
Running Warehouse Arm Warmers
Ascis Everyday Liner Gloves
50 mile Start - Photo by Woolheater
Two weekends ago I completed the Stone Mill 50
in Maryland, my third 50 mile trail race.
The weather for the 50 miler was kind to us, as It was a beautiful day for running with a low around 28F and high around 52F. The course was very runnable with a mix of single track and fire road, making the course very runnable. However, the cumulative stress from many flat miles was adding up and I found myself in a rough patch around the 28 mile mark after running a 3:30-3:35 for the first half of the race. While running on a towpath along the Potomac river, instead of suffering and thinking about how far I still had to go, or how tired/sore I was becoming, I thought back to my experience pacing Dan Brenden at the Vermont 100 and asked myself, “What would Dan do?” I reminded myself how happy Dan was to be out there running and seemed happy throughout 100 tough miles, so I put on a big smile and said good morning to every walker, cyclist, and jogger that I passed and kept my focus looking out, admiring the beauty of the river in the gorgeous morning weather.
Sunrise - Photo by Trombatore
This was just the first of many times I brought my thoughts back to my time spent with Dan in VT and was able to put on a big smile and just try to truly enjoy where I was at that very moment. Experiencing lows and being able to “enjoy” them with a smile on your face, reminds you that perspective and mental toughness is truly one of the most important variables, and obstacles, in any ultra distance. I had some pain and tightness in my hamstring, knee, and foot all on my left side around the same time. I was run/walking a bit from the 28 mile mark to around mile 34 when I was able to take two Ibuprofen. 20 minutes later I was back in business, as my stride returned to normal and the pain was dulled. I popped in my headphones and cranked out the last 16 miles, passing more than a handful of runners over that time. I was able to push harder and run faster the closer I got, knowing I was chasing a sub 8hr finish and a new 50 mile PR. I was trying to hold my place and possibly catch anyone else in front of me, and ultimately just be done running! I finished the race in 7th place overall with a new 50 mile PR of 7:52; just 42 seconds behind 6th place who had passed me during my run/walk low around mile 30. Overall I am very happy with the race and my result. I set a new PR with little specific training, and really enjoyed much of my time out on the trails, especially the first ~25 miles spent running with my buddy Jayson
The following morning, we woke up early to drive into Philadelphia to cheer for many RVRR teammates in the full and half marathons. I am happy we decided to make the trip into Philly and hobble around cheering for everyone. It was great seeing the faces and the joy and gratitude for everyone we cheered for, especially those running their first marathons. This weekend marked four years since I ran my first marathon back in 2008 and my mom was quick to remind me that when asked if I was going to do another marathon after I finished four years ago, I responded, “No way” and now I competed in a race nearly double the distance and almost 4 years to the day. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when no one tells you that you can’t and when you have the support of so many amazing friends and family.
Hellgate Elevation Profile - Photo by The Roanoke Times
Looking ahead, I have been recovering/tapering for the last two weeks since Stone Mill, as I am signed up for my first 100k on December 8th. I am running David Horton’s Hellgate 100k in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. I’m definitely a bit nervous about this race, as it will be the longest distance and likely continuous hours I will have run at one time. Plus the race starts at 12:01 AM on Saturday morning and has many big climbs and descents with around 24,000 feet of elevation change and plenty of technical trails. Reading previous race reports and course reviews, it’s easy to conclude that this race is unlike many others, is extremely difficult and in return is very rewarding and “special”. I can’t say that I feel fully prepared for the race, but I have done some great training over the last 6+ months. I don’t also feel 100% recovered from the Stone Mill 50 but am fully committed to giving 100% and finishing this race one way or another. It’s going to hurt for sure, but isn’t that what I signed myself up for? Either way, I am looking forward to the challenge and opening a new page in my ultra running book.
Noun: An extended period of running, especially one spent away from home or while traveling.
My recent trip to Portland, Oregon was the latest in my series of runcations. Previously, I have traveled to Colorado (Denver, Boulder, and Fort Collins) as well as California (Lake Tahoe/Squall Valley, Yosemite and San Francisco) with plans to explore these cities and their surrounding wilderness while on foot. Not all runcations require a week away from work and a flight across the country, some of my most memorable runcations have been a short car ride away, consisting of weekends discovering new trails with friends be it in New York, Vermont or other East coast states.
This most recent trip had other significance, in that it also marked my first 100 mile week. Over the 7 days spent in Portland, I logged around 104 miles over 22 and and half hours of running, moving time. A good deal of this was spent climbing or descending, as we ran three different volcanoes and spent time zig-zagging our way through the Columbia River Gorge area, valleys around Mt. Hood, and the Tillamook State Forest.
There may be no better way to explore a new city or area than by on foot. Running allows one to get a good feel for a new city or connect with the mountain or trails in a very personal way. Running allows you to cover a lot of ground in a shorter amount of time compared to hiking, and usually presents you with opportunities to get away from the crowds. Below are some tips to consider for a successful runcation.
Tips for a Successful Runcation:
1. Plan Ahead
Carry a map, let someone know where you’re running, be sure to check the weather, pack layers, bring sunblock and a change of dry/warm clothes, pack a hand held bottle or running pack.
2. Fuel Properly
This means carrying plenty of calories and water for your planned adventures. Also, if you’re running trails/mountains and not near many towns or places for food, you may want to bring food and water for when you finish your run. Its NOT fun returning after a few hour adventure with no food waiting for you and an hour or more drive back to civilization. Don’t be silly, prevent yourself from getting hangry before it happens!
3. Travel with a Friend
Find someone with similar fitness and love of running. You don’t want to get out there and hold someone back or be held back. It’s important that everyone is capable of logging the miles and equally excited to explore a new area. Also, if you’re out running in a remote area it’s much safer to run with someone. I’ve been lucky enough not to encounter many dangerous situations or unfriendly wildlife, but anything can happen.
4. Don’t Forget to Enjoy it
This last tip seems simple enough; you’re on vacation, you’re supposed to be enjoying yourself. However, this is perhaps the most important tip of them all. After a few long days of running, a wrong turn or difficult trail, down on some sleep, a bit hungry and thirsty and you could have a recipe for disaster! Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses, take in the sights, slow down and look for wildlife, flowers, and trees not native to your area. If you don’t remember to take it all in and enjoy yourself, it’ll quickly be over.
Stay tuned for additional posts covering some of the runs and trails I experienced while in Portland, including: Multnomah Falls and Larch Mountain, Mount Hood, Mount St. Helens, Kings Mountain, and Elk Mountain.
RVRR Crew pre-race – Photo courtesy of Sally H.
Having run 11 Ultras (nine 50ks and two 50milers) as well as countless training runs all across the country, I’ve had the honor of experiencing many amazing trails and races. However, NJ Trail Series Mountain Madness 50K holds a special place in my heart, as it was . . . → Read More: You Always Remember Your First
“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” -John Muir
Dan, Hugette, and I at the Finish of the VT 100 – Photo: Chip Tilden
The president of RVRR and I decided to head up to Vermont to crew and pace for some of her teammates from Mountain Peak Fitness. I planned to . . . → Read More: Ultra-marathon Pacing – The Vermont 100
Tomorrow I am racing in the HAT 50k in Havre de Grace Maryland. I had the pleasure of running this race last year for the first time and am excited to be returning this year. In addition to trying to put forth a solid effort and better my time, I will be running in honor of . . . → Read More: Running For a Cause
Samuel Adams Boston Lager was first launched on Patriots day, which coincides with the Boston Marathon, 27 years ago in 1985. In celebration of The Boston Beer Companies 28th Anniversary release of Boston Lager, they teamed up with the Boston Athletic Association to produce Samuel Adams Boston 26.2 Brew.
This beer is going to be a special . . . → Read More: 26.2 Brew
Amazing RVRR support!
The Philadelphia marathon has a special place in my heart, as this was my first marathon back in 2008. At that time, little did I know that I would be back three years later shaving 30 minutes of my time with a new PR (2:53:13)!
I’ve trained fairly consistently over those three years, . . . → Read More: 2011 Philadelphia Marathon Race Report