Friday, July 3, 2015

Bighorn 52 Mile: Running Happy and Content In The Shining Mountains

The first sublime miles of the Bighorn 52
When I ran my first ultra at Holiday Lake in 2002, my children were 9, 7, and 4. Over the years my ultra career mirrored the ebbs and flows of their lives, and our life as a family. The "early" years were somewhat easy, in that the kids had not quite gotten into travel athletics or other activities that would demand my attendance each and every weekend. I actually did fairly well during these years and even won a race or two! Later, especially as our older son took to travel lacrosse and our younger kids got into summer swim team, I went to fewer races, and almost never in the spring and summer months. This was a win-win for all of us, as I loved watching my children thrive in their chosen endeavors, and in return I found myself feeling fresh and chomping at the bit to race once the cooler fall weather arrived. More often than not, I was able to steadily improve my races times at both Mountain Masochist 50 and Hellgate 100k for about six years...that is, until 2014.

For a variety of reasons, my performances at both Masochist and Hellgate in 2014 were disappointing. I came into Masochist a bit under-trained after dealing with a late summer piriformis injury, and at Hellgate, I totally screwed up with a variety of rookie mistakes. I was discouraged and often wondered if my "best" years were behind me. As 2015 arrived, I looked forward to my first summer ultra in years: the Bighorn 52. I needed a new challenge, a new-to-me race. But most importantly, I wanted to run a race and feel like I did  in "the old days" -- when I ran smart, was injury-free, and was well-prepared. So, after recovering from a late winter calf strain, I plunged into a 12-week training cycle that incorporated a few new workouts and a renewed emphasis on strength and heat acclimation (since running in the heat is a huge weakness of mine). I also worked hard on my technical downhill running (another huge weakness, one that gets harder to improve with age!).

The VHTRC gang just before the 52 mile start. It was cold!

 The entire race is on beautiful, runnable, rocky single track in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming (called the "Shining Mountains" by the Sioux-- I love that!). The 52 mile race started at 6:00am on Saturday, the day after the 100 milers started, to maximize finishing together on Saturday afternoon. The weather was cold (40s) at the start and warmed up nicely throughout the day, until it felt oppressively hot with the late afternoon sun beating down into the canyons. Once in awhile we had some dirt roads and double track to rest our minds and be brain dead for just a moment...but for the 12 hours that I was running, I was forced to focus my energy on navigating the twisty, grass-covered, muddy, narrow single track trail that wound itself from 8800 feet at the 100-miler turnaround to the finish line at 4000 feet along the Tongue River. My finishing time of 11:59 was my slowest 50+ mile time ever, but I feel incredibly proud of how I prepared for, trained, and executed on race day.

The Dryfork Aid Station, mile 13/83 for the 100 and mile 34 for the 52

My previous blog post outlined my Bighorn training cycle, and looking back post-race, I wouldn't have changed much of anything. My time in the sauna prepared me well for the heat, which was a good thing given that the temps were among the hottest in race history (high 80s and low 90s). I was not drastically affected by the altitude, except during the highest pitches of the three short climbs we had (I wish there had been more climbing, to be honest!). And I had practiced racing hard on technical downhill in a few trail 5Ks as well as running downhill hard during hill repeats. I also spent a good amount of time in the gym working on core, glute, quad, and hip flexor strength. As a result, I had very little quad soreness during and post-race. Hmmm...that makes me think I could have pushed the downhill pace more, but until I feel more confident with my technical downhill turnover, it is what it is!

I was very happy with my nutrition. I made a concerted effort to take in about 240 calories an hour, and this came in the form of Perpetuem Cafe Latte, EFS shots, Hammergel, Clif Shot Bloks, and Justins Almond Butter. I took nothing from the aid stations except water and the contents of my drop bags I carried my Ultraspire hydration pack and used a handheld bottle drinking to thirst, and felt good all day long, with the only time I had a rough patch was when I was baking in the heat of the Tongue River canyon around 5:00pm at about mile 47. Here the final 5-mile gravel road section (finally!) meets the end of the technical trail, and for me, this road could not come soon enough. I was able to pass two women who had run by me earlier to inch closer to the top-10 (which I missed by one spot--the 9th-13th place females were separated by about 6 minutes!). Many folks complain about the tedious nature of this flat road, but I loved stretching my legs out and seeing how hard I could work in the final miles.I think I was able to lay down a few sub-8:00 miles. Woop!

Feeling good at the Bighorn 52 finish line

 As good as I felt throughout the race, Bighorn was definitely harder for me than the Hellgate 100K. Once out of the comfy surroundings of my local ultra communities and familiar trails, I had to adjust to bigger mountains, less oxygen, tougher terrain, and more competition. There were women in front of me and behind me all day long, so we were constantly jockeying for position and very much aware of one another, which was mentally draining --- but I  very much enjoyed competing with so many more women than I see in our races back East! The downhill trail forced me to run and there very few opportunities to climb and re-group, which I always enjoy and look forward to. The terrain was ever-changing and always challenging to navigate, and the heat and altitude made it harder for someone like me who runs well in sub-freezing weather and conditions. In short, the Bighorn 52 kicked my butt and was exactly the challenge I had been seeking.

 As I came into the finish area, I immediately saw Annie (who had dropped from the 100 earlier in the day). I started to weep ---tears of sadness for her disappointing race as well as tears of relief that my race was over and that I could sit down!  As soon as I finished and was off my feet, I talked to Annie and cooled off my legs in the Tongue River. She was characteristically upbeat and philosophical about her tough day, but I could tell she was really hurting inside. It is hard to train 3 months with a friend, and know how hard they worked to get to the start line, only to have the race blow up in a matter of hours. When we come back out to Bighorn, Annie has unfinished business to attend to, and I know she will take care of it!

The VHTRC had a huge group representing in the 100, 52, 50K and 18 mile Bighorn races, and it was a blast sharing the trail together, crewing for one another, and spending time together throughout the weekend. These various race distances, along with the very low key, "old school" vibe and community enthusiasm for the event, make Bighorn a perfect destination ultra for groups of friends, non-runner spouses, and families with children. My hubby rented a mountain bike at the Billings Spoke Shop and was able to ride on parts of the course with Annie's husband, Jimmy. Annie's three children were able to play non-stop for hours at the finish line park, and our VHTRC crew celebrated our races and the Summer Solstice until dusk on Saturday evening, sharing cold beverages and enjoying the post-race cook-out. On Sunday morning, we gathered again in Sheridan for a pancake breakfast awards ceremony before saying farewell and heading to points north and west: Cody, Yellowstone, Glacier, Tetons, and beyond. Bighorn is a perfect summer vacation race!

Annie and I were thrilled to represent Crozet Running in Wyoming!
 I absolutely loved running in the beautiful Bighorn Mountains. It reminded me of the Dolly Sods Wilderness in West Virginia, only with 8,000 foot mountains on either side. The event was incredibly well-run given the sheer numbers of runners, family, and crew (over 1,000 total) in the small town of Dayton, and the volunteers were terrific---very helpful at aid stations and sincerely interested in making it an unforgettable race weekend. When it was all over, as we were driving west towards Cody and Yellowstone for some rest and relaxation on Sunday afternoon, I kept asking my husband, "How much fun was that?" We were both on a huge post-race high.

Around mile 22...I took photos all day long

 A few days before leaving for Wyoming, I had read a race report from the San Diego 100 beautifully written by John Trent. John is in his early 50s (like me) and he has been in the sport a bit longer than I. And, like me, he considers Scotty Mills, the RD for San Diego, one of his mentors. Scotty is a longtime VHTRC member and leader. He was the RD for the Bull Run Run 50 for many years and one of the first people I met when I was an ultra newbie. He was, in fact, the same age that I am right now (52) when I started running ultras, and he helped me immensely at Promise Land 50K and at The Ring (where he ran over Kern's Mountain with me and gave me tips on how to run over the Massanutten rocks). In short, Scotty took the time to show me the ropes, encourage me, and teach me a few things about running ultras that I have used over and over in the years since. As I have gotten older (and slower), I have thought a lot about the lessons I have learned as an ultrarunner, about the person I am now compared to that newbie in 2002, and how I will adjust to aging and the inevitable decline in speed and agility. So, I found it serendipitous when I came upon John's reflections on his ultra career and read about his own reverence for Scotty Mills.

In John's San Diego report, he reflected on the runner he was eight years ago, before a knee injury sidelined him. He wrote, "Make no mistake, though. I like the runner I am now. The runner I am now is more helpful, more concerned for others and less worried about himself. The runner I am now takes time to hug and to listen. The runner I am now tries to contribute to our community. The runner I am now, I think, has taken memory and made it plural, collecting and sharing it with others...if anything, the past eight years has taught me that the simple act of running is a miraculous thing, a gift really, and to take it for granted or cloud it with too harsh judgments or negative thoughts based on placing or finish time is simply a fool's errand. And so I run today, happy and content with who I've become as a runner, and as a person."

This is a beautifully written meditation on the trans-formative nature of our sport. Ultrarunning has the power to simply make us better -- better people, partners, friends, mothers, fathers. Knowing this inspires me as I look forward to what the years ahead offer. I read John's words many times before heading to Bighorn, and decided that my mantras on race day would be, "take time to listen" and  "run happy and content."

And, I did.

Coming up: Daring Greatly At The Big Dance

Friday, June 12, 2015

Bighorn 50 Training Cycle: With A LOT of Help From My Friends

Sunset Run up to Blackrock in the SNP to cap off a fantastic training cycle

 On Saturday, June 20, I am joining 35+ other VHTRC  friends who are running the 100, 50, 50k, or 35k options at the Bighorn Wild and Scenic Endurance Runs. Bighorn is the official "Blue Train" destination race of the year, and I'm excited to join my brethren from the East Coast as we descend on the town of Dayton, Wyoming and run through the beautiful Bighorn Mountains. Bighorn has been a bucket list item for me ever since the first Blue Train-Bighorn run in 2005, and I am thrilled that my hubby will be joining me on this adventure as we celebrate 26 years of marriage and the start of our first as empty-nesters!

 As I wrap up the training cycle for the  Bighorn 50, I am reminded --more than ever-- that for me, the essence of training for and running ultras is ALL about the relationships forged over many, many miles of mountain trails and shared stories about life, jobs, children, hopes, and fears. It's about "daring greatly" with Big, Hairy Audacious Goals, asking for help, feedback, and guidance and knowing that my tribe will support me unconditionally, even if I fail. And it's about sharing my own list of "things I wish I had known" with my fellow ultrarunners as they train for their next BHAGs and adventures. Putting together a logical, cohesive, and effective training cycle is a very satisfying feeling, and I'm cautiously optimistic that this Bighorn 50 cycle will yield a fun and enjoyable experience. A number of friends have inquired about my training this time around, so here it is in a nutshell...

Long, easy stuff. I started training in earnest at the end of March, after recovering from a mild calf strain as a result of cross-country skiing. It was actually good timing to be coming off an injury, as I found myself hungry and itching to get back to running after a 4+ week layoff, my longest break from running in years. The cycle began with lots of long, slow easy runs, gradually building my mileage up to about 50 miles per week through April. Each week included a quality day of either hill repeats or a hilly tempo run, and each weekend was spent with easy back-to-back long runs in the mountains at conversational pace. The Bighorn 50 starts at 8800 feet of elevation and descends the first 18 miles to 4200 feet, before a long climb of about 2100 feet in three miles before descending one more time to the finish. I asked my friends and Bighorn veterans Katherine Dowson (a previous Bighorn 50 women's winner), Beth Minnick, and Rachel Bell Kelley for advice on training. They encouraged me to work on my downhill (and mud!) running as well as trashing my quads in training, so the weekend runs focused on long downhill descents on trails and gravel roads. Fellow Crozet Ultrarunning Team member Annie Stanley is running the Bighorn 100, so she joined me almost every weekend, which was awesome. We trained on the TWOT loop twice in April (running both directions with 7500 feet of gain in a 27 miles loop), the Priest and Three Ridges (7500 feet of gain in 24 miles), The Priest-Three Ridges-wimpyPriest (28ish miles and almost 9775 feet of vert), the AT in Shenandoah National Park, and the Fox Mountain loop near Charlottesville, a hilly gravel road 17-miler, where we worked on MP, HMP, and 5K pace.

Annie and me on Three Ridges (pic by Michelle Andersen)
Speed. At the end of April, I added a quality day to the weekend runs with the first of five short races. The hilly and hot VIA 5k was part of a 15 mile day of running the  Rivanna Trail in  C'ville, and the next weekend I ran the  Montalto Challenge 5k (an uphill road race) as part of a 17 mile push on the trails of Secluded Farm and Carter's Mountain. Two weeks later I ran the very tough Crozet Trail 5k in mountainous Mint Springs Park (with ~700 feet of gain) followed up by the fabulously old school and very hilly Batesville 10k --a perfect quad trasher--as part of a 15 mile heat run. Finally, on June 9, I ran the first Ohi!ly 5K trail race in heat and humidity. AJW and I developed a fun and feisty rivalry over the course of these races, and he currently leads our series 2-1, having soundly beaten me at Mint Springs and Ohill while I crushed him on the Batesville 10K course. I am thrilled to have been able to use these local trail races as part of my preparation --- there is nothing like toeing the line week after week and getting a quality workout in, both physically and mentally! Thanks, Andy, for pushing me to improve my downhill running :-)

Cruising up Montalto (pic by Natalie Krovetz)

Heat. Ah, yes, heat training. When I was training for the heat of Western States 100 in 2006, I worked up to 45 minutes in the sauna, 2-3 days a week. This was critical that year when temperatures soared to 110 degrees in the Sierra Nevada canyons. Given that Bighorn has a lot of exposed sections and that I tend to suffer (aka suck) in the heat, I returned to the sauna at UVA's North Grounds Rec Center, and really enjoyed it. I used the time in the hot box to foam roll my IT bands, calves, piriformis, and shoulders, as well as to practice easy yoga (I'm pretty certain the lifeguards had a lot of fun talking about the wacky old lady in the sauna, rolling her butt over and over). Since I did this in the early morning hours, it was also a perfect time to meditate and stretch, and I emerged feeling calm, serene, and ready for the day. After my sauna sessions, I typically swam about 500-1000 yards nice and easy and then sat in the whirlpool on the pool deck for a few minutes. Adding the sauna, foam rolling, and easy swimming to the training cycle is something that I will stick with going forward--- being able to sit free of distractions for up to 45 minutes and stretch/roll out all the junk in my body (and my mind!) was a huge luxury and made a world of difference in my mood and outlook. And, dare I say, all the foam rolling has kept injuries at bay!

 Strength. I strength train 1-2 times a week all year long, and continued doing so during this cycle, in addition to using hill repeats for lower body work. Every other Thursday I joined fellow CAT Jason Farr for AJW's version of Man Makers: 3:00 "hard" (perceived 10K pace --almost redlining, but not quite) up an 18% grade trail followed by 3:00 hard downhill. 15 push-ups and a 30 second plank followed before a 30 second rest period. Then repeat, working up to 8 repeats two weeks from race day. Jason, who is training for the Tahoe Rim 100, swore by these for his Grindstone training, and I was looking for something new and challenging to add to my hill training.  Oof. Man Makers were killer. I included a few more hilly miles after our repeats for a total of 11-12 miles, and I can tell they have made a huge difference in my climbing and overall fitness as the weeks progressed. On alternate Thursdays, I ran with CAT Becca Weast for a hilly tempo run with 2 miles at MP, rest 1:00, and 3 miles at HMP  on a gravel road near UVA before running 3-5 repeats of the Ohill powerlines, with push-ups and planks in between. In the gym, I focused on kettle bell swings, single arm snatches, Bosu ball squats, lunges, and a variety of core exercises including planks, side planks, as well as Swiss ball and medicine ball work.

Boot Camp. A key part of the training cycle was the Bighorn Boot Camp over Memorial Day Weekend, four weeks out of race day. A number of the CATs and Crozet Running peeps were training for Highlands Sky 40 on June 20 as well, so it was awesome to share some training miles and race strategies together. We ran the Priest-Three Ridges-wimpyPriest on Saturday for about 28 miles and 9775 feet of climb; On Sunday, we tackled for the first time the super tough Whetstone Ridge trail, a fantastic 22 mile loop with about 5,000 feet of climb (and the first 9 miles downhill!), and on Monday, we joined about 35 other Charlottesville Area Trail Runners for the 6th Annual Harry Landers Memorial, which is about 21 miles and 4000 feet of gain on the sweet singletrack of the southern Shenandoah National park. Finishing that weekend feeling good after running over 70 miles and 18,000 feet of climb was a huge confidence boost for us all!

The Harry Landers gang

Now that the taper is in full swing, it's time to start packing for our trip out West. In addition to watching me run Bighorn, Hubby will be able to mountain bike on the trails, and we will visit Cody and Yellowstone after the race before he heads home for work and I head out to Squaw Valley, CA to help Gary Knipling finish his third Western States a 71-year-old! This June marks the first in 12 years where we don't have a travel lacrosse tournament or swim meet to attend, and while it is bittersweet to be entering our "empty nest" days, we are both looking forward to the freedom that comes with having grown children.

These women are authentic, real, and make me better. Annie, Michelle, and Becca.

I feel extremely fortunate to be able to run the Bighorn 50 and share the adventure with Hubby and all our VHTRC friends, and eternally grateful to my fellow CAT and Crozet Ultraunning Team buddies who supported me through this cycle. Thank you, dear friends, for answering the call to meet at 0600 or 6:30pm, joining me on "just one more" hill repeat, and keeping me honest by blazing past me running down the rocky stuff. Thank you for joining me in tabulating the minutiae of miles run and vert climbed, and ignoring me when I got bossy. Thank you for indulging me while I waxed nostalgic over the last days of my daughter's high school experience and fretted over the first days of my son's real world life. Most importantly, thank you for accepting me as I am.  You are the best :-)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Being Smart

My celebratory "Spring Is Here In The Mountains!" stance... and celebrating running pain-free

I've been thinking a lot lately about what it means to "be smart" in our sport of ultrarunning. Ultras, on paper, don't appear to be a very smart activity. The extreme distances can strain the body; the time commitment can strain relationships; and the FOMO adventures with friends can lead to poor decision-making due to Groupthink.

In my early years as an ultrarunner, I took some risks that now make me cringe when played over again in my mind. That first-ever night run in the Massanuttens in pouring rain that led me to the edge of hypothermia when we missed our rendezvous driver. Or running part of the first Reverse Ring in snow, with temps in the low teens, and with no one aware of our location on the ground in case one of us got injured. Or, more recently, running on the AT with friends and turning back due to ice-covered trails, only to then have a fellow runner fall, break her wrist and have to be rescued off the mountain in sub-freezing temps. Ugh. Not smart.


For the first time since 2004, I found myself sidelined this past month with an injury. I wasn't too surprised, given that I had been playing with fire by running back-to-back ultras, the Sean O'Brien 26++ followed by the Holiday Lake 50K++ the first two weekends of February. As I have gotten older, I've become much more conservative in my race scheduling and more committed to rest and recovery, so attempting this double was out of character for me. But as my students would say, YOLO ("You Only Live Once" for us old people), so when the chance to run in California came up the week before Holiday Lake, I couldn't resist.

Both races went well. I emerged relatively unscathed after Holiday Lake with only a slight right calf strain, which is my typical sore spot after a long run. This strain is a result of some chronic wear and tear around my right big toe, which I've dealt with for almost 8 years with help from Montrail inserts and Hoka Stinsons, Cliftons, and Challengers. (The Hokas have been a game changer, actually. They allow me to push off without requiring big work from the big toe, and the inserts support that as well). After all the snowfall we had in mid-February, I took out my cross-country skis for a spin around the farms near our house, and the repetitive action of lifting my heel up and down did a number on my sore much so, that when I resumed running a week later, two miles soon became impossible. Ice, rest, Aleve, and stretching did nothing to help, so after three weeks of this routine with no change, I visited my physical therapist, Eric Magrum. The last time Eric had helped me was when I had ITBS after running the Ring in 2004, so we had a good time catching up on local trail talk (Eric is a dedicated biker and trail work volunteer for our local mountain bike club) while he massaged (read: squeezed, beat, worked, bruised) my calf into submission. His Rx: stretch my soleus and calf 5-6x daily as well as my big toe, and "don't be stupid." I smirked and said, "Yes, sir." And, I meant it.

After a fun few days of trail marking and pacing Bill Gentry at the TJ100K, I'm grateful to have been able to run 50 miles last week and finish my first long run in the mountains yesterday with no issues. As a 52-year-old ultrarunner with 13 years of running long stuff behind me, I've learned that in order to keep training and racing at a high level I will have to be diligent with foam rolling, stretching, continuing my 2x weekly strength training, swimming and pool running routine year round, as well as take off 1-2 days a week. In other words, I have to be smart. I'm grateful to be on the road to recovery with just a soft tissue repair, because I have friends who are battling chronic arthritis in their joints or nerve damage in their feet and may not be able to run again without pain. This was my wake-up call. I have to truly listen to my body and pick my training runs and races carefully. FOMO and YOLO is going to be replaced with my new mantra, "Be Smart."

Over the years I've been asked by my running friends,"How do you stay uninjured, with all the miles that you run?" My response was always tinged with a bit of hubris: "I rarely run on pavement and I don't race too much." But from now on that response will be tinged with humility: "I'm lucky. I rarely run on pavement, I don't race too much, and I try to be smart about when to run and when to rest."

Happy spring, my friends! As you celebrate your return to the trails after the long, cold winter, enjoy every moment. And run smart.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

California Dreaming...and Holiday Lake Memories

                                               All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey
                                                   I've been for a walk on a winters` day
                                                    I'd be safe and warm if I was in L.A.
                                                California dreamin` on such a winters` day

                                                                           --The Mamas and The Papas

Our daughter is looking at colleges on the west coast, and last weekend we had the good fortune to be in LA on the same weekend as the Sean O'Brien 100k/50/50k/26 races in Malibu. I had heard fantastic things about the SOB course from Andy Jones-Wilkins, so when I realized that the marathon and 50K distance started at 7:00am on Saturday, I was psyched that I had time to run on the famed SOB course and get a taste of the west coast ultra scene, while hubby could take our daughter shopping in Santa Monica. I love it when the cosmos line up! Win-win!
The Georgian ---a classic hotel in Santa Monica
We stayed at the Georgian Hotel in Santa Monica, a wonderful old boutique hotel that was built in 1933 that once hosted Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. It was about 20 minutes from the race start/finish in Malibu Creek State Park. Hubz drove me to there along the Pacific Coast Highway just as the sun was rising;  it felt a bit surreal to be mentally preparing for a mountain trail race while admiring the moonrise over the the ocean! The Santa Monica Mountains are craggy, exposed, and wonderfully runnable. The TV show M*A*S*H* was filmed in these mountains; in fact, the 100K course went through the old set for the show. With about 5500 feet of climb for the marathon distance, I knew I was going to get a tough workout just one week before the Holiday Lake 50k.

The site of M*A*S*H in Malibu Creek State Park
  Since I typically never race on back-to-back weekends, I asked my Charlottesville Area Trail Runner peeps for their advice on whether I should: a) take it easy and run SOB as a training run for Holiday Lake; b) race it and take my chances that I would have dead legs at Holiday Lake; or c) go out easy, take lots of pics of the views on the course and then throw the hammer down on the way back if I felt good. The unanimous response was c). In addition to getting in a good training run/tune-up for Holiday Lake, I was excited to see some beautiful new trails and meet some kindred spirits on the left coast.

The course led us up on the ridge line of the Santa Monica mountains to the Backbone Trail, which offered great running and gorgeous views. Below are a few pics from the first 13 miles:

Views of Malibu early in the race

Typical fire road in the first 6 miles

Looking west towards the ocean

There were miles of this runnable, buttery single track

The aid stations were manned by experienced ultrarunners. Each time I arrived I was personally met by a volunteer with a pitcher of water ready to pour in my bottle (this was a cup-free race...of course!) and move me quickly on my way. The aid stations had the usual fare, along with Clif Bloks and Shots, and when I got to the marathon turn-around, a volunteer saw from my yellow bib color that I was running the marathon.  She approached me, looked me in the eye, and told me to turn around to go back to the finish. No messing around here --- they made sure there would be no bonus miles! The return trip was a blast with greeting and cheering on fellow runners, most of whom were running the 50K. I did notice that there were many more women 50 and older than I typically see on the east coast, and everyone was incredibly supportive and positive as all ultrarunners tend to be.

The scene of the crime: course ribbons were moved to direct runners to the left side of the photo
 The only glitch of the day took place with about 3 miles to go, where *someone* had moved the ribbons to purposely direct runners off course. I spent about 15 minutes with a few other guys running downhill before we realized that the ribbons we were following were NOT the race ribbons, just shorter versions of the actual race ribbons that had been ripped up into shorter pieces and placed on the wrong trail. Ugh.

A volunteer appeared on the ridge (having quickly been sent by the RD to fix the markings!) and directed us where to go. We hammered the final miles of downhill and I tried hard to save my quads for Holiday Lake, but I knew I had been just behind the 2nd and 3rd place females before I went off course, so being conservative was a challenge. I ended up 4th female, about 20 minutes from the 3rd place female (who also went off course), and we had a good laugh at the finish line. This was the first race in my 13 years running ultras that I had gone off course due to sabotage. It can happen on popular trails, and I'm very glad it didn't impact the 100K runners who were going for the Western States slots!

RD Keira Henninger awarding me my sweet 4th place SOB coffee mug. How did she know I love coffee?
 At the post-race party, there was a huge buffet of veggie and turkey subs and soups, and I was able to chat a bit with Ultrarunner Podcast's Eric Schranz, who had been running the 50K. While we were chatting, I got a text from Andy Jones-Wilkins, who wrote, "Have a great run and don't take too many pictures!" I was happy to text him the pic below of Eric enjoying his post-race carbs (Andy has been a guest on URP a number of times)!

Eric and the crocheted shorts that are all the rage (?)
After socializing a bit, it was time to head back to the beach (Dude...I love the sound of that...) and continue our weekend visiting USC, the Grammy Museum, and Griffith Park. I loved running the SOB and visiting sunny LA in February!What a treat!

The view of the city from Mt. Hollywood...yes, that is smog.

Sunset from the beach

Looking towards Hollywood Hills

Me and hubby at Griffith Park. Yes, it's kinda smoggy.
 After flying home on the redeye Sunday night, the week following the race was spent hydrating, resting, and stretching in anticipation of 32 faster miles the following Saturday. I was a little sore until Wednesday, and didn't run a step except for 4 easy trail miles that morning. The others days I swam, stretched, and slept late...ahhhh. I could get used to just racing, recovering, racing, recovering! Forget training!

Work kept me busy all week and before I knew it I was heading down to Appomattox on Friday afternoon with John and Michelle Andersen, owners of Crozet Running and leaders of the Crozet Ultrarunning Team, of which I am a proud member. Holiday Lake was to be Michelle's first ultra, and we were all really excited to share this special time with her. Holiday Lake 2002 was my first, so coming back each year always gives me a jolt of happy memories...I love watching my friends anticipate and finish their first ultra.

Michelle, Annie, Martha, Kathryn and me in the bunkhouse just before the start
 Holiday Lake is a great first ultra. The 4-H camp has heated bunkhouses, good food, and hot showers at the finish, and staying onsite creates a wonderful sense of camaraderie. The night before the race, after the pre-race dinner, RD David Horton hosts a "first-time ultra" information session which I always listen in on. He tells some classic stories of his days on the trail and gives great advice, most of which I totally agree with! This year he told the newbies not to wear a hydration vest since the aid stations are so close together...but I was very glad that I did because I'm realizing that I can't skimp on nutrition (see my previous blog post, "Hellgate Smackdown"). I'm very glad that I brought all my Perp, EFS, and Hammergel with me --nutrition played an even more important role given the fact I was attempting back-to-back races.

So, how did this back-to-back experiment go? In perfect racing weather of temps in the 20s and dry trail, I started fairly conservatively with my mantra all day being, "Your race, your pace." I needed to just run my race and not get swept up with the fast girls. And, for the most part, it worked. I came into the turnaround at 2:30 on the nose, a little fast for me but a good sign that I might come close to my PR of 5:01 which I set in 2012 in very similar temps and trail conditions. I was around 12th place female, about where I usually am at Holiday Lake. And, I was feeling good, so I knew I had something in the tank in case I needed to actually push the pace. At around mile 23 I saw Rob Colenso who was looking calm, relaxed, and very focused. We ran together for the next 10 miles trying to chat but we soon realized the pace was too fast for chatter. At one point I took a nose dive in front of Rob and two other dudes. Rob's comment: "Very graceful!"  There is nothing like a face plant and shoulder roll in front of a bunch of dudes to get the adrenaline moving. "Nothing to see here!" was my response and before long I was back running behind Rob, focusing on his Happy Trails shirt to pull me along. Whew. Dodged a bullet there, nothing hurt but my ego!

Around mile 26 we met up with Jason Farr. Jason is a fellow CAT and he has treated me to some fun hill workouts during the past few weeks on Carter's Mountain. As we were crossing the creek, he told me he  was hoping for a sub-5:00 finish as well. I was thrilled to be running with these two friends and that we were shooting for the same goals. I learned a while back that running WITH my fellow competitors as opposed to AGAINST them made me a better runner and person. It allows me to dig deeper than I would if I was alone, share the experience of the pain cave and suffering with another, and always reveals to me what a privilege it is to help and share in someone else's PR, win, or course record. Donna Utakis taught me this beautiful lesson at Hellgate and Mountain Masochist. Running with her at the end of both those races enabled me to set a PR in both, even though we were also competing for a top female spot. I try to remember that lesson every time I race.

"Sophie!" Rob is yelling at me but I can't really hear due to my singing "Shake It Off" along with Taylor Swift in my earbud.

 "Whatt???!!" I stop and turn. It's about 4 miles from the finish now, and I'm starting to fade a bit.

"If you pass the next female, you'll be 10th!" he yells, before catching up and passing me like I was a tree standing still.

"Awww. Rob! Thanks for the intel buddy! Now I have to race. Geez" I think to myself, though I very much appreciate him finding this out at the aid station and passing it along. Top-10 females get some special schwag at Horton races, as do the age group winners. If I finished 10th, that meant another "old lady" in our age group-- Rebekah, Martha, just to name a few-- could get the Patagonia backpack instead. I dig deep and find the next female a mile or two from the finish. I make the pass, run ahead, and then once out of sight, promptly start hiking uphill. Rob is just ahead so I focus on his shirt one more time and keep moving. The final mile of the race is on the paved road, and I looked at my watch for the first time all day when I got there. 5:00:34. Ahh well, no PR today but at least a top 10! I hammered on.
Trying to keep it all together on the final paved stretch (photo by SOS photography)
I finished in 5:07:36. Not too shabby for this old girl with no real taper. My nutrition worked like a charm and besides a few miles of low energy and a bad attitude, I felt fairly strong all day. But I know it would not have been possible without the push of Rob and Jason in those middle miles. Thanks, guys. It is very fun watching both of you get faster and faster!

The finish line celebration at ultras are the best, especially at David Horton races. He loves to announce the name of every finisher, especially if he/she is a first time ultrarunner. I remember finishing my first ultra at Holiday Lake in 2002. I was third female in 5:17 (this year, TEN women broke 5:00!). I'll never forget his welcoming hug at the finish. It was the beginning of a life-changing thirteen years that has introduced me to wonderful friends, beautiful landscapes, and challenged me in ways I could not imagine. Thank you, David, for helping me get my start.

At the finish with RD David Horton. I had to sit down because he told me I was 11th female, not 10th! It's all good!
The rest of the afternoon was spent cheering in my CAT, VHTRC, and Crozet Ultrarunning Team friends. It was awesome to see the joyful expressions on the faces of so many friends as they crossed the line. Special congratulations go out to Michelle Andersen and Jen Lysiak who both finished their first ultra! Little did I know thirteen years ago, while sitting all alone on the wooden bench at the Holiday Lake finish line knowing virtually no one, that the sport would embrace me, nurture me, and make me a better human being.

I think about that every time a newbie crosses the finish line, wondering, "Does she know what wonderful times await?"

Charlottesville Area Trail Runners! We are growing, and it is awesome.
Crozet Ultrarunning Team-- Bethany (first female...and she won in 2002 also!), Marc, Michelle, Dan (11th), Horty, Nick, Annie (7th female), Jeff (first old guy), and John (10th!). Love these people.

Congratulations to all the Holiday Lake finishers! Results are here.