Monday, December 29, 2014

Powhatan Wildlife Management Area

Located about twenty minutes west of RVA, the Powhatan Wildlife Management Area is slightly off the trail-running beaten path. More popular with hunters, fisherman and horseback riders, this spot isn't one that attracts a ton of trail runners. The WMA is easily accessible from Route 60 (Midlo Turnpike) or Route 13 (Old Buckingham Rd). I haven't done a ton of exploring over there, even though I grew up basically down the street.

POWHATAN WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AREA

The WMA is busy with hunters this time of year and most of the trails are fire-roads, better suited for 4-wheelers and jacked-up pickup trucks than for trail-running. Yesterday I wanted to get in a quick 6-miler in-between work and a family get-together out at my folks place in Powhatan. It was a Sunday, so I knew hunters wouldn't be around; I decided to knock out my trail-run over at the WMA. 

There's a small parking area off Route 13, on the way to my parent's place in Belona. I pulled in and decided to go for an out & back, my go-to route style when I really do not have time to get lost.

From the parking area, the beginning of my trek was on a long dirt road, which led to a private residence. There were NO TRESSPASSING signs all around the driveway leading to the house, so I veered to the left, looking for anything that looked remotely like a trail. I found Dogwood trail and set off down a little hill, deeper into the woods.

I had 2 goals.
1. Run for a while.
2. Don't get lost.

Pretty simple; I just needed to knock this one out so that I could get to my Mom's house for our family shindig, with enough time to shower and throw my veggie tray on the table before all the fam started arriving.

The Powhatan WMA covers 4,462 acres of forests, open fields, lakes and streams. The wildlife is super diverse back there; they even have different areas that have been "cultivated for habitat enhancement," (from PWMA website). I passed by the area that's been devoted to quails, right next to the safety zone and the private residence. Not sure what other species they've created an area like this for, but I'd love to spend more time back there checking that stuff out.


The online map doesn't list the names of the trails (first sign that an area is NOT geared towards trail-runners), but the map onsite is better. Being slightly directionally challenged, I snapped a photo of the map to take along with me on my run.

I only covered a tiny portion of the vast acreage back there, trekking down Dogwood trail for a 2-mile out and back, then turning down Holly trail for a mile or so before heading back down the dirt road to wrap up my 6-miler. Both Dogwood and Holly trails were super wide, fire-road style trails. There were a few creek crossings and a couple of GIANT, muddy hills to climb.


This hill is MUCH bigger in person.


Nice creek to jump through, Holly Trail @ the Powhatan WMA

With just a couple of weeks before my 2nd 50k at Willis River, I'm in totally unchartered territory as far as training goes. The Seashore 50k was just last weekend; trying to recover from that while getting geared up to tackle another 31+-miler in just 12 days has been tricky. Yesterday's trek was a nice medium-effort run over new a new route with some nice views.

I didn't get lost, I didn't encounter any disgruntled hunters and I made it back to the car in time to enjoy a nice long stretch before heading out. I'll call that one a winner.


Nice wide open fields along the dirt road at PWMA

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Seashore Nature Trail 50k

I just ran my first 50k.
 
 
@ the finish line, Seashore Nature Trail 50k
12/20/14
Three years ago, I had a brand new itty bitty baby who didn't sleep much. I had just been handed the most amazing gift and biggest challenge of my life. I was 50 pounds overweight. My only fitness goal was to somehow shed the pregnancy weight and maybe one day fit into my regular clothes again. If you'd told me then that I'd ever run a 50k (31.06 miles!), I would have laughed in your face.
For real.


September 2011. Fat, tired and happy.
















It started with the jogging stroller. I didn't have a gym membership, so the most convenient way for me to get a sweat was to hit the pavement. I snagged a $25 stroller on Craigslist and made a goal: Run a 5k before her first birthday. I started pushing my new munchkin around the neighborhood in what I like to call the three-wheeled "Triangle of Pain." Running with the jogging stroller is one of the hardest athletic challenges I've experienced. Learning how to maneuver around turns and trying to adjust to the weight of the stroller (not to mention my own extra pounds), while watching out for traffic and making sure my kid hadn't pooped her pants somehow proved to be even harder than I had imagined. I started with walking, then jogging a little, then a little more. Within a few months, I was running 4 days a week with my new exercise buddy and finally starting to feel like myself again.

Eager to get back into the racing scene, I signed up for my first post-baby 5k when Lu was about 6 months old. That day, I was happy just to cross the finish line, exhausted and elated to be wearing a racing bib. Three years, 22 races 50 pounds later, I can't imagine a life without trail running and racing. Its my therapy, my quiet time, my drug of choice.

Last weekend I completed my longest distance to date at the Seashore Nature Trail 50k in Virginia Beach. In three years' time, an Ultra-Marathon has gone from a totally ridiculous, unreachable, unnecessary goal to one that I've actually conquered. Crazy.
 


What a great introduction to the world of Trail Ultra-Running this race is. The course is a double-lap out and back with a little 3-mile loop at the turnaround. There are 2 (very well-stocked) aid stations that runners pass multiple times, never going more than 4.5 miles between pit stops. Perfect course for an ultra-newbie like me. Check out the map HERE.

The race takes place at First Landing State Park, a spot I hadn't visited before. I'll definitely be heading back sometime; the park is packed with great trails, tons of wildlife and some nice sandy areas on the water. Just a 2-hour drive from RVA, it would be perfect for a day trip with the fam.


On the morning of the race, the weather looked perfect; chilly but not raining, cloudy but no thunderstorms on the radar. I woke up early in my hotel room, had some coffee, a banana and a giant bagel (my go-to race breakfast), gearing up for what would be an awesome day out on the trails.

I was lucky that one of my best girlfriends agreed to make the trip with me and be my chauffeur/cheerleader/dinner date. She woke up early, drove me to the start-line, gave me a hug and promised to be there at the finish. Thank God for good friends.

After a quick bathroom break and some last minute jitters, we were off and running. I settled in near the back of the pack. My goal was to finish and to finish strong; going out too fast would wreck everything very quickly. So, I went out slow, slow, slow. I found some new friends and chatted as the first few miles unfolded, noticing the wildlife and some of the weird beachy trees along the trail. I decided that since the race was a 2-lap out and back, I'd go the first half of the race sans music, then plug in my tunes around the mid-way point at mile 17 or so. Something to look forward to.

I stayed on top of my food/fuel situation better than I usually do, eating every hour whether I felt like it or not. I fueled with Gu Salted Caramel (YUM.), a few M&Ms and a slice of peanut butter sandwich near mile 20 or so. I drank mostly water and had a little Gatorade too, mostly because its delicious.

The course is almost ALL flat. Pancake flat. Beach flat. This actually proved to be more challenging for me than a hilly course because I'm accustomed to ups and downs; a variety of elevation changes engages more muscle groups and keeps things a little more interesting. Over a long, flat route, my legs tend to get a little cranky, but it was still a great course, especially for a beginner at that distance.

As we neared the mid-way point, about 3 hours into the race, I began to really look forward to turning my music on. Those nature sounds DO get a little boring after 3 hours....I plugged into my playlist and as Bruno Mars' new jam UPTown Funk came on, I couldn't help picking up my pace.

That's my JAM!


I played this song at least 3 times during the race....I. Love. Bruno.

As I sped up a little, I noticed that my legs still felt pretty fresh and was immediately glad that I'd kept it slow and steady for the first half of the race. I felt good enough to keep a slightly quicker pace throughout the second half, passing a few people and just having FUN.

As I passed the sign that marked the marathon distance, the realization hit that in just 5 miles, the race would be over. Right on cue, I felt a surge of endorphins; that amazing, whole body, runners-high magic. The good stuff.  I enjoyed an incredible burst of energy that carried me through the remainder of the race.


Before I knew it, I was rounding the corner to the finish line. I spotted Sarah and couldn't resist the urge to squeal, wave like a wild person and give her a giant, bouncy, sweaty hug. Yippee!!
 
50k Stats
 
Time: 5:40
Pace: 10:45min/mile
Age Group: 8/31
Overall: 94/234

This is what endorphins look like.

7-Day Guide to Booting BURNOUT.

You sign up for a race. A long one. You start your training program full of enthusiasm, energy and good intentions. You bounce through your mid-week runs and tackle your long weekend runs like a champ. You're strong, serious and totally focused. Then, about a month before race day, just when you need your gusto the most, it hits. The B-word. BURNOUT. Running is the last thing you want to do. You'd rather scrub your bathroom while listening to your 8-year old bang on his new drum set than trudge through your long run. Your legs are sore, your playlist is getting stale and there are about a hundred other things you'd rather be doing.

Where did this come from? What the heck, man?!
Don't worry, you're not alone.

In the final weeks leading up to the Instant Classic Marathon last March, I had a mildly serious case of burnout. The hours-long solo jaunts in the woods that were initially super peaceful and enjoyable began to feel dangerously like work. I trudged through the last few weeks of training and tried to stay focused on the finish line. When race day finally came I was glad I'd logged so many hours out on the trail. I'd done my homework, so to speak, and the result was a super successful day for my first 26.2-miler.

I've flown through my 50k prep much more smoothly. I'm more confident, less obsessive and having way more fun than I did back in the spring. I've been having so much fun that I actually thought I might be immune to those pesky "Over It" feelings… Fat chance, lady. The dreaded B-word crept up on me during my last week of "real" training before the 50k. This time around, I faced it head-on, giving it the boot like a crappy ex-boyfriend.

Here's my 7-day guide to Kicking Burnout to the Curb.

This guy loves the 80's. You should, too.
Day 1-Crank up the tunes.

Sometimes a fresh playlist or Pandora station can really give your run a boost. I usually run with music for my short runs, and there's nothing like a solid 80's Rock anthem to pop me out of a funk. After all, a mild case of burnout is no match for Journey. Don't Stop Believing.

 

Day 2-Go to your Happy Trail.
If you're like me, you probably have a route or trail that's tops on your fun list. For me, it’s a 7-mile loop down by the river. I head out from Reedy Creek, trek up Buttermilk and sail back on Northbank, sprinting across the pedestrian bridge for kicks. That route makes me feel like a superhero. I love powering up the hills, sprinting the descents, jumping over roots and leaping off rocks. Nothing will make you remember why you love running like your favorite stomping ground.
If you don't have a trail-running "happy place," give mine a try.
It’s awesome.


Northbank Trail, RVA. Happiest trail I know.
 Day 3- Watch TV.

No, not Dancing With the Stars. I recently watched a special about the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. While I was impressed by the elite athletes who were competing for the World Championship title, it was the amateur competitors who amazed me the most. Some of these remarkable athletes had overcome serious injuries, life-changing disabilities and personal tragedies on their journey to Kona. The stories of perseverance and personal struggles featured in the special were inspiring and totally humbling. I hit the trail the next morning with a fresh attitude; thankful for two working legs, two seeing eyes and the opportunity to enjoy another beautiful morning on God's green Earth.




 Day 4- Cross-Train.
Check out a cycle class, take your dog for a hike or fly a kite with your kid. Do something that's not running. Dance, Zumba, Hula-hoop, whatever. Enjoy the day off, drink a smoothie, get refreshed and give yourself a chance to miss those running shoes for a minute.
Exploring @ Rockwood with my favorite cross-training buddy.

 Day 5- Pat yourself on the back. A little.

There’s a small wall in my room dedicated to my hobby, complete with a running poster, a few race pictures and several bibs from my favorite events, along with a bunch of quotes that inspire me. Whenever I'm just not feeling it, I go there, where I'm reminded of some of my favorite moments and of how far I've come. I remember my first 5k, 10k, ½ Marathon and full Marathon. I remember each finish line and the tremendous sense of accomplishment I felt on each of those special days. You've got to be willing to give yourself a pep-talk every now and then. Maybe even throw in a little football-style butt-pat, too, while you're at it.

 Day 6- Find a buddy for your long run.
 I usually prefer to fly solo, but when those long runs get super long, a little company starts to sound really nice. Finding someone to run your 20-miler with you on short notice might be a little tricky. However, you probably can snag a running buddy for at least part of your run. Map out a loop course or pick a meeting place at your halfway point. They could even bring a bike along. My cyclist hubby joined me at Pocahontas for one of my 20+ milers. It was one of our most fun, least expensive and most hilarious dates ever. I even let him carry all my stuff. He loved that.

My hubs @ Pocahontas State Park. His first audition for trail-running crew chief was pretty solid.

Day 7- Relax, Man.
Its Rest Day! Soak it UP. Have some ice cream and watch Bridget Jones' Diary.  Whatever floats your boat. You’re one week closer to the finish-line magic that surely awaits you with no burnout in sight. Tell your kid to pipe down on those drums, you've got some relaxing to do.


'Til next time!

Run Happy  :)

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Powhatan Christmas Tree 10k

Today I finally got to check out the Powhatan Christmas Tree 10k! This is a local trail race that I've wanted to do for a few years, but we've had other plans and I haven't been able to make it. A few friends and local running folk around town have said good things about this annual P-town event, so I was pumped to be there this time around. This morning was a little drizzly, but the big rain held off until after the race, and the temperature was perfect for a little recess time in the woods.



The Start/Finish was on the track, making for a nice sprint to the end.
With just 2 weeks until the Seashore 50k, I'm officially in "taper" mode. I felt great today, eager to check out a new course and happy to be tackling such a short distance. My 50k training plan happened to call for a "controlled" 10k exactly 2 weeks before race day, so this one was a no-brainer.

What the flip does a "controlled" race mean?  Maybe the "slow & steady" approach?

Uhh...okay.


I don't know about you, but I have a really hard time controlling myself at the 10k distance. Its just long enough to be a good workout, but short enough that you can be quasi-speedy without totally hurting yourself. My first mile came in at around 7:05, so its safe to say I started out WAY too fast. Whoopsie.

The first 3 miles were a blur as I tore through the first half of the course. Slow down, you moron!

Anyway, after almost collapsing following 3 sub-7:20 min/miles, I got myself together, slowed down (easy, killer) and enjoyed the trail and the scenery for the second half of the race. The course started at PHS and winded through a local Christmas Tree Farm, over some nice trails and power line sections. There were some great hills, a few fast flat sections and even a cute creek to jump across. Throw in the nice pond view and a track-style finish and you've got a great course.


For the first time ever, I wore headphones for this race. I don't know why, but this morning I just felt like having my own little trail-running dance party. My verdict on the headphone thing is still sort of undecided. You know I love jamming to some Heart and Whitney Houston, but plugging into my tunes seemed to take a little something away from the racing experience. Anyhow, don't think I'll try that again anytime soon, but I did get pretty pumped when Easy Lover came on.

Before today, my trail 10k time was just under 55mins, set this past spring at the James River Scramble. That course is anything but ordinary and not ideal for setting a PR, so today's race will serve as a better gage for where I land at the 10k distance.

I finished with a time of 51:48, which was fast enough to snag 30th place overall and 2nd for my age group. I'll take it!

Kudos to the folks who put this one together; it was a well-organized event, the course was easy to follow, the shirt is nice and the prizes were stellar. I didn't snag one of those sweet door prizes this time, but I'll be back for one of those hand-made bear paw mugs. You betcha.


 
Oh snap! That was the last thing on my racing "to-do" list before the 50k.
 
Its almost Go Time!  :))


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Turn the beat around.

That's a nice elevation profile in both directions.
A familiar trail in the opposite direction is....a totally new trail.

Yesterday I headed down to the river for an 8-mile trek down the Buttermilk/Northbank trails and Belle Isle. It was a gorgeous fall morning, leaves covering the ground and sun shining. On a whim, I decided to be totally weird and follow the trail in the opposite direction than my normal route.

It was a spur of the moment decision, I'm not really sure why I turned left instead of right, but I'm glad I did.

Switching directions resulted in a totally different run, different views, challenges and rewards. I was sort of clumsy, slower than usual and overly cautious. The branches, roots and rocks were less predictable; I know the trail and all its little obstacles really well in my usual direction, but in the other direction...not so much. The blanket of leaves on the ground made me even more cautious, roots and other poky stuff was well-hidden; the last thing I need a month before the 50k is a broken ankle.


I was surprised by how different the landscape looked from the opposite direction. I noticed little off-shoot trails that I've never seen before and appreciated views I usually miss or see from an alternate angle. I slowed down where I normally fly and flew where I normally crawl.



Long story short: try your usual route "backwards," and you'll have a whole new course. You probably know this already. I'm usually about a year behind on these things.
 

Buttermilk, eastbound towards Reedy Creek

 Anyway, Happy Trails!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

MOAB Trail 1/2 Marathon

 
 
 
 
I just arrived back in RVA after an amazing (AMAZING!) trip to Moab, Utah. I think my brain is still on sensory overload; the scenery there is enough to make anybody totally speechless. But, being speechless usually doesn't last too long for me (just ask my husband...har, har, har). Anyhow, taking a trip out to Moab is something I've wanted to do ever since my good friend and hiking buddy, Laurie, moved out there about 8 years ago. Laurie and I met in Northern Idaho in 2005, where we worked together at a ranch and hit the trails together every morning. When I found out about this stellar trail race in Moab, I jumped online and started checking out travel info. Not only did the race look sweet, the start was just 15 minutes from Laurie's place and at a time of year that worked for both of us for a long weekend visit. The stars were perfectly aligned, as they say.

I saw a segment on the Today show that was about traveling; their expert insisted that 56 days before departure is the ideal time to buy a plane ticket. So, exactly 56 days before I planned to head west, I dropped the cash on a ticket. Merry Christmas to me!

About a week before my trip, I scanned the list of registered runners to see if any other Richmonders were making the trip out to Moab. Not only was I the only runner hailing from Richmond, I was the only runner from the state of Virginia signed up. No biggie. Just don't suck.

Jump to mid-air, somewhere over Texas, I started to get really excited. I couldn't wait to get my feet on those mountain trails, while also being relieved that I'd decided to do the half marathon instead of the full. I figured the half would be challenging enough, on little sleep, over difficult and unfamiliar terrain, in a different time zone and 4500 feet from sea level. Under those circumstances, 13.1 seemed far enough. Fo sho.

Moab always looked incredible in the pictures I'd seen, but I was not prepared for the stunning, breathtaking effect that this place had on me. I'm pretty sure I walked around with my jaw on the ground for at least an hour or two when I first arrived. I flew into Grand Junction, CO, grabbed my rental car and drove the 100 miles southwest to Moab. I had to pull over a few times to take pictures and basically stare, dumbfounded,  at my surroundings.





On Friday night, after devouring some pizza and a glass of wine, I called it a night. It was 8:30 local time but it felt like midnight to me. As a total novice traveler, I found the whole flying across the country thing pretty awesome but totally exhausting. My head hit the pillow and I was immediately comatose. It was amazing.


Excuse the pony, I took Pinkie Pie along and took pictures of
 her doing all sorts of cool stuff during her Utah adventure.

Saturday morning (race day!) I felt like a new person after a good nights' sleep... This is where the time difference totally worked in my favor... It was 7am in Utah, but to me, it felt like 9 am, which is my usual running time. Score ! Driving to the race venue that morning, I still couldn't believe I was in MOAB.  I was pumped to spend the morning enjoying the views, exploring and getting my butt kicked by people who are used to the terrain and altitude.
 My Race Goals
 
1. Finish.
2. Don't get hurt.
3. Talk to cool people.
4. Take pictures.
5. Have a BALL.





 As I pulled my cute little Ford Focus rental car into the parking area, All About That Bass (my current JAM) came on the radio. I knew it was going to be a great day.
 
 
Got my lucky race bracelet from Lu. Showtime!


After a rousing version of the National Anthem thanks to the Fiery Furnace Marching Band, the first wave was sent off and the race was on. I was in the 3rd wave, placing myself comfortably with other runners who ran at about my 10min/mile pace.


@ the Start

The race itself was, well, incredible. It felt more like an experience than a race. The landscape was beautiful, so of course I really wanted to look around and take everything in. Trouble was, the course was incredibly technical, requiring total focus and attention. In other words, looking up at the scenery was not an option if you expected to stay upright. I learned this quickly, stumbling a couple of times while trying to take in a beautiful view.

Honoring goal #2 (Don't get hurt), I decided to focus on the trail, glance up occasionally and stop when a view required my full attention. This happened a lot, resulting in a ton of pictures and a pretty slow pace. I was happy with that though, just along for the ride.

The first few miles traversed over some sandy, dusty areas with a lot of large rocks and small ledges. I settled into a nice pace and was surprised by how fresh my legs felt, especially following a long day of traveling. I chatted with a few other runners, mostly about the perfect weather, the awesomeness of Moab and which trail shoes we preferred.  Around mile 5, we had a little rock-climbing break, trekking up a huge rocky hill that made me feel like a total East-Coaster. Rock-climbing is not my thing. Luckily, my Brooks Cascadia 9 kicks proved worthy; my traction was better than I expected. Taking it nice and slow, I stayed on my feet and enjoyed the view from the top of our first climb.

Going up!

At mile 5.5 we hit our first aid station, where I filled up my water bottle, gobbled up a Gu (Chocolate Outrage= YUM), and hit the dirt. I was feeling great, almost halfway there.

Sweet Jeeps at the aid station


Its a good thing this course was SO well-marked. A lot of the trail was basically rocks and ledges, so for someone like me, who's directionally challenged, this was huge. As much as I was enjoying the scenery, there were a few spots where I had to just focus on my feet, because the trail took us up to some pretty high elevations and over some pretty narrow sections, where going off-trail would result in a tumble off a 300-ft cliff. Nice motivation to stay focused, huh?
 
 All runners followed the same course until about mile 9, where the marathoners took a left to continue, while the 1/2 marathoners turned right to head towards the finish. Leading up to this fork in the road was a descent through a pretty tricky area that caused some folks some problems. Approaching this area, we noticed the pace slowing and the traffic becoming an issue.
 
Finally, we were forced to come to a complete stop on a narrow ridge, where we waited for what seemed like an eternity (it was probably 20 minutes, which IS an eternity in a race)
 
Waiting in line to get through the rocky drop-off...Good thing I wasn't going for a PR.
The obstacle that slowed everyone down turned out to be a scary little shimmy through a narrow crack, followed by a 6-ft jump onto a tiny ledge. As I  mentioned, I am not a rock climber, so you can imagine how that went down. Anyway, I made it through, after which we half-marathoners parted ways with our more ambitious counterparts, those tackling the full 26.2. See ya'll crazies later!

 After standing still for so long, my legs felt like rubber once we finally got moving again. Jogging slowly up a giant hill towards the final leg of the race, I hooked up with a cool chick from Arizona; we ran together for the remainder of the race. I'm always amazed by the people I meet at races; trail runners are, as a group, some of the coolest folks you'll meet.

Everyone is on their own journey, out for a day of exploration. Their adventure just happens to be the same adventure you're on. There's something special that happens when you hang with your fellow trail junkies for the day, for the experience. You begin the day as strangers, and after just a few hours, you go way back.
A few of my trail buds, 2014 Moab 1/2 Marathon

After we made it up the hill at mile 9.5, my legs were starting to feel warm again. We headed towards the part of the course that ran along the river...or through the river, at some points. We spent the next 3 miles crossing streams, jumping over slick rocks and sliding down muddy embankments. At a couple of creek crossings, we waded through chest-deep water and I began to have Willis River 35k flashbacks. At least with this race, it wasn't 35 degrees outside. Its all about perspective.

As I neared the finish line, I could hear the announcer and the small crowd cheering as runners approached the end of the day's journey. It had been a wet, muddy, sandy and incredible day; I wasn't quite ready for it to end yet. As I crossed the finish line, I felt a huge sense of gratitude and happiness. I was so lucky to be able to make the trip to Moab and to participate in such an awesome event. My results were much slower than usual, but with the 20-minute traffic jam, altitude, photo-ops and crazy terrain, I was totally content with my time.

I landed in the top 50% of the pack, which is where I usually end up anyway. I'll take it.
                                       
Net Time
03:09:20
Overall : 371 / 735
Gender : 181 / 447
Categ : 70 / 161
Race No: 1037
Gender: Female
Category: Ages 30 - 39
Age: 31
Status: Finished
City: Richmond
State: VA
Resident Country: United States
Pace: 14:27 min/m

 
 
After an unforgettable day, I was treated to a delicious post-race meal at Red Cliffs Lodge, where Laurie works as a wrangler. We shared an amazing bottle of Castle Creek wine and a wonderful meal, topping off one of the best days I can remember.


Castle Creek Winery, Outlaw Red. Yep, that sounds about right.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Why on EARTH would you want to do THAT?

This is a question I've gotten a few times, and more than ever now that I've set my sights on my longest running distance yet: the 50k (31.25 miles).  I must admit, a few years ago I never thought I'd ever want to go that far, let alone actually sign up for an Ultramarathon. So, I try not to get too eye-rolly and annoyed when people just don't get it. Instead, I usually sort of dodge the "WHY on EARTH?" question with some cheeky reply ("Why not?") and move on to another topic.

Truthfully, there are so many reasons why I do what I do, at this point in my running journey it would feel bizarre not to run. Its awkward when people look at me like I'm loony, requesting a short & sweet answer to the question,

"What on Earth would make an otherwise (sort of) sane person want to run over 31 miles?"

Other people seem to find it mildly obnoxious when I list all of my (quite sane) reasons for aspiring to be an Ultra-Marathoner. I've learned that trying to briefly explain myself to a non-runner mid-conversation is not exactly productive. So, I'm gonna jot my answer down for future reference. That way, the next time someone gives me that "Huh?!" look, I'll just smile and send them right over to this cute little blog. Or, I'll come here myself on tough days when I need a reminder: This is why you run.

Man, this is gonna be super helpful.

Why am I a trail runner?

- I don't want to grow up.
Out on the trail,  I'm able leave the everyday stresses of adulthood, motherhood and wife-hood (is that a word?) behind, diving into my morning run head-first. Whether I'm climbing up a muddy hill, bounding over a small stream or flying across a rickety wooden bridge, for a brief period I get to take a break from being a grown-up. Inevitably, I'm a better grown-up for the rest of the day after my morning date with the dirt. Always.

Quick break to practice my wrestling poses.

-Its FREE. Sort of.
Running is probably one of the least expensive hobbies out there. All you need is a pair of sneakers, a good bra, a positive attitude and a sense of humor. However, if you're like me and love the competition and camaraderie of racing, that will kick up your bill a little (that race swag isn't free). Oh, and running shoes can be a little pricy, but that's about it. Long story short, running will always be less expensive, more fun and healthier than, say, a shopping hobby.




I like food.
I really, really like to eat. Maybe its because I grew up with two older brothers who could put away enough grub to make a sumo wrestler queasy, or maybe its just a genetic gift. Who knows. The point is: I. Love. Food. I also despise diets, calorie-counting and food-policing in any form. Running (a lot) allows me to eat pretty much whatever I want within reason. We tend to eat pretty healthy most of the time, but everybody needs a little greasy, cheesy, ridiculously delicious pizza once in a while. I've been the same size for a few years now, while eating enough coconut shrimp, cheese pizza and French fries to feed a few football teams.

Oh, snap. Now I'm hungry.


-I love beer.
I usually don't drink that much beer. I'm more of a Pinot Noir kinda gal most days. But, on the tail end of a 20-miler, there's nothing better than an ice cold beer in the shower. The harder the run, the better that frosty brewski tastes. YUM.

Frosty mugs after the Odyssey Trail 13.1, Douthat State Park VA 2013

-I like my peers.
Trail runners are cool. And usually nicer than average people. Sorry, average people.

- I love my body.
Trail running has changed my body in a lot of ways. Motherhood has also made some stuff move around (or droop, as the case my be). I'm now in my 30's (that was quick!). Surprisingly, I love and appreciate my body more now than at any other time in my life. This body has given me a daughter, taken me on countless adventures, completed dozens of races and put up with more than its fair share of alcohol intake. Its not perfect, but its mine and I'm proud to be in my own skin. Oh, and my husband really likes my legs. I'll take it.

-Baby Steps.
When you're starting out for a 20-mile run, you cannot think about mile 18. Or 19. Definitely not 20. The only way to get through a long run in one piece (and hopefully with a smile on your face), is to take it one mile at a time. One tiny goal at a time. Undoubtedly, during the course of a 20+-miler, there will be highs and lows, tough spots and breakthroughs. The beauty of the long run is in every milestone and every goal achieved, no matter how small. Celebrate each one. For me, this practice has transferred to every part of my life. I'm more patient, less anxious and more likely to acknowledge every small victory along the way. As the parent of a 3-year old, this definitely comes in handy.

-I love a good adventure.
My playground, Northbank Trail
Trail running can be pretty unpredictable. You never know what you're gonna come across out there on Mother Nature's turf. I've crossed paths with plenty of deer, squirrels, beavers, turtles, snakes, turkeys, birds and other critters. The wildlife I've seen while out running could rival almost any birdwatcher or (eeek!) hunter. Trail running. Its like hunting, with less killing and more exercise.



Adventure awaits where the cars can't go.
-It hurts so good.
I crave that all-over exhausted/invigorated feeling that comes with long-distance running. Its not pain, its not discomfort, its just complete and total exhaustion. In the best possible way.






























-Finish line MAGIC.
If you've ever participated in a race of any distance, you know the magic of a finish line. Whether you're at the Monument Avenue 10k with 50,000 of your closest friends, or at the Willis River 50k with only a few hearty spectators, the finish line feels pretty dang good. And usually worth every mile.
Finish Line, Instant Classic Marathon 2014


"So, I get the trail running part, but why such long distances? What are you, crazy?"

 I've actually been asked that question before, word for word.

In short, running is good, trail running is awesome, and trail running for miles and miles and miles....is....Amazing. Running is healthy for your mind, body and spirit. When you crank up the mileage and time spent out on the trails, those feel-good benefits are amplified, blossoming into a feeling that I can only describe as pure JOY.


Oh, and I also am a little bit crazy.




Sunday, October 26, 2014

Pass It On.

The world can be a dark and unfair place. There are plenty of mean people, lots of scary news and an abundance of negativity in the world. Tell me something I don't know. Watching the news almost always seems like a bad idea about 3 minutes into the broadcast. There's plenty of scary to go around; I try to focus on the good.

The kind.

The positive.

I've been blessed by countless acts of kindness and positivity along my journey as a runner (and a person). These unexpected little moments always seem to happen at exactly the right time; when I need them the most. I've so frequently been on the receiving end of these gifts of positive energy; I try to pass the joy along every chance I get.

Positivity. That's where its at. Thanks to everyone who has sent it in my direction.

Pass it on.


Text messages: Not just for sending naked selfies to your boyfriend.
In the days leading up to my first marathon this past Spring, I got a few encouraging text messages from one of my cousins who happens to be an IRONMAN. These well-timed messages probably took him just a few seconds to shoot my way, but they made a world of difference. Just to know that he was thinking of me and proud of what I'd done (even before I'd completed the 26.2), meant so much. If you're impressing an IRONMan, you're doing something right.

When you least expect it...
I was jogging through the neighborhood the other day. As a car passed slowly by, the driver stuck her head out the window. As I darted towards the ditch, trying to get out of the way, (waiting to be yelled at...or worse), she grinned and hollered "Lookin' good! Keep up the great work!" as her little blue car went by, CoExist sticker proudly smacked on the rear. Dang, I didn't see that one coming.

Pat yourself (and somebody else) on the back.
I love passing the same runners day after day. The camaraderie I feel towards fellow runners, especially those I see frequently out on the trail, is pretty awesome. We are on the same journey, though our paths lead in different directions. Lets encourage each other, offer words of encouragement, smile, even throw up a high-five (or a fist-bump...this IS flu season, ya'll). Feed off the positive energy of others and share yours freely with them. Positivity is free, and its awesome.


In the past few months, I've sent random text messages of encouragement to other runners and athletes in my life, on the eve of major events, hoping to keep the chain of positivity going. I've stuck my own head out of my car window in order to cheer for a passing runner in my neighborhood. I've offered high-fives to my fellow trail runners, some of whom were so surprised that they burst out laughing as our hands connected. It was a bright spot in their day and mine; we shared a moment, a smile and now, probably about a thousand sweaty germs.  You're welcome!

There's a quote I've been sort of obsessed with lately, just can't seem to get it out of my head. It seems relevant every day, in every situation.



Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Turn the Music OFF.

I love music. I have about a hundred “favorite” songs, I’m usually the first in line for karaoke and I’m even learning how to play the ukulele. You get it. I. Love. Music. I’m even passing along my love for bad pop music and spontaneous dancing to my kiddo. Proud Mama.

When it comes to running, my musical tastes range from hillbilly mountain music (for the long, slow, “out for the day” kind of run) to The Chili Peppers (for when I have the urge to play air drums) to Whitney Houston (anytime, anywhere).

As much as I love belting out Katy Perry’s California Gurls while bouncing down the trail, I cannot ignore the flaws of running with music. I used to be strictly anti-earphones while running, choosing to be “One with Nature.” All Yoga-Zen and stuff. Then one day, I was feeling particularly bouncy and decided to turn on the tunes. Just this once. Fast-forward about six months later and I’ve shamelessly joined the zoned-out flock of loyal “Must Run with Music-ers,”….Whoops.

I headed to the park yesterday for a nice little six-miler with my headphones on and my phone plugged into my running app. About a mile into my trek, I had a sudden and acute sense that I needed to get those earbuds out of my head. I suddenly felt irritated by the noise, longing for the sounds of nature punctuated by the baseline of my feet hitting the dirt. Pipe down, Taylor Swift. I’m running here. I flipped off the tunes, tuned into Now.

Ahh, that’s better.

Running with music is fun. I love it. It’s also totally addicting and should be used with caution. Coming off a long stretch of total indulgence, it’s time to leave the headphones at home; time to reconnect with nature and stuff. There are lots of reasons to unplug. Here are a few of them.
 
Nice little reminder, Reedy Creek along the James
 

 

Don’t be that guy. 
A few weeks ago when I was jogging on the trail, I came up behind a poky man-runner that I needed to pass. From about 10 yards back, I gave the usual “To your left,” warning. He didn’t budge. I said it again (a little louder); he was oblivious. Damn headphones. By the time he realized I was passing him, I was about 2 inches from his face. He jumped like 5 feet in the air, almost stumbled down a steep embankment and then gave me a dirty look as I passed by. As if!

Catcalls.
If you’re running down the street sans headphones (looking fierce, of course), and some guy yells “Nice legs!” from his car window, you’ll want to hear it. You’ll predictably roll your eyes and seem to be appropriately offended, but deep down you’ll feel like a hot runner chick. I’m right. I promise.

See Ya.
I can’t tell you how many people I’ve passed in races and out on the trail who stopped running to mess with their phone, rearrange their uncomfortable earphone cord or wait for their running app to restart. I, too, have fallen victim to this running-with-music trap; it’s totally obnoxious. I listen to Pandora most of the time, and sometimes I’ll begin my run thinking I’m in the mood for some No Doubt radio, only to become totally annoyed by Gwen Stephani about 3 miles in. I stop, dig my phone out of its pocket, unlock it, wait for my app to open, change the station (then change the station again).  I finally decide on a little Van Halen (rock on!), put my phone away and hit the dirt. Then I realize my Nike Running app has conveniently paused itself. Great. By the time this whole floundering event has unfolded, I’ve lost about 5 minutes, along with most of my trail-runner dignity. Pitiful.

Kids sound awesome.
I recently came up on a sweet little trio: a dad and his kids collecting sticks and exploring in the woods. I heard the little boy laughing. It wasn’t a regular “oh that’s kinda funny,” sort of laugh. It was a deep-down belly-laugh that kids enjoy so easily and so much more often that adults seem to. It was the kind of laugh that found its way to every inch of his body. This kid’s toenails were laughing. I was about 12 miles into a 14-miler, and things weren’t going that great. I was cranky. Hearing the boy’s laughter smacked me out of my funk instantly; I found myself laughing with him as I jogged past. He looked up from his dirt pile, gave me a huge mile and waved, “Hey, fast runner lady!”
Those last 2 miles flew by. Thanks, kid.

Crickets, frogs and other critters.
Maybe it’s because I grew up playing with slimy insects and catching bugs, but the sound of crickets and bullfrogs makes me happy. Really happy. When I ditch the earphones, the first thing I always notice is the sound of hundreds of critters, loyally keeping me company out on the trail. I love those guys.

Dudes with Axes.
You don’t need Pearl Jam distracting you if you happen to come across a guy in the woods carrying a large axe. I once crossed paths with a large mountain man who happened to be wielding a giant ax-saw-mallet-combo tool. After almost peeing my pants and trying desperately to remember my old kickboxing moves, I realized he was a friendly park volunteer just doing some trail maintenance. False alarm. But still.

Crutches Are for Sprained Ankles.
Face it. Music is a crutch for runners. It gives you a boost, helps you maintain whatever pace you’re aiming for that day and keeps your mind occupied during your run. That’s great and all, but what happens if you forget your music? Or a race doesn’t allow headphones? Or your battery dies? Suddenly, you find yourself at a completely self-imposed disadvantage. You don’t need a crutch.

 

I’m not suggesting that we should go all anti-headphones all the time. That’s crazy. I’m just saying headphones are best saved for jaunts on the treadmill (barf!) or for avoiding conversations with people you don’t like. Or both at the same time.

Try leaving the music off every now and then. You might like the crickets’ concert more than you’re expecting.

 

 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Round & Round on the Merry-Go-Round


I love reading blog entries from last year, when I was just beginning my training season for the marathon. I used to spend a lot of time planning out trail routes that would keep me interested and distract me from the distance I was running. The main reason for this : if the route wasn't interesting, I would have a really hard time actually completing the distance I planned. I would map out long loop routes, not only because I wanted to see as much different scenery as possible, but also because, on a loop trail, there's no going back, no shortcuts, no way to run any less distance than what's laid out.

Rockwood Park. Home of the nice little 1.5 mile loop trail packed with short, steep little climbs, nice terrain and pretty views. Its also about 3 minutes from my house. Score. Last year, there was a guy I'd always see at the park; he would be running easily when I arrived; and still calmly trekking around the loop when I'd head out. We'd always wave, that fellow-runner camaraderie alive and well. Mister runner-man was always there, going around and around and around that loop trail. I can do that, I thought. When Lu is in school, I like to be at least sort of close to my car, just in case something happens and I need to go pick her up early. I worry that I'll get a call from her school when I'm in the woods, 6 miles away from my car. Mom of the year, ya'll!  I like the idea of short laps that keep me close to my adorable little VW and my kiddo. So, watching Mister Marathon man at Rockwood gave me an idea for my longer mid-week runs. I can do that.

I headed to Rockwood, aiming for 6 miles while Lu was in school. I couldn't do it. I couldn't sit still that long. It was a monumental task to quiet my mind and calm down enough to go around the same loop 4 times in a row. I tried again. And again. I was successful once or twice, and it was very uncomfortable. I almost always found some reason to stop early or start running sprints to keep my mind occupied, which always resulted in total exhaustion way before my 6-mile goal. So dumb.

After gaining the experience of one full marathon training season, culminating in the marathon and continuing to today, I feel more settled and calm than ever. Yesterday, I did the same 6-mile run at Rockwood: 4 times around the nice little 1.5-mile Orange trail. It was a beautiful day, I had my easy tunes to keep me company, and I actually enjoyed the laps. So weird.

My attitude towards training this time around is very different than it has been in the past. I'm more relaxed, less uptight and more confident in myself and my body. With the 50k in December and two 1/2 Marathons before that, I'll need all the positive energy, determination and confidence I can muster.

Time to hop back on the Merry-Go-Round, I've got another 6-miler to take care of.

One of my favorite not-so-obvious running songs. Zac Brown's Quiet Your Mind.

 
Enjoy the ride. 


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