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.


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
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?


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!  :))