Monday, June 30, 2014

CAYUGA TRAILS 50 Mile Championships - Ithaca, NY - June 1, 2014

Ahhh, you hurt so bad.....Warning: There is a gratuitous amount of pictures in this blog post!

One of the many waterfalls at Robert Treman State Park.

I race a lot. Especially this year. Not all are goal races for me but, Cayuga, this was a goal race.  How could it not be? It was challenging with lots of elevation and I really wanted to keep my streak of placing in the top ten of my 4th and last USATF event for the year.  If there was anything I learned from my horrible performances of past, like Gorges Waterfall, it was that races like Cayuga were not my forte. I learned this back in November when on a whim i drove to Georgia to run a 50K with 10,000 feet of elevation gain. Yeah that took me almost 9 hours!

Cayuga training crew.

So with guidance from my coach, Michele, I worked on running trails and hills, including down hills. I even skipped a marathon to go up to Ithaca the month before the race and ran the whole course over two days.  This turned out to not only be a smart training move but really freaking fun!
I swear we really did actually run during these training runs.
Evy, Nobu, Ralph and I all met up on a Friday evening at Robert Treman State Park, the site of the start/finish of Cayuga.  Ralph had run last year and I was impressed to find he actually remembered the course.  We even chatted with the Park Director who helped us look over the map the morning before heading out.
We also did a lot of this during our training runs.
 We also discovered the old course was not passable in sections due to flooding and harsh winter conditions and that reroutes would be necessary.  Well those reroutes added at least another 1,000 feet of gain.  I'm not sure what the final number is because everyone's GPS says something different and those things aren't accurate but let's go with 11,0000. Anyway I am getting ahead of myself.
Lots of climbing in this course.
I could honestly write a whole blog on just our training weekend. It was that fun.  The four of us had such different personalities and approaches to training yet our love of trail running made it all work.  The first night there, we set up in the dark and it started to rain so we sat in the big tent and talked about mostly running.. oh and seltzer!  We talked a lot about seltzer, mainly because Ralph works for Polar Seltzer and he brought a trunk load of it with him. Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love seltzer! God, I wish Polar seltzer was my sponsor.
Training hard or hardly training.

Dating profile or raccoon warning sign?
In the morning we woke up (thank god for another day) and after planning our route headed out to the trails starting in the field where the race actually starts.  We ran some portions that we thought would be added on due to the rerouting and climbed a lot of hills. We back tracked a lot and stopped to take pictures often. We figured we would get all the picture taking done now and just worry about finishing on race day.
Why Ralph and Nobu didn't want to participate in our skip through the flower field, I''ll never know.
After our first morning trail run, Ralph and Evy go back to the tents to chill.  They are the laid back ones.  Nobu is down to join me for the brutal hill repeats I have on my schedule. Nobu takes his training very seriously.  
See i told you we were training hard.

So here is my moment of Zen and basically the whole point of this section on the training weekend.  We go back to meet Evy and Ralph at the camp site. It's sunny and hot but quite pleasant. Evy goes to nap in the big tent and so does Nobu. I think Ralph lies down right on the picnic table. Now I am just not a napper but this looks like a damn good idea so i pull the rain fly off my little tent and climb inside so i can see the sky.  I'm laying there super relaxed and feel this overwhelming calm come over me. I shut my eyes and I am completely comfortable just laying on my back which is not a sleeping position for me ever. And then this weird yet serene thought came over me. If I was to die right then and there, I would die completely happy. I did not want to die but if i just slipped away i would be OK with that. But i was alive and living my life just the way I wanted and I made sure to be grateful for that at that moment and I made a mental note to think of this moment from time to time. So yay for life because the weekend of camping and running continued. And it was awesome..... 
Repping our Fishtown Beer Runner shirts and pointing.
Now on to the actual race... By the time we arrived back to Ithaca first weekend of June the leaves of green had bloomed.  This was definitely a Come and  Take It reunion. The last time the most of us were together was Rocky Raccoon in February.
Come and Take It Crew. Left to right: Prince Nobu, KenTom, The Legend, Maggatron, E-Rod, Thunder and Kino.
So finally, getting to the start of the race i was feeling like a much improved trail runner.  Not the same runner who lined up at the start of Gorges Waterfall in the dark in Oregon over 2 months ago. Two weeks prior I had set a major PR in the 50 mile on trails and although the trails were in no comparison to Cayuga, I was feeling confident.  That feeling quickly dissipated after about 3 miles, when I realized my legs just didn't need to warm up a little but that they were actually pretty dead.  I contemplated quitting at the first aid station. I kid you not!  A DNF after 3 miles was better than suffering for 31 and DNFing then, right? Ug no, just keep going. Just one more aid station.  I dragged myself on, going aid station to aid station.
Lucifer's Staircase
  This course is an out and back which I like because you get to see everyone and it keeps your mind occupied for just a little bit. I got to see all the elites and my faster friends, as well as the slower ones. It was uplifting temporarily but the truth is my legs felt like shit.  I was also keeping my eye out for my friend Mike Daigeaun. I was really looking forward to seeing how he was doing. He was one of the favorites expected to do well. I never saw him on the course and later learned he had to drop at mile 6.5 due to a groin muscle pull. Bummer.  But we live to race again and I can't wait to see what he will do next.  
Buttermilk Falls
So on i go continuing to lift one dead leg after the other.  This early in the race shouldn't be this painful and yet it was. Not even 15 miles yet.  Usually 15 miles is where my low starts. I was struggling with the idea of dropping after the first 50k loop.  How can I finish like this? As I approached the end of the first loop, I thought maybe I could call someone like my friend Annukka and ask her what I should do but I knew her answer would be "suck it up and get back out there, Biotch!"  So i didn't bother calling her and got the hell out of the start finish and on to my second loop before I had more time to think about it.  I decided to embrace the pain and make this an extreme suffer fest. (As if it wasn't already) I decided I would push the pace as much as possible. I left the Start just under 5 hours to begin my 2nd loop. I figured I could do the next loop in under 7 hours and possibly finish under 12.  Not too bad considering my 15:26 finish at Gorges Waterfall.
I love water crossings!
Ralph, that's not a Polar Seltzer in your hand!
Nobu, Ken and Evy were all running their first 50 milers. I saw Nobu multiple times leap frogging with Ralph. Both said they felt like crap when I saw them.  I think most people were in pain. This was a tough course. I saw Ken Tom a few times but eventually learned he dropped at 28. Although I have no doubt he has the fortitude to finish he is a slower runner and wasn't going to make the cut offs.
Ken Tom! This man will drop everything and come crew for his friends. He will run 100 one day and he will have the best and largest crew ever.
  Kino was also doing badly. His legs were also thrashed from multiple tough races leading up to Cayuga and a possible injury creeping up.  Evy was feeling great when i finally saw her again at her mile 30. Her and Kino and Violet eventually combined forces to finish together racing the cut off til the end.

Nobu finished his first 50 miler in an amazing time of 9:45  but not without a spill in the first 4 miles.
I was pleased to find that sometime into the second lap, I finally started to be in a better place mentally. The pain did not subside but at this point i had been dealing with it for almost 7 hours and I just fell into the zone.  A few times I ran into Dave James who seemed to have lost interest in racing and went on a quest for beer. He finally found it and was all smiles as we passed each other running through the long field section. Later, I would learn that the sleeping body I passed  on a picnic table on my way through the last aid station was Dave James. 
Dave James victorious in his quest.
During the first lap, the realization of my physical state came as a severe blow. I had trained really hard on hills and stairs with more intensity than in any of my past training. I will continued to do the plans and workouts Michele gives to me. I didn't hire a coach to not do what she says. Cough cough ahem *kino* ;)
 I really believe that although my legs were trashed, my training was the only thing that got me through this challenge.  A 50 miler effort with a good result just two weeks prior was definitely my downfall in this race.  It is since this race that I have kind of lost site of my desire to run lots of races. I realize that if I am going to train this hard and this intensely just to perform poorly at every other race than, what is the point?
Just like in Stand By Me except we were not on a quest for a dead body. 
Finally, I realized that it was going to be possible to finish in the 10 hour range! And let me tell you, when you are mentally preparing to be out there for a long time and realize you  are going to be done sooner than you think, it is a great feeling. That's why i usually try to prepare myself for the worse case scenario which doesn't always work...Ahem (Viaduct 2013).  I finished in 10:25 and to my surprise actually placed 8th USATF female.  
A few of the top ten USATF women.

The Legend and I with our USATF medals.
After the race, as my friends finished one by one, we all hung out watching the other finishers. I got to chat with Krissy Moehl for a bit (2nd place) which was awesome. Like Pam Smith, Krissy is just a down to earth trail runner who happens to be super human. I also met Magdalena Boulet (1st place), a past Olympic marathoner, who is about to take the ultra scene by storm.  I also chatted briefly with Matt Flaherty and let me tell you his mustache is as grand in person as in pictures.  I met a local and talented ultra runner Iain Ridgeway who lives in Collingswood, NJ. Cassie Scallon was also there in her boot with her screws in her ankle(which apparently she injured dancing) but had came out anyway to support her friends and enjoy the atmosphere.
Magdalena Boulet and Krissy Moehl with lil ol Maggatron.
  The best part of all, although it was nerve wracking, was waiting for Kino, Violet and Evy to finish. Time was ticking down.  As I said earlier, they finished just before the cutoff of 15 hours as the sun began to set. It was an epic finish.
Just after Evy, Kino and Violet's epic finish in time to spare.

Later that night, we hung out at the cabin. Most of us decided to stay and hang rather than drive back and get home at 2am.  I met another couple Jackie Palmer (3rd place) and Jeff Merrit who were also somewhat local to the Philly area.  I have since run a few trail runs with them and we are planning a July 4th camping trip to run more trails. I love this sport as I have said time and again. Its hard to describe the bonds you form in such a short time. We are brought together through one common bond and it really is kind of like a big family. 
Hanging out at the cabin with old friends and new ones.
All in all I am really happy with this race. Although it didn't go as planned, I feel I tapped into something deeper than I had ever tapped before.  When you think you have dug deep and can't dig anymore, try anyway.  You may surprise yourself. This experience has been invaluable to me and I am a stronger runner for it.  I plan to use this new found level of focus when I really need it July 26th at the Viaduct 100.  I have run one marathon since Cayuga and will write a brief blog on that but from then til Viaduct I have no races. I will continue to train hard and hope to break 20 hours that weekend. There, I said it.  Now its real. 
I'll end with this.  The same weekend as Cayuga, Comrades was happening and I read Ellie Greenwood's account of her win. It was not easy and her legs were dead.  But the title was Never Give Up. I repeated that mantra in my head over and over during the course of the race so I thought it was fitting.  You can never, never give up in an ultra.  You never know what can happen.

Evy never gave up and finished her first ever 50 miler and she wasn't DFL! One guy finished after her, Violet and Kino. Congrats, E-Rod!


Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Brief History of Time

Or rather a summary of my races so far...  If you have a short attention span then this is the post for you. I tried to summarize my last 3 months.  So here it is.  A special award if you make it the end.
So 2014 so far has been one for the record books in terms of BUSY.   My apartment is now merely like an aid station. I use it to shower and sleep and sometimes eat.  My closest friends Annukka and Regan (or as I like to call them Annugan) just had a baby, Kieran, and I would like to have more time to visit them.
Future ultra runner, perhaps?

Since Caumsett 50k first weekend in March, I have raced 10 other races including the Broad Street 10 miler which I ran as a guide for Kinzey Lynch through Achilles International.  I will never be able to catch up on blogging for all these races so I will list and summarize and then get on with it. I also want to thank Headsweats. Its been quite a ride so far as an ambassador for Team Headsweats.  I also want to thank Vince and Trail Toes.  My feet look better than they ever have thanks to no blisters in so many races.
Headsweats

March 8th - Seneca Greenway Trail 50k – This race was fairly grueling for me. It was muddy and my legs felt horrible. I really wanted to drop to the marathon distance but I’m stubborn.  I got to share the race experience with Rebecca Shaefer and Jackie Choi. I even got to run with Jackie for a bit!
Two amazing ladies, Jackie and Rebecca! Grateful to share this race with them.

 I think I met Michael Daiguean here for the first time on the bus ride to the start.  He won that day and will basically win every race I see him at going forward. Ran with a great guy named Keith.  He had crazy hair and introduced himself to every single volunteer at every aid station. Thanks for gutting it out with me, Keith.
Mud fest!

March 15th - Two Rivers Marathon Day 1 – 3:15: on this mainly downhill course in Lackawaxan, PA. Yeah it’s in the middle of nowhere.  A PR by just a few seconds. I also won first female and got a cool trophy
Partner in crime, Holly Floyd.  Great to share a race with her again, as we did our first race together 6 years ago.

March 16th - Two Rivers Marathon Day 2 – 3:08:47 – Major PR on legs that felt ok for it being my second marathon in a row.  I also won first female again.  I definitely didn’t expect to win again as I felt someone with fresher legs could win but I went into wanting to PR because I felt I could have run the race differently than the day before.  My strategy worked….and that was don’t hold back on the first 8 miles of downhill.  There you have it. Now YOU can win next year too.)
I beat Keith ;)

March 30th – Gorges Waterfall 100k –Cascade Locks, OR - Separate blog about this beautiful race.
This photo has nothing to do with the race. It is Lura, my brother's girlfriend.

April 12th – 50 Shades of Sore 50 mile fatass in which I dropped to the 50k. Legs felt trashed once again and I kept getting lost (trails weren’t marked, we were supposed to follow blazes). My dad was there also to support me and I really didn’t want him waiting another 4 hours for me to maybe navigate another loop before dark. This took me almost 8 hours as it is. I met some really great folks from MLC (Misery Loves Company) who were responsible for this surprisingly difficult race.
An extremely rough day for me.

April 27th – 3:35 pacer for the NJ Marathon – An experience I recommend to anyone who is given the opportunity. Thank you, Otto Lam!  My experienced pacer partner and friend was the one and only Hideki Kinoshita aka Kino.
Although we lost most of our runners by the end a few succeeded in their goals.
I love these guys! It was a great weekend.

May 4th – Broad Street 10 miler with Achilles International. Kinzey Lynch ran a strong yet not without struggle 10 miler for his second year in a row. And Kinzey is a going to Drexel next year!  More to come on his training for his second marathon in Chicago this October.
Kinzey is a such a stud.

May 18th - Dirty German 50 miler – ALERT: MORE THAN A SUMMARY. 7:38 and 2nd place female. Huge PR.   –This race is great. Stephan does a great job with every detail of this race.  This was my third year running. Usually I treat DG as a training run but this year I wanted to race it and see what I could do.  
Photo courtesy of NATTYPHOTO.COM. Thank you for Freddy!

I ran this race different than my normal strategy. I was a bit more aggressive with the first lap. I ran with a fast college kid from University of Delaware Cross Country team the first loop. It was his first time running a 50 miler. His name was Sam and he hadn’t even run a marathon yet!  He ended running a respectable 7:51 I think. I decided to hold back a bit the second lap and was passed by a girl who had been right on my heels coming into the second lap.  She blew past me and I was kind of thinking she would blow up at that pace and come back to me later (Spoiler: I was wrong. Elena Makovskayal passed the first place woman as well and ran 7:28 just 3 minutes over the course record set by Jessi Kennedy)  Also I had hit a low as 15 to 30 miles are usually a low point for me and this was not an exception.
Freddy Mahugu made this amazing sign for me and surprised me out on the course.

 I went into the third lap with a new lease on life. I made sure to increase my gel intake as hunger had hit me hard during the second lap but at a more intense pace I was afraid to upset my stomach with more solid food.  I felt like I was hovering just below the slightly nauseous line.  Anyway, I tend to be a strong finisher and I began to pick up the pace as I had not caught sight of the second place woman yet (I still thought I was chasing Elena and did not know she had passed the first place woman Karen) I caught the second place female (Karen) finally in the last 2 miles. She had a pacer with her and when I caught them the pacer stepped aside.  I ran behind Karen for a while and figured I would out kick her once we got to the field at the finish.  I could hear her breathing hard and I tried to control mine. I didn’t want her to think I was dying here. And then all of a sudden she stepped aside. I flew past and ran up the hill with all my strength. Finally at the top of the hill out of her sight I bent over and grabbed my knees, caught my breath, said out loud, “Come on, Maggie. Come and take it”. Ok I may not have said Come and Take It and perhaps it was a few curse words instead.  Don’t pretend like you haven’t talked to yourself out loud on trail.    Less than a mile later I was across the finish line as 2ndwoman 10 minutes behind Elena.  Just 13 minutes off the course record.
My New York peeps at the DG finish party.

 Although I didn’t win the cuckoo clock as first prize like I had hoped I couldn’t have been more happy and  I never thought I could run a sub 8 hour 50 miler on trails. Plus I lost to an excellent athlete, Elena.  I got to share the course with many of my New York peeps who are most of the Come and Take It crew, some TrailWhipAsses, and Dashing Whippets and the local Fishtown Beer Runners! Also it was Rodney Russen’s 44thBirthday. 
Happy Birthday, Rodzilla.

We had gluten free cake from Taffet’s Bakery afterwards and we all hung out watching finishers come in. I really love getting to hang out at races when I am done.  I missed that in the winter.  No one wants to hang out all sweaty after a race in 30 degree weather!  Sorry this turned out to be a mini blog but I am really happy with the way I managed to execute this race.  And although I think this race is responsible for my trashing my legs for Cayuga, I would not change the way I ran this race. 
Team Dada Cuz and Dylan after finishing Pineland 50K

May 25th - Pineland Farms 25k – 2:12 – My cousin talked me into this.  It was a ploy to get me to come up and put in hardwood floors in his home in East Taunton, MA.  My legs felt like complete crap. I tried to hold a 7 minute pace for the first 3 miles and was still getting passed so I eased up on this rolling hills course. My first race as a TrailWhippass! Thanks, Dylan and Kat!  PS I think I may have a future in hardwood flooring.
Cousin Joe hovering to make sure i am still working.  

Coming soon... My epic post about Cayuga Trails 50 Mile Championship.... Stay tuned. Hopefully won't be 6 months from now.

Gorges Waterfall 100k –Cascade Locks, OR - March 30th

A little late but I have to blog about this must do race...  A short read.

One of the many waterfalls along the course.

 Gorges Waterfall is one of the hardest races I have ever run, course wise and how I felt.  I had hopes of running with Jess Mullen, a talented athlete from Seattle, I had met at Massanutten last year. Her resume is impressive to say the least. I think she has completed every notoriously difficult ultra in the book and all with respectable times.  It had been a while since I was able to share a race with someone and I was pretty excited.  My hopes were quickly dashed though when in the darkness we descended our first long hill.  Going down the switchbacks, I saw Jess’s headlamp getting further and further down the hill until it completely disappear. I wasn’t as skilled a runner as Jess. Although I may have the speed to keep up with her, add hills and I didn’t have a prayer.  Many other headlamps passed me and also disappeared down the hill. Man I sucked at downhills!  With 20,000 feet of elevation change, I would be racing the cutoffs the whole day.   For a “back-of-the-front-of-the-pack runner”, I have never had to do this. 
Wasn't breaking any time records so stopped for a photo.

I finished the first 50k of this out and back in 7:15ish!  The cutoff was 16 hours!  My family was waiting for me at the halfway point.  So was Hal Koerner.  Well not really but he was there hanging out. Even my brother recognized him and was all excited as I have made him watch Unbreakable.  My brother as a mountain biker really enjoyed it.   I really wanted to get a pic with Hal but again, I was racing the cutoffs! No time! I thought about quitting and just going back to Portland with my family to relax but I chose this 100k as my race to check off Oregon in my 50 state quest and I really can’t stomach quitting. A  DNF may be unavoidable one day but I had no real good reason to quit today.   My vision started to get blurry at this point from what I thought was my contacts.
Moss covered everything.

Thankfully on the way back I found a guy willing to run with me. He even waited for me on the downhills.  Thank you, Brian Tomita from LA! Every step was so painful. My quads were completely shot. My mom later pointed out that Brian reminded her of Yoshiko in that he was always smiling. He politely tolerated my painful grunts every time we reached a downhill.  We even laughed about it. I was slower on the downhills than the ups and believe me I was slow on the ups.  I finished with Brian in just around 15 and a half hours. At that point the sun was setting and I could only see blurry shapes and colors. I realized it was actually my eyes and not my contacts when I took them out and still couldn’t see.  I attribute this now to lack of electrolytes and hydration.  I was completely out of water between aid stations as they were over 6 miles to 7 miles apart and it was taking me over 2 hours to get there! I stupidly probably only took 2 S caps the entire time.  Not sure what I was thinking. Even though it was only in the 50s most of the time, that was enough to become severely depleted. I was also not eating. This was basically a slog fest. Lesson learned. Work more on hills (up and down) and pay better attention to race day nutrition and hydration. It must be mentioned that this race though is absolutely breathtaking!! You run along moss covered gorges with giant waterfalls. We started at 4am in darkness so on the way out all you could hear was raging water below you and by the time I returned to the super huge waterfall section my vision was so bad I couldn’t really see much.  Thankfully I have some pictures to prove it. At one point in the early morning, still in the dark, I am running along a ridge hearing water crashing far, far below me and I see a sign as if I needed additional warning “Caution: Cliff section!”. I’ll end with that.
Oregon is beautiful.