Dark Sky 50-Miler: My first trail Ultra and my first DNF

Warning: this recap is LONG. Let’s just start by saying this was not my greatest race in terms of finish time (yes, I know, the title of this post already gave it away). However, I can say that it was a great race in terms of the experience I had with one of my best running friends and I learned so much that I can put towards future races!

I initially chose the Dark Sky 50-miler on the suggestion of a friend in March. I just came off of a great experience with my first 50K (The Pistol Ultra) and wanted to move forward with my training by signing up for the 50-mile distance.  So, with little arm-bending, my friend Marian and I signed up to run. I also peer pressured my friend Allison into being my pacer for the last 20 miles of the course. Both of these friends had more trail running experience than I had and I knew they would be important pieces of the puzzle to my success for this race- I was so excited they were ready and willing to take this next adventure with me.

This would be the second year for this particular race.  I liked the idea of a smaller race that would give me beautiful scenery for my first 50 miles.  I went forward with my training plan, focusing on running as many trails as I could while maintaining my strength training.  As race day neared, I was excited, hopeful, calm, and ready.  The week of the race I learned my friend Marian was not able to join us after all.  Allison and I left for Pickett State Park in Tennessee on a beautiful Friday afternoon. The weather for race day looked dry, but also very hot, with a forecast for record highs. I had heard the course was shady, so I was happy to know that we would have some respite from direct sunlight during the long miles.

We arrived to find the Rec Lodge and packet pick-up (we passed it twice somehow). I had looked previously at the race registration and it appeared about seventy people were registered.  I would find out on race day there were only a little over 50 that arrived to run.  Packet pick-up was simple- grab your bib number, safety pins, t-shirt, and coozie. We were then on our way to our rental for the night as we would have to arrive back at the Rec Lodge before 5:40 am Central Time.  We got a little turned around on the trip to our rental, and jokingly kept saying, “What would {our friend} Marian do?”! Little did I know the next day I would be saying this to myself. Alot.

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We were up at 4 am. I did my usual pre-race routine: same food, same liquid, put on my race flat and bib and hopped into the car with my pacer. The sun rose on our way to the start line.  It was warm but luckily {?} my hydration vest bladder leaked in the car and so I started the race with a completely soaked back and behind!  When the Race Director told us to run, I started out mid-pack. The elite runners took the front. We started out on a road, single track and back to the road, so I tried not to run full out and stay where I was comfortable. I knew once we hit the true trail,  I would want to stay middle of the pack.  We started the path into the park on a single track and I fell into a pack of about 10 runners. We stayed this way for a bit and there was little chit-chat. I kept going over my own advice in my head, along with the advice from others, on when to drink, run, walk, climb, etc.

As we got into mile 7, I noticed a hot spot on my right foot. I had just had a foot care plan discussion with Marian and I knew what she would say to do — I knew I needed to nip that in the bud, so I pulled over when I could at the end of mile 7 and bandaged my foot. The group I was running with flew by me while I was tending my foot and all of the sudden I was in the forest by myself.  As I put my shoe back on, a female runner came by and said hello and I picked up the pace with her. We started running near a stream on a cool, fern-covered path.  Then we hit our first water crossing. The current was such that you had to hold on to a rope above you or risk losing your footing.  She successfully crossed and I followed suit… then there was an immediate climb up rocks and a ladder, which was slippery. The next couple of miles were full of cool, damp single track trails- everything was wet, moss-covered and slippery!  I caught back up to the female in front of me and we were soon joined by some other ladies.  Marsha was the woman I talked to most of this time. She and another female were experienced trail runners and Marsha had recently completed an ultra in the Arizona desert. I loved hearing her stories; they were a great distraction for a bit.

We started to approach the 13.7 aid station, where I knew I could refill my hydration pack and grab solid food.  Allison surprised me by being at the aid station (I had not expected to see her there) and she took my pack to refill it and asked me what I needed to eat. A volunteer checked to make sure I was sweating and asked how I was hydrating. I explained I had taken in 4 liters of water with electrolytes since the start and was taking a salt pill each hour.  It was so hot! I was happy to hear they were checking these things.  I asked Allison how I was doing on time and she said great. I took a shot of bourbon, chased it with flat coke and ate applesauce and some gu.  Allison reapplied my sunscreen and then asked me how I was feeling. It was then we both realized I would need to slink off into the woods for a moment as Mother Nature decided my monthly cycle should start RIGHT THEN. Geez. We laughed and then I was off for the longest stretch of the race between aid stations.

 

I then took off into the woods by myself. The sun was starting to get high and I got emotional thinking I was leaving Allison and would not see her again until mile 31. I started to think of my husband and boys and my friend Marian, and my family and all of the people who had supported me to this point. I cried and ran for a good mile and then I was fine again.  I ran through various terrains- root-laden spots, sandy trails, trails covered on all sides by waist-high poison ivy and trails slippery and full of jagged rocks.  Somewhere along mile 18 a large tree fell behind me in the forest and spooked me! I put my earbud in one ear to help take my mind off of that…my son’s playlist started playing “No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn” and I smiled and kept running.  There were points where I thought my knees hurt or my foot hurt and I would remember my friend Jeanette telling me that feeling was temporary and it would go away, and indeed it did.  As I neared Longbranch Trail aid station, three runners came quickly upon me and I moved to the side of the downhill, single track switchbacks to let them pass.  They ran into the AS and everyone was so quiet as I arrived; I did not know why until one of them looked at me and said quietly, “They don’t have any water here”. Hmm…I quietly thought to myself, “What would Marian do?”.  I was almost out of my own hydration mix Allison had filled at the last station and the plan at this 21-mile station was to refill again. The volunteers were unsure if more water was coming.  It was beginning to feel hotter.  One of the volunteers offered to give me some of his water (he only had a little left in his milk jug) or there was some Tailwind mix left. I passed on the Tailwind as I had not used it for years and was afraid it would upset my GI system.   There were still several people behind me and I did have about a quarter liter of my own Liquid IV/water mix left, so I was hopeful it would get me to the next aid station. I wanted to keep going; time was ticking.  I set out for the next aid station, Station Camp, hopeful there was water there.

Looking back on my time, this is where you will see my pace lag considerably.  Miles 22-25 I had to do walk/run intervals in hopes of conserving my energy and not twisting my ankles on the large rocks in trail. I was out of liquid and I could not swallow food any longer. I was doing my best to swallow the GUs I had and hope that water was ahead. I was wrong.  I was thankful for the water crossings and water falling from rocks to cool me off as I could find them.  As I approached the Station Camp aid station, a volunteer was walking towards me. I said, “Please tell me you have some water here.” He shook his head and said he didn’t, but there was some Tailwind left.  He tipped the large jug forward and drained what I think was the last of the Tailwind into my bladder…about a half liter…and told me that should get me to the next aid station. This would be Charit Creek Lodge #1 and it was four miles away.  This was probably the slowest 4 miles I’ve ever run. Oh wait, I walked most of it. I can’t remember walking in a race ever. I met up with another gentleman who had been out of water for some time. He was walking to conserve his energy. He stopped a man on horseback asking for water.  About a mile from the next aid station, some volunteers on foot came to us with water and gave us about a half liter each. I wanted to drink it all in one gulp! I have never been so hot or thirsty in my life; it was a horrible feeling.  I started to try and run again, but in my head, I already knew at this pace I would never make the time cutoff.

 

As I made my way to Charit Creek Lodge, my friend Allison was there cheering me on. I am sure the look on my face as I came down the hill towards her said it all.  She quickly got me to a chair and started changing my shoes and socks off, per our plan and a volunteer started dumping cold creek water over my head and shoulders. He did this several times; it felt so good!  My feet were in good shape; my socks and shoes were pretty dry. Allison had me drink water and asked me to eat some peanut butter pretzels. I tried to eat them but my throat was so dry I could not swallow. I just wanted to drink water!  I had to pace myself with the water so I did not make myself sick.  I had a headache that was wanting to make me cry. I had never felt so dry in my life.  I told her, “There has been no water at the last two aid stations!”. She looked at me and said, “I know.” I stood up and looked around, there were runners sitting down on the ground looking defeated; some runners were sitting in the creek they were so hot.  She said, “What do you want to do?”.  I said, “My brain wants to finish but my body is giving me some horrible warning signals.”  She said, “Let’s do this 4-mile loop-it goes up to the Twin Arches; it’s the best part of the course! We should do it!” So, I got on my feet and up, up we went.  This may have been my favorite part of the run. It was so beautiful, I had water, and I had Allison with me to enjoy it.  We stopped, took photos and pretended like I hadn’t just run 31 miles. We went the 4-mile loop and arrived at the aid station again.  We walked passed it; the volunteers were packing up.  Allison said, “Okay, so what do you want to do?  We have 30 minutes to make it 3 miles. We can continue on, but I want you to make the call if we do not. And I wanted you to make this decision on your terms, not on theirs {race management}.  That is why I insisted we run up to the twin arches, so you had time to get water in you and clear your head.”   I looked at her sadly and said, “I want to keep going but we won’t make it to the next aid station in time. And, if we do try, there is no guarantee we will have any water at any of the future aid stations. I don’t want to put you in that position and quite frankly, I don’t want to be in that position either for the next 19 miles.”  We were both crying.  Allison told me I was racing smart and she supported my decision. I asked her to go back and tell them I was done. I couldn’t do it. I felt so defeated and ashamed…all of this training and time and I wasn’t going to meet my goal. I have never had a DNF (did not finish). It was a horrible feeling.

As Allison talked to the race volunteers, I turned around and saw Marsha, my friend from earlier.  I yelled out to her; she looked sick. I asked her how she was and she told me she hadn’t had any water and took the remaining Tailwind at the last aid station. She had been sick ever since.  I was so heartbroken for her, too.  We then grabbed our things and hiked the mile back to our cars.  It was then I realized this was probably the longest mile I had ever walked in my life.  The entire time we walked back to the car, my head throbbed, but all I could think about is “what if” I had kept going.

On the ride back to the cabin, I cried. My friend was so kind and compassionate. She told me I was one of the strongest runners she knew, but I could not believe her at this moment. I felt so weak and defeated. I text my family and friends to let them know I ran 35 miles that day, not the 50 I had planned. Of course, they all said they were proud of me, but my husband had the words I finally could hear: “Steph, you trained hard. You know you can go that distance.  When you get home and are rested, decide on your next 50 miler and sign up.”  (And that is just what I did.)

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I am so grateful to my family and friends who put up with my training.  I do not know what I would have done without Allison by my side at the race, taking care of me when I needed it, but being stern with me when I did not want it.  Having her there was a blessing for me and I will forever be bonded to her because of this experience.  I did not lose anything from this race, I only gained insight and learned things I will take with me to my next race.  One thing I did do to help get over that horrible DNF feeling was email the Race Director. I needed her to know what I and about 10-12 people behind me experienced during that race. I have to hope that my feedback, along with others, will help those racing Dark Sky in the future.

On to the next one…

 

**I studied the topography map and the few blog posts I could find from the previous year’s race. I thought I would leave this elevation chart her for anyone who was doing the race in subsequent years just for fun. This is from the start to Charit Creek #1 Aid Station. 

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You never forget your first: Pistol 50K Ultramarathon Race Recap

The Pistol Ultra

March 17, 2018

I am five days post-race and I am still having difficulty writing how I FEEL about this race.  My first ultramarathon is in the books.  It was amazing. It was incredible. It exceeded my expectations in most every way.

As most of you know if you follow me here or on Instagram, my training had its ups and downs. I ran most of my training runs alone. It wasn’t on purpose or because I wanted to; the schedule I have just doesn’t work out for most of my running buddies.  I don’t like to run alone all of the time, but this training cycle it turned out running alone allowed me to process many of the stressors I was under during training. It was good for me. It was my therapy. There were days I ran with joy, but there were days I ran and cried; not out of pain or sorrow, but because I was dealing with more this training cycle than I had others.  The stress was personal stuff, professional stuff, internal stuff.  I had never trained for this distance, so there was also this creeping doubt and insecurity that comes with training for a “new” thing.  Some training days were heavy, I am not going to lie. But enough about that, you came for the race report…so here it is. If you want to know what running your first 50K on the road might be like, well, here is my take…

Pre-race day

My husband and I headed down to Alcoa, Tennesse the day before the race. We arrived late afternoon to a beautiful day of sun and mild temps (a perfect race day), but that would soon change.  We checked into the hotel and my husband gave me a care package from some of my biggest mother runner supporters–there were notes filled with encouragement, fuel, homemade treats, a CTM Band, bath bombs, and ultrarunner swag-I was blown away! The cards and notes were my favorites and I carried several with me on race day. I will treasure them always!

Gifts from my running tribe.

Once I collected myself, we went to packet pick-up. The first person to greet me was Mary Beth, the assistant race director. She greeted us warmly, pointed me towards check-in and wished me the best as she raced off to her next duty.  Pick-up was quick and painless…I was the only one in my line! We picked up my bib and then was ushered through the lines of swag pick-up.  I couldn’t believe all of the nice things we were showered with (see pic below). We then went to the “mandatory” pre-race meeting where we were briefed on all of the details for the next day. The amount of detail was amazing; you can tell the Race Directors put so much time into this event! Then, they started the Pistol Squat contest– anyone present was invited up on the stage to participate–whichever male and female participant completed the most pistol squats in 2 minutes received their race registration back in cash on the spot! It was amazing to watch!  Then, they gave away several discounts and prizes. I won a free t-shirt and gift card just for being there! It was a very generous pre-race meeting.

Another highlight of this race: every year there is a guest/celebrity speaker that talks at the pre-race event and this year it was Catra Corbett – I was so amazed! If you don’t know who she is, google her, she’s a bad@ss. After the meeting, we went to eat and then back to the hotel so that I could prep and get in bed at a decent time.

Race Day

I woke up an hour before we had to leave for the race. The hotels that are a part of the race are very convenient-only a mile away from the event!  Everything went smoothly except with my nerves that morning, I tried to put my husband’s contacts in when I woke up instead of my own! He had to point out why I was panicking because I couldn’t see! Nothing like a little pre-race laughter to lighten the mood a little.  I checked my hydration vest one more time and then we were off!

The weather was warm at 7 a.m. I had been training in mostly 30 or 40-degree weather but it was already 42 degrees before the start. I chose to wear a tank and shorts because I knew it was only going to get warmer-there was a predicted high of 72 with a chance of thunderstorms so I didn’t want to overheat. We arrived to find a lovely spread of coffee and Panera bagels. I had already eaten but nibbled on a piece of a bagel while we waited.

Then, it happened — it was time!  Now, this is where many people will learn something new about me.  I have a severe anxiety of toeing a start line.  I’ve run so many races and I’ve made sure every time I started way in the back (sometimes behind the walkers and strollers).  It makes me want to vomit. Mainly because when I was very, very young (around 5), I toed the line at my very first kids run (the Kentucky Derby Festival miniMarathon Kids Race).  When the gun went off, all of the kids behind me started but I froze.  I subsequently was knocked down and trampled! I still remember my aunt and mom running over to check on me and I was crying and just a mess.  So, what do I do at my first ultramarathon surrounded by a bunch of runners I don’t know…? Well, I go straight up to the start line right in front and yelled at my husband to take a photo.  I am certain he thought I looked like a lunatic, but I didn’t care! Today was redemption day and I was not going to allow myself to fall or get trampled!  And I did! The gun went off and I went flying out of the start line.  I smiled and waved to my husband like, “Look at me! I didn’t fall! Noone is stepping on me!”.  It was the first of many amazing feelings on this day.

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So, the Pistol is a 10-mile looped course. It is billed as flat. It might be flat to trail runners, but to roadrunners, I would describe it as rolling hills.  I took off faster than what I wanted (totally worth it though) but pulled up and fell into my planned pace within mile 2.  The course was beautiful! It was so GREEN and lush and beautiful. The course is paved and winds through parklands and alongside the Pistol Creek.  Rain started to fall during the first loop, but it was a light mist and felt good. I knew my husband would be at the mile 10 mark with dry clothes if I wanted them. I was prepared and not worried.  As I came into mile 10 he was there waiting for me yelling, “You look strong!  Great job!”. And I kept running. My pack was full of liquid and solid nutrition and I was happy with my work on the first loop.

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The second loop. That’s where I started to question my choices in life.

Why was I doing a looped course? I liked point to point courses.

Why did I pack so many damn waffles? It was too hot to eat at this point and I just wanted ice! 

Why wouldn’t my headphones work, I might need them? Oh, wait, my phone died around mile 12.  Geez, I didn’t plan this.

Was that bacon on a donut sandwich that I just saw at an aid station?

Didn’t I pass that Leprechaun once already?

Then, I saw my running friend Abbi on the course. She didn’t stop to talk to me but smiled, waved and yelled as she passed, “ARE YOU ON PACE?!?”.  Shoot, better speed up a bit because she’s watching! Other people also smiled, waved and yelled out my IRun4 running buddy’s name as I passed, “Go! Run for Jessica”! That always helps me get some pep in my step!

I decided to talk to people on the course at this point. There were 100K and 100 Milers on the same course, so I thought they might need company and it would pass the time. And it did. As I neared mile 20, I sped up. I could see my husband waiting for me and I could hear the crowd cheering. I reminded myself I had been at mile 20 many times; no big deal.  And then I heard my husband yell, “You are STILL on pace! You look strong! What do you need?”.  I smiled because he sounded surprised and pleased with my progress. I told him to meet me with my waist pack and ice. Lots of ice. And he did. I threw my hydration vest at him and took my waist pack filled with icy water. I took a huge block of ice and stuffed it in my sports bra. And I kissed him good-bye and kept running!

At this point, it was so hot. The sun was out beating down on us.  People were shedding clothes and slowing down. I kept on my pace plan. At around mile 23 I decided to slow down a bit; I was on pace to beat my own marathon PR and thought, “That can’t be good! I will have 5 more miles to go after that!”.  And then at mile 26 when I realized I PR’d, I stopped at the aid station and asked for ice and a lovely volunteer said, “Sure! Do you want a popsicle, too?” and right then, she looked just like an angel and I said yes and took a banana popsicle. It was the best popsicle I’ve had in my whole life.  And I walked and ate it. Carefree, in the middle of a race, I just walked and ate my popsicle like I was done.  I don’t know what I was thinking, but at that moment, I could see and smell everything so well. I wanted to remember that moment, so I just took it all in. And, I yelled out to other people passing me, “THEY HAVE POPSICLES!” like a deranged person.  It cracks me up thinking about it now.

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So happy to see my friend Abbi on the course! (Photo cred: Abbi A.)

And, then I ran. It was a clumsy, lumbering feeling, this running. I worked hard to get my legs going again.  At a little over 27 miles, I slowed to a stop to fuel while I walked. Then, I saw Abbi running towards me again.  I was so happy to see her-she smiled and stopped to say hello and asked me if I needed anything. We took a selfie because that is what BAMRs do. I said I was fine and asked her how she was and she smiled and said great and told me to go! So off I ran.  As I started to run again, I realized, I had less than 3 miles and I would be an ultrarunner.I started to cry a little and then pulled myself together remembering I still had 3 hard miles to go, most of them uphill. I felt like I barely passed anyone at this point; I wondered if I was one of the last 50K runners out on the course.  And I remember good advice my BAMR friends gave me a long time ago, “Just keep putting one foot in front of the other” and so I did just that.

As I neared mile 29, I sped up.  I ran towards the point I knew my husband would be and there he was running towards me.  He was waving and carrying a large diet fountain coke and a bag of salty french fries! What can I say, he knows me too well. I smiled and he smiled and he said, “I have these for you when you are done!” and I told him I didn’t want to run up that last hill again. And, I told him he better be at that finish line to get photos when I did get up that last hill again!  I did not stop. I ran as hard as my legs could go and I made that last hill.  As I came into the finisher’s shoot, people were yelling and I could hear my husband yell, “Run, Steph, Run!”. I didn’t know why he was yelling at me but I started sprinting; I would only find out later that he was trying to push me to a certain time.

As I crossed the finish line, there was a young lady offering me water and also my husband smiling gleefully. They walked me inside and it was everything I could do to hold in all of the tears, but walking and crying at the same time seemed too difficult, so I just walked. I was stopped at the timetable and was told there was an issue with my time print out. I was confused but happy to take my medal. I wasn’t clear on why they wouldn’t let me move forward and then my husband said, “You placed!”.  I was astounded.  Apparently, the time was such that they had to discern my place in age group–it turns out I was the 4th woman to finish AND I won 1st in my age division (F, 40-49).  When they told me that, it was everything I could do to stand up. I figured I was one of the last women to finish! The volunteers and assistant race director all congratulated me and were so kind. I was so grateful to have them there and so happy that my husband was there! He helped me get back to the showers and change out of my wet, sweaty clothes. I had a sunburn (note to self: stop to reapply sunscreen after 20 miles) and I was starving but you couldn’t peel the goofy grin off of my face.  All of my hard training had paid off and I was now officially an ultramarathoner!  I cannot say enough about this race-from the swag to the aide stations to the volunteers to the scenery-it all blew me away!

Let me be clear when I started this running journey five years ago, I never had my eyes set on this goal. But, with the help of so many people, this idea became a goal that became a reality. If you want something bad enough, you will do it. It may not begin or finish the way you expect or plan, but it can happen. I think the key for me was to surround myself with people who believe in me as much if sometimes more than I believe in myself.

 

 

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My official time!

 

 

**Acknowledgements**

A special thanks to all of my family and friends who put up with me during this training. I was determined not to fail and in that path, I was relentless in my training.  I may have seemed absent to some, but I did my best to fulfill my obligations as a mother, wife, daughter, friend, and colleague.  I hope I did not let you all down, but still know I probably owe some of you a solid.
To my husband Chris, I cannot tell you how lucky I feel to have you as a spouse. You’ve been my birth coach twice and marathon coach previous…you can now add ultramarathon coach to your resume!  You helped me fine tune my nutrition, recovery methods and pushed me out the door on the days I did not want to run. You are the best friend and partner in this wonderful and crazy thing called life that we navigate together. You know me better than anyone else; thank you for not giving up on me at any point in our time together and I love you to the moon and back.
To all of the mother runners some of my best female friends who supported this crazy idea from before I  thought it was possible, thank you. Thank you for inspiring me, motivating me, teaching me and always being there for me. You are some of the most amazing women I will ever know and I love you all.
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On dealing with my own inner critic…30 more days until my first 50K!

Yikes! I’ve been so busy training for the next race that I have neglected my blog!   While slogging through my last 3 long training runs in the crappiest of conditions, I had lots of opportunities to slow down and think about this whole crazy idea of running a 50K.

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First, I cannot believe that I have less than 5 weeks left of training! When I mapped out a 16-week training plan months ago, it seemed like forever before this day would come.  And, now here I am panicking like any good runner might do.  This weekend is my longest training run (and last LONG training run) before I scale back and then taper.  Lesson learned:  training will go by fast! Have a great plan and know that you can be flexible with it and still have a great training experience.

Second, I still cannot believe I signed up for this distance! *nervous grin*! Probably two years ago I was inspired by some other mother runners signed up for ultra distances (they have since gone on to complete several trail ultras) and they encouraged me to do the same.  It took many more training miles before I decided to sign up for a 50K. I knew I wanted it to be road/non-trail race and finding one close to me is difficult.  The Pistol Ultra was highly recommended by many people in a TAUR group and the Women for Tri group I belong to AND it is within driving distance, so those were major factors in my decision to try this paved “urban trail” ultra.  The race is a 10-mile loop course on a paved path through a park, much like the Parklands here where I live, so I figured I had an optimal place to train at home as well.

Third, I cannot believe how fortunate I have been to have a family and friends that wholly support me. They may not always understand what I am doing, but they show me unconditional love by saying “go run”, “how far are you going today?”, etc.  And, it is a huge source of joy for me to see my children excited about this new adventure.  When I told them I had signed up for an ultramarathon, their eyes were wide with excitement. The first question was, “How far is that?” and then the statement of “Wow, even dad has never done that before!’.  I consider that a compliment for multiple reasons,  realizing my husband has completed many more marathons and tris than I have and so they understand the magnitude of the endeavor I am about to take on with this race.

For my friends and people who don’t understand the life of a runner, they often ask why am I running this distance. I thought a lot about that on my last run and it really comes down to the ideas relayed to me through an inspirational podcast (Sparta Chicks – check it out if you haven’t already!) I listened to recently.   It is about dealing with my own inner critic.  I made the decision, without knowing it, to “play big” with this one. Training for a triathlon was more about facing fears, but training for an ultra marathon is about going big for me.  I need to do this for myself – it is the culmination of many fears and insecurities and putting myself down for years coming to a head.  You see, my professional life took a hard left turn a few years ago. I had what I thought was my dream job, an executive level position in higher ed-something I had worked hard for quite awhile but I had to let it go for really two huge reasons.  Resigning from that position really put me back for a bit and I remember for the first time feeling like, “wow, I really can’t have it all.” I felt as though I had let people down, that I wasn’t as smart or as capable as I thought and it put me in a huge “imposter” red zone. So, I took a step back from my professional life and incorporated running and fitness into my daily life.  This has all led me to sign up for this race.  It is time for me to shake that inner critic and take myself for what I am worth.  It is time to shake the self-doubt put on me by others or by myself.  I don’t need to be more confident or believe in myself (I have plenty of that, hence the reason for toeing this line in the first place).  What I do need is to stop “playing small” and start “playing bigger” in many areas of my life, and I am going to start in Alcoa, Tennessee.  Thank you to all of my friends, especially the women in my life, who have supported me thus far.  30 more days…

 

30 days pistol

2017 Best of Nine -My Racing Year in Review

**SPOILER ALERT**

This is NOT a post about what I accomplished this year.

It IS a walk down memory lane.

It IS an admission that if you want it bad enough, you will do it.

It IS an invitation to join me in running/racing adventures in 2018. 

So, I put together my 2017 Best of Nine on Instagram today and realized 9 photos wasn’t really a good summary of the year–so many amazing things happened! I completed the most races I’ve ever attempted in one year. I made some amazing friends along the way. When I started thinking about all of my fitness goals for this year and all of the things I was able to accomplish, here are some of my favorite racing things from 2017:

I completed a Ragnar Trail Relay with a team of 7 other amazing friends and surrounded by 7 other Mom RunThis Town teams– Moms owned Kentuckiana Ragnar Trail Relay this year.

I ran another marathon, this time with a friend!

I raced my first duathlon.

I completed a triathlon for my 41st birthday with my husband and one of my closest friends!

I ran my first 10-miler and placed in my age group.

I put in my application for a few racing teams and while I was declined to Team Couer (I need more tris under my belt), I was accepted to Savage Multisport Team. However, I declined Team Savage when I received news late in the year that I am on the pending roster to run the TCS New York City Marathon in 2018 with Every Mother Counts! A DREAM COME TRUE!

I signed up and started training for my first UltraMarathon – The Pistol 50K!

I ran over 800 miles for Jessica, my IRun4Michael Running Buddy, this year.

As always, my Moms Run This Town (MRTT) chapter was a huge part of my success! After more than 3 years of being active in the group, I stepped into a Chapter Leader role mid-year, which upped my motivation and inspiration! These women are so supportive and encouraging; I cannot imagine not being a part of this running tribe.

When I started running only a few short years ago, I would have never imagined I could do these things, much less all of them in one year.  I had many people helping me set these goals and training with me, which I think was a huge key to my successes. I look forward to doing some things on my own in 2018 but also training and racing with my husband and friends again.

If this year is any indication, 2018 should be quite a ride! Stay tuned for more adventures from this Kentucky Mother Runner.

 

 

The Turkey Sandwich Duathlon – a new holiday tradition!

At our house, the weekend after the big turkey day is usually spent visiting with friends and family, watching football, and maybe raking some leaves. This year, however, we added in a new tradition- the Turkey Sandwich Duathlon. Some of my friends and I were chatting one night about the lack of duathlons in our area. We are part of a large women’s only running group and many of the ladies in the group like to bike and/or swim. We started talking about the overall lack of duathlon options in our area, which jump-started the idea: “Why don’t we just run our own self-supported duathlon in November?”.  My friend quickly came up with the concept- a 12-mile bike out and then back, with a 10K run (at Turkey Run Park) sandwiched in between.  And, voila, the Turkey Sandwich Duathlon was born! We settled on a start time and then put out the call for other ladies in our group to join us.

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The morning of the race, the weather was great-a sunny 45 degrees with a slight breeze. We gathered at the trailhead start with a little chatter and bike check and then we were off!  The 12-mile bike out to our transition area is mainly flat with a few smaller ascents and one larger descent.  Our members broke up into packs of 2 or 3 and chatted as we made the ride out.  One long, flat part of this route is called “The Strand”, personally one of my favorite parts of the park to run in, and we took in all of the beautiful scenery this portion of the ride had to offer as we made our way through.

At the transition area, everyone waited for the last rider to come in, we racked our bikes and then took off for the 10K portion in Turkey Run.  This part of the course had the most elevation change and our legs were feeling it! I took off with the lead pack at a swift pace but ended up pulling back after the first major hill to a more comfortable pace.  The sun was out and it started to get warm, so I took off my buff, gloves, and jacket to get more comfortable.  At this point, I was running by myself and it was nice to have some quiet time in the sun, just running and enjoying the morning.  At the 3 mile turnaround, I caught sight of the runners in front and back of me (thanks, hills) and made a detour to the Silo at the top of the hill–I climbed the silo and yelled out to my fellow runners below. The view was stunning!  On the run back to the bike racks, I ran back with my husband and we saw several large deer.  We both agreed it was a beautiful day to be out at the park.

 

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This is me at the top of the Silo at mile 3.
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A gorgeous silo top view of our 10K run course.
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Wonderful bridges and landscape views during our run.

 

Once back at the bike racks, we waited for all runners to come in, and then we jumped back on our bikes for the 12-mile return ride.  At this point,  my legs were getting tired and I wasn’t sure how I felt about the ride back!  I reminded myself that it was mostly flat and I had done harder things and off we went.  Little did I realize, when we were in the hills running, the wind picked up.  I was glad I put my gloves back on before we started the windy ride back-it seemed we were riding with a cross-wind now. Then we hit the first larger ascent! The lady I was riding with and I were laughing so hard because we were having so much difficulty getting up that hill! I think we were slightly delirious because it was no laughing matter–it was some hard work, for sure.  We did make it up the hill and then only had 6 miles or so to go, thank goodness. Our last half mile, we hit the second larger hill and promised ourselves we would not walk the hill. And we didn’t! I was very proud of both of us, considering this was my first “longer” ride in 2 months, I had completed a two-hour spin class two days prior, and this was the first duathlon my friend had completed!

 

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Our elevation on the ride back…that last half mile was a doozy.

 

Our finish line party was quite the soiree, complete with pizza, beverages and finisher medals! I look forward to making this an annual tradition.  Not only was it a great way to get out and challenge ourselves after the holiday, but also it was great to do this with such an amazing group of women and athletes.  (Oh, and we forgot to pack leftover turkey sandwiches as part of the finish line party, but there is always next year!)

 

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Showing off our medals.
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Proud finishers of the 1st Annual Turkey Sandwich Duathlon!

 

It is time to make 2018 running plans! How do you decide?

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Have you ever been at that point in your running journey where you cannot decide what is next?  Recently, I and a good running friend realized we had such great race experiences in 2017, we were not sure how we could top them in 2018! Where to start? What do I focus on–there are so many options including, roads, trails, duathlons, and tris!  I sat down several weeks ago and started looking at my 2018 calendar, wondering just how I could fit it all in…In 2017, my race calendar filled up quickly as I signed up to train/race with friends or because I decided to give triathlons a try.   While I did them all of these races with glee, I really felt like my training was scattered and I was not focused at all. I needed to settle down and get serious about 2018 goals!  So, I did what every MotherRunner would do; I sent my Fairy God Mother Runner a text asking for help! After I explained my dilemma and heard her advice, I came out of that conversation knowing that I would plan to train for two major races in 2018.

Ultimately, I have decided to give my first ultramarathon distance a go.  I love long distances! There is something about running all of those miles that makes me giddy.  So, here we go, I have already signed up for the Pistol Ultra 50K in the Spring and am researching other options for the Fall. I hope to also keep up my cross-training in the attempt to throw in a few sprint tris in for fun along the way!

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So,  I am curious how do you decide which races to sign up for in any given calendar year? Do you plan it out well in advance or register for things as you see them pop up?  Do you have an “A” race that you set a max goal for or do you sign up for several races without a predetermined goal?  I am always interested to hear how other athletes set their plans and create training schedules, so if you have any wisdom to pass along, I am grateful.

Here is to happy running for the rest of 2017 as we look to the future and what 2018 holds!

 

 

What is your “why”?

After 7 months of training for races, I found myself not signed up for one race for the rest of the year. I have to admit, 2017 has been epic in terms of race experiences– I’ve already completed a half marathon, Ragnar Trail Relay, a full marathon, my first duathlon AND my first triathon, along with a few others thrown in the mix for fun! I was able to run with friends, run happy, and run injury free. But now, here I sat, running maybe 40 miles a month and wondering which direction to go next…I needed to make some decisions and start to build my running base again.

Without clear direction, I did what every mother runner does, I sent my Fairy God Mother Runner a text message and asked her what I should do next. I told her I may have lost my running mojo and wasn’t sure which direction to turn or what race to set my sights on next…and maybe, just maybe, I had lost my passion for running. Her immediate response back to me:

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I was stunned. I was upset. My inner dialogue kicked in: “Why is she asking me this? Maybe she thinks I have lost my running mojo, too! *gulp* I have plenty of reasons to run! Dozens! Is she doubting me?” I had to stop and think–> don’t be defensive. She is asking you this for a reason. Tell her why! So, I immediately started making a list of the reasons why I run on my phone note pad. Here is the abbreviated version:

Top 10 reasons why I run:

  1. I run for my health (physical, mental, and emotional).
  2. I run to model a healthy lifestyle in the hopes that my children pay attention and maintain a healthy lifestyle throughout their lives.
  3. Running is a way for me to think without interruption; some days it is my only quiet time.
  4. Running makes me feel strong.
  5. I run for Jessica.
  6. Running has allowed me to meet amazing people who help support and motivate me.
  7. I run to help motivate other women in my running group. I want them to see they can set and reach goals they once never thought they could.
  8. I love to learn. Running is a teacher. I am the student.
  9. Running allows me to set (and crush) new goals. Nothing better than checking off an item most people would never attempt to even write down on their list in the first place.
  10. Running links me to a place in my mind I’ve only ever been twice before in my life–during the labor and birth of my children. Nothing else gives me that feeling! It is the adrenaline rush and I am a junkie.

I typed out more than this, but decided to only include 10 here. My point is, my Fairy God Mother Runner knew what she was doing when she asked me this question. Certainly, I cannot get on with the what or how before I know the why!

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I challenge you to write down your whys and put them in a place you can see daily or easily reference. When you start to doubt yourself or question your direction, read the list. Remember why you run. It is only then that you can light the fire to set new goals and start the next leg of your running journey.

For the love of running,

BluegrassBAMR

What makes a “good” runner?

I am part of a local running club in my town. I LOVE it. It is a group for women ONLY and their running experience varies from novice to seasoned veteran.  I love the group for so many reasons, but one of my favorite things about this group is the enthusiasm the runners have for one another.  There is a sisterhood present and so steeped in the desire to motivate, encourage, and see other women meet their goals — it makes me so happy!  I revel in the goals these ladies meet each week — running without stopping for a mile, hitting a PR, completing a first 5k (or 50k!). Let me tell you, these women are amazing.

BUT, let me tell you about the crazy day that made me write this post in the first place.  I was going for a 4 mile run and started thinking about how LONG it felt to run 4 miles. I thought, “Why is this so hard?”.  The first four months of the year, I had ran over 100 miles each month. I ran a marathon in April, for Pete’s sake. So, what was I doing out here feeling like I was running ten times farther than my actual distance…? And as I pushed forward, I started thinking all I want to do is be a “good” runner.  

Wait. What?

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Being a “good” runner – What does that even mean? 

So, for the rest of my run, I pondered this idea-what makes a “good” runner.

Oftentimes, I will hear runners emphasize their pace or distance.  By that, I mean, “faster” or “longer” runs are “better” or define a “good” runner (yes I am using a lot of quotation marks here, I know).  But I started thinking about that more. My pace is fair and I’ve ran two marathons at this point. Maybe that makes me a good runner. Maybe not. But, I do know that I always want to improve and find new challenges.  I started thinking about other runners I know.  Some are not as fast as me; some have run distances far past 26.2 miles; some run happy every time they run; some never give up, even through injury or personal conflicts.  And that is when I realized, there is no singular definition of a good runner.  But, based upon my experiences with my local running community, I think there are some key elements that one should possess to be a “good” runner. Here is the attributes list I came up with while running; I made it from the main attributes of people I know here in my local running community that I would place in the GREAT runner category.

  • Heart – Running  isn’t for the faint of heart. If running was easy, everyone would do it.  We all start out as new runners; oftentimes out of shape or inexperience. If your heart isn’t in it, it is easy to make excuses and stop.
  • Determination/Courage – Running makes you face your fears. It can take you places you never thought you could go.  There are days you can doubt yourself or think you can’t do it, but good runners still lace up and get out there, despite the odds.
  • Goal-setter – The goal is always based upon the individual runner, but always there is a end goal. The good runners are stating their goals, making a plan, and meeting the end goal.  Oftentimes, they are encouraging others to do the same.
  • Finds joy in the process – Some of the best runners I know that have been running for years can still find joy in the process.  Part of that is probably because they are always setting new goals, but the other part may be that they can appreciate running for what it is.  If you are running, at any pace or distance, it means you are healthy and able–certainly there is JOY in that!

So, if you can see any of these attributes in yourself, then you can guarantee I think you’ve made the list when it comes to what defines a “good” runner. Running as a sport is a fluid concept, much like life. There are times we will have good running days, and there are times when we will have not so good running days. The point is to enjoy each day as it comes and know that you are worth the challenge.  

every day

 

 

 

 

 

 

Women and the hats they wear…

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So, the photo is just to get your attention. Sort of.  But it is also illustrates the juggling I do every day–as a woman, mother, wife, and daughter.  I am a runner, a sister, an aunt, a friend, an employee, a student, a care taker, a mentor….the list goes on and on. Think about it. If I asked you right now how many roles you played (“hats you wear”) in a day, what would your “hat count” be in total?

I really started thinking about this “hat count” when I saw a conversation recently in a Women For Tri group.  The original post was from an athlete talking about finding, and losing, a balance of her roles when training for an Ironman.   She poured her heart out on camera, in the middle of her living room floor with piles of laundry, a dirty floor and  mounds of back to school paperwork surrounding her. She had just returned home from her race the day before and was exhausted.  Instead of eating, resting, recovering, this woman was faced with the task of picking back up where she had left off weeks, probably even months, ago.  She broke down on the camera and said she just wanted to revel in the one thing she had ever done in her life for herself–train and complete an Ironman–and she could not because, well, life was calling.  She was very frustrated, but at the same time, she was very proud to have accomplished a life-long dream, all while being a single mom, raising a child with special needs, and working full-time during her training.

The comments that poured in to her were amazing and supportive. Women who did not have children, women who had supportive families, women who were going through the same things she was–they were all there saying “Keep your head up.  If you can do that, you can do anything.” “You are amazing.” “You are inspiring.”  “Let the laundry wait.” “Who can help you with the paperwork?”  “Stay strong.”  It gave me hope. Hope for this woman to eventually get her child enrolled in a new school, find her living room floor again, and even rest eventually.

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The other thought I had when reading this woman’s story and the comments, was “Wow. These women are amazing.”  The women coming to her support were all different levels of athletes, but they were surrounding her and lifting her up in a way that I personally don’t see women do enough.  We are talking women with MANY hats. They didn’t have to be there supporting this woman, but here they were, telling her she CAN do it. Telling her she WILL do it.  Telling her to BE KIND TO HERSELF.  Telling her to STOP and REVEL in this one thing, even just for a moment. These women are the kind of women I want to be like; the kind of women I try to surround myself with for so many reasons.  They were not saving her by telling her to take off some of her hats (i.e. giving up something she loves being), they were gently reminding her how to balance her hats.

Her post reminded me that even on the days when I might struggle to balance training with all of the other things life hands me, I can do what I need to do to meet my goals and not necessarily have to give up any of my roles. 

So many times we are busy taking care of everyone else, we put ourselves last. I am grateful I have a supportive family, but I am also grateful for the women I have met through my local running group.  The ladies of Moms Run This Town/She Runs This Town in Louisville GET ME. They know what I am trying to do and they have my back on the days when I am having the hardest time keeping all of my hats balanced.

Ladies, if you are struggling and don’t have women like this in your life, go find them. They are out there waiting for you. They will understand and appreciate you far more than you realize.  And, they will help push your hats back up on top of your head when they see them leaning a little too far to one side.   

 

successful woman

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