Daily Chatter

Monday, November 18, 2013

2013 Stone Mill 50 Mile Race Report

Run your own race. 
That is something I have been advised to do ever since I started running ultras.  I've been offered that piece of advice with increasing frequency ever since my MMT experience.  I almost said unsuccessful MMT experience but that may not be the most correct description of what happened at MMT because my experience at MMT taught me more about ultra running than anything I've ever been told or read however I digress.  Run my own race.  That was the plan for my third running of the Stone Mill 50 mile endurance run.  Little did I know that I had already set into motion a series of events that would completely shape my race day into something that was much better than any number I thought I could have gotten on my own.
The Start
The moon had decided to stay tucked under a thick blanket of clouds as I found myself in the cold morning picking up my bib with Nicole and her BF after sharing a hotel room to save everyone from having to wake up even earlier than we had.  The school that would serve as our "after party" was closed in the morning but the field house bathrooms were open and heated a nice perk for a $35 ultra race.  I'll take a heated bathroom over a race tee any day.  I chatted with the many trail friends that were already there while Nicole checked on the status of her bib which had been picked up for her by friends.  With only a few minutes to spare Nicole's race bib finally arrived and we made our way to the start line.  We chatted with many friends in the minutes before the race, Charlie, Ron, Gary, Janet, Adam and as with every race many more whose names were lost among the effort in the miles to come.  Then we were running.  Running around the school after instructions and a command to go that it seemed no one heard or listened to.  We rounded the school and slid down the steep hill and slipped into the woods to enjoy some single track running in the dark.
Charlie photo bombed us on the dam
  I doubt you wondering about that plan I had made to run my own race seeing how Nicole and I had only just started running but I had already forgotten that pledge to myself.  That silly notion was a foggy memory.  Nicole had graciously shared her first Mega and first 50k with me, how could I give up the chance to share another milestone with this amazing new ultra runner for two silly letters. 
 Early in the race enjoying the foggy morning
The course was a bit congested as we hit the trails but we were moving well thanks to the very runnable trails.  Usually the train of runners that the single track creates is a point of frustration for me but the everyone moving well the frustration we offset by the benefit of shared light.  We were moving well finding our place in the pack, passing and being passed.  Unfortunately this seems to be an increasing mention in race reports; poor trail etiquette.  The course's out and back section is run in the morning which means a lot of passing on a narrow section of muddy single track while runners are still jockeying for position.   Since this only deserves a mention all I'll say is why is it so hard for passing runners to say, "on your left"?
Having fun cheesing for the camera
Nicole and I chatted as we made our way to the first aid station.  Knowing we needed to avoid losing time at each aid station, I didn't stop.  I had my pack and knew the next station was only a few miles.  I nearly forgot to drop my headlamp in the box but thanks to a very observant volunteer who offered to take it for me, I avoided having to carry it for 23 more miles.  The volunteers were awesome!

Around Mile 22 can't wait to see the PennyLock aid station
Throughout the first 20ish miles we were moving at a steady pace and keeping each other entertained with chatter.  We came through an aid station and were uplifted to hear that "their" mileage was 2 miles more than we thought.  After grabbing some coke and banana we headed out towards Quincy Orchard with renewed enthusiasm.  It was great to hit Quincy and hear Matt and Larry cheering as we ran in.  Of course I gave them big sweaty hugs which were far better than any fuel I could eaten.  With introductions kept brief we grabbed another round of coke and bananas.  As I grabbed a couple olives I noticed Alyssa and Kara running into the station behind us.  Hellos were quick with the long push to the Penny Lock half way point. 
The delicious trail...with skinny trees
Nicole was carrying a handheld and nothing else but I kept my "trail mothering" under control during these early miles and focused on keeping our pace strong and attitudes positive.  The only issue I pushed was nature calls which at times were an effort since modest still runs strong until the miles add up.  There were lot of trees to choose from if you are a twig but I need a tree with a few more years on it to cover my backside.  Finally we found several uprooted trees to avoid to much exposure. 

Rt 28 Aid Station

The section from Quincy and Penny Lock seemed to hold the most challenge for Nicole.  I tried to keep the chatting going.  I tired focusing her to lead.  I tried pulling a head a bit and giving her a break from my cheerful chatter.  I know that having to listen to an upbeat happy runner while you are struggling can sometimes bring out the wrong emotions.  So I just kept our pace up.  I knew that there were only two options.  The Penny Lock aid station would either be a recharge for Nicole or it would be the beginning of a drag through the canal miles. 

Loving my fresh dry YMX shirt
We ran into the aid station with a few other runners.  I woohoo-ed and cheered as we ran the short gravel road into the station.  This would be one of our longer stops.  Nicole used the port-a-potty while I visited with everyone at the aid station.  We had seen Janet at an earlier station changing her shoes but didn't stop to talk.  She didn't look like she was having the best day so I offered a bit of encouragement but remembered that cheerful runners sometimes do more harm than good in their efforts to rally a struggling runner.  Still it was great to see her giving the course everything she had and looking so great while she did it.  Nicole was refueling and told me to try a piece of lemon cake.  OMGosh.  I think I ate two.  It was so amazing.  I drank coke and ate some banana.  My pack still had water in it so I still did not refill it wanting to keep it as light as possible since I had been running every thing.  Just as I was trying to get out of the aid station we heard the phenomenon that is Bob Gaylord coming into the aid station.  (I just have to say that I am incapable of creating through words the experience of sharing the second half of this race with Bob.  What follows is my attempt and it will fall very short of the actual experience.)
Where as I am a cheerful chattering trail runner, as anyone who knows him will testify, Bob is a running heckler.  And capable of running vast distances while talking nonstop.  You can see why I'd like him so much.  He was running with Kelly and I saw the perfect opportunity to distract Nicole's struggling mind from the temporary aches and pains that invade while running long distances.  Introductions were made and let's just say that it was love at first sight.  I knew that Bob was going to make the difference in the second half of Nicole's 50 mile experience.  The four of us left the aid station, Nicole running with Kelly and I with Bob.  I usually try to "gain some time" over the canal miles but Bob kept me reeled in.  The slower pace was probably just what Nicole needed.  It seemed that her attitude and posture were improving

Hard working volunteers serving up HOT food
Over the next miles we would be entertained by Bob and his vast repertoire of stories and remarks.  The canal section whizzed by and Bob told us we had 5 minutes to use our drop bags, refuel and get out of there.  I only wish I could have hear the thoughts inside Nicole's head as General Bob barked out his orders.  Our bags were at the Stone Mill aid station and so was something else.  Grilled cheese sandwiches.  It's an amazing running moment when you are sick of bananas and chilled to the core to bite into a gooey warm sandwich.  With Nicole's socks changed and my fresh shirt on we headed out of the station headed toward Rt. 28 and another big boost for Nicole.
All the salty sweet you could want plus a few little surprises
What about me? 
I'm having the running day of my life.  Well at least the near best running day I can long remember.  Yes, my hamstrings a talking but it is a lively conversation they are having.  It is not like the call the cops domestic dispute they sometimes have on the Massanuttens.  Yes, I've had a few nature calls that wasted more time than I wanted.  And yes there is that issue of wanting previously wanting those two little letters.  (pr, duh! If I actually had to tell you) I am filled with such giddiness that even my low moments are not actually low.  While Nicole and I have been together the entire run, there have been many moments when other runners have joined us and I pulled away to steal a moment somewhat alone to listen to the crunching of the leave under my feet.  This day was a reminder that for me ultra running is rarely about running my own race.  Running for me is about sharing something so simple that it has almost been forgotten.  It's about stripping away the pretenses and doing something for the sheer enjoyment of doing it...with no other incentive or reward. 
A breath taking day at the feet of trees
RT. 28 aid station holds family for Nicole and warm food for me.  Several of the aid stations have had broth or noodle soup which hit the spot on the damp day.  We snap a few photos, thank the volunteers and hustle on our way.  I'm eager to capitalize on the energy surge Nicole might get from seeing family but Bob reels me in.  The "to push the pace or not" debate will continue to the finish line.  We laugh.  We talk.  We run inching our way closer to that finish line.  Along the way we gather KC and Toni who had been running with Bob earlier in the race.  We find what might be the only two shirtless guys running the race.  We debate about getting across the finish line before the darkness sets in.  Then Riffleford Road aid station is there.  There is music, of course I dance.  More coke.  Burritos for the brave.  Hot soup for me.  More pace debates with Bob but with only 7ish Stone Mill miles to go the debates were pointless but fun banter.

A great crew to finish with
Those last few miles always seem to be the longest and often they are the quietest.  The light was leaving the sky and the day had almost come full circle as we could hear the cheers from the finish line.  I joined in the cheering to get Nicole across that line first but missed seeing it when Bob tripped right before the finish.  Ironically making it all day unscathed only to stumble at the end.  Bob was up just as fast as he went down and we crossed the line right behind Nicole and cheered as Toni and KC crossed.  It was a great feeling to share so many miles and finish together. 

Stone Mill 50 Miler - 11:36
My experience this year at Stone Mill was a great way to end my 2013 racing season.  Getting to be part of someone else's big moment as I have with Nicole is really a gift.  In helping someone else I was actually helping myself.  I think back to the goals I used to set and remember that somewhere along the way my focus got a little skewed.  I definitely hit my A Goal;
Finish Feeling Fine Having Fun.
 In the end I did run my own race.  I just chose to run it based on more than just myself which turned out to be exactly how I run at my best.
Thanks to Doug, Bob, Kelly, Toni, KC, Charlie, Larry, Matt, Gary, Ron, Jonathan, Janet, Gary K, Alyssa, Kara, the countless name that I am forgetting and Nicole for giving some of their day to me and helping me create the best Stone Mill adventure...so far.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Something Old, Something New...

Something Old

As I celebrated another in the growing pile of birthdays recently, the list that can be filed under 'Something Old" grows longer.  My running streak would be one of the items on that list.  Today marks day 1286.  There are days when I feel every one of those 11,330+ miles but the majority of days I can't imagine missing a day.  Another biggie on the 'Something Old' list is
This will be my third running of the Stone Mill 50 Miler.  I'll make no predications about what the clock will say when I cross the finish line this year.  While I'd love to finish in daylight I have to set my expectations in reality.  Experience has taught me that many things come into play over ultra distances and the added pressure of time goals, at my current fitness level, would do nothing to improve my performance. 
Something New
Run to the Finish HBBC
Filed in the drawer, 'Something New' you will find that I almost missed out on my holiday motivation!  The Holiday Bootie Buster Challenge.  Since Stone Mill is usually my last real race of the year I tend to backslid a little but with the support and accountability of the HBBC I have been able to survive the past three holiday seasons without gaining weight or losing any fitness.  If you want to join in the fun click the image above to hop over the Amanda's Run to the Finish.  Make sure you let her know Shelly referred you to the challenge and we can help keep each other on the right trail or at least a little closer.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A Dream Come True

My love for running started a long time ago.  But for the majority of my running life I have been the only one running.  I was either to fast or too slow. 
I can run lots of paces from snail to speedy...
My routes were too far in the country,
who wouldn't want to run in wide open places?!?!...
too early in the morning, too long,
I run 50 milers after all...
too short, too hilly, too technical for those who lived close enough to me to join in BUT that has finally changed.

My "big" and much littler sister has discovered a real gift and love of running.
This morning we shared a chilly but chat-filled 10 mile run through Heaven as she ticked another set of goals off her already lengthy list of running accomplishment.  Knowing all the gifts that running has given me, I couldn't be more proud and happier for all she has done for herself.  And I'm giddy with the thought of what we may do together in the days to come.  I look forward to the day that I'm chasing her to a finish line...and with her quickly growing strength and speed, that day may come very soon.
Until then I'll enjoy brainwashing her to leave the country road behind and head into the woods, up a mountain and through the leaves.  I've got time, MMT isn't until May.  I'm thinking I've got another pacer to help push me to that finish line...then I can help her see her first finish line in return.

Monday, November 4, 2013

2013 Fire on the Mountain 50k Race Report

I struggled to find my way into dreamland as I listened to the wind blow outside my bedroom window.  The challenge of little sleep isn't anything new when its the night before a race.  After all my years of running and racing I am still filled with butterflies as the day approaches.  So as I finally gave up on trying to grasp the elusive hand of sleep, I wasn't surprised to feel the flutter of anticipation as I dressed for the day ahead.
The house was quiet as I dressed.  My family wasn't able to be with me for this race but had left me a note of encouragement.  It was a great way to help settle the race day nerves. 

 I quickly made my way down the list of usual morning activities and headed out the door into the dark day that lay ahead.
 The finish line is about 40 minutes from my house which makes this one of my favorite 50ks for yet another reason.  My morning drive takes me along some beautiful rural roads as I slip out of Pennsylvania and into Maryland.  I often see wildlife as I make the drive and this morning was not except.  Several herds of deer, a porcupine, a very slow skunk and a fox all joined me in traveling the country roads in the early morning hour.
I pulled into the open field; which would serve as our parking lot, finish line and post party, with over 30 minutes to spare before we would need to board buses for the 20+ minute ride to the start line.  I quickly checked in and returned to my car to gather my pack and quell the butterflies which had taken up residence in the pit of my stomach.  But soon the buses arrived and we began the ride to the start line.  I spent my ride chatting and listening to runners swap stories and race day predictions.
Once we arrived at the over look I jogged down the trail to answer the first of many nature calls.  The cool morning air was giving me a chill but the weather throughout the day would be as near perfect for running as any race day I've ever had.

The plan for the day was to attempt to better my time on the FOTM course from the challenging run I had experienced last year and if possible go for a course PR.  I had only filled my hydration pack half way to keep it's weight to a minimum and planned to avoid stopping at most aid stations by fueling myself.  As the minutes ticked down I reminded myself to run my own race.  I chatted with a bunch of trail friends and meet a few who had read about Fire on the Mountain in my previous race reports.  But the minutes ticked away until our race director, Kevin gave us final instructions.  Something about remembering this was a trail race and general course description of Red trail; follow the ...RED blazes, Green trail; follow the .....GREEN blazes, fire roads; duh follow the road, Purple trail; follow the....PURPLE blazes and your done.  Then we were off.
Red Trail
FOTM starts with a quick mile-ish on a forest road.  With 140 entrants (104 actual starters) this allows the field to spread out a bit before entering the technical single track that is the Red trail.  As we weaved our way through the beginning of the Red trail I was struck with how much the footing didn't bother me.  It seems that my time on the Massanutten trail has altered my definition of technical trail.  The Red trail was by no means easy but it was largely runnable albeit my pace reflected the more challenging sections. 

  During the first miles of the Red trail just before the first serious climb I was leading a group of runners when I couldn't ignore a familiar calling any longer.  There is something about the woods in the Green Ridge State Forest that inspires me to get friendly with the trees.  I had to run down a side trail to answer a nature call.  Although I lost quite a few minutes I was certain I would be able to make up the time over the coming miles.  I walked back up the side trail as another group of runner went past.  The urge to rush past them crossed my mind but I reminded myself that I need to run my own race and focus on what I wanted out of the day.
The Red trail may now be one of my favorite sections of this race.  Although it challenged me the trail kept giving me something new just when I needed it.  First single track, then hills, then descents, a little mud, a creek crossing always something to keep my mind occupied.  A chatted briefly with several trail brethren when my pace lined up with several others but for the majority of the race I would run alone.  Every uphill seemed to have an equally daunting downhill but despite the fallen leaves I wasn't running as cautiously as in previous years.  The acorns were all but absent on several down hill sections but the walnuts were plentiful in others.  The Red trail provide a wide variety of things underfoot for runners to stumble over.  I'm happy to report I traveled it unscathed.
Having so much fun, I didn't stop at the first aid station at all.  Then at the second I grabbed a cup of coke and half a banana and ran off thanking the cheerful volunteers. 
Green Trail
As Red turned to Green the theme went from single track goat trail to rocky root littered creek crossings.  My mind wanders frequently while running the Green trail.  At first I'm lost in memories of previous year's of the race.  Remembering the first year when I got confused about the markings through the low laying section.  This year I laugh at the memory of getting lost on what is one of the most well marked races I run.  My internal laughter lights my spirits.  I am alone during the majority of the race but I am filled with such happiness to once again be here that I often find myself talking out loud.  I say a few prayers for those that can not be on the trails with me this day.  I remember Michelle passing me through the Green section one year and think of her working on her own kind of marathon this year.  My thoughts cover many people and things that have happened throughout the past year; the blessing of having my sister start running and fall in love with it, the new friend met and old ones lost, the birth of babies, the illness, the healings...  My wind is given the gift of time to wander throughout this section as I splash across one stream after another.  But  soon I recognize the end of this section is near and the climb to the oasis aid station begins.  I see that my mind wandering has slowed my pace and I arrive at the oasis later than I wanted on the clock but uplifted.
The Oasis
This would be the only aid station that I stopped at for more than a minute.  To this point I had only been fueling from my pack with the exception of a cup of coke and banana pieces.  I always thanked the cheering volunteers as I went by the aid stations.  Kevin, the RD had such a great group of volunteers helping throughout the course.  Many of whom I would see at multiple aid stations.  Having run the race every year, seeing them was almost like having family at each pit stop.  Knowing that each and every one of them has given much more than just their day to help support me and the many other runners it feel inadequate to simply say thank you because without them this would just be another race.  Their presence makes this race feel like a reunion of friends.  Thank you to everyone who help guide the way, clear the trail, fuel my body, lift my spirits and fill my heart with all your acts of kindness.
Fire Roads

I left the oasis knowing the experiences I have had with the fire roads.  So I wasted no time answering another nature call because I had plans to make up a bit of time on what becomes a very boring section.  Well, what used to become a boring section.  This year I ran the first mile setting up my music.  I debated about using it.  The sounds of nature are all part of why I am out there in the first place but I knew I need to run so I popped my ear buds in and well, I think I may have embarrassed or amused those I passed.  I danced and sang my way through the forest roads.  The look on the aid station volunteer's faces was priceless.  I think they wanted to dance with me.  I pause only to offer my thanks and grab a quarter of pbj.  It's uphill as I leave the aid station and I know there is still far more rocky road to travel before hitting the purple trail so I take off cranking up my music to help drowned out the screams from my tired legs.
Purple Trail
If I was going to get sentimental I would have thought it would happen on the purple trail not the wet green trail.  I remember a tree along the purple section very fondly although I'm sure it's still missing me as I didn't need to visit it this year.  I remember a kind face at an aid station which appeared in the middle of no where.  This that kind face was a familiar one too.  Lindsay was behind the lens of her camera when a fellow runner and I approached.  The aid station was moved slightly to a new overlook and there she was happily clicking away.  (Thanks Lindsay for all the great shots!)  She had been at several other spots along the course.  Another unbelievable perk of this very amazing race, photos.  I chatted with Lindsay and finally added a little water to my pack.  A final nature call and we were off running again through the final miles of the race. 
Sadly I broke my own rule in these last miles.  Knowing that I was be very lucky to hit any time goals I had for the day, I hadn't looked at my watch since the Oasis.  When my trail companion asked what mile we were at I wouldn't even look.  Instead I said what a runner never wants to hear.  I said, I think we are close.  I must have said it three or four times.  So to the young man who was victim to my cheery chattiness, I'm so sorry.  (yes, I talked so much that I didn't even get his name)  But we did make our way to that final hill which lead to the most beautiful clearing.  The smell of the fire and the grill, the sounds of people talking and the cheers as the began to rise as we broke through the clearing were some of the best things of the day.  I dropped my pack and was handed a piece of wood for the final victory lap around the edge of the clearing. 
Time didn't matter anymore somewhere in these FOTM miles I found a new love for this course and the people who take part in it and those who support me so that I can be a part of something so special. 
It all started with one person telling me, "You can do that."   I awoke to a tiny slip of paper.  As I tossed the little piece of wood into the fire I thought about how big all these little things really are.  Those encouraging words, a tiny note, a simple stick of wood.  They all serve such a bigger purpose.  Those little things all bound us together as family and friends.  That's what FOTM is that other races are not.  It's a family of trail runners coming home for a day together in the woods.
  Maybe next year you will want to come home too.
FOTM 2013