Daily Chatter

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

2014 The Hat Run Race Report

This time of year winter fights so hard to stay as spring struggles to get some traction. It reminds me to dig deeper when things get tough. No matter how long it takes, eventually just as winter will turn to spring, I will see each of my challenges through.  I kept this thought in mind as I walked to pick up my race bib the morning of the 2014 HAT Run 50k.  It was a thought more of my challenges to come than the HAT 50k I was about to run.  It seems as though I have been preparing for a race that never comes for such a long time.  And it has been a long time, nearing two years now since I first started to train for the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100.  Every race has been in preparation for that one event and day in the woods has been to train myself for the conditions I would face over that day and a half.  The downside to all that focused training was a bit of a loss of my joy for simply running.  But today as I parked my truck and walked to pick up my bib greeted by some many friendly faces I was determined to simply run for the fun of it. 
I focused on gathering with trail friends and being surrounded by so trail legends who frequent the HAT Run each year.  Quickly I found D and we dropped our bags at the pavilion aid station.  The pavilion station would be our start, finish and aid station twice as we passed through it four times  This year I head my own advice and leave my hydration pack in the aid station for the first small loop.
In classic HAT fashion roughly 450 runners gather in an open field and are given our last instructions before starting our first out and back and then hitting the tree line for a small loop.  I line up with P and D but lose P in front of me and D behind.  With tight single track and a large field of runners, pace is quickly set by those in front.  I relax into an easy pace and work on passing runners when possible and necessary but I'm focused on simply enjoying this first short loop.  The day is quickly warming and trail conditions are great.
I pass through the pavilion aid station and pause only to grab my hydration pack and head out for the first of two 14 mile loops.  It doesn't take long to hit the first creek crossing.  The course is a nice roller coaster of hills, descents and flats.  Runners around me are mostly quiet so I focus on just finding a steady pace and enjoying the scenery. 

Having been fortunate enough to run this race before I was nice to be familiar with the course but that didn't take away my urge to pause to snap photos of some of the interesting spots along the way.
The quick photos I snap do not do justice to the beautiful of the trails and trees I am running through.  I wonder if I am lucky enough to still be running as the decades pass if I will always find these things so amazingly beautiful.   

It is beginning to get warm and I have had little time to adjust to the warmer temperatures.  It is early in the day and I am already covered with salt.  I make a quick stop at the aid station to grab some salty fries which the HAT Run is famous for.  Not my typical race day fueling option but a fun staple while running the HAT.  I continue on knowing the gravel road section is coming quickly.  The trail section goes by quickly.  I am still running with other runners, moving through groups as I pass and get passed.  While on the road I chat with a few runners but mostly run alone since my pace is faster than it should be.  But thanks to a quick pace I am entering the aid station in no time and limbo under the hitching post just for the fun of it.  I grab some fluids and salty calories and even sample a fresh perogie.  Yum! 
It really does go beyond aid stations, it's really a need to thank all the volunteers who helped make my day of playing in the woods possible.  The race directors who deal with all the permits and politics necessary to put on an event at this level really do much more than work on race day and I know they are not alone.  Dozens and dozens of volunteers give their time long before race day to make this all happen for 500 lucky runners.  So thank you all, to the race directors, Phil, Tim, Mike and Jeff, the countless volunteers, Maryland DNR, the State Park, the rangers and the families who gave of their time to be out cheering not only for their runners but for every runner who passed.

Every year I forget the next 5 miles.  I only remember the giddiness of the trail and tuck those less then favorable memories deep in a corner of my mind.  But as I leave the aid station that sense of déjà vu sweeps over me and I know that the most challenging miles of the race are in front of me. 

I focus on enjoying the views and keeping my effort consistent.  The chatter is mostly mine and I remember not to linger too long with any one runner and get stick running their pace.  It's great to see faces I remember as I move along the trail.  Including Phil Anderson (the A in HAT) who is sitting at the bottom of our last climb as we enter Phil's Forest.  He greets everyone with a smile and a handshake.  The final section goes quickly as I enter the final open hay field that leads to the pavilion aid station and the final loop.

As I top the hay field I see Tim Gavin and ask if I can use my poles on the second loop since the runners will be more spread out.  He gives me an "are you crazy look" but says yeah, just don't stab anyone.  I grab some fluids, some calories and my poles and head out again.  I run over an open field lengthening my poles.  Although the HAT course is not really one where you would need poles, I need the practice of holding them, adjusting them, and using them so that my mind and arms are ready to use them during MMT.  Today will be practice for running with them when I don't really want them in my hands.

This loop goes much like the first with the exception that there are fewer runners to alter my pace.  Somewhere along the loop Natalie and I start running together.  We have mutual friends.  This is her first ultra distance event and she is making it look easy.  I most likely talk more than she does and she is kind enough to listen to my chatter.  This loop I do not pause for photos.  I am simply enjoying the moments like when the trail falls silent and all I hear is the sound of my feet and the birds in the air.  I notice the rising sound of water each time the trail draws near a creek and the smell that says the water is getting closer.  I eavesdrop on fellow runners as the trail winds higher.  I can hear their distant voice raising.  I see the wind stir the leaves along the trail and watch the sun cut it's way through the branches that lay bare.  I breath it all in.  I think back to the thoughts I had this morning, that I had lost some the joy in my running and realize that I couldn't have been farther from the truth.   

As I saw that small opening in an old field row that leads to an open hay field, I remembered how lucky I am.  Lucky not only to be able to be doing this but to do this for all the reasons that matter.  I simply love to run through the trails, across the creeks and around the next turn to see just how far my body will take me. 
My fourth HAT Run 50k done.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Catherine's 8

The later start of the Catherine's 8 was a wonderful thing.  With only a hour drive, meeting at 7:45 made a much easier start to my day.  However I wish I had used my extra time to check out the temperatures.  I arrived at the 211 parking lot with plenty of time to spare but with a little less on than I would have liked for the incredibly low temps.  After rummaging through my car I finally found a hat which I hoped would help hold in a little heat through the miles.

The course was a figure 8 with a twice visited aid station in the center.  There would be plenty of climbing to allow me to enjoy the beautiful views although I didn't indulge in as many photos as I wanted to take.  I needed to keep moving to stay warm.

The course also offered far more water crossings than I had expected but they were beautiful and largely manageable without completely soaking my feet.

Catherine's Furnace

The first section left me surprised at the challenge the cold, water and climbs were dishing out.

But any run with hot soup at the aid station is top notch to me. 

The wettest section of the run was the last section after my second pass through the aid station.  I loved the turn sheet for this event.  I never had a moment of question about where I needed to be with the clear directions.  Many times I would be on familiar trail, having run it during MMT or on a training run.   
As I ran through the endless creek crossings in the low laying trail I knew that the parking lot was fast approaching.  My day in the woods was quickly coming to an end.  I knew as I finished that this will be a run I will do it again next year in the hopes that that day will greet me warmly. 


Caroline Furnace to Signal Knob - MMT Training Run

If you think you see a mix of emotions in my face you would be right.  As I woke at the ridiculously early hour to get ready and drive an hour and a half to the meeting point at the Signal Knob parking lot, my emotions were indeed a mix.  My eagerness to be on the trails was tempered by my knowledge of how tough this training run would be. 

The drive was happily uneventful and I arrived at Signal Knob before 6 a.m.  Having arrived early I gathered my gear and stayed warm in my car until the run director arrived.  After checking in and dropping on my aid station supplies.  I was happy to see that Siobhan, Lisa and Mark had suffered from the same insanity and shown up to brave the snowy trails. 

Graciously Kevin squeezed 9 of us in his van and shuttled us to our starting point at Caroline Furnace.  It was nice to talk and get to know a few other runners as the day began to brighten.  Once we arrived no time was wasted and we quickly got out final instructions and were sent up Moreland Road for the first 3+ miles of icy climbing fun. 
I was not happy to see that my Garmin would not turn on.  Having last year's paces for comparison I was eager to see if "knowing" the course would help me better tackle the route.  As it would turn out, ultra running remains akin to childbirth in the what is remembered department.

Over the first 11 miles we enjoyed the majority of the deep snow that would be on the course that day.  The trip up and over Short Mountain was made more delightful by a wonderfully dry thick blanket of snow. 

With the majority of the climbing in the first half of the run I simply enjoyed the scenery and got to know the trail brethren I happened to be running with.  Our training run happened to coincide with the day to pay for entry into MMT if you had "won" the lottery or wanted to join the wait list.  Many of my fellow runners were making decisions about whether they would be clicking that Pay Now button for MMT.  I reminded some of them that this was only the first official training run and that after spending more time on the trails their definition of challenging would be reframed. 

Happily we reaching the aid station at Edinburg Gap.  Quickly I refueled, said my thank you and heading back to the trail to begin the next section.  This next 8ish miles began to get warm.  While it was nice to remove some layers the melting snow and softening ground made for some greasy footing.  It didn't take long to know that I was going to have two sun burnt ears before I arrived at Woodstock. 

I had settled in for the most part with a group of four runners.  Through climbs and descents I would float between them.  As we made our way to Woodstock we passed several groups of runners I knew the young man I was chatting with was setting a fast pace but I held on and was happy to have pushed the effort for those miles.

As we exited the trail we discovered that we would need to run down the road to access the aid station to check in.  As always the VHTRC supported the runners in style.

The final section seemed to go on forever.  My trail company now consisted of Alvin and Dani.  They would endure my chatter the remaining miles into the finish.  Often as was made our way I would have to double check the turn sheet simply because I felt like we were on one particular section too long.  This section, although not technically as hard as some, was a reminder of just how mental MMT can be.  After what seemed like 10 miles we were finally off the orange trail and turning right onto the blue trail.  I hugged the blazed tree so happy to be headed back onto single track.  Then I started up the blue trail.  At first I was giddy.  I love to climb.  I wish I could do it every day, all day.  In theory.  But in reality that climb on tired legs seemed to never top out.  I would push to keep my pace up only to remind myself of the miles of downhill trail I would have once we reached the top.  I laughed at myself for forgetting this climb. 
It seems that I have selective memory on the more challenging sections of MMT and the training runs.  Like a new mother remembers childbirth but the sharpness of that discomfort is softened by the joy of her new child.  MMT seems to do that to me.  I know it's challenging.  I know it is painful.  But I also know that it is uplifting.  It is rewarding.  It is amazing.  And it is something that changes you in having done it.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Boyers Furnace 40 Run Report

Ready for the long drive to the start
After a phone call that began, "First off, I'm alright." it was no wonder I didn't sleep much in the few hours I could have slept prior to the Boyers Furnace 40.  The super secret spy had been in a minor accident back home while I was preparing for my race.  My restless night was caused more by the concern whether I should still be running than it was from any worry that the race would be challenging.  But with his reassurance that he was okay I gathered my gear and headed out into the darkness.

Being late also meant I got to see the sweeper, Diane.
I often say that my biggest worry about each race is simply getting there on time.  Boyer Furnace provided me with practice on what happens when you don't get there on time.  I was the last person to arrive.  I started about 18 minutes late.  One wrong turn will do that.  Luckily being the last one to arrive had it's perks.  Alan was generous enough to give me a drive to the start with all my aid station donations and gear.  It was only three tenths of a mile but not having to carry everything and potentially make two trips was a real help.  Thanks Alan.

The sun rising over the mountains
After dropping my aid station donations and drop bag, I was off running to catch up with the runners.  First I caught up with Diane who would be sweeping the course.  We chatted for a while but I soon had to continue on to attempt to get a little closer to the pack of runners.

Finally starting to warm up
Within the first five miles I had caught up with other runners.  I fell into pace with a gentleman and he and I passed several runners.  He chatted with me about the history of the area as we ran over the trails.  As the sun was rising and the day was beginning to warm we paused to remove a layer at the top of a climb.  While we were enjoying the scenery two female runners caught up to us.  I told them I would catch them and they continued on as I finished gathering my gear.  I enjoyed running solo for a while and only hearing my lone footfalls on the fallen leaves.  I came to a split in the trail where a pink trail went left off the orange blazed Massanutten Trail.  For a moment I wondered if the other runners had taken that trail but, not seeing anyone I continued to follow the orange trail happy to have the forest serenity all to myself.
Mile 12.  Wonderful aid station volunteers.  Hot soup!
After some miles I heard voices ahead of me on the trail.  I would catch glimpses of two female runners as the trail weaved through the forest.  Certain that they were the runner I had been with earlier I quicken my pace to catch them.  However they were not the runners from earlier, it was Katie and Tracy.  Two wonderful trail companions that I would share the majority of the remaining day with. 

A quick shirt change at the mile 21 aid station
Tracy, Katie and I ran together into the mile 21 aid station.  The pace felt relaxed and with no need to push I enjoyed getting to know my trail companions.  We chatted about Whole30, running plans,  and families.  We shared running stories.  Katie entertained us with a tale from one of her Laurel Highland experiences.  We discussed the interest techniques of all the dog-laden bear hunters we ran past.  The miles ticked away as we ran into the Camp Roo aid station.

Dave providing runners with peanut butter banana hor d'oeuvres
I grabbed a dry shirt from my drop bag and my headlamp.  Although we had made it Camp Roo under 5 hours I knew that the second half of the race would be much slower.  I ate some banana and a small cup of coke from the aid station and some apple sauce from my drop bag.  We all headed up the orange trail for the climb to the east ridge. 

Beautiful single track
As we climbed I seemed to hit a slightly faster pace than Tracy and Katie and felt comfortable so I continued to pull ahead.  I knew I would benefit from a little alone time under the trees. 

Amazing views
Running solo again I paused to take in the scenery, answer a nature call and simply enjoy where I was lucky enough to be.  My thoughts had never left the super secret spy.  I wondered how he was feeling and hoped the kids were being helpful.  His accident regardless of how minor was a reminder that I am so very blessed to be doing what I love to do.  Although a thread of guilt did run through me all day that I was out in this amazing place while he was uncomfortably recovering at home.  I knew that he wanted me to be getting everything I could from this run.  He wants to see me cross those finish lines more than anyone else so I pushed.

Loving being on the trail
 As I left the Camp Roo aid station I was told that the next 12 mile stretch was a tough one.  So I was determined to push to keep my effort up.  As we topped the climb and turned left to head to the ridge line I was surprisingly greeted with wide open trail to run.  It would take a while for the trail to narrow and climb to it's ultimate rocky ribbon of a trail and force my pace slower and slower as I took in the amazing views. 

 Doesn't do the view justice
Although I knew the turn sheet had 12 miles on the orange trail before the next mention of a trail change, I was still puzzled when I came onto a set a double pink ribbons on a side trail.  I ran a bit farther up the trail but returned to the ribbons and waited to Katie and Tracy to confirm the course.  It was a treat to sit and be still in the middle of the forest.  To listen to the nothing that was all around me.  Occasionally I'd hear a bird call or something crunch across the fallen leaves but mostly it was blissfully quiet.  Finally the girls arrived and confirmed that we were to stay on the ridge line through the next aid station at Milford Gap.

Orange blazes remind me that "I" can do this.
Once again I pulled ahead of the trail companions before running into Milford Gap but not before Paul passed me.  He was running as if rocks and a ribbon of trail were he native ground.  Paul and I chatted briefly and he was off to Milford.  Shortly after Paul's departure Alan caught up to me and we ran into Milford together.  I was so happy to reach the aid station.  The section had been hard and I had gotten the warmest of the day, going through all of my water.  I had chosen to only fill it with about 40 oz. at the race start and not top it off until Milford.  That choice was almost a bad one when I realized the aid station was almost out of water.  Luckily they had enough to give Alan and I enough to carry us through.  They did have super hot soup!  I enjoyed my third cup of soup for the day as I walked out the of aid station and into the next section.

Much of the ridge line was burnt
Boyers Furnace is considered a "fat ass" event.  That means you don't pay, you don't get a medal and the race is "limitedly supported."  VHTRC doesn't "limitedly support" anything in my experience.  The aid stations were abundant, cheerfully staffed and generously supplied.  At three aid stations I had warm soup which is my favorite fueling option!  The volunteers would helped support this race gave much more than just their day.  It takes more than just stand behind a table in the middle of the woods to pull off this level of support.  I can't thank everyone involved enough.  Thank you to Tony and Carter for organizing the event.  Also to Carter and Alan for opening their home to a group of less then clean but cheerful runners.  And many more thanks to all the volunteers who cheered us along the way. 

It's going to get dark
Back on the trail I was running solo again.  I could occasionally hear Katie and Tracy chatting in the distance but I moved along hoping I could make Veach Gap before darkness fell.  I knew that my pace would slow in the dark and I wanted to make as much ground as I could before that. 
The trail was IN the river! 
Thanks Katie K for the photo
As darkness fell my pace did slow and I ended up running with Katie and Tracy again.  The company was nice and the occasional chatter was welcome.  We made good progress down the blue/orange trail.  I had another moment of indecision as I pulled ahead again but thankfully the girls were close behind and we headed down the trail again together.  The trail had returned to the low lands and was wet shoe sucking mud running.  We were treated to some more company as we approached our final trail when we came upon Paul.  He waited when he wasn't sure where the yellow trail was.  He had good reason for question because the yellow trail actually continued within a river and headed downstream before existing the other side.  With our feet numb from the icy water we made our way to the trail end and a final aid station.  Tracy was surprised to see her husband waiting for her there.  I ate half a nearly frozen banana and we were off. 

Wet, cold and dirty but done.
The final section of race was a stretch that seemed to go on forever changing from trail to gravel road as we ran into the night.  After a challenging day in the woods we finally turned onto Carter's road and ran through her front yard and to her front porch, our finish line.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Fingers Crossed

Usually if I am the first one awake in the house I would be eager to sneak off for an early morning run but the first day of the New Year holds a different kind of anticipation for me.  Because this morning I woke up before everyone else to hold myself accountable to start this all over again.
Potential runners have until January 8th to enter their name for the lottery so there was no need to get up this morning after a very late night.  I could still be snuggle warm in my bed but I needed to do this.  I needed to put my hand up first and say, Pick Me! Pick Me!
The journey begins again.  Fingers Crossed.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Runner's New Year

The new year may be celebrated on December 31st at midnight with the raising of glasses and exchanging of kisses for most people but for runners the new year begins months earlier with spring race registration often starting before the first snow has covered the ground to herald in winter.  We sit under our laptops or have fingers poised above our tablets waiting for the moment to click register hoping the website doesn't crash before your entry is complete.  Maybe a few of those spring races are a little more old school and you mail in your entry form only to wait through the process to find out if your a runner or on the wait list.  It can all add to the challenge of a hectic holiday season!

Since I don't have much control over the registration process for the races I want to run, I focus on doing things that will help me minimize the negative effects of those sometimes frustrating processes. 

I make sure I know which races I want to include in my spring schedule and then I understand how their registration process works.  Do I get priority if I have run it before?  Will there be a lottery?  If I get in and can't run can I defer?  Do club members get early registration?  How long will I wait before I know if I am in or not?  Just like I research the race course, aid stations and conditions, I want to understand what it takes to get to run the event.

Focus on the positive
Once I know about the registration process I focus on everything I have that will help my chances of getting to run and I let go of everything else.  I don't complain on line or with running friends about the hoops that I have to run through to get registered.  I can't change it.  I can focus on meeting the requirements.

Get A Plan
I may not get into every race I register for but I will get into some of them so why not get a plan.  Whenever I have a little extra time I get out the calendar and pencil in the races I have/will register for and see how they all fit to help get me to my A race for the spring schedule.  I pencil in what plan B is for races that I might not get to run.  Will I do a long run with friends or plan to find another event to fill any gaps?

For me, the best piece of advice on surviving that Runner's New Year is consistency.  While many runners may enjoy a bit of a holiday taper, I try to keep my workouts consistent and maybe even add to them to help stay focused over the holiday season.  It takes creativity but runners are already great at "fitting it in."  Splitting a run, joining a challenge, starting an added cross training element , focusing on clean eating are all things I do over the holiday season to keep my fitness level and my enthusiasm up.

Your Runner's New Year or the holiday season doesn't have to derail your attitude or undermine your fitness.  As in all things it is simply the way we chose to look at it.  Chose to leave these season better than you started it.   

Want to see a little of what I've been doing? 
Click HERE

Monday, December 2, 2013

Construction Season

While we enjoyed our holiday time with family we got a sudden taste of winter with temperatures in the teens most mornings. 
The fridge temps did make for some beautiful scenery but they did not keep me from getting out and running with my sister.  Having a little company during a long run can help you forget how big a mistake it was to be a cheapskate and not buy the more expensive tights. 
Even once the sun was up I was glad I had on every piece of running gear I had brought with me.  And once the runs were done I enjoyed having a burning pellet stove to do all my cross training and stretching in front of. 

Four layers off and one to go, I wasn't too frozen to miss out on one exciting running event over the holiday break.  The beginning of 2014 race registration...
...and I'm in!  The road back to MMT 100 is under construction.  I think it's going to be a rocky, rooty, steep and challenging one.  So a little bit of suffering in the cold will only toughen me up.  Who knows with all the cold hilly running we are doing, my sister might just be ready to do some pacing on the trails by May.