Saturday, December 8, 2012

My First 25k, Longest Race to Date

There are so many trail races to choose from here in Washington, it’s dizzying. But one race that particularly stuck out was the Deception Pass 25k, a sold-out race that takes place in Deception Pass State Park on both Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands, which are beautiful pieces of land nestled in the Puget Sound. The 15.5 mile course is a mixture of dense forests, mountain tops and beach fronts.

Fortunately, with the help of race director, James Varner of Rainshadow Running, I was able to enter. So, three weeks before the race, we plugged the course into our Garmin and went to check it out. One of the allures to runners is the famous Deception Pass Bridge which racers have to run over twice. There is a narrow strip of sidewalk and a thin metal beam that separates you from the rushing tidal flow and whirlpools 180 feet below. To tell you I was terrified is an understatement. I have an intense fear of bridges, whether it’s walking, running, biking or driving over them. Our first trial run was a particularly windy day and crowded with tourists. Since this was my first time running over the bridge, I was very anxious. I grabbed hold of Tad’s arm/shirt with my over-sized mitten and shielded my eyes with the other hand. It is very difficult to run with no arms and no vision in single file while holding on for dear life. Tad was getting frustrated because I was knocking him into the railing. The more he yelled the more freaked out I was. Eventually we got over it. Whew. Longest quarter mile of my life.

The course covers pretty much every inch of the park in six “lollipops” and loops.  After several wrong turns, backtracks, and a cliff scaling, we figured out five of the six loops with the help of fellow Bhamsters who happened to be out on the course (Thanks, Al and the gang!) and left markings on the trail that directed us where to go. The last four mile loop left us scratching our heads and exhausted so we gave up and decided to try again another day.

We like knee socks

The second attempt went much smoother. Accompanied by my good friend and ex-Mountaineer teammate, Stephanie, we came up with a much more humane approach to crossing the bridge. Positive self-talk and the proper hand-holding technique got us over safely without causing too much of a scene. We nailed the first five loops, but we got lost again on the last loop.

Steph's First Trail Run
 On our third visit, a week before the race, Tad and I did a 4 mile up-tempo run on the last loop of the course. No bridge crossing needed. Three times is the charm. We jogged the loop first and finally got it right. So from the bridge we averaged 8-minute pace for four miles which felt close to race effort. Now I felt as prepared as I was going to be. Time to race!

Ever notice the night before an important race your mind and body is ultra-heightened to the senses? I swear I could hear every WWU college party last night from five blocks over. My bed was so uncomfortable no matter my positioning and I was constantly itchy. Ah well, I guess that’s why they say it’s the night before the night before’s sleep that counts.

We arrived at the race shortly after 7:00am for an 8:00am start. It was just starting to get light out. I picked up my number, made a couple of bathroom stops and had time for a 1.5 mile warm-up. I decided on my Inov-8 F-Lites because I knew the rocks were going to be slick and the course wasn't going to be muddy. The F-Lites are perfect due to their low profile tread. On the starting line, James Varner cautioned all of the runners that this was the most confusing course, but the most scenic, but the most dangerous of all his trail races. We took off on the roads for a mile before turning onto the singletrack. I went out in 7:30-something, which felt much better than the cross country race two weeks ago! The three miles leading up to the bridge was uneventful and Tad was faithfully there to hold my hand as we crossed. Then I jumped the guardrail to start a series of out and back loops. At this point, there was one woman in front of me that I was running with.  I passed her on the first of the 4 loops. As I entered the second loop, I turned to see that the trail of people that were just behind me were gone. WTF moment #1. I stopped, waited a bit, thought it was very strange because I knew I was going the right way. I asked the leading men as they were coming back for reassurance. They said I was on course and I ran that whole loop alone. When I got to the first water stop at loop 3, someone yelled “Great job; you’re the second woman!” WTF moment #2. How did I get in second if I wasn't passed? As I was contemplating this, the woman who I had passed on the first loop had already done the third loop before I even got there. At this point I was really confused because I couldn't understand how this could be. My miles were right on and I was running hard, under my goal pace. I then saw Tad and was ready to explain to him that I didn’t know how I got so far behind, but he said that she missed a loop and as I was heading back from the third loop, she was backtracking. I figured she must have realized her mistake and was going back to fix it. Ok, justice is served, things are fine. I proceeded for the next couple miles picking my way through the men, feeling really strong on the steep ascents. I met Tad to go back over the bridge and then I was able to have fun and race without the fear of the bridge crossings on my back. 

Finishing in 2:18.54
With about 4.5 mile left, I confidently ran the loop that we just tempoed the week before. That is, until I got to the top of the biggest hill on the course where men were running in circles around the same spot Tad and I got lost practicing the course. I followed a man down a trail that was overgrown, clearly not the right way so I whipped around straight into a low hanging branch. Surprised, but not unconscious, I scrambled back up to where I started and like a guardian angel, Tad was there directing the way. After that, it was smooth sailing to the finish. I crossed the finish line and saw the same woman who had gotten off course and ahead of me earlier in the race standing there. WTF moment #3. Apparently a group of runners took another wrong turn, cutting off a large portion of the course. I was excited about my performance and expected a big hug and kiss from Tad, but instead he was trying to help clear the misunderstanding. After some discussion, it became apparent where they missed the course.  Regardless of the confusion, I was happy to win and break the previous course record by about 15 minutes.  I will be able to take several minutes off next time, not just because of stopping and hesitating, but because I started out a little more conservative than I needed to. This was my first stab at a 25K so the future looks promising for this distance and beyond.
Fantastic Glenn Tachiyama photo!
Thanks to Rainshadow Running for showcasing some of the world’s best landscape in a twisty turny gnarly trail race. I’m excited to start preparing for the Fragrance Lake 20k on February 17th…after a good meal and a big nap, of course. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Short and Sweet XC Season

My cross country season opened and closed at the Canadian Cross Country National Championships in Vancouver, BC. Due to the big move across country I wasn’t able to plan a complete season this year and so specific training leading up to this race was minimal. Regardless, it was fun to jump into this race, especially because three of my ex-Mountaineer teammates were on the line with me. All Canadians, Stephanie Aldea, Kate Harrison and Jessica O’Connell all showed up to vie for a spot on the team to represent their country at the world championship in Poland. The clouds opened up and we were treated to quintessential cross country weather: mid-40’s and sunny skies. The course, however, was 75% mud pit due to the rain storms that came through at the beginning of the week.

Kate Harrison
Steph Aldea

Jess O'Connell

All three had spectacular races with Kate finishing in 2nd, Jess 13th and Steph 14th. I finished the 7k course in 25:58, good for 36th place. The cool thing was I was just a couple heads behind ultra-running phenom, Ellie Greenwood, who just won and broke the JFK 50 miler record last weekend. I had the opportunity to speak to her at the finish line; she was as nice as could be and I was exciting to take a picture with her. 

Wishing everyone would slow down!
Ellie and me at the finish line
My feet and legs are definitely feeling the spikes this morning as I prepare to do my long run. We are heading to Deception Pass State Park to prepare for my final race of the year, the Deception Pass 25k on December 8th. I'm confident that this race won't go out in 5:20-pace so I will be feeling much more in my element.

Me and Steph celebrating at Boundary Bay Brewery

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Hello, Bellingham

Before loading up the Escape to embark on the journey across country, I braced myself for what I thought was going to be a miserable experience, highlighted by cheap hotels and crappy food and lots of Marc Maron. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised by beautiful landscapes, gorgeous weather, great deals from Hotwire and Expedia and meals that fit my picky needs. We took advantage of the trip and stopped at many cool places to run including Dowdy Draw in Boulder, Colorado, the Colorado National Monument in Grand Junction Colorado, Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake and Cowiche Canyon in Yakima, Washington. 

Our "POD" loaded up and ready to go.

Hays, Kansas sunset.

Passing through the Rockies at 12,000 feet.

View of the Flatirons from Boulder, Colorado.
Down in the Cowiche, Canyon.

Living on the edge in the Colorado National Monument.

Top of Frary Peak Trail on Antelope Island, SLC.
After the 7 day drive, we decided to get initiated into the Bellingham running scene by competing in the Padden Mudfest, a 10k trail run around Lake Padden. Temperatures were in the upper 50’s with a light drizzle. I wore my old-school Inov-8 F-lite 335’s, as my other pairs are still in transit. The race was put on by the Greater Bellingham Running Club and many locals showed up to get up, down and dirty as the course had two big climbs and constant rolling and turning. Luckily I tied my shoes tight enough to prevent them from getting sucked off into the 6-inch deep mud pits. I started conservative, as I usually do, and passed 3 women before the first hill and then the first place woman at mile 2. From then on it was me and the boys. I finished first female and 8th overall in 47:29. The post-race spread was organic roasted red pepper soup or chili and fresh-baked bread donated from the local bakery, Great Harvest. This was a great start to my Pacific Northwest racing career and I look forward to the many opportunities it has to offer. 

Lovin' the Pacific Northwest.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Good Bye, Morgantown

Mount Baker: the view from my new back door. 

After 24 years of growing up in Morgantown, West Virginia, I am packing up my bike and running shoes and heading out to the Pacific Northwest- Bellingham, Washington to be exact. Why Bellingham? It is an hour and a half north of Seattle, an hour south of Vancouver, a two hour drive to North Cascades National Park and a ferry ride to the Olympic Mountains. 

My Chevy Cavalier 

Morgantown is a great place to live, and I am truly going to miss it. I am going to miss not only my family and friends, but also the one-of-a-kind places to eat like Black Bear, Richwood Grill and New Day Bakery. I am going to miss the energy that escalates through the town on football Saturday and the hometown pride expressed by every native. I am going to miss my silver Chevy Cavalier, my trusty station wagon of 7 ½ years.  A big thanks to my dad for keeping her running and picking me up when she left me stranded. Leaving Morgantown has made my realize how many special people I have in my life and how lucky I am to be a part of this community.

View from Cooper's Rock State Forest, WV
Even though I am trading in the musket for a horned helmet (Western Washington Vikings), I will always be a Mountaineer. I promise to be a positive representative of our state in whatever I do. I realize that Washington will be a big change, and I am certain homesickness is inevitable.  It will be an adventure and a true test of growth and maturity. And if I don’t like it, I know the country roads will be here to take me home.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Run for the Hills!

This weekend I was the first female to finish and was second overall at the Run for the Hills! Half Marathon put on by the West Virginia Mountain Trail Runners and The Mountain Institute in the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area in West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest.  For the Ultras (not me!) the half was Day 3 of the West Virginia Trilogy, a three day stage race that included a 50 kilometer run on day one, 50 miles on day two and 13.1 miles on day three. I have lived in West Virginia all my life, but have never been to Spruce Knob which, at 4,863 feet, is the highest point in the state and the summit of Spruce Mountain, the highest peak in the Allegheny Mountains. 

We stayed in Canaan Valley the night before so had a good hour’s drive the morning of the race. The weather was perfect in the upper 40’s and sunny. After a quick 2-mile warm up and a hug from my good friend, Phil, the race was off at 9:00 am.

The race itself was a lonely one, not having anyone close by in front of me or behind me. I battled leaf-covered rocks and branches, climbed four barbed-wire fences and traversed four streams in my Inov-8 Roclite 285’s all while looking for orange ribbons located sporadically throughout the course. There were two out and backs during the race that allowed for encouragement from fellow racers and reassurance that I was not out there alone. I crossed the finish line in just over one hour and 40 minutes, which is 7 minutes faster than the previous course record. Having won the race, I was awarded with an awesome hand-crafted mug that was made by local artists.

I am very happy with my race, but also glad that I had the opportunity to visit such a beautiful part of West Virginia that I had not seen before. I will be leaving West Virginia in two weeks so this was a perfect opportunity for me to really appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of where I came from.  Having deprived myself during training and now having earned it, I get to celebrate with my last peanut butter and chocolate chip biscotti at New Day!

A gorgeous fall day presented West Virginia at its best.

*Tad Davis Photos

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Home Court Advantage

This morning I got to wake up in my own bed and drive 20 minutes to Cooper’s Rock State Forest ( for the third annual Coopers Rock Stump Jump! 10K Trail Run.

Tad and I previewed the course on Wednesday, thanks to race director Nathan Kile’s great course directions. Part of the course was on a trail where I do many training runs so it was nice to be on familiar territory. What a difference it makes going into a race confident of the footing and knowing where all of the twists, turns and climbs are located.

The race start was at 8:30am so I got up before 5:30am to try to get my body awake and moving. It was so nice to prepare in my apartment rather than a hotel room. We got to the course; I registered and then started my warm-up of 2.5miles. It was very humid this morning with temperatures in the mid-70’s. There was a solid turn-out for the race, considering we were sharing the day with WVU’s first home football game against in-state rival Marshall. After the chaos of the start, I found my rhythm sandwiched between two men that helped me keep an honest pace throughout the race. I felt very strong today and was able to keep pushing it. Because the course was so close to home, I was able to have a small fan base that included my mom and dad and Tad’s parents. The cheers of my family definitely made a difference and put an extra skip in my step each time I ran by them. I wore the Inov-8 Roclite 285’s, as did a handful of other competitors. They held up extremely well over the rocky singletrack terrain. I finished first female, third overall and broke the women’s course record by almost 7 minutes.

I am very pleased with my performance today coming off of last week’s 10k trail championship. I felt a lot better and I’m glad I had the opportunity to support a local trail race. Thanks to Nathan Kile and the race volunteers for organizing a great event and to all of the race sponsors. I look forward to visiting Morgantown Running ( with my $50 gift certificate soon and buying a new pair of Inov-8's!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Conquering the Continental Divide

Going into the USATF 10k trail championships in Laurel Springs, NC my body was feeling pretty good. I have been running between 40-50 miles a week (gradually building up after weeks of injury) with 2-3 bike rides and intense yoga practice. I had been receiving a technique called Bowenwork for the past several months. It is a holistic, soft-tissue technique that relaxes and returns the body to homeostasis. Melita Mollohan, a certified Bowenwork practitioner, has her own practice in Morgantown called Zen from Within ( Melita applies light pressure over tendons, muscles and nerve bundles that allows the brain to connect with your body promoting restoration and healing. Since Bowenwork I am not as beat up after hard workouts and am able to recovery more quickly.  Even when my muscles are fatigued, my stride has full range of motion.  Melita is very passionate in all that she does and it really comes across in her efforts to heal. If you are ever in the Morgantown area, I recommend that you check her out or find a local Bowenwork practitioner near you!

Tad and I left for Laurel Springs early on Friday morning and got to the course around 3:00pm. A hard rain just let up leaving rocks and roots nice and slippery. Every running course, be it cross country, trail or mountain is tough if you put in your maximum effort, but this course is TOUGH. It shows no mercy as it either snakes violently downhill, climbs uphill or transitions to cross country racing. Admittedly, I was especially nervous going into this race because the memory of running it last year still stung in my muscles. We jogged the entire course and walked the tough climbs to make sure I remembered where I was going. We stayed in Sparta, NC which was about 20 minutes away from the course. There isn’t much going on in Sparta other than a really nice Food Lion and a hip coffee joint called Backwoods Bean.  I got a perfectly brewed (3 minutes) green tea from a barista who apparently has studied British brewing techniques. Little did I know that this tea would keep me wide awake until the wee hours of the night. Ugh. Rather than eating at one of the local fast food eateries, Tad and I brought our camping stove and cooked up the perfect pre-race pasta in the comfort of our hotel room. Delicious!
Penne with Veggies

After only a couple hours of sleep, I woke to my 6:15am alarm, ate my breakfast and got packed up. We got to the course in time to pick up my packet and watch the men’s race. As the runners waited for the women’s 10:15am start, I was able to chat with fellow competitors, friends and racing staff. One thing that I love about this race in particular is the very kind people that come to it. Everyone is always extremely friendly, supportive and enthusiastic. We are all able to bond over this brutal course. Misery loves company.

Almost to 4 miles

After “On your mark, go!” we took off downhill for ¾ mile before starting to climb and meander through the woods. Right away the leaders, Megan Kimmel and Amber Moran, took off out of sight. After the mile I was left to navigate the woods alone for the remainder of the race. Luckily I had the supportive cheers of the race staff that were strategically located at critical junctures on the course to prevent wrong-ways. I wore the most trusted Inov-8 X-talon 190’s. They kept me on my feet when the trails started to slope down the mountain from the wear and tear of runners. At about 4.5 miles my body really started to fatigue so I just tried to run strong to the finish. I ran a solid race, 52:58, placing third behind Megan (1st) and Amber (2nd). My time was over a minute slower than last year, but that is not surprising given the setbacks I have had this spring and early summer.

After a 1.5 mile crawl for a cool down, we enjoyed the awards ceremony over complimentary blueberry smoothies courtesy of Sheetz. After pictures and goodbyes we headed back to Morgantown exhausted, pleased and content. Thank you to Jason and Alison Bryant for doing such a fantastic job organizing this event. The day was a success and I will reluctantly, given the tough course, look forward to next year.

Megan Kimmel, Amber Moran, Maria Dalzot

Pictures courtesy of Tad Davis

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A Runner Again

After a 6 hour delay in Minnesota, Tad and I made it to our hotel just north of Seattle at 3:30am eastern time. We got up the next morning and had a lovely run on the trails of Japanese Gulch in Mukilteo. We got to Vancouver just in time for dinner due to the horrendous city traffic.

The next morning we found fellow teammate and 2:38 marathoner Michelle Suszek. The three of us drove up to Cypress Mountain Ski Area, site of the 2010 winter Olympics, to check out the last 2 miles of the NACAC Mountain Running Championship course. We were in for a doozey: 1200 meters of a boulder-field climb, slick granite faces, chimney cracks, a waste-deep mud pit and a screaming technical downhill finish.

We had dinner with Amber and Chris, who we got to know and love at last year's NACAC championship. We had a delicious dinner at a little Italian place, Carmelo's, and then stopped at Whole Food's to pick up our pre-race breakfasts.

The morning of the race, we woke to overcast skies and a steady rain. Our caravan left the hotel at 7:30am and proceeding to the starting line at Horseshoe Bay. We were lucky enough to get a spot at the trail-head parking lot, as it was only capable of holding a dozen cars. The race began just after 9:00am with about 45 participants. Up we went for approximately 3,000 feet elevation gain. Given the last race (Loon Mountain) and having only been able to run healthy for 2 weeks, I wasn't sure what to expect. I started out following close behind Amber and we soon caught Michelle. I figured she was having a bad race due to her bed bug nightmare ( I stayed within eye-shot of Brandy (2012 Mountain Running World Team member) for about 2 miles and then Amber and I took turns leading and watching out for trail markings. I felt very happy to be close to Amber (3rd at 2011 NACAC and just missed making the world team last year). She was a huge comfort for me; given the technical course and how hard it is to watch for markers, I definitely didn't want to be on my own.

Tad caught up to us at the top of the boulder field and then took off all the way to the finish. I was able to keep up with Amber until the steep descent to the finish and then she bolted. Coming around the final turns, I felt like a runner again. I felt strong in my stride and proud of my performance.

Brandy finished as the1st overall woman just over 2 minutes ahead of us, Tad was 45 seconds ahead of me and I was 15 seconds behind Amber (2nd) finishing as 3rd overall woman. We took home the gold and the U.S. men took second to Canada again this year. I wore the Inov8 Roclite 285's that never let me falter despite the mud and slippery rocks.
Our post-race celebration was on the outside patio of Earl's, a hip restaurant within walking distance of the hotel. I had such a nice time relaxing and breaking bread with such a great group of people. I am very thankful to be a part of this team and this experience. These men and women have such positive influence on me and really appreciate and enjoy their lives. Thanks to USATF team managers Nancy Hobbs and Richard Bolt-looking forward to next time!

Nancy Hobbs & Richard Bolt Photos