Burning River 2019

I’ve been putting this post off, in part because I don’t even know where to begin. I’d heard of this race, having long wanted to do ultras, but hadn’t ever really considered it. Then BRF did it last year and I crewed for him and I absolutely fell in love with it. Became obsessed with the idea of doing it. Not just because he had done it–we have a friendly ‘anything you can do I can do faster’ competition–but I just fell in love with the atmosphere of the race, the race logo, the challenge of the race itself. So I set my sights on running it myself this year. I did a few other races put on by Western Reserve Racing at the end of last year, and I know that they run top notch but not always easy trail events. I registered for my 50-mile venture. I had friends offer to crew for me. I started training. Decided to do a 100k in June to boost my confidence for Burning River (I was really worried about the strict 15-hour time cut off). I did a lot of trail miles. And honestly, by the time the event came I was just ready to do it so I could stop thinking about it.

I felt confident going in. My crew was prepared and I was excited for the adventure. I started off a little too fast–but the first mile was on road and adrenaline took over. I eased up when we hit limestone and trail but settled into a nice pace. My goals were (A) finish before the cutoff, (B) beat Sean’s time (14:22…), and (C) beat 14 hours. I was cranking out well ahead of my 14 hour goal for a good many miles, and was thrilled. I take it one mile at a time when I’m out there–easier to just forget what the miles before held and focus on the one I’m in and doing the best I can with it. This strategy served me well at Eagle Up so I’m going to keep working with it. And honestly, I felt amazing. I was in my element. I was so happy and proud and I felt really really good. Until around mile 40. A lot of the last 10 miles was uphill. I was exhausted. I ran out of water with miles until the next stop. I was struggling. There was so much uphill and so little down that I wasn’t able to make up time and my pace was falling…I was relying on the time I’d banked from earlier miles to help me meet my goals. I eventually pulled out my phone and sent a desperate message to Sean–I needed encouragement and to get out of my own damn head. Quitting wasn’t an option, or even a real consideration, but I sure as hell was questioning my life choices. He talked me down, amped me back up, and I eventually got out of the literal woods. However…they had to change the course this year…and in doing so it was lengthened–by over a mile. So I didn’t just have 50 miles (or 50.2 as they usually do…) I had 51.2.

At the mile 45 aid station I was thrilled to see pizza and soda. I was starving. I needed salt. I needed a caffeine jolt. I needed to stop for a damn minute, though I wouldn’t let myself sit down for fear I wouldn’t get up. I was struggling so much at that point and my feet were killing me, I could feel the blisters. I ran into a more experienced ultrarunner friend who has been a great source of encouragement and inspiration on his way back out to finish the back 50 of his 100, and he told me I wasn’t alone, miles 40-50 had been hard on everyone he encountered, including himself. That made me feel a little better. I’d come this far, I sure as shit was going to finish the damn thing. I set back out for the last stretch and met up with some others who were feeling some kind of way about the extended distance. One of them had done the race with the old course and told me that this year was much more difficult, which also made me feel better. I passed a couple of other runners I knew that were starting on their back 50 and seeing them encouraged me. As we continued though, we started to feel every step of the extra distance and I was so. angry. for that last mile. I was literally swearing the whole time. I was so. angry. when I crossed that finish line. Because of the extra distance, my official time was 14:10–unofficially my 50-mile time IS under 14 hours, but there’s no official record of it.

My BFF Kelly, her husband and their kids were there to surprise me, along with my crew chief Abbie and our friend Naomi. I feel bad that I was so grumpy at first. I was just in miserable pain and annoyed that I was so close to the time I wanted but couldn’t make it happen with the extra distance. Within a few minutes I had calmed down and was just happy to be done. My feet were a mess–the podiatry students wouldn’t even pop my blisters, just bandaged me up to make walking slightly more comfortable (it was not…I hobbled like a mofo). I got my Wendy’s fix (Asiago Chicken sandwich, large fries with chocolate frosty for dipping, and vanilla Diet Coke). I took a super awkward bath (couldn’t stand in the shower) to get cleaned up the best I could and crashed into bed. The next morning Abbie and I went to the 100-mile finish line party for breakfast burritos and beer. I talked to my more experienced ultrarunner friend (having finished the 100-miles) and got some advice about the races I’m looking at for next year. I told him I wasn’t sure if I would be back to BR next year or not…I might need a year off to recover from it, but that I would definitely be back at some point. He smiled and told me to give it a few days, I’d probably change my mind. He was right…by Monday morning I was already talking about next year and looking forward to it. This was by far the hardest thing I’ve done up to this point in my life…and I loved it. There is something about this event that has just enamored me. This is *my* race. I want to go back. Not sure what event I’ll do next year–not the 100. I don’t want it to be my first, that much I know–but kind of waiting to see what they do with the course. I might be talked into the back 50 (starting in the evening and running overnight to the 100 mile finish line) if the course stays the same, but I don’t know yet. I also need to see what other races I want to do and see how the training lines up and plays out. But the one thing I know is that I want to go back and do it again.

Me at the finish. (Clock time represents the 100-mile time–they started over an hour before us.)

Eagle Up Ultra Race Recap (finally, I know)

This race…it was amazing. My original plan, back in the day, was to go for 50 miles. Doing what BRF did last year–50 here, 50 at Burning River. By the time my coach and I were laying plans though, I had 100k in my mind. Twice as far as I’ve ever run in my life (and the 50k I did was about 5 years ago…). For a long time I said 50 miles was my goal, then I gradually started to leak that I was going for 100k.

Set out on Friday to claim a campsite–needed a home base for our tent on Saturday–and to check into the hotel. Stopped for some delicious treats from Oakmont bakery (that ended up fueling me through the whole weekend, money very well spent). Stopped at packet pickup, set up the tent, grabbed a drink and some dinner, and got our stuff together at the hotel.

Went to bed. Got up stupid early to get ready and get to the grounds with our stuff. Met up with friends, took some pictures, used the bathroom–all that good pre-race stuff. I was sooo happy when we finally got started. I knew that I would not run the whole thing, but I wanted to run as much as I could manage, and I did run the first 2 laps without stopping. Gradually started working some walking in after that–especially since I then started stopping by the tent and aid station between laps.

Me before starting Eagle Up Ultra…

I’m super focused when I’m in a race type setting. Even though I didn’t have real time goals I was shooting for, I still wanted to do the best I could and not dawdle at the aid stations or stop for too long. The longer you are running, the more imperative it is to keep moving–stopping for too long makes it harder to continue on as your body wants to give into the rest. So I did my best to just keep moving. Once I hit my half way point I started to take a few more pictures on course to check in with people on Instagram.

Me smiling for the camera…
Me questioning all of the choices that have brought me to this moment…

BRF Sean happened to be at the aid station with our friends when I was stopped before my 50 mile lap. We joked for a minute, toasted (his beer and my jello shot) and then I dashed off saying “I have to crush your 50-mile time now”, which I did, by more than an hour. (I know, I know, he had a hernia‚Ķ) Continued kicking ass and taking names. Said goodbye to the friends that had come to help out and “crew” for us (running back and forth to the tent to save us trips and stops). Before you know it, I was on my last out and back. I walked almost all of that. I was on my way in and I ran into Sean again and got a big hug–he couldn’t wait any longer he said, he needed to keep moving. Then I dug deep and ran into the finish. Almost shoved a guy out of my way because he wouldn’t move.

Me at the finish with my medal…

I far far exceeded my own expectations for this event. My goal was primarily to finish–I don’t believe in having real hard and fast time goals for your first stab at a distance. I had loosely set 20 hours as my B goal, and 18 hours as my C goal, though, to give myself something to shoot for, and I ended up finishing the 100k in just over 17 hours. (17:00:17 to be exact). I found out a couple of weeks after the fact that this earned me 2nd place in my age group–which floored me. Guess I’m kinda okay at this ultrarunning thing.

Swag…

Eagle Up Ultra is a truly awesome event. It’s very well organized and well-run. Aid station is amazing. The RD is an ultrarunner himself so he totally gets it. It’s a very friendly event and great for first timers and experienced runners alike. Highly recommend.

2019 Pittsburgh Marathon Recap

So I’m a little behind on the blogging–sorry friends, I’ve been using my morning time for some other things lately, I’ll do my best to get caught up here shortly. First and foremost I need to write about this year’s Pittsburgh Marathon weekend.

While all of my training is ultimately building towards my ultras (the first of which is just under a week away, *gulp*) the Pittsburgh Marathon was a goal race of mine this year. I wanted to PR at this marathon. That’s a tall order–Pittsburgh is known for being a tough course, most people don’t choose races with significant hills to shoot for PRs, but I’m also not most people. Pittsburgh is my half marathon PR even though I’ve done a lot of “easier” races, I wanted Pittsburgh to be my marathon PR too (at least for now).

So the Expo and the 5k were not remarkable. Sorry, they just weren’t. I visited my favorite shirt shop (shout out to Brag Swag…LOVE their stuff) and scored a couple new Pittsburgh designs, but very little aside from that. LOVE the official shirts this year, LOVE the Pittsburgh skyline Goodr sunglasses that we got as our premium. I used to love race expos, now I’m much more of a get in, get my stuff, make a lap, get out type of girl. The 5k on Saturday, was a 5k. I took it easy since it was a shakeout and not the race I was there for.

Sunday…oh Sunday…the main event. Met up with my friends in the morning. Little stressful getting us all to the starting corral–we seem to have different views of “on time” and when the event “starts” but it ended up being fine once I got my anxiety back in check. The group of us did our “Who Run? WE RUN!” chant which was fun. I ran the first 16 miles with my friend Lara. Ran up Forbes (which had been one of my goals). Got to watch BRF dance like a jagoff with the girls at Lululemon (my only regret is that I didn’t record it…it was EPIC). Had some beer. Pet some greyhounds (wanted to run with one but they were too cold and wet when I got there). Lara urged me to go at mile 16–she could tell I felt good and she was struggling. So I went off on my own and chased down my PR. Enjoyed seeing friends and my running club along the way (that Fireball at Mile 25 was EXACTLY what I needed for the final push). And then I crossed the line.

That face though…truly one of my favorite race pics…

5:23:19. 15 minutes faster than my marathon in March, on a much more “difficult” course. 20 minutes faster than my first marathon, which had been my PR until this year. That expression on my face is pure joy mixed with tears that were about to come a second later. I look vaguely horrified, but I LOVE that picture because I know how I felt in that moment. I was proud and happy. I felt amazing. This was far and away, of the 9 marathons I’ve run (so far) in my life the best I had ever felt during and after the race. It was the most fun I’ve had at a marathon. I posed for a pic with my medal. I got my medal engraved. I rang the PR bell (at BRF’s insistence). It was a truly awesome day.

Official pic with my medal…

And now…my next adventure awaits. Eagle Up Ultra 100k is this weekend. Yeah, 100k. I’ve been saying 50 miles for the longest time, but my goal is 100k. I can’t wait to get out there and see what I can do. I can’t wait for a long weekend with my friends, spending literally an entire day running. I had a really great 30-mile training run a few weeks back and I’m hoping that will be a good preview of coming attractions. I’m going into the weekend feeling really strong and well-prepared, so I guess we’ll see.

More soon, friends.

Race Recap–Two Rivers Marathon Festival

Got some coffee? Get some coffee. Or tea. Or whatever you like to drink. Settle in. It’s story time…

So ultra training means multiple 20+ mile runs. Coach told me early in the year that if I wanted to work in some races for my longer runs to make it more interesting, let her know. So, loving the bling as I do, I went in search of spring marathons–and found the Two Rivers Marathon Festival, which offers 4 distances (5k, 10k, half marathon and marathon) on both Saturday and Sunday. Medals offered for all distances. I can get a medal for my recovery run too? Sold. Signed up for the marathon on Saturday and the half marathon on Sunday.

In addition to offering all four distances on both days, the race has nice shirts, offers jackets for people who complete races (any combination of distances) both days, jackets for people who complete two marathons or two half marathons over the course of the weekend, there are special shirts for those who BQ on the course (lots of downhill to flat…high percentage of BQs). And the medals are huge! There is an animal “mascot”/logo each year and participants are polled for what animal they would like to see, and then the winner is incorporated into the medal and shirt/jacket logos for the year. Amazing swag. Really love it.

Race Swag–shirt, medal, jacket for doing two events.

So I sign up, and then realizing I’m going away for the entire weekend, ask if anyone in my circle wants to come with and run a couple of races. Naomi took the bait (hahaha)–she was looking for a half marathon anyway, and hey she also needed recovery miles on Sunday. Half marathon and 10k it is. We started planning our trip–found a hotel that met our criteria (fridge/microwave in room and hot tub) about an hours drive from the race and booked it. The race director sent multiple emails over the month or so before the race to update on details–shirts and jackets are in! Medals are in! Weather for race weekend looks great!–it was neat to have that kind of genuine and excited communication from the RD. We packed up our stuff, and headed out on Friday for packet pickup. Little did we realize (though perhaps we should have) that we were headed for Deliverance.

Two Rivers takes place across the state, in a little town called Lackawaxen, PA. Upon arrival we learned there is no cell reception there (thank goodness the GPS lasted long enough to get us there, and we remembered enough to get out). We parked at a scary looking general store (complete with “Deplorables Welcome” and “cashier is armed” signs on the door) and walked across the street to the park to get our bibs and swag for the weekend. Packet pickup was unremarkable if slightly disorganized, but hey, it’s a small low-key race, there were two people there (one doing bibs, one handling the rest of the shirts/jackets) and it’s not like there was a mob of people picking up. We helped the guy find our jackets and moved on with our lives.

Got to the hotel, checked-in, unloaded and found food, which was easy–we were staying about an hour away from the race itself. While I didn’t love having an extra hour of driving on either side of the race, given the area the race was in, I’m glad we opted to stay further out. It was worth it to have the luxuries of civilization–multiple restaurants around the hotel which made eating easier, Walmart and Target for items you might have forgotten, gas nearby for refueling, cell phone reception, etc. The extra drive was well worth having needs easily met. We came back and prepared for the Saturday events.

So Saturday morning, we’re up and at ’em early. Chilly to start, but predicted to be in the 60s by the time I’m done, so I roll sleeveless (with arm warmers) and capris. We drive the hour to the finish, and get on a bus to the start. The first half of the course (well, the first 11 miles) is beautiful rolling hills through a wooded setting along the rivers. It was really pretty. Saturday’s event is larger, so there are pacers for the full marathon (and therefore for the first 11ish miles of the half). Aid stations every two miles–they only offer water and gatorade, but on Saturday they will put anything you want at any of the aid stations for you. I kept my nutrition with me so I could be sure to have it when I needed it. The course was pretty straightforward, but well marked with consistent reliable mile markers and the few turns were called out with signs and markings on the ground. The second half of the course is out and back along the river, but much more flat, which anyone who knows me knows I struggle with. It’s totally a mental thing–I love the challenge of hills, I’m a solid hill runner, and a good downhill runner. I know how to use them to my advantage. Flats feel endless to me. I really struggled with the back half of the course. It got a little lonely since it’s a small field, though the other runners and aid station volunteers were encouraging. I still felt great physically, but mentally I struggled on the flats and it was difficult to keep myself from walking too much. That said…I stayed ahead of the 5:30 pacer until around mile 20. And I managed to pull myself together to eek out an almost 5 minute PR for my marathon time. Official time was 5:38:59.

Pre-race on Saturday

Due to having a significant amount of elevation loss and the flat finish this course is touted for having a high percentage of Boston Qualifiers. I wasn’t last, but I was towards the back of the pack. Everything was still up for me. Some aid stations were running out of cups, but race officials did everything they could to rectify that as quickly as possible once they learned of the issue. The finish line area didn’t have much in the way of refreshments, but had a food truck that runners could get a free item from. The other notable thing about the course is that it is not closed–you are out there with cars. Most were very respectful of the runners, so I didn’t have a huge issue with this. The series also touts generous time limits–none. They’ll wait for the last runner to come in. I was really impressed with this little race series. We didn’t stick around long after on Saturday, I was ready to go shower and get food, so we headed back to the hotel and did just that. Got pizza, and enjoyed relaxing in the hot tub for a bit. Then prepped for Sunday’s fun.

Crossing the finish line on Saturday.

Sunday morning was a repeat of Saturday, except we also had to be completely out of the hotel when we left in the AM. Scrambled a little getting out, but still got to the finish to catch my bus. Naomi’s race started near the finish on Sunday so I was flying solo. I could tell that I raced on Saturday–I was sore. Which actually really made me happy. I know I could’ve pushed harder on the flat stretch, but the ache told me that I did push and I could be satisfied with that. I got to run the “fun” part of the course again for day 2. Much, much smaller field than Saturday, but still good. It was cooler on Sunday, it rained most of the race (at least for me). Despite racing a marathon the day before, I was cruising on the hills again, but I let myself walk some when I needed it–this was my “recovery” run, after all. Aid stations same as Saturday, though there were not necessarily volunteers at each. There were cups and liquids though, which was all I needed. Mile markers and course markings same as Saturday. Talked to some people out on the course that I’d been leap-frogging with for most of the race. It was a really pleasant experience, and I came in with a respectable time–2:37:23.

When I finished on Saturday I said I wouldn’t come back to double. The flat stretch got to me too much, but that the flat stretch was the only thing I didn’t like. I’ve since come to decide that I just need to work on my mental game so I’m not psyched out by flats. Probably won’t go back next year, but I will most likely go back and get a double marathon at some point, because I really enjoyed this little race series in the middle of nowhere, PA. The RD is in contact frequently. There are free race photos that will be available later this week. He was personally at the race and hands on talking to people all weekend, and is really open to suggestions on how they can improve the experience for runners. I highly recommend this little race festival–beautiful scenic course, great swag, and they are really great to the runners.

More soon, friends.