Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Running Hood to Coast with Team Nuun (plus Nuun Giveaway!!!)

A little over two years ago, my friend Jocelyn reach out to her followers on Twitter for a favor. That favor was in exchange for receiving a free tube of Nuun, she asked everyone to snap a picture of themselves with their Nuun in front of an iconic landmark in their city. Why? She was entering a competition to earn a spot on Nuun's Hood to Coast team. For her entry, she complied all the pictures she received and made it into a video collage. It was a cool video and sure enough, she won a spot on the team! I don't have a link to the video, but perhaps Jocelyn can help me with that?

Anyway, why am I telling you all this? That tube of Nuun she sent me was the first time I had ever tried this amazing product. From that point on, I was hooked. A year later, I became an ambassador for Nuun and now, more than two years after having my first sip of Nuun and learning about Hood to Coast, I too get to run this epic relay with Team Nuun and my fellow ambassadors!

What is Hood to Coast? Hood to Coast (HTC) is relay that starts at Mt. Hood (the tallest peak in Oregon) and traverses 199 miles west across the beautiful landscape of Northern Oregon until you reach the finish line in the quaint town of Seaside. In my opinion, HTC is the mecca of all relays. First run in 1982, it has now grown into one of most popular relays in the US.

Being an ambassador for Nuun is something I've really enjoyed. I love their company culture and watching how much they've grown since I've joined their ambassador team has been very exciting. I feel very lucky to be a small part of it. To get to represent them at HTC is a tremendous honor. Be sure to follow our team's progress race weekend (August 22-23) on Twitter/Instagram with #nuunhtc.

Also, in the excitement leading up to the race, I'm hosting a giveaway for your chance to win a 4-pack of Nuun! At Nuun, we are all about getting outdoors and living the #nuunlife. So, the next time you're out on a run, bike ride, hike, pushing the stroller or walking the dog, snap a scenic picture along your route.

To be entered to win, post your picture on Twitter or Instagram using #photo4nuun. Be sure to tag me (@dougcassaro) and Nuun (@nuunhydration) as well so we can see your entry. Best picture wins! It doesn't get much easier than that. The contest runs from now (July 22) through the end of the month. The contest is limited to those living within the US. Can't wait to see your pictures!

Stay hydrated!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Race recap: Bryce 100

31 hours, 19 minutes, and 20 seconds. That's how long it took me to complete my first 100 miler. During that time, I experienced just about every emotion possible. Joy. Excitement. Fear. Anger. Laughter. Happiness. Sadness. I could go on, but you get my point. When running an ultra, I feel very exposed. I'm pouring every ounce of energy I have in me which puts me in a very vulnerable state. One moment I might be happy and the next I'm cursing and want to have nothing to do with the race. While ultra running requires a large physical effort, the amount of mental stamina required is two fold. For, it is not your body, but your mind that will break first in an ultra.

I knew going into the Bryce 100 that this was not going to be an easy race. 19,000 feet of elevation gain at an altitude between seven to nine thousand feet is no joke. It scared the shit out of me. But, as I eluded to in my previous post, I knew I was ready. I felt strong and confident at the start. As long as I didn't get injured during the run, I knew I could finish. Having that belief in myself made all the difference, especially when things got rough, which it did, many times.

The race started without hitch at 6am on a cool, clear Utah morning. The sun had yet to make its appearance over the horizon, but the sky was already bursting full of beautiful dawn colors. After a two mile section on a wide ATV road, it was onto the single tracks. The course weaved back and forth and up and down through a maze of beautiful ponderosa pines. Before long, the course emptied out into Red Canyon and the unique hoodoo formations that make the Bryce landscape so special.

The course was a 50 mile out and back. The 50 mile race started at the same time as the 100 mile, so it was quite busy at the start. As soon as we hit the single tracks, the running congo lines formed. The runners around me were a chatty bunch. "You running the 50 or 100?" was a common question I heard. I tend to keep quiet and rarely strike up a conversation with those around me. Yet, if someone engages me, I will happily chat with them.

My main focus at the beginning of the race was to take in lots of fluid. Everyone told me that hydration was paramount when running at altitude. It didn't take long for me to settle into my groove at the start. I ran easy on the flats, walked the uphills and let gravity carry me on the downhills. I could definitely tell that my downhill running was much stronger. Instead of runners flying past me on the descents, I was flying past them. It felt good and bounding down the hills like a wild animal was a lot of fun!

Near the Proctor aid station (Mile 18) I felt a little pain in my right foot and immediately knew was it was, a blister. Sure enough, when I pulled off my shoe and sock at Proctor I had a nice one on the inside of my second to last toe. I couldn't believe it. I rarely get blisters and to get one not even a quarter into my race sucked. Thankfully, a fellow runner loaned me some vaseline and I slapped a nice glob over it. I also had placed one of my drop bags at Proctor so I took some extra time restocking my supplies and putting on a fresh shirt and new pair of socks.
The stretch between Proctor and Blubber Creek (Mile 27) aid stations was one of the longest stretches between aid stations at 9 miles. Many parts of the course here were lined with beautiful aspen trees. After one particularly steep climb through the aspens, the course opened up into lush valley full of green shrubs and wild flowers. It was gorgeous. The sun was now out in full force, but with temperatures in the 70s accompanied by the bone dry air of southern Utah, it made for comfortable running conditions. After stuffing my face full of deliciousness at Blubber Creek (thanks to whoever made the cheese quesadillas and rice and bean burritos) it was an 8 mile stretch to the next aid, Kanab Creek (Mile 35).

This section of the course was all above 8,500 feet, but to my surprise, the elevation didn't seem to affect my breathing at all. Many parts of the course here poked out near the rim of a canyon and gave my eyes plenty to look at and enjoy. My other drop bag was at Kanab and I again took some extra time to restock. The volunteers at each aid station were great. Before I could even ask for something, they were asking me if I needed anything. These guys make races like this possible. A big THANK YOU to you all!
Blubber Creek Aid. By far my favorite aid on course.
The nice part after Kanab was that the aid stations became more abundant at 5 mile intervals. A good portion of trail from Kanab to the Straight Canyon Aid Station (Mile 40) was downhill which let me lengthen my stride and increase my pace. I certainly wasn't stressing about my pace during the run, but it felt nice to put in a couple sub ten minute miles after the long and dragging uphill miles. Nearing Straight Canyon I noticed a guy off to side cheering runners on. "Nice job man, looking good" he said to me as I neared him. I then noticed that this wasn't just some guy standing off to the side, it was Hal Koerner. For those who don't know, in the ultrarunning community, Hal is one of the legends, having won the prestigious Western States 100 twice as well as a boat load of other ultras. So, to have him cheering for me was pretty awesome.
Heading out of Kanab
Heading into Straight Canyon
After a quick in and out at the Straight Canyon aid, it was a long 1,000+ foot climb to the next aid station, Pink Cliff (Mile 45). Minus the first mile or so out of Straight Canyon, this was pretty much a hiking section for me, but I didn't mind. After the fast miles coming into Straight Canyon, it gave me some time to recover. I remember from pictures I saw before the race that the views from Pink Cliff were beautiful, so I was eager to get up there. So eager, in fact, that I made a wrong turn. Doh! Thankfully, I didn't go too far off course, so it wasn't a big deal. Upon reaching Pink Cliff, my jaw dropped. This was the highest point of the course at well over 9,000 feet and the view was stunning.
Climb up to Pink Cliff
Leaving Pink Cliff, it was another 5 miles to the 50 mile turn at Crawford Pass. Almost halfway done! While this section was mostly downhill, I knew that I would immediately have to go right back up it. I reached Crawford Pass in under 13 hours, which was about what I expected. It was hard not to feel envy towards the 50 mile runners, knowing they were done and could relax. Part of me wished I was done too, but I knew that I still had another 50 miles to go. Let the mental games begin!
Pink Cliff
As I headed out of Crawford Pass, it was about 7pm and I knew I would only have about 2 hours of daylight left. It was my hope to make it back to Straight Canyon (Mile 60) before it was completely dark. I was looking forward to getting back to Straight Canyon because that's where my pacer (Rachel) would be joining me. The climb back up to Pink Cliff was slow, but overall, I was feeling good. I knew that after Pink Cliff it would be a nice drop back to Straight Canyon and I was looking forward to some faster miles.

Running down the small dirt road to Straight Canyon, I called out my race number to the aid station volunteers and immediately heard cheers from my friend Cathy (who had run the 50K earlier in the day), Rachel, and Sara (Rachel's friend). Seeing some familiar faces was great. I later learned that the dirt road to get to Straight Canyon was rather dicey, so an extra big thank you to Cathy and company for driving out to meet me. I warned Rachel to be ready for lots of hiking. I knew that there were a lot of hills ahead and running those wasn't in the cards for me.
Rachel and I before the start
The run (hike) back up to Kanab was slow, but having Rachel's company was nice. It was now completely dark out, but with clear skies, a near full moon, and our headlamps, it didn't seem too dark at all. In fact, at one point Rachel and I both turned out our headlamps just to see how bright the moon lit the ground. Looking up, a sky full of stars blazed brightly. It was awesome. How beautiful Utah is in the glow of the sun or the moon! The temperature had begun to drop, but as long as I was moving, it didn't affect me much.

I'm not sure if the darkness does weird things to the body, but I certainly lost the fire in my legs as the night wore on. After leaving Kanab (Mile 65), it was 8 long, long miles back to Blubber Creek (Mile 73). Once we reached Blubber Creek, I plopped down in a chair and knew that these last 27 miles were going to take awhile.

The stretch from Blubber Creek to Proctor Aid (Mile 82) sucked, plain and simple. I tried to run when I could, but my legs weren't having any of it. The life from them had been sucked away. Climbing the hills seemed to take forever. Rachel and I would soon joke that Bryce has never ending hills. They just seemed to keep going and going. Many times, I would have to sit down on a log and take a break. My mind was going in a million different directions. Thoughts of dropping entered my head. I was feeling miserable and I wanted nothing more than a warm bed to climb into. It moments like these when you begin to realize how important your goal is. Even though I felt like shit and didn't want to take another step, I refused to give up. Tired isn't an excuse to quit. As long as I could continue to put one foot in front of the other, no matter how slow, I would keep pressing forward. Each step brought me closer to the finish and I took comfort from that.

As we neared Proctor, dawn was on the horizon, which came as a big relief. I knew having some daylight would make me feel better, even if my legs didn't want to move faster. Reaching Proctor, I plopped down again near a bonfire they had burning. The warmth from the fire felt great and made leaving very hard. Sitting across from Rachel and I at the bonfire was Hal and his wife, which he was pacing for her run. I wanted to chat with Hal and tell him how much he inspires me, but the timing wasn't right. He and his wife were both doing their thing and I didn't want to disturb. Nonetheless, it was cool to sit and share a fire with such a great runner.

The last 18 miles contained very little running for me. Thanks to the very generous time cutoff (36 hours) I knew that I had plenty of time to make it to the finish. It was then that I began to realize that I might just finish this thing! However, my mind wouldn't let me believe that it was going to happen.

Rachel and I continued our trudge to the finish line. Even walking, the hills were so hard to climb up. Each footfall sent pain through my sore feet and up my tired legs. Yet, they were still moving. I'm not sure how, but there were. In any race, the will to finish will always carry you those last few miles. All the kinds words of support I received from my family and friends before the race were running through my head. I just had to keep moving!

With about a mile to go, Rachel and I spotted Cathy and Sara waiting for us. They had come out to greet and walk with us to the finish. When the finish came into view, relief flooded over. Relief that this race would soon be over. Relief that I was, indeed, going to reach my goal. I started to run again. I'm sure it wasn't pretty, but I wanted to cross the finish line running. 31 hour, 19 minutes, and 20 seconds after I started, I was done. As I sat in the finishers tent, looking at my beat up legs, the realization of what had just happened set in. I did it. 100 miles!

My thanks to everyone that supported and believed in me. Your words helped carry me to the finish and I'm forever grateful for all of you. I found it fitting that I finished this race on Father's Day and I felt my dad's presence many times during my run. He's always with me. This run was definitely for him.

Sweet handcrafted Bryce 100 belt bucket

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Second Try

"Failure will only whet the runner's appetite for another attempt." -Gary Cantrell, Barkley Marathons race director

Running isn't easy and that's why I love our sport. We pick goals that challenge us. Goals that we might think are a little beyond our reach. Goals that hurt like hell to achieve. Why? Because running is all about challenging ourselves. It's about pushing our bodies to a place its never been. A place where the unthinkable becomes reality. When that happens, it's one of the most amazing feelings in the world. It's like a drug that we can't get enough of. Once the high from achieving a goal wears off, we immediately find ourselves searching for that next challenge, that next high.

However, something that's never far away from our goals is the fear of failing to reach one. But, that's ok. Fear of not reaching a goal means we've set one that's hard, but realistic. We can't let the risk of failing shy us away from a goal. In fact, it can be used as motivation to achieve it. I believe we have an emotional tie to each goal we set. It might scare us. It might cause anxiety, uncertainty or even excitement. Having those emotions is what drives us to try. To prove our minds wrong. To succeed.

Why am I saying all this? Next week I'm attempting to achieve a goal I fell short of last year; finishing a 100 mile race. I'd be lying if I didn't say I'm nervous as hell about the Bryce 100. With a course that boasts 19,000 feet of elevation gain at an elevation that varies between 7,000 to 9,000 feet, I certainly didn't pick an easy race for my second try. However, it's the type of challenge my crazy running mind needs. Am I worried about failing to reach my goal? Yes. But, it's not because of a lack of training or preparation. I fear it because I respect the distance. I know that Bryce will demand my best physical/mental effort to conquer it. 

The hard work is over. Training is behind me. I feel strong and confident. There will be highs and lows during my run, for sure. During those lows I need to remind myself why I'm doing this...because I love our sport.

Bryce Canyon, UT (Photo Credit: Ultra Adventures)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Blue Ridge and Massanutten Mountains - In Pictures

"Who could ever guess that so rough a wilderness should yet be so fine, so full of good things." -John Muir

It's amazing what a weekend in the mountains can do for the body and soul. Yes, I went there. But, it's the truth. Sitting in an office for 40 hours week breathing recycled air and basking in the glow of artificial lighting takes it out of me. Thankfully, I'm not far from the beautiful Blue Ridge and Massanutten Mountains, their ridiculous beauty, and challenging trails. So, that's where I decided to spend my Memorial Day weekend.

Hawksbill Summit
For my first day, I went to the Shenandoah National Park. Part of the Blue Ridge Mountain range and Appalachian Trail (my favorite trail) lie within the Shenandoah. I decided to run a section of the AT I hadn't been on yet, between Skyland and Big Meadows. Starting near Hawksbill Summit, I soon reached the highest point in the Shenandoah, which is little over 4,000 feet. Taking a moment to pause and soak up the view is a must. Seeing so much natural beauty really puts life in perspective for me. Breathing in the crisp mountain air tingles all my senses and I feel at peace.

The thing I love most about running on the AT is that one minute you could be in the thick of the forest and the next you're in a beautiful meadow.


My favorite part about trail running is the freedom I feel. It's a chance for me to connect with the wilderness and appreciate its serenity. It might sound weird, but I get this primal feeling when I'm out on the trails. Almost like I've become part of them.


The terrain/surface of the AT is always changing. The trail is full a jagged rocks that make running on it tricky, but not impossible. The AT also likes to throw a few surprises as you. For example, coming around a bend and being treated to an amazing view.


I always wondered where the "Blue" from Blue Ridge Mountain came from. A quick search online and I found that they are referred to as the Blue Ridge Mountains because of an optical illusion that makes them look blue. The trees release isoprene into the atmosphere which creates a blue haze that encases the mountain tops.

See the blue?
The next day I headed to the Massanutten Mountains, which lie just west of the Blue Ridge within the George Washington National Forest. I hadn't been to Massanutten, so I was excited to explore a new area and trails. For my run, I ran on the appropriately named Massanutten Trail. I started near Camp Roosevelt on the eastern ridge of Massanutten. 


First, I headed south from Camp Roosevelt. As soon as I started running I was surrounded by a dense forest; the trail snaking its way along the floor. 


I encountered many ankle deep creek crossings along the way. It also seemed as if creeks where trying to form along the rocky trail itself. 


Eventually I broke into a small valley where tall pines and other trees dominated the lush forest floor. Through the tree trunks, I could see the sun shining on the ridge above. This picture doesn't do justice, but just take my word that it was beautiful.


Upon returning to Camp Roosevelt, I headed north to Kennedy Peak. It was a good climb to get up to the peak. But, just like any climb, the higher I got, the better the views became.


Kennedy Peak didn't disappoint. It was cool to look across the Shenandoah Valley and see the mountains I had run on the day prior.


The run from Kennedy Peak to Camp Roosevelt was all downhill and fast. It's fun to hammer hard down the trails. Running downhill is still my weakness, but I feel I'm getting better at it. I've learned that you just need to be a little fearless going down the steep descents and allow gravity to do most of the work.

When people ask me why I like trail running, it's for all the reasons above. Trail running is a chance for me to get away from it all and just enjoy being in a place full of raw beauty. Trail running also humbles me. It helps me realize and I'm just a small part of a huge thing. Life is about exploring. It's about challenging yourself. Trail running helps feed my life's hunger.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Race Recap: 24 Hour Adventure Trail Run

First off, I did not run for 24 hours, nor was that the plan. In preparation for my 100 miler next month in Utah, I needed to get a 50 mile long run in. When my long runs move over the marathon mark, I try to find races that I can use as training runs. Having the aid and company of other runners is something I always welcome on longer runs. The 24 Hour Adventure Trail Run (ATR) fit perfectly with my training schedule. I had run ATR events in the past and enjoyed them very much. The race director, Alex Papadopoulos, does a great job organizing these runs and I knew this race would be no exception. The race was also being held in one of my favorite places to trail run, Prince William Forest Park.

Having run in Prince William many times, I knew what to expect in terms of trail technicality, which for most part is pretty non-technical. But, Alex did a good job sneaking in some tricky sections that kept me on my game, especially as the race wore on. The course was a 6 mile lollipop loop that incorporated a few of the trail networks within the park. For the first loop, we were told to run counter-clockwise. After that, it was up to us which direction we wanted to run. The loop had about 600 feet of gain/loss and Alex mentioned during the pre-race brief that one direction would be a bit easier to run than the other. But, he wouldn't tell us which.

At 7am, me and about 75 fellow runners headed out into the beauty of Prince William Forest Park. It didn't take long for our small running pack to thin. About halfway into the loop there was an unmanned aid station that had two water coolers. One was filled with water and the other with Gatorade. Since I knew I'd be hitting aid every three miles, I opted to run with a handheld instead of my pack.

The Start
Earlier in the week we had received about 2 to 3 inches of rain so I was a little worried about how the trail conditions would be. To my surprise, they were in great shape. The temperature was floating in the high 50s at the start with the day's forecast calling for patchy clouds and a high in the low 70s. While the temperature was comfortable, something I didn't take into account was the humidity. I noticed as I was finishing up my first loop that I was already sweating pretty good. I knew then and there that the key to having a good day would be to stay on top of my hydration.

Right after you crossed the timing mats at the end of the loop, you entered a pavilion where the main aid station was. Next to the aid table were picnic tables were you could leave your drop bag. This set up made getting in and out of the aid station very easy. The volunteers were great. As soon as I would enter the aid station, they would ask if I needed anything. The aid table was stocked with all my ultra favorites; PB&Js, candy, cookies, chips, pretzels, soda. Throughout the day they would change up the menu with some other yummy treats like grilled cheese, pizza and these little potatoes things, similar to gnocchi, that were delicious. I ate so many of them!

As I set out for my second loop, I opted to run clockwise. Spring had recently sprung and the trees surrounding the course were bursting with life. It was refreshing to see so much green after the prolonged winter we had. Part of the course (2.5 miles or so) was on my favorite trail in Prince William, South Valley. South Valley parallels a beautiful creek and I always enjoy hearing its sound in the background. With all the rain we received, the creek was a bit higher and flowing faster which only enhanced its peaceful tone.

After completing my second loop, I felt that running clockwise was the better of the two directions, so I stuck with that for the rest of my run. Even though I was using this race as a training run, it's hard not to be competitive when you have a race bib attached to you. I was hoping to better my 50 mile PR so I wasn't holding back too much. I'm trying to become a better downhill runner, so I was really trying to pound down the descents.

One of the descents - Sporting my Nuun trucker hat
As the race wore on, I was feeling pretty good. But, judging by the slight headache I was starting to feel, I knew I was getting dehydrated. Dehydration is something I feel that I'm very vulnerable to because it doesn't take much for me to sweat...a lot. Even though I was drinking over 40 ounces of electrolytes every hour, it was hard for me to keep up with the amount of fluid I was losing. Each time I finished a loop, I would take in as much salt as I could. The aid station had salt pills (S Caps) that seemed to help in conjunction with my Nuun consumption. However, something I wish they had was just plain old salt. I know it might sound gross, but adding spoonful of salt in a cup of water does wonders for me when I'm dehydrated.

The last 15 miles were the toughest. The end of each loop always seemed to last forever. My energy level would start to get low and all I could think about was getting back to main aid station and restocking my body with salty goodness. My loop splits were getting progressively slower each lap, but that was to be expected as I took more time at the aid station towards the end.

My hat all salted up - Wore this for about 30 miles
Heading out for my eighth loop I had completed about 43 miles. I felt surprisingly good during the first half of the loop, but as I reached mile 46 my body was starting to give in. The last 4 miles were more of a power hike than a run, but I didn't care. I was well under my previous best time so I knew I just had to get to the finish to lock up a new PR. I needed to add an extra mile in to get my 50. So, near the turnoff to head back to the finish, I ran off course and did my own little out and back to make up the difference.

After I crossed the timing mats for the last time, I headed over to Alex to let him know I was done for the day. I had my 50 miles in the bag, my legs were spent and I was cramping pretty good from all the sodium I lost. I finished in 11:34:18, setting a new PR by 26 minutes! For the most part, I was happy with how my run went. However, I still need to work out the proper balance of food and fluid intake to maximize my running performance. Race or training run, I'm always learning something new. My thanks to Alex and the rest of the ATR crew for another great race. I had a blast! Congrats to all the other runners that ran some impressive distances.

No place I'd rather be
Lap Splits
1 - 1:08:25
2 - 1:13:27
3 - 1:20:09
4 - 1:22:32
5 - 1:26:20
6 - 1:29:12
7 - 1:36:20
8 - 1:57:32

Garmin Upload

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Boston Marathon Preview with Ali Mohsen


Ali at the 2013 Boston Marathon start
Hearts will be worn on all the runner's sleeves Monday at the 118th running of the Boston Marathon. But, this race will also be a day to celebrate our sport and show that terrorism will not scare us away from our passion. For my friend Ali, this is her chance to put the 2013 race behind her. Last year, Ali crossed the finish line hand-in-hand with her two friends 30 minutes before the bombings occurred. What was a joyous occasion quickly turned into a nightmare for her. Ali's Boston story is captured in a recently published book, If Not for a Perfect Stranger. Her story can be viewed here and I highly encourage you to read it before you read my interview with her. To Ali and all the other runners running on Monday, have a great race! I'll be thinking of you all! BOSTON STRONG!

Q: First and foremost, how has your training gone?
Ali Mohsen: Training has gone great!! I was not expecting to be training for this race, and was a little nervous to start training again with everything going on in my life. I got a new job in December, got married in March, and was still in the process of settling into a new home. Out of all of those things, training for Boston has been the easiest. Running is something I know and love. And it is the thing that really kept me sane the last few months while everything else was so crazy! In fact, the morning of my wedding I knew exactly what I needed to chill out – an easy run by myself :) 
Q: You were invited by the Boston Marathon race committee to come back and run in 2014. How did that come about?
AM: As of November 3rd 2013, I had not qualified for the 2014 race. When I did qualify at the NYC Marathon last fall, Boston was already closed to entrants. I was sad I would not be there, but accepted the fact that I would have to watch the race from afar and would be there to run again in 2015.
A couple weeks after NYC, I saw on the Boston Marathon Facebook page that they would be accepting a few entrants based on essays they submitted. The essay had to be based off experiences from the 2013 race and why you should be accepted to run again in 2014. As soon as I read this post, I wrote my essay. I think it took me 10 minutes to write, and within an hour I had submitted it to the BAA. I told myself that if I was accepted, I would not turn it down. I also told myself I would not be upset if my essay wasn't picked. 

The first week of December, I received the email that I was ACCEPTED into the race. I let out a high pitched squeal in Panera Bread and immediately called my husband to tell him the news. He was excited for me, and knew that this is something I really needed to move on from my 2013 experience.

If you want to read the essay, it is posted on this blog post. 

Q: What does it mean to be able to run Boston again this year?

AM: I am so excited to run this race again. And I am honored to be back. I know it will be extremely emotional, but it will be so good for our running community to experience this race together. This race will be dedicated to all of those affected last year, and I will be paying tribute to them with every step I take on that course. 
We will all run as ONE on marathon Monday and we will all heal together. We are stronger than ever before, and on April 21, 2014 we will prove that.

I cannot freaking wait. 

Q: Any goals on race day?

AM: No big goals for this race. I want to have fun and enjoy the experience. My training has been good, but not PR good. I would be absolutely thrilled with anything under 3:40. I will be running alone this year, and plan to focus on the experience and soak it all in. I will also be using my GoPro to capture moments so I can put together a video after the race and give people a feel of how awesome this race really is. 
Q: Do you plan to reunite with the 'Perfect Strangers' you met last year?
AM: As of right now, I do not have plans to reunite. I sent both of them emails today letting them know once again that I appreciated them so much and would be thinking about them when I am back in Boston. I wish nothing but the best for the people that took care of us when we needed it most. They are my Boston heroes!!!

Ali and her friends lay at the Boston Marathon finish line the night before the race

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Race Recap: Trap Pond 50K

One word to describe this race, unexpected. But, unexpected in a good way. I stumbled across this race only a few weeks ago and found out it would mesh well with my 100 mile training. I love to use races as training runs when I can. Makes training more fun, especially when your long runs climb over the marathon distance.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I love, LOVE, small race venues. I think they really target the roots of running. I grabbed my bib and was informed by the race director to head towards a pedestrian bridge to find the start line. I jogged over to where I saw a small group of runners. I saw a sheet of paper tacked to a trail post that said "50K Start" so I figured I was in the right place. 

The course, a 4.5 mile loop in Trap Pond State Park in lower Delaware, was mostly a crushed rock/sand surface. To complete the 50K, we would circle the loop 7 times. With only 13 runners (including myself), this was the smallest race I've ever participated in. There was also a marathon and half marathon going on concurrently, so the trails weren't too empty during the run. 

A simple countdown from three and we were on our way. One runner (and eventual winner) bolted off ahead the rest of us. I settled into a comfortable pace and enjoyed the scenery around me. The majority of the loop weaved around tall, beautiful pines. When I looked off the trail in any direction, my eyes got lost in the maze of pine trunks. Pine needles covered the forest floor and trail. With the sun just rising, it made for some awesome nature eye candy.

Sunrise at the start
After the first and second loops, I was in 5th place. However, I knew that the 4th and 3rd place runners weren't too far ahead as I would see them from time to time on the longer straights of the trail. Seeing them made me run a little harder then I had planned to, but I the idea of being able to run 3rd in a race was too enticing. So what if it was only a field of 13 runners? I had never run in 3rd place, let alone finish a race in 3rd, and I wanted it!

Goose chillin' on the side of the course
By the middle of the third lap (mile 12 or so), I caught up to the 3rd place runner. A quick thought crossed my mind to just settle in behind him and run his pace for awhile. But, I wanted 3rd, so I took it. Once I passed him I put in some harder miles to create a gap between the two of us. I quickly found myself in a position I'm not use to. I was 3rd in a race! It was a pretty cool feeling!

Loops four and five went pretty well for me. I was able to hold my pace, but my stomach was starting to bug me. For early April, it was pretty warm and I was sucking down extra fluids. Unfortunately, I think I over compensated on the fluids and as a result, was having hard time eating solid foods.

When I headed out for loop six, I was starting to feel pretty nauseous. The only calories I was able to take in for the remainder of the race was the Gatorade and soda at the aid stations. I was still able to maintain a pretty decent pace, but I was starting to suffer. When I set out on my last loop, I was running painfully slow. I was still in 3rd, but certain I was gonna get caught soon. Sure enough, 2.5 miles from the finish, the 4th place runner blew past me and all I could do was watch. I had nothing left in me to fight back.

The last two miles were pretty rough. The hard pace I had run earlier, the heat, and the lack calories all caught up to me. Needless to say, I was very happy when I reached the finish line. While I was disappointed that I missed out on finishing 3rd, a new PR helped cheer me up! 4:40:52! I had left everything I had on the course, so in the end, I was happy. My thanks to the race team that set up this event. Even though it was tiny, the support was great. I had a lot of fun!