Monday, April 20, 2015

Race Recap: The North Face Endurance Challenge Series DC 50K

This past weekend I ran The North Face Endurance Challenge 50K race in DC (well, it’s near DC…the race is actually held just north of DC in Virginia). Once again, I was not disappointed. Seriously, this race series is awesome! With events also in New York, Utah, Wisconsin, California and Canada, you’re bound to find one close to you. If you’re on the fence about running one of these races, just sign up. You’ll have a blast! The courses are beautiful, the race staff is stellar and the volunteers support is top notch. I can’t say enough good things about the Endurance Challenge Series.

This was the fourth time I’ve come out to run the DC race and my second time running the 50K. Being my first trail race since October, I was extra excited to get out and enjoy a day on my backyard trails. The weather couldn’t have been nicer on race day and with spring just starting to open up, the course was absolutely gorgeous!

Photo Credit: Exploring Endurance
The race started just as the sun was rising over the Potomac River. Having run this course before, I used my familiarity of it to my advantage. I set out at a comfortable pace and after a few miles I found a nice rhythm. The course only has about 1,300 feet of vertical gain (according to my Garmin) and when you combine that with fairly non-technical trails, it makes for a very runnable course. The course was a bit muddier than I expected for the first few miles, but I didn’t mind. It’s a trail race; you’re supposed to get dirty.

The first 13 miles seemed to blow right by. Many sections of the course went through lush forests full of spring flowers blossoming. Add to that the powerful Potomac River flowing alongside of you and it had all the ingredients that make for a scenic course.

I felt great heading into the Great Falls section of the course (mile 13ish). However, things went a little south for me after the Great Falls aid. The food I ate at the aid station wasn’t settling well with me and it left me feeling pretty nauseous. For the remainder of the race, it was hard for me to take down fluids and food without feeling like I was gonna barf. As a result, my pace started to suffer a bit and after finishing the Great Falls section – which is about a 5 mile loop – I really had to grind it out the last half of the race.

Great Falls
Photo Credit: 
Exploring Endurance
I definitely didn’t feel as strong as I made my way to the finish, but I was able keep myself from taking walking breaks. I just focused on getting to the next aid station. Breaking the race into chunks instead of thinking of how many miles you have left always helps. As I neared the finished, I tapped into whatever reserves I had remaining and pushed my pace. At this point on the course you have a lot of running traffic. The marathon relay utilizes the last couple miles of the 50K course, so I was receiving a lot of encouragement from the relay runners which was very much appreciated.

I finished strong in 5:37:32 and shattered my old course record of 6:23:22 that I ran back in 2012. After lying out in the shade and resting for a while, I grabbed my free post-race meal and soaked in the energy that was radiating from the finish line. The North Face Endurance Challenge is one huge party that celebrates trail running. It’s a great place to get your feet wet if you’re new to trail running and an awesome proving ground for those looking to better their previous trail efforts. I’ll be back next year for sure!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Book Review: Meb for Mortals

Ever wanted to get inside the head of a world class runner? In Meb Keflezighi latest book, Meb for Mortals, you will get just that! After accomplishing his lifelong goal of winning the Boston Marathon, Meb decided it was time to share all his race and training secrets.

After reading Meb’s first book, Run to Overcome, I was eager to get my hands on Meb for Mortals. Thanks to the awesome folks at Runner’s World, they sent me a copy to read and review before the book’s release on April 7th. At just under 200 pages, it’s a quick read that will certainly be a welcomed addition to your running library.

The book covers a wide range of topics that Meb has found crucial to all his success. Meb for Mortals will show you how to think, run, train, race, eat, strengthen, stretch, cross-train, and recover like Meb. While Meb touches on all distances, I think marathon runners will appreciate this book the most – especially those looking to improve upon their PR performances. One thing I liked in particular was all the visuals in the book. It’s packed full of pictures of Meb demonstrating running drills and strengthening/stretching exercises.

Meb emphasizes the importance of being a “student of the sport.” No matter how experienced of a runner you are, you can always be learning more. Up front he touches on how to set proper running goals. Then, as you read on, you will find that the rest of his book serves as a blueprint on how to achieve those very goals. Meb drives home his “prehab, not rehab” philosophy...take care of your body while training/racing and you will increase the longevity of your running career. If you read this book, it will provide you the all tools you need to ensure you spend less time injured and more time doing what you love, running!

To pre-order a copy of Meb for Mortals, click here. Also, be sure to follow Meb on Twitter and join the discussion using #MebforMortals.

Monday, March 30, 2015

TNFECS Washington DC - Course Preview

The North Face Endurance Challenge Series DC event is just weeks away! For those of you running the 50K and 50 miler, the course goes through a beautiful network of trails in Great Falls Park. This past weekend I ran the Great Falls loop to scope out the trail conditions and take photos to share with you all. The trails are in great shape and should provide excellent conditions on race day.

Below is a map of the Great Falls loop from the course guide, which you can download from the race website if you have not done so already. I will use the numbering on this map to describe the various sections of the course. The trails in the Great Falls loop are fairly non-technical with about 500 feet of vertical gain, according to my Garmin. However, it should be noted that I ran the 50K loop, which a slightly shorter than the 50 mile loop. Between sections 7 and 8 on the course map, the 50 mile runners will run an out and back on Matildaville Trail before running along River Trail.
50K Loop
Section 1 to 3
Shortly after heading out of the Great Falls aid station you will join Old Carriage Road, which is a wide fire road. After a good chunk of single track running leading up to Great Falls, this part of the course will give you a nice place to stretch out your stride and break out into song and dance, if you desire.
Old Carriage
Section 3 to 4
At the end of Old Carriage you will turn left onto Ridge Trail. At many points along this trail you will be able to catch some nice views of the Potomac River below you. 
Ridge Trail
Section 4 to the turn around and back
At the end of the Ridge Trail, you will bear right onto Difficult Run. This part of the course is a lot of fun because you are already running downhill as you come off Ridge Trail and then you get to bomb down Difficult Run -- but keep in mind you'll have a moderate climb on the way back up. At the bottom of the decent, you will parallel the Difficult Run Stream all the way to the turn around at the now repaired washout.
Difficult Run
Difficult Run washout repair. Trail crews did a great job!
Section 4 to 6
After running back up Difficult Run, you will turn left onto Ridge Trail and follow it all the way to the next aid station, Old Dominion. Once you're done refueling at Old Dominion, you will turn around and head back down Ridge Trail until you reach the Swamp trailhead.
Leaf-covered Ridge Trail near Old Dominion aid
Swamp Trailhead
Section 6 to 7
From Ridge Trail, you will turn left onto Swamp Trail. Shortly after starting down Swamp there is a fun switchback-esque decent, but watch your footing as there are roots begging to catch your toe. After the decent, you will continue on Swamp until it reconnects with Old Carriage Road. You will turn left onto Old Carriage and stay on it briefly until you reach Matildaville Trail.
Swamp Trail
Section 7 to 8
From Old Carriage you will turn right onto Matildaville Trail. If you're a 50K runner, don't get too cozy on Matildaville because you will soon turn off it and run on along the River Trail.
Matildaville Trail
Section 8 to Great Falls Aid
In my opinion, River Trail is the most technical (and beautiful) section of the Great Falls loop. This section of the course has great views of the Potomac River, but be careful not to look too long or a rock will catch your toe. Best to take a little breather and enjoy the view! The River Trail will lead you back up to the Great Falls aid station to complete your loop. If you're a 50K runner, congrats, you can start making your way back to the finish. However, 50 mile runners will need to complete this loop two more times before you head back. 

I hope you've found this preview to be helpful. Wishing you all a great race!!!

River Trail

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Race Recap: Shamrock Marathon

After a very long off season from racing, I finally completed my first race of the year. The winter season is usually a time for me to log some solid training miles as I prefer to train harder in the winter than in the summer. However, my body had other plans for me. If you read my blog, you know that I was sidelined for 7 weeks (from late November to mid-January) due to a broken arm and a banged up knee. After easing back into running on a treadmill, I was able transition to the more unforgiving road in February. Returning to training didn’t come without its aches and pains, but thankfully my body responded well.

While running the Shamrock Marathon marked my returning to racing, that wasn’t what this race weekend was all about. The Shamrock weekend was more about hanging with friends, trading stories, laughing and relaxing. Back in the fall I proposed to my friends Chad, Kristy and Carolyn that we should go to Virginia Beach and run Shamrock. Shortly thereafter we were booking our beach rental and registering for the race!

Friday evening we all piled into my car and headed for Virginia Beach. Chad's husband Jon joined us for the weekend as well, so it was a packed car! We arrive pretty late that night and after a quick trip to grocery store to gather our weekend rations, we went to bed. After some breakfast and a shakeout run by the beach Saturday morning, we headed to the expo to get our bibs. I swung by the Nuun booth to say hi to my friend Kim. We had a nice catch up and she shared with me some of Nuun’s plans for the Boston Marathon next month. All I can say is that if you’re going to be in Boston, be sure to stop by the Nuun booth!

Beach house
Shakeout run with Kristy and Carolyn
One of the perks of staying at a house over a hotel is that you can cook your meals. So, instead of eating out for our pre-race meal, I whipped up some of my homemade pasta sauce and we had a pasta dinner. Pre-dawn rise times the following morning meant we were in bed pretty early.

At 5AM alarm clocks were going off. Chad, Kristy and Carolyn were all running the half which started at 7. The full didn’t start until 8:30, but I got up with them and had an early breakfast. After Chad, Kristy and Carolyn left I relaxed and started to think about my race. My plan was pretty straightforward, finish. I had an underlying goal of going sub-4, but my main goal was to just go out and see how my body would hold up for 26 miles. My fitness was not exactly where I would have liked it to be for a marathon, but I knew I was healthy enough to give it a crack.

Race day sunrise
In many ways, Shamrock felt like my first marathon. Butterflies filled my stomach as I slipped into my corral. But, I must say it was a nice homecoming. I missed the racing atmosphere. The blast of a horn filled the air and I was off. I started around an 8:55 pace and didn’t waver from that for the first half of the race. Runners shot past me earlier on and the excitement of racing filled my legs, but I remained committed to my race plan and held my pace. I constantly repeated in my head, “Run your race.”

After working out some little pings of pain here and there during the early miles, I settled into a nice groove. Every mile I soaked in the environment. I was so happy to be running a race again. While injured, you have those days when you fear you’re never going to get better. For me, that was the hardest part. Those dark days weren’t fun but that was now all in the past.

As I neared the halfway point, I allowed my pace to creep down ever so slightly. I felt strong and was ready to push myself in the second half. As each mile passed, I got a little faster. By mile 20, I was running 8:30 miles. My legs were beginning to bark at me, but knowing that my pace was much faster than I thought I’d be able to run gave me all the incentive I needed to keep pushing. Bring on the pain!

The last 6 miles definitely hurt, but it was a hurt I missed. I knew I was right on the edge of my limit, but those are the moments I crave. That feeling of being right on the edge, but not out of control, is such a rush!  About 2 miles from the finish line I passed a group of people partying/spectating in front of their house. They were passing out small cups of beer and I grabbed one and took a little celebratory swig…sorta like what you see during the last stage of the Tour de France when the yellow jersey drinks some champagne with his teammates. I knew I was going to finish this thing!

A couple hundred yards from the finish line I saw all my friends cheering me on and that gave me a little extra boost. I crossed the line nowhere close to my PR time, but it felt every bit like one. I left everything I had in me out on the course. I was exhausted, but so freaking happy.

As I walked through the finisher’s chute, emotions started to flood in. I thought back to those dark days and the path it took to get me back to this point. I thought about my dad and all the strength he has given me. I thought about the race and how stoked I was to run a 3:50:32. I thought about how good it felt to be back doing what I love.

For icing on the cake, after meeting up with Chad, Kristy and Carolyn, I learned that they had all PR’d their half! Massive CONGRATS to all of them! Rockin' our Shamrock finisher hats, we headed to the awesome post-race party and sipped on some well-deserved beer! It was a good weekend to be with friends.

Post race beers on the beach with Jon, Chad, Carolyn, Dan, and Kristy

Thursday, March 19, 2015

For my grandmother, Eleanor

If you know me well, you know that running is a huge part of my life. As I continue to progress through my running career, I’ve learned that running is even more fulfilling when I use it to raise awareness and give back to those around me. That is why I’m excited to be joining the ALZ Stars Chicago Marathon Team to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s.

My beautiful, kindhearted and loving grandmother, Eleanor, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2005. With each passing year, her condition has continued to worsen. Many of the things you and I take so easily for granted have become increasingly difficult for her to do without assistance. It is a truly sad disease to witness and it’s my hope that one day there will be a cure. I’m honored to be running the Chicago Marathon for her.

ALZ Stars is a program to advance the care, support and research efforts of the Alzheimer’s Association. The Association works on a global, national and local level to enhance care and support for all those affected by Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

Your kind donation will help the Alzheimer's Association advance research to discover methods of prevention, treatment and ultimately, a cure for Alzheimer’s. My goal between now and race day in October is to find 100 people willing to donate $26.20, or a dollar for each mile I run, so that I can reach my fundraising goal of $2,620. Please visit my fundraising page to learn more.

Thank you in advance for your generosity. It is greatly appreciated by me, my family, and the families of those that have a loved one that suffers from Alzheimer’s.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

One of those runs

Last night I had one of those of those runs that somehow helps further solidify something I already know to be true. Running is my passion. Perhaps it was the setting? I was running along the Mt. Vernon Trail and caught the reflection of the sun setting on the Potomac River. It provided that perfect mirror image where the ground meets the water and then effortlessly flips upside down. I looked skyward, smiled and said hey to my dad. In that moment, nothing matter except putting one foot in front of the other. The mess of thoughts and emotions in my head vanished. I was lost in the motion of running. This is a sensation that I can only describe as an out-of-body experience. It only lasted for a few strides, but those are the moments I live for as a runner.

The best part is, I don't know when it will happen again. Maybe I should go for another run and find out...

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Runner's Spotlight: Meet Rachel McPhillips

It has been awhile since I've done a Runner's Spotlight and I couldn't think of a better person to get the ball rolling again. I met Rachel last year when we shared a van for 36 hours during the Hood to Coast Relay. I vividly remember Rachel mentioning to me her desire to run the Mercedes Marathon as her first. I told her if she signed up, I would as well. Flash forward to the present and in just a few days, I'll be heading to Birmingham to run the Mercedes Marathon alongside Rachel. Well...most it. I'm still easing back into running from my recent injury so I'm planning to run about 16 miles with her.

I think the most satisfying thing about being a marathoner is witnessing someone else take on their first. Your first marathon is something you never forget. When I think back to mine, it brings nothing but warm memories. So, my excitement about Rachel's first is that she will soon get to experience all those amazing emotions of running a marathon. She has trained very hard for this and I know she is going to have a great race!

Rachel was kind enough to take some time out of her busy mommy life (she has two little ones) to answer a few of my questions. Runners, meet Rachel!

When did you start running and why?
Rachel McPhillips: I started running in the Fall of 2009 so I could mark "Run a 5K" off my bucket list. A month later, I signed up for my first half. It took a couple of those before I fell in love with running. Once I realized that running is about competing with yourself and not trying to prove anything to anyone else, is when it stopped being a chore and became a priority.

Do you remember what your first road race was?
RM: My first road race was the Jingle Bell 5K in December 2009. It was rainy, and cold and I wasn't sure if I would actually finish.

What was your most memorable race?
RM: I love to soak up the essence of a race. I think every finish line you cross changes who you are from when you crossed the start line. I remember vivid details about all of my races. There are 3 races that stick out in my mind-- one is Nike Women's DC, where I ran it side by side with one of my best friends, Molly. The Tiffany necklace at the end wasn't so bad either. The second race is Hood to Coast with Nuun Hydration. While that was definitely more of an experience vs the actual race, I met some of the most amazing people on that trip that I now get to call friends, plus run for a company that I truly believe in and love.  The third race that sticks out in my mind is the Talladega Half. It was my goal race and I basically had a panic attack in the beginning of it and fell off pace. I wanted to quit in the middle of it, but kept pushing on and ended up running the last half with a friend and we had an absolute blast!

Do you have a weirdest/funniest running moment? 
RM: All the weird moments are gross, so I won't share those with the Internet, but probably one of the funniest moments is when I tripped and fell during a race. I rolled down a hill (Not gracefully, at all, I might add) and actually had a lady turn around and come back for me saying "Are you okay?? I heard you fall!!" I was so embarrassed.

Who is the biggest motivator in your life? 
RM: My biggest motivator in life are the two little redheads that call me Mom. They watch and listen to everything I say and do, so it helps me to try to stay positive and set a good example for them. I want them to understand the importance of taking time out for yourself, hard work, and self motivation.

What is your favorite quote? 
RM: "We cannot be what we want to be by remaining what we are." ~Max Depree

You’re running your first marathon soon. How has your training gone? What are your emotions leading into the big day? 
RM: My training has been different than most, in that it's been grief-stricken and extremely therapeutic. When I lost my mom in October, I wondered if trying to tackle the 26.2 was going to be too much, but I just took it one run at a time, and never looked ahead too far. I thought for a while that training for this would bring me some sort of closure and peace with her death, but I realized a few weeks ago that it isn't going to do that. I know that she was proud of me for doing this, and also thought I was crazy. I had some of the most fun on my long runs with my friend Tanya, and if it wasn't for her, I don't know that I would have made it on some of those runs. While my heart is heavy with the loss of my mom, I am excited and feel ready to tackle this race. It doesn't hurt that I have some amazing Nuun Hood to Coast teammates coming to help me celebrate!

If you could only give one piece of advice to someone just getting into running, what would it be? 
RM: Don't give up! You will feel awkward and out of place in the beginning, but don't let that stop you! If people offer to run with you, take them up on it. Other runners are the only people who will get your drive for this, but don't get so caught up in what everyone else is doing that you forget why you started.

What’s next after Mercedes? Signed up for any other races this spring? 
RM: I haven't signed up for any races, but I think I want to concentrate on a 5K or 10K PR for the Spring. I also want to take on more trail runs.

Want to know more about Rachel? Check out her blog: Running Backwards in High Heels
Follow her on Twitter: @runinhighheels
Follow her on Instagram: runinhighheels
Rachel is an ambassador for Nuun Hydration and FitFluential.