Monday, December 29, 2014

Running Year Review: 2014

2014 has been a bit of a transition year for me. My love for the trails and mountains has continued to grow and as a result, I ended up running more of my races on dirt than pavement...not that I'm complaining. My races took me to some incredible places over the year. It's easy to forget how many natural wonders we have within our country. In a way, I feel pretty spoiled.

Certainly, the highlight of my year was finishing my first 100 miler. It's been a goal of mine since 2012 and after an unsuccessful attempt last year, I was so stoked to get my finish this year on a much more challenging (and incredibly beautiful) course. But, 2014 was filled with lots of other fun races and weekend running adventures that I'm excited to share.


Antelope Canyon 50 Mile. An incredible course in Arizona that went through towering slot canyons and along the ridge of the ColoRADo River.


Rosaryville Off-Road Half Marathon. Fun, local trail race with my friend Kristy.


Cherry Blossom 10 Mile with Team Gravel Pit! New PR, 1:12:35.

Trap Pond 50K. 1st time event in Delaware. Was able to nab a PR, 4:40:52.


24 Hour Adventure Trail Run. Used this race to run my 50 mile long run for my 100 miler training. The race was held at one my favorite local trail running spots, Prince William Forest Park. 

Spent my Memorial Day weekend trail running in the Blue Ridge and Massanutten Mountains. Lots of vert. Lots of beauty.

Hawksbill Summit

Bryce 100. A race that has changed my life significantly. Something I will never forget.


Hood to Coast Relay with Team Nuun Hydration. Part 1 and Part 2 race recaps. Made some great friends and lasting memories.


Reverse Goofy. For a fun late season challenge I ran a marathon and a half marathon in the same weekend. 

Finishing the half

StumpJump 50K. Awesome trail race near Chattanooga, Tennessee with my friend Cathy.

Photo Credit: Wild Trails
Baltimore Marathon. Tried to go for a PR, but crashed and burned. Still had a great weekend with Kristy, Cathy, and Erin!


Became a published writer! Got my article published in the November issue of Ultrarunning Magazine.

NYC 60K. Ran side-by-side with my friend Jocelyn in her first ultra. We had a blast!

About a week after the 60K my running season came to an abrupt halt when I fell on a trail run and broke my left arm right below the elbow. Thankfully, I had no key races planned so taking the forced rest period came at a pretty good time.

Broken arm aside, 2014 was an amazing year! I explored so many new places and learned more about myself. Running is a never ending journey. Each race opened my eyes to something new. I'm not exactly sure what direction 2015 will head, partially because in addition to my arm I'm dealing with an issue with my left knee that is hindering my training. I hope to be 100% soon, but until then, running isn't going to be a big part of the picture. I foresee many hours logged on an elliptical and my bike until my knee is stronger. On a positive note, I will be running again with Team Nuun Hydration. It's been a fun company to be a part of over the last couple of years and I can't wait to work with them again in the new year! 

I hope you all had a great 2014 and I wish you many happy miles in 2015! Cheers!!!


Sunday, December 14, 2014

TNFECS - Washington, DC - December Update

Last week the 2014 The North Face Endurance Challenge Series (TNFECS) season came to a close in California. This race always showcases the best of the best in the ultra running world. It was an exciting race which saw the men's title go to Sage Canaday and the women's to Magdalena Boulet. Both ran stellar races in quite tricky conditions. A full recap of the race by Exploring Endurance can be viewed here.

For many athletes, TNFECS California is one last get together to see friends before the end of the year. Undoubtedly, the question many ask after this race is, "What races are you running next year?" For me, the next ultra I'm running in 2015 will be the season opener for the TNFECS in Washington, DC. I cannot wait for this race! It will be a great event to kick my trail running season off.

While my training for this race won't get going in earnest until the new year, I was hoping to get in some nice trail runs before the holiday. Unfortunately, I had a bad fall a few weeks ago on a trail run and broke my arm. Since then, I've been resting but I'm hopeful to get back to some light running before Christmas. This forced rest period hasn't been a whole lot of fun, but I've been taking it in stride.

Needless to say, I can't wait to get back on the trails and do what I love most. I know I will ready to go by race day on April 18th! Speaking of race day, all race distances are still open for registration, but will likely reach capacity, so don't wait. The next fee increase for race registration is on January 25th, so take advantage of the lower pricing. I promise you will not be disappointed if you sign up for this race!

I plan to get out for some runs on the Potomac Heritage Trail and in Great Falls at some point in January or February so I can capture some photos of the course for everyone. I'll be sure to include them all in a future blog post. I hope everyone had a great 2014 and here's to many more great miles in 2015!

Call for comments
  • What was your favorite race in 2014?
  • What races are you considering in 2015?
  • What are your 2015 goals?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Forced Rest

A couple weeks ago I was out on an early morning trail run with my friend Mike when I had a pretty bad fall. I tripped stepping over a large rock and fell hard on my left arm. I knew right away that something wasn't right. It hurt much more than a usual digger. My first thought was that I jammed my elbow really bad (if that's even possible?). Mike asked me if I was alright and I said I thought so. Still being a couple miles from our cars, I got back up on my feet and we continued on.

As we started running again, I felt better and thought that I was probably fine. However, when I got back to my car and examined my arm a little more closely, I realized I had a bigger issue. My left arm below my elbow was very swollen and I couldn't bend my arm without a lot of pain.

After a fun visit to the ER I found out that I had fractured my radial bone in two places right below the elbow joint. Luckily, the bone wasn't displaced. Had it been, it would have needed surgery to pin it back together. Whew!

The following morning I went to an orthopedic where I was given a beautiful full arm cast. Like any injured runner, I wanted to know when I could get back to running. The orthopedic told me it was not advisable to run while I had the cast on. This came as a pretty big disappointment, but I understood. In hindsight, after wearing this cast for about two weeks, I realize that it would be pretty difficult to run with it anyway, not to mention how smelly it would become with all my sweat getting inside of it. I don't want to be the stinky guy at work.

Getting injured is a runner's worst nightmare. We do everything in our power to prevent an injury from occurring because we know how important running is in our daily lives. However, we know we're not invulnerable. Injuries happen in running. It's part of our sport.

I take comfort from knowing that what happened to me could have been a lot worse. I could have broken my arm to the point where I would have needed surgery. Or, when I fell I could have hit my head on a rock. All things considered, I feel very lucky. Being laid up for a few weeks with a broken arm isn't the end of the world. Sure, I wish it didn't happen, but I'm doing my best to take a positive from a negative. I know this forced rest period will do my body some good. (At least that's what I'm telling myself, haha!)

I constantly preach that we should never take running for granted. This point doesn't ring more true than now. Running is a gift. We don't have to run, we get to. I know when I get back out there I’ll be carrying an even larger appreciation for it.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Race Recap: NYRR NYC 60K

When I first heard about the NYC 60K, I was immediately drawn to it. An ultra in New York City? Count me in! With only 300 runners, this wasn't your average NYRR race. My friend Jocelyn had expressed interest for sometime about running an ultra. We had been searching for a race that would work for both of us and this race ended up being the perfect fit.

Heading to the start
Bib pickup was held race morning at the NYRR Headquarters. The start (in Central Park) was just a short walk from there. Jocelyn and I met up at NYRR and hung out in the warmth of the building until the race started (it was in the low 30s). She had a little concern about how this run would go, but I knew her marathon conditioning would be a strong base to get through the 60K (37 miles).

The course was a 4 mile loop in Central Park, which we would run around 9 times. In addition to the main aid station at the start/finish, there was an additional water stop about halfway into the loop. We were also allowed to stash our own food/drink bag at the main aid station, which was nice.

The sun was just starting to creep over the tall buildings that surround Central Park as we set off. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and we were treated to beautiful blue skies all day. After a quicker first lap than intended, we settled into a comfortable pace. While some would find running a looped course to be boring, I don't mind. Each lap I noticed something new. The fall foliage in the park was gorgeous which made for a picturesque setting.

As the race progressed, the park came to life with other runners, cyclists, and hansom cab rides. Jocelyn and I talked about anything and everything during the race. It's kinda funny how easy it is to open up during a run. Our steady conversation made the laps pass quickly. I was under strict instruction not to tell her how many miles we had left. The only numbers I could say aloud were the number of laps to go.

During the 4th lap I bumped into a fellow Nuun Ambassador and Hood to Coast teammate, Eric. He told me he was gonna try to come out and say hi and it was nice to see him.

Eric and I (Photo Credit: Eric)
As we came into the closing laps, I could tell Jocelyn was starting to hurt. I joked with her that this is where the real fun begins! She told me I could run ahead, but there was no way I was gonna leave her side. I've been in her position before I know how much it helps to have someone next to you. Besides, she was still running so strong!

During last lap, Jocelyn was pretty quiet, but I understood why. The hills of Central Park started to feel more like mountains, but she powered up each one, refusing to walk. Finish line in sight, we gave it one last push. We finished in just over six hours with a 9:48 min/mile average! I was beyond impressed. She ran such an amazing race! Watching someone graduate from marathoner to ultra-marathoner is pretty awesome to see. Oh, did I mention she had run the NYC Marathon two weeks prior?!?! #beastmode

After the finish, I saw Mary Wittenberg (CEO of NYRR) and went up to thank her. She looked at me and said, "I think I posted a picture of you guys finishing on Instagram." She pulled out her phone and showed me the picture and sure enough, she had. She asked me what my email was and sent me some other photos she took of us finishing. You rarely get that kind of personal touch at a race and it was coming from Mary, no less. Pretty cool!

Jocelyn and I crossing the finish line (Photo Credit: Mary Wittenberg)
Last, a BIG thank you to the volunteers. They were absolutely incredible. It was definitely chilly out there and having them come out to help and support us was fantastic. I don't think there was one volunteer that didn't cheer us on as we passed. I was blown away. I loved this race and would definitely run it again in the future!
Garmin Upload
Mary, Me and Jocelyn

Monday, November 10, 2014

The North Face Endurance Challenge Series - Washington, DC

If you're anything like me, as the year comes to a close you're already looking ahead to 2015 and the races you want to run. As trail races continue to grow in their popularity, it is becoming increasingly harder to settle on which one(s) you want to do. To make your decision a little easier (especially if you live in the Mid-Atlantic region), let me recommend to you the The North Face Endurance Challenge Series event in DC (ECSDC).

A celebration of trail running...that's the best way I can describe the ECSDC. Spanning the entire weekend, the ECSDC offers race distances for runners of all abilities. A 50 miler, 50K, marathon and marathon relay is on Saturday's menu. On Sunday, you can choose from the half marathon, 10K, and 5K. For those with little ones, there's a kid's run both days. The North Face ECS staff pour their hearts and souls into providing the best race experience for you. You will not be disappointed if you sign up!

I've run the ECSDC half marathon, marathon, and 50K. In 2015, I'm going for the 50 miler! While this won't be my first 50 miler, I very much look forward to checking this race off my list. I was set to run the 50 miler in 2013, but due to illness the week of the race, I had to sit it out. However, I was able to defer my entry to the 50 Mile Championship in San Francisco, so not a bad trade off all and all.

An important note for the 2015 ECSDC is that the date has changed. In years past, the ECSDC was held in early June. However, this year it will be held the weekend of April 18-19. Personally, I'm all for the date change as the June event was usually pretty hot and humid. April weather in the DC area is typically in the 40s to 50s, which will make for ideal racing conditions. For more information on the ECSDC (including registration information), be sure to check out their website here.

I'm stoked to be partnering with the ECSDC crew to help promote this awesome event. In the months leading up to the race, I will be writing blog posts on different topics, such as course previews (with lots of pictures), trail running tips, and progress on my training for the 50 miler. I'm excited to share my experience with you all and I hope to meet many of you at the race! Also, be sure to follow The North Face ECS (@thenorthfaceECS) and me (@DougCassaro) on Twitter. Tag your tweets with #ECSDC and #TNFECS to join the chatter!

Happy running!


Call for Comments
  • Which Endurance Challenge Series event are you planning to run in 2015? Have you run any in the past?
  • Will the ECSDC be your first trail race?
  • What type of topics would you like me to cover in future blog posts?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Race Recap: Baltimore Marathon

I can sum up my Baltimore Marathon in two words: deceptively hilly. Friends had told me this course was hilly, but the elevation profile didn't seem too intimidating. Given the weather forecast and how my legs had been feeling on recent runs, I thought I would give this race a good effort and attack my PR. While in hindsight I would have been better off saving a PR attempt for another day, I have no regrets trying. Overall, I had a great weekend in Baltimore with friends.

Friday afternoon I met up my friends Kristy and Cathy and we grabbed a train from DC to Baltimore. After checking in at our hotel we went straight to the expo, which was located conveniently across the street. Bibs in hand, we headed to Baltimore's "Little Italy" for a delicious pre-race meal.

The following morning Cathy and I hung around the hotel until about 30 minutes prior to the start. The hotel was only a few blocks from the start line, which was nice. We wished Kristy well (she was running the half) and made our way to the start. Cathy and I were running different paces and after sharing words of encouragement, we headed to our respective corrals. It wasn't too long after I got into my corral that the race was under way!

Note: My thanks to Cathy for all her race photos!

I started off around an 8:30 pace with the goal of inching down to an 8:15 pace by the half. I struggled to find a balanced rhythm from the moment the race began. My pace was jumping all around. I was able to keep my average pace on target, but I never found my groove. I remember saying to myself around mile 7 or 8 that a PR wasn't gonna happen unless something turned around.

Gorgeous sunrise at mile 5
Course-wise, the first half of race was pretty nice. Mile 3 through about 5 went through the zoo and many zoo keepers were out cheering us on. A few of them even had some of the animals with them. I remember seeing a couple birds and a baby penguin. With the exception of running through the grounds of Under Amour Headquarters around mile 11, miles 10 through 13 was a rather bland out & back section of the course.

I ran the first half in about 1:50 which gave me a little boost of confidence that I might just be able to pull a PR off. However, the heaviness of my legs and knowing that there were more hills to contend with later didn't give me a very cozy feeling. Nonetheless, I kept pushing because like many of us, the desire to PR outweigh the doubt.

Mile 12 and my bright laces
Meanwhile, the half marathon started almost two hours after the marathon and around mile 15 the half course joined up with the marathon course. This turned the rather cluttered free marathon course into a traffic jam. I knew that half runners were gonna join up with us, I just forgot how many of them there were. For me, it felt like the beginning of the race all over again as I jockeyed with the other runners for running real estate.

Lake at Mile 20
By mile 20, my legs were pretty toasted. The effort I put in on the hills to maintain my pace took the life from them. I knew then and there that a PR was off the table. I struggled the remainder of the race to maintain a sub-9 pace. It was certainly frustrating, but that is part of running. Some days just aren't yours. I finished in 3:46:10 hurting, but grateful. Grateful that I got to enjoy a beautiful day doing what I love most...even if at times I was cursing at myself or the course.

Mile 26 went through Camden Yards
We don't run marathons because they are easy. We run them because they test the limits of our endurance. We run them because of the emotions we get on the days when we exceed what we think our limit is. However, on the days when things don't go our way, we have one of two choices: we can either feel sorry for ourselves and make excuses or we can finish feeling proud of what we accomplished and learn from our mistakes.

The Baltimore Marathon was my 39th marathon. You'd think by now that I'd be a pro at these things and know everything there is to know to about running them. But, the fact is I don't. Each time I toe the line of race, whether it be a 5K or a 50 miler, I'm always learning. That desire to learn more and turn my goals into reality is what drives me to continue to push myself and click "Register" on that next race entry form.

Garmin Upload

Kristy, Cathy, me and Erin

Friday, October 10, 2014

Race Recap: StumpJump 50K

This race should have been called StumpRock, as there were many more rocks than tree stumps to contend with on this mega 50K course. Trail running is about exploring. It's about seeing new places and challenging yourself on different terrain. StumpJump was exactly what I needed to shake things up. It made me fall in love with trail running all over again.

I didn't know what to expect on the course. I heard that it was pretty runnable, but with 4,400 feet of vertical gain (which actually turned out to be more like 5,600), I knew there would be some power hiking tossed into the mix.

My weekend started out with traveling to Atlanta on Thursday to meet up with my friend Cathy, who was also running. On Friday, we drove up to Chattanooga and headed straight for the bib pickup. The pickup was suppose to be held at a park, but due to the threat of severe weather, they opted to move it indoors at a retail store. As it would turn out, all the forecasted weather blew out by midday. However, I think the decision to relocate was a smart move. Cathy and I made up for it by checking out the park after we picked up our bibs.

Nice to see some Nuun at bib pickup!
Where bib pickup was suppose to be held
The race didn't start until 8am, so we didn't have to get up too early the following morning. The start line was buzzing with excitement, albeit a bit chilly (not that I minded). There were a couple fires going so I stayed near one to keep warm.

A high five to Cathy to wish her well and we were off! I had no time goal for the run. I was just hoping to run strong throughout the day and work on my downhill running. It was pretty cluttered at the start which led to big running congo lines for the first half of the race. It was frustrating to be stuck in these long lines, but in hindsight it was for the best as it kept me from running too hard at the beginning.

Start Line
The course was a lollipop design, with the stick being about 10 miles and the delicious candy loop measuring in at just under 10. The stick was along the Cumberland Trail and the candy loop was on the well-known Mullens Cove Loop. Having never run the trails of Tennessee, I didn't have many expectations. Yet, what expectations I did have were blown outta the park! The trails were absolutely gorgeous. There were some fall colors, but for the most part it was still a very green and vibrant forest. In fact, the forest was so dense in some parts I wasn't sure what time of day it was anymore. Mullens Cove was full of beautiful, lush ferns. For whatever reason, I love running through them. Some rocks on the trail were coated with moss so I always had to be on my game. I caught my toe many times on the rocks and roots along the trail and finally took a nice digger around mile 24.

A good section of trail was along a ridge line near the Tennessee River. Unfortunately, the thick tree line covered most of the vantage points. I tried to sneak peak were I could, but taking your eyes off the trail for too long only spelled trouble.

The beautiful course scenery (Photo Credit: Wild Trails
The stick of the course had the most vert, but was still fairly runnable. Mullens Cove gave me a nice opportunity to lengthen my stride and punch in a few faster miles. The aids stations were stocked with the usual ultra fare and enthusiastic volunteers. My only complaint, the serving cups for liquids were very small (dixie cups). I'm not sure if this was in the race's effort to lower its environmental footprint, but my feeling is, if you're gonna put cups out, might as well use bigger ones. I had a water bottle full of Nuun and was wearing my hydration pack, so it wasn't much of an issue for me.

In addition to working on my downhill running, I'm trying to learn how to get through aids stations a bit more effectively (read: FASTER). I find that I can waste a lot of time at aid stations during trail races. At StumpJump, I felt I was doing a good job getting in and out quickly. However, this came back to bite me when I forgot to stop at my drop bag at mile 19 to restock my pack with Gu and Nuun. I realized my mistake shortly after leaving the aid station, but in my mind I was too far to turn around and go back to it.

I felt great for about the next 3 miles, but then I started to hit a wall and had no nutrition to fend it off. I never was able to dig myself out of the low I was in which made the last few miles of the race pretty rough for me. However, I find running through the lows is good practice. You're not always gonna feel fresh as a daisy on a run, so it's good to learn how to run through the pain and negative thoughts.

Soon enough I emerged from the trail and back onto the paved road that led to the finish line. I remembered from the start of the race that the finish was about a half mile from the trailhead, so I pushed hard and was able to sneak past a few runners in the process. I crossed the line in 6:21:07 tired, but satisfied. With the exception of forgetting to stop at my drop bag, I felt I ran a smart race. The course was a little short (not that I minded), but I feel the extra vertical made up for the missing mile or so.

There was nice BBQ at the finish and to my delight, they had veggie burgers! The only thing that was missing was a beer garden. Cathy came burning into the finish about an hour later looking super strong. She had only run her first ultra a few months prior, but I definitely think she has caught the ultra bug!

Overall, I was very impressed with StumpJump. The race staff was great and the course was beautiful. I highly recommend it!

Garmin Upload

50K fueled by Nuun
On a somber note, about a week before the race, UVU Racing Team Principal Basti Haag tragically lost his life doing what he loves, mountain climbing. I carried his name with me during my run and I'd like to dedicate this run in his memory. While I didn't know Basti well, his love and passion for the outdoors and his determination and drive to push his limits is something I admire. May he rest peacefully. UVU Director Gerhard Flatz wrote a beautiful eulogy for him and I encourage you to read it if you have a moment.

I also learned shortly after the race that a runner had collapsed on the trail. No runner ever likes to hear news like that and my heart sank after I heard of his passing. The runner's name is Eric Jacks and if you go to Wild Trails Facebook page, you can read a beautiful message written by one of his family members. RIP, Eric. The running community mourns with your family.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Race Recap: Reverse Goofy

I make a lot of stupid decisions. Like running a marathon. That was stupid. Then, I had the bright idea to run an ultra. Also stupid. So, leave it to me to be more stupid and run and marathon and a half marathon in the same weekend.

Okay, maybe I don't think any of those things are stupid. Perhaps I'm a masochist? A stupid masochist.

So, the reverse's like Disney's Goofy Challenge where runners complete the half on Saturday and the full on Sunday, only I did it in reverse. Why? I don't know. Boredom? Curiosity? Adventure? A little bit of all 3?

The two races I decided on were the Abebe Bikila Marathon and the Parks Half Marathon. The marathon course was on the C&O Canal towpath; a flat, stone crushed trail that is wedged between the C&O Canal and the Potomac River. The Parks Half was a point-to-course in Maryland that started in Rockville and finished in downtown Bethesda.

The marathon set off at 9 under overcast skies. The temperature was pretty good (somewhere in the 70s), but the humidity was high and that was the real killer. I ran around a 9 min/mile pace and didn't plan to stray too far from that. I was aiming for a sub-4, but whether that happened or not didn't really matter to me. I just knew I needed to run easy so that my legs weren't completely toasted for the half.

I love when a marathon start line looks like a 5K
I found a nice rhythm and settled in for the 26 mile journey. Aid stations were abundant and I made sure to stay on top of my hydration. The course was a 6.5 mile out & back [insert fart noises here]. Out & backs are not my favorite and knowing that I would have to do it twice sucked, but whatever. I did my best to appreciate the scenery around me. The C&O Canal carries a lot of history and many of the old canal locks and lock houses are still standing, which is cool to see.

Towards the end of the first out & back, a light rain began to fall, not that I minded. I was already drenched in sweat. I finished the first out & back in under two hours and I was feeling good. I decided to up my pace just a touch, but was still being mindful of the next day. However, it was hard to ignore the competitive spirit during a marathon and holding back on my pace was an on-going challenge.

In hindsight, it was good I ran this race easy as many runners were suffering from the humidity. In fact, around mile 24 I came across a runner lying on the trail. I stopped to ask him if he was alright and he said he was very dehydrated. I unfortunately wasn't carrying any water, but he told me some other runners went ahead to the next aid station to tell the volunteers to bring him some. He was very coherent, but a little pale in the face. I asked for his name and told him I would make sure water was on the way. Not five minutes later I saw aid station volunteers running towards me with a gallon of water. I described the runner to them and continued on.

I crossed the finish line a few minutes under 4 hours and immediately went into recovery mode. I started stuffing food in my mouth (very cold pizza and a bagel) and pumped my body full of Nuun deliciousness. My legs were pretty stiff, but after a solid stretch session they felt better.

After the race I drove straight to the half marathon packet pickup to meet up with my friend Janine who was also running. I was still in my running shorts and when I went to pick up my bib, the check-in volunteer asked me if I had run to the pickup. I told her I didn't and that I had run earlier in the day. She then said, "Well, I hope you didn't run too far that you ruined your race tomorrow." All I could do was chuckle.

When I got home, I slipped on my compression socks, propped my legs up, ate, watched college football, and ate some more (I may or may not of eaten and entire bag of Sun Chips). I even indulged myself with a delicious fall beer. Beer has carbs too, you know. I also made sure to get up and move around often to keep my legs loose.
With a start time of 7, I was up and at it early for the half. My legs were definitely a bit stiff when I got out of bed, but nothing too crazy. I met up with Janine and her fiance kindly drove us to the start line.

The weather was much nicer for the half. The humidity was gone and the temperatures were in the 50s. I was looking forward to this race. Much of the course snakes through some really pretty park land. I wouldn't classify the course as flat or hilly, but it has a few rollers. The sun was just creeping over the horizon when I headed off.

I knew my legs would feel better once I started running and after about a mile they came to life. That's not to say my quads/calves weren't yelling at me, cause they were. But, in a way, it felt good. I feel a bit more alive on a run when I'm in a little bit of pain. Remember, I'm a stupid masochist.

I held myself back a bit during the first half of the race to gauge what amount of effort I could put in. In my head I was thinking that I would run around an 8:30 pace, but as mile 7 clicked off in 8:17, I knew my legs had a bit more life in them. So, I decided to give it a good go for the second half.

The last 6 miles were very enjoyable. I was doing what I love and feeling great. The weather was awesome, the birds were chirping, runner camaraderie was high and the course was gorgeous. I sometimes have to pinch myself to remind myself how lucky I am to be able to run. It's so easy to take the gift of running for granted.

Finish line in view, I gave it one last burst and completed my 39.3 mile weekend! The reverse goofy was a lot of fun and gave me a good taste of what stage racing would be like. While doing something this stupid might not be for everyone, I encourage you all to find something that presents a challenge and get after it! It keeps running fun and fresh.

Finishing up the half
The Breakdown
Marathon: 3:57:10 - Garmin Upload
1/2 Mary: 1:47:43 - Garmin Upload
Total Time: 5:44:53 (8:46 min/mile avg.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Sit down for a bit

The rugged trails of Massanutten
Recently I ran on the trails within the Massanutten Mountains. It was a particularly humid day and I was running a steep and technical section of trail. I never really felt strong on the run, but the endless beauty of the mountains helped divert my attention from the dismal run I was having. Yet, the deeper I got into the run, the worse I felt. Nausea set in and my attitude quickly changed from "I'm sorta having fun" to "This sucks." As the next mile clicked off on my watch, I found a nice rock and decided to plop down for a little bit.

I looked in the direction I came from and it brought the temptation of bailing and heading back to my car. However, looking in the other direction generated curiosity of what was around that next bend. Before I had sat down I was pretty sure that I was gonna bail. But, that curiosity of what was beyond the next bend overpowered me. The unknown beckoned and without giving it a second thought I was back on my feet and on my way again.

The rest of my run was amazing. The dense tree line that surrounded the trail opened up and offered amazing views that I would have never seen if I had decided to turn around. A heavy rain began to fall and brought a rush of cool air that reinvigorated me. Running along the mountain side in a downpour was incredible. I felt like a kid splashing through puddles. My senses were in overdrive and everything around me became more alive. It was simply awesome.

 Views like this make me happy. Notice the dark storm cloud rolling in!
When I finished my run I was so happy that I decided to press on, for had I not, I would of robbed myself of such an awesome experience. The moral of my post? The next time you're starting to fall out of love with your run, sit down for a bit. You might surprise yourself when you get back up.


Friday, September 5, 2014

Race Recap: Hood to Coast Relay with Team Nuun - Part Deuce

To read Part 1, click here.

"It's a two hundred mile relay made up of 36 legs. Each team has 12 runners, divided among 2 vans. Each runner completes 3 legs and blah, blah, blah..." ----> my endless explanation when I try (poorly) to explain what Hood to Coast is. I should just say, "It's a really big relay!"

Nuun had two teams, Lemon Lime and Wild Berry. I was on Wild Berry, rolling in Van 2 (Van Deuce) as runner 9. In van deuce was our trusty driver Vishal and fellow leg runners Kevin, Rachel, Amanda, Megan and Liz.

Friday morning began with my hotel roommates and Lemon Lime runners George (aka Jorge) and Justin bailing early to head to the start line at Mt. Hood. My van didn't have to leave as early so I used this extra time to relax and grab some breakfast with those that still hadn't left.

Van 1 at the start
At 10:30 we all piled into our van/new home for the next 30+ hours and headed off to the first van exchange (where runner 6 (Melissa) in van 1 exchanged with runner 7 (Kevin) in my van). We were hardly outside of Seattle when we hit traffic, then some more traffic, and yes, a little more traffic. We certainly weren't setting any speed records but with Vishal's expert driving and ability to carve through traffic like a knife through butter, we made to the exchange with time to spare before Melissa arrived.

Exchange 6 - Rachel, Kevin, Megan, Amanda, Liz, and Vishal
(Photo credit: Amanda)
Melissa exchanged with Kevin and the race had begun for van deuce! We headed up the road and screamed and hollered at all the runners out on the course. Seeing them really got my endorphins pumping. Finally, the race was here and I couldn't wait for my leg! We caught up to Kevin and gave him some much needed Nuun. It wasn't humid, but it was definitely a hot summer afternoon.

Runners on the road!
Kevin came blazing into the exchange and traded off to Rachel. With Rachel on her way, I headed back to the van to get ready for my leg. My first leg was mostly flat, but fairly long at just under 7 miles. It was also the first leg where the team vans couldn't follow along with the runners because most of it was on a bike trail. Soon, Rachel appeared over the crest of the road and handed off the snap bracelet (which served as the relay baton) to me.

Rachel finishing strong on her first leg!
Rachel and I created a little toe tapping routine for our exchanges.
(Photo credit: Kevin)
My pace was way too fast from the start, but the excitement of finally running took over. 2 miles and an unpleasant side stitch later, I started paying for my quick start. I slowed down a bit and became roadkill for a few runners (which drove me nuts). Yet, I knew I needed to save myself for my next two legs. The bike trail was pretty, but I'll admit it was a bit anticlimactic after all the amazing scenery I had seen on the drive down from Seattle. Soon enough I made it to the exchange where I handed off the snap bracelet to Amanda. Leg 9, done - 8:09 min/mile. Back at the van and it was a quick change into fresh clothes and replenishing my body with some Nuun goodness.

We reached Portland as the sun began to disappear behind the horizon. Portland was where the next van exchange was and where our 12th runner, Liz, would hand back off to runner 1, Elisabeth, in van 1, to start leg 13 of the relay. Make sense? Ok, moving on....

Me being stupid.
Exchange 12 - Portland skyline
With van 1 on their way to run legs 13-18, our van had some downtime before we had to meet up with them at the next van exchange. So, per the suggestion of my teammate Jenny, (who was in van 1 and lives in Portland) we headed to Laurelwood Brewing Company for dinner where I had an amazing plate of pesto veggie mac 'n' cheese. I wanted to eat all of it, but I was afraid if I ate too much my stomach wouldn't be happy with me on my next leg. For icing on the cake, Jenny also offered up her apartment for us to rest and SHOWER! Her generosity was much appreciated and being able to rest at her place instead of in a van was clutch.

Starting our night shift
A little after midnight we climbed back into van deuce and headed to the next van exchange. The overnight hours were probably some of my favorite during the relay. As physical and mental fatigue started to set in for everyone, our van antics and conversations got weirder and weirder. From our rap sing-a-long of Gansta's Paradise at 2am to our in-depth discussions of poo and farts at 5am. When you're in a van with the same people for over 24 hours, there are no filters. If something was on our minds, it was said without thinking twice. Laughs were abundant and gripes were few and far between.

Exchange 18
My 2nd leg (leg 21) began around 4am. Right before I was about to get out of the van to meet up with Rachel, I got real sleepy. I was worried that I wouldn't be able to bring myself from this haze and get my ass running when it was time. Van traffic was pretty backed up getting into the exchange and by the time I got there, Rachel was done and waiting for me. Her leg was a pretty brutal one and I felt bad that she was left waiting for me when she finished. Sorry Rachel!

Headlamp flipped on and a reflective vest adorned with forward and rear blinkers had me looking like a Christmas tree as I set off into the cool darkness of the Oregon backcountry. This would be my shortest leg (5 miles) and it was mostly downhill along a gravel road. I used the downhill and cool temps to my advantage and pushed the pace. As soon as I was moving I came out of my haze and set off to get me some roadkills! This leg turned out to be my most enjoyable. I welcomed the gravel road as I'll take dirt over pavement any day. In tow of each team van that passed by was a large dust cloud that reduced visibility and made breathing a bit hard, but I didn't mind. This leg had me thinking back to my nighttime hours during my 100 miler in June, which put a huge grin on my face. To me, this is what running is all about....being out in nature, getting a little dirty and running with pure joy. It was one of the most effortless 5 milers I had ever run. Leg 21 done - 7:27 min/mile.

As night turned to dawn, a light fog hugged the trees around us. It was so beautiful until 'Traffic Jam 2014' rudely interrupted the party. Unbeknown to our team, police had stop all van traffic flowing in and out of exchange 24, which was the next van exchange. The Hood to Coast website would later report (jokingly, I believe) that it was due to a driver falling asleep behind the wheel. I still don't know why the police stopped all the vans, but until we reached exchange 30, it was bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Traffic jam! Yours truly in the black hoodie in the lower left trying to figure out what the heck was going on.
(Photo credit: Amanda)
Exchange 30
It was early in the afternoon when Melissa exchanged with Kevin. With Melissa wrapping up leg 30, van 1 was done with their running duties and they headed to the finish line in Seaside to greet us and our anchor runner, Liz. Kevin ran a strong leg and then Rachel was off!

Rachel flying outta exchange 31!
I slipped on my running shoes and began to prep for my final leg. This leg would be my longest, just a hair under 8 miles. While my legs felt pretty fresh, I was a little worried how strong I would be able to run given my lack of sleep and calories. I anxiously awaited for Rachel's arrival at the exchange and when she came into view, excitement took over. Vishal offered to run with me and I appreciated his company as we set off.

There was no sense in holding back so I pushed with everything I had left in me. I had some tightness in my left hamstring, but I guess that's what you get sitting in a van for a day and a half. It was pretty warm out and it was definitely getting to me towards the end of the leg. However, I did my best to block out the discomfort by taking in everything that surrounded me. I was running through the beautiful Oregon countryside, constantly reminding myself that I wouldn't be running in a place like this again for awhile. I was surprised to see many locals sitting out in front of their homes cheering us on. Their support helped keep my pace up. The van stopped a couple times along the way to offer Vishal and I water and of course, Nuun! My teammates even snagged a couple great action photos!

Vishal and I
(Photo credit: Amanda)
Showing my wild face!
(Photo credit: Rachel)
Exchange in view, I gave it all I had. I handed off the snap bracelet to Amanda one last time. Leg 33 done - 8:01 min/mile. I was grateful to be back at the van to change out of my sweaty clothes and get into some much needed A/C. But, our race was not over yet. Amanda was on course and Megan and Liz were prepping for their final legs.

As we neared the coast line, a heavy fog quickly turned a beautiful afternoon into a gloomy day. Before I knew it, Megan was handing off to Liz to start the final leg of the relay! As we entered Seaside, I had mixed emotions. Half of me was so happy we were finally in Seaside but the other half was sad that this amazing journey was coming to an end.

We reunited with van 1 and made our way to the finish. Within minutes of reaching the finish line, Liz came into view and we all cheered her on to the finish! After Liz crossed the timing mats we joined her and ran across the finish line as a team. Hood to Coast Relay - done 10:03 min/mile team average with a time of 33:17:37!

Video of Team Wild Berry being welcomed to the beach party!

Success! Team Wild Berry at the finish!
(Photo Credit: Eric)
A race wouldn't be complete without beers at the finish. Cheers to a great race!
(Photo Credit: Eric)
What an epic relay! I cannot begin to thank Nuun enough for this incredible opportunity. It was such an honor to represent this amazing company at Hood to Coast. A HUGE thank you to Megan and all the other staff members at Nuun. Your hard work did not go unnoticed. You guys rock! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

I'm sure Ragnar relays have a similar feel to Hood to Coast, but let's face it, if it wasn't for Hood to Coast, there would be no Ragnar. There is a reason why Hood to Coast is known as the "Mother Of All Relays." Thanks to all the race staff and volunteers. You guys make an event like this possible. I'm so grateful that I had the chance to run this relay!

To all my teammates, it was a pleasure meeting and running with you. Each of you carried your own amazing life stories and I loved getting to know you all. I can only hope we get together for another run soon!

A relay isn't about one person, it's about a team.