Hiking The Ring: A Trip Report

As we walked off the trail, 70 miles of The Ring behind us, it was a full 48 hours before I realized the extent that the world had crumbled while we were out there following orange blazes. And I say crumbled, because language is escaping me. I’m not entirely sure how to describe this time of unrest, but I can only hope that we will look back on this as the turning point to when things began to change, and be better. Things are still spinning, and I am still processing, learning and acting. I don’t want to take away from any of that. But I also recognize the power of the outdoors for myself, not only in terms of resetting but also in terms of giving me space to think and process much of the things going on in the world today. So with that in mind, I didn’t want to skip over writing a trip report on the Ring. When Matt and I were planning this, there was a surprisingly limited amount of information out on the internet, and what was there was a bit dated and left us wondering about the accuracy of it. So I wanted to make sure to give you the details of what we did, and hopefully encourage others to head out to these trails for a place to reflect and grow, and of course have an adventure.

That’s another way of saying “This is going to be a long one folks.” The short version can be summed up in this video:

We chose to start the ring at the Kennedy Peak trailhead, and hiked clockwise. We set off around 2pm on Wednesday, planning to get up Waterfall mountain and then begin to look for a place to camp. This would be about 12 miles. No part of the trail in this section is particularly challenging, but you still quickly get a feel for the fact that this trail is slow going even when it’s not technical! We dropped our packs and did the out and back to Strickler Knob without them — I’d definitely recommend this detour. That was the only time we saw people out on this day, another couple heading back from Strickler. Coming down from there, we made sure to fill up our water (we were both carrying a 2L bladder, a 16oz flask/bottle and a .6L Katahdyn soft flask with filter). We figured that the next stretch could be a little iffy with water access and we were right!

Strickler Knob

The hike up Waterfall is steep, especially with a full pack, and I was happy to have that behind us on the first day of the trip. At the top we explored some of the herd paths curious if they lead to campsites, but no luck there. As you continue on towards the road a few campsites do emerge right at the road crossing. We decided to cross the road, and about 1/4 mile across just before the trail climbs again there is a nice campsite we picked on the right. 

The rain was rolling in overnight, so when we set off in the morning we weren’t sure if it was raining, really humid, or just windy and that was causing water to come off the trees. Regardless, it was a pretty wet start to the day. Our goal was to get to Edinburg Gap and find some water in that area, making the decision of whether or not to go off trail to the spring at that point (.5 mile detour each way). 

This day proved to show off the heart and soul of the Ring trail. It reminded us not to judge a trail by the map – -what shows as possibly being “a nice hike along the ridgeline” is so much more than that on this trail. The rugged terrain rewards you just enough with the occasional view to keep you going, and we were happy that at this point in the season (just after Memorial Day), the stream crossings on the map did in fact have water flowing — so our bet to skip the spring and hike north on the trail about half a mile was a good bet!

Pic from Milford Gap

The next section up to Woodstock Gap, I will always refer to as The Matrix. When you leave Endinburg gap, you see a sign saying 7 miles to Woodstock. After hiking strong uphill for 25 minutes, another sign…..still says 7 miles! More time passes thinking surely we are almost there, and another sign indicating that we are, at best, halfway. I don’t know what is going on in that section, but just be aware! Woodstock Gap was hot, but had some signs of civilization and we knew we were on our last stretch. But, it was turning into a 28 mile day as we slowly realized our hopes of finding a campsite up along the ridge in the next section were probably not going to come true — we’d have to hike the extra 2 miles down off the ridge. I think the annoyance factor was compounded by the fact we had wet feet since the start of the day – or at least it was for me. For some reason, I decided not to pack an extra pair of socks on this trip. I’ll never backpack again without making sure I do!!!!

Eventually we got to Mudhole Gap, and while we had low expectations based on the name, it turned out to be a great campsite. We were there on Thursday and no one else was around, so we had a ton of room to get ourselves set up, dry things out, and soak our legs in the cold water of Little Passage Creek. It was lovely!!

A nice night, and we packed up and started the second of the big days. You hike along the fire road for the most part for a few miles, which parallels Little Passage Creek, so we didn’t have to top off the pack weight with all the water right away either which was nice. Just make sure you fill up eventually — we did right at the intersection with the Tuscarora Trail – as you won’t have much more water until descending down to Elizabeth’s Furnace. 

Signal Knob

Signal Knob is a great view, and again, we lucked out by being the only ones around. After being able to make good time for the first couple hours, coming off of Signal Knob gets slower and much more technical. Down to Elizabeth’s Furnace, there was a sign saying that a hand pump for water was available in the campground, and some directions there were given. However, it wasn’t clear if it was a sign that had been there since pre-COVID days. As we went through the campground, trying any fountain along the way, it was clear they were off because of COVID precautions. The day was heating up, and I was clearly suffering from lack of calories and hydration. Matt was happily still looking for said hand pump, and I threw a (very small) tantrum insisting that this thing we just came across: 

was clearly the hand pumped they referenced, and it was off, so let’s just get water from the river and get back on trail. Matt was adament that said device is just a faucet, not a hand pump. We may never know who was right!!! But Matt gave in to my rashness and we just hit the river.

After some cold water in my system, and eating 3 large snacks, I immedietly felt better (go figure!) and really enjoyed the next section of hiking. This area is one I had been in the vicinity of before for Old Dominion 100, and it felt familiar for sure. We also saw some others out hiking and the friendly faces were welcome. Still, we kept moving in an effort to get off our feet in less time than the day prior — my sock choice had proven to haunt me even further and I was getting pretty bad blisters on the bottoms of my toes. 

Down to Little Crease Shelter for our last water fill of the day, and we hiked out for the ridge, our sights aimed on Milford Gap. This was perhaps the biggest wildcard for camping options, and I was a little nervous about targeting the ridgeline for camping after seeing yesterday’s ridgeline so limited for options. The eastern side of the ring though seemed to have many more options, and it would be a pretty reliable statement to say that at most trail intersections on the eastern side, there is a primitive campsite or two around. 

Perhaps because of the weather rolling in (which we didn’t know about yet!) Milford gap was also empty, though it looks to be a well frequented spot. Probably my favorite site itself of the trip, though the major downside was it was a tick haven. I still get squirrely thinking about how many ticks we saw there and found on ourselves. Not ideal. But it actually had some benches of logs to sit down on, which was a pleasure!

As I alluded to before – weather was rolling in on this night. In an attempt to keep the tent cool, we had tried to not fully setup the fly for maximum airflow through the tent. As we started falling asleep and we heard thunder rumbling in the distance, we realized that might not have been wise! Slowly the storms rolled in, Matt went out and secured the fly, and for the next couple hours I layed awake worrying about the storms and the potential for a tree to fall on us (I realize this is a very small possibility and generally not something to lay awake worrying about) while Matt slept soundly. 

That night, while I was exploring on my inReach Garmin map, I realized that it said a spring was just .4 miles down this trail from the campsite. We decided that seemed closer than the other options on the map, and it would be nice to just refill once in the morning and then not have to stop again for the last 10 miles of the hike. So in the morning we went down the trail to the West, and eventually did find the spring at the road down there. We didn’t see anything else for the rest of the day, so most likely you’d have to leave the trail to get water at some point, this isn’t a bad option. 

The last day was pretty “easy” in comparison of terrain and climbing, and only half the distance we had been doing which was nice! In the first 68 miles of the trail, we had seen 9 others out on the trail. In those last 2 miles though on the Kennedy Peak trail, we saw another 15+! That was kind of crazy, and it was a little weird to end the hike in such a crowded place — but, by then it was Saturday morning so it was expected. 

Overall, there is a lot we are still learning with backpacking. Like the need of more dry bags — we use one for a bear bag at night, but we probably should have had others to be able to keep other stuff (like sleeping bags) in our packs dry — even just from our sweat! We definitely didn’t need to take the puffy coats we had either, though I’m always hesitant to leave those behind because who knows what weather could really happen out there. I’m also still trying to figure out the perfect blend of hiking and camp clothes. I liked having the button down top and looser pants to wear at camp each night for sure, but I’d also like to try the option of maybe a campsite dress to stay covered but also air myself out once at the campsite. 

For our first multi-day trip backpacking though, this was a pretty solid success! Since then, I’ve also felt a solid strength deposit in my legs for the running I’ve been doing. I guess 70 miles with a 20 pound pack will do that!

“Someone Asked Them to be Quiet”

The print in the photo above has been hanging in my home for the last 3.5 years. I actually think some people see it as parents telling children to be quiet and the impending doom that comes with that. I got the print as a reminder to myself to keep fighting the fight that I had immersed myself in since 2014 with Ironman, trying to achieve equal slots for women at the Ironman World Champions through #50womentokona.

Throughout the current presidency, the print has often brought to mind other battles we find ourselves fighting, these years wrought with controversy and oppression for various groups. 

But I’m not sure I’ll ever look at this print again, without thinking of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and so many others.

I was 23 years old when Obama was elected in 2008. I was young, excited, felt like I had the world at my finger tips and like so many of us, filled with Hope. His election was symbolic to me of the fact that my generation stood for change, promise, and good. 

I was naive. 

Since 2008 my generation has gone ahead and we have done, created, built, dreamt and inspired. We have changed the world. That election gave us a sense that things in our world were better, and so we poured our energy into things to make our lives more enriched, more fun, more connected, more efficient.

I was naive. I knew racism still existed, but I made conscious choices to believe that it wasn’t in my world…that incidents were isolated….that they could be called “incidents.” My naivety was a privilege, afforded to me by the color of my skin.

My generation has gone on to change the world, but in the process we overlooked the need to change the system. We forgot that instead of forging ahead, perhaps we needed to take all our energy and passion and go backwards, digging into the systems that govern our streets and educate our people, and make sure we put changes in place so we never ended up exactly where we are now.

We were naive. Because we didn’t fix the system, more Black people were oppressed. More Black people were murdered. More Black people’s voices and stories have been removed from history. 

We are standing on the brink of a massive opportunity. The world has a lot of battles to fight, but I hope we all make a conscious choice to pick this battle and help make the world a place where Black Lives Matter. Through larger actions of education and activism, and smaller actions of reading, signing petitions and speaking up when something needs to change in front of you….through mistakes and humility, I hope you will join me in this ongoing pursuit to be an ally for our BIPOC communities.

What am I’m doing *now* to begin my allyship? Great question. Because I believe my audience is a lot of outdoor enthusiasts and endurance athletes, I’ll start today by sharing ways that I am learning about racism in the outdoor space and how we can change that.

I donated to Outdoor Afro.

FKT’s are also a space that lacks diversity – But Coree Aussem-Woltering is out there RIGHT NOW on the Ice Age Trail (over 1,000 miles!). I know firsthand how just SEEING an FKT attempt from someone like myself can plant the seed – let’s share Coree’s run which is being tracked on the “tracking now” area of fastestknowntime.com and plant those seeds for other Black athletes.

Reading Black Faces, White Spaces.

Listening to the Unlikely Hikers podcast.

Filling my social media feeds with more Black voices. Fast Women has an instagram highlight reel of “Fast Black Women” that is an excellent place to start.

This is the end of my blog post for today, but I am dedicated to not making this the end of my commitment to Black Lives Matter.

Off the Grid!

I feel like it’s the understatement of the century to say that people are going a little stir crazy lately! I am no exception. We’ve been super lucky that Matt’s job has maintained minimal impacts throughout the crisis, but one of the smaller impacts was being required to burn a week of vacation time at some point in May. Honestly, I perked up at this even though we didn’t have anything planned. It is a great time of year to get out and do a backpacking trip that we have wanted to do. Even better, we’d be able to go during the week to help keep off the trails in the popular times.

We are definitely experimenting with “how light can we travel,” though I will say that we are both scared of sacrificing too much food so we have PLENTY of that. The forecast also looks favorable as have the last few weeks for us to have plenty of water access. I’m also experimenting with my clothing options so we’ll see how that ends up and if I choose correctly!!

Next week I’ll update you on where we travelled and how it was — keeping that off the public space for now just for safety! (that’s for you, Mom!)

In the meantime, we have a great IronWomen Podcast episode on tap for tomorrow – so please keep your eye out for that to drop and have a listen. Haley often challenges me with topics that she proposes for the show, and this was no exception. I learned SO MUCH in this episode and I hope you will too!

Altitude Shifts Attitude

As I was driving out to my hike this morning, I looked ahead at the stretch of road, always quiet mid-day, but even quieter in these COVID times. Today, the mountains weren’t there. Or so it seemed, at least. But having driven towards them many times before, I knew they were in fact there, buried beneath the thick fog that was moving in, bringing with it heavy rain. I might beat the rain today, but I knew I couldn’t beat the fog. 

Normally I would be pretty “meh” about a hike in this unseasonably cold, wet weather. But I think since my training has been light and my fatigue level pretty low for the last few days, I was in a better mood than expected. But the thought still popped into my head that I’d be doing all this climbing today and I wouldn’t get one darn view out of it!

But of course, sometimes you start a climb knowing there will be no view. And, view or not, I knew it would be worth it. Climbing a mountain always makes me feel strong. No matter how busy my life has been. How blah I feel about my body and fitness. How tired my legs are. There is no way I can climb a mountain and not feel…better. Better mentally and stronger physically. 

It’s a little bit of a stretch (but when I’m trying to blog every week, stretching to hit some points is totally fine in my world!) but it reminds me of what Hillary used to remind me of in my first years of working with her, when as a twenty-something life was much more dynamic, dramatic and emotional than I’d like to admit. (Hopefully she’d agree that the pendulum has shifted in my wise years of the thirties!!) But when all those emotions and drama would boil to the surface and the last thing I ever wanted to do was the exercise on my plan for the day, she’d remind me of something tried and true for many endurance sports athletes: mood follows action. Just start. It might not be perfect, but it’s something. And you’ll probably feel better after doing it. And she was right. 

As I’ve matured, and evolved, and spent more time in the mountains and on trails, I’d like to take that adage and change it with an Alyssa-twist: Altitude shifts Attitude. I believe a wise man once said something similar.

In this time when some days are good and some days are bad, my call to action? Climb a mountain. If you don’t have a mountain, hike up a big hill for awhile. Don’t have a hill? Set the treadmill to 15%. Can’t access a treadmill? Put heavy stuff in a backpack and walk around town for an hour. Altitude is relative. But I find this to remain: Altitude shifts attitude. 

The Data Side of the 5 Days of Jarmans

Last week I wrote about how I was inspired to create a self-challenge, which I called “The Five Days of Jarmans” — starting on Monday I would run 1 lap of Jarmans Gap Road, ~6 miles and 1,500 feet of vertical gain and 1,500 feet of descent. Each day thereafter, I’d add a lap until Friday, when I’d do 5 laps. I’m writing a blog for the Smashfest Queen Diaries this week with some more elaboration on my “why” for this, as well as what my takeaways have been. But before it got too far away from me, I wanted to sit down and write out the more data-oriented side of things in case people were interested.

I dialed in my fueling and hydrating plan through this pretty well. Day 1, only being 6 miles, I made sure I was well hydrated and fueled going into it and afterwards, but I didn’t fuel during that hour.

Day 2, I started to add in some calories. I drank ~16oz of NUUN Endurance (60 calories) and on the first descent I had a Spring Energy Speednut gel (250 calories). Honestly I would have liked to have had some more NUUN Endurance but I wasn’t feeling too crisp this day and minimized the extra weight of carrying a handheld for too long. But I made sure to hit the rehydrating right after, and had a shake right afterwards with ~300 calories as well (I had this shake each day afterwards in addition to the nutrition below). 

From there, things stayed pretty consistent, and I essentially just added a bottle and a gel each lap. So Day 3 was 2 Speednut gels (500 calories), 60 calories of NUUN Endurance, and 160 calories of Red Bull for bottle #2. (Total of 720 calories and 32oz of liquid while running)

Day 4: Two Speednut + 1 Koffee gel (710 calories), 120 calories of NUUN Endurance, and 160 calories of Red Bull. (Total of 990 calories and 48 oz of liquid while running)

Day 5: Two Speednut gels + 1 Koffee gel (710 calories), 1 pack of Clif Blocks (200 calories), 180 calories of NUUN Endurance and 160 calories of Red Bull. (Total of 1250 calories and 60oz of liquid while running)

As you can see, for days 3-5 I really focused on getting in 250 calories an hour and ~12oz of hydration with NUUN Endurance and a Red Bull/Water mix. Most of the time I was also using the caffeinated NUUN Endurance. Yes, caffeine is my friend 🙂 So are calories!!

I think the consistency with which I fueled lent itself well to the diesel engine approach I had with my pacing. Admittedly, I’m not a huge data person. I also didn’t want the data and time aspect of this challenge to derail me from having a good time out there. I did my best to remember to split laps up/down, but by the end of the week I was over that a bit and didn’t lap out interloopal times, so those kind of blended together. I also warmed up a little bit on the first couple days which threw off my times/elevation, but I did some rough estimations to give you a ballpark, and all links are to Strava data if you want to double check me! Here is what I have:

  • 15 laps over 5 days
  • Total time for the 5 days including interloopal times: 14 hours, 37 minutes
  • Approximately 88 miles total
  • ~23,500 feet gain total
  • ~22,750 feet descent total
  • Fastest descent was the last one!! 18:58 
  • Fastest climb was the first one!! 31:15

Below, I segmented out any times I did easily have. The “total” is the total elapsed time for the day — so that includes any time I had faffing at the top of Jarmans, and interloopal times.

Day 1

54:30 (climb 31:15 / descent 22:20)

Total: 54:30

Day 2

56:05 (31:47/23:26 – this includes the interloopal time at the bottom)

56:11 (32:52/23:31)

Total: 1:52:16

Day 3

55:15 (33:09/22:06)

54:45 (32:37/22:08)

55:49 (32:32/24:13)

Total: 2:49:42

Day 4

55:03 (32:42/22:21)

55:08 (33:41/22:27)

58:45 (33:57/24:47 – this includes interloopal time)

57:44 (34:15/23:52 – this includes 1:56 of stoppage for a train)

Total: 3:52:55

Day 5

I was lazy and not doing much lapping here, but the climbs appear to be 35-37 minutes and the descents 24-25ish (until the last one!). I also went live on the Smashfest Queen instagram at the top of loop 3 to show what the “view” is at the top since people had asked, and after loop two there was a train, so I waited at my car until that had passed rather than waiting in the open with the train roaring by me. So plenty of places for time to be eliminated with just those!

1:03:55 

1:02:39

1:04:35

1:00:51

54:38

Total: 5:06:43

And last: gear! It might not seem like it’s too variable for this type of adventure, but there are actually plenty of options I considered. First: shoe choice. I ran all but 4 of the 15 laps in Nike Next%. The ones I didn’t were the two on day 2, and the first two on Day 5. I’d say that those were some of my slower laps— I noticed a very big difference for me on my ability to descent in the Next%. I also think they absorbed the pounding a lot more allowing me to rack up all the climb/descent of the week with the least amount of wear possible. 

I actually did consider taking out trekking poles for the last part of the week (controversial, I know!) to have them for the second mile, stash them and bring them down a mile on the descent to have again for the next loop. I never ended up doing that, but I would bet if you are good with the sticks, this would help your times on the climbing!

I also wanted to minimize what I was carrying, so I always stopped back at my car for a new bottle and a gel rather than carry everything the whole time. I created a system which worked really well for the second half of the week where I would bring a bottle all the way up to the top on the first lap, and leave it at the top. Then on further loops, I’d carried a bottle to the second mile, and would grab it again on the way down. On the last lap I may or may not carry a bottle the first couple miles, because I would have to carry the bottle from the top on the last rep. Again, carrying a bottle all the time wouldn’t have been the end of the world and while it seems quite small, these are the small things that add up! I think paying attention to these little things ultimately helped to lighten my load and keep me consistent through the whole week.

Hope some of you found this interesting! More thoughts to come so watch the Smashfest Queen social for that link on Thursday!

The Five Days of Jarmans

This week on IronWomen we are interviewing Lael Wilcox, an endurance sport athlete I have loved following since I came across her documentary I Just Want to Ride. Back in the winter, I noted one of her adventures and loved the concept: She was doing the 15 Lemmons of Christmas by riding Mt. Lemmon for 5 days, with 1x up and down on the first day, 2x up and down on the second day, and so on. To fully understand the scope of this, you might have to head out to Tucson to ride up Mt. Lemmon, but essentially its a 21-25 mile climb (depends on what you call the “top”) which climbs from under 3,000 ft to 8,000 ft. Whether you do it fast or slow, there is no easy way to climb Mt Lemmon.

I don’t know how it popped into my head exactly, but I felt like a great way for me to use this inspiration was to take it to a local running route here outside of Charlottesville: Jarmans Gap. I’ve been doing a lot more running than riding these days, and climbing mountains has been keeping me happy and fit. So, why not climb Jarmans a few times? And thus, the Five Days of Jarmans was born.

One of the things I love about living in Charlottesville is the history. Recent years have made some aspects of history here controversial….the history is not alway a happy history. But it has been so interesting to discover more about the land that I run and ride through every single day. Historical markers here can be as frequent as road signs in some places it seems, and it’s nice to stop and read them every once in awhile. 

Jarmans Gap most definitely has a history. You can read some of it here or here, but the short version is that it was a major early crossing through the Blue Ridge Mountains. Before even the earliest European settlers, Native Americans were using it as a path to travel. It’s pretty cool when you spend time in a place like that to think about all the footprints that have come before. 

But even the coolest amount of history doesn’t take away from the fact that these days, running Jarmans Gap is hard! It has become a right of passage for the local runners, and the “go-to” spot to send folks who are visiting and looking for a run. “Oh! You should run Jarmans!” we’ll say, with a smile of encouragement, knowing what they are in for. 

Until COVID19 changed the world, running Jarmans usually didn’t fit in well to my training plan. A ~3 mile incline with 1,500 feet of elevation gain doesn’t usually fit in too well as a brick run, or prep for the IM marathon. So now with the renewed focus on staying motivated and maintaining fitness, I’ve been able to spend more time on Jarmans. So I figured – why not spend *a lot* of time on Jarmans one week? And, here we are.

One part of Lael’s blog about her Mt. Lemmon Challenge really resonated with me, and I wanted to copy it here:

I love the scenes in movies and the chapters in books when the hero is training and developing and working to become great; when you see that drive and ambition to face sacrifices and to improve. You see cold early mornings and sweat and pain become results. I want to live that story. I want to climb that mountain.

The beauty of climbing is that you won’t just have one experience. There will be fierce moments of riding into a driving wind, of your lungs flaming and your quads disintegrating to cinders, and then there will be absolute calm. The longer you stay out there, the more you’ll experience.

I’m excited for the simplicity of the days and miles ahead. I’m excited for the dewy humid mornings, honing in on my drive and ambition, experiencing life this week on Jarmans. I’m excited to climb that mountain. 

“Race report”

Wow. It’s been about 6 weeks of the “new normal,” and I can’t believe it has been that long. I guess time flies when you’re having fun, or in the midst of a global pandemic. I have been entertaining myself as much as possible and staying active, while close to home. Most notably this week that included a one-two punch with a “race” up a local mountain gravel road, followed by the 5/4/24 challenge by Yeti Runners (5 miles, every 4 hours for 24 hours). Given that I was supposed to be racing IM Texas this weekend, why not make the legs feel like they had endured an ironman?

I really enjoyed the solo effort, just me against the mountain on Jarman’s Gap (2.8 miles up with 1,500 ft of elevation gain). A local “favorite”, this hallowed training ground will make you tough. With the renewed focus on some local running, we have now improved the number of women in the sub-30 minute club from one to three – that tripling is pretty impressive BUT I can count several others who could join us and keep chipping away to get that time faster and faster! It was also fun to have a “race” that made me nervous on the calendar. I went through the motions of a pre-race evening and morning – complete with restless nerves while sleeping and dealing with a weather delay at the start! But honestly, since it could be a while before we are out on the official race courses again, I really think having the opportunity to make myself deal with that nervousness is great. Remembering how to race, and race hard, is not something I want to sacrifice to COVID19! 

Now onto the Yeti Challenge. Since my legs were pretty tired after the Jarman’s escapade and a hike on Friday, I was’t going into the Yeti with the goal of being able to hold super fast times. Instead, I wanted to capitalize on 6 runs around my neighborhood….meaning 6 opportunities to capture some of the Strava segments out my doorstep, ha! Yes, I was shamelessly strava hunting on these runs and I loved it 🙂 It was the perfect distance to warm up, hit a hard segment and then cool down each time. Definitely something I don’t do in my “normal” training life, so that was a fun competitive outlet for me in this time. It was also amazing because TeamHPB had 17 athletes and 3 coaches running this challenge! We coordinated most of our start times to be running “together” through the day and it was really, really fun to check in with each other. It was wild to see the different conditions people were facing with weather all over the US, and our different approaches to the challenge. We are already brainstorming for the next one! 

And finally, a quick hit of things that are keeping me going right now – 

I’m watching: Survivor Season 17 (started back at season 13 because On Demand has all the seasons after that. Endless entertainment!) I also watched “Wonder” on prime and enjoyed that movie.

I’m listening to

I’m baking: Lemon Bars, surprisingly easy and minimal ingredients! The baking challenge I’m participating in now has a website. Join us!!

I’m cooking: this broccoli pesto which was scrum!

I’m drinking: – wine from Wisdom Oak Winery. My fave local winery, and they currently have free shipping! The North Garden Red and Viognier are my faves! Also: NUUN REST! Great for calming the nerves – because, pandemic – but also recovery from all the miles!

Quarantine Status Update

Short version: I’m now washing my hair with vinegar (raging success) and wearing blue-blocking glasses to work (verdict is still out). Quarantine life is crazy!

Longer version:

Here in Virginia, I’ve now been under the “shelter in place” restrictions for two weeks. We had another couple weeks prior to that where things were also quite restricted. It’s been 4 weeks since I stepped off the plane and back onto US soil from New Zealand as well. I’ll never take the post-30 hours of travel after a race exhaustion feeling for-granted ever again. I miss the freedom to have an opportunity for that kind of exhaustion.

While I do miss normal life, I’m actually doing alright with all the restrictions in place here. Since we are still allowed to go out and exercise, one of the first internal debates I was having was: how far is TOO far to travel for my exercise? Despite many parks and areas closing, many are still open. I understand the burden that travel causes each time you choose to leave your home. And wrestling with that internal debate was tough! I finally saw it put this way – I think one of the Adirondack publications posted it: if you are measuring the trip in hours, not minutes, then it’s too far and not “local”. There we had it….. my rule would be “is the travel for that over an hour? Too far for right now.”

Once I decided that, it got easier. I’m *extremely* lucky to still have boundless options of people-free, woodsy areas to run in, ride in, hike in and just exist in, within that amount of time. I’m also being careful to make those “almost an hour” trips once a week, or less. Everything else is from the house, and again, I count my lucky stars to have plenty of other options I can reach from my doorstep. 

As I have been reflecting so far on life since quarantine, two main themes have come to mind. 

First, one of the bright sides is that I’m spending less money and resources, and using more of what is in front of me. I’m now well aware that I have plenty in my drawers, my pantry, and my apartment in general to keep me happy, fed, and stimulated for the time ahead. It’s also made me thankful for where I live, and cemented that I’m in the right place. I’m happy here in Charlottesville, even in arguably “the worst of times” that we are in. That’s a great thing to discover.

The second theme was interesting. I’m not even sure if it’s a theme persay but has been a reoccurring feeling or thought: that I’m frustrated at times, and that I’ve had this frustration before. When was that? Yep. I finally narrowed it down to my time at the US Naval Academy. Oh, those two fateful years! One of the things that always drove me bonkers about military life there was that you can follow all the rules, do exactly what you are supposed to even if it seems ridiculous….and without fail, some jackass would decide he/she was above the rules, and your entire squad/company/batallion/etc would have to pay the price. Frustration also hit me hard there because each squad/company etc was run just a little differently. Each person in a leadership position had a slightly different interpretation of rules and regulations and that was clear in the different ways things were run. What was acceptable in one place might get you loss of privileges just one hallway over. 

We are all in midst of experiencing these same frustrations, only now on a level that’s much bigger than my 12 person squad. And now, I can’t just transfer to the University of Virginia where I’d have freedom to do the right things and not always have to be punished for one jackass 😉 I’m literally stuck this time! My initial reaction to that? UGH! I’m not made for this type of environment. I’ll never make it!

But then I reminded myself that I did make it – for two whole years! And it’s become clear to me that surviving in that environment for those two years did a lot for me as a person. I went into the academy a person much more prone to anxiety when things were out of my control, and very much a text book “type-A”. I think in many ways I am still that person, but those two years there did allow me to grow beyond that in many ways. I now recognize the power of “controlling the controllables” and of doing the best I can with what circumstances I am given. Both of these have served me very well in endurance sports since that time as well. I now also see the value in hunkering down, keeping your mouth shut, and following the rules when it’s for the greater good. When you have to work for the *whole* rather than the individual, sacrifice has to be made. I get it. 

In the beginning at Navy, it was so easy to get caught up in the grass is always greener side of things — that company was allowed to have boys in their rooms! That squad didn’t have to eat only with movements of right angles (that was the worst, by the way)! Eventually….and I’m not really sure when this happened…. I learned to let it go and just work with what was in front of me. Because I did finally figure out that these things were in place for the greater good – and that was much more important than just my individual instant gratification.

This pandemic has been a reminder of just that: The restrictions we face are for the greater good, so we must endure. Work with what’s in front of you. Have fun with what’s in front of you. Enjoy what is in front of you. Take care of those around you, and do your part. You might be a very small piece of the puzzle, but it’s important. Take it seriously and be proud of it. Do your best, and know that even the jackasses are probably just doing their best too. 

I hope you all are getting by in this crazy time!

Whoa

That is pretty much the word that comes to mind since my last blog, which was a month ago. I’m guessing we can all agree that It. Has. Been. A. Month.

Since my last blog post about Atlanta I:

-Traveled to New Zealand

-Raced Ironman New Zealand (yay!)

-Traveled home

Thank you Stef @ WITSUP for this pic & the header pic!

….and then the CoVID19 pandemic hit the United States (yes, I realize the science is showing that it was here long before, only was ignored, but my flight landed on March 10th and that seems to be right around when things pivoted, at least for the public here!)

I have actually blogged during this time. You can check out my thoughts on how to stay motivated and still find challenges and adventures during this time over at the Smashfest Queen Smashfest Diaries. 

And even since that blog, more races have been cancelled, more public spaces made off limits, and more people are facing this terrible virus in so many different ways. There’s no use in sugar coating it – it’s a tough time out there!

As an athlete, it’s a time where you have to constantly evolve. Things will be open and things may close. You might have a run in mind only to show up to a spot way too popular for safely running and keeping physical distancing. You might have to adjust to doing all the training solo, when you’re used to having company. It’s a process, and it’s going to change and keep changing. One workout never makes or breaks an athlete, so stay positive and stay flexible. It’s okay if things have to change. 

It’s a time where you should consistently do self checks on mental health. I read about how dog owners during this time need to be sure they are keeping their dogs on the same routines as always, or as close to it. I chuckled to myself because people are no different! Now is not the time to blow caution to the wind and be “winging it” each day with your schedule. Keeping yourself accountable to some kind of a schedule really helps your mental health because it keeps you focused and doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room to spiral down that endless black hole of twitter bad news. I just learned that I can say “corona virus” into my TV remote and it will bombard me with updates on things. What the heck! Staying up to date is good — losing your sh*t because you can’t get away from it is not! So….Be in open communication with your “team” and make sure they know how you are feeling. As a coach, it’s super important to me to maintain daily communication with athletes so I can make adjustments based on the stress that life is imposing right now, if needed — or, make sure their plan is providing an ample physical outlet for that stress!

It’s a time where a little effort for the greater good goes a long way. Whether the little bit you can contribute right now is keeping yourself mentally strong and doing exercise close to home, or you are one of the super heroes sewing masks and getting them to health care workers who need it – embrace what you are doing as making a difference. Because you are. This part of the crisis – the be the best you can be, and do what you can, in the moments you have – is not a competition. That self check mechanism we do during hard workouts – am I giving 100% right now? Apply that, and be proud of giving your best, no matter what that is.

Since Virginia got Shelter in Place orders this week lasting until June 10th, we are in it for the long haul. Let’s make the most of it, together. Let’s stay fit (stay accountable!), stay feisty (make sure you download the IronWomen podcast each week and rate and review us if you haven’t already) and be kind!

But First, Atlanta

When we first began to discuss the possibility of an IronWomen Podcast event in Atlanta during the Marathon Olympic Trials week, I wasn’t sure how to swing it…I’d be racing IM New Zealand the following weekend, which, in case you struggle with geography, isn’t really close to Atlanta. After further review though, I realized this would actually work out quite well — flying out of Charlottesville is always my preference, but it never really works out for international travel. The CHO —> ATL flight though is a regular one through the day, and that would put me in a major hub for getting to New Zealand. The Wednesday night timing of the event would also allows for an arrival in New Zealand to put me there a week early — excellent! In prior races, I have done the NZ travel arriving ~3 days prior to the race, and adjusted fine. However, after the Copenhagen travel last year, it’s come to my attention that my ability to absorb the jetlag with the gracefulness of a 30 year old probably left me as I have departed further and further from that age.  I’m an old bird now! (I kid, I kid). But seriously, this is a race I feel quite fit for and there’s no use in spending the resources to travel around the world to race only to put yourself in a bind because you cut some corners and didn’t create for the best possible pre-race week for yourself. So I’ll just embrace it because spending an extra few days in New Zealand hardly seems like something to complain about!

So now, the IronWomen podcast LIVE episode! It was awesome. I had been listening to live podcasts all week to hype myself up for this and while our crowd wasn’t quite big enough for me to run onto a stage in a huge auditorium yelling “WHAT’S UP HOTLANTAAAAAAA” to the roaring cheers…..we did pretty well!! It was beyond humbling to have had people flying and driving in for JUST US. Not for the race!! People made a trip of it to come in on a Wednesday to see us and listen to the event in real life. That means SO MUCH: Thank You from the bottom of my heart!!! I did miss having Haley on the mic with me during this, but I’ll allow her absence since she was on the OTHER side of the mic. Getting to see her in her hometown crowd, neon colors flashing from her nails, her excitement was palpable…that was cool. It was also really nice to catch up with Ruth Brennan Morrey – our paths rarely crossed while racing but getting to know her more through IronWomen has been great. Her story is genuine and inspiring on so many levels, and I’m proud to be a part of a platform that is sharing it! And to finally meet the great Sarah Bishop in person was a treat! If you listen to the episode you will figure out what I mean when I say, it was nice to know she isn’t actually a machine and somehow managed to make all of her amazing feats seem like something any of us could accomplish! 

You can listen to the episode on your app of choice as usual, or find it here. It will also be on the Live Feisty YouTube channel here. Let us know what you think! And, if you like what you see and you think we should continue our traveling roadshow, know that we would *love* to be making this sort of thing more regular. One way you can help us make that happen is to join our Patreon community. For as little as $2 a month you be a part of the movement and will be first in the loop for some exciting things that are in the works. 

Despite a brief delay getting out of Atlanta, travel seems to be going smoothly now and I’ll update from New Zealand. Taper ramblings will most likely consist of the gummies I am stock piling for after the race (the best kinds are from down under) and where I’m getting the best Flat White from, but those updates are the best kind. See you in Taupo!