There’s no better way to tell this story than through these pictures. After 70.3 miles of racing, it all came down to this: defending Ford Ironman World Champion Craig Alexander and Chris Lieto sprinting to the line.
>It’s getting to that time. We’re within the 10 day window of Western States. A lot of predictions have been made. A lot of expectations have been set. But, in the words of Katy Perry’s “Waking up in Vegas” it’s about that time to shut up, and put your money where your mouth is. It doesn’t matter anymore who everyone thinks will be first — what matters now is whose bank has the money in it, whose barn has the hay, and will they show up next Saturday and have a flawless race?
I can’t even properly convey through my limited but amazing vocab how excited I am for this race. In search of a little motivation, I wanted to share two things. The first is a quote from AJW’s blog:
> **Special thanks to Bobby Gill for snapping some sweet pics of me at the race! This one is especially awes because you can see my parents cheering for me just over my shoulder!**
The weekend of Eagleman plus my super sweet 24th birthday started with (drum roll please) work! Yay! Shoot me. Whatever, I actually was able to get out a little early, and Ryan and I rolled out to Cambridge. When I saw my number was 1869, I thought that could be sign #1 that I was going to have a good race (Anything with 4, 13, or 69 is always good luck). Pleased with that, I headed over with Claire, Ryan and his friend OJ to rack my bike. I got on for a little test ride and good thing I did, because I found out that my bike wouldn’t shift into the big chain. Uh oh….there was no way I could be competitive if I didn’t have a big ring. Luckily Jammaster OJizle is savvy enough with the bicycles to know what to do and helped me fix the problem and at least get me through the race. Whew.
Anyway, back to the race, we racked our bikes and took a little swim. Ryan got stung by some jellyfish, but didn’t really complain about it at all. I think I would have. We headed out to the hotel in Salisbury and ate din at the Green Turtle. We watched the storms blow through that were strong enough to knock off my sweet plastic bags I had fastened to my bike that day. Oh well. Sign #2 that this race would be awes was that we pulled up tot he hotel and parked next to not one, but TWO UVA vehicles. Bonus! Thanks to Ryan for helping make my birthday a good time despite the circumstances of racing the next day!
The early morning came and the cloud cover was a blessing. The wind, however, was not. By the time my wave came, the wind and the boats had stirred the water up a little bit. But, I still swam 1 minute faster than at Providence, so I’ll take it.
I got to T1, felt like it was pretty quick and just as I was about to step out I realized that everyone around me was wearing their race number belts already. Huh? Then I felt like I sort of remembered doing that at Providence. I thought it was an Ironman regulation or something, but maybe it was just because Providence was point to point or something? (If anyone can clarify this please do!!). Either way, I didn’t want a penalty so I stashed my bike on the closest rack, ran all the way back to get it, and then headed out. The course is pancake flat, and I honestly wanted to die after about 10 miles. I have never pedaled so much, and doing that ride felt just as hard as the almost-90 mile ride I did a few weeks ago, especially with the strong headwind on the last 10 miles. I was able to pass about 4 girls from my age group on the bike though, so I knew I was probably inching my way up to the top. I still knew of at least 2 people ahead of me though.
T2 went well, and I headed out on the run. The two things that stand out in my mind here are 1. I felt really tall and 2. My steps are so small right now this run is going to take forever. A girl (Cate) in my age group caught me at this point, we chatted and made friends (can you believe it? I was actually friendly!). We passed another girl in our age group, and we knew there was one other girl who was way outta reach. At that point I had a feeling that there was no one else in between, but you can never be sure. Cate began to drop back (or did I begin to pull forward) and I had to make a decision. Do I step it up and “go for it in the run” because there might be another girl out there? Or do I just sit tight, knowing that ultimately I am tapering for WS? I went with the latter. My splits were somewhere in the 8-8:30 range, and I felt extremely comfortable. I was throwing back the soda, water, and gatorade at the water stops like it was my job and felt great by mile 4. My legs had come alive! I knew that if I held on to this, the chicks that I had passed wouldn’t catch me. A big thanks to Arjun and Alex for being out there on the course, they gave me that extra umph in the beginning when I wasn’t sure how it would go.
I hit the turnaround and it was all downhill from there into the finish. I also ran into my old marathon coach at the end who had just done his first triathlon ever (but has done 34 marathons) and so I think I may do some summer/fall training down in Annapolis with the team this year. As always, I’m extremely lucky to have a great group of friends and parental units, so thanks to everyone! And congrats to Ryan, Claire, Rudy and Spider who also had dece-double-plus days of racing!
My nutrition for the day which worked perfectly (I actually lessened it when I saw the cloud cover for the morning) was: 4 endurolytes – 1 before, 2 before the bike and 1 before the run. 1 bottle of Perpetuem on the bike. 1 bottle of water with a Nuun tablet on the bike. 1/2 a bottle of gatorade on the bike. 2 GUs on the bike, 2 GUs on the run. Ice at every stop on the run; water on my face/head at every stop; gatorade and pepsi to drink at every stop.
Numbers wise, I finished in 5:19:10 with a 16 minute PR from Providence! I nailed 2nd in my age group (a technicality actually got me first when they bumped up the first place girl to 3rd place amateur). But best of all, I was able to get that slot for the 70.3 World Championships in Clearwater, FL this November! Some people question how I’m able to not even blink about throwing down 300 bones to pay for a race where I’ll get smoked at. But seriously, this is probably my only chance to get there for awhile as I move up an age group next year and will face much stiffer competition. PLUS my UVA Tri friends Rudy and Andrew will be there, so some fun times will ensue I’m sure. I’m pretty pumped with how the day ended up and I’m even more pumped to get things ready to head out to CALLLIFFORRRNIAAAAA (said like in the OC theme song, obvi).
>My friend Andrew put up a pretty sweet post the other day on his blog. The message was clear: attitude is everything. My final long run is at last in reach. I am really starting to feel the effects of a hard 4 months of training, and I’m looking forward to the taper process. In these last few weeks, attitude is everything because the work has been done.
I want to thank everyone – friends and strangers – who have taken time to reach out to me and wish me luck as well as support. When I get an e-mail from someone who doesn’t know me beyond my race results or my blog offering me advice and wishing me luck, it shows me how strong the running community is and I feel extremely lucky that I am to be a part of it. It also makes me realize that life must have been pretty lonely without the interweb (maybe Ben can tell us about life back then???). So in case I don’t say it enough later, THANK YOU!
>I am 32 days away, and my OCD is causing me to already get some minor preparations in place for the Big Day. Thus, I need all of your help! Now most of you probably have heard my opinion on running with an ipod. I don’t like it. For me, it distracts me from the gorgeous places I get to run in, or from some valuable/hilarious conversations with other runners. Also, I am usually running to get away from things like the computer or the Blackberry, and strapping on an ipod seems a bit counterintuitive. That being said, I’ve always had a hunch that running with music could actually make me faster, because it is a distraction. And when you’re running 50+ miles, a distraction can be a good thing.
Anyway, I’ll cut to the chase: I am putting together an epic playlist for Western States. In the event that my spirits start to sink, or my body is giving me a problem, I will be pulling out all the stops to keep myself from stopping. The ipod is one of them. Now, I don’t really think I need help, persay, to put together the most baller list of songs in the world. However, if everyone can contribute to the playlist (about 5 songs?) it may also help me because when your songs come on, I’ll be able to think of you idiots back at home drinking beer and having fun and I might run a little faster. There are no guidelines for the songs you contribute, but think long and hard about it! I want good ones. I mean like Christina Aguilera’s “Come On Over” good!
>Memorial Day, graduations and Mr. and Mrs. Sippi’s first birthday can only mean one thing – my one year anniversary of living in Baltimore. About one year ago, I showed up to Federal Hill Runners. My memory of the day is short, but I do remember everyone going around and saying their paces. Jen and Melissa were standing together and said 8, so I pinpointed them as who to stay with. No one was very friendly, but no one was mean either. That’s pretty much how the group does it until you’re considered “in.” During that run, they also mentioned track practice the next day. However, it wasn’t until Spider (my only other friend at this point) also suggested that to me that I actually decided to go to the track for TNT. At this point though I was racing the next weekend so I wasn’t going to do the workout, I just wanted to make an appearance and see who was there…basically I wanted to judge everyone to see if I would be friends with these people.
As I walked up to the track on that fateful day, I took note of the fact that Ryan is making some sort of argument for his opinion that Half Ironmans are much more difficult than an ultra. Uh oh, I thought. Maybe I won’t be friends with these people. Shortly after his argument, someone asked me “what do you run?” Haha.
And so it was, my birth into TWSS was complete. I would have never thought that a year from then I’d be facing the Western States 100 and an Ironman within 2 months of each other. But so is the case, and it wouldn’t have been possible without some good friends to get me to this point. It certainly makes me wonder where I’ll be in another year.
>This weekend kicked off triathlon season for me with the Columbia Triathlon. As I went to the packet pickup on Saturday and saw all the d-bag triathletes who (despite being extremely good looking) act like these events are the Olympics, I got pretty excited. I get a kick out of checking out everyones sweet outfits and bike gear, and the anticipation that was present at Centennial Park was great. Despite knowing that Sunday’s weather wasn’t looking too good, people were pumped, and so was I. My expectations for the race weren’t too high. My first race of the season is never my strongest, but at the same time I would never say I wanted to go slow. So of course while I always am going for a PR, I felt that going 2:35 was reasonable, but 2:40 would be acceptable.
I got to the park on Sunday at 6am, got things set up and then….waited. My wave wasn’t going to start until 8:09, so I had some free time on my hands. I wandered around, I went to the bathroom about 30 times, and I had some snacks. The sweet part was watching the pros come through. Everyone was pretty quiet while Terenzo and the other lead men came through (so quiet it would have been mad awkward if I yelled my phone number to him…), and then the one and only Chrissie Wellington was spotted coming out of the water. Cheers erupted. Everyone simply loves this woman. I snapped a pic papparazi style, hung out a little longer to see Ryan head out on his bike, and then made my way down to the swim start. There I ran into Bren and Jen, who were pretty inspiring and said some words of encouragement. Anyway, blah blah blah and I’m off on the swim start. I felt like I was swimming well, but I also felt like I was in the water for forever, so I knew my time wasn’t great (ended up in the 26’s…yuck). Whether the swim was long or not, I definitely want to improve on that for the races to come, but my focus was really on the bike and run today so I didn’t care. Since January I have had my share of racing and training, and I thought that this would be a good test of where my legs are right now. I took last week relatively easy after the North Face debacle, but I certainly haven’t rested and I felt that if I put in a strong performance on the bike/run portion here – which are notably difficult – then I can be content that I’m on the right path for training.
The bike course was windy, but thankfully the temps hadn’t dropped too much. Starting in the second-to-last wave also gave me plenty of people to contend with and work to pass, so it made the ride fly by. I felt great on the bike, and managed to stay in my big chain ring the entire ride which was a first for me on that course. I was a little nervous that doing so was ruining my chances of a fast run, but whatevs, I had decided to do what I do. Unfortunately, my bike split didn’t come through, so the results show I spend like 140 minutes at T3 or something ridic, haha. But off onto the run I went. I felt good despite the hilly course (which I still swear was a part of the Club Challenge course). Again, I managed to pass a lot of people and that helped to have bodies out there in front of me to run down. My pace ended up being 7:42 and I had the fastest run of my age group. Again, I’m pretty pleased because I don’t think I’ve ever managed that, so that’s a good sign. I came through the finish in 2:39 and, according to Ryan, did not look like a Lumbering Dinosaur; again, a good thing.
All in all, it was a successful event for everyone. I snagged 3rd in the age group, and the rest of Team TWSS also put in great performances making us a pretty baller group.
Little did I know, my big event of the day was still to come. The First Annual Twilight Ajundar Beer Mile took place yesterday evening. After being slightly wishy washy on my own participation in the event, I opted to go for the full after securing a slight handicap that would allow me to shotgun the bevs. After bev #1 I was in first place and held that for all of 150 meters before being over taken by Brennan, Arjun, and Zero. I think Matt Stanford also passed me at some point, but alas, my beer drinking skills are pretty baller and I was able to finish strong in third place, with a time of 8:56. I felt a bit queasy, my stomach was so full of liquid I couldn’t move, and the drunkenness set in pretty quick…but it was awes. (note: 3rd place was for the heat….overall I ended up 5th).
All in all, a great success of a Sunday. Not sure what the next few weeks have in store for me training wise, I will try to iron all of that out in the next couple and days.
>This past weekend I was running the North Face Endurance Challenge 50 mile. Going into it, I knew it was supposed to be hard. Only 19/85 people finished last year. However, encouraged by my own arrogance and the line on the website that said “changes have been made to the course to make it a little faster” I figured I would be fine. I anticipated it to be rocky, and I expected it to take a little longer than my other 50 milers. Fine, no problem – it’s all good training.
I took the train to NYC Friday afternoon and met Brad at the North Face Store where we got our packets and headed up to the Econo Lodge at Bear Mountain, NY. I tried to no avail to convince him to take me to the Wild Animal Petting Zoo the next day instead of racing, but the race it was going to be. So at 3:22 am the alarms rang and as I laid in bed I heard a sound I never want to hear the morning of a trail race: pouring rain. Great. There’s nothing like wet shoes before you’ve even begun the run. With an early start of 5am, we were in for about an hour and a half of darkness. Starting a trail run in the dark is somewhat of a double edged sword. One, you can’t see the mountains you’re attempting to run up. Therefore, you end up running a heck of a lot more than you normally would and not being able to see it makes it feel easier….but that can take its toll on your legs as well. Finding that balance early is key. I felt good at the start, but was a little concerned about the terrain – it was ROCKY. And steep. And did I mention rocky? Prior to this, the hardest race terrain-wise I’ve ever done was the Jay Mountain Marathon. Now that pales in comparison to what I was facing here. At one point I was on my stomach sliding feet first down an almost-vertical rock face. WTF. And, if you know me at all, you probably realize that I’m as clumsy as they come when I run. And the only thing I’m worse running on than rocks, is wet rocks. I was in for quite a day.
The rocks were relentless. You were forced to do a high knees dance slash run, keeping your steps small and wasting a lot of energy in the process. When you finally had a chance to stretch out and get in some strides, it was short lived and a couple inches of mud. And the rain was still coming down. In every race, I will inevitably hit a low point in which I wonder if I should even continue. Usually this point is between 30-35 miles. Saturday, I hit that point at mile 12. Uh oh. At mile 16, I came across a guy about my age, just laying across the trail with his hands over his head. I asked him if he was okay, offered him a GU or salt tab, he dejectedly said no, he was fine, someone was coming back for him. Doubtful, I thought. But whatever, I had a ways to go. (Note: after conferring with Brad I learned that he, too, had come across this guy at the same point where I saw him. When Brad checked to make sure he was okay, the dude started swearing and saying this race was the stupidest thing ever. A direct quote was “I just ran a 2:41 at Boston, and it’s been 4.5 hours and I’m not even at 20 miles yet!” HA!) I reached the 20 mile point at 4 hours and 57 minutes. Hold crap. Usually I’m about 26 miles into a race at 4.5 hours. Then I found out I was only about 25 minutes ahead of the cutoff time for the aid station. The feeling of doom was unshakable at this point, but it was almost comical to me still – I’m in danger of being pulled from a course? F-you guys, I win these things, you can’t pull me! Little did I know…
I knew I at least had to get to the next aide station at mile 27 where I was hoping Jen and June would be, and I could make the call about the rest of the race at that point. I ran my little heart out for those 7 miles, and realized I only picked up about 12 more minutes, making me about 35 minutes in front of the cutoff. Again, I couldn’t shake the negative mindset I had. The somewhat funny thing was looking back is that I was actually doing well – I felt fine nutritionally, my legs definitely had another 23 miles in them (if I could run the trails) and I was probably in the middle of the pack of runners who were still in the race. To anyone else, I was doing well.
Approaching mile 27 I was getting attacked by bugs, fell 2 more times (making it a total of 6 falls in 27 miles) and decided to stop when I got to the aid station. This just wasn’t my day. I had signed up for the race intending for a challenging – but runnable – 50 miles. I was afraid that if I continued, the fatigue would only get worse and I would really hurt myself on one of the falls. Falling on trails can ruin a year, and I’m simply too close to Western States to let that happen. Images of Amy Agnolutto’s knee after she fell running Boyer’s Furnace this spring were popping into my head (can be seen here and here….and in fair warning, they are really gross so be prepared). I had stopped having fun long ago, and had to cut my losses. Of course, the other half of me was saying “no, keep going…you need to learn to go on even when you’re not comfortable, you won’t just be able to quit at WS after 27 miles.” However, this course was not WS. WS is difficult, but not retarded like this course was. The neat thing about ultras is you can’t fake your way to the end. There was not a chance I could just walk/jog it in to the end, like I have made myself do in road marathons where I wasn’t having a good day. You have to respect the distance, and the trails…and as this day proved, they do their part in keeping me humble.
So that was that. 6 hours and 27 minutes after the start, I turned in my number and chip and got into June’s car with Jen to head to mile 40 to support Brad. He held strong the rest of the day, and finished in about 10.5 hours. His 50 mile time is usually about 7:15 to give you a sense of how hard the day was. It looks like there was about a 50% finish rate overall for the day. Sunday I woke up with some chafing, and a few bumps and bruises (including my pride), but I was in one piece. I went for a run and got right back into my training schedule. I am looking forward to a little bit of a shorter race at Columbia this weekend, where I will hopefully regain my competitive edge and get hungry for the actually competition of a race again. I’m not sure if it’s just been the past 10 days of rain, but my overall mood has been pretty apathetic and I’ve lost some intensity. With about 3.5 solid weeks to prepare left, I need to turn that around as fast as I can.
And finally, a big thanks to Jen and June for coming out and being there for support! You guys were great!