The “now” Not “next”

“So, what’s next?”

As you can imagine, that’s a question I’ve been hearing a lot lately. And at first, I was even asking myself that a lot. I was so excited and still running on the high of the achieving the Long Trail [women’s supported] FKT that I was ready to take on the world.

And then, I couldn’t sleep for another week after finishing the Long Trail. (Let me tell you: stress hormones are a real thing and I think that I have seen a *very small* sliver of what PTSD is like and I am forever sympathetic to people who endure that on a real level. It is no joke.) And so I realized that “next” could be awhile.

Swimming felt so good right away, and biking felt nice too. It was about two weeks later that I started doing some very brief run/walk combos every other day or so. And then I headed off to coach Women’s camp. Hillary and I both acknowledged that camp wasn’t necessarily the recovery we’d schedule after seeing how I was doing, but in many ways it helped to be around other women and be surrounded by their inspiration as, quite honestly, even jogging a mile still felt uncomfortable.

From early on Hillary let me know we were in no rush to get back to racing – if this was the end of my season that would be okay. And that was super reassuring, not only coming from my coach, but knowing Smash is my #1 sponsor it was nice to know their support was there as well.

Initially I had some thoughts….maybe return to Savageman in September….or Patriot’s half, that’s a fun local event. But for now, it looks like maybe I’ll run a 5k at the end of the month….maybe 🙂

I realized that this was an instance where thinking about “what now” rather than “what’s next” was crucial. I can’t get to “what’s next” until I am ready physically and mentally. And while my mental state is pretty close, I think….my physical state? Not so much. It’s going to take awhile for me to get the yards needed in the pool so I’m competitive again. It’s going to take awhile to build my endurance on the bike. And just this week is when it has stopped feeling like someone is hitting me with a hammer in the knees when I run. So there’s plenty of work to be done there.

It’s not going to take forever, and I know that. There are definitely things I can spend some time on while I have it too. I’ve set up a yoga mat in my living room and I am spending 30 minutes a day on active stretching and rolling. Making sure my laundry and food situation is in a good place to pick up structured training again. And maybe, just maybe….relaxing?! We’ll see about that.

And, in the meantime we have a lot of TeamHPB and TeamSFQ-ers taking on IM Wisconsin this weekend. It is one of my favorites and I always miss Madison this time of year, so I will be glued to the coverage on Sunday, that’s for sure! Have fun everyone out there and race hard for me!

A new women’s FKT on the Vermont Long Trail: My Trip Report

Part of the FKT process (and the end-to-end certification from the Green Mountain Club) is writing a trip report. While I will reflect on this journey through various outlets/blogs/podcasts over the next few weeks, what I write here will serve as my trip report, focusing more on the details and logistics of the days rather than reflecting on the meanings I’ve drawn from various events.

Before the start: The crew all flew in 48-24 hours in advance, and we met in Jay, VT. Over 1.5 days we went over logistics, pre-cooked some food, packed the two crew vehicles and got people ready for 5+ days on the road. Given that about half the crew was from the west coast, this was a big ask and I really appreciated them jumping right into things despite what I know was already a sleep deprived state!

I opted to sleep in the hotel the night before rather than the shelter at Journey’s End. This seemed like an even better decision given the forecast for rain overnight and into day one. Sure enough, as we were driving to Journey’s End at 4:00am, it was pouring.

Day 1

Will, Sara and I got out of the car around 4:25am and headed up Journey’s End trail towards the Northern Terminus. The trail could easily have been mistaken for a river. If I wasn’t so excited to finally start this damn thing, I would have been panicked about the conditions; my adrenaline didn’t allow for that though! The sun started to peak out right as we hit the terminus, but the view was still nonexistent with the cloud cover. Sorry Will, you weren’t going to see much despite all the climbing ahead for the day!

At 5:05am we said Go! And off we went. I had covered this section of trail in October when I did some recon, so I knew it was pretty gentle and not at all like what is to come for the day! The rain also started to let up a bit as the sun came up which was nice. We headed into North Jay Pass right on schedule, dumped some layers with the crew, and Will and I continued on.

The water weight of the rain made the pines surrounding the trail (aka river!) quite heavy, leaning over the trail. This meant all through day 1 I was getting scratches all over my legs and arms – I had opted to be running in shorts and a tank top. While I don’t think I wanted more clothes, it was not the look I was hoping for that early in the process. It was really nice that I had covered this section in October as it took a lot of the navigational stress away and Will and I could just get to know one another (I never met him in person before this trip!) as we climbed Jay Mountain. Again, the view wasn’t great, but despite the rain the trail conditions weren’t terrible as we descended down to Jay Pass.

It was time for a pacer swap and I picked up Hillary for the section to Hazen’s Notch! It was during this section we encountered a few thru-hikers — these women were super supportive and their cheers and smiles for what I was doing gave me a good boost, even if it was still early. This section was also where I took my first real fall — I thought the ground would be firm where I put my pole in….but nope! Instead my pole went in….and my arm followed, causing me to basically dive head first into a soft pile of dirt/leaves. My pack got stuck on a rock as I went down, and I was actually stuck with my feet straight up over my head for a bit before I could maneuver out. A little bang-up to the elbow, but nothing major – whew!

As I came into Hazen’s Notch, the rain was still lingering and I picked up Maik for a section to Eden Crossing. Not having seen this section of trail yet, I was excited for the unknown but also a bit nervous. Still somewhat fresh and excited to talk to my friends, we made decent time and despite getting my whole leg sucked into a mud puddle, we came out of the section with all our shoes.

Having seen the rest of the trail for the day and knowing the worst was behind me, I was excited for some runnable stuff ahead. Even with the rain for the day, Devil’s Gulch didn’t end up being too slippery. I had Matt with me through that section, and at one point I chugged an Ensure. This proved to be a terrible mistake!! Ensure typically is great fuel for me in ultras, but I think since I was using F2C Nutrition’s Endurance 5:1 formula that has protein in it, the Ensure was overkill and my body revolted trying to process it. Luckily it was just a 10 minute or so episode and once that passed, I continued none the worse! We even surprised the crew by coming into Codding Hollow a bit ahead of time, and Emily picked me up for her section here.

Some more runnable trails ahead – though, we still ended up hiking a lot of it given the darkness, and my memory wasn’t 100% on the Prospect Rock section. At one point we also crossed a matrix of Maple Syrup lines which was kind of fun. I was in good spirits and feeling strong as I met up with Michele, Matt and Lyssie Cat just before West Settlement Road. They helped me get changed for the night, have some dinner, and Matt and I went off to Bear Hollow Shelter.

It was here that Kurt was waiting for us! He had hiked in earlier in the day with our overnight supplies, and reserved a couple spots on the shelter for us — absolutely priceless! I brushed my teeth and did my best to not disturb the other hikers, it was a full house in the shelter that night. Matt and I set our alarms for 4 hours from laying down……That came sooner than I expected, which I think means I at least got some good sleep!

Day 1 recap video

Day 2

Matt and I started out from Bear Hollow shortly after waking up. It was a nice climb up Whiteface as the sun rose, and I was again happy that I had done that descent ahead of time as I knew it was one of the Long Trail’s infamous “uphill descents.” With the new location of Barnes Camp, I think it also added a small bit of mileage.

At Smuggler’s Notch, we were greeted by our crew who had a great breakfast ready for me, as well as some new shorts (running in wet running shorts meant I needed some spandex options!). Matt was done and was off to get more sleep while Will took over pacing for Mansfield. I was nervous about another big climb, knowing what still was to come for the day, but I was also energized realizing I was only about 2 hours behind Nikki’s pace, despite having slept well before where she did on night 1. According to Strava at least, Will and I made great time up Mansfield as I now have the QOM from VT 108 to Taft Lodge! I can say the climb was much more fun when it wasn’t hailing on me like it was when I did it in training. I ate a poptart at the top and we continued on, enjoying the technical sections over the forehead, and looking out for Maik who was joining us around Taylor Lodge. Since Maik arrived early, he ended up finding us about 1 mile before the lodge, and he had a redbull in hand which I welcomed.

From Taylor Lodge to Buchanan Shelter, it was another section of trail I hadn’t seen. Having run from Bolton Notch to Buchanan, I mistakenly assumed that the trail would be similar from there to Taylor Lodge. Boy was I wrong! The climb up Mt. Mayo was particularly rough for me, I’m not sure if it was calories or the heat, but we took a much needed rest when we finally arrived at the Puffer Shelter to regroup for a bit. I wanted to press on to the Buchanan Shelter because I knew from there we could make good time, but it seemed to take forever! I popped in my iPod to help pass the miles, and, eventually, Bolton Notch Rd was around the corner. I dropped the boys off and picked up Leslie and Hillary. As we jogged down the road I told them I thought it was from heat and lack of calories, but I just needed to cry for a minute. This prompted both of them to cry with me, and then we all ended up laughing since we all were crying, and I was over that pretty quickly! They jogged with me through the “flat” section which turned out to be quite slow as the farmers re-routed their cows and the trail through the farm was very overgrown. I made it to Camel’s Hump parking lot hot, and a bit worried about the section to come.

Luckily, my crew was amazing and had ice bath materials ready to cool me, and plenty of food. Hillary was working on my left achilles/calf which was tightening up, and Sue Johnston made an appearance. It’s hard to act like a wimp when someone as badass as her is around! So I got myself together and Emily and I started up Camel’s Hump. I was prepared for a long slow climb, but with great conditions on the ascent we made it up only slightly slower than I did in training. There was a large group partying at the top, and with darkness coming and some strong winds, we didn’t stick around longer than for a photo. This was a good decision as the other side of the mountain was much wetter, and descending was going to take much more time than the climb.

At Montclair Glen Lodge, I was swapping Emily for Matt, where he had hiked in with Michele and Lyssie Cat. As they pampered me with the impromptu aid station, I found out that one of the thru hikers there for the night had run into Stringbean during his record FKT run last summer. We all decided this was a really good omen!

Matt and I set out with some hard miles ahead of us, which ended up being even harder because the trail conditions were so wet. We went 5 miles in the first 2.5 hours, during which time we saw some lightning flashing in the sky and heard some thunder rumbling in the distance. Finally though, the sky opened up on us, and the hard miles we were expecting turned into comically hard miles. I could barely see anything ahead through the pouring rain reflecting in my headlamp, and the only thing that kept me moving was my core temperature falling! We reached Molly Stark’s Balcony, one of the exposed sections, just as the storm was directly overhead. We knew we couldn’t cross in these conditions, so we knelt down to wait it out. I said I could probably only wait 4 minutes or so before I was going to get too cold, so we both stared as the seconds ticked by. Three minutes later, the storm was in the distance enough we felt safe to run for it, so we did. The trail was now a river once again. And realizing we were well behind projected times, we made speculations about what the crew was thinking. Finally, we made it out into the Appalachian Gap Parking lot where I saw the crew car. Hillary, Will, Leslie and Kurt sprang out of the car and into action. Matt and I stripped off our wet clothes, into dry clothes, pounded some dinner and in a matter of minutes we were being shut into the back of my car to sleep for the night. I did have a revelation at one point during this about how silly it is, with all that happens in the world, that here I was with my best friends in a random parking lot trying to run this damn trail. They didn’t let me reflect too long before putting me to bed. Since we were behind schedule, it was only 3 hours of sleep that night, and probably 3 hours of restless sleep for me as I woke up a couple times thinking we were being towed (only to find other cars parking in the lot).

Day 2 recap video

Day 3

Despite the lack of solid sleep, I was excited to get going the next morning because my favorite section of trail was to come! The climb over to Mt. Abraham comes in sections and just has a great rhythm to it, with some unexpectedly amazing views along the way, I loved sharing that section in the early morning with Matt. I was in good spirits as I descended into Lincoln Gap which was quite crowded on Saturday morning! My excitement continued with Will over to Middlebury Gap as I knew that since I had trained on that section, a lot of the blow downs were cleared through the Breadloaf Wilderness. While this section proved to still be pretty slow and tough for me, not having to be finding my way around the downed trees was a huge bonus. We also had a really great system dialed in for my pacers by this point and they helped me do a great job getting calories in consistently, regulating my caffeine consumption, and making sure I was staying hydrated. I swear they were carrying full buffets on their back as anytime I had a craving, they had it. Slim Jim? Got it. Swedish fish? sure! Red Bull? Here’s a flask! It was crazy and amazing, I have no idea how they managed that.  A lot of the crew also hiked in from the other side, giving some excitement for the last few miles, and I felt good heading down to Middlebury Gap.

More excitement was waiting there as some of my TeamSFQ ladies were there with posters and positive vibes, as well as pizza, tater tots and ice cream! That pizza and tots really hit the spot. The cumulation of miles and the lack of sleep was starting to set in, but Emily and Maik kept me going as we headed out for another section I hadn’t seen, MIddlebury Gap to Brandon Gap. Despite some climbing here, this proved to be fairly runnable as my legs must have still felt good! My mood was wavering, but overall I felt good hitting the descent down into Brandon Gap, where Carly had flown in as another crew member! Her and Matt would be taking me through my last section of the night.

After reading JB’s report of his FKT, I knew that on his third night he slept at Green Rd, which allowed him to take a shorter day for day 3. This sounded LOVELY to me at this point, and at Brandon Gap I kept trying to tell my crew that they needed to figure out where this mysterious Green Rd was, because I wanted to sleep there too. We went back and forth a couple times, and finally it clicked in my head that I was beyond the point of making sense: it was time to just listen to what they said. And they said that I had a hotel in Killington ready, I just had to make it to Elbow Road. This marked the official point where I handed my decision making over to the crew. I am so grateful that the team that came together was more than prepared and willing to take this on, making great decisions that were going to keep me on record pace.

Making it to Elbow road though was easier said than done! With some severe storm watches in the area that night, we had some solid rainfall early in this section. And what looks like a gentle section is anything but, especially when super wet. Between the conditions and the darkness, my pace slowed to a slow death march. At one point I had my wits about me to sit down and tell Matt and Carly, “I’m having a bit of a mental breakdown.” To their credit, they got me up and moving again, one foot in front of the other. All things considered, we didn’t make too terrible of time getting to Elbow road, but we were VERY relieved that Will was waiting there as expected. I tied my pink ribbon to the trail post signaling where I left off, got in the car and we drove to the Trailside Inn. (Note: the pink ribbon was a system we invented where, if I ever arrived at a check point before my crew, I’d tie the ribbon to the trail post to signal that I had already come through.)

I was pretty beaten down mentally and physically but I hit some more tator tots, friend chicken, took off my clothes, wrapped a towel around me and fell into bed. Another 4 hours sounded like a lifetime and I was ready to take it. The alarms went off and I sprung into action, feeling pretty refreshed once again. I think Carly was a bit surprised at the pace for he morning as we were back in the car headed to elbow road within 15 minutes!

Day 3 recap video

Day 4

It was nice to start the day with her, easing into the pace and seeing some surprisingly drier conditions around Killington. I knew at this point that unless I made incredible time the remainder of the miles, along with no more sleep, I wasn’t going to be going for the men’s record anymore. I adjusted the goal to be shooting for under 5 days.

We met Leslie and Emily just before the Killington climb and Emily continued on with me. We made great time on the way up, only getting stopped briefly by a dog that was off leash and scared by our poles, so we had to stop and hide them behind our backs so he would get the nerve to pass us. Once again my amazing crew was hiking in from the other side, which helped break up the descent that also held some nice runnable sections. At the first big stop of the day, I had my athlete, Briana and her husband Jeff who arrived to help take on some pacing duties. Carly and Jeff were with me first, then Briana and Jeff, and I really enjoyed these shorter 5-6 miles sections. Bri had raced the day before so I got caught up on that news, and in general some fresh voices were nice.

My parents also arrived here!

After greeting them, my crew gave me the good news that I just had one more 8 mile section to go to get to Mt Tabor road, where I’d sleep for the night. Somewhat alarmed by the shorter day – knowing that meant a big push for the last day – I was welcoming any chance to sleep. Maik and I headed off for the last 8 miles, and while they seemed to drag on, I made decent time. I hit some Mac’n’Cheese then resorted to my lair of a blow up mattress and mosquito net in the back of the FJ – truly luxurious!! Will was sleeping on the ground next to the car, and Matt would be in a hammock nearby.

Four hours later, Matt excitedly woke up me up telling me it was time to go! He seemed a bit more excited than I thought he should be, but I realized I had no choice. My feet were in pretty bad shape here, so we took some time to work on the blisters and get them covered up, before heading out on the trail.

Who would have known that night hiking is so much fun? Maybe because I had Will and Matt with me who have been friends for awhile and their company makes things fun, but we had an absolute blast over the next few hours. We ran into a few “hikers” on the trail as well….though, they were sitting down, not actually hiking, and we’re pretty sure they were up to some other activities. But, to each their own!

We had so much fun we made great time getting to Mad Tom Notch and almost beat Leslie and Emily. A quick refuel and Will and I set off over Bromley — the sun rising here really seemed to help me, and again we headed into the next aid station ahead of schedule.

The adrenaline was short-lived though. After starting the next section with Maik, I began to feel the fatigue hit me again. Matt hiked into Prospect Rock (#2) and when we saw him there, I asked for a fuel stop to regroup. The section over to Stratton Mountain should have been quick, but I just wasn’t feeling it, and things were also starting to get wetter again. As we climbed up, my mood and energy continued to plummet, but I tried to hold it together the best I could. By the time I hit the parking lot at Stratton-Arlington Rd, I felt like I was so close, but still so far away. 35 miles seemed like such a small number, but my head was severely questioning how I was going to make it through. I was hoping for a nap at this point, but the crew wanted me to make it through the Glastenbury section. I didn’t think that was going to be possible, so I bargained for a nap at the top of the climb at the Goddard Shelter. They agreed to that, and Will, Carly and I headed out to climb the mountain.

Day 4 recap video

Day 5

I will forever be grateful to them for helping me through this next section as it was one of the hardest things I have ever done mentally. The only bright spot was that it had been recently reblazed, and for a wilderness section was very well-marked which made a tired Alyssa super happy. At the Goddard shelter, I crawled into my sleeping bag on the hard wooden platform and promptly fell asleep. My face was twitching, and my nose was filling with blood whenever I laid down (lovely, right?!), but it honestly didn’t matter: all I wanted was some sleep.

All too soon I was being shook awake, but that was probably good timing as the sun was going down and It was getting chilly.  The nap seemed to refresh me a bit and we started to make progress on the descent. Unfortunately, the descent also has a lot of climbing….a common theme with the Long Trail! This was particularly frustrating to me tonight, and my spirits couldn’t even get lifted by my friends hiking in from the other side. They did, however, bring up a quesadilla from Taco Bell which helped a little bit!!

Eventually I made it down, and at this point all my mind could think about was sleep. I think I was in rough enough shape that asking for another nap was easily granted, I crawled into a pile of sleeping bags in the back of my car, and fell asleep. They got me up about 30 minutes later: it was time to do the final 14 miles with Matt and Emily.

I was a bit nervous as this section starts with “1,000 steps” and I was having trouble staying upright. My left quad had also started to lock up, making the leg nearly useless. But we just took it slow and steady and despite how I felt, my watch kept reassuring me I was doing okay.

Unfortunately, my mind started to get to the better of me as the section went on. It was clear the rain had hit here pretty hard, and most of the trail was under water, or super muddy. This was nearly impossible for me to process as I tried to get through it. My feet couldn’t take much more wetness either. On one particularly long climb. I felt a blister in my heel explode, and I simply lost it. Matt and Emily offered to take a look and do some work on my feet, and I happily obliged. As I put my feet up into Matt’s lap, I leaned back into a fern bush, and realized how nice that felt…….

Next thing I knew, I was being shook away with a headlamp in my face. Very confused, I thought I might be done, only to be told I still had about 8 miles to go. Eight miles that seemed like an eternity at that point. Discouraged by that, but encouraged by the fact that my foot felt brand new from some new blister tape and sock, I soldiered on. Matt and Emily realized the bad state I was in and called off the last aid station — they would just continue on with me without stopping to avoid any meltdowns. Probably a good call, but man I could have used another sit down!!!!!

FINALLY we were in the last 3 miles. By this point, the sun had come up, I realized I was going to make it even if I crawled, and I relaxed ever so slightly. Hillary and Leslie hiked backwards a bit as the final indication I had actually made it.

The sign of the Southern Terminus came into view, and I simply could not believe I had done it. 5 days, 2 hours and 37 minutes: I had a new women’s record. We celebrated and took some pictures, and I’m not sure about them but I was ready to be out of the woods! In true Long Trail fashion, there was one more twist: the hike out. In my planning, I decided I didn’t think I would want to turn back to go back up the trail to get out, so we picked a trail that led out into Massachusetts : the Pine Cobble Trail. Pine cobbles sound like a nice, soft pine needle surface right? Surely that’s a gentle walking path? No way! Apparently pine cobbles are Massachusetts-speak for jagged rocks. My body had really started to shut down thinking it was done, so Will and Matt were called to duty: piggybacks were in order. It look me a bit to get over myself enough to let this happen, but I swear when I did I wasn’t going back and I realized that was the only way I was getting out of the woods!!

The rest of the day was a blue of goodbyes, food, naps interrupted with panicked dreams about still being on the trail, a bath (finally!), and more food. The lessons that have come from this adventure are still sinking in, and I am looking forward to continuing to process them and write more on that in the days to come.

Day 5 recap video

Before we begin….

As with so much in endurance sports, it takes a village. I’m excited for this crazy adventure, and I’m so grateful for the people who surround me and are helping to make it happen.

Hillary – thank you for helping chase these unknowns, and reminding me that a fear of failure is no reason to not chase a dream.

Mom- thank you for coming up to Vermont, shuttling me around, and keeping me company last Fall and this Summer while I trained 🙂 Ramona and I are forever grateful!!!

The rest of my amazing crew:

Matt…We’d probably accidentally drop me off in Canada or something if you weren’t here to help keep things organized. You *might* have me convinced that “winging it” isn’t the best approach for all adventures. Thank you!!

Leslie, Emily, Will, Maik, Carly, Sara, Michele, Lyssie Cat and Kurt. You guys might never say yes to another adventure I suggest after this….So, I’ll make this count!

Sponsors! Smashfest Queen, Live Feisty, Final Surge, ISM Saddles, Sound Probiotics, Cadence Running Company, F2C Nutrition – thank you for recognizing this effort, and supporting me as I go for this!

Trail Sisters: I won one of the adventure grants this year. The fact that TS is sponsoring these is absolutely amazing, and I am so humbled to have won one. It is amazing to be a part of this community and can’t wait to share my experience with everyone.

I will be carrying a SPOT Gen3 tracker and it’s location updates will be sent here. We will also make every effort to cover the trail with our GPS devices.

Follow along on my social media for other updates, courtesy of Live Feisty Media.

Here we go!

Updates from Vermont!

Imagine that you are doing you first Ironman. But instead of 140.6 miles, it’s 273 miles. And all of that is offroad. And, only about 10-15 other people have attempted the race before, many over ten years ago when the days of the internet were very different. And so there’s no athlete guide, there’s no rulebook.

Hopefully thinking about that helps to explain why I’m not kidding when I say that for the last few weeks, if something isn’t: one of my athletes, my training, or the Long Trail, I may not have any idea what is going on with it. Which has, I admit, helped my mental health as I have been mostly checked out of the news in the “real world.” But I have had plenty to do to get myself ready for this adventure!

Vermont has shown itself to be a special place. The people are very kind, with an aura of toughness that is hard to match — I think that comes from the terrain and the long winters around here. Tourism is high – but there is a focus on experiences over materials for that. There is no Target in Vermont. Finding a nail salon for pre-run nails has proven to be challenging even! (dont worry, I’ve persevered) Living just two hours from DC most of the time, I have been grateful for this break in Vermont where things move a bit slower, often feeling more purposeful. My training hikes on the Long Trail have allowed me to meet people from all over. Since I was hiking smaller sections at a time, I would often pop up at different points on the trail, inadvertently following some of the thru-hikers. It became a fun game to see if I would catch them again, to hear how their last day or so has gone. Parents and their children, women out on their first hiking adventure, a retired woman out for a week – there are so many stories out there and so many paths that have led to this one. It’s really special and I am glad that I have taken the time to be out there and soak that in before I make a run for the record.

Recently I watched this video about FKTs. Don’t worry mom, the Matterhorn isn’t on my bucket list – I promise! And aside from some of it I feel being a bit misleading (the Long Trail is the longest trail in the US – not the AT! You can find out some facts about the Long Trail here.) it has some great information, and the point that you have to know the trail really hits home. When I came out here last October, that was one of the first things I told Hillary when we discussed how possible this would be. I knew I needed to know the trail to be able to take this on.

And really, that shouldn’t have been a surprise to me. I’ve never been such a talented athlete that I could just jump into an event and expect success. From my early days playing soccer where I remember countless hours running laps around my neighborhood to prep for our mile run test, to hours in the backyard with the kickback. To IM Lake Placid as an age grouper where I planned my own training weekend to memorize every inch of that course, by myself, on a weekend where it ended up that I had to bike through snow to get it done, and swim in a 55 degree lake. That was miserable, by the way. But you know what? I won my age group that year.

Over the last 6 weeks, I have gotten to know the trail. This time I definitely took it to a whole new level, but I am really happy I did. I feel super confident about my training and my fitness for the adventure. I have, quite honestly, no clue what to expect, and quite honestly no clue if our pacing projections will be true beyond even the first few miles. And for that I’m going to have to rely on my amazing crew that is flying in to help figure that out and keep us rolling. I think it is such an amazing gift to be able to take on something that is big and scary and you might fail. Just do your homework, and go into it being as prepared as you can. If you do that, if you feel 100% content with the preparation you have done, then the important stuff is already there. You have to allow yourself to sit in that space and find confidence in that to take on the adventure, allowing yourself to not have expectations. I find that often in coaching athletes, some of the biggest mental struggles come from when expectations and reality don’t align. So how about letting go of those expectations – especially in a situation where we have NO basis for what to expect! It’s going to be what it is. So sitting in that space where I know I have done all I can, is the best place to be until go-time.

So yes, the go-time is starting to come closer (but not too close yet!). I promise to post plenty of info on when and how to follow along as it comes. Stay tuned!

#VermontLife

Updates updates updates!

I let it go so long there is plenty to be said, and I don’t know where to begin! Training is going really well here in Stratton. I can see how the US Ski Team finds this a great area for their training base. There is just about any sort of terrain here — flats, hills, mountains….short climbs, long climbs….technical trails and runnable paths….clean lakes where you can take an ice bath….it’s basically like a Dr Seuss rhyme about training! There is also very little distraction: one coffee shop, a couple restaurants, and a general store/market. Just the basics!

The most crazy wildlife I have seen so far up here is a little black bear sprinting across the road while I was driving, and then when I was running up a forest service road I think I disturbed an owl that I didn’t see because (s)he was NOT pleased with me and flew after me! I think that was  the most nervous I have ever been from something in the woods — it looked like it meant business!

My legs are getting strong and I continue to just run up and down the mountains, getting a feel for the trails and seeing as much as I can. Because of the tricky logistics, I’m not sure I’ll get to cover every inch of it which was my initial thought, but I am going to be pretty darn close, and am making a point to get through the longer, more isolated sections.

I’ve had surprising moments of greatness in other areas of training with some good swims despite the pool being less than desire-able….and I held my highest 30 second power the other day during an interval on the bike! Maybe the mountain-climbing quads are going to get me faster for triathlon after all!!

I’ve also been working hard on the logistics of the trip. This can be fun and challenging, but is also not my strong suit. I prefer the game plan of “let’s wing it!” …. but when you have a team of about 10 people coming together to help you out, they kind of need more than that. It’s a lot of work to make time estimates, food estimates, get all the gear planned, and make sure people have somewhere to sleep (even though that means a car a couple of the nights!), make sure we have all the gear to make that happen, etc… So that takes a lot of time these days as well.

And finally, I’ve been building out the website for the project. In creating this whole thing, I realized that this FKT attempt probably won’t be my last adventure like this. I have a few more ideas of things I want to try….and I wanted to encompass all of this under one title. I spent a lot of time online looking at words and scouring the thesaurus trying to come up with an appropriate adventure name for this, and I finally stumbled upon it – a German word!

wandeln

to wander, to stroll
to walk
(transitive) to transform, change
(reflexive) to change, transform

Since I started endurance sports some of my most favorite moments have been not in races, but in a day or weekend adventure – from biking the Blue Ridge Parkway, to the California Coast….running R2R2R….a training weekend in Deep Creek Lake….triathlon camps in Tucson. These are all things that have not necessarily been the fastest, but have been a journey from one point to another where I came out a little bit different than when I started. And I think the Long Trail is very similar. While I want to get the record with the fastest time, anyone who knows the trail knows that means you still aren’t going very “fast” at any given time! So a “stroll” seemed just about right 🙂

Before I start the Long Trail I will have a website for this that will have a tracking link to my progress, etc. I will though of course continue to share my thoughts about the journey through this blog too!

Step one – Admit You(re) Weak(ness)!

(Photo: Hanna Dobbels)

Last week, I wrote a blog for the Smashfest Diaries about my next project. You can read that here…..but in short, I’m going to run the Long Trail (Vermont) this summer, and going for the women’s Fastest Known Time (FKT) on the trail. I’ll be doing the FKT attempt with a crew so this will be a supported effort. I’m really looking forward to this challenge, though on a daily basis I find myself stopped in my tracks with panic over what exactly I have signed up for (figuratively signed up for of course….there is no actual race here!).

But that’s what is going to make it great, right?

A few years ago I had the pleasure of crewing for a good friend at the Ultraman World Championships (if you aren’t familiar with this event, an overview is here). The epicness of this event was not lost on me, nor was the amount of preparation – both mental and physical – that goes into it. It wasn’t until I saw Ultraman unfold before me that I truly felt like some events require another level of respect, or commitment, to complete them.

When I was in Vermont last Fall, running sections of the Long Trail, one of my first thoughts was that if I was going to go after this goal, I had to respect it. I couldn’t cut corners and I couldn’t take it lightly – it was going to be A. Project.

And because of this, the decision to run wasn’t taken lightly, as Hillary and I both know that this could deter my ironman goals for a bit. But we decided to run, and we decided to go all in. And with that, came the task of really looking at my strengths and weaknesses and how that aligns with the project of running/hiking 273 miles as quickly as I can.

The concept of strength came up pretty quickly. I’ve never been a strong person. No one ever believes me because I (admittedly) am prone to LOOKING like I have muscles — and these fake muscles are really, really good at swimming, biking and running. But push-ups? Planks? Psh – only if I work really hard at them every day. Pull ups? FORGET IT! Pull-ups (or rather, my lack of ability to do them) are literally one of the reasons I felt I’d never get the billet I wanted from the Naval Academy (EOD).

The fact of the matter is, to swim, bike and run fast you have to be strong in very functional ways that allow you to swim, bike and run. But those don’t translate directly to “typical,” full body endurance strength. It doesn’t totally translate to the strength (or agility!) that is going to help you run ~55 miles a day over technical terrain for a handful of days.

So, we had to get working on this as one of our first priorities! I quickly enlisted the help of Ann Dunn from Formula Complete Fitness. If you know me, you know I have been mixing in Formula’s Equilibrium (and the occasional Focus!) class in my training since they opened last September. I am super into these classes and I find them such a great addition to my training. I’m not sure if it’s just some social interaction, or all of the new things I do each time I go, but it’s so so fun (and yes – a great workout!).

I chatted with Ann a bit about my project and my goals, gave her some info on the trails, and she has set me up with a program that I love. I love it because I hate it. I love it because I’m good at it, and I love it because I’m terrible at it. That’s a recipe for success if ever I’ve known one! This season has been the first one where I’ve incorporated some other coaches to help with my training – I’m swimming masters with Don Easterling, and now Ann. It’s been important to me that I only do this if I feel like they are on my page, and understand my goals, and how I want to get there. Both of these people definitely meet that requirement and that helps them fit into Hillary’s overall plan as well.

Next thing I knew, I was jumping over cones with one leg. When my tongue is out, you know I’m serious!

Photo: Hanna Dobbels

Now that I have this rolling, it will be time for step 2 of my FKT prep — that happens next week! Stay tuned! 🙂

It’s all coming back to me now

(Protip #1: Never pass up an opportunity for a Celine Dion reference)

How soon I forget! But, it began to come back to me as I sat in the room waiting for my flight to be called (in Chinese). As I brushed my teeth in an airport sink and had a woman literally (and hilariously) step in front of me to use my water rather than one of the other available sinks. As the de-boarding process happens with no regard for what I’d perceive as order and people seemingly randomly just push their way down the isle and out. As I blindly order off a menu hoping it will resemble what I want.

How soon I forget what it’s like to try to assimilate into another culture.

But at the same time I am reminded how fun it is. Especially when you aren’t having to ask everyone to help you gather up gear so you can race since yours didn’t arrive. (I was BEYOND over the moon happy to see my Ruster Sports Hen House come off that carousel on Wednesday!) And it’s especially fun when the people around you are as kind as the Taiwanese are. Seriously they go above and beyond to help despite the fact that it’s me who doesn’t know their language!

Not having raced an iron distance race since last September, it feels like forever has gone by, but it does have me ready to get back at it. The familiar sights and sounds of Taitung also have me at ease and relaxed in my pre-race preparations. Even the BnB where the pros are staying real-world MTV style is kind of comforting in it’s familiarity.

Game time tomorrow is 6am Taiwan time….that is 6pm EST, 3pm PST, and for anyone enjoying the fun from Hawaii you have the prime viewing time of 12 noon. That said, I’m not sure how much there will be to “view”….especially in English! But check out the Challenge Taiwan twitter/instagram/Facebook for updates, and there should be tracking information here. I’m athlete #8.

And while you’re watching the race you can check out the newest gem from Smashfest Queen that I am racing in over here! Appropriately named Wild and Free, I love this design!

And if there is no coverage, you can fill some time waiting for an update from me by listening to this week’s IronWomen podcast! Haley and Steph have been killing it while I’ve been away, but I’ll be back next week!

Here we go again….

I’m in the thick of it now: Ironman training, that is. And since this is coming off of a block of training for ultramarathons, the comparisons here are fresh in my mind. In fact, I get asked quite a bit a question everyone loves to debate: Which is harder, racing an ultra, or racing an Ironman?

And, I think I’m finally coming around to a bit of an answer. I like to consider this question by comparing a 100k or 100 mile run, to the iron distance triathlon. I’m still not ready to say which is easier, a 50 miler or an ironman…..and I think my answer would contain a lot of “it depends”… And I think a 50k is easier than an Ironman, hands down.

But I’m beginning to realize that I think I have an answer, or at least a way to start an answer.

I think race day in an ultra is harder…..but I think training for an ironman is harder than ultra training (the disclaimer here is that I’m discussing training and racing for your best performance, not training/racing to “just finish”).

Triathlon is very tricky you see. Because you pick your first layer of training – just one of the three sports – and you focus on making that good and strong, using the other two sports less, and often just for recovery. When that is finally shaped and ready though, you don’t get to sit back and enjoy it just yet. Nope, you have to start on the second sport. And that means that the first sport stops feeling crisp and smooth because now you have to do two sports pretty well. And since you haven’t been focusing on the second sport for awhile, that doesn’t feel good either. So there is just a whole lot of hard stuff and a whole lot of blah for awhile.

But, you keep reminding yourself to keep the blinders on – focus on mind over matter. Just grind it out. And then, after a few weeks….they come together. There starts to be a synergy. But don’t sit back – there’s still a THIRD layer. And when you throw that in, yet again, the other two start to come apart a little bit. And it takes everything you have not to let it all melt down and to just be like “I’m too tired and too hungry and there is too much laundry to do this anymore.”

But no, instead you find that morsel of belief you have inside you, and you once again, keep the grind going. Trusting that the synergy will return. And it does —  it’s finally there. The three sports are almost flowing from one to the other that you start to be like “yeah, triathlon ISN’T three sports, it’s one!”

And then you get some rest to freshen up, right?

Well yes, but also no, because as Leslie reminded us — that rest, is never really restful after all. Because each of the three continues to be sharpened, right up until race day.

Ultrarunning is different. There is much more of a direct ebb and flow to the intensity of training – because there has to be. When the focus is on just running long distance, you have to train to run long distances. And the body can only sustain so much practice there. You have to build in much truer REST – not go out and ride your bike for 3 hours, or go swim 5k cruisey, rest. Real, feet up, more time for sleep, rest.

And for me, that’s easier. It’s easier to face a build you know is built of really really hard times followed by some really easy ones. Triathlon is much more of a melding of the sports, one always being used for hard while the others for easy, one getting you stronger or faster and the others keeping your body moving and recovering to go hard again tomorrow. There is a break from one sport – but rarely from all of them.

But that break, that transition of sports and therefore different muscle groups being used, I find make the grind of actually racing the Ironman a little “easier” than ultrarunning in the race itself (please note I am in no way saying racing is easy). Whether it’s distraction mentally to switch sports, or on the body, I find that while the ironman still hurts like no other, I find it easier to finish the day – even on a hard day – than to finish an ultra. Ultramarathon races also have you often finding yourself alone in the middle of the woods for hours on end…..and that my friends, is when challenges arise. Finding the ability to push on as hard as you can with no one else around, one foot in front of the other, after you’ve been doing that for the last 10….15….20 hours. That is really, really hard.

There is more to the debate, and to be honest I’m also too far into training to delve too much further in. But lucky for me, this is my blog, so I can stop the discussion when I please 🙂

Happy training everyone! Next up for me is a week in Tucson for camp (hello SUNSHINE!)….then home for a week….then racing season begins!

Live Feisty & Send it Back Down

In honor of International Women’s Day, you’re going to get 2 blog posts this week!

First off — LIVE FEISTY IS LAUNCHED! Like, officially launched. I’m loving Sara’s video where she talks about how it all came together. Make sure you find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. There is also some amazing content going up on LiveFeisty.com. And there’s some other stuff coming soon but I won’t ruin the surprise 🙂 Just follow along so you’re in the know!

I’ve thought a lot recently about how I got to where I am now, and the Live Feisty and IronWomen projects are certainly a part of that. I recently was on the other side of the microphone on the Grit & Dirt podcast. I was able to share my story on this podcast and was asked some questions I hadn’t thought about in quite some time. Who had influenced my character growing up? How had I developed the confidence that I have now? Why did I give up the security and safety for a life of uncertainty?

I also had the chance to reflect for a project that one of my old bosses, Brit, from AOL was putting together (and by project, I mean she was the keynote speaker for Women Techmaker’s Baltimore International Women’s Day conference. NBD). My memory of the exact chain of command is a bit hazy, but I believe Brit was the VP of Ad Ops at AOL. She was one one of the bosses we had to impress each morning giving our 9am presentation. She was one of the ones who wanted results. And while it never really stopped me in my tracks as being unusual, per-say, it didn’t go unnoticed that Brit was one of my first experiences in the corporate world with a female at that high of a position of leadership. Brit also used her time at AOL to create two Lean-In circle for women there, and was one of the biggest supporters of me when I announced my decision to leave. 

My story was one she shared within the “choosing the scary option” topic, and she reached out with questions about my decision to leave AOL and go all-in with triathlon: tell me little bit about the moment when you decided to choose the “scary” option? How did you feel?  How did the people around you react? What do you think about that decision now (in retrospect)?

As you can imagine, all of these things really got the wheels turning and I enjoyed the time to reflect.

As I followed Brit’s presentation via twitter last weekend, one of her quotes caught my eye:

You guys: This is it. It became clear to me that I am where I am today largely because women sent the elevator back down.

And if you are a woman, you know what I’m talking about when I say we are starting to see this happen. We are seeing it happen in the corporate world, yes, but it’s starting to be everywhere. I feel it at the gym. At the grocery store. At the dog park.

It’s happening in the smallest ways but goodness does it give me goosebumps when it happens. Social media is amazing. I can now reach – and be reached – by women across the country who are offering me support, even challenging me (in good ways!), or, just giving me a virtual hug or pat on the back.

We are connecting, we are making a difference. I’m really proud to be a part of Live Feisty Media which is making this happen. And make no mistake – I’m not so idealistic that I think all women are going to join hands and be friends singing kumbaya. But you don’t have to like someone in the sense you want to grab drinks or go on vacation with them to recognize that they are doing their best, they are working hard, and they could use a little support, or guidance….you don’t have to want them at your birthday party to recognize that sending the elevator back down is the right thing to do. Diversity is a good thing in every sense. Elevate the women you aren’t friends with, too. 

So, let’s not forget to send the elevator back down. Even if you’re not at the top yet. It is going to make our ride a hell of a lot more meaningful, and, fun 🙂

Forever grateful and massive thank you’s to the many women to have sent the elevator back down for me. I hope to make you proud!

Case of the Ultras

In case you couldn’t tell lately, I’ve had a case of the ultras. It started….probably last September I think.  And I hate to say it, but the last few months haven’t really cured the ailment because I really love running in the woods. I started February with the Uwharrie 40 mile run. Uwharrie is 40 miles of single-track. That means a LOT of paying attention, and a lot of ups and down. As I was about 10 miles into the race, I had that “oh yeah, this is coming back to me” moment from having run the race before (10 years prior). Nothing was every too tough or singlehandedly enough to really be THAT HARD…..but mile over mile, the roots, rocks, and ups and downs add up. And it wears on you! I hit the turnaround and was inspired a bit — up for debate if chugging a red bull did this or just the great jokes by the people helping me with my drop bag – and I felt pretty good to start the return trip. I was able to get a feel for where I was in the crowd: I knew I needed to do some work to make up top 10 overall (male & female), but I also knew I had a good cushion from the next female.

Mt Mitchell challenge, three weeks later, was quite different. For one, I didn’t really know even how long the race would be! Advertised as ~40 miles, but looking at past times I figured it’s usually a bit short….and the course changes from year to years based on the weather and what trails are available.  Aliza LaPierre was running and she is a top notch ultrarunner, so i figured why not try to go out with her and see what happens. That lasted about 50 meters, until I decided I didn’t want to run that fast on the road section to begin! LOL. Still, at mile 16, I was told I was “a couple minutes behind” her….it’s always hard to say how accurate that kind of update is, but, at least I was maintaining the same zip code!

I had a blast on the 18ish mile descent. One woman even told me I looked like a little deer running —  thank you! Running downhill really is just so much faster than running uphill. Imagine that, huh? I made it up to the summit in about 3:25, and I descended in 2:20! I’ll take it!!

Overall, the course is now one of my favorites. I would love to go back and give this another go as it’s totally possible to train for this course perfectly around Charlottesville. We definitely got lucky with the weather which made it a bit nicer for me this year as a newbie — it was hot down towards the bottom for my taste (in the 70s!) but the top of the mountain was prob 45-50, rainy, windy, and FOGGY! But nothing too gnarly to contend with, and no ice at the top.

I will say I was so pleased to hit that last 1/2 mile around the lake with time to spare to go under 6 hours. That time put me onto the list for the top 10 fastest times for the race with so many of the women I have looked up to through the years – Krissy Moehl, Anne Riddle, Annette Bednosky, etc.

Really enjoying the new pottery in my home after this month!

And just like that – my time back in the ultra world is put on pause again and I am switching gears to some recovery, then, ironman yet again. Watching IM New Zealand does have me fired up to get things rolling for Challenge Taiwan. Seeing the continued progress of women I have raced against for years in these early season races has me pumped up for what I can do, too. Isn’t it cool that’s the way it works: you see it, and you believe it for yourself?

Now, time to sleep and enjoy the last of my recovery. I know I have some big sessions coming my way for the next few weeks!!