When unplanned things happen to your plans… c’est la vie

So, do you remember that 100-mile race I had scheduled for March? You know… my VERY FIRST 100-mile race? Well, as you could have told by the lack of a report for said race, the event was canceled. There were very few people registered so the director had to cancel.

Life happens and to be 100% honest with all of you, I was not super ready for it. Mentally maybe I could have pulled a finish, but physically I know I didn’t put the miles I needed for training. This whole ultrarunner-PhD student gig sure keeps me busy!

I went back to the drawing board and looked for other races. I signed up for a 50-mile race for early May. Life happened, again… Life always happens. My husband had a death in the family so I didn’t run this race.

I am a strong believer that everything happens for a reason! I’m looking for another ultra race to do in the Fall. I think in the meantime I will try to pick up some speed back. I haven’t been to the track in forever and it would be nice to do some training.

There will be some posts coming soon about the awesome brands that I represent this year. They are truly awesome and I encourage you to check them out. As always, reach out to me if you have any question. I might be able to hook you up with some discounts!

 

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What’s in store for 2018? Many exciting and scary goals!

Sorry for not posting in a while! I got caught up with some work for my PhD and some family time over Winter break. While there was zero running on December, my husband and I did plenty of hiking in Tennessee and Georgia. Much needed nature and relaxing time indeed! Some pictures of our trip to Chattanooga and Cloudland Canyon State Park below


2018 is off to a great start! First and foremost, I am fortunate and grateful to announce that I am representing these amazing brands during the year.
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I wholeheartedly believe in them and I will be using them in my training and other races this year! Check my previous posts about (Nuun and Huma). I will post reviews for the other brands very soon!
I am also excited for some big races ahead, notably my first 100-mile race: Fort Clinch 100 in Fernandina Beach, FL March 24-25, 2018. I am eyeing another big name 100 race late in the year and I will announce it very soon (hint: it is Western States 100 qualifier!)
Scary and exciting goals! Follow my training on my Strava profile

Finally, this year I will finally graduate from my PhD so that makes me thrilled and beyond excited! There is still a lot of work to do with my dissertation but progress is being made.

Wishing you all great things in this new year. Let’s conquer some goals together!!!!

St. Sebastian 50 mile – Race Report

I won a race!!! woo hoo!!!

I had a hard time writing this blog entry… honestly, I am still trying to wrap my head about what happened in the race and how it all went down. Well, just to get it out of the way: I won the 50-mile race! This is the first race I won and to say I left everything out there in the course is an understatement.


The St. Sebastian 100 race was supposed to be run in 10-mile loops on dirt and sandy trails in the St. Sebastian preserve in Florida. There was a lot of rain in the days prior to the race so the trails were pretty flooded forcing the race director to change the course on the last minute. The course we ran was out-and-back with 5ish miles going through grass (it sounds nice right?… well… it was TALL and dense grass!) and coming back on a dirt road. According to UltraSignUp I had a good chance of getting a podium position, so I was going into the race with high expectations… But, I was planning on running my own race and letting the execution drive the results. My awesome husband Philip and my amazing friend Bambi were my crew for the day and I couldn’t have asked for a better team. My original intent was to finish the race in 9:30 following this plan:

  • First loop: Run at 11min/mi pace or under if HR stayed below 153
  • Second loop: 11min/mi
  • Third loop: 11 min/mi
  • Fourth loop: pick up pacer and stay at 12min/mi
  • Fifth loop: stay at 12min/mi

Plans rarely go according to how we lay them out and this was no exception. My “under 153bpm HR” did not happen at any point. The race started at 8am and I had a great night of sleep. Despite trying to stay calm before the race and do my visualization and relaxation exercises, once we started running the excitement took over and I went out with the faster runners at the beginning. I kept staring at my watch and my HR was all over the place…. pace too. There were some low 9s, some 10s… but nowhere in the 11min/mi that I had planned. For some reason I didn’t let this bother me and I told myself “If you feel good running, then keep running.” I had no idea who was running the 50-mile, the 100-mile or the 50k (which started at 8:30am). I was in my head listening to music and battling with the relentless grass and steep hills. My feet were completely soaked because of the morning dew all over the grass. Just before the turn-around point I took the wrong turn and thankfully a runner ahead of me already coming back told me which way to go. I finished the first loop ahead of schedule which was ok since I wanted to bank some minutes for later in the race. It was warming up rapidly and since there was no shade in the course I knew I had to stay cool as much as I could. My crew helped me cool down with some ice and off I went.

I started the second loop still listening to music and still feeling pretty on point. I really had to work hard to lift my feet up in that tall grass. The friction really slowed me down, but I kept pushing to keep my pace under 11. By the time I got to the aid station I was already feeling the heat. At that point all the grass had dried so there was no dew to cool down the legs or feet. The volunteers at the aid station put a little bit of ice on my pack and I kept running to the start/finish area to see my crew. My ipod (or headphones) died somewhere before finishing the loop so there was no more music for the rest of the race (bummer… Sia really gave me a boost with “Greatest”). My crew did their thing to get me ready for the third loop and I was excited to come back to them as I could pick Bambi as a pacer for the last two loops. I also asked them to please check my place in the race by the time I came back to them. I was still running my own race, but my inner competitive side was lurking wondering if I could make it.

That third loop took a toll on me mentally as the heat was not kind and the grass seemed to have grown taller since the last time I ran it! Impossible obviously but that is how my legs felt it. The volunteers at the aid station got some more ice (thank God!), so I made sure to really pack my vest with ice and wherever I could fit it (hat, arm band, yeap and even down in my running shorts…) Even though it was getting harder, I wanted to stick to my plan and keep a pace of 11 for that loop. I got to my crew with some good time ahead of my schedule and I was told I was in second place…. uh oh! and they told me the first-place runner was just 6 minutes ahead of me… big uh oh! Something clicked on me and my competitive side said: “screw that 12 min pace, you are winning this race!”


Bambi started running with me and she took over the pacing. I did not look at my watch and just focused on keeping a good pace. She knew the runner in first place, so she was in the look for him ahead of us. Just before reaching the aid station at mile 5ish she said “yeah, that’s him.” And oh my… that sparked me and my legs big time. She stayed behind in the aid station to re-fill my bottles and get me some ice while I finished the last part before the turn-around. I passed the runner a little before this and I did not even stop at the aid station. Bambi kept me going at a nice pace on the dirt road and kept checking for him chasing us behind. We were able to get a nice gap, but I knew he could catch up at the start/finish area. Just before reaching Philip, Bambi told me we were not stopping, and that we would keep walking and eating. I got some more ice and off we went. I really had a good chance of winning, but anything could happen in the last ten miles of the race.

Ever since I was little I hated being chased. Not in games, not just for fun… the feeling of being chased has made me very uncomfortable. During the last miles of the race I was over the awful grass and I kept asking Bambi for some 10 second walking breaks. I knew he could catch us any second and that made me push like I have not pushed in a race for a long time. She was awesome at keeping me moving at a good pace! The fact that my watch died also helped me focus on running and to keep my head in the game. I was beyond relieved we were finished with the grassy part and I thought we had a good gap. Bambi told me that he was catching up around the aid station and I got a little worried. I knew that I could run a little faster on the dirt road, but it was then mile 45 and speedy legs were not a sure thing. We took off and with the win less than 5 miles away I kept pushing and pushing. This is the part of the race where it feels like an out of body experience. Thinking back to this part of the race I feel that it wasn’t me actually running but someone else that took over my body. I gave Bambi my vest and started running a little faster. I really really wanted that win!!!! I saw the cones around the corner before the finish and I went as fast as I could.

It happened! It really happened! I was in disbelief! I finished in first place in a time of 9:13:58 (Results here)

I was in shock and so were the race directors who thought I was a 50k finisher! lol Philip started telling them “No, he WON the 50 mile, He won!”


As a prize I got an awesome arrow in honor of St. Sebastian (name of the race) and patron Saint of athletes. I could not believe it. I still think about the race and I am surprised how I did that. It was all thanks to the help of my amazing crew and my fabulous pacer! I truly could not have pulled that off without them. This experience reminded me that Ultra-Running is truly a team sport and the dream team can make you achieve great things!

I just realized that I didn’t mention nutrition or hydration… I kept a bottle of Nuun energy and a bottle of Tailwind with me during the entire race. As the heat picked up, I refilled those at the aid station making sure I stayed hydrated. For nutrition I used Huma Gels averaging 3 gels per 10-mile loop. Some of the gels were Huma Plus which have a little more electrolytes than the regular gels… Because of that I didn’t use salt tabs in this race. I drank a little bit of coke at the aid stations and I ate two bite-size snickers every time I came to my crew.

As far as shoes, I wore my Altra Lone Peak and Balega socks. They were also part of the dream team!


Later that night at dinner at a Mexican restaurant with Philip I started feeling a little odd. I took some deep breaths and then the tears started coming down. I swear people in the restaurant probably thought we were breaking up! I rarely cry so this was kind of a surprise for Philip and me. I suddenly felt overwhelmed with so many emotions: Excitement for the win, sadness for not being able to share the moment with my family (although Philip did a great job at updating them during the day), worry about my mom’s surgery just the day before, pain because well it was a 50-mile race… sadness about the loss of my father and grandfather and not being able to tell them about the race, pride on the accomplishment. I had never won a race until that day so now I understand the tears of joy so many runners shed at that precious finish line. The body and mind can achieve so much more than we think!

Thank you to the race directors and the awesome volunteers!


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First Time Crewing Experience

Guest column by Kelsie

Crewing. What do you do? Do you just cheer for your runner and offer them a drink?  Uh, no. Well, friends, let me tell you about my experience. I was able to have my first crewing experience this year at Mountain Lakes 100 run in Oregon. I had no idea what to expect. I have done road races before, but I was brand spankin’ new to the trail running scene and had only heard of crewing. Let me tell you, trail running is a whole new animal. Then add in crewing, yeah, that takes it to a whole new level! Overall, I wanted to make sure I did an exceptional job since my sister, Kayleigh, was the crazy, awesome, hardcore chick running this 100 mile race! Not only did I want to witness this spectacular, inconceivable event, but let’s be honest…I was scared something awful was going to happen and wanted to be there just in case. C’mon, she’s my twin sister!

Let’s go back to the very beginning. I remember when Kayleigh was looking at races trying to decide which one to do. As soon as she mentioned 100 gazillion miles, I knew I had to be there! I volunteered as soon as I heard she wanted to do this! Did I know when…nope! Did I know where…nope! A little life lesson: Generally, a good rule of thumb is to find out exactly what you are volunteering for. But in this case, I didn’t care. I wanted to see my sister run 100 miles!

Okay, fast forward to the night before our flight to Oregon– I still needed to pack (yeah, that’s how I roll. I’m a last minute packer). Getting ready, I had no idea what to pack. I thought of this as a long weekend getaway, but 1) there was a possibility I might be pacing my sister (my sister’s other pacer was not able to make it and I wasn’t sure if Juan was going to be able to go from pacing 15 miles to ~45 miles), 2) I would be staying up for at least 24 hours straight 3) I had never been to Oregon before. Good idea to check the weather forecast. So what do I need? Workout clothes! OK well, I decided to pack for warm weather, cold weather, have layers. Easy enough, right? Also, I figured I should bring something for the time in between seeing my sister at the various checkpoints. How about a book? At this time, I happened to be studying for the Board Certified Ambulatory Care Pharmacist exam—2 volumes of pharmacy materials….that will pass the time, plenty of study opportunity.

Prior to this trip, I should mention my sister was great in sending out communication to the crewing group—she sent out an informational e-mail with course information (providing us with the locations where we would see her), the crew team (contact information, experience, role during this race), and troubleshooting tips (what to do in situations where her stomach starts hurting or if her fingers are swollen). As great as the e-mail was, I had only glanced at it when she had initially sent it out. I figured I would have time at the airport to read the e-mail thoroughly.

At this time, I would also like to add that not only was I crewing for this race, but I happened to be the designated driver of a Dodge Caravan (yes, I was a soccer mom for a weekend). The majority of the driving was through Mount Hood National Forest. I had the pleasure of driving the three of us (Kayleigh, Juan, and myself) to the Friday night spaghetti dinner. Great dinner plus a chocolate chip cookie for dessert. Simply, driving was stressful! It was a big surprise of how narrow, bumpy the road was. BIG, CRATER-SIZE POTHOLES! Well, maybe not that big, but big enough to be scared of getting a flat tire. Sometimes, I just couldn’t help it…BUMP! WHOOSH! I did a a lot of driving in the dark and you better believe I was gripping the steering wheel hard…white knuckles…boy, was I sore afterwards. When it was all said and done, I drove that minivan like a pro. I will be a great soccer mom one day.

Of course, the night prior to the race, I realized I did not think things through. I had taken things step by step…OK, what to pack, OK, make it to the airport on time, OK find Juan, OK get the rental car, OK we need to eat, OK we need to pick up Kayleigh from the airport…you get the idea. For some reason, I thought we would have more downtime then what we did. You may be wondering, what did I not think through? I realized the night before, when we are at our hotel in the middle of nowhere, that we didn’t pick up any food, snacks, or beverages. Uh oh, I was going to be huuun-gry! I am one that needs my 3 meals per day and coffee (if I have an early morning, which I did). We did find a gas station and bought some water and Dr. Pepper. Poor Juan had the vending machine eat his money. Luckily, we did have a coffee pot in the our room…score! However, when I went to make myself coffee in the morning, the coffee was decaf. The driver of the precious cargo needed some caffeine! The hotel did offer a continental breakfast starting at 6am. We were leaving before 6am, but there was a chance food could be out early, right? I went down to the dining room area…2 muffins…Score! Oranges…cool! Yogurt in the refrigerator…rats, it’s locked! What about the milk in the other refrigerator…open! Oooo, oatmeal packets…I’ll grab 3 of those…there’s breakfast!

RACE DAY
Two words– Emotional rollercoaster. This race evoked excitement, fear, happiness, tiredness, and negative feelings toward the cold. The race started early at Ollalie Lake. After driving for approximately 2 hours from the hotel to the start line, we were pleasantly surprised to see there were coffee and hot chocolate available, a tent with heaters,, AND port-a-potties! We got to the start line a bit early so we had time to relax, drink something warm, and take everything in while realizing the day has finally arrived. Prior to the race, there was a race meeting. During the meeting, there was mention of snow being on the course! What?! The runners didn’t seem too concerned. It was great to see all these eager runners who were bright-eyed, bursting full of excitement and energy, ready to start their 100 mile journey. At the sound of the gun, there were no waves of runners like in a road race. It was just the group of these warriors running by with the crowd cheering. As I watched Kayleigh run by, there she went with a smile on her face, then she turned the corner and was gone! Afterwards, the race coordinators told us that we could surprise the runners and see them prior to the 1st spectator checkpoint. Both me and Juan felt like we should stick with the original plan. Why you ask? Well, we would have had to drive to this “surprise” location and did not want to risk getting lost. If we had gotten lost, we felt that it was more important for Kayleigh to meet us at the 20 some mile checkpoint instead of some earlier checkpoint. Besides she didn’t know any different. So, with that, oatmeal time!

At the start line area where the coffee and hot chocolate were, there happened to be some hot water left. Juan and I got some hot water and made our way back to the minivan. By the time we got back, the water was cold. But, we didn’t care…the oatmeal tasted so good. Afterwards, we decided to try to nap. After 1.5 hours or so, I woke up and Juan was gone. Later on when I found Juan, I found out he had been adventurous and decided to explore the Pacific Crest Trail. With a lot of time to kill, we decided to hike around for a little bit. A little while later, we started to get hungry again. We went back to the van to indulge in the leftover Voo Doo donuts we had gotten the day before when we had explored the city for a bit. So good! During this time in the minivan, we chatted, strategized and re-strategized. We pulled out Kayleigh’s handy dandy race sheets (these sheets were in plastic sleeves to protect them from the elements…smart!) and estimated the time she would be hitting the checkpoints as well as goal times we were shooting for, memorizing where the checkpoints were located, and looked at the elevation gains. Then, we thought about food again. I was concerned Juan did not have anything to eat and was going to be pacing Kayleigh for 45 miles! We’ll come back to that later. Juan and I had planned to leave the minivan around 1pm to see Kayleigh at the first spectator checkpoint (2nd spectator checkpoint if you count the surprise location, but Kayleigh didn’t know any different).


Crew/spectator Checkpoint 1. This was where Kayleigh would have completed about a marathon. It was exciting watching runners come in…the first girl looked strong and she was doing great! Just kicking ass! Some runners had cuts and scrapes. You could hear the chatter of the racers with their crew members, hearing about stomach problems, the snow, watching some runners changing their shoes. Every time a runner would come around the corner the crowd would start cheering, the cowbell would be ringing, and we were eager to see Kayleigh. We kept hoping Kayleigh was in the top ten for girls, but then we settled for top 20 (that’s right Kayleigh, we had high expectations for you!)Let me take the time to say how great of a job Juan did laying everything out! Juan had the idea of spreading out all of Kayleigh’s items from her drop bags so she could just see and point or tell us what she needed (instead of making her remember what was in the bags). Genius! However, one thing we had forgotten was Kayleigh’s PB&J sandwhich!!! Luckily, the checkpoint station had some…whew!

Then, finally, here comes Kayleigh!!! She’s looking good! You can’t help but burst with joy when you see your runner approaching. When Kayleigh finally made her way to our little area we claimed as our crew squatting site, I felt like the coach in Rocky (or any coach during breaks in boxing matches)…we had Kayleigh sit down in the foldable lawn chair and while she is telling us about the first 20 miles in ankle deep snow (gross!), I just started taking off her shoes and socks right away, dried her feet, re-lubed her feet with Aquaphor, put clean, dry socks and her spare trail shoes back on her feet. While she used the bathroom, Juan went to refill her water bottles. Then Kayleigh came walking back over to us and was ready to take off again. Juan ran as far as he could before Kayleigh was on her own again.

Now what? We pack up and put the items back in Kayleigh’s drop bags the way she
had them organized (just in case later she was looking for a specific item). We drop the stuff back off at the minivan and decide to check out this small store near the start line. Remember, we were hungry! We walk in and to our surprise, we see food!!!! Chips, cookies, crackers, ramen noodles, tuna. We were in heaven!!! We decide to buy a couple packages of tuna, Wheat-thin crackers, and a couple packages of Ramen noodles. We went back to the race starting area and there was still some hot water (well now warm water) left in the containers..yay! O.M.G. Ramen never tasted so good! The noodles did not get as soft as they normally would, but I didn’t care. I’ll take al dente noodles! The Wheat Thins were so tasty too! Juan ate the tuna to help fuel him for his upcoming pacer duties. After enjoying our gourmet lunch/dinner, we re-strategized the timing as Kayleigh was running a bit behind. We agreed that she could not stay as long at the other spectator checkpoints. We also decided that Kayleigh’s goal of running the race in under 24 hours was a bit of a stretch…the snow really was a surprising obstacle. We now wanted her to beat the cut off time of 30 hours.

We started our drive to the next location which was approximately 1.5 hours away. During the drive, we were not quite sure where to go. At one point, there was a fork in the road and no signs to follow…um, let’s go left? Other cars were following so that’s a good sign. Funny that we finally got back on one of the main roads and we went ahhh, that’s were that road went. We got to the next spectator checkpoint and the sun was going to go bye-bye soon. We checked out the stop, took some pictures (definitely important to document everything for Kayleigh), went to the bathroom, re-strategized the timing again and looked at the elevation, I studied for ~1 hour, Juan was getting his gear ready and the headlamps ready. A little bit prior to Juan’s debut as a pacer, he tried taking a nap, and then I decided to try to take a nap. We had estimated Kayleigh would be coming in approximately 3-3.5 hours and so we started watching for her. Another point I had not considered…it’s pitch black and all you see are runner’s headlamps when they are coming up the hill and turning the corner….you can’t tell who is who! Kayleigh had a red blinker on, but so many people had blinkers on. Every so often, we would say, “is that her?” A couple of times we got out of the mini-van and starting yelling Kayleigh’s name to realize that that was not Kayleigh. Then, finally we see Kayleigh!!! Again, super excited! I’m thinking, OK, she picks up Juan as a pacer here, the rest will be easy for her. Juan will motivate, motivate, motivate! At this point, I should explain that Kayleigh is at mile 55.4 and is allowed to pick up her first pacer (Juan). Then, they run 15 miles and come back to the same checkpoint and I’ll see them both and crew for them both. Then, they leave me and I won’t see them until the finish. I had heard a lady telling someone that with this race, mile 55 is where runners call it quits if they are going to stop. So we thought, OK, if we can get Kayleigh to keep going, she will be golden! And, the next 15 miles is flat, Kayleigh will finally have her pacer, and she can make up for lost time.


Well, Kayleigh was NOT in the best state of mind and was cold and hungry. Can you blame her? She had just run a little over 55 miles. Juan had some work to do to radiate his positivity onto Kayleigh. We tried encouraging her and asked if she wanted any different clothes. Her hat was wet so I took my hat off and put it on her head. She complained that her pack was hurting her back so Juan muled for her. Once they took off together, I estimated that I should see them around 1:30am. I went back to the minivan and tried to nap, but it was so cold that I couldn’t sleep (and I didn’t necessarily want to keep the van running the whole time). Around 1am, I decided to make my way over to the checkpoint station in case they had run faster than I thought, especially if Kayleigh’s adrenaline kicked in with Juan joining her. I walked over and just stood looking into the forest. I would occasionally see headlamps and hope, this is them! But no! I felt really bad because a lot of the runners thought I was a race volunteer taking their bib number to check-in. I would cheer them on and try to point them in the right direction/to the correct side of the corral. Again, come on, running 71.7 miles, not uncommon to be delirious. I remember seeing one girl and she was complaining how miserable she was and then she starting crying. Her crew member embraced her and just held her for a few minutes. Then, she pulled herself together and kept going. This is serious stuff! Finally, I got to the point where I could not take it anymore. I was so cold. I could not feel my toes or my fingers. I did not want to miss Juan and Kayleigh, but I needed to go back to minivan to warm up. I rationalized this by thinking what good
am I if I can’t use my fingers. Besides, Kayleigh had said to take care of ourselves. So I go back to the minivan and turn the heat on full blast. I look at the time…it is 3am. I was standing staring at the forest for at least 1.5 hours! I sat in the minivan for 5 minutes, just long enough to thaw my fingers and toes. I decided to bring the foldable chair and a blanket this time. I went back to the checkpoint area and set up my chair and waited.
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I am still staring into the forest and then finally, I see Kayleigh and Juan…YAY!!!! They don’t see me right away, but as I head over to them, Kayleigh heads to the bathroom. Juan tells me she is not doing well…she is not picking up her feet, stumbling on thepath, her stomach is bothering her, and she is cold. Kayleigh comes back over and is extremely cold and wants to go to the minivan to warm up. She’s hungry, but can’t eat anything because of her stomach issues. We get her back to the minivan and open the side door and she lays down saying she wants to be done. To me and Juan, she is so close to finishing!!! However, we both know there is elevation gain for the rest of the course. But, she can do this!! The longer Kayleigh sits, the more she is becoming stronger in her conviction to stop. “I don’t think I can do this.” We all know that this time would happen when the runner is tired and wants to quit and we are there to motivate them and help them pick themselves up and carry on, right? I say to Kayleigh, “Ok, what I am hearing you say is “I think”…I do not hear absolutes. I do not want you to quit and regret this later.” Kayleigh states how even if she made it to the next aid station, if she decided to call it quits at that point, she may have to walk back to this checkpoint anyways. Or if she kept going, she may get DNF if she can’t finish in 30 hour limit (that would suck). It was a difficult decision because the next time she would see me would be at the finish line as I couldn’t meet her anywhere to pick her up. We deliberate for a few minutes weighing the pros and cons and tell Kayleigh no matter what she decides that we support her– if she wants to call it quits, we are still very proud of her; if she wants to keep going, Juan will continue to run by her side and keep her going until the finish. It truly was a difficult decision to make. Kayleigh decided she didn’t want to risk injury and wanted to go back to the hotel. We asked her if she was sure, “final answer?” She was done.

On the drive back to the hotel, I maneuvered around those potholes like a pro. It was going to be nice to sleep in a bed and shower. On the way back, Kayleigh is talking to us and then I ask her a question, no response.

Me: “ Kayleigh? Kayleigh?!”
Juan: “She’s passed out.”
Me: “Is she breathing?!”

I thought maybe her body finally took a hit and got scared. I had heard that when these runners stop running, their blood pressure can drop and they can pass out. But yes, she was OK, just exhausted. I’ve never seen my sister fall asleep so quickly in my life. We finally make it back to the hotel, help Kayleigh inside and force her to drink some water, then down she goes….Zzzz.

Overall, crewing was a unique, fun, exciting, tiring opportunity and a great learning
experience. I would do it again, but definitely would prepare in advance. Although it is important to be prepared, it is equally as important to be able to troubleshoot if issues arise and to re-strategize. Lastly, it is also important to know when to push your runner, but also when enough is enough.  Thank you to Juan for being an awesome member/pacer and for allowing me to be a guest blogger. I had fun!

Tom Walker Half Marathon – Race Report

Gainesville, FL | 11.11.17 | Hawthorne Trail

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It has been a long time since I ran my last half-marathon. Ever since I started training and running ultras, I left behind some of the shorter and faster races. Undeniably though, my favorite race distance (non-ultra) to run is the half-marathon. For a long time I felt bad for “just running the half,” but then I realized this race had its own strategy and it was a whole race after all, not a “half race.” I am pretty sure fellow runners feel similarly.

My training heading into the Tom Walker half was of course not ideal for a speedy race as I have been focusing on working on my endurance and keeping my HR low in my longer runs. I literally had no idea what time I was aiming for, but I knew I wanted to run a time under 2 hours. The weather was absolutely perfect the morning of the race although it did warm up later on. My “strategy” if you can call it that was to run at a 8:00min/mi pace for as long as I could sustain it. There were pace groups but I opted out to run my own race and focused on trying not to strain too much. I was a little worried my calves were going to tighten or my lungs could not keep up racing at that pace.

I felt pretty good even after going through some rolling hills in the first part of the course. The race was an out and back style which I really like when pushing my pace. In this kind of races the runners on the other side, either the faster ones passing me or the slower ones on the way back, motivate me to not slow down. The race took place on the trail that I use for training so it felt nice knowing the terrain and knowing how to run the tangents. It is crazy how many people do not really pay attention to running the shortest course possible and using the tangents! You can say that I was channeling my inner Shalane…

After the turn around point exactly at the half of the half (that sounds weird but you get it), I took a Huma gel with a little caffeine to give me a boost. I only drank water during the race but I did take two salt tabs. My first marathon in the Florida heat and humidity taught me a big lesson on not just relying on plain water… and let’s be honest, I was NOT going to drink gatorade! I also chewed two pieces of Run Gum mint flavor during the race and I really think they gave me a big boost especially in the last three miles.

There comes a point during races that my inner competitive sides always shows up. This time it happened at mile 10. I kept a pacing group at my sight during the entire race and I decided that 3 miles before the finish line I had enough in me to catch up to them…. So I increased my pace and one by one I passed at least 5 other runners before I caught the main pace group. As bad as it sounds, passing people always makes me push harder! Once I reached the main pace group I was back in those crazy rolling hills but I didn’t care, at this point I was hitting some lower 7 and even 6:30 min/mi pace! One mile before the finish line I ended up passing the 1:45 pacing group (bummer as I thought it was the 1:40 pace). The last mile was very exciting as the Finish line was in sight and I had a couple of friends that came to cheer with signs and cowbells!

I finished the race in 1:43 and even though I was indeed tired, it really wasn’t too too bad. Having my Nuun energy after the race was heaven!!! If you want to see my stats head to my Strava.

What made this race very special too was that it was my roommate’s first race ever! And she finished under 2 hours! I am very proud of her and I knew she would make it. Now I have to convice her to sign up for a full marathon! You can read her Guest Column on this post titled “Running with Juan and Murakami.



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Running with Juan and Murakami

Guest column by Dragana

At this moment it has been only some 24 hours since I ran my first half marathon (and my first race ever). How does one switch from being a person who does not do sports, to being someone capable to run – without stopping – for over 13 miles? And is it really a change?

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Running log until race on week 18

My running has almost everything to do with Juan. In fact, I think it is pretty accurate to say that without Juan I would never start running, let alone do long distance running. Juan and I were roommates for 2 years. Even though he is a serious runner, a person that trains consistently, and plans his race calendar, he never tried to talk me into running. It has all started in a much more spontaneous way. Anyone in a graduate school knows that our lifestyle is generally not conducive to sports: we work long hours, have constant deadlines, pressures to finish grading, write a new conference paper, read an extra book… it’s easy to focus on work and disregard physical activities as something that wastes your time. If I remember correctly, Juan and I started running together as a break from work. I must confess I was intimidated to go running with someone who actually runs the races, while my only experience with running was random jogging here and there, not allowing to develop real taste or habit for it. I remember our first running together, running slowly so we can chat and not feel bored or awkward (at least for me). Juan knew when to slow down so I can catch a break without making it obvious that I needed it, and he knew when to push me to run faster. We started to develop a habit out of it. It felt great. Runners high. Of course, I did not think about the option of actually registering for a race. It was just a thing we do together as roommates and friends.

The second part of the story is related to a book. People who know me, know that I am always reading something. One of my favorite writers is Haruki Murakami (in fact, every year I keep cheering for him to get a Nobel prize in literature – but that’s another story). This summer, on my first day visiting my parents in Bosnia, I stepped out of the apartment to find a small book fair on the downtown square nearby. I couldn’t help but browse the books. A thing I asked one of the sellers is if they have translated any new Murakami into Serbian. He showed me a book, but warned me that it’s actually not a novel, but a series of autobiographical essays about running. I got it, went into the apartment, and start reading it. I like to think that this book adds the last piece to the puzzle why I actually started running. There Murakami describes in a very logical and deliberate way how one decides to start running and then sticks to it. It spoke to me enough that a couple of weeks later, upon returning to Florida, I decided to start running (almost) every day. At that point, I was not interested to compete, but interested to understand whether I can somewhat replicate the state of mind described in the book. I started running shorter distances, gradually increasing them (after discussing it with Juan), running alone and in a company, but sticking to it.

The rest, to say it proverbially, is a history. Once you start running, you realize you compete primarily with yourself. For me running is about self-improvement, and about perseverance, the qualities we all need in life. Yesterday I ran my first half marathon. I did better than what I was hoping for (my goal was only to finish it). Today, as I am resting my legs, I’m thinking which race I should run next.

Who wouldn’t want to run these ultras after watching the UTWT videos?

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I am obsessed with the Ultratrail-World Tour (UTWT) YouTube channel! Those videos are super inspiring and show very bad ass runners from all over the world. I have included the links for some of those below. I guess suddenly my bucket list grew exponentially… sadly the size of my pockets remains the same 😉



Also, check the schedule for the 2018 UTWT race series! Bucket list for sure (Javelina Jundred??)