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The Big Sur marathon offers a chance to experience dramatic landscapes along Highway 1 while tackling a challenging course. For this reason, it’s considered a great destination race for runners across the globe. This marathon has been on my bucket list for years, as it combines two things I love: running, which started in high school not far from the finish line in Monterey, and Northern California, where I grew up. Big Sur in particular has always been a magical place for me, in part due to yearly camping trips with my family when I was young, which is why I wanted it to be the first marathon I ran in my home state!

E and I had already signed up for the marathon when an old friend of mine from high school asked if we would join his relay team, We Be Crazies. He’s been trying to get me to run for the last 7 years, but the timing was never quite right. Doing the relay and the marathon seemed a bit nuts, but apparently we could run Leg 1 (4.9 miles) and then continue onwards to complete the marathon. I was on the “A” open female team that won 1st place last year, which meant that I was expected to run as fast as possible for the first 5 miles. Not exactly ideal marathon pacing strategy, but I was never planning for this race to be a fast one, and I was excited for a potential podium finish!

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We flew in from NYC late Thursday night before the Sunday race, allowing us to stay on East Coast time. Very important when you have a 3am wakeup call race morning! We had a relaxing day at my parent’s house in Santa Cruz on Friday, including some nice walks on the beach to calm our taper crazies, and drove down to the expo on Saturday. The expo was small (you don’t need much time there) but had some great speakers. I particularly enjoyed meeting Bart Yasso – he shared an entertaining and powerful story about how he became the Chief Running Officer of RW, and all the adventures and health challenges that he has experienced since. His book is great too!

Bart’s main message was the following: you may not always have your health, but no one can take away your positive attitude or your passion for the sport. This proved very helpful on race day while being blown to pieces by crazy headwinds and feeling unusually fatigued early in the race. I could either think about how crappy I felt, or focus on the gorgeous views and how fortunate I was to be running in such a special part of the world. Attitude is everything!

The race was very well organized, with shuttles in several convenient locations. We stayed at the Hampton Inn (5 min walk from the shuttle at Embassy Suites), which was brand new and very comfy. It also was only a short drive from the expo (note – it says Monterey but really it is one block away from Seaside). The staff was great about letting us use their microwave to reheat our pre-race meals (salmon, zucchini and rice for lunch and pasta with mushrooms for dinner), and cooking oatmeal at 3am. As for gear, I had never run in my relay singlet and it was very big, so I layered it over my usual racing tank and the awkward baton fit nicely into my arm sleeve so I didn’t have to grip it.

The bus took about 75 minutes to get to the start line in Big Sur – a slow ride of peering out into the darkness. We got to the athlete village around 5:30am, which was extremely small and crowded (there isn’t much space to put everyone off of the highway). We were essentially dumped into a convoluted, massive line for the porta potties. Thankfully, the hilarious signs on each one kept us laughing. For example, “Tesla charging station,” “Las Vegas bus leaves here,” “Only for under 40 years old,” “Toasty 75 degrees inside,” and my favorite – “Condo for rent.” Not much of an exaggeration for California! The mile markers also had funny pictures and sayings – the race organizers definitely have a great sense of humor, and I appreciated the laughs while mentally toughing it out on the course.

Despite the crowds, we soon reunited with our fellow We Be Crazies Leg 1 runners. Because the highway remains open until 6am, the start line is only put up right before the race begins. They also load the corals differently – slowest runners first to get them further down the highway and fastest first. My friend encouraged me to start at the very front, which seemed crazy since my “fast” pace is slow compared to the front runners. But hey – it was my only opportunity to start at the very front of a major race, so I figured why not go for it! It was such a rush, running down that hill. I knew I would be passed immediately (and I was) at my 7:07 pace, however it was still awesome.

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The weather was cool and cloudy but fairly protected by the redwoods during my relay leg. It was so peaceful and mostly downhill – though certainly not “all downhill” as everyone kept saying (never believe that statement with regards to this race). There were several climbs though relative to the rest of the course, I suppose they were quite small. I felt strong and happy with my pacing, even though it would bite me later in the race.

After the handoff at mile 4.9, I felt sick. But sick = nice job on the relay! I shifted gears and slowed down to catch my breath and settle into a more sustainable pace. It wasn’t really a choice anyway as this was the point at which the roads opened up and the wind reared its ugly head! Large groups of runners kept passing me by, making me wish I could run fast enough to keep up so that I could get some protection from the wind. This sign definitely rubbed it in – all lies! Those hills felt endless…because they were.

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By mile 10 I was exhausted and the wind and slanted roads were taking a toll. I focused on how lucky I was to be there and on one of many long hills, the following mantra popped into m head: “Never ever ever give up.” I repeated it to myself over and over again and particularly while climbing hills to the rhythm of my feet.

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The taiko drums before hurricane point really locked in my mantra. You feel the sounds reverberate in your soul. These drums are a call to battle – in this case, the battle within against the never-ending hill! The fluid, powerful movements of the drummers were inspiring.

At the top of hurricane point it was so windy I literally could not move forward. It stopped me in my tracks and nearly blew me over! Good thing I ran during some crazy snowstorms back in NYC – who would’ve guessed it would be great Big Sur training? Usually you can make up time running downhill but the wind was so strong, it wasn’t worth the energy to push against it.

Bixby bridge was magical. We didn’t have blue skies like the last time I visited Big Sur, but the views were just as beautiful. You could hear the piano way before you even saw the bridge – the music floating faintly in the wind with sounds of crashing waves down below. This race clearly was not going to be a fast one, so I made sure to stop and really soak it in.

Just after the bridge, E cruised by me! I was beyond happy to see his face. He was looking strong and I could barely keep up with him at first. We settled into a slow but steady pace for 10 miles or so, occasionally saying a few words but mostly focusing on putting one foot in front of the other.

Around mile 22 or 23, I finally got my groove back while E started to fall behind. I needed to keep moving so we parted ways. I hit the strawberry aid station – yes, an aid station with super sweet, fresh local strawberries – where I ran into an old friend from college. Turns out she lives in the neighborhood, and since they’re blocked in for the day they have a party!

The slant of the roads was tough on the body – I tried to find a sweet spot on the road but getting comfortable was nearly impossible. It was the first time in a marathon I wanted to walk but somehow I kept myself running. Knowing my parents were waiting for me at the finish helped me finish strong – it was the first time they were watching me race a marathon since Boston 2013. I saw my parents screaming in the spectator stands and was proud to finish in 4:08. It was my slowest marathon time ever but I still fought hard for it and took time to soak in the scenery – and that’s what matters.

E finished shortly after me in 4:16 – it was a strong run for him, given it was only a few minutes off of his flat course PR. The medals were awesome – ceramic with leather cords. Definitely a unique one to add to our collection!

Our relay team’s success certainly sweetened my slow personal finish! We Be Crazies won four awards – 1st overall, 1st open male, and 2nd and 3rd open female. My team won 2nd – we missed 1st by 15min – but we still rocked it with a time of 3:19!

After the awards ceremony, we celebrated together with an Indian buffet before heading back to Santa Cruz. As much as I love the solo nature of running and racing, I also enjoy being part of a competitive team. It’s not just about you achieving your personal goals – people are counting on you, which make you want to push that much harder. Doing both the relay and the marathon was a real challenge, but it was pretty cool to race hard for my team and then be able to battle it out for myself. I highly recommend this race – you can choose one of the shorter distances if you wish to experience the course without committing to the full 26.2!

After Big Sur, we got to relax in Santa Cruz with my family. As much as I love NYC, I hadn’t been home  in a year and I can’t tell you how amazing it was to be back. Our bodies ached for several days but we quickly recovered with daily beach walks, lots of delicious food, and massage. One week later, my legs felt refreshed and I had one of my all-time best beach runs, from La Selva to Seacliff (10 miles)! Perfect conditions – low tide and sunny with a cool breeze – combined with an awesome playlist led to some unexpectedly fast miles.

A trip to California wouldn’t be complete without a run in the redwoods. I did a couple short runs with E on the trails in Nisene Marks as well as a hike and meditation session with a close friend down by the Buddha bridge, my favorite spot in the forest. It was the perfect way to end a beautiful, active week!

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Last year, I paced E in the JFK50 – his first 50 miler. We ran together from Weverton (mile 15.5) to Taylor’s Landing (mile 38.4) along the C & O canal towpath. It was inspiring to run part of this historic ultra marathon and watch E finish strong, especially after witnessing some very low points on the canal.

At the finish, my in-laws asked me if I ever wanted to run an ultra. My response was, “NO WAY!” I love to run long, but running 50 miles was incomprehensible to me at the time. And of course here I am, one year and three ultra finishes later…

The JFK50 was a very last minute addition to our Fall race calendar. E and I had just run the UTHC 65k when we met several legendary endurance athletes (NESS at Princeton) who inspired us to search for another ultra challenge. Sure enough, registration was still open for the JFK50. E wanted to give the course another try and I felt (falsely) confident after having run for nearly 11 hours in Quebec. Also, the NYC marathon would be a great training race. E mentioned that we were already kind of trained for it, so why not? (WHY NOT RUN A 50 MILE RACE?!) “Sure,” I said, “why not?” And maybe now you can see how I started running ultras!

We got to the Homewood Suites in Hagerstown late-afternoon to pick up our bib numbers and prep our gear. Strangely, I wasn’t nervous – perhaps because I had already convinced myself that I probably wouldn’t get very far. This is NOT the usual attitude I have in a race, but I had to manage my expectations.

I felt great during the NYC marathon but got some bad right foot pain out of nowhere while walking in flip flops two days later. It turned out to be a cuboid strain and although the pain resolved just before the race, I was cautioned not to run through the pain if it returned, as I could risk a stress fracture. Obviously it’s inevitable to feel some pain with races of this distance, so I would have to differentiate between “bad” pain and more general foot pain. I remained optimistic and grateful to be starting, and told myself that I would run as far as I safely could with E, whether it was 4 miles, 24 miles, or longer. Sounds like a simple plan, right? Run smart, and and if/when the “bad” pain comes, don’t risk injury for the sake of finishing. Got it.

Clearly I forgot that I am a very stubborn person who has never DNF’d and hates quitting. And that the mind and body play tricks on you and hinder your judgment when you have been running for hours and hours. But more on that later…

Gear-wise, I decided not to carry my bladder, which ended up being the BEST decision. This race is incredibly well supported, with 14 fully-stocked aid stations every 2-6 miles! Two 9oz bottles proved more than adequate. It felt great not to have all the weight on my back, and also gave me tons of room in my UD vest to store gels, food, extra layers, and other items. I wore my breathable 2XU compression tights, my favorite Patagonia tank, a very thin North Face long sleeve shirt, my Brooks ultra light shell, Injini socks, Lulu hat, merino wool gloves, and my Brooks Cascadia trail shoes.

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THE START (Miles 0-2.5)

We missed the pre-race talk due to trouble parking (it gets REALLY crowded) but had plenty of time to hit the restrooms and warm up in the Boonsboro Educational Complex. Around 6:45am, we headed back out into the cold and towards the start line in downtown Boonsboro. I had the strongest sense of deja-vu – but this time, I had my own hydration vest and would not be going back to the hotel for a nap! We timed it perfectly, approaching the start just as the gun went off. We were running before I even had a chance to realize the race had started! The 50 mile race. MY FIRST 50 MILE RACE. Nope, still not registering, still fully in denial.

I felt surprisingly awesome. It was a gorgeous Fall day. The air was crisp but our bodies quickly warmed up as we climbed the first of many hills. Everyone around us was walking, but we kept running at an easy effort level given there were much steeper hills to come that would demand walking. I soaked up the atmosphere, that feeling of embarking on a great adventure with hundreds of other race participants (quite a lot for an ultra). The AT and canal would soon spread us all out and turn chunks of our race into quieter, more solo endeavors.

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THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL (Miles 2.5-15.5, paved road miles 3.5-5.5)

I wasn’t sure what to expect on the AT and was slightly nervous about how my foot would handle it. E and I did a fair amount of training on the AT in NY and VT over the summer, on trails that were very technical. E told me it wasn’t quite as challenging, though last year fallen leaves weren’t covering the trails, which included many long, tricky sections of jagged rocks. The leaves camouflaged the rocks while also making them slippery. Bad news for my foot if I wasn’t careful!

We were barely on the trail when we were spit back out onto pavement. THIS was the hill E mentioned earlier – long and steep. We power walked along, joking and chatting with each other and our fellow runners. That’s one of my favorite parts about trail running – you always get to interact with interesting people. We overheard pieces of a story that a man (in the army or navy?) was telling his friend – something about traveling to various places around the world in search of a resupply but never getting one, and being without any real food except for rice and a few canned goods for 70-something days. Well, then running 50 miles should be a walk in the park, right?! I reminded him of this when we ran into each other later in the race and he wasn’t feeling too great!

We soon rejoined the AT, and the leaves and rocks demanded all of my attention. I still felt good, but feared that with any next step the foot pain would return. Sure enough, my foot rolled on a rock around mile 5 and I felt the first pang of pain. Shit. I had more than 10 miles to go on this terrain! It felt fine as long as I landed flat, but every time it rolled – pain. Not terrible, but not good. With concentration, I was able to minimize the number of times I rolled my foot, but the terrain made it impossible to avoid. E was far ahead of me at this point, as I had slowed down to focus on my footing. Thankfully trail runners are friendly, and I met a lovely woman from South Dakota who helped the miles go by.

I feared the 1,000ft descent to Weverton that E had warned me about, but it wasn’t that bad. A few sharp turns, but otherwise quite runnable as long as you don’t get stuck behind a conga line of walkers (you can’t easily pass on this section). I was so happy when I reunited with E at Weverton – I managed to survive the AT relatively unscathed! Plus, a long flat section awaited us – much better for my foot – and we had plenty of wiggle room with the time cut offs. I made this handy wrist band to make sure we didn’t get pulled – highly recommend!

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THE CANAL (miles 15.5 – 41.8)

Hitting the canal together was a joyous moment. My foot felt okay, the sun was shining, the canal was peaceful, and I was running on a familiar trail with my favorite person. I knew I couldn’t get my hopes up, but I was still in the game and I would continue running as long as my foot didn’t hurt with each step. Or so I told myself. We were running around 11-11:30min miles, nice and relaxed and feeling strong.

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Cut to 10 miles later….get me off this canal! It was beautiful but felt endless. Also, all the foot problems really started at this point. My  right foot started to hurt with each step at around 26M. We were practically wading through the leaves on certain parts of the trail and I had to stop several times to get the leaves and rocks out of my shoes. I love Injinji socks but mine were too low cut. In an effort to keep stuff out, I tied my left shoe laces tighter and miles later, the top of my left foot started to hurt too. I knew I couldn’t run another 20 miles feeling like this and contemplated dropping at the next aid station at mile 30.

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But then our friends unexpectedly showed up at mile 30! Look at those smiles! We stopped for a few minutes and my spirits were uplifted. The aid station was Star Wars themed – this race truly has the BEST aid stations. Not only are they frequent, but the volunteers are also incredible. I forgot about my feet and after saying goodbye to our friends, we went along our way.

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Until we were alone again on the canal and…oh yeah, my feet still hurt. I decided to keep running until the next aid station at mile 34 (Christmas cookies!), and reassess there.

Okay, cookies eaten, said hi to Santa, I think my feet are feeling better? (NOT REALLY NO. LIAR!). My pace started to drag. I decided to continue until mile 38 and then pull the plug – had to get to the red velvet cake 38 special!

This is the point at which I realized I could not be trusted. “I’ll just run until the next aid station” became my equivalent of “I’ll just eat one more cookie.” Continuing to run didn’t seem to be doing much damage at the time – until the pain felt magnified by the time I reached mile 38. I knew I could keep running and finish this race if I really wanted to – but at what cost? It wasn’t worth it.

I was grateful to have made it so far, and now it was time to face reality. I stuffed a piece of cake into my face and told E to finish for both of us. We moved past the aid station and I watched him run ahead until he eventually disappeared. My vision of us finishing hand in hand, experiencing victory and celebrating our teamwork as we did in Quebec was shattered. I was surprised by how upset I was, overcome with feelings of defeat and being left behind, even though I knew that this moment would likely come. I couldn’t help but become invested in this race. I was only 12 miles away from my first 50 mile finish!

Running was off the table, but walking wasn’t quite as painful. I wasn’t sure if I should turn around and drop out (what the “should” voice told me to do) or give myself a few more miles to at least finish that damn canal section (what the stubborn voice told me to do). I kept walking. The noise of the aid station faded away. I felt aimless even though I was still moving forward. Several people passed me including walkers and I was deep into my lowest low when an older man named John walked up beside me. He was a 5am starter and was moving at a brisk pace, but one that I could maintain. I learned that this was his 13th JFK50 and that since getting his hip replaced, he race walks marathons and ultras, including this past MCM. Amazing! I couldn’t believe that I could actually walk the remaining 12 miles and make all the cut offs. I couldn’t have done this alone in the cold and dark – but with company? Perhaps I could finish after all. I felt my spirits lift and even though I knew that this was probably not good for my feet, I felt renewed inspiration to keep going.

As we were chatting on the canal, a young woman named Aly approached us. “Did I hear that you guys are walking? Can I join you?” She was in the same boat as me – unable to run due to pain but wanting to “step it out.” She had quite an impressive string of races under her belt since running her first ultra (a 100 miler!) in April, including two more 100’s and several other distances. Her most recent race was a 50 miler just two weeks before the JFK50 – no wonder her hip was hurting!

I was particularly grateful to have met Aly, as she waited for me at the next aid station while I put on another layer (a long sleeve merino wool top that saved me) and John continued walking to keep his pace. Eric had left me a sweet message with the wonderful aid station volunteers, who passed along his love and cheered me on as we hit the road. THANK YOU volunteers! I was very sad not to be running with him, but I knew that I would soon be joining him at the finish, one way or another.

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THE FINISH (Miles 41.8-50.2)

It was wonderful to finally be free of the canal. It felt like an accomplishment in its own right, even though we still had 8 miles left to go. There were mile markers counting down to the finish, which was awesome and helped us pace ourselves to beat the cut offs. Aly is a 3:33 marathoner like me, and it was slight torture knowing that such a short distance to run would take hours to walk, but so it goes. At least I was in good company and the scenery was beautiful! The sun set as we walked along the gently rolling country roads, and I felt very peaceful as I took in the gorgeous skies and fields filled with cows.

We calculated that we could keep a 14-15min/mile pace and finish well before 7pm (12 hours), when the finish line closes. I don’t think I would have attempted this had I been on my own. It soon got very dark – we were wearing reflective vests and the volunteers were amazing at helping to keep us safe, although we were still walking on a road with traffic which was a bit scary in total darkness. It also got very cold and I couldn’t get warm despite our brisk pace. My foot pain was getting worse too, although it’s amazing how adrenaline and focus on a single goal can dull pain and make it difficult to objectively assess how your body truly feels. Each mile was difficult but felt manageable with the finish line on my brain and my walking buddy by my side. The awesome aid stations with hot soup and cookies also helped – there were THREE during the last 8 miles! Talk about well supported.

This was my first time truly at the back of the pack, and it was a humbling, emotional and inspiring experience. I loved interacting with other walkers and runners, everyone encouraging one another as we all tried to beat the clock. My favorite part of this section involved a man dressed as Mr. Incredible, who we had seen earlier on the canal blasting music from speakers on his bike. He apparently has done this for years. We were walking in the dark silence with many more miles to go when out of nowhere I heard music and saw the road light up. I looked back and there he was, our live DJ riding next to us, playing great rock tunes and illuminating the road with a spot light. I can’t even tell you how uplifting this was – THANK YOU Mr. Incredible! You made my day.

Aly and I caught up to John and another walker with a few miles to go. I was moving more slowly by this point so Aly walked ahead, while John assured me that I had plenty of time to spare and could slow my pace down if I wished. He kept me company for the last few miles, coaching me along and telling me exactly what was left until the finish. I am fortunate to have found so many amazing people out on the course – this race really was a team effort.

I heard the finish before I saw it. I was shivering and hobbling along, but that sound was energizing. We turned right and I saw an area of light ahead. I remember waiting in the dark and cold for E to emerge from the darkness to finish his race last year. Now it was my turn. I thanked John for his support and started to “run” (ahem, shuffle) as soon as I hit the lit section of the road to cross the finish line. I felt so happy to have made it – shocked, really! My watch died hours before I finished, but you can check out my Garmin details here.

E had finished about 30 minutes before me (check out his awesome race report) and thank goodness had just made it back down to the finish line a few minutes before I arrived after grabbing our bags. Whatever had been masking the pain and kept me moving forward over the last few hours was ripped away at the finish. I went from all smiles and walking with a purpose to sobbing and shivering uncontrollably, unable to take a single step. The pain was brutal. I could barely move and was slightly frightened at what I had just done to myself. Respect the distance, E always told me. Seriously. People run double this distance?!

E wasn’t feeling too hot either, but managed to get me to the main building at the Springfield Middle School, where they had food, drinks, medical etc. I piled on the layers and had a hot drink but still could not stop shivering or crying. Total mess. We went to the medical area where I was treated by some wonderful doctors. There wasn’t much to be done other than ice and elevate my feet, hydrate, and see my sports doctor when I got back to NYC, but they took good care of me. One doctor even walked me to the front of the building and personally spoke with someone in charge of the shuttles to make sure I was taken right to my car, given I couldn’t walk. Everyone was so helpful and kind. I cannot speak more highly of this race in terms of the organization and support. No wonder so many people come back year after year to participate!

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I felt miserable the following week – foot pain and body aches magnified by a terrible virus that kept me in bed for several days.  I felt conflicted about my whole race experience. Had I been stubborn and foolish in pushing myself to finish, potentially injuring myself and making myself sick? Or was I being resilient and should I feel proud of myself for finishing? It was confusing, nothing like my previous ultra finishes.

I am finally healthy again and walking like a normal person without any pain. My x-rays were negative (no MRI yet), though I’m continuing to take time off of running to make sure whatever is going on heals properly. It’s been nice to a break after such a busy running season. I signed up for a two-week Class Pass trial and am loving all the variety from so many different cross-training activities!

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So, was it worth it? That’s the question I’ve been grappling with these last two weeks. I think it was. It was a really tough race – one that taught me important lessons about myself and my body – and how can I not be proud of myself for running 50 miles? The JFK50 was an amazing race – I agree that it’s a great first 50 miler – and I’m glad I came back this year to finish the entire course. That said, I think I’m fine not running an ultra for awhile. I’m respecting the distance – and my body.

I’ve had two weeks to process my second ultra marathon, and I’m still amazed that I pulled it off. I wasn’t just attempting to run 65km in the Canadian wilderness; I was flying to Montreal after work, driving 5+ hours to La Malbaie, getting on a bus the next morning at 5am with a small group of mostly French speaking locals to run 40 miles on an unfamiliar trail with a potentially fractured wrist, then driving back to Montreal and flying to NYC the following day. It was a full-on endurance weekend in unknown territory on all fronts. Then again, it’s not the first time I’ve done crazy things in the name of running, and I wasn’t alone on my trail running adventure!

E and I found the North Face sponsored Ultra Trail du Harricana (UTHC) race somewhat by chance, when searching for a “fun” ultra that fit into our restrictive fall schedule. E ran the JFK50 last year and originally wanted do a longer ultra closer to home on his own, but we had so much fun running the North Face ECSDC 50k in April – my first ultra – that I convinced him we should take on our next challenge together. UTHC was appealing in that it offered a point to point course on trails at a distance that seemed like a reasonable next step up from a 50k (in retrospect, JFK50 would have been easier). I’m very much a solo racer on road, but out on the trails I love company, especially for a race that advises you to carry a bell to ward off bears, only has four aid stations and isn’t heavily populated. Also, it was my birthday – what better way to celebrate entering my mid 30s than eating delicious food in Montreal, driving to middle-of-nowhere Quebec, and running together for 11 hours? That sounds like a romantic, fun weekend – sign me up!

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After a long day of driving, we arrived at Le Mont Grand-Fonds (the race finish area) in Charlevoix around 5pm the day before the race for packet pickup. It was a gorgeous day – not a cloud in the sky and quite warm. I had feared icy rain (common weather this time of the year, apparently) and was very grateful the skies remained clear for us! As we wandered up to the finish line to take a few photos, I had trouble believing that I was racing the following day. I had barely run for two weeks, so my legs felt heavier than usual during a taper. Although I had received the all-clear from my sports Dr to run, he was concerned about the weight of my splint (potential strain to my neck) and the risk of me falling again and worsening my injury. My MRI was scheduled for two days after the race, so we didn’t even know if my wrist was broken or sprained, and my legs remained bruised from my fall. As if I needed more reasons to be nervous! I promised myself that I would try my best and pursue three goals, in order of importance: be safe (i.e. stay upright), have fun, and finish (if able).

UTHC offered several distances – 125k, 65k, 28k, 10k and 5k. Most of the people we met were doing the ultras. We explored the finish line area, which mainly consisted of a merchandise stand, an info tent, and a couple food/sports product stands. I was shocked that the race did not include a t-shirt given the North Face sponsorship and the price to enter – it was the first race that I have done that didn’t give one with entry! I caved and forked over $30 for a t-shirt…cool wolf logo, though didn’t have our event distance on it sadly and wasn’t great quality fabric.

We attended the small opening ceremony, thinking the race organizers would explain important details about the course, but it mostly included speeches in French about the history of the race. We had a TON of organizing to do back at the hotel, but we were glad we stayed to experience the energy and excitement of the other runners. They had a translator on site, which was a nice touch for a race seeking to attract more international participants (there were only a few other “yanks” this year). Too bad no one was around to interpret the key race details that were announced right before the gun went off the next morning, such as what color flags to follow and which to avoid! Thankfully I speak a little French and we caught the important bits.

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Back at the hotel, we frantically crammed our hydration vests with everything we would need for the race. We stayed at the Hotel-Motel Castel del la Mer – highly recommend for a comfy, affordable room! The first floor with handicapped shower was a plus (amazing for post-race). Poor E had to do the bulk of the packing given I had limited use of my right hand, and just when we thought we were done the outer strap broke on my vest, so we had to get creative to keep my jacket in place. We managed to cram in 22 gels (I used SIS Go-gels orange flavor, PowerGel Vanilla, and VFuel citrus), 2L of water, salt pills (S-tabs), light jacket, extra calf sleeve (which I used under my splint to prevent chaffing), whistle, and a variety of smaller items. My original plan was to use 400 cal of Tailwind instead of some gels, but I wasn’t able to grab the bottles with my wrist in the splint. Packing took forever, but we had just enough time to put our feet up, watch some horrible French dubbed TV, and get to bed early for our 3:30am wakeup!

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Runners in the 65k event had to catch a 5am shuttle at the finish area, which is about 20-30min drive from the hotel. This worked well, as that way we could drive home after finishing, and we were also able to leave a drop bag at the start that would be driven to the end so we wouldn’t have to forfeit our warm clothing. Everything was very well organized – we got on the school bus and were shuttled in the darkness to Hautes-Gorges National Park. It took about an hour to get there, at which point the sun was rising and the sky was neon pink. The bus stopped in a parking lot and no one really knew what was going on – we started to trickle off the bus and runners wandered in all directions. Only a few people spoke English. Eventually some race officials turned up and pointed us towards the start area, where there was a welcome center (warmth! bathrooms!) and then further on, the actual start line. Well, for us at least – for the 125k runners, it was just another aid station!

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We started at 7am with beautiful mountains in the distance. I had expected some great views from the tops of those mountains, but our course didn’t seem to have any – we were more in the thick of things – still beautiful though! We started out conservatively, my usual pacing strategy, plus it always takes me at least a few miles to wake up in these early, long trail races. Sun was streaming through the trees and the air was cool and fresh. Runners quickly spread out once we hit the trails, and we ended up towards the back of the pack. Fast field!

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Although we had read the course description and studied the elevation profile (above), the course was not quite what we had expected. Actually, we didn’t know what to expect! We knew there would be challenging terrain and some tough climbs, but we had hoped the trails would be a little more runnable than they were…to us at least! Many runners were flying over sections that we had to power hike. We encountered pretty much every terrain you can possibly imagine – paved road, packed dirt, sand, rocks, roots, mud, SERIOUS mud (thigh deep, the kind that suctions you down), streams, all forms of sketchy moss covered planks and bridges with huge holes, gravel, fallen trees, trees trying to trap you and poke your eyes out, bushes smacking you in the face, dusty fire roads…you name it, it was there.

Amazingly, except for the quicksand mud and the water we ran through, we had managed to train for all of it throughout the summer, during our trips to Hawaii, Vermont, and throughout NY. The terrain was particularly challenging given I had to be extra careful not to fall, and could not use my right hand to grab onto trees etc while circumnavigating various obstacles. We did a lot more walking than usual to avoid taking risks on tricky technical sections. It was amazing to see runners pass us and quickly disappear – especially the 125k runners! Truly inspiring. 

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One of my favorite things about running trail races is making new trail buddies. We thought everyone had passed us as we made our way towards the first aid station when we met a lovely woman from Nova Scotia tagging along behind us. I was beyond grateful for her company, between her helping me through the insane mud to laughing together at E when the mud ate his leg to chatting about music among many other things. Trail buddies are the best and certainly help the miles go by! We separated at the first aid station (pictured below) and were happy to see her cheering for us at the finish line later that day. She was one of many DNFs that day – 10 in the 65k and 34 in the 125k! Really tough course!

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E wrote a detailed, awesome description of the course on Trailz.io, his trail running site. Check it out! He captures the spirit of our race and covers all the gory details, so I won’t rehash it all here.

However, I do want to talk about race cut-offs. I am usually a mid-pack runner and have never had to worry about them before. UTHC had cut-offs at the last three aid stations that they called “very generous.” I think that’s a stretch, but I understand that they were for safety purposes (mostly, to match hours of sunlight). It never occurred to me that cut-offs would be an issue for our race, but after having done a LOT more power hiking than we had planned to do, we found out that we were already running at cut-off pace at the first aid station (mile 13). We started to panic – had we done all that training and come all this way only to be pulled from the course? We had to pick up the pace or else!

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I continued to feel strong and as the hours ticked by, the idea of not being allowed to finish when I knew I could made me angry. There was no f-ing way we were not going to finish! (So much for being goal #3).

I wish I had been able to enjoy the beautiful scenery a bit more and chill out at the aid stations, but racing against those cut-offs actually made our race AMAZING. It lit a fire inside of us and made us truly run as a team. And that sense of teamwork – of accomplishing something great with the man I love – that is exactly why I wanted to run another ultra with E!!

The following moments stand out to me.

*Passing runners after the first aid station – slowly reeling them in after they left us in the dust hours earlier! One of my strengths is pacing over long distances, and I love that feeling of passing runners in the later stages of a race as I hone in on my goals. I don’t say this from a competitive standpoint – UTHC’s tagline is “Je suis loup” or “I am wolf,” pointing to running as a team or wolf pack, and supporting one another throughout the race. That’s what trail running is all about! Passing people wasn’t about placement, but rather about making progress, coming back to life, and seizing control of our race. Each runner I passed gave me energy.

*Flying down a dusty fire road towards what we thought was the first official cut off and thinking we had over an hour to spare (nope – that would be the next one)! It was crazy hot by this point. We had run out of water. I somehow never had any severe emotional or physical lows in this race, but I certainly felt fear and doubt at this point.

*Coming across bear (or some big animal we didn’t want to encounter) poop on the trail. E singing Taylor Swift loudly – really E?! Okay, I sang too.

*Fighting to make the real first cut-off (3:30pm at 46.5km). The distance between the second and third aid stations seemed relatively short (~7km) and yet we needed every minute we had to cover it. The trails were technical and we had to hike many sections. Finally hitting a steady downhill that we could run was a relief. The trail remained technical, yet I had a mantra that got me in the zone – “focus, small steps.” I said this aloud to myself over and over again for several km to stay focused and avoid a fall. Every step was intentionally placed. E and I seemed to enter an altered state – each focused intensely on our own bodies and yet moving together, cursing under our breath, “we’re going to f-ing make that cut-off,” practically sprinting towards the aid station down a fire road. By the time we got there, I felt superhuman. I have never experienced such intense euphoria like that before. After a brief refuel, I took off up a hill and E had to calm me down so I would better pace myself for the next tough section!

*REALLY fighting to make the last cut-off (4:53pm at 54km). We had another 7km to go and it was HARD. I didn’t crash but that high ended. We had a long climb ahead of us and E was hitting some pretty bad lows. Lots of power hiking and words of encouragement got him through. We finally hit another glorious downhill and morphed back into our crazed, focused states. We had actually trained for this exact moment – we raced miles from the top of Bear Mountain all the way to Manitou station, sprinting down the final hill to make a train. Little did I know how important that training run would be! We flew into that last aid station with more than ten minutes to spare. It was a glorious feeling. Only 8km to go and no more cut-offs to worry about. This photo says it all – YES!

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Those last 8km were BRUTAL. “Oh, this will be easy,” we thought. “No more cut-offs.” Ha! Turns out sprinting downhill after having run for nearly 10 hours does not feel so good. And the easy downhill mostly road course that I had imagined in my mind turned out to be more mud, more climbing, painful steep downhill, some grass, and uphill to the finish. Of course. By this point, my achilles and ankle were bothering me – surprisingly not my wrist, neck, hamstring, quads or the bruised parts of my leg. Finishing was painful, but spirits were high, and we were eager to bring it home.

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We finished in 10 hours 51 minutes and 48 seconds. We came in 178th and 179th – 15 runners finished the 65k after us, the last runner finishing in nearly 15 hours! After all that, we learned that the cut-offs were not actually being enforced…SERIOUSLY?! In truth, I’m grateful for those cut-offs – I can’t imagine taking any longer to cover that distance, and no way in hell was I running in the dark without a head lamp!

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It was a very proud moment, crossing that finish line hand in hand.

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The race finish area was great and the party had been going on for hours, given the first person finished our distance around lunchtime and we arrived at 6pm. There were hot showers, a tent with free food (veggie chili, soup, etc), and another tent with local music and beer. We could hardly move but eventually managed to get semi-cleaned up and partake in the festivities. By the time we got in our car and drove back to town, we were wrecked. We had meant to go out to dinner for a nice post race meal, but instead stopped at a grocery store to get some food (not knowing the restaurant was literally next door to our hotel). We were half asleep randomly grabbing things, and ended up with ice cream, beer, prosciutto, cheese, and apples. I swear, I really am a Dietitian!

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The next morning I was very stiff, but by the end of the day was moving fairly well. It’s incredible how the body adapts, and how much stronger I’ve become over the last five years since I started to run longer distances.

A few more details on nutrition and gear: I only ended up taking about 15 gels. It was hard to stay on top of my two gels per hour goal, but I was also eating at aid stations and my energy levels were good. Stomach felt solid. My Garmin died after 9.5 hours, but you can see what it captured here. Watch fail! My Brooks Cascadia trail shoes worked well – I had some ankle and achilles pain at the end, but I think that was more the distance not the shoes. They held up well through water and mud. Lululemon shorts were solid. My Ultimate Direction vest was a disappointment – mostly because it is new and it broke – so that will be returned.

Overall, my second ultra was a huge success – all three goals achieved – and the race organizers did a great job. Big thumbs up to UTHC! I’m recovering well and slowly easing back into training, with the NYC Marathon less than a month away. I’m nursing my sprained wrist – it will be a couple more months until it heals. I am right hand dominant so it is a challenging injury, but I know things could have been much worse. I am grateful.

Next up for me is the National Endurance Sports Summit at Princeton University this weekend. I’m one of four speakers on the Nutrition Panel on Saturday morning, followed by an amazing lineup throughout the day. Here’s a great article on Competitor.com covering the event – visit Elevateendurance.org to register. It’s only $75 and if you use code cs10, you’ll get a 10% discount! Will be a fun weekend.

Lastly, thank you to everyone who has donated to our fundraising efforts for the Gilda’s Club. If you haven’t already done so, please consider supporting us. Any contribution is greatly appreciated as we honor our friend Noirin while supporting a wonderful charity!

Oh, and yes, we’re already starting to plot our next ultra. These things are addictive!

E and I both like to read something inspirational leading up to a big race. It doesn’t have to be about running, but any story that captures the journey of chasing a goal, overcoming a challenging situation and accomplishing something spectacular. As I train for my upcoming ultra, I’m enjoying a book called “The Ultra Mindset” by Travis Macy, a very accomplished endurance athlete. This book is all about changing your attitude, and is not just geared towards athletes. I’m only about halfway through, but I’m enjoying the various exercises that he has you do to rethink the obstacles you face, such as negative stories you tell yourself that can be reframed, all in the context of his own story about becoming the athlete he is today.

One tidbit that motivated me through some tough long run miles is something Macy wrote while narrating his solo race across Zion National park. He was pushing to the finish and said to himself, “You can do it. The harder it is, the stronger I get.” That last sentence resonated with me – a great new mantra – and it is also very true! The last two weeks have been my biggest mileage weeks in a long time – 45 and 41 miles, respectively. Granted, that’s nothing for most ultra runners, but for me recently and especially while rehabbing my hamstring, I’m pleased! It certainly hasn’t been easy, but I feel myself getting stronger. Strong enough to run 40 miles in the mountains? Not so sure about that yet, but I have a few more long runs and trail excursions to work that out.

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Over the last two weeks, I’ve been including a longer midweek run on the East River to boost my mileage. The run pictured above right is one such morning – it was gorgeous out and the miles flew by. The following Saturday, I ran 16 miles on Summer Streets NYC, which if you’re not familiar with, involves closing Park Avenue to traffic from 72nd street down to the Brooklyn Bridge for runners, cyclists and everyone else to enjoy. It gets a little too crowded for my liking but if you go early in the morning, it’s pretty cool. Part of this run was spent coaching the Gilda’s Club team, which is going well with two coached runs under our belt. We enjoyed many of the “rest stops,” including the coconut water station complete with a hammock (dangerous – I almost didn’t get back up).  I won’t lie – this was a tough run for me. My body was not feeling great after mile 12, but I managed to finish and thankfully recovered well for the next day’s adventure.

We are trying to do back to back runs each weekend to practice running on tired legs, with a long run Saturday and if able, a trail run/hike outside of the city on Sunday. Last weekend, E and I ventured back to the Appalachian Trail, but this time to Bear Mountain. We took Metro North to Manitou and ran along a quiet road (Manitou Station Rd –> Manitou Rd –> S Mountain Pass Rd) that intersects the AT after about 1.3M. We could have gone along the main road (9D) to the bridge like everyone else on our train, but we wanted to get away from the cars and people, while maximizing our trail time.

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Like in Vermont, this section of the AT was rocky and technical, but that was short lived. We soon hit a long stretch of road – 9D and the bridge (above) that takes you across the river to Bear Mountain and into the park along a paved path that hugs a lake and eventually leads to the trailhead. It was a gorgeous day, but we were still surprised by how many families were having huge loud BBQs by the lake. Everywhere smelled of smoke and kerosene. It looked fun but it’s a shame that they permit it in what could be such a peaceful place.

The trail to the top of Bear Mountain is essentially a stone staircase that turns into a trail and crosses a road 3 or 4 times. The trail and the top of bear mountain were PACKED – all in all this excursion was not the escape to nature that we had envisioned but the view was nice and we certainly had a great workout!

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Trains are infrequent from Manitou and when we realized that we would just barely be able to make our train with the next one several hours later, we booked it down the mountain. Nothing like racing 5M on a hot day after a big mileage week! Flying down those steps was SO fun – and great practice. I’m working on gaining confidence on steep downhill running and we were MOVING.

We had 3M and less than 30 minutes left on rolling hilly road when we both really started to feel it. At one point E said “I don’t think I can make it,” to which I responded, “we WILL make that cutoff.” He perked up and that suddenly became our motto – make the cutoff! It sounds silly but we are running the 65km race together and being able to motivate one another and work as a team is really important. Also, cutoffs really are a concern if you are a slower runner (as we will be in this race given all the hiking we’ll be doing), so it was a good motivator! We made the train with two minutes to spare – ending the run at 11M, tired but feeling very strong. After eating the healthy lunch I packed for us on the train, we beelined to Davey’s Ice Cream in the East Village (one of my fav spots) for a well-deserved summer treat. Dietitians need dessert too and this stuff is seriously worth the calories!

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Gear update: I’ve been using Saucony’s Omni Progrid as my road show for years and have been on the hunt for a good trail shoe as my feet were not happy after I ran the 50k in my Omni’s! I tested out the cliftons by HokaOneOne. Those are road shoes too but E swears by them protecting the legs over long distances. They were super comfy at first but they had to be returned as they were too narrow for my feet, causing a gigantic blister to form after just an hour. Ouch. On Sunday, I tested out the Brooks Cascadia 10 pictured above. This is a popular trail shoe with much more structure than I am used to, which means more protection from rocks. They held up well during our part trail part road run. Much better traction on rocks for sure, although still trying to decide if they are comfy enough with the structures upper. A longer run will surely tell! I’m grateful for the awesome return policies that these two companies have, as it’s impossible to tell if a shoe will work until you’ve done a long run in them, and shoes are really expensive!

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As for this past week, I threw in some cross training to mix things up. On Monday, I participated in a super fun Ironstrength group workout with Dr. Jordan Metzl aboard the Intrepid with 1000 other people! I’ve done one other Ironstrength class before in Central Park and love that it’s free (usually), open to anyone, and takes place all over the city. It was a gorgeous night, and although E and were sore from our big weekend, we had a great time working up a sweat in such a unique location. On Wednesday, a co-worker and I tried out a spin class at the Peloton Cycle studio in Chelsea with Robin Arzon, a fellow ultra runner (E and I saw her at Endurance Challenge DC) and all around bad-ass and inspirational athlete. She is gorgeous and her energy is infectious! The studio and the bikes are amazing too. Obviously I’m a huge fan of Peloton and will be back! I did a short shakeout run after the class and ran into E on the river – I wish I could run commute home from work!

This weekend, E and I ran 18 miles yesterday, partly on Summer Streets. We managed to run at least 6 miles on trails, between the bridal path and north woods in Central Park, and a dirt trail that ran all along Riverside Park! Pretty cool. This run was tough but overall I felt better than last week, and the tape on my hamstring still seems to be helping, as I didn’t feel any pain throughout. Our experiment of the day was testing a new nutrition strategy, as we are still trying to nail down our plan for race day. We used Tailwind Nutrition endurance fuel naked flavor in our 16oz handhelds. We ran for ~3hrs and used 1.5 scoops per bottle x 3 (450 cal). It tasted great – not too sweet, especially with all the ice we used in that first bottle – but after 2-3 hours and with warmer water I found myself craving plain cold water, even though I had been drinking a lot (we were filling our bottles at fountains along the way). Also, I’m not sure how I would use it during the ultra, given we’ll be running for 10+ hours with only 5 aid stations. I could put it in my hydration vest bladder, but it’s much harder to gauge how many calories you are drinking this way compared to a handheld. Overall it’s a great product that I would like to experiment with more, and I wonder if in colder weather I would have had a different reaction. It could be useful in conjunction with food and/or gels, although I realize that their motto is “all you need, all day, really.”

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Today, we opted to stay in the city and hit some “hills” on the Williamsburg bridge for 8M rather than do another trail excursion out of the city. It was hot, but overall I felt quite strong, which gave me a confidence boost.

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On the cooking front, I’ve been making all kinds of good stuff lately that you can check out on my Instagram page. I’ve included a few photos here too.

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I’m in the process of setting up my new Eat for Endurance nutrition counseling website (finally!!!) so stay tuned for that. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to get in touch (thefightandflightresponse@gmail.com) if you wish to work with me, either for nutrition counseling or run coaching, in person or online. Have a wonderful week!

Happy August everyone!

This is old news by now, but a few weeks ago Team Dietitian Divas made the podium again with a second place division finish at the NYC Triathlon Relay! The conditions were brutal – one of the hottest and most humid days we have had so far this summer. I was worried about my speed given the weather as well as my ongoing hamstring issues, but I managed to pull off a very strong effort. I ran 45:16 – just 20 seconds slower than my PR which helped us win first place in 2013! It has been awhile since I truly ran all out and I was surprised given that I’ve basically done zero speedwork since April. It was really tough and I was proud of myself for hanging in there and really pushing towards the end, when all I wanted to do was quit. Amazing mental training for the ultra!

Here are a few shots from the awards ceremony – including the random free stuff I scored at the finish line and our awards from 2013-2015!

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I had promised myself that I would only push as hard as my hamstring would let me and I did just that. I felt no specific hamstring pain throughout the race, even during my final sprint. I really should’ve known better though – it was so hot and the adrenaline was flowing, making it easy to cross that line without feeling anything until it was too late. A few hours later, my hamstring wasn’t feeling great. The frustrating part was that I had been running strong up until this point and was poised to ramp up my mileage with E for our 65k race in September.

After almost a week off running, the inflammation went down and I saw a sports doc who said that the strain is mild and I can continue to train with regular PT as long as I continue to run pain free. I have committed to doing twice weekly PT sessions and am hopeful that I will make it to that start line feeling strong!

I’ve had 3 sessions thus far and it’s going well. The doc said that he wanted me to try getting taped up so I tried that last weekend. It felt strange but I think it did help, as it got me through a 45 mile week. My PT explained that the tape works by shortening and compressing the muscle. Not exactly sexy wandering around for three days with my entire hamstring covered in black kinesio tape (not to mention the awesome tan line I got from it), but hey if it works I’m game!

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I’ve been moving forward with ultra training with some great runs on trails and road. It hasn’t all been peachy – rehabbing an injury can be frustrating especially when all you want to do is get out and run – but we all have our good and bad days. I’m trying my best to listen to my body instead of being a slave to the training schedule.

E and I recently spent a long weekend in Sugarbush, Vermont for a family event and saw it as an opportunity to hit the trails. Although our “trail runs” involved more hiking than running given the insane elevation gain over short distances and very technical trails, it was great training.

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First, we power hiked from our hotel in Sugarbush straight up to Lincoln Peak (3975 ft over ~ 2M) and ran back down the rocky slopes. THAT was quite the quad & trail running technique workout!! The views at the top were spectacular and we were thankful to just barely miss a massive downpour. I tried out my new Ultimate Direction hydration vest that I plan to use for the ultra. It took a little getting used to but overall was very comfy.

The next day, we ventured over to the Long Trail at App Gap. In case you are not familiar with this trail, the Long Trail is the “oldest long-distance trail in the United States” and “follows the main ridge of the Green Mountains from the Massachusetts-Vermont line to the Canadian border as it crosses Vermont’s highest peaks.” The Long Trail also coincides with the Appalachian Trail for 100 miles, and it is part of that section that we visited.

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Originally we had planned a long “run” along the ridges back to Lincoln Peak, but we only made it slightly past Starks Nest for a 7M out and back due to time constraints. As you can see, this was another technical trail (lots of rocks, ladders, etc) so we mostly hiked, but there were a few sections that were more runnable and allowed for some technique practice (which I need, given we mostly run in NYC). It was a challenging, fun outing despite not making it very far. Tons of through hikers too!

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We only logged about 12 miles total that weekend and yet we both felt like we had just run a marathon so I wasn’t feeling too troubled about missing that long run! Plenty of time on feet. We watched an awesome ultra running documentary called Finding Traction on Nikki Kimball’s attempt to become the fastest person to complete the entire length of the 273 mile trail. Incredibly inspiring and fun to see some of the trails we had just experienced!

That’s all for now! E and I both had a huge mileage week last week, with more training, trail running, nutrition, coaching, gear reviews and other updates to come. Stay tuned!

This week has been a light training week for me with the NYC Triathlon Relay this Sunday. Team Dietitian Divas will be racing for our third podium – with 1st place female relay in 2013 and 2nd in 2014! I’m not sure my hamstring will allow for a 100% racing effort (not to mention my lack of speed work since since April!) but I’ll still go for it!!

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After Sunday, it’s full steam ahead on the training front. E and I have been searching for another ultra to run in the fall and finally settled on the 65km Ultra Trail Harricana of Canada in La Malbaie, Quebec on September 19th. We plan to fly into Montreal, celebrate my birthday there, then rent a car and drive past Quebec City to La Malbaie (about 4 hours). Worst case – if the weather is really horrible or we can’t do this for another reason – we’ll have a fun weekend in Canada!

Just to give you a little preview, here’s an excerpt from the race website: “A perfect mix of flow and technical. The race will get underway at the Hautes-Gorge de la Riviere Malbaie National Park and end at the Mont Grand-Fonds Ski Center. The course will take you halfway through the famous trail called La Traversee de Charlevoix. Passing several lakes, runners will have the chance to encounter Canadian wildlife, including beaver, porcupine or moose.” Apparently, we also need a bell for bears – well, that’s on the optional gear list at least!

I’ve only been averaging about 20-25 weekly miles since April, thus two months isn’t exactly an ideal amount of time to prepare for a 40 mile trail run with 6500 ft of elevation gain. However, I think we can handle it – we’ve gotten some great trail running and hiking in over the last month, and I hope to build a good base supplemented with hill and strength training.

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A key part of our training, given that we mostly run along the East River and in Central Park, will be escaping the city to hit the trails. Last weekend, we ventured out to the Breakneck Ridge Trail Loop for some cross training. The trailhead is a 90 minute ride from Grand Central on Metro North, and the train was packed with hikers given the beautiful weather! It was a perfect start to our upcoming “back to back” Saturday/Sunday training runs, given we did 13M the previous day.

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The first 1M or so involves some serious scrambling and climbing – I was pretty much on all fours for the first hour. These pictures don’t quite capture how steep it was – and the trees disappeared after the first section! I don’t have a lot of climbing experience, so I had planned on taking the easier ascents, but in the end we stuck with the more challenging route. I was surprised how natural it felt to climb – I just moved by instinct and was able to put any fears out of my head. E has a lot of experience with climbing, so whenever I got in a bind (which happened on one very big rock), he talked me through it. It was amazing training and super fun.

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The views of the Hudson weren’t too shabby either! A good excuse to take a break and catch our breath, with the viewpoints all throughout the scrambling section and the sun beating down on us.

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Once we made it to the fourth peak, we stopped for a quick lunch in the shade. It was simple but I cannot tell you how delicious it tasted – especially since I had placed a frozen water bottle with the bag to keep the food ice cold! Hummus, smoked turkey, dill, lettuce, tomatoes and pickles on whole wheat with sliced apples and a big bag of raw veggies. SO refreshing!

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We opted to do a 5.5M loop from Breakneck Ridge to Cold Spring (white to blue to red to blue trails). The trail became a bit more runnable after this point and also mostly flat / downhill, so we ran the remaining 3M. The trail was beautiful – mostly in the forest, which felt great after being in the sun – and towards the end the trail was even paved. It ended with a single track parallel to the road, and then about 0.5 on the actual road into town. I was pretty shocked my stomach was able to handle running after lunch – but that’s a good sign for ultra training! We ended at Moo Moo’s Creamery for ice cream, obviously – SO worth it. The ice cream tasted so homemade and really hit the spot!

This was a great hike and so easily reached from the city. We’re definitely planning to go back to do a longer loop with more running!

E and I recently spent 10 days in Maui and 4 days in the Catskills. As usual, our travel was filled with some unforgettable runs, hikes and meals!

MAUI, HAWAII

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It was E’s first trip to Hawaii and I hadn’t been there in seven years, so we were excited to do some exploring in between chilling out on the beach with my family.

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Our first adventure was a 10M run from Makena to Kihei literally on every terrain imaginable – road, pavement, sand, grass, gravel trail and dirt trail. The paved beach trail (pictured above) meanders through the fancy Waliea hotels (from the Fairmont to the Andaz) and is a popular path among runners and walkers. What you may not know is that you can keep running past the Andaz along the beach (bottom left) for another mile or so to the Mana Kai hotel, along the grass (middle) around the hotel across more grass and onto a gravel trail leading past a boat ramp and onto another trail that takes you into Kihei (bottom right). Most tourists don’t go this far so you can get some peace and quiet! We did a shorter version of this run – from the Fairmont to the trail and back (~5-6M) – a couple times later in the week.

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The views are magnificent, and the earlier you go the better! We started our runs no later than 6:45am and already, the sun was beating down on us and the path was crowded (at least in Wailea). These runs were not easy between the sand, the heat and the rolling hills, but the scenery certainly made the miles fly by.

We also went on a 12M run/hike in Poli Poli State Park, which is way up a volcano towards Haleakala National Park along a tiny VERy windy road. We planned to devote one day just to a long run/hike somewhere far away from the beaten path and after some research, E decided upon Poli Poli. I won’t bother to write about this because E already wrote an awesome recap on his new trail running website, trailz.io, that truly captures the spirit of our adventure. The terrain was incredibly varied, but here are a couple photos to give you a sense of two sections of the trail…

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Lastly, we did a beautiful hike (with a little running) along the King’s Highway trail. It’s rocky but runable in certain sections. We happened to go there on a breezy, slightly cooler day, which made the temperature manageable in the late morning, but this is one place to watch out for the sun and to be sure to bring enough hydration! We only hiked for a couple hours but this trail goes on and on and on.

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Eating and being active of course go hand in hand, so I’ll leave you with a few of my Maui fav’s in case you find yourself in the area. We spent a week with my family in a condo and did a lot of grilling (my favorite fish is Opah moonfish – marinated in ginger, tamari and lemon – pictured bottom right with spinach and purple sweet potatoes), but here are some great restaurants that we love (some new, some very old):

  • Monkeypod kitchen: Good happy hour, have to get the Mai Tai
  • Cafe O’lei: Great value especially for lunch
  • Kimo’s: An old fav in Lahaina, go at sunset and don’t miss the hula pie
  • Coconut’s Fish Cafe: Yummy fish tacos in Kihei
  • Flatbread Company: Great pizzas in Paia

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We can’t wait to go back to Maui next year!

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CATSKILLS, NEW YORK

A week after we got back from Hawaii, we rented an adorable log cabin near Phoenicia to celebrate our 2nd wedding anniversary. The weather was horrible (heavy rain most of the time), which initially really bummed us out. It ended up being a blessing, as it forced us to relax by the fire for two days and get some much needed recovery. We did a lot of resting, reading, and s’mores eating! We ventured out once our first day to grab lunch at Phoenicia Diner – the town seemed completely dead but apparently that’s where everyone was hanging out. Totally packed! We opted for breakfast but the lunch items looked incredible too.

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The rain let up just long enough for us to squeeze in a few hikes. All that rain explains why the area is so incredibly lush, but it also meant that the trails were super muddy and slick. Even on a dry day the trails are quite rocky and steep, so we ditched the idea of trail running and were happy to hike instead (enough of a challenge!).

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Our first hike was on the Slide-Wittenberg Trail, one of the trail-heads that originates in the Woodland Valley Campground just a few miles from our cabin. We got a late start (mid-afternoon), as the rain had only just stopped, and there literally wasn’t a soul on the trails, so we only did an out and back on a section of the loop (about 3.3 miles). The trail was beautiful, although sections of the trail were engulfed in water and at times we were essentially hiking up a rocky stream. Nevertheless, it was very peaceful and it felt great to be active after lounging around the cabin!

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Our second and main hike was a 7 mile out and back on the Giant Ledge-Panther Mountain Trail. You can get on this trail from Woodland Valley Campgrounds, but we decided to try something different and instead catch the trail-head near Big Indian (a 30 minute drive from Phoenicia). We started on the footbridge and from there it was essentially one very long climb up to a series of ledges with stunning views. The weather was still variable (we had sun and rain) and the trail was a mud bath, but thankfully the weather was clear enough when we reached the view points to glimpse the endless tree-covered mountains.

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After passing these ledges, we carried on towards what we thought would be the peak of Panther mountain, but strangely the trail started to go back down and we eventually decided to turn around. We later found out we went too far. There were a couple nice view points, but not so dramatic that we thought we had reached our final destination! Giant Ledge is the best feature of this trail and were it not for the fact that we wanted a longer workout, I think we would have been happy stopping at that point. Overall, a beautiful and challenging hike and well worth the effort!

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Of course, one of the best parts of doing a long run or hike is the awesome meal afterwards. We finished our hike around 4pm, just in time for Peekamoose restaurant in Big Indian to open for “dinner.” This was our favorite restaurant in the area – we had a huge meal including appetizers and dessert since we hadn’t eaten a real lunch. Everything was delicious and homemade. The restaurant was empty (because who eats dinner at 4pm?!), which was a good thing since we had attempted to clean ourselves up after our hike but we were still pretty gross! I don’t eat red meat that often but sometimes I really crave a good burger and this burger was INSANE. Definitely the opposite from the other burger pictured above from a few nights before – a delicious black bean burger at the adorable Woodstock Garden Cafe. We stopped here on our way to Phoenicia – beautiful garden and tasty, healthy vegan fare!

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Our last day was our anniversary  – I made the above photo collage from all our wedding and honeymoon pics. Before our drive back to NYC, we checked out the Tanbark traila short loop that starts right by the post office in Phoenicia. It was a lovely, less technical trail that we could have run in parts had we not been so sore from the previous day’s hike! Worth checking out if you’re in the area and want something a bit less strenuous.

We’re back in NYC now without any trips planned for awhile. I can’t complain after two incredible vacations! We’re hoping to enjoy some local running/hiking to build up for our Fall races, which we still haven’t locked in but we’re getting close to pulling the trigger on a few.

Hope you all had a wonderful weekend filled with awesome workouts and delicious food!

Happy (belated) New Year! I just finished up another wonderful California visit with E, who flew in from London on New Year’s Eve and returned this past Sunday. It’ll be my turn to fly in four days, when I move to NYC and begin grad school shortly thereafter. Starting a year filled with so much change – for both of us – wouldn’t have felt right without him by my side. I’m grateful that we were able to take full advantage of my last moments in Santa Cruz and kick off 2012 with a few more adventures!

As usual, our days were packed with beautiful trail runs and hikes and tons of amazing food, with a bit of relaxation thrown in here and there. Every day or two I experienced something special that I wanted to share, such as our blissful New Year’s Day in Santa Cruz, our exhausting but EPIC trip to Yosemite, our 14 mile run in Nisene the following day, our day trip to St. Helena (Napa) and many unforgettable meals throughout the week. However, the incredible (January?!) weather and the fact that we were constantly on the go left very few opportunities for computer work, and those spare moments were better spent enjoying each other’s company. Anyone else who is in a long distance relationship surely understands that!

In other words, I have a lot of catching up to do on FFR! I’ll power through the highlights, and for those of you who don’t feel like reading, I’ve included plenty of photos for your viewing pleasure.

After a fun, low-key NYE spent at my friend’s house, E and I woke up to one of the most beautiful days we’ve had in months – 70 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. It was hard to believe it was January 1st! I had done my long run the previous day, but Sunday still meant pancakes were on the menu. My Dad made a delicious batch of his gluten-free banana pecan pancakes, which we enjoyed out on the deck.

  

It would’ve been a crime to be indoors, so we all went for a 4+ mile walk on my local beach in the afternoon, and returned later in the day to catch a colorful sunset. I also took E for a relaxing 6M run the next morning at low tide. I love my beach – can’t get enough of it – and E was in heaven after many months of sun deprivation!

Since we had already visited Big Sur and San Francisco in September, we decided to spend a couple days in Yosemite and join my family for a day trip to St. Helena (with an overnight in Concord) later in the week. E had never been to Yosemite before as an adult, while I’ve been twice – once in June about 11 years ago (peak season, packed with tourists, and extremely hot – stayed in a platform tent in Curry Village), and another time in September about five years ago (slightly off season but still busy, mixed weather – backpacked and camped along the trail but had to leave early to escape an unexpected blizzard). Both trips bring back great memories, but my visit with E was particularly unique due to the unseasonably warm and dry weather and the lack of crowds. We certainly got the best of both worlds!

Temperatures were a bit chilly in the mornings and evenings, but they peaked in the high 60s and felt even warmer in the sun. Nearly all the roads and trails were open (except for Half Dome) because there hadn’t been any rain or snow for over a month. I realize that this isn’t good for the park, but the sunshine and perfectly clear blue skies made for incredible hiking conditions – great views and no slipping on ice! Because it was off-season, we were able to book the night before we left (usually, you have to reserve months in advance) and the lower prices meant that we could stay at Yosemite Lodge. I love to camp but it was a nice change to sleep in a warm, clean bed! Our hotel was full, the restaurants were relatively busy and there were a fair number of people roaming around the valley, but you could hardly call it crowded compared to my previous visits. There weren’t many cars in the park or on Hwy 140 and we saw very few hikers on the trails, so at times it felt like we had the place to ourselves. It was refreshing to finally experience Yosemite as it should be experienced – without tour buses, traffic and hordes of hikers everywhere you turn!

   

We arrived in the early afternoon after 4+ hours of driving and decided to continue all the way up to Glacier Point. I had forgotten just how far away it was, but I thought it would be a lovely picnic spot for lunch (it was – very quiet, spectacular views) and once we had already committed 30 minutes we didn’t want to turn back! We checked out Bridal Veil falls (very little water) in the late afternoon on the way to checking into our hotel, then relaxed by the fire in the Awahnee hotel (the main room is beautiful) and had a nice dinner back at the Mountain Room near Yosemite Lodge. FYI, food is very overpriced in the park, so if you visit I recommend bringing things for breakfast (I brought instant oatmeal, bananas and almond butter) as well as snacks and lunch for hikes if possible (I brought sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs, granola bars, fruit etc.). The cafeteria at the Lodge has hot water and utensils, and rooms have fridges, so it is really easy to save money this way and ensure you have something healthy and nutritious to eat!

  

Our hotel was a ten minute walk to the Upper Yosemite Falls/Yosemite Point trail head, so we opted to make this our main hike of the trip. We set out at 7:15am – it was cold but given that this trail involves nonstop climbing for several hours, we warmed up very quickly, particularly once the sun started to shine in the valley.

We stopped at the Yosemite Falls overlook (we found a nice flat rock, set away from the railings with insane views) for some lunch in the late morning. My avocado and cheese sandwiches on honey whole wheat bread were pretty tasty after all our hard work! We had passed a few people on our way up, but we didn’t see anybody for the 30-45 minutes we spent at what is usually one of Yosemite’s busiest attractions. By this point, the sun was quite strong, and we enjoyed a nice long sunbath before continuing our journey. Simply amazing.

   

Last time I hiked up here, I turned around at the falls. It was blisteringly hot, extremely crowded and sticking my feet in the cool river just beyond the overlook seemed like a good ending point. Yosemite Point is an additional mile (bringing our total to about 10 miles roundtrip, with 3,000 ft of elevation gain, probably double in net gain) and was well worth the additional effort. We hit an icy patch across the bridge, which was the only tricky, wintery part of our hike. I decided to slide down on my butt and nearly fell into the bushes/partially frozen river, but thankfully E caught me at the bottom. The rest of the trail was forested and beautiful, with patches of ice and snow on either side until we reached the actual point, which was all stone, exposed and extremely warm.

 

We would’ve loved to have continued further towards North Dome, but we were running low on water and thus decided to end our hike here. We found this amazing rock towards the edge of the Point (slightly scary, but not dangerous) with two big holes that made the perfect seats! We sat in our little holes, which secured us safely into the rock, side by side for at least 45 minutes, enjoying the silence (there was no one up there – only one person passed by briefly), the sunshine and the views.

   

This was by far my favorite part of our trip – I’ve been pretty stressed out lately, but up on that rock, my stress melted away. All that mattered to me in that moment was spending time with the man I love, feeling the sun on my skin and staring out into the valley. Next time I feel anxious, I am going to close my eyes and imagine I am back at Yosemite Point with E, sitting in that rock. It’s my new place of calm. Problems become insignificant when you’re up in the mountains, so far removed from everything and faced with so much natural beauty.

It took awhile to motivate ourselves to get up, but once we did, we checked out the other side of the Point to get some different views. I made a little rock pile to celebrate our wonderful start to 2012 and all of the challenging but exciting things coming our way!

   

The way back down was pretty challenging – the trail was practically all downhill on rocks (too technical to run down, for the most part), and it was very hot. We didn’t bring nearly enough water, so we were feeling dehydrated and tired. Nevertheless, the views were amazing and we had a great time – I always love my adventures with E! We really are incredible travel companions. The best part was getting to the bottom and having beer, hot chocolate and ice cream sandwiches, followed by hot showers, passing out by the Awahnee fireplace and a nice big dinner! I know camping is a bit more authentic, but it was pretty awesome returning to a comfy bed and some trashy TV after such a long day.

   

Our day two hike was slightly less strenuous, given that we had to check out of the hotel at 12:30pm and drive back to Santa Cruz. However, we still managed about 8 miles of hiking and 2,000 ft of elevation gain (far more in net gain) up to Nevada Falls via the Mist Trail. I was dying to do a loop – out on the Mist Trail and back (slightly longer route) via the John Muir trail, but given our time constraints, we decided to do an out and back instead.

  

We drove to a parking lot near the trail head and started our hike at 7:45am – it was even quieter than the previous day! We saw one guy for only a couple minutes throughout our entire ascent – it was so dead it was almost creepy, especially since the entire hike was shaded – but then small groups of hikers started to emerge as we made our way back down. As with Yosemite Falls, it was a strange and wonderful experience to be able to enjoy what is normally a VERY crowded trail in such a peaceful way!

   

It was also pretty amazing to see Vernal Falls – a wall of water during my last visit – so dry. As a result, the “Mist” trail was not only fully open, but it was not misty at all! I was actually very grateful for this, since it was colder our second day (so cold at the top of Nevada Falls that we turned around almost immediately) and I was afraid that the stone steps, which are normally wet, would be very icy. Thankfully, every inch of the trail was dry, although there was plenty of snow and ice in the rivers and around the falls.

   

Coming back via the Mist trail meant that we had some extra time to take photos (we were going pretty fast on the way up, since we weren’t sure how long it would take us). We also ran the last mile or so back to the trail head given it was on pavement and felt easier on our legs, which by this point were feeling pretty trashed! It was fun to speed past various hikers giving us crazy looks.

After a nice hot shower and some hot chocolate, we left the park and had a lovely lunch in Mariposa at the Deli Garden. I highly recommend this place – super cute, friendly owners and a wonderful patio if the weather is nice! We enjoyed a sun bath as we devoured our sandwiches – felt good to relax for a bit before the long journey back home.

 

The photos above are only a fraction of what we took (and I got some really great shots) – check out the rest of my Yosemite album here.

Although we woke up feeling somewhat broken on Friday morning, we decided to head to Nisene Marks around noon to go for a run. I know, crazy right? But after all that hiking, we were actually craving something long and slow, and the weather was far too nice not to be outside. We were only planning to do do 10ish (we drove into the park to cut out the relatively boring initial miles) but the trails were so awesome that we became fixated on reaching Sand Point overlook. I had only been there once back when I did a long NYC marathon training run, and was dying to show it to E. It ended up being slightly further away than I remembered…whoops! E was a bit grumpy in the last miles but was a real trooper.

 

Surprisingly, we had an awesome run – 13.75M in 2:22 – and finished feeling strong, perhaps aided by the fact that two lovely rest days awaited us! I wish I had a photo of the trails towards the top and in particular, the views of the redwoods and the ocean from Sand Point, but we opted to leave our cameras behind. All I have is two tired, sweaty but happy runners back at the trail head – and our post-run lunch!

 

I made this pizza using Trader Joe’s whole wheat dough (which I had always wanted to try), mozzarella and a variety of grilled vegetables. It was cheap, delicious, healthy and easy to make – this is definitely going in my poor grad student cook book!

On Saturday, we left Santa Cruz early in the morning with my parents to pick up my sister, brother-in-law and niece in Concord and drive up to St. Helena, in Napa Valley. We were celebrating my sister’s and mom’s birthdays with a day of wine tasting, a bit of shopping/wandering around town and two incredible meals (lunch at Market and dinner at La Condesa). It was a lot of time in the car, especially having just done Yosemite, but we had a lovely day together and I’m glad I was able to spend some time with my family before moving to NYC. Elisia looked like a little doll in her French outfit! It’s impossible not to be obsessed with her when she is around.

   

Check out my full set of NYE, Santa Cruz and St. Helena photos HERE.

We stayed the night in Concord, which gave us some much-needed time to relax before E caught his flight Sunday afternoon. It was sad to say goodbye yet again, but our fabulous week together will carry us through until our next visit. We’re aiming for NYC or London sometime in early/mid February…

Now that my blissful week with E is over, it’s time to bring my focus back to my upcoming move. I still can’t believe that it’s all about to happen! I’m excited but it’s also overwhelming, particularly dealing with all the logistics. Thankfully, everything seems to be coming together, albeit slowly. Last week was a good reminder that when I start to stress out, I need to step back and put things in perspective! I’m so grateful to have such a loving family and so many friends to support me through this next phase of my life.

A frightening number of changes are coming my way, but if the first eight days of January are any indicator, this year is going to be epic! My Jan. 1st SF Chronicle horoscope, at least, seems to be on the right track…

I hurt. Everywhere. But it’s worth it, in return for an exhilarating weekend in the Lake District with a group of wonderful friends!

Here’s the breakdown: two nights in a cute B&B in Ambleside; a crazy 17km trail race on Saturday afternoon in fantastic weather; a delicious, indulgent post-race dinner at the aptly named Drunken Duck; a tough but stunning 9M hike/scramble/run from Glenridding to Helvelyn via Striding Edge on Sunday; and a never-ending, four-part train/tube journey and walk in the pouring rain home (okay, that last part – not fun).

We arrived relatively late on Friday night (the journey is about 3.5 hours from London to Windermere on the train) and had a relaxing night at our B&B, Easedale Lodge. After a good night’s sleep and a big breakfast on Saturday morning, we drove to Staveley for the 17km and 10km trail races in the early afternoon. It was a glorious day out – sunny but not too hot, with a chilly breeze – perfect running weather! Here’s part of our group just after we picked up our race numbers.

The scenery was fantastic although the course itself was perhaps not my favorite – I hate rocks, especially loose rocks, and most of all on steep downhills – although this run had a bit of everything in terms of terrain. My body took a beating, but it was a good challenge and a fun day out, particularly because I ran most of the race with a couple friends, which I never do. It was like a guided training run, so chilled out! Well, at least in the beginning…Here’s one of the official race photos (excuse the circles), just under an hour into the race.

At a certain point, actually before the above photo was taken, the terrain became a lot more treacherous, even at my slower than usual pace, and my sole focus became simply not falling over or twisting an ankle. I did slip and fall on my knee once, but thankfully on soft grass so no harm done! I separated from my friends and tried to pick up the pace in the last few miles or so (I couldn’t help it – it was a race after all), which went well until I hit a series of turnstiles and various things we had to climb/jump over (walls, rivers, animals…), followed by a never-ending killer uphill and an equally endless rocky downhill to the finish. This was particularly nerve-racking because the front runners of the 17km Trail Race, which had started an hour after the Challenge, were yelling at me to move (there was nowhere to go) while barrelling down the narrow path and practically knocking me over. But I survived and eventually was back on the tarmac, pushing the pace once again.

I managed to squeeze in a nice long sprint finish on the grass after crossing the bridge above, coming in 47th out of 280 runners in the Challenge with a time of 1:47:47 (I would’ve placed 169th with that time in the Trail Race – although obviously I would’ve been going faster had I done the Race). Here are my Garmin details – unfortunately my watch died at 1:39ish, so it’s missing a chunk towards the end, but you get the idea. My friends came in a couple minutes behind me, in 53rd and 55th place, and E came in 133rd, just over the two-hour mark. I tried running with him but it didn’t quite work out – gave up after doubling back to find him several times and literally not being able to go his pace – thankfully he didn’t mind. He prefers to run alone, as I often do.

After finishing, we collapsed on the grass with well-earned pints of cold pear cider and some food, while waiting for our other friends to finish the 10k and soaking up the race atmosphere. Good times!

And what’s better than passing out on the grass after a race in the sunshine? A hot shower and nap back at the B&B, followed by a massive, delicious dinner with our friends! We booked the Drunken Duck months in advance, and it was definitely worth the wait.

We were hurting on Sunday morning – not sure if more from the copious amounts of food and red wine or from the trail running – but that didn’t stop us from attempting a massive hike a few towns away with another couple as insane as us! Our friend had been raving about a popular 9M hike from Glenridding to Helvellyn via Striding Edge – it was probably the most hard-core hike I’ve done in a very long time, not even taking into account that we practically had to run the entire second half down the mountain to get back in time for our cab and train!

I took hundreds of photos – just couldn’t get enough of the scenery! I’ve included some of my favorites below, and uploaded a few more here. You can also check out E’s Garmin details – he had his watch running for parts of the hike – the elevation profile is mental!

We started in the town of Glenridding – here are the boys referring to the trail map to make sure we’re headed in the right direction.

Nice and easy to start, well, for everyone except for E, who apparently didn’t get enough trail running in the day before!

Gorgeous scenery – so green, so many adorable lambs!

We were all quite stiff from the previous day’s trail race, but after warming up a bit, it felt great to do a proper hike. The sun wasn’t shining, but at least the weather held for most of the afternoon.

Action shot! [cue theme music]

It was so exhilarating being up in the mountains – a great escape from London!

Although I still really didn’t like the rocks, especially given I wasn’t wearing proper hiking boots. My trail shoes did the job, though!

The hike was reasonably challenging but not too bad up until this point – where it became a somewhat scary climb to the summit. It’s hard to get a real sense of scale in the photo below, but it was like walking (/climbing/crawling) along a jagged knife edge. Incredible views on all sides – although I was trying my best not to focus on anything other than my feet in front of me!

Here we go!

E was totally in his element and kept running along the ridge and along the trails beneath. It was kind of giving me a heart attack.

And there he goes again, thankfully on a safer trail!

This next rock climbing part was the only section where I was actually a bit freaked out – but E guided me through it and I quite enjoyed it in the end. I was, for the most part, too busy trying not to die, but managed to snap this photo before going down.

Having finally completed the ridge portion of the hike, we took in the views. Was hard to believe we had just done that (look at how small the people are in the distance)!

But it wasn’t over yet – next up was a tough scramble up to the summit. I was pretty much on my hands and knees, trying not to slip on all the loose rocks, so no photos of this section, although here are our friends on the other side of the mountain, nearly at the summit (there were many different paths to the top).

Finally, we made it – stunning 360 degree views of the lakes and mountains!

And then we took a nice lunch break, checking out the views on the other side. I can’t tell you how good our sandwiches tasted!

Unfortunately, we had a cab to catch at 3:30pm – we knew when we hit the trail a few hours before that the timing would be tight, but having just over an hour to get back was insane! And so we ate quickly and pretty much ran a good chunk of the way back down the mountain. Except, as you can see, a lot of sections weren’t exactly conducive to running…

Thankfully, the path evened out for a bit, but then went back to rocky steep downhill sections. We ran/walked and as the deadline drew closer, practically flew down the mountain. It’s a miracle we didn’t get injured – it’s always when you’re very fatigued towards the end of a run or hike that you often get hurt. Although we were certainly hurting!

We were making great time and thought we would hit 3:30 on the dot when we discovered we had taken a wrong turn, putting us one town over from our pickup location. And so E and I pretty much sprinted the last couple of miles to Glenridding and just barely caught our cab. Another one of those marathon-like moments where you get a surge of energy you just didn’t think you had in you! Slightly stressful, but what an exciting afternoon.

Back at the train station, after discovering we had gotten off at the wrong stop and missed our connecting train, we sat in the waiting room, still sweaty from our sprint finish, while the pain of the day(s) really started to sink in…

But as Murakami’s saying goes, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” So true – so much pain, and yet so much happiness.

As promised in my blog entry from Hue, I have finally uploaded, edited and captioned over 400 photos from my whirlwind two-week tour of Northern and Central Vietnam in late April/early May.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to best sum up our action-packed trip – I could try to capture the absolute madness of Hanoi and how we mastered the art of crossing the street; I could go on and on about all the AMAZING, interesting food we ate; I could describe our adventures trekking through the mountainous Sapa region, including our night of drinking WAY too much home-made rice wine with our local tribal host family; I could tell you how incredibly delicious and addictive Vietnamese iced coffee is, particularly after wandering around for hours on a 100+ degree day in Hoi An or Hue; and I could attempt to convey the beauty of Ha Long Bay (well, minus the hundreds of other tourist boats).

But I think it’s best to let my photos (and captions) tell you all about my Vietnamese experience instead. Check out my album here or click below:

Highlights of Northern & Central Vietnam

There were definitely days, particularly in the beginning, where we weren’t quite sure we were enjoying ourselves, but we quickly got into the swing of things. Transport was easy and reliable, the locals were quite friendly (we found the people in Central Vietnam to be nicer than up North, for whatever reason), the food was awesome and cheap, there were tons of interesting things to see and do, and we never felt unsafe. Everything went very smoothly, in part because I had planned all of our transport, accommodation and our two short tours in advance. I usually don’t plan everything, but I figured it would be easiest given how much we wanted to cram into our two weeks.

If you’re thinking of going to Vietnam, it’s a fascinating country, and I’d recommend many of the places we visited as well as the restaurants and hotels mentioned in my photo album. Just be aware that Vietnam is VERY touristy – at least if you stick to the traditional tourist routes, which we decided to do because of time constraints. This of course comes as no surprise! I spoke with several friends who had been there and did a fair amount of reading while planning my trip, so I expected, for instance, that locals would try to sell us things incessantly, even in very random places, and that we would often be overcharged for things. It was annoying and at times dampened the beauty of some of the places we were trying to enjoy, but at least they left us alone after we said no a few times, unlike in Marrakesh. We also discovered plenty of great, local spots throughout the trip which felt more “authentic” – you just have to seek them out, like anywhere else I suppose!

It was a very busy and exhausting holiday, but as you can see we had a wonderful time and I’m really glad we went.  So now I can finally say that I have been to Southeast Asia…

Welcome to FFR

Hi, I'm Claire! I’m a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (MS, RD, CDN) and a Road Runners Club of America certified coach. This is where I share my latest adventures in running, racing, food & travel! If you'd like to work with me, please visit my professional website, Eat for Endurance.

My PRs

Marathon (Chicago): 3:33:18
Boston Marathon: 3:36:14
Half-Marathon: 1:37:21
10M: 1:14:52
10k: 44:52

My latest photos

Big bowl of healthy and mostly plant-based goodness after some mid-day strength training! Chopped kale (massaged with miso lemon vinaigrette), spinach, leftover roasted spiced cauliflower, sliced almonds, hemp seeds, black beans, feta & golden raisins. Don’t forget to register for tonight’s NYC Marathon event at @finishlinept tonight (link in bio), where I will be answering all of your nutrition questions! Having a plank off with the babe! 😂 #gameface #Repost @wellseek (@get_repost)
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Quality fuel means quality runs. 🙌🏃
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From micros to macros, it's important for endurance runners to cover all of your essential fueling needs. Let’s break down what’s needed and where to get it from with @eatforendurance #linkinbio #ExpertsWhoSeek Fueling an active morning (heading to the @crunchfitnesss #crunchgoespink event shortly) with this tasty, balanced breakfast! Ricotta and homemade blueberry compote (thanks leftover baby food!) and almond butter and banana on @shewolfbakery bread from the farmer's market. 👌🏻 This may not be much to look at, but was seriously tasty!! Sautéed two portobello mushrooms in olive oil and white miso paste (added an awesome flavor) and added a fried egg and a dollop of whole milk ricotta. Happy Friday! Who's running the @nycmarathon? @finishlinept is hosting a great event (register at link in bio), and I'll be on a panel of experts to answer all of your burning nutrition questions!

Join Finish Line Physical Therapy and Tailwind Endurance on Monday, October 23, as we welcome a panel of experts to discuss the ins, outs and secrets to success at the New York City Marathon. If you’re racing, you won’t want to miss this!

We’re assuming you’ve already gotten great advice from a coach about marathon training (“nothing new on race day,” right?). Now you need all of the inside-scoop, nitty-gritty details to have your best race at the New York City Marathon – and we’re here to give it to you! Join us for what promises to be a great night of discussion and insider knowledge on race weekend, event logistics and the race course.​

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