Worlds End Course Preview

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The spectacular sunrise as we drove to the start of the run.

Today I drove to the end of the world.  Or, more accurately, World’s End.  In an effort to fulfill my goal of pushing outside my comfort zone, I signed up for the Worlds End 50K this May, and today I made the 3-hour trip north with two friends to attend a course preview run that they were hosting.  When we arrived, both the impressive mountains and the 23-degree temperature were a bit intimidating, but we organized our hydration packs and set out to join the impressive group that had assembled for the day.

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The beautiful view at the start of the run.

After a quick briefing on the course, we were off.  We ran a couple of easy minutes along the road, and then turned off onto the trail.  That is where “easy” promptly ended, to be replaced by climbing.  Lots of climbing.  Up a steep, somewhat icy slope.  I resisted the urge to look behind me and just focused on the feet of the runner in front of me.  With quads and lungs already burning, we finally made it to the top, where the field quickly spread out.

The next challenge that we encountered was the interesting combination of fallen leaves and ice, which created many hidden “pockets” that would surprisingly swallow your foot.  After breaking through the sheet of leaves and almost turning my ankle several times in quick succession, I quickly learned what to look for, and how to slow down to respect the terrain.

The frozen temps were not entirely a negative thing, however.  We crossed numerous small creeks through the day, and we were always fascinated to discover that while the top of the creek was frozen solid, we could often see air bubble or even running water underneath.  It was a beautiful sight that we weren’t really able to capture adequately in photos.

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In fact, we took many photos of the day, but in looking back at all of them, none of them fully captured the beauty of this course.  Even in January, with the bare trees, the course was amazingly beautiful.  It was one of the things that motivated me to sign up for this race in the first place, and I can’t wait to see how it all looks when we return for the race in May.

One of the best things about the trail running community is how open everyone is to building connections out on the trails.  We quickly partnered up with another runner named Dan, who was happy to have some company along the way.  We traded many race stories throughout the day, and all four of us worked together to make sure we didn’t veer off course.  This task became much easier halfway through the run, when we met up with Jeff, one of the race directors, at the simple water stop.  He kindly stayed with us for the remainder of the trip, sharing his thoughts on many of the races in the area, and kindly pointing out whenever we missed a crucial turn.

We finished the run with sore legs, but full and happy hearts, eager to return for the full race in May.

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2016 Goals

A new year brings the opportunity for new resolutions, and for me, those resolutions tend to always revolve around running.  I did well with my 2015 resolutions, accomplishing three of my four goals for the year.  I did not manage to set any time PRs, but I learned throughout the year that for me, running is about a lot more than how fast you cover a particular distance.  It’s about slowing down and enjoying the experience along the way.  I know that sounds cliched, but it’s true.

The start of a new year and a new racing season brings a lot of excitement and possibility.  I was fortunate enough to join the Fellow Flowers Crew (more on that soon) this past fall, and we are celebrating all of our goals on February 6th in a national “Declare it Day” event.  I plan to meet with my favorite running ladies to share goals in person on the 6th, but I’m not the best at being patient when I’m excited about something, so I’m getting a jump start here.

My first goal is to continue to be true to who I am, and to stick to the trails for both training and races.  Last year, I did the majority of my training on the technical trails around Philly, and I completely fell in love with trail running.  I still signed up for several road races, however, because I got swept up in the glamour and the excitement of big time races.  As you can probably predict, after doing all of my training on the trails, I struggled in those races.  I also realized that running on the roads just doesn’t bring me the same joy that the trails do.  I thought that the energy of the crowds would lift me up, but in the end, it was the time spent in nature, even in solitude, that always made me happiest.  This year, I plan to celebrate that, and to stick to races that will allow me to be on the type of terrain that I love the best.

Speaking of races, I’m going outside my comfort zone this year.  I hate feeling unsuccessful in any task, and so while I have pushed my limits over the years, it’s always been in controlled ways.  I have never entered a race that I wasn’t sure I could complete, because the though of garnering a DNF was terrifying.  This year, I’m trying to put that aside.  I’ve signed up for several hilly, technical trail races, the most intimidating of which is the Worlds End 50K.  Worlds End is a 31.66 mile race that has 5,800 feet of elevation gain.  All of my ultras thus far have been on very tame courses by comparison, so this is a big challenge.  I actually hesitated for several weeks before signing up because I wasn’t sure if I would be able to complete the race.  Then I realized that you never really know your limits unless you are willing to test them, so I decided that this might be the perfect test.  I’m hoping to attend a course preview run next weekend, which should give me a better idea of exactly what I’ve gotten myself into.

My final goal this year is to continue to enjoy the trails with my family.  Due to the distances that I usually run, my children rarely have the opportunity to join me for any of my training, but after a great week hiking in Maine last summer, my husband and I resolved to spent more time out on the trails with the kids.  We did a fairly good job last fall, taking several family hikes through the Wissahickon.  When we were in Florida, we explored the trails in Lake Louise State Park, and we recently made our first trip out to Ridley Creek State Park.  On that occasion, the kids made it through a 4.5 mile loop, their longest hiking trek thus far.  We recently booked a return trip to Acadia for this summer, this time with the kids, and we can’t wait to take them up the mountains that we fell in love with last July.  There’s something so peaceful in knowing that in today’s world, with all the technology we are surrounded by, my children can still find joy in walking through the woods with their parents.

I’m excited for the year to come, and the opportunity to test new limits, explore new trails, and continue to celebrate all the joys that running brings into my life.

Where Have I Been?

My apologies over the lack of blog posts.  Life kind of blew up for me this past fall, in the way that life sometimes does, and this blog was one of the unfortunate casualties.

After a great summer of running, vacationing, and relaxing, I was prepared to return to the life of an assistant teacher in early September.  A week before school was set to start, I received a call from my principal.  It turns out that the lead kindergarten teacher was resigning due to personal reasons, and they asked me to fill the position.  Now, this was a great opportunity, but as someone who is not very good with change, especially at the last minute, it completely knocked me off my feet.  I happily accepted, but I was then faced with not only a return to lead teaching, but the prospect of teaching a grade that I have never taught before.  Combine this with plans to run 2 marathons and 2 ultras in the next 8 weeks, and you can see how quickly my fall schedule was filling up.

Apparently, a busy work and fitness life was not enough.  Barely two weeks after the school year started, my mother called to inform me that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.  My father died 7 years ago, so the news that my only remaining parent had cancer completely rocked my world.  On top of it, my mom lives 1000 miles away in Florida, which left me with a completely helpless feeling.  I spent much of September learning more than I ever wanted to know about triple-negative breast cancer, researching the best hospitals, doctors, and treatments, and racking my brain for ways that I could support her from afar.

Of course, my running was a blessing through all of this.  Whenever I was overwhelmed at work, or angry at the hand life had dealt my mom, I took it out on a run.  I set a new distance PR at Labor Pains, slogged through an extremely rough marathon at Wineglass, and then knocked off a fantastic 40 miles at Sloppy Cuckoo just a week later.  At the end of October, I got away for two days in DC with my husband when I ran Marine Corps.  Washington D.C. is my favorite city to visit, and Marine Corps was a magical experience.  The rain was a nuisance, and the security measures at the start caused all kinds of problems, but the race itself was magical, probably more so because I realized partway through that I was basically finished with road races.  Marine Corps was as special as it could get, and yet I had no desire to ever run it again.  I finished out the 2015 racing season with a resolution to stick to the trails for the new year.

Fast forward a few months to 2016.  Work is still a challenge, but in a good way, and I feel like I’m starting to find some balance again.  My mom is halfway through her chemo and is kicking butt.  It’s still really hard to be apart from her when she’s going through this, but we’re all figuring it out.  We spent most of winter break down in Florida with her, which was really special, and we’ll be driving back down there again in March.  In between, I try to call her almost every day just to check in and make sure that she knows how much we are all pulling for her.  She is facing this battle with the determination and grace that she’s displayed her entire life, and I couldn’t be more proud of her.

As for running, that remains an incredibly wonderful constant in my life.  I’m looking forward to taking on new challenges this year, and to continuing to cherish the time I spend out on the trails.