Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Race Report: Highland Sky 40 Miler...Roll With It

Highland Sky 40 Miler

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Canaan Valley, WV

I registered for Highland Sky this year after hearing Jeremy Ramsey sing its praises for over a year, he spoke of its beauty and swore I would love it before I registered but then it seemed he changed gears after my entrance was solidified and discussed the courses varied demands and difficulties. At that point it didn't matter, a large group of us had signed on for whatever the course and day would bring.

Earlier in the year I had thought about making Highland Sky my "A" race but then as I focused more and more energy on the trail marathon coming first in early June I decided it may rather end up a "C" race. When the marathon went even better than I had expected I spent the next two weeks running very little, no long runs just a few higher intensity runs was all. Racing Highland Sky was the furthest thing from my mind yet in retrospect this may have all been for the best.

However, I know what 'training through' a race looks like. At least I know what it looks like for me, Iron Mountain remains the ugliest race I've ever had and I swore I would always have goals when attempting a run that long, whether it's a race or not. When the week of Highland Sky arrived I really tried to focus on a goal or two, I wasn't nervous other than for the fact that I wasn't nervous, that I had no goals set.

Then luckily Jamie Swyers started inquiring as to what I thought I might do, when I told her I had no idea she helped me out, somewhere in our conversation she said something about 7:48 being tenth fastest time at HS for females. Unfortunately, this information wasn't accurate, turns out last year was a pretty fast time for girls. But 7:48 stuck with me, I thought I might try for 7:45.

The night before the race a large group of Blue Ridge Trail Runners stayed in a local cabin together, there were friends pouring from the loft and hanging on the deck. Sometimes I can be wound tight and high strung, a little too controlling and a little less than fun, especially when a race is looming. I vowed for my friends sake, upon arriving at the cabin, and for the preservation of friendships, to just roll with it. I liked the sound of that and decided to make it my mantra for Saturday's race, just roll with whatever the day delivers.

After an evening of preparations and a night of poor sleep we were on our way to the race with just a stop in at the Canaan Valley Resort for coffee and check-in. In the banquet hall I saw Horton. He asked if I was going to beat my 'seed', 106. I told him I was going to try. He remarked that I had been running well as of late and told me to save some to run the last few miles well.

At the start line Tammy Gray and Todd wished us well and we were on our way. The first section was on road and a group of BRTR that included Dennis, Charlie, Sam, Kevin and I ran along together. I was looking for Jamie but she had set off like a rocket down that road. At the first aid station (1.8 miles) I stopped to fill my bottle, having only a 20 oz to see me through the day I vowed to fill it at every possible stop. I had to run a little harder to catch back up with my friends but I was feeling surprisingly good. We caught up with Jamie just before the trail section. Once on trail I kept up at a good clip and with Charlie still in sight I thought I might use him as a rabbit. For a few miles I ran with him in sight, though never able to catch him. Finally in a climb of switchbacks I lost sight of Charlie for the day.

Not long after I lost sight of Charlie the terrain changed. It went from woodland to a somewhat rocky range. There were countless white rocks or varying size, shoe sucking mud and black water puddles. It was hard to find a rhythm, it was hard (for me anyways) to set a good pace. It wasn't terrain that suited my strengths and once of twice I thought I might be off course which caused me to slow further. As the miles ticked away I found myself having less and less fun. I heard a cheery sounding female behind me, I figured it was Jamie.

I came into AS2 (10.5 miles) in 2:05. I wasn't all that happy about that but was surprised when Horton said I was first female. Then out of the woods behind me came Jamie. I wasn't too happy to be first female, not at mile 10. I don't usually win ultras, and never ever from the start. I like to take it out slow and steady and keep it that way. Being first but not feeling like being chased I was in a funk. I drank two cups of water and had my bottle filled. I left running down a gravel road but once we turned on trail again I heard Jamie talking to the man with her, something about us running a lot together back home. We do run a lot together, I thought, why don't you run with her now. She caught up with me and we started chatting and then I fell down. She said she'd already fallen twice but the fall I took just lowered my spirits even more. I let her get in front and I told her I wasn't having a good day. She immediately set about raising me up, she tried to remind me that I am strong and that I would find my race in the miles to come. She was running very strong and was such an uplifting presence I was so thankful for her being there during those next few miles.

She said there was a female right behind us but wouldn't it be nice if we could secure first and second. She sounded confident in our ability to do just that. We talked about other Blue Ridge runners and hoped they were having a good day. When she took to walking up a hill and took a salt pill I ate three more Tums (I had taken three at the start) and a salt pill (my only one for the day). Then we got lost for a quick moment and I was further thankful she was there. We went back to where we had gotten off track and there was a second roped creek crossing. At this point, having gotten lost and feeling Jamie's confidence rubbing off on me I started wanting to push a little. Jamie was running well and setting a good pace.

We came into AS3 together and I drank a cup of water and had my bottle filled. We took off once more hoping to make it to the next AS in 4 hours. There was some climbing though immediately and I began to doubt us. Then a short while later I had to go to the bathroom. I looked for a good spot to go off course but finally decided to just let Jamie pull ahead and then just stop on the trail to pee. With my bladder empty I decided to try and catch back up to Jamie. I started running a little faster than I had been and I slipped on a rock, threw down my water bottle into some thick black sludge and caught myself. With my bottle and hands filthy I got back up for the chase. I didn't think I would catch her before AS4, but I convinced myself if I could, that maybe I could win the race at hand for the day, it was about the only time all day I allowed myself just the littlest cockiness. Smooth, just roll with it.

I caught Jamie just before the road that takes you to AS4, she said we were doing great, that we only had to maintain a 12 minute pace for the second half to break 8 hours. It sounded so manageable (spoiler alert: it sounded way easier than it was!). Coming out to a gravel road we saw Horton and Brenton. Horton was yelling at us before I was even close enough to hear him, he was yelling at us though something about our jaw muscles getting more work than our legs, this was a race, a R-A-C-E, there would only be one winner.

If I have a trigger word, Horton had just used it. I immediately took advantage of the glorious road ahead and the ability to fall into a pace, any pace, and be able to maintain it. It was a longer stretch before the aid station than I expected after seeing Horton but I still made it there just shy of 4 hours. Tammy was cheering for me, Todd and Jordan were there to fill my bottle and had a chair set up at the back of the van that I took advantage of to empty debris from my Hokas.

Grabbing a few more GU and two more Milky Way minis I set off on the 'Road across the Sky', as I left Todd handed me my filled bottle and Horton offered me some golden Oreos. Taking two I was on my way. I looked back once to see Jamie, she was still right behind me. The next seven miles were really pretty great for me. I could set a pace and keep at it, I could let my mind wander. The first half had been a little taxing with all the technical rocks and puddles of unknown depth. I ran but four short stretches along the road, all uphill and in the shade, never for more than a count of 30. At the aid station in the middle I had a piece of watermelon and met a fellow runner who lived in the area, had run the race 10 times I think he said. He warned of the Tundra like terrain of the Dolly Sods, he said they always seemed to get him.  I had allowed myself my ipod at AS4 but turned it off when I came across a runner.

Finally, I reached the Dolly Sods. At the aid station before the turn I drank a little Mountain Dew, ate a piece of chex mix and decided I couldn't do anymore. I filled my bottle and asked about the terrain ahead. Then I met a group of hikers and they asked where I was from, I said Virginia and they said I was the first girl they had seen. The first 27 miles had been unique and enjoyable but I absolutely loved the Dolly Sods. They reminded me of Western States a little and also of nothing I have ever run along. If I was encouraged to return to Highland Sky it would be this section, the open ranges, the big white boulders and the blue sky. They were tough, gradual deceiving climbs, more puddles and shoe sucking mud, bright shining mid-afternoon sunshine, but they were also breathtaking. The trail was marked well but being a first timer it was still hard to follow a time or two.

I kept waiting and waiting for the boulder hopping section and was so delighted when it finally arrived. It meant I was allowed to drink my water (I had been preserving it) and that I wasn't too far off of the next aid station. It was harder to follow the path than actually hop the boulders and I was glad when AJW passed me because I could follow him for a moment instead of having to stop every 30 feet to look around and locate the next flag or marker. But as comes as no surprise from a several time top 10 finisher at WS, I could not match his graceful pace, it wasn't long and he was out of sight. He was the only runner in the entire second half to pass me, if it was going to be anyone, it may as well be AJW, a man I admire from afar.

I arrived at AS7 and Aaron S. of the infamous Hellgate description was there. We left the aid station behind AJW and I re-introduced myself to Aaron having met him at Hellgate. He let me lead but then I let him get in front after a run in with a herd of horses. I asked him to describe what was ahead and his description was rather entertaining just like that of Hellgate. On the climb up the slope I pulled ahead because I still thought I could keep with AJW (I couldn't). The course then took you back into the woods and I tore off down the trail in pursuit, clearly I wasn't paying as good attention as I should because next I knew I was back out of the top of the ski slope, no sign of AJW ahead, no Aaron behind me, no orange markers to guide me. Up until this point I had been running the second half really well. But now I was at least temporarily lost and I had to run back in hopes of finding orange markers again. When I did I wasn't even certian which way to follow them. I felt like I was losing precious time, I couldn't see any other runners to help guide me and I completely lost my mental mojo.

The next section, that I believe they reference the butt slide section, was awful. I kept stopping because I really wasn't sure I was on the right path and feared getting lost again though I managed to follow the streamers correctly from there on. I didn't know how long I had been lost or how much time it had cost me. When I came across Aaron again he was a little turned around and was just getting back on track, I told him I had taken a wrong turn and he assured me he had seen no females in my absence.

We finally came out of the woods and Horton and Brenton were waiting there in the grass. We stopped briefly and then I remembered it was a race and I ran on. I came into AS8 and drank a cup of Mountain Dew as I looked everywhere for Todd. I asked Tammy if she had seen him but she said she hadn't and that he would have been there already if he was coming, she said maybe he wanted to make sure he was at the finish line. They told me it was a little over 4 to go, mostly roads, and I was off.

I would love to say that I ran really well here, but I don't feel like I did. I walked only once through this next section and it was just the top of a hill but the running I was doing seemed slow. I ate a GU, I didn't want to, I knew I could finish without it but I remembered Todd telling me after another race I could have run better if I had eaten a GU. I looked behind a time or two and I saw a man running hard catching Aaron. Then later I looked again and he was even closer, I wandered if I was mistaken, maybe it was a female chasing me down. I ran a little harder. Through the grassy field that was even more difficult to traverse than it looked like it should be. And then I crossed the road and ran again what felt hard but slow. I was so thankful when I saw the mile to go sign but I told myself that it wasn't over to the finish line. Much of that last mile was on trail. I ran the first part hard but I was further from the finish than I had hoped, I slowed, then slowed further. Then a hill made me take to walking. Finally I emerged from the trail and saw Todd, I was so tired that I even faltered for a moment to figure out how to get across the grass 'on course' but I managed. Coming down the concrete hill to the finish I was a little crushed when I saw the time clock, I hadn't made 7:45. But I reminded myself that I got a little lost, and I still did ok, 7:46:17.

Once across the finish line Dan Lehmann told me that I had won a better sweater, free entry into next year's race and accommodations. I was surprised, I had no idea, I laughed that I had decided I was never running that race again but now I might reconsider and that had I known I might have run a little harder, but it was all in jest. It was a beautiful course and I want redemption for a few mistakes along the day. I want Todd, who was amazing crew and support as always, to go back and run it too.

I pleased myself in several ways, I drank fairly well for me and ate nearly perfectly (8 GU, 6 peanut butter crackers, watermelon, 2 Milky Ways, 1 Oreo, 2 cups Mountain Dew, and a few bites of odds and ends at aid stations) but I know I didn't push hard enough most of the day. I can't really comprehend racing an ultra like Frank talks about. I try to push but running outside of comfort when you're running for 40 miles is still a little difficult for me to comprehend. My quads were a little sore Sunday afternoon but I didn't have any cramps during the race and my calves felt better than they did after the spring ultras. I feel like I could have gone about it a little better, run a little stronger and yet I am not sure really how much stronger and I am happy nonetheless with the turnout.

As ridiculous as this may sound I was most disappointed that my 7:46 was not an all time top ten time. I think that proves that where as I may know I may not be course record setting material for an ultra of this size that competitive streak still runs a little deep within. But then, we knew that already.


Monday, June 2, 2014

Conquer the Cove Trail Marathon 2014 Race Report

Conquer the Cove Marathon

Carvin's Cove, Virginia

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Where to start? Where to start? I think it may be fitting to actually start after Terrapin. In a post race funk following Terrapin I decided I was going to train better for Promise Land, I was going to go for a personal best, a 'whoa' time even of sub 6 hours. But despite a descent effort I didn't make my goals for the day. I was training a little better but I was still lacking some things. Moving forward I set my sights on two things, convincing myself to move forward with an attempt to finish the Beast Series (read: register for Grindstone) and running a personal best at Carvin's Cove, the last of my 'fast' running/racing for the year.

I've run Conquer the Cove every year since it started, I did the 25k in its inaugural year in 2011, 19 weeks pregnant with baby Brodie. I ran the marathon, my first official one of road or trail, the following year when I used the Mountain Junkies RNUTs to get back into shape post-baby and surprisingly placed first female in a time of 4:05. Last year I ran it (and another 15 later in the day) as part of my last long run before heading west to California for Western States. This year adding the marathon to my race schedule was about several things, it was about using the endurance I had built over the spring and fine tuning it with speed work, it was about gauging my fitness as I try to return to and surpass where I was in fitness in the spring of 2012, and then it became as the race itself approached, a test of positive thinking.

How many times do people say 'trust your training'? Well, if you're me you hear it a lot. Well meaning friends have, for the better part of the time I've known them, tried to convince me that I could run faster, be better. But I suffer from severe self doubt, pessimism, and fear of failure. Despite these facts, I registered for the marathon because I like racing and I was actually looking forward to some shorter, faster running.

Then last Thursday I went running with Kevin. We were talking about all things running when I told him the depths to which my fears drive me, I told him that I really am fearing finishing races like Grindstone and Masochist after Grindstone. He did his best to try and instill some confidence in me and even gave me a few mental 'exercises' to work on for the fear and negativity. When I told Todd about our conversation he drove the same ideas home. I struggled to understand what they are really seeing in me, but I also knew I had put in more work this year and that I was feeling fairly strong as of late. I tried to do something different, I tried to believe what they were trying to sell to me. I started to think about not only a PR come race day, but breaking 4 hours. I thought about the course record, and could I possibly have a shot at that? Friday at dinner during a conversation regarding the race Todd told me he thought I could be closer to 3:40, I told him he was out of his mind. Kevin said 3:50. I thought I liked the sound of 3:54.

I tried not to get too nervous, I tried to rely on trusting the training. I was a little worried about my shoes, I hadn't worn my Hoka Stinsons since Promise Land because they'd bothered my feet during that race but all of my other shoes were just a little too worn out to race a marathon in. I had to go with the Hokas. I was a little worried about breakfast, a donut, but then when will I ever learn about eating right?

I wore my Mountain Hardwear vest filled with Strawberry Banana (5) and Salted Caramel (1) GU and carried my Nathan 20oz bottle with toilet paper and another GU. I wore my favorite Nike tempo race shorts that I have no idea where or when I got and can't replace (I've tried) because I always do OK when I wear them.

Getting started that morning I didn't see Todd or Courtney. I always start a little near the back and was worried that I had already lost sight of them. I was running that first road section looking everywhere for Courtney when finally she ran up beside me. She'd had some trouble with a new vest at the start and was actually behind me, I joked that we were running too fast if she was behind me but the pace was in retrospect a good thing, falling into the faster pace from the start made it easier to continue at that pace. I was running with her and Walker and my buddy Robbie from Lynchburg when we hit trail.

We were running the Trough, a steep 1.1 mile climb when I decided I was feeling pretty good and was going to go around Courtney. It was funny because when I went around her she said "Alexis, tell me about your childhood" and Walker said "Start from the beginning!" But I had to get moving. Over the next mile I ended up walking 3 times for a brief few seconds. Todd had advised I run the whole thing but I felt bad when I was passing 25k people like Marshall, that I was running too fast. As much as I wanted to break away from my comfort box in this race I also FEAR bonking and falling apart like no other runner you've probably ever met.

When I got to AS 1 I made a point to learn from last years mistakes and took the time to stop and fill my bottle and I am glad I did. After that water stop the climbing is over for the moment and there is a semi technical downhill that follows, I was passed by a half dozen runners on this section, but I did the best I could. I was feeling pretty good and was still hitting a nice pace. I just tried to hold steady.

Then the trail sort of flattened out to a nice rolling in and out of switchbacks and I started to worry I had been running too fast. Then I realized what really fails me is my HEAD in a race. I don't drink right, I don't eat right, I worry and whine to myself. I decided that the goal above all others for the day, was to remain as optimistic as possible. I ate a GU on my schedule and made a note of when to take the next, I worked on finishing the water in my bottle, I decided when I would be allowed my iPod (mile 18) and focused on running smooth and comfortable, remaining positive.

On the way to the second Aid Station I met a runner doing the 25k who had a knee injury but had run Boston, Richmond and the Shamrock marathon. He took my mind off of the task at hand but also had me thinking about road marathons. When we split at the aid station I filled my bottle and looked at my watch, I was running a little fast. I let off just a little and set my sights on the next runner ahead. I never met this runner but I followed him for nearly ten miles, he ran a very steady pace and I didn't have to worry about getting lost following him, and once I even got him back on track.  We came into aid stations with volunteers so uplifting and encouraging. They joked that I was fast for a girl at one point and that made me smile. I kept filling up my water bottle and working on emptying it between water stops. I never stopped longer at an aid station then it took to get my bottle refilled.

We ran through the beautiful and serene Enchanted Forest and Schoolhouse. They are some of the most beautiful trails I've ever run, and fairly fast though I could feel my pace dropping a little as the miles wore on. Between miles 13-15 I started to get a little fatigued, I met my wall you could say, a little early. I jumped on my positive thinking bandwagon and reminded myself of runs I had done, of previous Conquer the Cove races (it's amazing what will come back to you during a run on familiar terrain you only run once a year). I had just finished telling myself we were doing well and that the race was still ahead, up the climb up Brushy Mtn Road when my left knee started to hurt. It was almost laughable, I was just having this confidence building pep-talk and my knee starts to pound. And then I remembered the quote, 'Your body achieves what your mind believes'. I focused on my mind pushing through my knee pain, and it worked! I wasn't injured, just starting to fall apart a little, but I just kept on reminding myself to smile and enjoy it and it really worked for the most part. My legs were tight, my stomach a little troublesome and my knee pounding, but I just kept thinking of what I had put into my training to get here, what I wanted and where I was headed.

I thought about Frank G. He told me he looks at a race like his job. I thought about the race as my 'job' as an assignment I'd given myself. I gave myself four hours to do it. If you work harder, I'll let you off early, I told myself. At a little past 13 miles I looked at my watch, I'd run for 1:51, last year at about this point I was at 2:07, I decided that was a pretty good sign and that even if things hurt they would still hurt if I slowed down. Better to keep the same pace and finish 'work' early.

I started focusing my positive thoughts to the climb approaching, even if I slowed here through the middle miles, I told myself I had to be ready to take on that hill. I've been told I climb well, I had to make that count especially today, especially if I wanted a chance at breaking the course record. I kept telling myself things I knew I needed to hear, that I wanted to do well, that I'd been wanting to hit goals all spring and had felt the disappointment for days and weeks afterwards. Have no regrets, I told myself. Don't wish on Monday, work today. My stomach was becoming troublesome after GU #3. And then, to further test me, my calves started to cramp. I drank more water, I pushed taking a pit stop as long as felt relatively necessary and comfortable. After my pit stop my stomach did feel better but my calves were scaring me, it was too early to be cramping, not even 17 miles in. But I was running faster than I ever run for even 17 miles. I let myself slow just a tad and did start to worry the slightest bit, because at this point I knew I was on target for a course record but still had nearly ten miles left, I was worried I would lose it to cramps.

As I ran towards the climb, my pace slowed and I told myself that I would drink, that I would not let a course record rule me, that I was going to do all that I could and know that I had given my best for the day either way.

Coming out to the Happy Valley Fireroad my legs had me scared. I saw spectators and Sarah Taylor right before the turn to Brushy Mountain Fireroad. Sarah said I looked strong and wasn't I happy that I didn't have an extra 20 miles to run after today's race referencing last year's race. I thought back to last year and how I remembered the first part of Brushy Mountain Fireroad climb to be the toughest, I got ready for 'the climb' and then there she was.

Slow and steady, smile, relax. The climb to the aid station was as tough as I remembered but longer than I could recall. Nearing the aid station I wanted to walk, to take a break. But then there were volunteers cheering and ushering compliments that I couldn't stop for more than the time to get some water from their pitchers. Those few steps and then it was back to running the climb. I turned on my iPod.

And it didn't work!! It was brand new! Bought the day before. I was frustrated, this was my simple plan falling apart on me at the toughest part of the day. I fooled with it for several minutes but it was playing music without any vocals. At least it was sound, I thought I'd muster through. Two songs later it was driving me crazy. I started fooling with it some more. Finally, I realized the headphones just weren't all the way attached. Silly tired girl. In retrospect the fooling with the iPod let that first area pass without much thought to the actual uphill running. Once the iPod was working it was all about the climbing. I started to think about Todd, he thought I could run every step of that hill, something I have never done in the three previous years running. I really, really wanted to be able to tell him that I had indeed run every step of that hill. So I kept on moving forward. I told myself to work harder, get the climb over sooner. The legs felt better climbing then they did running faster on the rolling stuff.

I decided at mile 20 (the course was marked with mile markers) that I would allow myself to look at my watch again. I figured if it said sub 3 we (the brain and legs and I) could pull off a course record. At just past mile 20 the road turns, I looked at my watch, 2:53. I was out of my mind ecstatic at that moment, like the race was over and won. I got a little emotional, I really thought for the first time all day that it was not a maybe but I could pull off a course record if I could keep strong. I told myself not to cry (yes, I really did) because we were cramping and that crap would dehydrate us. But mentally, I was in a new place now.

And then I was ready for the climb to be over, I hadn't remembered how rolling the top of the fireroad was before you get to the aid station. I felt like I should be running faster but I was also out of water. And cramping. I ate another GU, the last for the day. I came into the aid station and drank some water and had my bottle filled. I hated to kill even a second but I thought I had to get water in me.

Leaving the aid station you have a steep downhill. Last year I had run it strong. This year I aimed to do the same but was worried about the legs. I started downhill and a runner passed me, he said he'd never seen someone climb so fast, I know it was just a compliment, I don't climb THAT fast but it did feel good to hear. I told him it was what I do best so I did what I could. But I thought to myself, I wish I could downhill like you. And before the thought was even completed he was gone and out of sight. I was running well when the calf cramps came on like a vengeance. I had to slow and then slow further, I drank more water but then I started to feel the water in my stomach sloshing and began to feel nauseous, I knew these cramps weren't just dehydration. I was torn between drinking more and feeling sick. The muscles in my calves felt so tight and they were cramping every minute but they weren't as bad as Terrapin or Promise Land. I was thankful to have the recent memory of cramps that were debilitating to make me run through the ones I was now experiencing.

I fought through those cramps and I fought being angry about them. I knew I could be running faster, but I focused on what I had left. I thought I was running too slow and that my 3:50 for Kevin was lost, that the course record was lost, that I wasn't 'getting off work early'. I vowed not to look at my watch and let my body do what it could, not challenge it with time goals. I tried to 'engage' other muscles to help the calves, but that proved to only show me how tired my quads were too, and inadequate. Then my right hand cramped too probably because of the asinine but comfortable way I hold my water bottle. I passed Decker and he said I looked strong. I felt awful. I kept telling myself, 3.5 miles to go, 3 miles, 2.5 etc. as I passed the mile markers for the 25k and marathon.

The cramps became their worse on the flat Horse Pen. I tried to fight them but they were taking me down, I wanted to run through them, I knew I was so close to being done, but I was also a little worried because they got like they were at Promise Land where they seem to lock up my legs. I had to stop and work the right leg out, just for a  moment, and then took a 30 second walk break, the first since the climb up the Trough. When I went back to running after that walk break they felt a little better, they seemed a little loosened up. The trail started to climb a little and I hoped we were near the final section, the paved road.

Finally coming out of the trail I stopped at the aid station and drank water. I didn't bother filling my bottle but just drank a cup at the water stop. The volunteers there told me I had a mile left. Pulling away from the aid station, after some thought and deliberation, I decided to allow myself to look at my watch figuring it would perhaps push me if I was really close. My watch said 3:40. 3:40! This was another awesome moment of the race. I knew if I could pull off a 15 minute mile I could have the new course record. I started to run. I looked down briefly and saw I was running a 7:22 pace. Pretty impressed with that I thought about Kevin, and that I would really like to tell him I ran sub 3:50, so I pushed a little harder. I was further impressed that I could run anything that fast, that late into a race in which I had felt so crummy the last few miles.

Turning onto the trail section I was ready to finish strong, I ran across the creek and saw mud and streamers everywhere and thought I had taken a wrong turn. I ran back to the creek but a guy coming said I had been going the right way. Frustrated I ran back that way but was still unsure how to maneuver the trail. Then a few steps later I got confused again, I could hear noise at the finish line but couldn't see the trail. I stopped dead and realized a moment later that there were stairs! Doh, Alexis you've run this before, I thought. I was getting really frustrated that I wasn't going to run sub 3:50 after being so convinced I had it in the bag. And then there finally was the red bridge and the finish line.

I crossed in 3:48:36 Good for first female, a new female course record, a new PR (according to Courtney's revelation of the change in course in 2013 it was a PR by 29 minutes!). I was so happy to be done and really pretty proud of myself. It wasn't an easy day, but I had remained considerably positive throughout and rolled with the challenges of the day fairly well. The day was not without mistakes but I am really proud that I stuck with my plans, that I pushed early, that I fought hard all the while staying in a fairly positive place. I really needed the confidence builder a good race is, but I also needed the practice of playing from a positive mindset. The donut for breakfast didn't hurt me too badly nor did the shoes (and I won a pair of Hokas from the Aid Station for coming in first! so I can replace those old Stinsons).

It's been a very, very long time since I was this genuinely happy about the outcome of a race. It was not an easy day, it was hard and yet I didn't fall apart, especially mentally. I would really have loved not to had cramps, especially for so long, but it could have been worse. It's definitely been an eye opener that perhaps I can run faster and stronger than I would really like to admit.