Sarah Finding Fit

An unconventional look at fitness... my journey in reaching goals, laughing and having a bunch of outstanding adventures.

Posts tagged trails

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Bucket List Item #82: Trek, Paddle, Mt. Bike, Swim?

Open windows, back roads… there’s nothing as beautiful as stars in the country. Without the florescent glow of the city defusing them, they shine like little mag-lights in a deep black sky. Fresh cold air that’s easy to breath. You can hear yourself think. Just being in Rocky Gap State Park draws me back to Ragnar, the beginning of this blog adventure… but as we pulled into the empty parking lot, we lined up the jeeps almost right where my parents had watched me finish leg one a few years back. I had a feeling most of our trekking/mountain biking tomorrow would lead us on the very same trail out and around the lake. We rolled out sleeping bags in the back of the jeep… and caught just a few short hours shut eye.

By the time we rolled out of the backseat and towards check-in at 7:30AM, the parking lot had exploded, and was buzzing with SUVs and mountain bikes and open hatchbacks. We sleepily signed waivers and secured the map… the punch key hung on lanyard around my neck. Team 373. At the car we plotted points, filled camel backs and loaded the transition with bikes and Lara bars and apple sauce and water. Talking through checkpoints and colors, we came up with some sort of strategy. I honestly wasn’t exactly how the race would go or what to expect… friends who’d raced Rocky Gap before had shared some horror stories… but we were dodging the forecast and for now, it wasn’t raining! Walking to the race brief/start I realized how light my pack was without the bricks. Body felt good. I didn’t have the same butterflies I usually get before races – I only really feared the bike. I reminded the team that I hate going out fast as we lined up along the edge of the fence in effort to beat a few people out of the gate… 3.2.1. The crowd scattered and we were off in search of checkpoints.

As hard as I try, I can’t even begin to paint an accurate picture of a race recap and a detailed blow-by-blow of the entire race would take far too long… in all honesty, we were a very focused and fit comedy of sarcasm and errors. I mean what other team throws out “thats what she said” a dozen times during an adventure race? For now, here is my feeble attempt at the highlights of my first adventure race (more photos to come, promise!):

Almost everyone took off in the same direction, up the road and into the hills. Action plan: hit four colored checkpoints before checking in at CP1. Red and white had to be snagged in this order or they wouldn’t count. We’d decided to run more and rack up points early. After hitting two colors, we found ourselves on an empty trail and as we got closer to what should have been a white check point, there was a sharp drop. Sherpa Sean attempted to start climbing down the sheer rocky edge, but between the dry tree trunks and white stone there was a steep drop-off… we would have needed rope and harnesses. First lesson learned: Cliffs are bad. 30 minutes into the race, we abandoned the game plan – points later, CP1 first.

As we whipped around the back side of the lake, we crossed in and out of a wooded trail covered in a deep blanket of dry leaves and branches. Sean and Dave were leading, maybe 50 feet ahead of me. My mind was wondering; my legs were trying to keep up with the boys. I found myself forecasting my bike performance, positive thoughts… I kept looking up, scanning for the guys than glancing back to the ground. As I went to plant my foot in an effort to log hop what looked to be a very black branch, the log moved toward my ankle. SNAKE! I let out a blood curdling scream. I could feel the adrenaline surge, the hair on my arm stood at attention – fight or flight? I flew about 10ft into the air. The boys flipped around. For a second I just stopped… blahhahaaeaehhhahh. “Better you than me,” both of the teased. A quick shake out, then back to business.

After presenting our whistles, we checked in at the beach. While making wisecracks about who was going in the water first, we crossed to the canoes and grabbed some sexy PDFs. Sean in front, myself in the middle, Dave in back. Pulling through the water was a nice breather for the legs. You’d think we’d be rockstars considering we row at Crossfit, but it took time for us to get into the rhythm. The canoe had a few deep teeters… close calls with the water before we finally managed to set up some sort of “2-1-switch” system. While gliding past some of the other boats, we decided whether we should or shouldn’t snag the points to be grabbed via canoe, during the paddle switch, Sean somehow flung his oar and sent it splashing into the lake. We watched as it floated toward the back of the boat. SHIT! We had to put on the breaks and flip the boat around. Again, against our original plan, we skipped the colored checkpoint reachable by canoe and decided that’d we spend the last moments of the race swimming. As we pulled up onto the beach to run to transition, we fumbled the canoe… I fell backwards into the boat. The race paparazzi captured it all nicely on film. I’d say, awkward would be an understatement.

Pulling out of transition, I ran myself through my gears and breaks. Control. Breath. Going fast on bikes downhill is not my forte; I have some innate fear of crashing and getting terrible road rash. But what goes down must go up. At CP3, the race director commented, “Damn, you guys got here fast.” He’d seen us last on the beach before the paddle. I managed to keep the legs moving up the long crawl back up the hill of hell. Once we were back on the trail, we pulled the bikes up over the some cement steps… time to face my fear. I could feel my hands death gripping the handle bars and laser focusing on the path just ahead of the front tire. Every few minutes I’d lose site of the boys and they’d shout back, “Shank?” and I’d say “Coming!” As long as I kept pedaling, I knew I’d be fine. Rocks, roots, there were a few rough points… but I managed to hold my own in my personal battle with the bike. Besides throwing Dave into a tree… I’d say I fared better than expected.

Since we’d missed the first two colored checkpoints, we needed to cash in for 20 points at silver. We checked in at CP5, dropped the bikes and headed up the hill. After crossing an empty creek bed, the incline increased, quickly. Reading elevation lines is a good idea: From the map, we knew the check-in would be at the very top of the hill, we just didn’t really realize how steep of a climb it would be. Sean trekked up ahead and kept looking back shouting, “keep moving.” Oh, I was moving… but my calves were cramping with every step. The deep dead leaves and rotten trees made it hard to navigate. My legs were on fire… one foot in front of the other. When we finally reached the top, I scribbled our time, heard the key box beep and then we were headed back down. We all broke into a jog when we hit the grass and after a brief run in with a local and his shotgun telling us we were on private property, we crossed back to CP6. Back on the bikes for the last section of trail… and boom, it finally started to rain.

We were lucky that it had held off for most of the morning, but the drizzle quickly became a downpour and as we started onto the single track, I could see little pieces of hail bouncing off the number card attached to the handle bars. The trail was muddy and fast! I slid out in one of the corners landing sideways on the hill with the bike splayed out below, but quickly hopped back on and fell back in line with the rest of the chain of bikers. When we finally hit the beach, we ditched the bikes, our packs and helmets and took to the water.

Cold water + tired legs + giant PDF = slow swimming Sarah. Last checkpoint was buoy maybe 100 yards off-shore. The PFD I’d grabbed was probably about 4 sizes too big and in an effort to keep up with the boys I couldn’t synch it down fast enough. The water wasn’t as cold as it could have been, but still a shock to the system. It felt like my legs just weren’t working… and the giant PFD was making it almost impossible to pull with my arms. I probably looked like a little kid drowning. After hitting the buoy we checked in and then flipped around to get to the beach where we’d finish. I felt like I was swimming in slow motion. But when we could finally stand… We ran onto the beach, ditched the PFDS, grabbed our stuff and ran up to the final checkpoint.

When we buzzed in, the woman told us we were likely 3rd or 4th. First adventure race complete! Wet. Tired. We walked the bikes to the car. Hit the park showers. Then head to the tent in search of post-race nomnom. The sun had come back out and racers filled the grass waiting for the awards ceremony.

I was a tad nervous when they started announcing brackets, specifically the 3 person co-eds. They announced 5th, then 4th… I kinda sighed, maybe we didn’t place after all. My goal from the start had been to earn a pint glass. Then 3rd: 2 Bros and a Hoe! The crowd seemed to appreciate our name. Three of us shared the small podium space, holding onto our rightfully earned hardware.

As quickly as it started, it was over. We threw our packs and dirty cloths and winnings in the car. As we rolled out of the parking lot, I had that happy/tired/sore feeling. Anyone who’s done a longer race knows exactly what I’m talking about. The moment when you’re relieved to be done, but sad it’s all over… tired but accomplished… a sort of post-race glow and hangover all at once. Recounting it comes back in pieces… quick quips, comments from other teams, polo shirt for camping, snakes, paddle dropping, missing out on 2nd by 6 seconds, winning prizes for jumping in the lake with clean clothes on…

Cars with muddy mountain bikes dotted the highway on the way back to DC and passing each one made me smile.

Bucket list item #82: Adventure Race, check!

Filed under swim Adventure Race mountainbiking trails trailrunning team crossfit paddle ragnar relay winning

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Tights, Riding Boots, Yellow Leaves and Trail Racing

Do one thing a day that scares you.

Yes… it’s officially Fall. This weekend I head back to the woods for the first race of the Backyard Burn trail race series. Among the smell of fireplaces, changing leaves and pumpkins… over the last year, trail racing through fallen leaves has made its way onto my list of favorite fall things. I can’t believe it’s been a year since my first set of trail races… boy, I’ve come a long way since then. With all the rain, the trails have been dusted with dampness… I’m anticipating mud, hills, and some super sexy single track!  

Course Map

Filed under trails trailrunning Fearless Fridays

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Sun Poisoning, Toast and a Much Needed Running Friend

I’d spent the night with a fever and chills, hovered next to the toilet. My mascara streamed black down my cheeks, my throat ached. I probably weighed about 10 pounds less than normal. As I stumbled into the bathroom for the hundredth time at 6:45 A.M., I decided to quickly stick my head under the cool shower and re-brush my teeth. I couldn’t not go: It was my last race in my 20s, my first 10K… the weather looked cool and inviting… For weeks, I’d been waiting to run through the woods… Why did I spend Saturday in the sun? Why did I go out the night before? I’d already talked up the race, this was a definite, I needed to run, I needed to earn my t-shirt… as much as I wanted to crawl back into a ball on my bed, I needed to suck it up and get out there… for myself, but also for my race partner, I knew she’d be okay without me, but I couldn’t let her down.

I called Rachel. “I’m coming, I might not run, but I’m coming.”

I pulled on my shorts… the sports bra stung as it clung to my crisp shoulders which were still covered in goosebumps and starting to blister. I tried to sip down some recovery drink, but decided against it, instead throwing the shaker into my gym bag for later.  In the car, I called my mom. “You’re going?” “Yes, I’ll probably just watch,” I flatly replied, irritated at my own stupidity for not applying additional sunscreen the day before. My stomach churned. How was I planning to turn out 6 miles on a trail?

When I got to Casa de Onthebusrunning. Rachel kindly popped a slice of bread into the toaster and after a small smear of butter, I managed to choke it down. A second piece of toast and a sip of powdered Gatorade… and I was feeling half-human. Now if I could only keep this down until we ran.

The start line was an explosion of runners. A colorful hodgepodge of fancy shoes and shorts and compression sleeves, runners ready to battle the elements in the not so off-road backwoods of Virginia. The VIP Jeep parking was packed with vehicles just like mine – yes, these were my people! I was already starting to feel at home.

Over the river and through the woods… The pace was slow at the start, but I didn’t mind, my goal was to keep steady. I just had to keep my legs moving and my mind off my aching body. As the pack split up, Rachel and I fell into our usual running banter: the great catch-up of random thoughts, life-updates, full-disclosure on my night spent sleeping on the cool pink tile of my bathroom. Pretty soon, we were off the golf course and into the woods. My watch beeped. Only a mile deep and man was I hungry. Orange Gel, my sustenance of choice.

During this race, I had hoped to spend time reflecting on my journey to 30, sucking in and soaking up every last second of my 20s… but instead, our conversation just carried us along and on this day, I was glad for that. I didn’t have to think, just run. In-between trying not to trip on roots and dodging oncoming runners, I was also thankful that the course wasn’t as grueling as my trail series runs, we didn’t stumble upon a “cardiac arrest hill” or find ourselves knee deep in muddy creek water – this was fast and flat. Before I knew it, we had rounded the loop and were headed back to the start. As we hit the last straight away, we went for it.


We crossed the finish line holding hands and I vaguely remember Rachel laughing, “You’re awesome.” This was awesome, WE were awesome! The perfect way to fight to the finish. I’d powered through a race on fumes thanks to toast, gel and an amazing friend. My shoulders stung, my tummy grumbled, but I was glad to be the proud owner of a Fuchsia North Face Endurance Challenge t-shirt… one that I could rightfully say I’d earned.  

When I called my mom on the way home, she said “So, how’d you do?” “I survived.” “I knew you’d run,” she chuckled. “You did?” She responded with a smirk, “Yes, Sarah… you’d never have sat on the sidelines and watched.”

She was right. It’s hard to describe sometimes, but running is a game I play with my mind. A way that I prove my inner strength to myself time and time again.  It shows me my will to power through… it’s my way of pushing myself to the edge, then learning to trust and fly. In a way it sets me free. Sick or not, this run had been a challenge that I was determined to finish. To me, it was more than a run through the woods, it was proof of how far I’d come this year. It didn’t matter where I finished, just that I finished. I’d have regretted it if I’d let myself get swallowed up by my blankets and hadn’t at least gone out and tried.

Oddly, on Sunday I learned that mind can overcome matter… and if I can run 6 miles through the woods after spending the night tossing my cookies, I might just be able to conquer the world. After a cold shower and a thick layer of aloe, my nap seemed well-worth the work. It has truly been a year of finding fit. Welcome 30! I feel stronger, and more determined than ever! Bring. It. On.

Filed under running trails trailrunning races Turning 30

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One Week…

My training calendar is finally filled with X’s and the countdown has begun: 6 days to go and 8 miles left to run.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been working towards this coming weekend since January. As I rounded out my training with 12 miles along the Mount Vernon Trail yesterday, I thought back to the days when running from Arlington to Old Town was an impossibility… when sprinting was something I did to escape being tackled… when I didn’t get shin splints or plan my weekend around two hours of pounding pavement or feel like five miles was easy.

As I ran this weekend, a few things solidified in my mind:

  1. Running is a great equalizer – never judge a runner by their cover. I tailed an older man (maybe in his late-60s) for about 3 miles, ultimately loosing him due to his speed. Inspirational. And, I breezed passed an unsuspecting runner proudly sporting an Army 10 miler shirt… the path was filled with people of all paces and shapes and sizes… there was no telling who was training for what race and no assuming as to what races they’d already finished. I realized that I was now part of that puzzle – I may not look like a runner to some.
  2. There is a huge group of DC weekend warriors who find their own fit on Sunday mornings. Somehow in finding myself through this venture, I’ve earned my entry into that group. I’ve become a runner, no ifs ands or butts.
  3. By running, I’ve literally run into people. Between convincing myself not to look at my watch and soaking in the sun, I saw an old college friend on the trail this weekend, I’ve met new friends scavenging Arlington, run relays, tested running groups… As much as running can be a solo-sport, a battle with you, it also brings people together.
  4. Inspiration comes from the places you’d least expect. Yes, the super fast racers awe me – so do those guys with long legs decked out with short shorts – but I find real passion from the underdogs. The friends who have plowed through marathons… the people who, much like my 5’2” self, don’t look like the average runner… their experiences build me up and fuel my fire – if they can do it, I can! 

From Ragnar to trail racing to finding some speed on an oval, I’ve learned that in my moments of tired, I can dig deeper and make it happen – equating running to life… I can rely on myself to not give-up on me. I’ve had some difficult runs/setbacks: a snowy 9 in upstate NY, a broken hand, backpack night running home after work, shin splints… if I made it through those things, I can do this. The last 1.1 will be cake – well, maybe not cake, but attainable.  I keep telling myself that I’ve laid the groundwork and now its time to trust the training, trust myself. 

I already feel antsy about the weekend, anxiously awaiting the arrival of my parents on Friday. I’ve printed out directions… talked through the itinerary… planned out my outfit… tested gels and shot blocks…iced my shins… bought new shoes… iced my shins some more… handed out green bracelets

I just keep wondering how I’ll feel that morning… if I’ll be sore… if my legs will work that early…if I’ll push the pace due to the excitement and the crowds. I’m envisioning myself running through this monumental city, finding my family at the finish and drinking an ice cold IPA in celebration from a pint glass that reads 13.1.

It’s truly been a journey in finding fit… I’m almost there.

Filed under running ragnar relay half-marathon liver transplant trails track workouts