Lisa Runs on Ramen

— running 26.2 and having foodie adventures too!


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A Windy and Wild Beast of Burden Winter 50

We have had a heck of a winter here in NY this year! Maybe it’s because the last two winters here have been pretty mild, but this year’s polar vortex weather was rough for many runners. As I’m writing this, it is already spring, and I am so glad to be looking forward to the spring and summer (ultra) running season! I’m proud to say that this winter has been productive training-wise. I was inspired to sign up for the notoriously cold and snowy Beast of Burden Winter 50 in January, in no small part due to Shane and his crazy ultramarathons in the snow, but also due to my friends Otto, Violet, and Joe who were running the Winter 100.

First, some background about the race–the Beast of Burden has both a Summer and Winter version, and the Summer 100 was where I completed my first 100 miler back in August 2012. I had only great memories (it’s amazing how I can’t recall the pain) of the awesome people I met in Lockport, dedicated volunteers, and my friends Jim and Beth who hosted us for the weekend. If you do both the Winter 100 and the Summer 100 in the same calendar year, you get a Double Beast Buckle. See? I told you this race was crazy.

Our adventure began on 1/17, when Ken drove me and Violet up to Lockport, stopping at Rolando’s Diner in Binghamton for lunch.

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The place had prices from the 1970’s–seriously, eggs for like $3.50 or something ridiculous. The city itself was a bit gray and depressing–we enjoyed our omelets and were on our way.

We arrive at Lockport after a 7 hour drive from the city–thanks so much to Ken and Kino who were our crew/pacers for the weekend! We met up with some folks at DeFlippo’s, an awesome Italian restaurant/bar where most runners carbo-load before the race. I reunited with Jim and Beth, and also Andy Thomson, who was my compatriot during our first Summer 100 together. We had a large contingent from NYC: Kat and I were running the 50, and Otto (from NJ), Joe and Violet were running the 100. I was feeling nervous–I hate being cold and I was starting to question how I was going to stay warm through 12+ hours of running. I had a very reasonable starting goal of sub-15 hours, since I usually am not in the best shape in January (I blame the holidays), and I was going through all sorts of stress that didn’t enable me to train well in December. But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to make my goal even better, and I aimed for sub-13 hours. I made sure to eat lots of pasta, mozzarella sticks and garlic bread so I would have appropriate fuel!

The gang at DeFlippo's

The gang at DeFlippo’s

Several of my friends and I stayed at the Pease’s place, where I settled in comfortably for the night, packed my drop bags, and got a good nights’ sleep. I was ready for my adventure!

Some of the special gear I ended up using for this race included:

1) A Cold Avenger  classic fleece face protector. It it sort of like a balaclava for the lower half of your face, with a plastic cup that had vents for breathing. I don’t look nice with it on. In fact, I look like Bane or Darth Vader. This thing saved me though–I highly recommend using a Cold Avenger on your runs of 25F or colder! It’s really important to protect your face from windburn.

Me with a Cold Avenger on during BoB50

Me with a Cold Avenger on during BoB50

2) I used an Ultimate Direction hydration belt that I got from outdoor gear discount retailer TheClymb.com. I had heard good things about their water bottles, and I was not disappointed. It was ergonomic and had a special nozzle that prevented leakage, plus the belt itself didn’t bounce much during my run.

3) The usual GU energy gels, Vi Fuel (vegan gel), SaltStick salt tablets, and granola bars for sustenance

4) I also packed 3 different jackets/windbreakers, including a ski jacket for waiting around at the finish line. Layers were key, since the weather was expected to be 17F!

5) I brought Yaktrax snow spikes for traction, just in case there was snow on the ground.

6) Grabber Hand warmers–I put them in my gloves so my hands would stay warmer longer

7) I wore my trusty Skechers Nite Owl running shoes–I had broken them in the few weeks before, plus they were quite comfortable. They also glowed in the dark! (at least for a few hours)

Race day, 1/18

Ken drove us to the race, but before we did all that, we took a pre-race photo in front of Jim and Beth’s home:

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We were ready to get this show on the road! The start line at Wide Water’s Marina was only a 10-minute drive away, with plenty of parking. It was abuzz with activity as people picked up their race bibs and goodie bags. I must say, the goodie bag for this race was awesome–all runners got a white hooded sweatshirt with the badass race logo on it, plus a fuzzy Buffalo horn hat and fuzzy brown mittens. I can attest to the fact that the hat and mittens were super warm and made me feel awesome at the start.

Lisa at the start of the Winter 50

Lisa at the start of the Winter 50

The runners gathered at 9:50am for a brief pre-race meeting, where the mayor of Lockport made a few remarks and wished us luck, and we learned that the conditions on the course were snowy (1-2 inches) but not too bad. The race directors, Bob and Ken, introduced everyone to Sam Pasceri, who was the founder of this race and had come to see us off. Sam is an awesome athlete and his wife, Ginny, is an all-star volunteer and supporter!

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Start: 1 to 12.5 miles

At 10am, we were off! It was pretty cold, but not windy yet so it wasn’t bad. I was looking forward to seeing Kino and Ken at Mile 7 (Gasport aid station), where they would be volunteering for a bit before crewing and then pacing Violet. I ran with my Yaktrax and immediately regretted my decision, as they were useless on very light snow (1 inch, no ice). I ran a little bit slower due to the friction of the spikes on the ground, but I was relieved that I could hand them off to Ken since he was volunteering. The towpath was beautiful. The snow served a purpose–it made everything look prettier. I felt great when I hit the first aid station. There was Heed, pretzels, M&Ms and some other snacks. I made it quick, said hi to Kino and Ken, and headed out.

The next 5 miles before the turnaround at mile 12.5 (Middleport Aid station) always felt long. I started seeing some of the faster runners (like Joe!) turning back, and the early miles are nice because people are still happy and smiling. My body felt good, although it felt a bit weird to run with so many layers on (3 layers, with merino wool IceBreaker baselayer), a hydration belt, PLUS a Nathan hydration vest. I kept my hat and gloves on at all times.

Miles 12.6 to 25

I started incorporating walking breaks early. I still felt fresh, but I didn’t want to crash and burn, so I walked for 2-3 minutes for every 30 minutes I ran. I made sure to eat real food (PB&J, fruit, chips, granola bars and more), drink soup at aid stations, and drink lots of water. However, once it got to mile 16 or so, I started encountering a problem. The hydration pack in my Nathan hydration vest had a frozen tube and nozzle! Uh-oh. That meant I couldn’t properly access my water, unless I tried to drink from opening of the pack as if I was pouring a Ziploc bag of H2O into my mouth. That wasn’t good!

I was really glad I brought a back-up water bottle! It was around 20F most of the time, but at night it dropped to around 17F. It doesn’t take a genius to know that water will freeze. Luckily, the aid stations had heaters (the Middleport one was indoors, but the Gasport one was tented and had heaters) and great volunteers that would use hot water to try and defrost bottles. I drank from my Ultimate Direction water bottle normally at first, but then, I couldn’t suck the water out from the nozzle because a frozen ring had formed UNDER the cap. Crazy! I had to use my frozen hands to unscrew the bottle to drink from it. It didn’t seem like a big deal now, but the later it got in the race, the more difficult this became.

Another thing that drove me crazy was that my nose started running almost non-stop from mile 10 onward. It was super annoying, and it was just due to the cold.

I think my first 25 mile split was around 5:30, which was perfect.

 Miles 26-50

There were a lot of talented runners in this race–I felt cold, my face started burning from the wind, but some of the lead runners appeared to be unfazed by the elements. On the out-and-back portion, people were still smiling and yelling words of encouragement. I made sure to cheer especially loudly for the 100-mile runners and of course, my friends. I saw everybody–Otto, Joe, Violet, Kat….it was great.

The wind really picked up both times I came from Middleport (mile 12.5 and 37.5) back towards the start, just the way it was blowing. I had to close my eyes or throw on my sunglasses certain times because the wind was so horrible. I later learned that it was 20-30 mph winds for the 50 mile runners, and the 100-miler sustained 40-50 mph winds!! Imagine running a 50 mile race and an invisible hand is trying to push you back. That’s exactly what the wind felt like. Just brutal!!

The things that really lifted my spirits were:

1) Seeing Beth, Ken, and Kino at the aid stations

2) Hot lentil soup or chicken broth. There are no words for how heavenly this is in 17F.

3) Seeing the wooden pirate ship/slide that was next to the towpath.

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I was passing all the familiar landmarks, and I remember passing the bridges and a paper mill. It was dark and I had a headlamp at this point–I knew I was going to reach my goal of sub-13! My legs were getting tired, my nose was still running, and frankly I was ready to be done. It was one of the toughest races I have done in recent memory just due to being in the elements for a long time. I had a ton of respect for the 100-mile winter runners.

I approached the finish line and it was pretty quiet. The finish line was moved inside the tent because the awesome volunteers needed to stay warm. That was just fine by me! Who wouldn’t want to finish an ultra in a warm tent??

I crossed the finish in 12:40:05, and the race directors hung the medal around my neck. I was so so cold, and my first priority was warming up, then pictures next. There were chairs set up, a torpedo heater, and a table full of food to help the runners recover. The medal was pretty sweet!

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Ken was in the tent–he was helping Kat, who had finished earlier, and he handed me a bowl of mac and cheese.

It was the best post-race mac and cheese I have ever tasted. My life was complete.

I wanted to give a huge thank you to Ken and Kino for staying up pretty much all night to crew and volunteer for us. Also, big thanks to Beth and Jim for volunteering and hosting us. Thank you to Skechers Performance for sponsoring my footwear, and Team Refuel/Got Chocolate Milk? for my race gear and support! Finally, thanks to the race directors and ALL the volunteers for putting on a fantastic event.

After my race

Pretty soon after I finished, ate a bit of food, and defrosted, I got a ride back to the Pease’s place and took at 5-hour nap. I was determined to see my friends Otto, Ellen, and Violet finish their 100-milers (amazingly fast Joe finished around 4am for 2nd place overall). I saw Otto come through, and I saw Ellen, but I missed Violet heading out for her last loop.

I took a brief lunch break to see my cousin Heidi, who lived in the area with her husband. We got lunch at Panera and some coffee, and I finally ate real food. Yummy!

After all of that, I got to see Otto finish, and I got to see Violet finish her first 100-miler ever. It was pretty emotional seeing Violet at mile 98; I had a vantage point from the marina across the canal and I could see Ken and Kino coaxing her along and trying to block the wind. The wind had picked up to 40-50mph, and they even had to take the finish line tent down and move everything inside the public restroom building. It was insane!

It was amazing getting to see a bunch of 100-miler runners finish. I will never forget seeing everyone huddled outside the finish line, eyes squinting in the horizontal snow blowing across the canal, just to holler and cheer as Violet crossed the finish line with Kino and Ken behind her. The camaraderie and warmth amongst ultrarunners is a huge part of why I choose to do these things. When I think of the Beast of Burden Winter 50, I will not think so much about the cold, and the wind…what I will think about is how I spent an unforgettable weekend with a team of runners who will do anything for each other.

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Good times at the Dirty German 50-miler

Sort of on a whim (as in, registered less than a month in advance), I decided to do the Dirty German Endurance Fest 50-miler in Philadelphia, PA on 5/26. These days, you’re lucky if you can register for a marathon or a half without being sold out three months in advance. One of the pluses of being an ultrarunner is that most ultra races (with notable exceptions like Western States, the Umstead 100, Badwater, and others) don’t sell out early, so you can bide your time before forking over the entry fee.

I have to thank my friend Tommy for planting the idea in my head, because a part of me was questioning the wisdom of running 50 miles in a different state then working the day after (I worked on Memorial Day). Luckily for me, I am still young and full of energy, because I doubt I can pull this off in a few more years!

At 5:30am, my Dashing Whippets teammates Atsede, Sky, Tommy and I piled into a car to drive from NYC to Philly and arrive for packet pickup by 7:30am. Atsede and Sky were running the other race distances offered (25K and 50K), while Tommy and I were running the 50-miler. When we got there, it was like an NYC running party! I saw a bunch of people that I knew, including Sharon, Tony, Jessica, Keila, Joe, Elaine and others! It’s always nice seeing familiar faces–it’s a great way to start a race.

NYC running friends!

NYC running friends!

The best part about this race is that it would be a great test for my fitness in prepping for the next few ultras coming up for me:

1) Back on My Feet 20in24 Lone Ranger Run (24-hr run in July)

2) Great Cranberry Island 50K in July (Maine)

3) Bear 100-miler (Utah), September

No matter how many times I do it, any distance 50 miles or longer makes me really nervous. You can’t fake a 50-miler. Some distances, you can get through with little or no training, but not a 50-miler!

I recently had the good fortune of re-joining Team Refuel, and they helped to provide me with X-1 Women’s Momentum light earphones. X-1 makes waterproof and sweatproof headphones for athletes, and I was excited to try them out!

 I picked up my packet and it included a nice tech shirt (no ads, definitely a plus) and a green drawstring bag. Finishers get a pint glass and an embroidered tech hat post-race.

Me and my X-1 headphones

Me and my X-1 headphones

All the races started at the same time, but the 50-milers tack on an extra 3.5 miles at the beginning. The course is 3 loops of a convenient 25K (15.53 miles) trail around Pennypack Park. and it is a perfect “beginner’s trail” with singletrack, a few minor mini-creek crossings, and some short, steep climbs. The weather was perfect, around 55-60F, and the course was shaded.

I was really excited to see what my result would be, since I felt like I have been in the shape of my life by alternating running with spin classes at SoulCycle. Also, the last time I ran a 50-miler, I was sick with a terrible head cold and the trail I ran was very muddy (the North Face Endurance Challenge DC). I barely made the 13-hour cutoff with a 12:48–a solid effort for a sick person but not ideal.

Tommy and I wished each other luck at the start, and then we were off around 8:10am. It was a bit late, but it was a pretty low-key race and the race director pushed back the start when the bathroom line got long. I saw a friend that I met from the 20in24 race, Maggie, at the start, but then she quickly disappeared in the lead pack.

I enjoyed running with my music for a little while at the beginning, because it got me pumped up and set a good pace. The X-1 headphones were very light and worked well–I barely thought about them because they were so light!

The course felt psychologically challenging because the loop was so long (15.5 miles). It was the longest loop I had ever run, so I had to bide my time and be patient.

Since 50 miles is a very long time to be running, I’ll break it down into the good and bad:

The Good:

-The course was beautiful and very well-marked. The creek crossings were not bad (shoes got a little wet) and added variety to the scenery.

-I got to see my swift friends in the 25K and 50K on some of the out-and-back portions.

-The aid stations were excellent–boiled potatoes, gatorade, potato pancakes, cola oranges, bananas and PB&J.

-Some of the aid station females wore dirndls.

-I hit my 50K road PR at the 50K mark on trail–6:10, dead-on. That gave me a sweet, sweet boost of confidence.

-I saw Atsede, Sky, and Elaine shortly after I finished the second loop. Their cheers gave me extra energy. Joe also helped me refill my water bottle.

-I also hit roughly my 60K  (37.2 mi) road PR (7:05) around the 36 mile mark in the 50-miler, not bad!

– I liked running with a North Face handheld water bottle way better than running with a Camelbak. It forced me to carry less, was quicker to refill, and I was able to switch hands and improve my posture.

-The course was very runnable. This was mostly good (I’m used to trails where you have to hike some portions), but it sucked during later stages of the race because I felt like a cop-out if I walked some easy portions. I forced myself to walk no longer than 1 minute at a time, but I allowed myself walking breaks whenever I needed (just short ones). Proud to say that I ran about 85% of this course. Usually it’s more like 75% for ultras.

Pennypack park

Pennypack park

The Bad:

– The last 2.5 miles feels like a maze. You are weaving in and out of the forest and the finish line does not seem like it’s any closer! It’s dizzying.

– I tripped and fell over a root around mile 31 and landed hard on my knees, hands and iPhone. The case broke, but luckily the iPhone was ok. I dusted myself off and kept going.

– 50 miles is a LONG way to run. A long loop makes it seem even longer.

The Funny:

-At one point, I was really tired and I had never seen a latke/potato pancake at an aid station before. (Keep in mind this was a German-themed race). At the end of the second loop, I pointed to the latke/fried potato and asked a kid volunteer, “Is that a latke?” He said “no, that’s a potato pancake.” He proceeded to point to the bananas and said “And that’s obviously a banana, and that’s obviously an orange…”

That gave me a good laugh!

-A group of tweens/teenage girls were in the park sometime around my 8th hour of running (40 mile mark?), and they said “Stop! Excuse me, how long have you been running?”

Without missing a beat, I said “Oh, about 8 hours.” One girl looked flabbergasted and asked “Aren’t you tired?” I shrugged and said, “a little.” Then I kept going. Thanks for reminding me how tired I was, girls!!

The first two loops, I felt really strong. The last loop was definitely hard and I took more walking breaks. At one point, a horse got spooked in front of us, and the rider told us to stop completely. We lost maybe 3-4 minutes before the horse was able to step out of the way. Not convenient, but necessary.

The volunteers were outstanding. Many of them were there for very long hours, and their smiles kept me going!

Me and Elaine

Me and Elaine

At the end of the second loop, the speedy Tommy Pyon lapped me, and I cheered for him because he was in the lead! I didn’t feel bad being lapped at all, because I knew he was smashing the course. He ended up finishing in 6:55 to win the overall title. I also joke that he’s my good luck charm because my marathon PR remains the Wineglass Marathon 2011 which we ran together.

For the final loop, I passed about 5 people in the last 6 miles, gaining strength when the finish line neared. I knew Atsede, Tommy and Sky were all waiting for me, and I wanted to finish strong. I crossed the finish line in 10:25:32! It was a massive personal best, a 2 hr 23 minute improvement over my last 50-miler on trail! I was so, so happy. I finished 52/75 overall.

Best of all, as soon as I finished, the race director shook my hand and said I finished third in my age group. He handed me a beautiful award, a wooden German weather house, from the Black Forest of Germany! It has been awhile since I won an age group award so I was stoked.

I got my hard-earned finisher’s pint glass and tech hat, and after a few pictures all I wanted to do was sit down. I knew I had to eat, but I had no appetite. Tommy helped grab me a plate of hot food (the finisher food was good, but sadly I had no room in my stomach to enjoy it). My stomach felt bloated from drinking water and gatorade all day, so I had to wait an hour before eating. I took a bite of the hot dog and drank Recoverite, but that was it.

I was thrilled with my finish time because once I broke it down, I was running roughly two marathons  back-to-back around 5hrs 15 min each. That was a great time for me, considering I’m in about 4hr 30min marathon shape at this point. I’ve developed as an ultrarunner and I can’t wait to see how the rest of my ultramarathons stack up. Bring it on!

Thanks so much to Tommy, Sky and Atsede for staying many hours after their own finishes to cheer me on. Despite my advice to them to leave the staging area to grab a burger in the 3+ hours it took me to finish after Tommy, they stayed to make sure they didn’t miss my finish. I have the best running friends ever. We ate at a nearby diner and yes, I refueled with chocolate milk. And ice cream and pasta. Cheers! (Or as the Germans say, Prost!)

50-mile finisher!

50-mile finisher!

My German weather house age-group award

My German weather house age-group award

Atsede, Sky, me and Tommy

Atsede, Sky, me and Tommy