The big day is finally here! Today, I start my attempt for the Women’s Supported Fastest Known Time (FKT) of the Collegiate Trail Loop. While this is a goal in and of itself, it’s also the first step in my efforts to prepare for my run across the United States in 2021. Read more >>
Whew. It’s been a challenging couple of weeks, with even more challenges to come. Travel has been insane and, weather permitting, the Collegiate Trail Loop FKT begins on July 29. That’s less than two weeks away … gulp!
On the planning front I’m still locking down travel logistics. Overall, I just feel really lucky to have the opportunity to spend a week and a half along the Continental Divide raising money for Girls on the Run.
If you have been reading Salty Running since the early days, you might remember posts about my goal of a Trans-America crossing and record attempt. Unfortunately, in 2015 I had to pull out of my dream. At the time I was entering the final year of my doctoral program, and health problems first landed me in the hospital, then at the Mayo Clinic. It was devastating, to say the least, but I salvaged what I could of the process and the training by donating the funds I’d raised to RAINN and running my first 100-mile race.
Even as my identity as a runner changed, I never gave up on that dream. So I’m happy to share that in the summer of 2021, I will attempt the Women’s Fastest Known Time (FKT) for a Trans-America crossing.
This time around, I will be running to promote the value of outdoor and endurance sports while raising money for Girls on the Run, an organization that helps bring running, empowerment, and advocacy to girls across the United States. It’s the right cause for this run, the reason I’m running, and an avenue to connect with women across the country.
Even though my first bid didn’t play out the way I’d hoped I still learned a great deal from it. As a result, I’m approaching this attempt much differently.
I had a 50k on the books for this weekend, but after two weeks (and one, two, three events) of hard racing my legs had a lot of accumulated fatigue. I could especially feel the strain in my left foot, and wasn’t sure if I should race the 50k on my training plan or try to fit in the miles on my own. A race has supported aid stations and super nice people, but I get competitive. I didn’t want to push myself too hard and burn out before my target race. Not only that, but panic was starting to onset about the condition of my foot: “Stress fracture?!? Metarsaglia? Plantar fasciitis? All of the above? None of the above?”
So. A 50k on the plan, and what to do? The race was the most logical option to keep me motivated to run all morning. And while I wasn’t fresh enough to go out and race it, I felt like a little motivation from competition wouldn’t hurt me. Plus I really want to run those races that are geographically close to me. It makes financial sense since I don’t have to travel, but more importantly I want these races to stick around and be here for a while. For that to happen, people need to register, pay, and show up.
Now of course my dithering about whether to run or not meant that I missed online registration. Once I finally got a signal of good health I emailed the race director to see if it was even possible to sign up late (I am every race director’s worst nightmare). She said yes, I said yay, and I prepared to do the damn thing.
Sass: Hi friend! Welcome back! We first met around the time that you were doing your first marathon, back in 2012. Since then you have done everything from 5Ks to 100 milers to stage races. How would you describe your runner identity now, in three words?
Cilantro: Ultrarunner for Social Justice (oof, four words, can the “for” not count?). The older I get and the more I learn, I can’t separate who I am as a runner from who I am as a person. That’s why I still want to run across America to raise awareness of gender violence and open the discourse regarding prevention. Running empowered and empowers me, and I believe it has that same power for good to help others, and I want to start paying it forward, whether that’s through my own efforts or by bringing running in an accessible way to others.
The entire week preceding the 5k road race I was nervous. More nervous, by far, than I had been for my first stage race that was 12 times longer and on pretty technical trails.
This 5k wasn’t my goal race. It actually wasn’t even really a race, but just a time trial added by my coach the previous weekend when we realized that I needed a new gauge for pace in the the heat and humidity that characterize my new life since moving south. I was nervous to find out exactly how much fitness I’d lost since my last race. I was nervous because I knew that this race was going to hurt. And hurt bad.
I’d run two 5ks in my life: my first as a new runner where I struggled to finish with 10:00 miles, and my second three summers ago that I’d won. In both cases, they hurt real bad for the entire time and I wanted to vomit by mile 2. Did I mention that they hurt real bad? What I knew about 5ks was limited to pain and extreme discomfort. I anticipate that both of those things will happen in an ultra distance race, but rarely for the entire race. As a result, my anticipatory stress about this time trial 5k far exceeded reason.
Race morning, I did my warm-up, strides and drills, and headed to the start line. As expected, the weather was hot and humid, with humidity at 100% and the temperature in the 80s. This was a small race, but even so, I felt the butterflies, anticipating the pain that was coming (and also, I now wanted to win, despite lacking any indication that I was in shape to win anything). The gun went off, and we started fast. The first mile felt great (despite a poorly-marked course where I made a few wrong turns and had to stop and turn around). And then the pain started. Once the pain started, my motivation to win started to diminish. It just hurt so bad. But I wanted to win and I wanted to prove that I hadn’t lost all fitness over the past year. I wanted that more than it hurt, so I persisted.
Around mile 2, the pain started to exceed my motivation to win and run fast, and by mile 2.5, I felt myself start to slow down. I finished, and I was first woman, fifth overall. I achieved my goals, and it hurt just as bad as I’d anticipated.
It wasn’t until I was driving home that I realized that there is a benefit to racing 5ks beyond the race itself. One of the things I’ve been vocal about here and in real life is how important it was for me to learn how to hurt to race well at the ultramarathon distance. I’m still fairly new to actually racing ultramarathons, despite having run them since 2012, and it wasn’t until I started actively focused on training my abilities to persist through painful situations without backing down that I broke through my running barrier and started meeting and exceeding my racing goals.
While controversial, the first step for me was adding functional training in the form of Crossfit-style functional training, where workouts were short but wicked painful. That taught me to endure through the pain and also had a measurable impact not on my fastest pace, but my ability to maintain that pace while it hurt. Similarly, the 5k taught me to push through pain. More beneficial, perhaps, the 5k taught me how to persist through pain at a tough effort in a way that was running-specific.
As I reflected more on the process, I realized that there were additional benefits to adding 5ks to an ultra marathon training plan. While I (really, my coach) follow an 80/20 approach to training, the bulk of my runs are long and easy paced. Adding a 5k puts in speed training that is relevant to the 20% part of my training plan. Since 5k races are run at max effort because I’m competitive like that, I’m actually running in Zone 4-5, which is where I want to be for the 20% hard effort part of my training. It’s been found that runners often run their easy runs too fast and take hard runs too easy, so the 5k eliminates that possibility for me. Additionally, with a warm-up and cool-down, it’s still at least a 6-mile day, so it doesn’t feel like a lost training day (if you are worried about that sort of thing).
Finally, it’s good practice to get into the habit of preparing for race morning without the labor of four or more hours on my feet that follow if I do this on long run day. Racing Saturday morning (I do my longest long runs on Sunday) allowed me to test race-morning nutrition and my warm-up protocol. The race is short enough that despite the high intensity, I recovered well enough to do my easy-paced long run the following day. We know that we should never try anything new on race day, but we can try something new for a 5k that we are running to practice. It becomes a trial effort for more than just pace.
While I’m not about to race a 5k every weekend (although I might do the local 5k series here in the spring), I can see clear benefits in adding 5ks to the schedule. They help me learn how to push through running pain and become my speed tempo session for the week. They are also usually pretty cheap to enter and easy to find — there were five in a 50-mile radius of me this weekend.
It’s also a great way to connect with the local community and see a wide array of running abilities. The atmosphere at these local 5ks is pretty low pressure, which is good if you are like me and put all that pressure on yourself.
So sure, ultra runners might scoff at the 5k in terms of distance. But I think the benefits of racing 5ks are worth a second look, even for ultramarathoners.
Disclaimer: I am not advocating that you should take up Crossfit. In fact, I don’t do it much any more, although I do incorporate Crossfit-similar workouts into my twice-weekly strength sessions. It did not, however, ruin me as a runner or lead to injuries. It just, quite simply, isn’t what I need to be doing to be competitive, although it was great to maintain fitness during my off year.
One of the country’s top ultra runners walks through the parking lot of a Panera Bread in Louisville, Kentucky on a Thursday afternoon. She has a faded tattoo around one ankle, sunbleached hair, the type of tan one gets from spending hours outdoors, and most of her toenails, at least for now.
Traci Falbo is well-known in the ultra-running scene, but can have lunch at this restaurant completely undetected, despite the fact she’s earned a place on four U.S. national teams. Traci, 44, specializes in races of 100km (about 62 miles) and up. On Nov. 27, she was part of the bronze-medal winning women’s 100km road race World Championship team, comprised entirely of master’s women. In 2017, she’ll be representing the U.S. at the 24-hour World Championships in July.
You might think she was always a gifted athlete, and that a long list of athletic achievements started during her childhood. But Traci, like several of our Saltines including myself, is an “adult-onset” runner, and her story is an inspiration.
At the ripe old age of 37, I seem about as capable of resisting peer pressure as I was as a 20-year-old. Luckily, now I choose my friends more wisely so the things that I agree to do are at least legal, although often totally outside my comfort zone. When my friend began talking about her need for a 100-mile belt buckle on run after run, without hesitation I told her I’d help pace her.
That 100-miler has come and gone, now. My bad ass friend did it. I did my part. And I learned a lot … a lot of reasons that I will never, most definitely ever effing run a 100-miler. Read more >>
I was still rehabbing an injury and had just finished my personal worst 50K. Humbled by the mountains outside of Malibu and still nursing an injured hip, I was sharing beers with friends of a friend when a tanned, blonde Californian said this to me. It was one of the most offensive things anyone has ever said to me after a race:
“So this was your first trail race.”
“No,” I responded, “I’ve done a bunch, including two 100s.”
“Yeah, but you don’t have, like, real trails out East.”
Real trails? Really? I have about 125 miles of very real trails to run in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP), just a short drive from my front door. Cleveland also boasts an extensive MetroParks system consisting of more than 23,000 acres of parks and hundreds of running as well as newly added mountain bike trails.
As we’ve said before, Cleveland is a tough city with tough runners. We have a strong elite development group and hundreds of local races, amazing local running stores and a running group for every runner to find a home.
And the trail community surrounding Cleveland is no different.
It was a long time ago now, when I trained for my first 50K. One of my first group trail runs was 10-miles run mostly on a two-loop trail. A pretty decently-sized group showed up for that run, maybe 25 or so people, and we started out on that crisp fall morning at a comfortable jog. We left the parking lot, ran under a covered bridge, onto a trail next to the road, then crossed the street onto the two-loop trail. About five-minutes into the run, I found myself in the middle of a long, single-file line of runners walking up the hill.
My naive, road-runner self was confused. This was a run, which usually means, you know, running. Plus, we just started. Why were we walking?
At first I thought maybe this particular group was a little wussy, but it kept happening: every time I ran with ultra-runners and we hit some hills, they walked. When I realized that this was a widespread habit, I finally I had to ask: why do ultra-runners walk the hills? Read more >>
Two years ago, I was a pretty inexperienced ultra runner. I had done a handful of 50K’s, one 50-miler and was supposed to run my first 100K (62 miles) at Oil Creek in Pennsylvania the second weekend of October. My training leading up to it was kind of a joke. I had done a few 20+ long runs and PR’ed the Akron Marathon. The week before Oil Creek, I decided to cram in a 20 miler and not even halfway in, I could barely walk, my right knee was in so much pain. A friend was waiting at the turnaround point of the run with aid and I hitched a ride back to my car and took the rest of the week off.
I went to Oil Creek anyway, figuring I would rather try and fail than not try at all. And fail I did. By mile 15, the pain was so bad, no amount of Advil was helping and I had to jog/walk to the next aid station at mile 22. I got there around 12:30 pm, sat down in a chair and cried. It was my first DNF (did not finish). Read more >>
Yes, I’m actually posting a training log! It’s been so long, I can’t even remember the last time I wrote one, sorry.
This week ended another training cycle for me. I’m off to Pennsylvania for the Oil Creek 100K on Saturday. I’ve attempted this race and distance before two years ago, but quit at mile 23 with a knee injury. This weekend’s race has been two years in the making and I’m so happy that race week is finally here.
And this training cycle has been…interesting to say the least. After Mohican, I took about a week or so off before jumping right back into long runs to help my friend Erin get ready for her first 100 mile at Burning River. During training, I also went back and forth on wanting to run another 100 this year. I had planned to, but wasn’t sure if I actually wanted to. After pacing Erin at Burning River and starting to really up the miles training for Oil Creek, I started to feel a little run down and burnt out at the end of August. I was having a hard time getting myself out the door to run and found myself relying on other people or my iPod to get going. I was starting to dread running and I just wasn’t happy with how I was performing.
Then things changed at the beginning of September. I don’t know what it is about my training cycles this year that I have to go through some sort of life event while training for my A races. My summer of happiness and bliss was abruptly over and I was a bit lost. Looking back on it now, it’s only helped me become a stronger runner and person overall, but this year and this past month has definitely been a test of my faith and motivation. And to deal with it, I ended up just throwing myself into training in September, decided against adding in another 100 and had a really strong month of training.
I took things pretty easy last week:
Monday: Rest day!
Tuesday: Hill repeats: 30 min warmup, 5 x 2:00 hill repeats with 2:30 recovery jog back down the hill, 30 min cool down. I did these on the trail after work and was a bit tired going in. This was my last hard workout of the training cycle and it was a great way to cap off an amazing month of training.
Wednesday: 53 min, 6.2 mi roads. I actually woke up before work and got this run in!!! Since it was 5 am, it started out a little slow for the first half, but I felt much better after that and was able to run a better pace. It had been more than a month since I was able to get out of bed before work and run.
Thursday: 66 min, 8 mi roads. I planned on waking up in the morning again, but I didn’t wake up for this one after staying out way too late the night before. I’m glad I didn’t too since it was warm and sunny and probably the last warm and nice day we’ll have until next year.
Friday: Rest day!
Saturday: 85 min, 7.5ish mi trails. I did an out and back before driving down to Columbus to visit a friend. I took it super easy and just enjoyed the cool fall day and the trail and the fall colors. The trails are so beautiful this time of year!
Sunday: 57 min, 6.2 mi. I ran with my friend around her house and just kept her pace. It was nice to run with someone since I’ve been alone most of the time lately and take it easy.
I took some time today to start preparing for the race too and started getting my drop bags prepared. It’s weird to be getting ready for something less than 100 miles and it’s weird that I haven’t raced since June. I’m super excited to race again and definitely beyond excited to go back to Oil Creek and finish what I started two years ago.
Tomorrow is our nation’s birthday and what better way to celebrate than to run across the lower 48! I’m not kidding.
For years, I’ve wanted to run across the United States. As awesome as that sounds I’ve been hesitant to do it. First because it’s, well, far. Second is the whole time and money thing. But now with a few ultras under my belt and as I enter my last year of PhD coursework and plan for my dissertation research, suddenly the summer of 2015 is the right time to do it. And since it might be my last summer in the US, it also might be my last opportunity to try to break the female record which is 2,800 miles in less than 68 days (Around 42 miles per day).
And most importantly, I have a mission. Read more >>
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