Saturday, November 28, 2015

Guide To Becoming a Trail Runner For NOOBS

At the Javelina Hundred 100k this past October. The desert trail run of your dreams!
Have you ever been disappointed in a run because there was no real scenery and the only thing that kept you engaged in the run was dodging aggressive drivers and in-the-zone, mute cyclists?
I happen to live in a beautiful, mountainous part of Georgia and there is gorgeous, stunning running to be had everywhere, both on the road and on trails. But I love running trails more than anything, even more than the treadmill, and I LOVE running on the treadmill. I know, bizarre.
I love trails. There is a freedom and connection to nature on the trail that you simply cannot replicate anywhere else. If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to do a run on a trail, stop whatever you’re doing and get yourself to the nearest trailhead immediately! You won’t be sorry and you’ll fall in love, promise! Here are some tips to enjoying your first few trail runs:
  • Sign-up for a local trail race. I like to familiarize myself with new trails by doing events. There are tons of 5ks, half-marathons and *gasp* ULTRA-MARATHONS to be run on trails. The great thing about events is that courses are usually well marked, there are awesome aid stations (with PB&J sandwiches, M&Ms and gummy bears!) and friendly volunteers, and very often there is imbibing at the end of the race, if you’re into that…did someone say IPA
  • If you’re not doing a race and even if you are, make sure you’ve read and are familiar with a map of your trail/course. It’s fun and all to get lost and then find your way back to the trailhead, but it’s even MORE fun to have your family not imagine that you’ve been eaten by Bigfoot.
  • If you’re a road runner who is accustomed to cruising at a blazing pace, take a breath and slow down. You’ll need to, if you are hoping to remain upright for the bulk of your run. Trail running is a full-body and full-mind exercise. You’ll spend lots of physical energy running, hopping over large boulders, ducking under low hanging branches, squeezing yourself between large boulders, and balancing yourself in general. This takes a lot of mental energy too. You will be tired but exhilarated at the end of your trail run, even if it is 31 miles long!
Read more on my blog in Women's Running Magazine!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Updated November 2016: Here is a pic of baked macaroni and cheese. You're welcome. Happy holidays!

Caveat Emptor: There are no selfies or other pics beside the one of my boy throwing shade because I asked him to shred cheese. KIDS THESE DAYS! You'll just have to use your imagination. Also, this is mostly not running-related. It is about food, however.

As one commenter on Facebook wrote a few months back when all of the media attention was at its highest, I must be addicted/obsessed with food since I enjoy cooking. You know what? I am addicted to food. I am obsessed with it. But only on THANKSGIVING. And I would like for you to indulge me in this non-running related post. Because I love Thanksgiving so much, I'll accept that comment even with its ignorant and ridiculous assertion that loving cooking equals food addiction. But anyway...

For this holiday, I hope everyone has the gumption and wherewithal to EAT ALL THE THINGS. Yep, I said it. 


with no regrets 
and no shame 
and no silly attempts 
to conform to what society thinks is a healthy meal. For this one day, friends. You will not derail your life or your "diet" or your lifestyle if you allow yourself this one day to stuff your face. 

Work out, go for a walk or a run, do Zumba, do Crossfit, do a Turkey Trot, do yoga and Pilates, do a Beachbody video (or a few)....but please eat, and do it heartily and with ELAN. If you've been following me on FB or the Gram, you know that I've been upping the ante on my non-running workouts, even as I recover from Javelina (and I know I haven't posted my last installment of the race report yet, but TG is on my mind today!) I've been preparing for this day, because I will eat all the things without a hint of shame. At the end of the day, my face will be greasy, my belly full, and my heart full. I will be grateful to have spent this day with my son and friends from all over the world (this year Croatia, Spain, and Benin will be representing!) and my one of my besties and his momma from Chicago and NYC.

So, don't bombard me with messages, both subliminal and direct, imploring me or my family to make our Thanksgiving meals healthier. Thanksgiving is ONE DAY of the year and I would be DAMNED TO HELL, if I made some cheapened, no-taste-non-filling-non-gluttonous-non-heart-attack-inducing food to the table or to my family's meal. I made lasagna last year and my son is STILL throwing shade about it. I'm an adventurous gal and I love and flourish on cooking new things, but that is left for the other 364 days in the year. Don't mess with my Thanksgiving.

If you spend Thanksgiving with your family, friends, or even people you don't like, SAVOR IT. Someone invited you to eat. Someone invited you to have fellowship with (hopefully) GOOD FOOD. If you are part of the growing subset of the population that can't cook, or that hasn't ever really had the opportunity to have really GOOD and WHOLESOME home-cooked food, please just come to my house next year. I don't disappoint.

Thanksgiving is basically the only holiday I celebrate. I don't do Easter; I have all kinds of stupid anxiety around Christmas; I only want to run Finger Lakes during the July 4th holiday (I don't care for fireworks, but I loves me some running for many hours in the forests of Upstate NY); I celebrate my 40th by doing another ultra, and my kid's birthday?  I send him to summer camp as his gift.

Do NOT mess with Thanksgiving, though. It is sacred (cue Gregorian chant here, preferably sung Anonymous 4, but I digress...) 

I don't know what your family does, but what mine does is comparable to a royal feast. For a family with limited financial means, back in the day (and now too) WE.THROW. DOWN. for Turkey Day.

It is a ritual that begins weeks before the actual day of indulging. Back in the day, from calculating how with limited funds how they were going to feed the immediate family and everyone else who "happened to be in the neighborhood"--Oh really? Because you live two buses and three trains away--" to figuring out how all of those people were going to fit into our two-bedroom railroad apartment, my family made do with little financially but somehow produced the feast to end all feasts. No matter what the finances were, or how small and cramped our Brooklyn apartment was, we managed. And we ate. And boy did we eat.

There was always a turkey. Not just a turkey, but a 20-22 pound turkey. How else would we feed all the people? The turkey would be placed in the oven, after having marinated and such at around 4 in the morning. It would roast all day and somehow, even though quite literally nothing else could fit in the small oven we had, everything else would magically appear, fully prepped, seasoned and cooked from the deep recesses of the stove. A miracle every year, I say.

And there was roast beef in its own jus/gravy, and duck, and brown sugar and mustard glazed ham topped with carcinogenic maraschino cherries held in place with charred toothpicks. There were also ALWAYS two chickens (one barbecue, one just "plain") because there wasn't enough poultry. And the cook's (my mother's) piece de resistance, the PORK SHOULDER or PERNIL as the Boricuas in our neighborhood called it. Stuffed with oregano and chopped garlic, vinegar, adobo and other goodness, this cut of pork-- complete with it's hardened chicharron, was roasted for hours and hours until the spicy, tangy, and heavily aromatic meat fell off the bone. It was a treat to be handed some of the skin while it was cooking. It was if you had been let into a secret world of taste and wonders. The skin was hard and crunchy on top, and fatty and juicy with the all of the swiny dripping goodness on the bottom.

And gravy. There would be one kind of gravy for everything, never lumpy and never EVER made with any store-bought broth. Drippings from the turkey, chickens and duck would make their way over to the gravy pot and my mother would sprinkle some Wondra and Gravy Master into that bad boy (along with some other magic) and BAM, most flavorful, most complementary, most satisfying most everything-you-could-ever-ask-for gravy was born.

That's just the meat. I'm sure I'm leaving some other animal flesh out but now onto the CARBS. During really plentiful years and even during the lean years we would always have egg-based baked macaroni and cheese (no bechamel sauce here, NO SIRREE!), potato salad, some iteration of rice and beans (these days it's either yellow rice and gandules/pink beans) but in other years it was red beans or cow peas and rice, the broth always stewed first with a thick piece of smoked meat. Sometimes we would have macaroni salad in addition to, and never in place of the potato salad. We also have candied yams, and NOT with gross marshmallows on top--that would make it dessert, and although essentially that's what candied yams are we'll stick to calling it a side dish and maybe a taste of what was to come in the sweet potato pie. And then there's the dressing (Note: NOT STUFFING), which I learned to make at an early age, since passing off this time and labor intensive part of the meal must have been what my mother had been longing for years: sweet cornbread and broth made with veggies and the neck, gizzards, and livers of the chickens and turkeys, and lots of poultry seasoning and well, magic would contribute to this sweet and savory treat that when smothered with gravy goodness left you in a coma of its own.

Veggies! One would think that veggies wouldn't have a place in all of this absolute gluttony. But alas, they do! The vegetable focal point in our family is GREENS. Not turnip, not kale, not beet, not definitely NOT mustard, not anything but COLLARD GREENS, boiled for hours and hours in broth with, you guessed it, a large hunk of smoked flesh--I use jowl meat these days, but others might use fat back, neck bone, slab bacon, or if you're that kind of family (half of mine is) smoked turkey wings and legs. There are always two big and honking pots of greens going.  We also do string beans (cooked the same way!), and mashed rutabaga. No one but me and my mother eats the rutabaga. It's a tradition to make it just as my grandmother used to--she would peel it, cut it into chunks, boil it, and inevitably burn it a little while she was smoking a cigarette. I can't even fathom rutabaga without its slightly burnt/caramelized, spicy aroma.

Now we get to the desserts, with an s. 

It's not enough to make a dozen sweet potato pies. (And if you want a LOT of shade thrown your way, mention how wouldn't it be nice if we tried a pumpkin pie...or maybe not, because that will promptly get you kicked out of the kitchen, and possibly excommunicated from the family.) We must also have a cake, banana pudding, apple pies, AND peach cobbler. 

And drinks. We never gave much thought to drinks besides the obligatory Southern Comfort Egg Nog. Some of us nowadays, since we are GROWN, spike the eggnog with rum, Henny, or Jack Daniels...but most of us drink water or, GASP, soda. For this ONE day.

After we have eaten in shifts, we sit on the couches and folding chairs, because there is really never a dining room table, and talk about people, rank on one another, crack jokes, roll our eyes, doze off, and then maybe eat some more and pack plates to go because the bounty is REAL. We clean, we wash dishes, we pack the food away and then head to our separate homes and lives. Even though I do not have the pleasure of dining with my family up in New York this year, I know that I am with them and they are with me during this most important day of family celebration and thanks.

On Friday, I may have a slice of pie, and eat some leftovers. But I'll also go for a run and get back to my pre-TG routine no problem because that's exactly what I have done. I've created a routine that my body craves and will pop back into because that's what it must do. I'll continue enjoying the family and friends that are still around, and I will invite them to come and workout with me. If not, then so be it. No judgment, just love and contentment and thankfulness that they are here partaking in my sacred ritual.

A Very happy and wholesome Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Monday, November 16, 2015


I sat on the king-sized hotel bed at the Mountainview Best Western the night before the Double Tap 50K race in Ellijay, GA. It had been a busy week, what with rehearsals and preparations for our school’s participation in the state’s High School Musical Theater Awards, two long days of tech rehearsal at the Cobb Center in Atlanta, and a very long evening of award giving, performances, and speeches. I had received a nomination for best musical director, but in the end a veteran teacher much older than I won, deservedly so.
I was spent, extremely fatigued and running on fumes. There wasn’t much hope of completing the entirety of the next day’s distance;nonetheless, I still had a race to at least try the next day.
As my friend Kelly and I sat on the bed eating pizza (we had ordered a medium pizza to share between the both of us, but somehow ended up with two extra-large supreme know, CARB LOADING...) we started to talk about our upcoming race plans, because that’s what you do before and immediately after a difficult race. She had signed up for Bryce Canyon 50M and I was waffling between signing up for another 50k or my first 50M.

I then decided that I wanted to celebrate the end of my thirties and the beginning of my forties in style. I wanted something different, something out of the box and way out of my comfort zone. To many seasoned marathoners and ultrarunners, moving up on the distance continuum is a natural, logical step. You do a few marathons, then graduate to 50Ks and 50Ms. Then you may or may not take the leap to doing 100Ks and 100Ms. Those are for the crazy folks and freaks.
The Javelina Jundred was a race that had been milling about in my conscience for the past few months. Reading posts on the Trail and Ultrarunning Facebook page and several race reports made me simultaneously shy away and really want to attack this seemingly impossible distance. My curiosity was piqued, and I wondered aloud if I should go ahead and sign up for this crazy sounding race, even though it was a distance way beyond what I thought I could actually achieve. I had read about Jamil Coury and his girlfriend's family in Trail Runner Magazine and was a bit afraid that I was about to be drawn into this mysterious world of ultramarathoning outside of the east coast, to the point of no return.

“Should I do it? Should I do it? What if I can’t? Should I do it? KELLY!!! TELL ME WHAT TO DO!”

“Do it.” she said without skipping a beat.

“Ok. I did it.” I clicked on the purchase button on UltraSignup and posted it on Facebook. I was committed. I had just announced to my ever increasing public that I was about to do some crazy shit. 

Then I started to panic. WHAT DID I JUST DO???

The next morning we drove to the start line of the Double Tap 50K. I DNF’d. There were bears. Kelly finished with a great time. We drove home. I worried that I hadn’t desired/been able to finish Double Tap, what with its power-line climb and ridiculous other elevation gain and bears. Did I mention the bears already? I worried that maybe this meant I wouldn’t be able to finish the race I had just signed up for and paid through the nose for. Maybe I had just wasted upwards of $250. Maybe….


Right after school let out in early June, I began a training regimen that was part Relentless Forward Progress (I tried to keep my weekend long runs in tandem with Bryon Powell’s suggested length and frequency of back to back runs)  and part do-whatever-the-hell-I-think-works-today. I signed up for several races: The Tortoise and the Hare Hourly Ultra in Canton, GA, the Finger Lakes 50s 50K in Hector, NY, the Catamount 50K in Stowe, VT (I dropped down to the 25K--those HILLS tho’...), the Montour 12 Hour Run Danville, PA, the Wildcat Ridge Romp 50K (I dropped down to the 10M option because of extreme fatigue and having to drive 13 hours the next day to Georgia from New Jersey) and finally the Georgia Jewel 35 Miler in Dalton, GA.

Each race propelled me towards my goal race in different ways:

From the Tortoise and the Hare, I learned to run through the night without much stopping. I also learned that eating only watermelon for the bulk of 50K is a great idea in theory, but if you want to be able to get food down the next day, you should probably eat other food too.

At the Finger Lakes 50s, I learned to keep going through calf-high mud and rain and general grossness, mental fatigue and a daunting second loop that was guaranteed to be longer and more difficult. I also learned (well, I actually knew this already) that my mom is the absolute best crew and best race traveling buddy I could ever have.

From the Catamount 25K, I learned that there is excellent running in Vermont, (and how have I never spent any real time up there in the mountains being a northerner and all?)  I also learned that the Von Trapp family is alive and well. In all seriousness, the most important lesson I learned up in Stowe is that trail folks are the same everywhere, and even if the aid-station fare and trail-talk change slightly by region, the heart of the trail running community remains constant.

At the Montour run, I learned that I could actually still run at a fairly brisk-for-me clip after 26.5 miles without pain. I also discovered that having a wine festival happening at the same park wasn’t entirely bad. Sangria at mile 19 and beer at mile 23...

Wildcat is always a crap shoot for me. I never actually know how much I’m going to finish. It’s a ten mile loop course that has some pretty difficult trailrunning as part of it. I did 10 miles this summer and discovered that when I don't need to go on, I can stop and not feel bad or remorseful.

Finally, I hadn’t been planning on really doing the Georgia Jewel, since I had NOT enjoyed running in the dark for the 1.5 hours it took me to get through the first 6 miles of the all uphill in the beginning course the previous year. A friend suggested I do it, and after much back and forth and rearranging of plans and school duties that same week, I did it. I’m so happy that Hunk Hulsey gently but insistently urged me to get my run on up in the Carpet Capital of the US. I believe it was the GJ that made the difference in my leg strength and physical endurance along with perseverance and mental fortitude. I also came up with a whole host of new mantras that day and an insatiable appetite for Panda Express Saigon Beef and fried rice that day.


I went to work telling anyone and everyone who would listen, including NBC and various other media outlets that I was training for the JJ100K. This made it real for me. I would have to do it, unless I wanted to be the girl who said she would but then didn’t.  I would have to prove to myself that this fat girl could actually keep moving for 62 miles and in less than 29 hours, despite the internal doubt that pestered me from time to time, and despite the moments of fear that I wouldn’t be able to finish the distance.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Hell, Horror and Hallucinations

Javelina Hundred Race Report, Part 1

It wasn’t all hell. Actually, most of the first 50K was thoroughly enjoyable until my mind realized that my body would have to do it all over again, and this time it would be in complete darkness. During miles 30 and 31, which happened to be uphill, I kept trying to process what was quickly about to become reality.

I would have to run/walk/crawl/death-slog and slowly inch my way forward through the night. Abandoning my circadian rhythms and precious sleep cycles that had already been out of sync since, well, since the previous April--into this unknown territory that I would become very, very familiar with through the nearly 26 hours it took me to reach the finish line.

I would have to traverse the entire 15.5 mile loop twice more. And while it was good and pretty and warm and uplifting in the morning and afternoon light, it would be downright shudder-inducing in the fully enveloping and stunningly claustrophobic darkness of the desert night.

First there was the herd of growling javelinas. They were coming to get me with their menacing oink-growls whose loudness grew more and more intense as I rounded bends on the course and climbed dusty, pebbly hills among light-absorbing, looming saguaro and asshole cholla cacti.

Did you hear that?--- I asked a runner and her pacer.
Hear what?
The animals. Those growling animals?

Um, no? And they continued on, the perky pacer reminding her runner that she HAD to eat something before the next aid station which was miles and miles away.

Once the sun went down, and before the moon showed itself it was completely dark
I definitely heard growling, I thought. I am NOT crazy. What else could that noise be? I know I wasn’t the only person that heard it. It was a pretty consistent low growl that sounded as if the javelinas were planning their attack, timing their oink-growls to each of my Pearl Izumi-clad steps.

This must be why this race is called the Javelina! It was an epiphanous moment. What makes this race so special is that you get to hear and possibly encounter actual javelinas, I reasoned delirious, from hot having slept in over 20 hours at this point. Wow!

The growling continued in an almost conversational way. It would start as a low but insistent hum and grow in intensity until all of the javelinas had agreed on their plan to attack the runners that night and leave their tired, lifeless bodies to dry and disintegrate in the arid, desert heat. I envisioned wild boars with large, protruding yellow teeth like nutria and Templeton the rat from Charlottes web.
Waitaminutewaitaminute! Why isn’t anyone talking about or cowering in fear from the growling javelinas? Can’t everyone hear them? They must be veterans of the race. It’s funny how no one ever mentioned this in any of the pre-race communications.
I started to imagine coming upon human skeletons and screaming/gasping/fainting in horror once it got lighter.

This is what I imagined, a herd of these things... image from
Common Sense and Reason interrupted my hearing hallucinations.

First,  on my first two loops, I hadn’t seen any human skeletons in the daylight.

Second, no one else seemed to be bothered by the menacing growling.

Third, not even one javelina jumped out from behind a saguaro to attack me.

Fourth, the chorus of growling javelinas had a rhythmic quality to it, almost like er, a car or a couple of cars with extra loud mufflers being shown off in a midnight desert drag race with a sort of Doppler effect decrease and increase in sound.

It wasn’t until I rounded a bend and neared the Coyote Camp Aid Station that I saw where the sound had been coming from.  There were headlights and tail lights from a few cars that had been on the desert roads for the previous two or so hours doing who knows what, drifting, speeding up, slowing down…doing what people do in cars in the desert in the middle of the night.

Stay tuned for part 2!

Thursday, November 5, 2015


(cue annoying Dora The Explorer Song)

I finished the Javelina Jundred 100K! It took me forever but I. FINISHED. IT. 


I'm still working on my race report, but in the meantime, please enjoy some photos from out on the course! (BTW, IF YOU THINK YOU'LL BE 100K READY BY THIS TIME NEXT YEAR, THIS IS A RACE TO PUT ON YOUR CALENDAR!)


JUST A FEW FRIENDLY SAGUAROS. Their friends, the jumping cholla cacti, aren't so sweet though. They're young and impulsive. These saguaros here? Patient and wise.


About 1.5 hours from my finish. I knew the end was near, yet so far...

Petrified Poop? I dunno. Whatever, I thought it was cool.
This is when isht started to get real. Standing in front of this is like signing your soul away. I would be back several times, the fourth being my last and my finish!

Stay tuned for the full race report!