That's because since March 2021, I've been writing for running company WeeViews, which strives to create real reviews and real stories for real runners like me and you.
You can find my latest stories on the Running Stories section of this website.
It's been a while since I've written anything on the Inhale Exhale Run blog.
That's because since March 2021, I've been writing for running company WeeViews, which strives to create real reviews and real stories for real runners like me and you.
You can find my latest stories on the Running Stories section of this website.
Instead of running the Mount Summit Challenge on April 26, 2020, canceled because of the coronavirus, I wanted to replicate the elevation gain in some way, but off the beaten path. The Mount Summit Challenge climbs 3.5 miles with 1,200 feet of elevation gain, an arduous uphill road race that I so love.
For my trail challenge, and keeping with the spirit of the Summit's steepness, I chose the 10.36-mile (according to my Garmin fenix5s) point-to-point Pine Knob to Whitetail Trail, because the starting location is at Lick Hollow, about the two-mile point of the Mount Summit Challenge. Instead of climbing up the two-lane pavement of Route 40, I would be climbing through the woods.
The first four miles of Pine Knob to Whitetail gains 1,125 feet in elevation, followed by the route's steepest climb (from mile four to five), which gains 519 feet in that single mile. In other words, 1,634 feet of gain within five miles, on tricky terrain - close enough for me to the Summit's profile!
To top off the challenge, I ran it to establish the first official female unsupported Fastest Known Time (FKT, a trail running speed record), my third one of the year. On March 1, I established the Big Savage Mountain Trail FKT and on April 22, the Bear Run Nature Reserve Black Loop FKT. Not sure what an FKT is? Click here to find out.
I started at the sign at Lick Hollow Picnic Area that says "Nature Trail/ Pine Knob Trail/ 2 Mi. to Overlook," making it the now official FKT start line (see pictures below).
The route consists of a variety of softball-sized loose rocks, technical, rocky terrain, wide, leafy ditches, narrow, sloping switchbacks, one mile of slick-mud forest service road, fun single track, clear-cut crossings and connections, steep pitches, creek crossings, moss-covered ground, wide grassy and gravel roughness, and is often wet, or at least damp, and muddy.
I crossed the invisible finish line, stopping my watch, after the climb out of the creek in Quebec Run Wild Area, after crossing the dirt Quebec Road, when both feet hit the North Gate parking lot, signifying the now official finish.
The Trip Report:
Pine Knob to Whitetail Trail
Saturday, April 25, 2020
Elevation gain: 2,530 feet
Elevation loss: 1,801 feet
Weather: 52 degrees, balmy, sunny
Trail conditions: Dry except in the spots that are always wet ;)
Mile zero to one to two: I started at the sign pictured above, which sits in the grass near the road/first bridge you cross when entering Lick Hollow Picnic Area; Run through the swampy grass to the loose, wet, muddy rocks to start, then turn right at the Pine Knob sign, where the narrow, sloping trail begins it's ascent. The switchback made it's hard right-hand turn when my watch was at approximately one mile.
Mile one to two: Narrow, pretty, trail (pictured below). Turn left at the Whitetail sign at about 1.5 miles, then quickly turn left onto the slick-mud forest service road (Pine Knob Road). For the FKT route, skip the Pine Knob Overlook by making these two left-hand turns, which keep you heading directly on the Pine Knob to Whitetail traverse. The overlook veers away from the main trail and sits off to the right.
Mile two to three: Run along the wide road for one mile then turn right, back onto the wooded, moss-covered path. Wide downhill leading to the Redstone Creek crossing. Follow the red blazes!
Mile three to four: Crossing and then climbing out of Redstone Creek - keep your eyes on the red blazes.
Mile four to five: With 1,125 feet of elevation covered, this is the biggest climb, at 519 feet in one mile. I whipped out my Leki Micro Trail Race Pro poles and used them for half a mile, still coming to a walk, resulting in the slowest lap of the run. This was the only part where I used the poles - they took away some of the burning in the legs!
Mile five to six: Fun, narrow path begins again, gradual climbing, crossing a clear cut with two helpful Whitetail Trail signs to guide the way.
Mile six to seven: At 10K, pass the Skyline Drive parking lot, then at about 6.5 miles, cross the double-lane Skyline Drive.
Miles seven to eight: Playful single-track
Mile eight to nine: The mileage here is approximate - the trail comes out to a wide gravel road, requiring a left-hand turn. It is framed by many trees with blue markings, sometimes with other colored markings, with some indication of logging. Keep watching the red blazes, follow the gravel which turns into dirt which turns into grass, eventually bearing left and then right to run downhill to enter Quebec Run Wild Area. This is the steepest downhill of the route at 377 feet of loss.
Mile nine to finish (10.36 miles): Cross a clear cut with briers, run through the refreshing, frigid creek (feet will get wet), bear right to climb to the finish. I ran across the dirt road, Quebec Road, and stopped my watch when both feet hit the parking area, signifying the end of the route, the finish line.
Please note that I have come to know this route very well over time, like the back of my hand, I have become acquainted with every turn and nuance, providing for zero time wasted on navigating or trying to locate blazes.
Mount Summit Challenge, I dedicate this run to you and all the friends and family I missed seeing there this year. I hope to see you next year.
When the April Mount Summit Challenge and Laurel Highlands 50K were both canceled, I was a little bummed, but it was a fleeting feeling. I got over it in about five minutes and thought, what can I do for fun instead of these races?
The first thing that came to my mind: establish an FKT (Fastest Known Time), a trail running speed record, on all six loops at the Bear Run Nature Reserve. My first FKT was on the Big Savage Mountain Trail in March.
On Tuesday, April 21, I threw on running shorts, laced up my trail shoes, drove the short distance to Bear Run, and ran the Red Loop followed by the White Loop, 5.47 miles at a 9:07/mile pace in 49 minutes and 50 seconds.
Neither route qualified as FKTs, as they were too short in distance - I had a feeling before submitting that this would be the case.
I had plans to run the wonderful and difficult 11.9-mile (according to maps, but according to my Garmin fenix, 11.5-mile) Black Loop for the finale of my FKT mission, but sought approval from the FKT authorities beforehand.
They said yes, the Black Loop represents the best route, the most and only FKT-worthy and Bear Run.
So, the next day, Earth Day, April 22, still revved and ready from the tune-up run the night before, I poured some scoops of Skratch electrolyte mix into my hydration bladder, stuffed it into my running vest, tossed on shorts, and was off.
The sun was shining, and I was quickly in the zone and zoned out, loving every foot strike, caught up in the moment, no thoughts in my head, just moving my body, keeping a natural rhythm and pace, dancing upon the rocks and through the mud.
The miles flew by, and soon it became clear that I would break two hours.
I charged up the final hill, sprinted down the gravel road straightaway, across the road and parking lot and broke the invisible tape, lungs searing, legs burning, so happy and pleased with simply giving it my all.
As the first person to establish an FKT at Bear Run, I deemed the start line and finish line to be in the exact same location, where the post that says "Trail head" sits, where dirt meets the pavement of the parking lot.
11.5 miles in 1 hour, 58 minutes, 47 seconds, and my second FKT was in the books!
Check out the details of the run, plus mile-by-mile descriptions below.
Please note that the Black Loop is one that I have come to know well over time, like the back of my hand, I have become acquainted with every turn and nuance, providing for zero time wasted on navigating or trying to locate blazes.
The Trip Report:
Bear Run Nature Reserve Black Loop
Wednesday, April 22, 2020
11.5-mile loop, running counterclockwise
Elevation gain: 1,864 feet
Elevation loss: 1,837 feet
Weather: 46 degrees, very little no wind, sunny
First FKT attempt at Bear Run
Trail conditions: Rather dry except in the spots that are always wet ;)
Mile one - soft pine-needle covered ground, tall trees, rhododendrons, deep green forest, an easy start, winding toward the creek
Mile two - the first climb, which is the third steepest climb of the entire route, framed by flowing ups and downs, creek crossings, foot bridges, with the technical, rocky character that makes of the majority of the trail beginning here
Miles 3 to 4.7 - a series of long climbs, mostly on wide, non-technical double track, gaining about 800 feet over these miles, none of it requiring walking
Miles five to six - winding, fun descent, a return to the single-track, rocky nature of the trail
Mile six - this is where it gets really fun - lots of rocks requiring fun footwork and focus
Mile seven - the trail turns downhill, and at about 7.2 miles, it crosses the main road, Rt. 381, to head toward the ridge line running above the Lower Yough River
Miles 7.5 to 9 - creeks, foot bridges, the view of the Yough, running above the railroad tracks, very little climbing but the wettest part of the trail with big, loose rocks, hillsides of wild ramps in the springtime and wildflowers
Mile 10 - the day that I ran it, this is where the most storm damage covered the trail, with tree trunks piled upon tree tops higher than my head, requiring scrambling under, over, and around and/or skirting off trail, losing some seconds here for sure but not too bad - it's not always this bad with downed trees
Mile 10.5 to 11 - the second biggest climb of the entire route, covering 385 feet as the trail turns left away from the river
Mile 11 to finish - wide grassy trail that turns right to a wide gravel road, with a clear view of Rt. 381 straight ahead, where the trail will cross back to the trail head/parking lot
Here's to the fun and love of running, with a huge shout-out to the FKT keepers!
My son asked me why I ran a 50K when he was just five years old.
Click here to read Part One.
Are you ready for answer number two?
This is a big one.
I ran a 50K to run away the grief of losing your grandfather, my dad.
It was fast. He got sick, I got pregnant, he died, I gave birth to you. He was supposed to live longer, I was supposed to hand your tiny newborn body to him after he got better, recovered, and we would all be happy, laugh at how sick he was, and celebrate your birth and his survival.
Death and birth happened at nearly the same time, four weeks apart, death coming first. Insomnia plagued me for six years after these events, from June 1, 2013, the day my dad died, until sometime during the summer of 2019, after your baby brother turned two.
To escape insomnia, because what the hell else could I do when I couldn’t sleep, I ran, and to manage and make sense of what happened to my strong, invincible, only 61-year-old dad, I ran, until the berating mind eased, the blaming of myself faded... why didn’t I intervene into his two-pack-a-day smoking habit? I could’ve saved him if I prodded him to stop, but it was easier to let him do his thing than to go up against a 40-year-old habit… still, it’s my fault, I should have spoken up, fought harder, then he would have lived to meet his first grandchild (you)…
Eventually the litany of these what if’s, these useless, sickening weights subsided with more miles, more running, until I got pregnant again, had Grey, and returned to the trails, and suddenly I was up in mileage enough to go the 50K distance, twice in one year, plus a trail marathon, half marathons, 25Ks, and more, more running, always more running.
I ran to run from the pain, then through the pain, then with the pain, feeling it all. Running was the therapy, nature the backdrop where grief became denial which transformed to anger which turned into bargaining and finally, acceptance.
Running held me gently as I pounded out the agony, wiped my tears, rinsed myself clean. It was the beautiful creation, the transfiguration, the act of turning something downright depressing, debilitating, into something uplifting, fulfilling, peaceful.
I am not alone in experiencing running as healing.
But I am alone, in some ways, from what I am so far aware, in what happened next. With healing came MAGIC.
Miracles graced us and connected me to your grandfather in surreal, serendipitous ways, which led me to keep at it, to keep running, so that I could be with him. In keeping at it, I gradually built up to running farther, longer.
Avie, running a 50K was the result of processing my dad's, your grandfather's death. The farther I ran, the more I raced, the more I was with him.
Now, let's get back to the origin of your question. You were directly referring to the 2019 Laurel Highlands Ultra when you giggled so sweetly and asked, "mom, why did you run a 50K?"
Running a 50K as a race, or any distance for that matter, is fueled by a desire to be, connect with other runners, to celebrate the distance, together enough, yet solo, the way I like it best. It's in racing that your grandfather finds me, or more often, welcomes me, before the racing has even begun, with his birth digits in my bib. The Laurel Highlands 50K was no exception - there he was, in bib form, as 520 (his birth date is 2-15-52), for the 14th time since his death.
You've witnessed it, Avie, you've heard the stories, seen the commemoration film. I race to spend the time with him that I wish he could be spending with you and Grey, with us, because it's within racing when he makes his presence so clearly, in-my-face known. How can I NOT chase it? In chasing him, he lives on, and as he lives on, the run, the race, takes on an entirely new meaning - one of rapture, jubilee, tribute.
His spirit lights me up, and from that divine source, I sprout wings and run, float, fly with the wind, like a wild, fearless wolf, playing, celebrating, through the mud and trees, feeling him and you and Grey and Eric and God simultaneously, lifting me higher, higher, higher.
Your grandfather's gift to me is his appearance at my races, and my gift to you, Avie, are the divine experiences he has given me, the stories, the bibs, the trophies, the medals, for you, for Grey.
Avie, I hope that you and Grey hold your grandpa, my race angel, the crazy, loving man you never met, in your hearts, filling you with faith and hope, and that it helps you understand why I run the way I do, why I ran a 50K.
Your mom (Brynn)
A Fastest Known Time (FKT) is a speed record for trail runners on trails that do not hold official races.
A race against myself, against the clock, one I could show up to late, on my own chosen date, solo, with no support.
This was something that excited and inspired me!
I began searching for a trail, and found Maryland’s Big Savage Mountain Trail, 50-80 minutes away from my house, 17 miles point-to-point, rated as difficult.
Without ever running more than a few miles of it several years ago,I aspired to become the first person to attempt an FKT on the Big Savage Mountain Trail.
It seemed simple, straightforward.
As excitement built, I decided to check out the northern end of the trail on an easy out-and-back six-miler.
I came home with a good sense of what the rest of the trail might bring – rock gardens, brush blocking the path and coyote poop. In other words, highly technical, some stuff to skirt around, and wild animals... but enough large, white blazes to keep my head and heart still in it.
Then I enlisted my always-up-for-an-adventure all-women trail running group, the Trail Run Tribe, on a recon trip.
On Sunday, February 23, seven of us began our ascent from the southern terminus, at the Savage River, where I've camped and kayaked the Class IV river before life as a mom and when my oldest son was a toddler.
Preferring climbing over running downhill, we chose to run it in the direction that gained more elevation then descent.
When we arrived, we saw that it began on the vertical – that much I knew from my runs years ago before kayaking. Within two miles, we experienced knee-high leaves, enormous fallen trees, vicious greenbriers, giant rock and boulder gardens and an indistinguishable trail. It felt more like bush-wacking, plowing straight through the forest, than trail running, and we reveled in the absurdity of it all, laughing, falling, bleeding, screaming, smiling and swearing for 17 miles.
We ran it in five hours and 50 minutes, with a lot of walking due to the completely ravaged terrain.
It was awesome!
We counted 204 fallen trees that we climbed over, under or through, over all 17 miles.
That’s 12 trees per mile.
Six trees every half a mile.
Three trees every quarter of a mile (one track lap).
And about one and a half trees every 220 yards, with giant rocks in between and often underneath.
Never in my life have I or anyone in the Tribe experienced such a trail! We loved and cursed it all at once and vowed never to go back. Yet it kept us laughing for days, probably even years to come, and we celebrated over dinner at Cornucopia Café.
Trail Run Tribe Recon Run on the Big Savage!
The day after the Tribe run, I came across this description on the Maryland DNR website:
“The Big Savage Trail is now open but the going is rough and recommended for only the most experienced hikers with excellent navigation skills. The ice storm of 2002 and Gypsy Moth defoliations in 2006 and 2007 have ravaged the forest canopy over large areas of the trail, allowing sunlight to proliferate an abundance of vegetative growth on the forest floor thus obscuring the trail in many locations. Volunteer efforts are underway to clear these overgrown sections but until the forest canopy reestablishes itself at some point in the future keeping the trail open will continue to be a challenge.”
That explained a lot.
Immediately, I called the Savage River State Forest to report the 204 fallen trees and ask A LOT of questions. Do you have volunteer trail maintenance days? I'd like to help. Do you own chain saws and could you please take them on the trail? Can I take in a hand saw? Your trail is in danger of being completely taken over by trees upon trees, brush and briers, did you know that? 2002 seems like a long time ago for nothing to have happened in regards to repairing storm damage…
Before the Tribe recon day, my FKT goal was 2:30-2:50, based on 25K trail race times ranging from 2:34 to 2:58, with similar elevation profiles to the Savage.
After the Tribe recon day, I knew that a 15-minute pace would be ambitious. I added 30 seconds for every fallen tree (204 trees=102 minutes) to my original goal time range, coming up with a new goal time range of 4:12-4:32, hoping for something close to 4:15, and coming to terms with the fact that what I first desired in this FKT mission - a steady, rhythmic, straightforward, fast run - would most certainly be an interval run, speeding up in short, choppy bursts, undertaking obstacles every 220 feet, give or take. In fact, I thought, this FKT might possibly be the slowest 17 miles I have ever run in my life.
The day the Tribe and I ran the Savage, it was dry, and I prayed no snow or rain would come in the next seven days, as I had selected Sunday, March 1, as FKT day.
The snow came.
I began making phone calls to the state forest and local businesses for snow reports, searched online for mountain weather conditions, and texted the Tribe ladies who lived nearest the trail. Four to eight inches, resources reported.
Would I be sabotaging my actual fastest time by attempting it in snow?
Yet, I did not want to wait another day to go for it, because, frankly, would a perfect day come? Beginning the day after my anticipated FKT date of March 1, the weather forecast called for three days of rain on the mountain followed by two of snow. When would the trail dry out? By that time, it could be snake season, and those rocks made for perfect rattlesnake dens, fallen tree tops made for perfect bees’ nests, greenbriers would barricade the trail even more, hungry bears would be coming out of hibernation, poison ivy and every other plant would sprout and bloom, the nearly invisible path would become overgrown and invisible, and I didn’t want to complicate the run any more than it was with the current state the trail is in. It had to happen in the dead of winter before that wild mountain came to life.
So, yes, it is very possible that my lack of perfectionism, or impatience, or opportunistic hopefulness, sabotaged the chance at a faster time, but I was ready and braced myself for the possibility of snow. Running double digits through snow, like digging one’s way through wet sand, is not new to me, but doing it over an unclear path atop the unkempt Savage Mountain terrain would be a totally different situation. I packed my Leki Micro Pro Trail Race poles and planned to use them the entire way.
As March 1 approached, my Tribe ladies began sending me sweet good luck messages and wishes. I carried those with me to the trail head and throughout the run, their cheers acting as beacons of light, quieting any excuses, self-doubt, second-guessing, or thoughts of “forget this solo FKT, it was more fun with friends!”
I felt their laughter in the woods, their presence in the path, our memories creating a warm energy field around me, keeping my mind clear and focused. The fear of running solo and unsupported in rather new, tricky territory subsided after our adventure together, and I felt relaxed, empowered, ready to handle the unexpected.
This is what I wanted - a new challenge, something outside of my comfort zone, an independent endeavor, relying on my own two feet and willpower. I was ready.
The Trip Report:
Big Savage Mountain Trail, Maryland
Sunday, March 1, 2020
17 miles point-to-point, running northbound/ exact distance on Garmin: 16.48 miles
Elevation gain: 3,192 feet
Elevation loss: 1,555 feet
Weather: 21 degrees at the start, no wind, sunny
First FKT attempt on the Savage
My husband Eric, along with our two sons, whom we roused out of bed at 6:30 a.m., drove me to the southern terminus, which sits at about 1,300 feet above sea level. With zero snow at the start line, I was happy, yet still ready to take it on if it met me on the ridge line. I set out around 8:27 a.m., with Eric and the Tribe following my Garmin Live Track.
Miles zero to one: Dry ground, about 400 feet of climbing, with a view of Savage River Reservoir to the left.
Mile one to two: 700 feet of climbing up switchbacks with the most storm damage and largest trees required flinging my entire body on top of tree trunks angling downhill, holding on with legs and arms, and rolling off the other side, or crawling underneath.
Mile two to three: The ridge line! Welcome, briers. An inch of snow on the forest floor gently grew to two inches, as I was now at 2,500-2,800 feet above sea level, with the biggest, longest climbs completed. A brier entangled my head, ripped off my beanie and grabbed my braid, and I fought with it for a good minute. Wild dog or cat prints as big as my fist were walking in the snow in the same direction I was running, maybe stalking the deer whose prints were also heading north. I blew my safety whistle and turned up the volume on the mini portable speaker attached to an iPod shuffle in my running vest and sang along happily. You can see the music set-up in the photo below, as well as the whistle and mace I carried, just in case.
Mile three to four: Crossing arms and poles in front of my face, I blasted through head-high mountain laurels laden in snow, which dumped into my shoes. Wet feet already! Animal prints were the most prevalent here, with chipmunks, fox, deer, bobcat and more fist-sized large dog or cat prints frolicking every which way, so I did a 360-degree spin to take in all of my surroundings. I also silenced the paranoia of animals stalking me by rocking out to Dropkick Murphys, State Radio, John Butler Trio, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Flogging Molly, Rusted Root and Green Day, a 10-year-old running playlist that made me smile, especially in this moment!
Mile four to five: Ate half a sweet potato and took a selfie to submit to the FKT verification authorities. About two inches of fluffy snow, not quite enough to add a noticeable increase of effort in the legs… yet.
Mile five to six: A bit clearer of debris, still snow-covered, getting more difficult to pick through boulder gardens, and now very wet legs from hurdling and climbing over snow-covered fallen trees… but finally able to flow a bit, as much as possible, with a road crossing. This was fun!
Mile six to seven: 10K, done, and feeling awesome! Road crossings – four in total, begin.
Mile seven to eight: Along the road, a wide, flat, swampy stretch of trail, layered in four inches of snow, on top of ice, on top of mud. Very wet feet and frozen shoe laces. The white blazes seemed to hide here, as other trails spurred to the sides and bisected the Savage, and I had to stand and consult the map on my Garmin fenix 5s watch, navigating my way back, side-to-side, until the blazes became visible again. I went about four minutes off trail here by following some human foot tracks – those tracks were not taking the Savage, and I made a mental note to NOT mindlessly follow anyone else’s tracks. After that, or before, for that matter, I didn’t see any other evidence of humans.
Mile eight to nine: Much like the previous mile, a meditative game of locking my eyes to the immediate white blaze, glancing down at the path in my plight to not fall, locking eyes with a blaze, glancing down, eyes up, eyes down, eyes up, eyes down, and on and on… employing keen awareness and attention was key. Eric happened to catch sight of me at one of the road crossings and snapped this pretty, snowy photo!
Mile nine to 10: After crossing the road, the path traveled upward again, along a downward-pulling, narrow slope to the left, covered in wet snow. Poles were crucial in keeping myself from sliding down the steep hillside, digging them into the ground on the down-side to keep myself upright, followed by the most vertical (but rather short) climb of the trail on top of loose melon-sized rocks. The straight uphill was a reprieve from the uneven slope. Snow was thickening, and it hid the white blazes on the trees for a brief spell.
Mile 10 to 11: Still feeling strong and motivated! Ate some organic dark chocolate as I climbed upward, the hill slowly flattening, and finally, things got a tad easier. I crossed a wide clear cut with a view, where the Tribe and I took lots of photos the week prior. I took the selfie below for the FKT verification process and to always remember those rocks and trees!
Mile 11 to 12: The blazes disappeared again, out of sight, and I consulted my Garmin map, trusting that they were very near, retraced back a few strides, stood still, scanned the trees at eye level, stepped a foot to the left, scanned the trees, stepped to the right, repeat, repeat, until white blazes popped back out, and I was back on track. I was SO OVER my nice, swift pace getting SQUASHED to a nothing-pace in these navigational quests. The frustration of picking up speed and then losing the blazes as the white forest floor blended in with the path, the two becoming one, was a big part of this adventure, and something I simply had to accept. I knew it was a possibility before even beginning, speed not pairing well with navigating or with the terrain itself, but I was determined to give it every ounce of effort, while honoring the necessity of slowing down to successfully make it from point A to point B. It was much easier to find the blazes with seven sets of eyes scanning the trees as was the case in my run with the Tribe!
Miles 12 to 13: Steady, strong energy levels. To keep it up, I ate the last half of the sweet potato and another small bit of chocolate. Handling food with mittens and poles was interesting, hilarious, but better to take time to fuel than hit a wall.
Mile 13 to 14: Much of the same and the most frustrating loss of eye contact with the blazes in the entire run, as I was really moving, so near finishing. I stood for minutes, whole minutes, and let out a yell - Is that snow?! Or is it a blaze?! Finally, I found the path again, by pausing to oh-so-slowly observe the trees and locate the blazes. Pausing is not what I wanted! I so desired uninterrupted running, but I was in the wrong place for that! Large wild dog or cat paw prints were all around, on top of logs and rocks weaving in and out of the trail and the deep forest.
Mile 14 to 15: YES!!! I actually shouted out in joy! The journey itself was fun, but coming close to completion is always means for celebration. I crossed the clear cut that indicated I was approximately two and a half miles from the northern terminus. Time to move! I folded up the poles and strapped them to my Salomon running pack, nervous to collapse them as they had been my saviors upon the rocks, feeling for holes and pits, keeping my slipping and sliding from becoming full-blown falls, and catapulting me over downed trees. I was willing to risk it for wild, swinging, arms and free hands. The snow was at its deepest here, covering my shoes and up my shins, an easy six inches. I dug my toes in, legs burning from the resistance, and fought for as much speed as I could get.
Miles 15 to 17: Skidding and breathing hard, I was careening sideways down rocks and slopes without the assistance of the poles and loving it, fighting for every second through the nastiest of the snow, which was piled in drifts. Unable to discern whether I was leaping over snow-covered logs or wind-blown powder, I prayed my ankles wouldn't hit anything and snap. Finally, the tiny downhill to the finish that I was expecting, yearning for, arrived, and I flew as best I could, coming in at 4:10:55, five minutes better than what I expected!
The hard work was done, and I cried. 22 unread messages were waiting for me from the Tribe. I cried even more.
If I hadn't run this trail with my Tribe the week prior, it would be difficult to put into words the poor, sad state of it, which makes me love it even more. I want it to survive, to live on.
What’s funny is that my Fastest Known Time is by far the slowest I have ever run 16-17 miles in my entire life.
Such is the difference between running groomed, well-marked trail races and my local, hometown favorites, which include the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail, Ohiopyle State Park trails plus Bear Run and Quebec Wild Area, all of which receive regular maintenance, for which I am enormously grateful - thank you, thank you, thank you, I can't wait to run fast, uninterrupted miles on you soon.
Eric and the boys pulled in a minute after I finished.
Oh, I was so ready to snuggle with my ninja-clad sons!
"Mom, you yucky!" said Grey, age two, and neither he nor Avie, age six, would hug me.
Yes, I was yucky, stinky, soaked to the bone...
And so very thrilled with a solid run, equally as thrilled to be with my boys, my husband, and oh so content, at peace, with my first FKT under wraps, a beautiful solo mission accomplished, one where I never gave up, gave it everything I had, and handled the conditions and circumstances with my whole, faithful heart, with the love of friends and family, under a bright, sunny sky.
Thank you, Big Savage Mountain Trail. I hope you get the care you need, the makeover you deserve, as you have the potential to be stunning. If you do, I’ll be back to chase my own FKT. I'll check on you in a month or two.
"Mom, why did you run a 50K?" Avie, who was five at the time, asked me with a smile and half a giggle.
It was Sunday, June 9, 2019, the morning after I placed fourth woman in the Laurel Highlands 50K trail race in our hometown, Ohiopyle, Pa.
Avie, your thought-provoking question surprised and delighted me.
"Because I love to run," are the words that stumbled out of my smiling mouth. For one, I was touched by your profound inquiry at such a young age. Second, I never asked myself the question so directly.
Pure passion for running led me to running a 50K (the Laurel Highlands 50K was my third ultra), but love of the sport alone does not keep me going.
This was especially true for the Laurel Highlands 50K, when five weeks prior to the race, I was inflicted with bronchitis, a sinus infection that led to a locked jaw and ear ache which led to loss of appetite which led to losing seven pounds which led to zero sleep at night, in addition to painful hives that covered my body head-to-toe every four hours and disappeared and kept reappearing, all because of an allergic reaction to dogs. For three weeks, my training plummeted, my lungs felt as if they would implode, my head as if it would explode, and when I did run, I fueled with organic honey cough syrup and slowly hacked my way through. When training seemed as if it couldn't get any worse, my right knee began to lock, and any downhill running was out of the question.
If it were a half marathon, these pitfalls would be trivial. But I still had three weekends of back-to-back long runs, which included 20 and 22-milers, plus at least 50 miles per week to log.
Nope, loving to run would not get me through this one.
Do I receive a DNS (Did Not Start)?
Absolutely not. I would rather at least TRY.
I taped my knees, wore calf sleeves almost all day, got acupuncture, did yoga, foam rolled, chewed Arnica for the inflamed knee and came to terms with the possibility that this might not be my best race.
Avie, you were on to something. Why did I run a 50K?
For months and months after the Laurel Highlands 50K I pondered your question (and I think I still am!). As it turns out, this was the first race in which physical limitations (knee pain) held me back (I dropped from second woman to fourth because I had to walk down ALL the hills after mile 16), the first race where I was passed by others, the first race where I had the difficult choice of deciding whether to risk injuring myself farther, or to simply slow down. Choosing to slow hurt in a mental, emotional way, because it just isn't as much fun! Yet, physically, walking eased all knee pain, and that was something to celebrate.
Despite those challenges, it was fun, and I smiled through it all. A knife shooting through my knee? Awesome! Losing my podium spot? Who cares! Lungs still feeling it from the bronchitis? Sure, but it still felt like a party!
The answers at face value are simple, yet they grow in complexity as miles increase, hours on the trails build, as time away from you, my son, my sons, lengthens...
So I'll break the answers down in parts.
My first answer for you, Avie, is this:
Running is inherently less dangerous and less time consuming than my other favorite outdoor adventure sports.
Before you were born, I led 5.10 sport climbs, climbed 5.11s and led traditional routes (climbing and placing your own protection in whatever cracks you can find in rocks, often climbing far above the safety of your rope). I white water kayaked Class IV creeks and rivers and was in my boat six days a week, driving hours for the best rivers, where the best rain fell. Mountain biking was a means to the river, a way to see more woods in less time. I rode single track five times a week, my favorite trail in South Carolina consisting of 90 down-hill jumps. Running happened in the space between climbing, paddling and riding, often as a means of shuttling, shaking out legs after a ride, or as a quick pre-dawn wake-up, with my longest runs topping out at 10 miles.
When I gave birth to you, the world of adventure sports and the time I didn’t know I once had shrunk. The thought of setting up complicated anchor systems with ropes and trees was too much for my new-mom, exhausted brain to compute, and getting myself on a rock with a newborn at the base who might need me sent anxiety running though my veins. What if a rock fell on you? What if I were leading a sport route, and you began to cry? Worse, what if my trad gear failed, and I fell, and I was too hurt to care for you?
Kayaking anything longer or bigger than the 1.5-mile Class III “Loop” section of the Yough River near my house required a whole day and friends, most of whom did not have a newborn and whom I didn’t want to burden with the “let’s do this as quickly as possible, before my milk rushes in” worry, ruining my head game for creeking or boofing waterfalls. Collecting the gear, strapping the boat, these tiny logistics left me weary.
Mountain biking lost it's appeal because of the static, seated, hunched forward position, so similar to breastfeeding, the holding and curled-forward-into-you frozen pose I held for so many hours, night and day. The mere act of dismounting my bike from the rack in the garage and latching it to my vehicle tired me and felt like precious moments wasting away as I couldn't wait to get out the door to get back to you as soon as possible.
My body craved freedom - swinging arms, rotating hips, upright stance, full-body, wild, forward-moving limbs, arms flying out to the sides like wings. Forward, backward, all parts free and un-gripped, freedom, freedom, freedom, unburdened by equipment, left to the devices of my quickly moving feet, chest thrusting forward, head reaching tall to the blue sky above, with nothing to hold onto. My mind craved zero planning, zero logistics, zero mental lists of gear or equipment.
The answer was RUNNING.
The simplicity of running engulfed me. It brought me back to my body. I ran with you in a stroller five days a week, while Eric was working, four to 8 miles, and sometimes more. On the weekends I ran solo. You napped during our runs, so I felt alone enough, me-time carved out in our own special way. For two years and four months of your life, I never left your side for more than two hours. Even then, the distance from you gnawed at me, and I ached to return, to your smell, your smooth skin, your neediness.
We ran so much, together, Avie, that eventually I felt prepared enough to run a road marathon. It required less commitment, less time, than driving to my beloved trails, and I could cover more ground more quickly, mostly with you in tow.
Completing the Pittsburgh Marathon in May 2016 was one stepping stone toward running a 50K. It gave me belief.
When I had your baby brother, Grey, on April 2, 2017, the postpartum separation anxiety I had after your birth, anxiety compounded with grief at the death of your grandfather (I wished I had been with him more toward his final days, so I couldn’t leave you, because what if I lost you and never saw you again, just like I lost him?) was lifting. The weight that bore down upon me for four years was gone.
It was time to do something for myself, something longer than one or two hours, and since I already had a solid base of 30 miles per week, plus one road marathon and a pre-baby ultra under my belt, the sky was the limit.
It was time for a 50K.
Today, we have returned to climbing, kayaking, mountain biking, in ways that include you and your brother, but running rests within my soul, always. Forever.
Back then, though, in the days of me-and-you, I was left with serene, unrestrained running.
I hope this begins to answer your sweet, curious question, Avie. I have more answers to share with you, in time.
I love you,
The Savage Man Sprint Triathlon, held in Deep Creek, Md., was my second triathlon this summer, and much easier than the first, the Rocky Gap Xterra Off-Road Triathlon. The Savage Man consisted of swimming 0.46 miles (750 meters) in Deep Creek Lake, water temperature around 74 degrees, road biking 15.5 miles with 877 feet of elevation gain, on rolling, easy, country roads, and running 5K (3.1 miles) through the park campground roads with a low 236 feet of elevation gain.
Going into the race, I had little thought of finish time and was mostly worried to tears about missing my oldest son's soccer game, which was scheduled after I registered for the triathlon. Preoccupied with thoughts of my sons, ages two and six, and balancing the busy work week with kid stuff, race goals took a back burner.
"How long do you think it'll take you to finish?" Eric, my husband asked.
"I haven't thought about it," I told him. The swim/bike/run distances were short, not intimidating, the training far less rigorous than trail ultra marathon training, which left me feeling at ease and in no urgent need to prepare or plan fueling in the same way necessary for long trail races.
Instead, I rambled on about how the off-road triathlon I did in July took three hours and four minutes (3:04), with the swim distance almost twice as long and, I came to find out, five times as crowded, and the mountain biking, obviously more time consuming, at 13.8 miles, and the trail running steeper, rockier, at five total miles. Thus, I knew the Savage Man would not take me three hours. That's as far as I got with calculating or setting expectations about a finish time.
Rather, the Savage Man Sprint Triathlon, just like the Xterra Off-road Tri, felt like an opportunity to play hard. After all, triathlons contain all the activities kids love to do.... swimming in lakes, biking, soaring downhill and running with wild abandon, back-to-back... yep, just like a kid again.
Finally, thanks to some dad friends who assured me my child would not need therapy if I missed his third soccer game, my friend Rachel who was racing, too, and our friend Keli, who came along for support, I decided not to skip it and just go.
My soccer-playing son and I had a conversation about the race and his game, and Eric promised to get the boys to the finish line as quickly as possible.
Mom-guilt lifted, nerves subdued, knowing with each minute in the race I was getting closer to seeing my sons, a sense of calm washed over me and remained for the entire 1:51:18 that it took to cross the finish line.
About an hour before my wave entered the water, a downpour of rain soaked everything in the transition zone and all racers. Thank goodness for my friend June, who lent me her wet suit! It was around 60 degrees, but the rain and waiting gave me a chill.
The first part of the swim was wavy but not choppy, and for a split second, the motion gave me a sea-sick feeling, but I channeled the child in me who used to swim through Class III rapids and flooded creeks for fun, the southern California surfer I once was in my 20s and the white water kayaker I still am, and the feeling disappeared as quickly as it came. It was slightly difficult to see around me, so I kept my head up more so than in a pool, but I still loooovvvvved being in the water, so fresh, so soothing. Toward the end, I felt faster and finished in 17:40 minutes; by the time I crossed the electronic timing pad on shore, my swim portion clocked in at 18:08.
A note about training: From June to August, I open water swam in two local lakes once or twice a week, usually one mile at a time, and sometimes half a mile. My other swimming consists of laps at the YMCA pool, where I mostly do 40 laps or 60, at times up to 80 or 100. With no real structure to it, I typically swim two to three times per week, about 2,000-3,000 yards weekly, but, again, it varies. I did not follow a sprint triathlon training plan.
Not wearing a tri suit under my wet suit, I peeled a thin long-sleeve Patagonia capilene quarter zip shirt on top of my swim top and wet, sticky body for the road biking and hopped on my comfortable steel frame Kona Rove drop-bar cross bike, the lone steel frame amongst a sea of carbon tri bikes.
Funniest of all, I was the only cyclist wearing a trail running hydration vest.... you know you're a trail runner when your vest becomes a part of your every physical activity... :)
That's OK, because I was thirsty! During the 15.5-mile bike ride, I drank 24 ounces of coconut water and 16 ounces of warm, brewed Yerba Mate tea with two tablespoons of coconut sugar. That's all the fuel I consumed for the entire race.
Three dismounts: two to lift my seat around miles three and four, and the third at mile nine to zip into the high, grassy field in an attempt to hide and relieve my bladder... sure, the offs and ons may have cost several minutes, but it's nice to be comfortable :) I finished the 15.5-mile ride, my longest ever on road, in 1:04:32.
Oh, and I forgot to put contact lenses in my eyes that morning, so at first I was hesitant to bomb downhill, but eventually I trusted the smooth road and let go of my fear, blurry vision and all.
A note about training: In the month prior to the race, life got busy, and my longest ride was eight miles on the rail trail in August simply to get to a local crag, where my kids, Eric and I rock climbed. The bulk of my biking happened in July, when I mountain biked once a week and cycled the windy, hilly roads around my house twice a week, my longest rides 11-13 miles and up nice hills. Three weeks prior to the Savage Man, I think I only biked once a week, five to six miles at a time. The actual stats are stored in my Garmin Connect app, but I felt good and happy on the bike, so it must have been enough!
I COULD NOT WAIT TO RUN!!! I love running :) :) :)
The freedom of zero equipment, the spaciousness of no feet kicking me underwater, my own abilities not determined my steel, aluminum, carbon, tire size, aerodynamic gear, ability determined by lungs, heart, legs. Running reveals what we can do at the purest level, nothing aiding us and at the same time, nothing holding us back. Wild - it makes me feel truly wild, truly me. It's in the run that I find my soul.
I tossed my bike on the rack, ripped off my shirt, helmet and hydration pack and took off, at first fumbling with my bib belt, then flying out of the transition zone chute. Heavy but happily moving, springy legs, no longer sitting, no longer floating, but digging and moving forward, charging uphill and loping downhill, instinctually fast and focused.
At 22:24 minutes, with an average pace of 7:13 minutes per mile, I burst through the finish, pleased, relaxed, ready to hug my sons and to feel the support of Eric's arms and tallness.
I didn't know my total finish time right away, my splits, or cared. I searched for Rachel, to cheer her as she crossed, found Keli, and called Eric.
Later, I was most proud to have placed sixth fastest runner out of 147 men and women and third fastest female runner.... because running has always been my thing :)
A note about training: Four weeks prior to the triathlon, I was running 16-18 miles per week, trail running, with weekly hill repeats and pushing my two-year-old on stroller runs. My longest run was 8.6 miles on trail with 2,700 feet of elevation and my fastest pace during a road run was an 8:10 pace for an interval workout, with some seven minute miles in the mix. Most of it was casual, again, not following a training plan, listening to my own intuition, inner knowing.
Where was my family? I needed them. When they came, we ate delicious free-for-racers (and racers' kiddos!) Lakeside Creamery homemade strawberry ice cream and hugged, I cried to myself, they cheered me on, even though they didn't see me race.
And we were off on our next adventure, camping, rock climbing and a river trip at the New River Gorge, W.V.
Today, I found out I placed 29th woman out of all 110 sprint triathlon women and 72nd triathlete out of 202 men and women.
For me, racing is all about love - friends, family, fellow racers, community, everyone involved, and the rankings, the places, the clock, those are fun, rewarding, exciting, but not what drives me, not what gets me through the tough stuff, not what moves me forward.
So get out there and play, and do it with love.
Do you remember late October of 2012? I just finished my first trail ultra marathon. The next day, I drove to visit you in the hospital. I was gushing enthusiastically about the race, and you were eating up the details and bragging to the nurses about me.
Then you laughed.
"Forget the marathons! You need to run a real race, the Mount Summit Challenge."
Despite growing up 15 minutes from the finish line, I had never heard of it.
But the moment you said, in your sweet, gruff way, "you run 3.5 miles straight up the damn mountain, Brynny!" I was hooked.
Running uphill is my favorite :) Of course, you always knew that.
Thank you for telling me about what has now become a very special, very favorite race... one that feels like heaven on earth.....
We continued to talk about the Summit. I told my dad that I would train for the uphill race while also training for trail ultras and marathons.
Hope filled the room. Our conversation about the Summit was the last coherent, spirited one we would ever have. It was the last of the happy moments spent with him before his health quickly declined, and, despite his ripped body, jacked arms, and fit physique from his daily work as a lumberjack and sunrise weight lifting routine, he withered away to a skin-and-bones man unable to form words, sit up, eat or remember.
A few weeks after our lively visit, Eric and I were surprised and ecstatic to discover that I was pregnant and due in July. Summit training ceased.
Over the course of eight months, during my entire pregnancy, I visited my dad and, for the safety of the baby, I was often left sitting in the hallway, clothed in mask, robe and gloves, forbidden from entering the room, staring at him through glass windows while Eric and my twin sister, Tara, reminded him over and over that he was going to be a grandpa.
Often I wanted to break the rules, strip off the protective garb and lie next to him. But if my unborn baby became sick along with my dad, well... I would surely break.
That joyful day when my dad and I talked about our favorite subject - running - stands out clearly in my mind.
On that day, I believed wholeheartedly that he would fight his sickness and soon return home.
He would crew for me and cheer at the finish lines.
He would be at my first Mount Summit Challenge.
Sadly, he never came home.
He never crewed for me.
On June 1, 2013, he died. Four weeks later, we gave birth to our first son, Avie Jennings Harder, A.J., named for my dad.
Yet, miraculously, unbelievably, in a divine and mysterious way, he made it to my first Mount Summit Challenge. Here's how...
While he was sick, I felt USELESS and HOPELESS. I could do nothing but pray. As a doer, the pain of watching him die was unbearable.
The question of " What can I DO?!" screeched loudly inside my brain and beat me down.
What can I do?
What can I do?
WHAT CAN I DO!?!?!
If there was anything I knew how to do, it was to run. My dad knew this absolute truth about me. Running was the deepest connection we had. He knew how to reach me.
After months of postpartum recovery and training, I arrived to the 2015 Mount Summit Challenge.
By random draw, by chance, my bib number was 52, my dad's birth year (he was born 2-15-52, February 15, 1952).
It was my first race since my dad's death and Avie's birth. In the months leading up to race, the memory of our cheerful Summit conversation replayed itself over and over like a movie scene as I pounded the pavement, logged the miles, ran out my grief and sprinted away the tears.
As I carefully touched the bib, I knew what to do.
Now, I was running with purpose, for love, the deep love, grief and awe of a daughter missing her father and mesmerized by this inspiring sign, this piece of heaven touching down upon the earth to assure me that he was there.
I finally had the answer to that relentless question (WHAT CAN I DO!?!?!) that berated me during his dying days. The answer? Run my heart out!
I won second overall female. One month later, I checked in for a trail 25K, and my bib was 252, his birth month and year.
At the 2016 Mount Summit Challenge, I arrived with a burning desire. For my dad, I wanted to win, because I knew he believed I could, and his faith gave me, just like it always has, the belief that I had it in me. Again by chance, my bib contained his birth digits, 152 (birthdate 2-15-52). I won first overall female.
Over the years, his birth digits have shown up at races 13 total times (five of those have been at the Summit) in the form of bibs, race times and places.
This year, a couple weeks before the 2019 Mount Summit Challenge, I decided to tell one of the Summit race directors the story of my dad, because this is where it all began. When I arrived to register on race eve, she graciously asked, "do you want his numbers?" Of course, overcome with gratitude, overwhelmed with awe, I said yes.
Thank you your kind gift. It means the world to me.
The next day at the start line, I was full of hope and strength. I pinned bib 252 to my shirt with a smile. Though this time I didn't receive his digits by miracle, it still stirred me up inside.
Because of his undying support and messages from heaven, I dig deeper and smile bigger during every race.
On this day, I felt moved forward like a magnet toward the love awaiting me at the top of the Summit (my twin sister, Tara, two sons, Avie, five, and Grey, two, and parents-in-law at the finish line) and pushed by the love behind me (my husband was running the race and finished in 35:55). Surrounded by love, I felt light and solid at the same time. Arms thrusting forward, head up, eyes set, heart out, I dug into the mountain with quick foot strikes, with the fire of my dad's soul, the desire of woman running with purpose.
Surreal and serendipitous, I ran the final half-mile stretch, from the overlook to the finish line, with a smile and tears welling up in my eyes. Matt Lispsey, who had broken the tape as first male in an amazing 23 minutes, was cheering loudly on the final straightaway (thanks for that boost!). I rounded the bend to see my youngest son, whom I reached out to squeeze before breaking the tape with arms thrown overhead in joy and humility.
I won first overall female in 31:24 (8:58 pace) on a dreamy, 50-degree cloudy day.
Within the divine connection God has formed between me and my dad, running the Summit feels something like heaven on earth. My goal is always to give it my all, have no regrets and rise to my potential, embodied by the wildness and fearlessness of my dad.
This local race has become a commemoration for my entire family, including my twin sister Tara, who rallies at the finish line and catches me in her arms, my brother-in-law Chuck who loves to cheer and support the runners, my mom, who emulates her late husband's carefree ways, my husband, who now runs the Summit, my sons and this year, my mother and father in law.
Above photos by Tammy Marzano
It reminds me that even though I once felt hopeless in the face of my dad's tragic death, now I can do something.
I can run. And I will run in the name of his spirit as long as I live.
Dad, thank you for becoming my race angel. I'll see you on the next run <3
I run to get outside, to breathe fresh air, to feel my body work hard, to see beautiful sights in the woods....
My running "whys," like so many other runners, are infinite.
It comes down to this: the runner's high is REAL.
The high makes the runner, at any pace, feel alive, happy and free.
When injury happens, it squashes all those happy feelings.
How do we cope with the loss of running?
I fractured my heel on Oct. 31, 2018, after a slow and easy three-mile stroller run with my one-and-a-half year old son, followed by an hour of holding, bouncing and swaying him to sleep in bare feet upon hardwood floors.
It doesn't seem like an incident where a bone would break.
Heel pain surfaced immediately after lying him down. The pain was enough to bring me to my knees - I had to crawl out of the room and later padded the bottom of my foot with gauze in order to teach an hour-long yoga class and then take my boys trick or treating.
I merely thought I had aggravated the plantar fascia to the ultimate degree. I knew that pain, because I had a heel spur in my opposite foot from 2013-14, and some days during that injury, I simply could not walk.
With my left foot searing, throbbing and tingling with sharp pain, I knew what I had to do - I had healed plantar fascia before.
Yet, after two months of no relief, even after I quit running altogether and began cross training, I got an X-ray.
It revealed a fracture penetrating through a heel spur on the bottom inner part of the foot, the calcaneus bone.
Yikes! How could I have earned podium ranking in nine races, including a trail marathon and 50K, in 12 months, between August 2017 and August 2018, completely injury-free? And now, when running 10-20 low intensity miles a week, with zero races scheduled, I break a BONE?! (Later, I found out my left hip/sacral area was misaligned, causing undue pressure and torque with each foot strike).
Sadness - I missed the woods and my all-female trail running group, the Trail Run Tribe.
I reconciled my feelings by telling myself that bodies are meant to break down, lots of non-runners get hurt, and I am not alone.
I stopped berating myself, embraced the injury and delved into what it could be telling me.
After all, injuries are our teachers.
This one has taught me that the body is delicate even when it's not training for 50Ks; there are other really awesome cardio sports where I could find my flow (see below); and the power of positive thinking will prevail.
Here is the Gratitude List I made on a really low day during the injury, as a way to see the sunny side of my two-month hiatus from running:
1. Library Card - I LOVE our library cards! Reading positive-thinking books by runners, such as Let Your Mind Run by Deena Castor, mentally strengthened me and kept me connected to my beloved sport. I was so happy to take Avie, my five-year-old son, and Grey, my one-and-a-half-year-old, to the library to search for books and play while I paged through my latest find.
2. Swimming - I began to swim laps at the YMCA where I teach yoga. It felt SO GOOD to do something that completely took weight off of my foot. First, I started with pool running with an aquabelt and swimming 18 pool lengths, or 1/8 mile. Then I built up to 1/4 mile, 36 laps. Soon, I was swimming half a mile at 54 laps, which quickly built to 72 laps, one mile. I peaked at 100 laps and swam three to four days per week, always with a "long swim" of 50-70 minutes. Now, swimming is part of my cross-training and weekly routine. It gives me that "runner's high" feeling, and it helped maintain, and perhaps improve, my cardiovascular fitness while I was unable to run. Even more, I hope to compete in my first triathlon later this year :)
3. Strength and interval training - After giving birth to my second son, Grey, in 2017, life just got busier. With two kiddos and both of us working, some things were forgotten, such as lifting weights, something I've done since I was 13 years old. With my new role as mother of two, I preferred my alone time in the woods, but I know how beneficial strength training is for bone density and stability of the joints. When the foot pain was too intense to add weight bearing activities, I lifted dumbbells by standing on my knees and added lots of core exercises along with heart-pumping sequences like mountain climbers. Now, with the fracture mended, weight lifting has become a solid part of my routine, something that I do post-run or before the boys wake up in the morning. Bonus: the recti diastasis (abdominal separation) that occurred after having baby number two is gone!
4. Yoga - the breathing and relaxation kept me from freaking out and crying (well, maybe I cried a couple times) as I longed to dance along the roots and rocks on a narrow wooded path. Trail running is my jam! But yoga reminds me to be fully present and patient and to appreciate rest and recovery. So many of the standard poses, such as lunges and one-legged poses, aggravate the plantar fascia and heel. Yet, through injury, ingenuity sets in, and we can create nearly any modification and still complete a full vinyasa yoga practice.
5. Free time - With no big race (as in marathon or 50K) on the schedule until the fracture mended and the orthopedic doctor released me, we had so much free time to complete house projects and go on family adventures, and I had free time to write and read, two hobbies I do very little of when training peaks.
Gratitude lists are something I've been doing since my early 20s, and I like to come back to them during difficult times.
Those times are over, now, with my heel healed. I began run/hiking in February and am now running the trails again :)
I hope this posts uplifts injured runners - you are never alone, and you will persevere!
Taking your baby or toddler on a stroller run can be a refreshing experience for both parties.
Picture it: fresh air, wide open skies, sharing time outdoors together....
Ah, it can be wonderful...
Or it can be just plain miserable.
Picture it: Baby crying, kicking, throwing off gloves and hats, refusing snacks, lurching and refusing to get into the stroller...
Parents, you get it. We've all been there.
After a few failed attempts of setting up the stroller for a run, it's easy to just plain give up.
But keep it up! With a plan and some tricks up your sleeve, your stroller running can become a pleasant part of your day, something that you and baby anticipate with glee.
I compiled the following list based on the experience of running with my two sons.
My oldest son, Avie (now age five), spent four to eight miles (once even 12 miles!) five days a week in our Bob Revolution off-road running stroller from the age of eight months to three years. My husband worked long hours and often got home after dark, so I swapped my regular trail running routine with day runs with Avie. The running lulled him to sleep, he napped for hours, and I enjoyed peaceful, quiet miles of what felt like time alone, year-round, in all weather and temperatures, from zero to 90 degrees, snow and ice to sunshine.
Now, our youngest son, Grey, 22 months, spends one or two days of three to six miles in the stroller (these days I save most of my miles for the trails, when my husband gets home from work - he now works closer to home, yay!). Unlike Avie, it takes Grey much longer to fall asleep, and sometimes he's wide awake the entire time. Whereas Avie spent his stroller rides in dreamland, Grey spends his thrusting forward to see all the sights, craning his neck back to smile at me or look at the birds in the sky, woofing back to all the dogs, calling "deer, deer, deer," his favorite animal, and reaching his hand out the side for snacks.
They are two different personalities! But the list of things to do to set yourself up for a successful stroller running experience remain the same. Some of my most cherished memories with Avie and Grey as infants and toddlers are the moments spent running through snowstorms, in the rain (get yourself a stroller weather shield to protect baby from all elements) and in the summer sun.
Nine Tips for A Happy Stroller Run:
1. Wear reflective gear and bright clothing if you're on the road. I like Nathan products.
2. Take a variety of snacks and water.
3. Prep your post-run meal before you leave the house.
4. Lie out dry, comfy clothes that you can quickly put on after slipping out of your sweaty, wet running clothes. You'll feel great, and it can replace your shower if baby isn't letting you out of sight.
5. Play kid music on Spotify, or whichever music service you like. Sometimes we do this, sometimes we don't. It depends on baby's mood.
6. Plan a multiple-route loop, with quick access to home or the car if need be. Around my home, I have loops that range from two to 20 miles. My go-to's are a 10K (6.2 mile loop), a few four milers, and a 5K. If baby is happy, I add on, but I never go more than three miles from the house. I always have a shortcut home if need be. Luckily, I have only ever had to use the short cut a handful of times.
7. If still breastfeeding, nurse baby before placing them in the stroller. If bottle feeding, fill up that little belly before heading out. Both of my boys were much more content and less reactive to stroller straps and buckles with a full belly of milk.
8. Set up the room for napping after returning home. In case baby falls asleep, make it easy to transition from stroller to crib or bed. Shut the curtains, turn on the white noise machine, whatever it is you need to do, before you leave the house. Then maybe you can enjoy a post-run nap yourself, shower, or eat a meal. If not, your dry clothes and post-run meal are all set anyway ;) If you're running begins from your car, you can still do this for your trip back home.
9. If no nap happens, scoop that baby up and snuggle! Thank your little one for your time together outside, and for making it possible to share a run <3
I hope the list has provided you with the confidence, hope and tools that you need to get outside with your little one.
Then, one day when they're older, they might love running as much as you do!
Have you seen the two blogs I've written about running with my kids?
Five Things I Learned By Running with My Four-Year-Old Son
Five Life Lessons Shared While Running with My Sons
I'd love to hear from you! Please post your stories :)
Happy running and parenting,
Yoga Instructor, RYT 200