When I was a little girl my ultimate dream was to visit the Parthenon; at 21 on spring break I traveled to Athens and walked among the ancient ruins on the Acropolis and felt on top of the world.
When I was a little girl I thought it would be so great to have a cool job; at 24 I had access to the White House and got to attend elaborate Presidential functions and soon afterwards became a DOD Liaison to the Intelligence Community. Every day was thrilling and filled with unique adventures - like walking across the top of the Lincoln Memorial in preparation for an Inaugural event that ended with fireworks. (It was spectacular!)
When I was a little girl I never knew how miraculous babies were; at 26 I found out and took on the coolest job of all – being a Mom. As my daughters grew up I taught them about the depths of the oceans, the names of the stars, and took them on hikes to the tops of the most beautiful mountains.
When I was a little girl I loved running & after watching the 1972 Olympics I thought it would be so incredible to run a marathon; at 42 I finally ran my first one. I have since run 6 more; including what I thought was the marathon of a lifetime – running along the edge of the Pacific Ocean, across the Bixby Bridge, and over the tops of mountains at Big Sur.
When I was a little girl I never dreamed of doing triathlons; but dreams are not just for little girls. At 46, I did an Ironman followed by a Savageman - where I biked to the top of some killer mountains.
When I was a little girl growing up in Miami I loved nature and after a family vacation to Smokey Mountain National Park I fell in love with mountains and their wooded trails, cascading waterfalls, and windswept rocks. I thought it would be so wonderful to hike in the woods for days on end; over the years I have done lots of tent camping and gorgeous day hikes with my own children in National Parks across the US but at 48 I finally backpacked the Appalachian Trail for days on end as it crossed the top of the ridgeline of the Shenandoah Mountains and found the perfect mountain vista campsite and was in my glory.
But all the while I kept thinking how amazing it would be to run on this incredible trail and be able to cover more distance and see more sights. Running trails gives you that feeling of being free like running when you were a kid; running mountain trails is even more satisfying because the scenery so stunning. It truly was a personal dream to seriously challenge myself by running in a rugged and beautiful mountain ultra. At 49 and a half I fulfilled that dream and ran an extremely technical and challenging 50K over the top of some seriously rocky terrain at Bear Mountain overlooking the Hudson River. It was a very satisfying journey filled with lots of breath taking moments in trail runner’s heaven!
I am officially an Ultra trail runner and that is officially really cool!
Dare to dream; Dare to achieve your dreams. They will take you to new heights!
Here are some highlights of my journey:
My first trail run of the season was actually with North Face sponsored Ultra Runner Michael Wardian. Running the trails in Rock Creek Park down to Georgetown with my favorite trail runner was pretty awesome and I got to run on a trail that I have always wanted to do. It was so kind of him to let me join him on one of his daily training runs on a fabulous spring like February day.
After completing what I thought was supposed to be a flat marathon in March I focused on Bear Mountain. I knew it was supposed to be very scenic with lots of elevation change so I made a list of all the places that I loved to hike (& bike) and turned them into weekly technical runs and weekly scenic hikes with my German shepherd. Our area has some really amazing trails with dramatic geologic features and incredible rocky vistas. The trails are very motivating and the beautiful views became the best reward for the hard effort. Here is a list of the ones that I thought were the very best:
Shenandoah NP: Mary’s Rock trail from Panorama trail head, Rose River – Dark Hallow Falls trail, and Bear Fence Mountain trail for rock climbing.
Harper’s Ferry NP: Loudon Heights to Split Rock, Maryland Heights to Cliff overlook, and Weverton Cliffs.
Great Falls NP & Great Falls Tavern @ C&O Canal NP: Virginia and Maryland Side – Ridge Trail, River trail, Gold Mine loop/Overlook trails and Billy Goat Trail.
My training runs were extremely enjoyable – feeling a part of nature and building confidence along the way. I was also able to take the most incredible pictures!
I was lucky to be able to include rock climbing at the end of each long trail run; it was fun, incredibly scenic, and I thought it would be good for training. (Little did I know how important it would become.) I also discovered a great treadmill workout at 15% incline that made my legs feel stronger. I had to do lots of gentle stretching due to major joint and tendon tightness/pain that I still have from last year’s debilitating Lyme disease.
I did some research on the race and found a good race report online that included some photos of the 50K trail – they were beautiful but looked pretty rocky. I thought the training I was doing included a lot of rocky portions… but the Appalachian Mountains are not the same as the Catskills in upstate New York!
Bear Mountain Park is a great venue for the race! The North Face set up their race on a beautiful grassy field at the base of scenic Bear Mountain. The park was picturesque and filled with lots of old fashioned architecture and family friendly activities like a merry go round, zoo, fabulous little museums, and scenic trails around a mountain lake. It reminded me of Central Park but in a Lake Placid kind of environment. It is also in Rockland County – named appropriately!
Before the start of the race I talked with the North Face Ultra distance runner and race host Dean Karnazes. He is always very friendly and kindly warned me that this race was going to be a lot more technical than the DC North Face race… and he was NOT joking!
The 50K race had over 300 participants so to keep the trails from crowding up they had two waves – and I was fine with being in the second wave as my goal was to simply finish with a smile. The trail started off pretty fast and the group stayed together… which was different for me since I was used to running solo or with just one other person. Being in a crowd made it harder to see what was a head – which was important since the trail got very rocky very quickly and it was also harder to appreciate all the amazing gigantic boulders that we were passing.
I soon found out that it was indeed a 5 star scenic trail… but I also found out what it meant to be a 5 star technical trail. 5 out of 5 – means extremely technical which is the code word for Rocky! It was rockier than I ever could have imagined a run could possibly be and incredibly steep both up and down. (And I had made a point of finding rocky terrain in our area!) Thankfully the folks were smart and took the extremely rocky sections and steep ascents with care and slowed down... I think you had to as I thought it would be impossible to run no matter how good you were. The Catskills were covered with glaciers during the ice age and it really showed as the place was just entirely filled with stunning boulders and rocks. There was lots of rock debris – almost like rock landslides that we had to run up and down. There was also lots of real rock climbing as you got up near the tops of the mountains. The trails were really well marked but it was still quite adventurous finding your way along the many trails we followed. I did get my wish and ran a lot on the Appalachian Trail as it crosses lots of mountains in this region; including Bear Mountain itself (but only the 50M distance goes up Bear Mtn). Being on the tops of so many mountains was cool and actually my favorite part of the run – as often they were the tops of one huge worn rock – so it was actually easier to run on top of smooth rock. As the miles went on the group spread out more and more which I liked because it gave you more time to enjoy the scenery and run your own true pace. The terrain changed often and there were moments that you felt like you were in different places – my favorite sections were the ones that reminded me of the Shenandoah Mountains.
I was at the halfway point by 4 hours and was very happy with my pace. (My Garmin 910 XT was fabulous!!!) I felt great and I was “enjoying” being amazed how tough it really was. My fellow runners were all awesome and the conversations were interesting. One guy had done the race a few times and let me know that the middle section was the hardest and yes he was right. At times you could not imagine it getting any harder and then it did! You would think going up the mountain was hard until you found that going down was sometimes even harder. I certainly chose a challenging race for my first 50K!
Around mile 16 I ran into Dean Karnazes and got my photo op picture with him. (He was running in the opposite direction to say hey to all the runners. Cool idea!) The guy who took the picture for me ran with me the next few miles and that is definitely one of the joys of trail running events. Sometime toward the last 10 miles my right knee started to really hurt on the descents so I had to go down the mountains sideways…. But as the saying goes… do what you must to get it done! The trail did have some gentle sections but you are so burnt out by then that they are no longer as easy to run as when you were fresh but they were good moments to enjoy the beauty of the woods… and I did bring my camera so I was able to take some pictures as I slowed down – so there was some benefit in that. I never was not sure that I would be able to finish. I think you find out in an Ironman that there is so much more in you. But I was amazed how much longer the last few miles ended up taking. I think we came back in the way we started out so I did get an opportunity to check out the scenery that went by too quickly in the beginning. I also found I could really run again without knee pain the last few miles as long as it wasn’t descending… but was really no longer a fan of all the rocks on the trail.
I finished in 9:29! I was smiling and I was so glad to be done! My husband told me I looked great for just finishing… I guess it was due to all the power hiking I had to do instead of all out running. I got to speak with Dean again and let him know that he was right… it sure was much more “technical” than the Great Falls! He recommended running the NF San Francisco race – he said that there is more elevation change but that the trails are well groomed and are more “runnable”. Sounds good to me! I told him I would see him next month at the NF in DC! Both he and Mike will be there – and lots of my MMTC friends too!
Had a great recovery – Rich made a great roaring campfire and the warmth made my legs feel great! The next day we did a strenuous hike up Bear Mountain and my husband was amazed how much tougher the trail was than the ones we were used to. I told him that yeah.... the trails really are tougher at Bear Mountain! It was great to see the views of the Hudson River and think what it was like for the Indians and the early American Colonists. They were definitely strong folks who lived in this beautiful area. We took the newly designed AT trail down the mountain… it was extremely beautiful and I would highly recommend a visit to Bear Mountain! (It is only 4 hours away.)
If you are adventurous and want an incredible challenge then I would recommend this race – but train on Rocks if you want to do well. I am impressed with all those who completed the 50 miler – it has got to be one of the toughest races out there are for the distance. I was on the course when quite a few of the 50 Milers were coming through and they were all in top form. Those are some serious folks.
North Face does an excellent job putting on events in beautiful locations! Check them out at http://www.thenorthface.com/en_US/endurance-challenge/?stop_mobi=yes
I was very happy to take on this Bear Mountain 50K challenge and for me it was my “Western States” but I know that the trails along the Great Falls are more my style and am looking forward to next months’ NF race!