Snake Charmer and Other Things Great and Small

May 20, 2012

The forest is alive with beauty and danger for those who dare to enter. After  4 years living near the mountains and only 2 legitimate snake sightings, I outdid myself on this last run. But I”m getting ahead of myself.  We  begin with The Deer Who Munches on Mulberry —

Part I – The Woods

During my leisurely run on Percival’s Island, I caught this deer munching on some mulberries that had dropped from a tree to the ground. I crept close to take a picture. The Deer was unfazed by my creeping and quite reluctant to leave his mulberry patch. I said, “Deer, why are you not afraid of me. I am the daughter of Man. As daughter of Man, I know that Man like guns and Man like meat. It would be wise to fear me and all my kin”

The deer just looked at me blankly and continue to munch.

Then I stopped to smell some roses growing wild along the trail.

Part. II — The Forest

Sunday I ran about 10 miles on the AT, where I saw plenty of thru-hikers, trail runners and creatures of the forest. About 20 minutes into my run, I almost ran over a snake on the trail. It was a black snake, not poisonous, but the close call scared the Bejeezus out of me, and the snake, judging by how fast he slithered into the woods.

That first snake sighting put me on guard. I had a feeling it would be a snakey day. The photo above is from my second of three snake sightings. This sucker was lying plum in the middle of the trail, just waiting to scare the Bejeezus out of me.

While recovering from snake trauma, I stopped to admire the mountain laurel that was blooming at higher elevations.

I also spotted this chap, who posed for a picture before skittering into the shadows.

Safe and sound, I emerged from the forest and crossed The Mighty James River Foot Bridge. What a Snake-tacular weekend!

Spring heat

May 16, 2012

My running ambitions got sidetracked last weekend as I juggled out-of-town guests and overtime work on Saturday.  Monday, I was a complete Zombie and could not find time to squeeze in a run before meeting a friend at the climbing gym.

But Tuesday and Wednesday, I snapped back into my rhythm, logging 7 and 5 miles respectively. I took to the Blackwater Creek trails, which were muddy from the recent rain. The sun burned hot, summer hot, but the air was cooler under the broad green leaves of Tulip Poplars and Oaks.

Today, I saw a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers pecking away at a tree trunk.  I slowed to a walk and crept upon them like a lion hunting prey. They were big and magnificent — especially the burst of red feathers on their heads. I got rather close before they panicked and flew deeper into the forest.

I love these moments in the woods —  the simple joys of catching an animal off guard or stumbling across a new wildflower. I’ve logged a lot of miles on the road, but it’s clear again:  I’m a trail runner at heart.

One foot in front of the other…

May 10, 2012

A small victory: I made myself run yesterday when I didn’t feel like it.  This morning, I logged a few more miles and I”m feeling good.

Here is a typical situation for me: I come home from work stressed out about a looming story or some minor mishap.  I have a headache and I’m hungry.  I’ve got a run planned but I don’t feel like going. I’d rather curl up with a book, hit the climbing gym or watch a movie. I give into this impulse and ditch the run.  The next day, the cycle repeats. Before I know it, I’ve gone a week (or more) without running.

To my credit, I haven’t been sitting on my arse. I’ve been climbing 3-4 times per week at Rise Up, which is both a fun workout and very social. I can now do about 10 pull-ups and am one of the stronger female climbers at the gym.  But I miss the running. I feel like I really need a daily dose of cardio exercise to be at my peak, mentally and physically.

So my goal for May is to put one foot in front of the other and run consistently, 5-6 times per week. I’m not going for speed or big mileage, just consistency. Come June, I will hone my training schedule and add in some tempo runs. But for now, I must work on my base and chase that elusive spark that fueled this blog for almost 2 years.




My old friend, Running…

May 8, 2012

After running a marathon and 3 ultras in the spring of 2011, I was burnt out… to put it mildly. My running tapered off and my blog reached a dead end. A one month recovery period turned into 12. I ran, but it was sporadic. Come fall, I wanted to hit the trails again with my ultra friends but my endurance had waned and I doubted I could keep up.

In many ways, I needed this break from distance running.  Training for the “next big race” was taking over my life. My work was plateauing and I felt stuck in Lynchburg, but wasn’t sure what to do next.

After much thought and prayer, I decided to apply to law school. I buckled down, studied for the LSATs and sent out a wave of applications.  I was accepted into some great schools and after much deliberation, I chose William & Mary.

I couldn’t be happier with the past year.  I conquered the law school admissions process, wrote some good stories, spent time with my family, hiked, climbed and camped in beautiful places, made some new friends and nurtured a strong relationship with my awesome boyfriend, Chad.  But if I could’ve changed one thing about the past year, I would have stuck it out with my old friend Running.  I’m not saying I didn’t run; I did. But it was more out of guilt — this is something I should be doing — than passion. My biggest problem was inconsistency. I ran when I felt like it, not when I needed it the most.

This spring, I signed up for the Marine Corp Marathon in Washington, DC. I’ve got 5 months to get the spark back. Reviving this blog is my first step in that direction. Now, I’ve got to dig deep and put in the miles.


Race Report: Terrapin Mountain 50k

March 28, 2011

“The mountains are calling and I must go,” John Muir.

I wasn’t particularly excited about running Terrapin. Maybe it was the upset stomach the night before. Or the fear of bonking. Or the realization I had signed up to run 32 miles. Again.

Whatever it was, my heart wasn’t in it. For someone who loves turtles AND running, I was uncharacteristically ambivalent.

But the Mountains were calling…

At 7 a.m.,  300 trail runners disappeared up Terrapin Mountain. At Camping Gap, we divided into two groups. The crazy ones headed up Terrapin Mountain for the half marathon. The crazier ones descended the gravel road for the 50k.

I focused on the basics. Eat, run, drink. Eat, run, drink.

Somewhere in those miles, I found my mountain spirit. Or  it found me.  I was no longer fighting the terrain; I was passing through it, basking in the air, the light, the dirt, the sweat. I felt joy for the mountains, for my fellow runners and for the great gift of Life that allowed me to run this race.

During those last miles, I felt stronger than at any point in the race. As someone who is accustomed to bonking the last 5-10 miles, it was surreal.

I don’t how it happened at Terrapin, that transformation from start to finish, but I got my mountain legs back. And it felt good.


Time: 6 hours 8 mins 48 seconds

Place: 7th female, 55th overall

Distance: 50k

Elevation gain/loss: 7560 feet/ 7560 feet


Many thanks to a great race director, Clark Zealand, and to all the volunteers who worked the aid stations, marked the course and kept us safe.  This race wouldn’t happen with your hard work.

To my runner friends, see you at Promise Land!

blue ridge waterfalls: the sound and the fury

March 15, 2011

I hit the trails as soon as the weather broke last Friday, en route to waterfalls in Bedford, Amherst and Nelson counties.

Two days of heavy rain had turned our local cascades into Niagra Falls wannabes. Whitewater churned and thrashed down the rocks, sweeping away leaves and sticks in a violent current. The effect was stunning. The waterfalls were flush with danger and beauty.

Here are a few photos from my journey. I covered nearly 30 miles in 2 days, including “sidetrips” up The Priest and Three Ridges with a group of ultrarunners.


Fallingwater Cascades with a view of nearby mountains. The last time I was here, it was drought season and the falls had been reduced to a sad trickle.

ABOVE: Another view of Fallingwater Cascades, the smallest waterfall I visited. Last week: not so small.

The descent to Apple Orchard Falls. Water was gushing down the mountain from all directions. In this case, the trail was overtaken by water and turned into a temporary stream.

Apple Orchard: A little waterfall that feeds into the Big Kahuna.

With the sun shining directly into my camera and the wooden viewing platform flooding with water, I failed to take a really good picture of Apple Orchard’s main drop. Here’s half of the main cascade.

The other half of Apple Orchard’s big drop, which is split by a huge boulder hung with icicles. It was exhilarating to hike to the falls but I did not linger long.

Upper pool at Statons Creek Falls.

More whitewater at Statons Creek Falls.

The BIG drop at Statons Creek Falls.

We snapped a shot on the summit of Three Ridges during our 23-mile run.  We warmed up with a 9 mile out-and-back on The Priest (highest peak in background). Then we conquered the unrelenting climbs of the Three Ridges/Mau-Har loop. There was about 10,000 feet of climbing packed into our route. It’s known as one of the hardest training loops in the land.

The pack of runners descending Mau-Har. Weather was beautiful.

Kayakers completing a run on the Tye River. I loved their bright colored boats!

Moral of the Story: It was a great weekend to do what you love in the mountains.

cross training (mountain-style)

March 7, 2011

Let’s be honest, running up miles and miles of  trail can get old.  Sometimes it’s more fun to take the direct route to the summit!

Climbing some ice…

Climbing some rock…

On the running front, I’m getting my mountain legs ready for the Terrapin Mountain 50k at the end of March. Can’t wait!


2011 Holiday Lake 50k: race report

February 14, 2011

The Big Bonk

This being my second ultramarathon, I had three simple goals for the race:

1. Run with joy.

2. Take it easy the first lap to avoid bonking in the second.

3. Have fun.

Generally, I LOVE running. The miles. The forest. The people. Running puts a smile on my face and endorphins in my brain.

That is, until Holiday Lake  – the race that snuck up on me like a weasel and, in the moment, made me want to quit running for life.

The first lap was no problem. I made good time, and maintained a pace below my threshold (or so I thought). The running was smooth and light. I was never out of breath. I chatted with other runners. Smiled.  Laughed. By all accounts, I was on track with my goals.

PROOF. A smile in the following photograph documents me allegedly having fun and achieving goals 1 & 3:

At the halfway point, I ditched my useless hydration pack, which had deprived me of water for miles. The tube froze during the pre-dawn start and despite shoving it down my sports bra for a good hour, the ice never thawed. So I picked up my hand-held water bottle, stuffed some Pringles in my mouth and headed down the trail.

When I ditched my hydration pack, I also ditched the “crutches” I had packed to get me through the race. Gone was the Advil to relieve my aching feet. Gone were the Hammer Gels to boost my energy. Gone was my iPod to get me through the  doldrums. It was just me and the trail, mano-a-mano.

I felt good for a few more miles. The weather was beautiful. The sun warmed my face and visions of springtime dance in my head.

Then, without warning, my mood took a nosedive.  My legs seemed fine, but my pace was slowing with every step. Bliss was replaced with Misery as my spirit sunk low and lower. People passed me and I didn’t care. I tried to think positive thoughts, but nothing worked. I was bonking and the finish line was miles away.

When I crossed the finish line,  I wasn’t happy, per say, just relieved.

The Bonk lasted for a good ten miles, and I was relieved to be done. In retrospect, The Bonk was the worst AND best part of the race.  The worst thing about The Bonk was my inability to get out of the mental rut. The best part was my ability to dig deep and keep going. I also learned a Big Lesson about the need to eat more food during the race.

See you at Terrapin.

winter running update

February 8, 2011

Three days until the next BIG RACE!

I’m feeling confident going into the Holiday Lake 50k, my first ultramarathon of 2011. As with any race, I’m nervous about the unknowns, but feel as prepared as possible.

To recap, I made a strong recovery from the Disney World Marathon and am injury-free for the first time in months.  I’m not in peak shape, but I’m not undertrained, either. My legs are ready to run. The rest is mental. 

Here are my race goals.

1. Run with joy.

2. Cruise through the first 17 miles and turn up the gas during the second half. (I need to restrain myself from going out too fast because I’ll pay for it later, as I did in the DW marathon.)

3. Have fun! (Yes, I believe it’s possible to enjoy a 32-mile race.)

disney domination

January 16, 2011

Sorry for the delay in posting this race update. I had a busy week returning from Orlando, getting back to work and recovering from the Disney World Marathon!

Disney World Marathon 2011.

Here’s an excerpt of the column I wrote for The News & Advance.

Link to full story.

Under dawn’s rosy glow, I ran toward the Magic Kingdom, fueled by adrenaline and a giddy joy comparable to that of a 5-year-old on Christmas morning.

Oh, the celebrities I would meet during the Disney World Marathon.

Mickey Mouse. Donald Duck. Maybe even Buzz Lightyear, in all his space ranger glory!

A sharp wind disrupted my reverie. The gale cut across the road, whipping my fairy wings akimbo.

“Darn these wings!” I muttered, thrusting them back into position.

It was my first marathon, and I was determined to run all 26.2 miles in full Tinkerbell costume.

My sequined green skirt fluttered gracefully as I ran, and a dusting of glitter gave my cheeks a sprightly glow. The centerpiece of my ensemble was 4-foot-wide fairy wings, which I bought for a staggering $25 at a Disney World gift shop.

I knew the fairy wings were a risk. I had heard the marathon horror stories of chafed armpits and unbearable blisters.

But Tink cannot fly without her wings. I was determined to forge ahead.

Click here to read the rest of the story…

Running through the Magic Kingdom at sunrise. They start the race at 5:30 a.m. to get the runners through the parks before they open to the general public.

I was on a mission to take photos with as many characters as possible.  I posed with 15 by the end of the race.

I ran the entire 26.2 miles in fairy wings! It was a fun race and I fully milked the Tinkerbell celebrity. (Read story for a full account.)


The aftermath:

After 26.2 miles pounding the pavement, I could barely walk the next day. I am not exaggerating. Walking has never been so difficult in my life. Even getting up from a seated position was a arduous task. Within 2-3 days, my legs were mostly recovered, though I’m taking it easy and focusing on recovery.
I’m still healing from a foot injury that cropped up when I was running a lot of road miles in December. However, I am on track from my next race: Holiday Lake 50k.  My goal for 2011 is to focus on recovery, cross training and injury prevention. I had a several injuries this past year, and it was very frustrating.  I’m really looking forward to staying healthy in 2011.