I do exist!

I’ve been pretty quiet lately, not having posted anything since my double marathon recap. That’s not to say I haven’t had a lot going on, just not a ton of time to recap everything! May was spent catching up on some of my neglected home duties (what can I say, running 5 days a week was more fun than housework) and June was spent doing a lot of traveling – Massachusetts to New Hampshire to Rhode Island to Maine and back to Massachusetts and then another full week spent in Washington, D.C.

I do have some exciting news to share for the next year – I’ve been chosen to be an ambassador for the Asheville Marathon and Half in Asheville, NC next March. I did the Backyard to Vineyard Challenge last year and am excited to take on that same challenge again. I’ll be doing the half marathon on Saturday, followed by the marathon on Sunday, but there are lots of options to choose from! You can choose one race (half either on Saturday or Sunday or full on Sunday) or you can create a combo weekend – half and half (Backyard to Backyard Challenge) or half and full (Backyard to Vineyard Challenge).

I loved this race last year because of the beautiful scenery and because it was my first foray into pushing myself to do more than I thought was possible, really the springboard for my taking on the Grandfather Mountain Marathon last July and then the Blue Ridge Double this year. I volunteered at the expo this year answering runner questions and was bummed that I hadn’t signed up, especially after we ended up getting snow! The pictures from this year were absolutely beautiful, so don’t hate me too much if I keep my fingers crossed for snow next year too ūüôā

If you’re interested in one of these races, feel free to ask me any questions you have. I also have a discount code for 15% off any of the race distances until July 31. Just use invitation code AMBERHARDESTY2018AMAROCKS and then discount code 2018AMAAMBERROCKS. This is the best discount you’ll see on these races, so don’t wait too long! You can get all the details on the races on the Asheville Marathon website, including how to register and join me!

Blue Ridge Marathon – 3 days to go!

72 hours from now I’ll be at the starting line for the Blue Ridge Double Marathon.

I’m actually feeling pretty good about the race, though I’m sure I’ll regret that statement at some point over the next few days. I did 2 marathons as part of this training cycle, New South Marathon and Rock ‘n’ Roll Raleigh 8 days apart, and while they both were tough races, I wasn’t completely wiped out by either of them, so I’m definitely stronger than I was for last year’s marathons. This week I’ve been focusing on the logistics for the race, including how far my hotel is from the start line (less than a quarter mile), what time I need to be at the start line (12:45 am), all the required gear for the first lap (headlamp, reflective gear, blinking light, hydration, nutrition and cell phone), and any gear I want to swap between the two races (I’m going to pack for a full outfit and shoe change).

One thing that is certainly still up in the air is the weather… currently the forecast doesn’t look too terrible. I’ve done a marathon in the rain before, so I’m sure I can make it through another one if I have to and frankly, I’d prefer to have an overcast day than the original 75 degree day they were forecasting last week. I’m just going to keep my fingers crossed that we don’t have any thunderstorms until we get through the races.
The only other thing I’m still mentally trying to wrap my head around is the elevation change – 7,430′ over the marathon, which means 14,860′ change over the entire distance I’ll be covering on Saturday. I did a training run last Saturday at one of the local trails that had 4,491′ elevation change and it kicked my butt, so that may have been the one area I’ll look back on and say I should have done more, but nothing I can do about it now!
So for now, I’ll focus on what I can control – packing all my goodies (and probably way too many extra things since I’m driving up there), hydration and good sleep leading up to the race. I’m sure Friday will bring on some anxiety, but right now, I’m just ready to run!

Blue Ridge Marathon – 1 month to go!

As of my last update post, I was working on two upcoming race weekends (Indiana and the yet-to-be-written Arkansas races) and was working through some tough training weeks. Now we’re only 1 month out from race day and I still have 2 more races on my horizon, though these are much closer to home – this weekend’s race at the Whitewater Center in Charlotte and the following weekend’s race in Raleigh. This month has certainly flown by and a lot of that could be due to the fact that I was traveling 3 of the last 4 weekends, including a trip up to Asheville to work at the expo for the Biltmore half & full answering runner questions and sharing my experience with the Backyard to Vineyard Challenge from 2016.

My running totals have been increasing each week and while I’m still doing a terrible job at including strength training / core exercises and stretching into my weekly routine, the miles do seem to be getting easier. I’ve been averaging 40-50 miles each week, and while mentally that doesn’t seem like enough considering I’ll be doing over 50 in one day in one month, I can definitely feel myself getting stronger.

I had my first real deviation from the training plan this past weekend – it called for a 50k on Sunday, but after looking at some local races and deciding it wasn’t fiscally responsible to fly out to Utah to do the Antelope Island 50k (someday!) – I ended up just splitting the mileage between Saturday and Sunday instead. Sunday’s trail run was tough near the end and I started feeling myself wander into the “how am I going to do 52.4 miles in one day” territory, so I slowed down, ate some more food and kept going. My legs were tired when I finished and I absolutely took a nap, but I felt pretty good when I woke up and haven’t really been sore after my runs which has been a really amazing transformation from my previous marathon training cycles. The next two weeks are big mileage weekends calling for marathon distances both weekends and then I’ll start to officially taper!

It’s crazy to think that the double marathon is coming up so quickly. I’ve got my hotel secured and I know about when I want to leave in order to do the 4 hour drive to Richmond, get to the expo and then get to the hotel to rest, so now it’s all about finalizing those details – fueling, race strategy (something more than ‘don’t die’), pacing, how to get enough rest for a 1:00 am start time and then stay awake and moving through the second marathon that starts at 7:30 am… all the fun stuff. We’ve started getting some emails about the double marathon, asking us for our official start times and estimated paces. The goal will be to attempt to pair us up so that no one is running alone overnight, but with only 60 participants and two start times it will certainly be a quiet night.

15 weeks in:
  • Total mileage: 474.4


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Snow day!

Real snow (as opposed to just ice) doesn’t happen very much in Charlotte, so when the forecast was calling for a snowstorm this weekend, I wasn’t sure what we would actually get. Fast forward to this morning and it was the perfect snowstorm – because it’s been so warm, none of the snow was sticking to the roads, but we still got lots of snow sticking to the grass. So, I headed off to the Anne Springs Close Greenway to hit the trails for some miles in the snow!

 I started off near the dog park and did a lap around Lake Crandall
  The new bridge is looking good!

It was a really quiet, peaceful morning on the trails. In fact, I only saw one other person out for a run with his dog. The snow is already gone now, but it was certainly a beautiful morning on the trails!

Blue Ridge Marathon – 2 months to go!

Last month’s update was about everything new – I had just officially registered to run the double marathon, so I was finalizing my training plan and getting energized with the prospect of running over 50 miles in one day. This month has a bit more about really getting into the rhythm of training, and the highs and lows that come along with that.

Last week was a rough week for me. I felt pretty good finishing the Fellowship of the Idiot run, but I didn’t do those extra few miles to get up to my planned 22 miles for my long run and then had a lot of trouble getting back into the swing of things Sunday and Monday. I’ve been trying out some new shoes, trying to break them in to use in the second marathon, but it’s a new brand and a new drop (with a ton more cushion), so it’s taking a little longer than I hoped it would to transition into these shoes and it’s more painful that I was expecting.

My calves have been tight when I first start running and usually give me some pain, but these new shoes seem¬†to be exacerbating that issue. So after the major elevation on Saturday’s run, I took it really easy Sunday, only going out for a mile and a half and then following up with some yoga. I felt better on Monday, so I headed out around the neighborhood again and did another 2-ish miles. My legs still felt really tight and after some pretty good 800 repeats on Tuesday morning, my Wednesday night was another flop coming in at 3 mostly painful miles. Thursday started a turnaround as I was able to get almost 8 miles in with my running group followed by another rest day on Friday. Saturday was the last of my taper week and only called for 10 miles, but since I had skipped quite a few miles throughout the week, I decided to do the full group run and hit 11.6 and felt really good throughout. It still fells really funny to say that my “easy run” is in double digits.
Having gone through this process multiple times, I know that there will inevitably be highs and lows throughout the training cycle and it’s just a matter of getting through them to the other side. Having a group to meet multiple times a week has helped with that accountability – even when I don’t feel like getting out of bed or running loops, I know I need to go and at least give it a try and then once I’m out there, it’s a lot easier to keep going when you’re with a group of people!

The next few weeks will be busy with races the next two weekends which will then take me to another taper week, before the final big push at the end of March. I’m excited about the next two races – I’ll be checking off two new states, Indiana and Arkansas – and since I’ve got to add 10+ miles onto each race, I’ll definitely have some exploring to do. I still need to add in weekly yoga / additional stretching and core exercises, so I’m going to work on making those a priority over the next few weeks to really get into a routine as my mileage continues to increase. I’m also thinking of adding in a sports massage or two to really help loosen everything back up – sitting at a desk all day certainly doesn’t help my sore muscles.

10 weeks in:

  • Total mileage: 262.1
  • Expected mileage: 292



February is here!?!

I can’t believe we’re already into February! January was packed full of activity and I didn’t realize just how much until I completed my calendar for the 30-day Ragnar Training challenge. Ragnar provided a calendar and asked everyone in the challenge to submit a picture of their completed calendar for a sticker touting their accomplishment. I’ve been playing with a lot of digital pictures lately on another project and decided to fill out my calendar digitally as well.

I definitely had fun looking for pictures to differentiate the things I did in January, especially the tongue-in-cheek nature of the 50’s woman cleaning to highlight all of my January Cure work. I ended the month having completed 9 of the 20 January Cure assignments, so that will certainly roll over into February before I can completely check that off my list, but it’s going to get done! I’ve also really ramped up my training as I count down the days (77) until the Blue Ridge double marathon. I ended up running just over 136 miles in January which is 50 miles more than I ran in any month in 2016. I’m still feeling really good on my runs, though the early mornings are a little bit of a struggle.

My biggest time suck over the last week was completely re-building the Charlotte Women’s Soccer League website. We’ve used a few different platforms over the past few years and had moved to a system that allowed us to handle all of our registration, team building and basically all of the league management electronically which was great for me and the team captains, but the website user experience wasn’t very good, especially for anyone trying to access the site via a mobile device. So, last weekend I started building a new website based off of WordPress and as of the wee hours of Friday morning, the site went live and is so much more aesthetically pleasing and easier to navigate for all of our existing and prospective players. It was definitely a love-hate relationship building that site. It reminded why I got into playing with computers in the first place and also why I decided that a career in IT was not how I wanted to spend 8+ hours every day.

Today kicks off my first long run of February with 20 miles on the schedule. Here’s to another great month of getting outside and getting stronger!

Blue Ridge Marathon – 3 months to go!

Today I’m hosting a link up with some of the other official bloggers for the Blue Ridge Marathon. We’re all doing different distances and I thought it would be fun to see where everyone is at now that we have 3 months of training left. So keep coming back and check out the links below as others add their updates on how they are progressing on their training.

Until a few weeks ago, I was missing my weekly mileage pretty significantly. Lots of reasons why this is true – holidays, away from home, just getting back home, cold, work, etc, etc, etc. But, I officially started a new training group on January 12 and am definitely back on track. My weeks now include speed work on Tuesdays, tempo runs on Thursdays, long runs on Saturdays and shorter recovery runs on Sundays and Wednesdays. I still need to incorporate some strength training and core work, but I’ll definitely be adding that in as well.

After signing up for the Blue Ridge Marathon, I started thinking about a plan to join Marathon Maniacs. I’m already a member of Half Fanatics and would love to achieve Double Agent status this year. I’ve been working on a plan to qualify by doing 3 marathons in 90 days (Bronze Level), but as of this week, I’ve got a new plan…

Yes, it’s official – I’ll be joining the ranks of 59 other people who will be doing a marathon before the marathon. I plan to start my first marathon at 1:00 am and run the marathon course mostly self-supported, finishing in time to start my second marathon at 7:30am. Given the drastic¬†increase in mileage and elevation, I’ve spent the last few days research how I should update my training plan for this race, including adding a new race in March to test out my legs on the trails at the Whitewater Center here in Charlotte.

52.4 miles and over 14k feet of elevation change! 

I mentioned this plan to a few people in my running group yesterday and got several “you’re crazy” responses, which might be true, but a lot of people just want to know more about it. There’s a lot to be said for surrounding yourself with people who will continue to push you beyond what you think you can do! Already the group has shown incredible support in the training runs and I’m excited for the journey and now I’ve got 3 months to prepare myself to run twice as far as I’ve ever run before…

7 weeks in:

  • Total mileage: 103.8
  • Expected mileage: 124



2016: Best 9 pictures

So this is more of an Instagram thing, but I had such a tough time narrowing down by top 9 pictures this year that I thought sharing them here along with some details would be a good idea, so here we go!

Apologies to Beth for cropping her out of this picture on Instagram, but alas, 9 pictures in a square means even smaller square pictures… We took this picture after we ran the Asheville half marathon together and it was the first of my back-to-back weekends in 2016 where I ran a half marathon on Saturday followed by a marathon on Sunday. Beth ran with me for the half and we took tons of pictures and just had fun running around in our St. Patty’s day attire. When I signed up for this race in 2015, people told me I was nuts, but I had a lot of fun doing both races and this only further embedded the idea of running an ultra in 2016.

In September I was able to visit Washington state for the Ragnar Trail Cascades race and we actually drove through the Cascades on our way to the race venue. This was just at a rest stop but had such amazing scenery that we actually stopped on the way to the race and the way back! Someone asked me if this picture was from another country because they couldn’t believe how blue the water was and I’ve certainly never seen anything like it.

In June, I got to meet Scott Hamilton who I’ve now had the opportunity to hear speak twice. I grew up watching figure skating and loved Scott Hamilton for the crazy songs he skated to and his infamous backflips. He is a terrific public speaker and has quite an amazing story about how he got into skating, leaving home to pursue skating full time and his “hobby for collecting life threatening illnesses.” Scott was a great speaker and was extremely willing to talk with anyone who wanted to chat – he even hung out in the hotel lobby as he was waiting for his ride and talked to our attendees the day after his speech. During his second speech with our company this year, Scott revealed that he just found out that his brain tumor had come back for a third time and I wish him all the best in his battle going forward. It was hard not to catch the optimism that he exuded from the stage and his positive attitude was very inspiring!

In July I took on my hardest marathon to date, running from the town of Boone to Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina. I’ve run The Bear¬†for the last 4 years which is the kick-off to the annual Highland Games and originally I had planned to run this race for the fifth year and was part of the group that managed to shut down the registration site when it went live in February. After an hour trying to make the site work, I went over to the marathon signup and it was still open.. so I did the next logical thing and registered for the marathon instead! My first marathon was through the University of Pittsburgh’s campus and now I’ve done the one through Appalachian State’s campus too. I didn’t do as much training as I should have for this race and it definitely hurt, but I was able to do (most of) my lap around the track in front of everyone who had come to watch the Highland Games. I was met about 3/4 of the way around the track by the official timers who stopped me to give me my medal as they ushered everyone off the track for the games to begin.

In August, I was recognized by my company with a Values Award. It’s a competitive award where people are nominated by their coworkers and winners are chosen by a committee based on their daily behaviors and performance. It was an amazing experience to hear my accomplishments read aloud in front of my entire company, going on stage to get a picture with our CEO and COO, and being given an award. I’ve been with the company almost 9 years (!) now and I was really touched by all of the people who came up to me at the dinner to congratulate me or sent me emails afterwards.

In October, I got to check off one of my bucket list races by doing the Cane Field Classic. I found this race on one of the “top race lists” a few years ago, but the timing wasn’t right until last year. They offer a machete to anyone who completes all 3 race distances: 1 mile followed by 4 miles followed by 2 miles through the cane fields. The 2016 medal was a little less machete and a little more Rambo knife, but is still makes an impressive addition to my medal collection. I made a long weekend out of the trip and got to see a ton of different places in Louisiana, from Baton Rouge to Lafayette and down to New Orleans. It was a gorgeous weekend to get out an explore and I love using races as an excuse to explore somewhere new!

In October, I ran the Marine Corps Marathon with a great group of people who have adopted me into their running group. It wasn’t a great marathon for me, having to walk a lot due to some unexplained headaches, but the atmosphere was really good. This was my first big marathon, with 30,000 people running the marathon and while it was a little crowded at times, it was great to see everyone on that journey. Immediately after the race, many of these people said this would be their last marathon, but I’ve decided to officially join their run group this month and I’ve heard a few of them got into the Chicago Marathon for this year, so I guess only time will tell how many more races we’ll be able to run together!

Team 3 Y’alls and a Yinz made it 2/3 of the way through Ragnar Carolinas before the race was cancelled due to Hurricane Matthew. Our team survived pretty well through the rain and mud, but it just wasn’t to be this year. I’ve already committed to coming back and finishing the race in 2017 and I think at least a few of my teammates will be right there with me at the starting line in October. Our “team Dad,” Ben, was a huge help for our team, reminding us to eat and drink after our runs and helping to MacGyver our canopy to keep the rain out as much as possible. We ended up in 5th place overall in the ultra division and 2nd in the mixed division, so I’m excited to see what we could do in the full race. I’m also still very tempted to try to put together an all-female ultra team, but it may not be in the cards for this race.

This is the Ragnar SWAT (Sweaty, Wet And Tired) crew at the end of the Ragnar Trail Cascades race. This was my third race volunteering with Ragnar last year, but my first being around for the team picture at the end (the Loop Managers are always out on the course at this time). I’ve had so much fun meeting all of these people and can’t wait to kick off the 2017 season volunteering at Ragnar Trail Kentuckiana in April.

So those were my top 9 photos of 2016. This was a really hard exercise for me! I picked and replaced at least 20 pictures before finally coming up with these 9, but I think it encompasses my year really well. You can see my best 9 from 2015 here.

Training through the holidays

It’s always hard to keep training on track when your normal routine is disrupted, and the holidays are a great example of this. Technically I started my Blue Ridge Marathon training plan the week of December 4, mostly because I already had Ragnar Trail Alafia on the calendar, but after that race, I promptly had a big old goose egg the following week. I was traveling at the beginning of the week and then trying to get everything ready to visit family for Christmas, so running fell to the end of my to do list.

This week has been a little bit better – I was able to do a short run on the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail on Sunday to start off the week. I’ve hiked sections of the trail, so I wanted to get out and see what it would be like to run on them, but winter weather has a habit of putting you on your heels. There was snow left over from last week, Saturday brought a mix of rain and snow and Sunday was warm, slightly rainy and had even more melt-off. I knew the trails would be sloppy, but what I wasn’t prepared for was the trail turning into a stream and mid-shin high standing water where the trails flattened out!

Over the river and through the woods!
This section required an off-trail detour, but I loved the colors of the leaves trapped under barely frozen ice.

Shortly after that detour, I turned around and headed across Route 30 to see if the other side of the trail would be any better, and at first it was. The woods were foggy with misty / rainy precipitation and it was beautiful, but eventually I ran into another major section of unpassable standing water and figured it was probably in my best interest to take my wet feet back home to get warm.

So, Sunday I only managed just over 3 miles on the trails, but I took yesterday off of work so that I could get some shopping done and made sure to keep some time for myself in the morning to get in a 5 mile run on the Great Allegheny Passage. Again, it was just around 32 degrees when I started, so I bundled up (maybe not as much as I should have) and headed out. I didn’t think about the fact that I was in the mountains and even though the sun had been up for almost 2 hours, that didn’t necessarily mean it would be above the tree line on the trail I was on.

The beginning of the trail

The trail is extremely flat and I had originally hoped to run to the Pinkerton tunnel and back, but the online maps didn’t quite line up with the actual mileage of the trails, so it would have been close to an 18 mile run to hit the tunnel and come back which was a lot more than I was interested in doing, so I just did a short 2.5 miles out and then back again instead.

My turnaround point

After I turned around, I took a quick detour off-trail to see the Cassellman River up close before heading back up to the trail to finish my run.

I did actually see two other people out on the trail as I was finishing up my run, but they were much better dressed for their winter walk – heading out in full winter jackets, scarves, gloves and hats. Really the only thing I missed on this run was my buff to take some of the chill out of the air I was breathing and better protect my neck from the wind, but I had my gloves and headband on and I did cheat and use a hand warmer for the run, but for the most part it worked out pretty well.

I didn’t feel great on this run – my legs just weren’t having it. I’m not sure if it was because it was so cold out or because it was just an off day, but I still got out there for some mileage, so I’m calling it a win!

Looking for some training help for the Blue Ridge Marathon?
The Blue Ridge Marathon and Fleet Feet Roanoke are offering two virtual training options tailored to help you conquer America’s Toughest Marathon (or half)!

  • Virtual half marathon plan: A 14-week program starting on January 16
  • Virtual marathon plan: A 16-week program starting on January 2
You can use the code TRAINSMART to save $5 off of either training program.

The fine print…
I am an ambassador for the Blue Ridge Marathon, so I have been given a free entry to the race of my choice¬†(I’m doing the marathon)¬†in return for promoting their events. I get emailed all kinds of details about specials for the race, including race discounts (use BRMFRIENDS to get 15% off), training runs, merchandise and other things runners might find beneficial. I will occasionally¬†post on here or my Instagram account if there are things I think others may benefit from. I’ve never done this race before, but I’m looking forward to the challenge in April and will do a formal race recap (the good, the bad and the ugly) when I finish.¬†

Blue Ridge Marathon training – time to get started!

Even though I’m not quite done with my 2016 races, it’s definitely time to start thinking about next year. Taking on the “America’s Toughest Road Marathon” in 20 weeks means I needed to start planning! While I did pretty well on my training for the Backyard to Vineyard Challenge, I didn’t have a great execution of my training for the Grandfather Mountain Marathon and didn’t do much planning at all for the Marine Corps Marathon¬†and it certainly showed. I’m still unsure about a lot of my race plans for 2017, but I know I’ve got this on my plate, so I’ve created a plan to get me started, especially through the holidays. I’m also planning to join an official running group again in January so that I will have some company on my long runs as the weather gets colder.

I’ve been slacking in my weekly training (let’s be honest, it’s nonexistent), my eating has been sloppy and I need to bring back cross-training. With so many races this fall – 8 races in 10 weeks – I’ve been going from one race to another and just trying to catch up with the rest of my life in between. It didn’t help that I caught the nasty cough that’s going around which stuck around for a few weeks after the Charlotte to Las Vegas trip. When just walking around sent me into coughing fits, I’ve spent a lot of time sitting on the couch with the dogs.

My goal will be to hit my training mileage each week and include at least two days of cross-training, focusing on core and stability. It’s going to require braving the elements this winter, but training in the south gives me a little bit of an advantage with more mild weather than other parts of the country.

Here’s to not¬†following this advice in 2017!