Sunday, December 29, 2019

2019 Recap: I Did Epic Shit!

What a comeback year! After spending so much of 2018 on the sidelines, it was so awesome to jump back into running and adventures. I felt a new sense of appreciation each time I got to spend a weekend playing in the woods with my friends. And I have never been so happy to have long periods of time with a healthy, capable body. 

Happiness in Kathmandu, Nepal

It wasn’t always rainbows and puppies, but there were some really, really special moments that I will treasure for the rest of my life. Honestly, I haven’t had a year where I’ve felt so much gratitude for the things I have. And for all the rough patches, I will just use those as fuel for whatever is thrown my way next.


I started the year off with a New Year’s Day run on Coosa and began working with a running coach.

New Year's Day Coosa Loop

It was exciting to do workouts during the week and I looked forward to spending time on the trails with my friends on the weekend.

With trail wifey on Tray Mountain

Before the sleet storm on Nimblewill with John
It had been well over a year since I had run a trail race and I needed a 50K+ qualifier to complete my Georgia Death Race requirements. I ended up choosing Mountain Mist 50K in Huntsville, Alabama. I camped overnight in my car the night before, raced a muddy and chilly 31 miles, and ended up 5th female overall. 

Mountain Mist 50K finish line


Jenster and Angie were coming into town to pace the Suwanee Half Marathon so I jumped into the race. I was hoping that I would strike much closer to the 1:30 mark, but I felt really flat from the gun on race day and worked really hard for a PR of 1:38:54. I know you aren’t supposed to be disappointed in a PR, but I’ve had faster splits in a full marathon. As I went through the month, I felt really good about my aerobic fitness, but then I had some twinges of foot pain and my coach tweaked my workouts to reduce further injury.

Post-race brunch with these badasses who BOTH had run 100 mile races in the previous 2 weeks

I signed up for the URE Marathon in North Carolina because it was free, great GDR training, and I knew a bunch of friends going. It was a little nerve-wracking going into the race sitting partway on the bench with my foot in limbo. But for whatever reason, my foot felt okay on race day, I took it easy, and tried to just keep a relaxed effort all day. I recovered well after the race and things seemed to have turned the corner for GDR.

Girl squad
Dude squad

URE Marathon finish chute

Though I really wanted to crack the top 10 at GDR, I also knew that I was entering new territory. I had run further and longer before, but never with that type of terrain. I took it really conservative for the first 35 miles and then allowed my body to just go with the course during the second half. It was really tough, but I was the 13th female and got it done in 18 hours, 19 minutes, and 13 seconds.


I went to Raleigh the weekend after GDR and volunteered at Umstead 100 with Jenster, Caitlin, and Laurie. 

Volunteering with Laurie, Jen, and Caitlin
And the following weekend was the Boston 5K, my birthday, and the Boston Marathon. Brad stayed with Adam and I in an Airbnb in Chinatown and it was a fun, low-key few days with running, eating, baseball, and lots of naps. I managed a 3:18:28 for the marathon - my 4th fastest marathon ever and with very little specific marathon training! Guess my legs were just happy to not run another 15 hours. 
Boston 5K

Birthday dinner by Gatorade phone light

Boston Marathon finish line
Brad and I celebrating our Boston Marathon finishes

May, May, May, May, May. The month I traveled to Qatar and Nepal and experienced a trip of a lifetime! I had been looking forward to this for almost 2 years and am still cherishing the moments as I write this. It was everything I had hoped for and more. The people, the adventure, the sense of accomplishment, the food, and the entire sense that I was happy with exactly that moment for nearly 3 weeks straight. I was almost overwhelmed with how calm my mind was when I returned.

The marathon itself was a really cool experience, but I loved the trekking and travel just as much. Our group laughed until we cried each day. Navigating everything that was foreign to me gave me such pleasure, like I was a child navigating the world for the first time. Everything was novel and I had such a deep appreciation for each experience.

On one of the many iconic suspension bridges during the trek

Overlooking Tengboche

Between Dengboche and Lobuche

My first 18er! Kala Patthar, 18,514' 

Post 18er - feeling crappy from altitude sickness

Hiker's base camp - 17,598'

Everest Base Camp sunrise from my tent

Finishing the Everest Marathon! (no, I didn't win, they put the tape up for everybody)

With my fellow trekkers, head guide, and assistant head guide - (L-R) Kale, Sie, Pam, Miguel, me, Becky, Mo, and Gelu

Trekkers and all our guides
The Himalayan valley is so, so green

Kathmandu, Nepal

Drinking a mango smoothie in a souq at 9pm when it's 110°F

Doha, Qatar - view from my hotel room


When I arrived back home, I knew I just wanted to take a bit of time to just really be able to enjoy my big spring and not concentrate on a new goal right away. I ran when I felt like it for a couple of weeks and didn’t worry about my pace or mileage. My coach gave me a bit of structure, but there weren’t any big workouts or long run weekends.

Easy running on the trails

I knew going into the fall that I wanted to run a 100 and set my eyes on Javelina Jundred in Phoenix, Arizona or Pinhoti 100 in Eastern Alabama. I had some FOMO when other friends were racing over the summer, but I also knew that it was important to give my body a chance to relax and recover if I was going to attempt 100 in the fall. I had a horrible case of poison ivy that made running (and life) really, really uncomfortable for over 3 weeks. 

Getting back to it (with poison ivy)

Poison Ivy 1, Carissa 0

With lots of friends training for fall races, my weekends were filled with trail runs. I actually did a bunch of track workouts on Tuesday mornings, swapping the heat of the evening for the humidity. I enjoyed seeing the gains in my fitness as I transitioned from week to week. It was exciting to see my tempos get longer and faster.

Blood Mountain gang

Track workout

Tempo workout


I knew I wasn’t going to be racing Hinson for the full 24 hours, but rather taking advantage of the course as a couple of well-supported long runs. I completed 50K in the morning/early afternoon and took a long break where I refueled and did a few more laps eventually to get food. Then I took a short nap in the evening. I set my alarm to get up around midnight and knocked out 15 more miles of running. I was wide awake when I finished that and felt good so I just kept walking until the race was over, completing 63 total miles.. 

Round and round and round at Hinson Lake

After running 50ish miles, I walked a half marathon in flip flops.

I was SO EXCITED to race Javelina Jundred! I had my first set of pacers and crew ever for a race and I felt really, really prepared. Needless to say, it was pretty disappointing when I made the painful decision to DNF at mile 52. Though I was so, so angry at myself that weekend, I also felt really, really lucky to dream the dream and have such a support system with me.

At bib pickup

Chantal and I in our tent before the race

Roger took this amazing pic on race morning

Adam and I right before the race start

Feeling good at mile 22

Feeling defeated at mile 52

My pacers Roger and Chantal got to pace Tom to his first 100 mile finish!


After JJ, I recovered a bit and then switched gears to get my head in the game for a road marathon. I reverse tapered, had a few bigger weeks of workouts and then tapered off a bit as I neared Rehoboth. 

Post-run selfie in November


My coach thought I was in PR shape, but I had been feeling just flat in all my workouts leading up to the race. I knew how I felt when I had run 3:13 and I just wasn’t feeling like I had the leg speed for that. So I decided to play it safe at Rehoboth and run with the 3:25 pacer - a 10+ minute BQ would likely still give me enough cushion unless things got really crazy with the qualifying times. I ended up running a 3:24:11 and felt great the final 10K.

Rehoboth Beach Marathon finish chute

2019 Goals Report

I made a formal list of goals for 2018 and enjoyed the process so I tried it again for 2019. I’ve decided against doing it for 2020. Sometimes I felt like I was a little too rigid in trying to conform to some of these things that I couldn’t just let life flow - especially the things that I set up to happen on a weekly or monthly basis.

But I do think some of them helped me get into good habits and forced me to manage my time a teeny bit wiser to get it all done.

Here are my grades/assessments on my goals for 2019:

1. 2 weeks of meal planning per month - B - I counted any weeks that I planned 5 days and stuck to the plan of 4 days. We typically would go out on Thursday night and Saturday night so I’d tried to have something planned out the other days. As a meat-eater, this really just meant that I’d try to have the right protein moved from the freezer to the refrigerator and some sort sort of veggie planned depending on the season. Summer salads and lots of pasta helped keep this goal pretty easy.

2. PR in a distance less than a marathon - A - An A only because I achieved it. Even still, all my times for raced 5K, 10K, 13.1, etc are far slower than what I’ve achieved in a training run. But I’m giving myself an A because I did PR in the 13.1 distance and in a 5K in races, but I also PR’d in a 5K and 10K during a training run this year.

3. Call or write Grandma at least once per month - A -Yup! I counted going to see her in person for November, but I did actually write (snail mail!) or call each month of the year.

4. Do something kind once per week - B - I don’t think I went out of my way every week to really make this one special, but I did bring in special treats for coworkers or extra snacks for trail running friends. Sometimes it was just lending an ear to someone to vent or sending a text to someone I hadn’t heard from in awhile.

5. Check-ups at all docs - B - Technically, I only saw the eye doctor when I had some weird floater things and not for my vision. But I did go to the dentist for my bi-annual cleanings and to the doc for my yearly physical.

6. 100 mile trail race or marathon PR - D - I’m calling it a D because I did actually toe the line at a 100 mile trail race so at least I got through the training and made it to the start. Just didn’t actually finish said 100 mile trail race.

7. 1 no spend month - F - Nope. Didn’t happen. Bought all the things.

8. 60 minutes stretch or strength per week - A - I decided to count cross-training too with focusing on strength first. Most weeks I had 60+ minutes of strength alone.

9. 2019 miles in 2019 - A - Never a sure bet, but I finally crossed over the mark in December.

10. Volunteer/crew/pace/spectate at 10+ races - C - I officially volunteered at 3 races and put in 21 hours of official time at races. I volunteered at aid stations at Umstead 100 and Merrill's Mile and swept part of the Bull Mountain Epic course. I crewed/spectated at Javelina once my own race went south. And while it wasn't a race, I did set up an aid station in the woods for a group training run and ferried a few friends back who were having a rough day. 

11. Read 30+ books - A - I had to push myself a little more at the end, but I am currently reading my 32nd book of the year. 
  • Top 3 fiction: Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beath Keane, The Power by Naomi Alderman, and An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. 
  • Top 2 non-fiction: Educated by Tara Westover and Becoming by Michelle Obama
  • Top running-related: Running Home by Katie Arnold

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Rehoboth Beach Marathon #7: DNF Redemption & Punching My 7th Boston Ticket

Only 6 weeks separated the last time I had pinned on a bib, but it seemed so much longer than that. I reverse tapered after the 52 miles I ran at Javelina and did a few road workouts to tune-up for Rehoboth. My coach thought a PR was in the works, but I had been feeling very flat in my running. I said I’d let race morning dictate the pace, but I knew in my heart of hearts that I was not feeling mentally or physically ready to tackle a PR.

I had a work holiday party on Thursday night and I ended up sleeping on the sofa at my dad’s house because he is closer to the airport. I had a 7:00 a.m. flight Friday morning so I grabbed a little sleep and was out the door by 4:20 a.m. I napped a short bit on the plane and then met up with Rob in baggage claim. We made pit stops at Dunkin’ Donuts, Wal-Mart, and Safeway along the way and then got to the house in Rehoboth around lunch time.

I went for a 20 minute shakeout run along the boardwalk and came back to the house to find Angie and Ken had arrived. The four of us went to packet pickup and then Dogfish Head for lunch and beers. John and Eric later joined us and we sat around catching up for half the afternoon. 

By the time we made our way back to the house, Caitlin, Chris, and Jill were cooking lasagna for dinner. I was starting to feel the long day of travel and lack of sleep catch up to me so I headed up to try to sleep early right after dinner.

Luckily, I remembered to bring ear plugs and fell asleep easily. I actually got more than 8 hours of sleep! It seems kind of crazy to get that much sleep the night before a race, but I suspect it was actually because my immune system was going haywire. Not to get into the amount of detail I would with my running friends, but there was something seriously wrong with my GI system on race morning. I woke up with the violent urge to race to the bathroom and went no less than 6 times before we left the house. Plus, after I managed to get a bagel and a teeny bit of coffee down, I threw up all the liquid I had ingested.

Not really the ideal way I want to start ANY morning, let alone go race a marathon. I begrudgingly slurped down a gel on the walk to the start line and tried to just go through the motions of racing like I had done so many times before. 

I think this was one instance that experience paid off. I just did my normal things of lining up, getting my watch started, and finding a good song to start the race with on my Mighty (more on THAT later). 

I said all week leading up to the race that I would be happy with a 3:2X. I knew I was in shape to run that, but not feeling confident in my ability to go under 3:20. So I decided to stick with the 3:25 pace group and see what happened as the race transpired.

The gun went off and I tucked in near the 3:25 pacer, knowing it can get a little hectic in the beginning. Abby ran briefly beside me, but was she was the only Loopster all day that I’d share a few steps next to. As we made the turns through town, I was thinking it felt much longer than before, but my body felt much better than it had in the previous hour so I was just ready to settle in and see what happened.

I'm in the yellow visor tucked in the middle of the pack

Our group had about 15 people or so that jockeyed back in forth to stay in position behind the pacer holding the sign. I knew that once we made the turn just past the 5K mark where the half marathoners would split off, it would be whittled down a bit. My legs didn’t feel particularly fresh or poppy as we hopped onto the trail section, but I just went through the motions of following the person in front of me.

This was probably the most mindless race I have ever run. I was working hard enough that I wasn’t feeling particularly bored like I have in some ultras, but I wasn’t working hard enough to be obsessing about my pace either. I’d check my pace at each mile marker and make sure that things looked good, but I was really more focused on just having a good, solid effort.

The section after the trail winds through the park and I couldn’t wait to get to the highway section which is actually one of my favorite parts of the race. I love seeing the race leaders flying by on the opposite side and after I make the turn, I am able to see all the runners behind me. I saw Ken and the 3:15 pace group and we waved when we spotted each other. And after I made the turnaround (always so. much. wind), I saw Angie between the 3:50 and 4:00 pace group.

Our pacer had to duck into the portapotty in this section, but he eventually caught back up to us and in doing so, led us through a couple of low 7:40 miles. My Mighty died around the 1:30 mark and I was sad I was going to have to run the next 2ish hours without my crutch. I knew it was a chance because the battery had been slowly losing life over the past few months, but I was hoping I'd get closer to 3 hours at least out of it! Stomp, stomp, stomp.

Things evened out again and by the time I got to the hated lighthouse hill, I was feeling a bit more relaxed. My stomach wasn’t feeling great in the middle miles, but I was still able to get gels down every 4 miles. I was grabbing water or Gatorade at every aid station at this point and dumping most out to just get a sip.

By the time we got back to the road, I was relieved to get the pavement under my feet again and knew the crowd support would help me feel re-energized. I was hoping I’d see some of the halfers in our group as I made my way past the start/finish line, but they had already finished and were getting cleaned up.

As we made our way to the final 10K, our pacer slowed down to over an 8:00 mile and I stepped ahead of him. I was feeling much better just running on my own at that point and put a bit of a gap on him as I pushed on ahead. I knew I just had to make it to the flags, the turnaround, and then push to the end. The pain would be over shortly enough. I started to do a bit of runner math at this point because I knew I was solidly in the BQ zone. But then I really wanted to make the +10 minutes qualifier to register and I wasn’t sure I was going to have many chances for another road marathon in the upcoming months.

If I just stayed on pace, I’d make it under the 3:25 mark. So I pushed on ahead and felt better than I had all day. My GI system was screaming at me and I contemplated stopping at the portapotties near the flags. But I didn’t want to waste any time so I just stopped taking in liquid and bypassed the last water stops. I realized when I got to the turnaround that I wasn’t actually that far ahead of the pacer again and ended up pushing even harder in the final few miles. 

I was feeling strong and confident and once I hit the last couple of miles, I knew I had exactly what I came into the race for. People were telling me I looked really strong and I passed a bunch of runners in the final 5K.

It felt really, really good after my DNF experience to know that I was not only going to finish, but that I was going to check off my 7th consecutive year of qualifying for Boston.

3:24:11! 5th in my age group, 21st female, and 106th overall. 

I immediately felt sick after stopping and hovered over a trash can, emptying my stomach. A nearby EMT handed me a towel and shortly thereafter, my friends crowded around me and we shared our race experiences. Abby, Chris, and I walked over to the finish near the 4 hour mark and watched Angie come through the finish chute. I was cold and nauseous so I went back to the house to warm up, take a shower, and take a breather before heading back to the beer tent.

Once I got some calories in me, it was time to have fun and I spent the rest of the day drinking, eating, and spending time with some of my favorite internet weirdos.

After a few hours of sleep, a group of us headed down to the beach for a walk on a beautiful morning and later, breakfast. 

It was sad to pack everything up and head back to the airport, but Rob and I were able to share one final beer together (albeit with terrible bar service) before heading to our separate gates.

Can’t wait to do it all over again next year!