Thursday, June 28, 2012

Interview With 100 Mile Expert Susan Donnelly

During the Javelina Jundred I ran for a while with Susan Donnelly. I really enjoyed our conversation and didn't realize until later that she is a 100 mile expert, completing more than 40 100 milers! I recently interviewed her and am excited to share some of her wisdom.

What made you decide to run your first ultra marathon? 
Way back in college, I saw an article about Western States 100 with a photo of Anne Trason, and something inside said "yes! I can do that. I want to do that!" I'd run in high school but gotten out of the habit in college, so I started running 5ks, then 10ks, then marathons. I ran maybe 30 or so marathons and lost interest in trying to chase seconds here or there in a setting that may or not have been interesting and was ready for the next thing when I saw an ad for Mountain Masochist, remembered the article on WS100 and how I loved playing in the woods as a kid, and knew it was time for ultras.

What does your typical training week look like? 
First of all, there is no such thing as typical. At the moment, I work full-time with 10-hour days, my boyfriend lives 2 hours away and has kids, so my training is catch-as-catch can. That said, I manage to run 3-6 miles most mornings during a work week and race or work in some longer runs on the weekends. It definitely takes some creativity to get mileage in some weeks.

What does your peak week look like before a 100 miler? 
Again, there's nothing typical but in general, the only thing that changes is the long run the weekend before. Sometimes I run back-back 100s, sometimes it's only 20 miles, sometimes, no long run. The weekly mileage stays as close to normal as I can keep it, but I always take the day before the race off, if only just to travel to the race.

What do you do when you reach that low point during a race when you are physically and/or mentally spent and you still have many more miles to run? 
First, I remember the myriad of other times I've been in that situation or harder and pulled out of it. That usually puts in perspective. Then analyze the problem to figure out the cause - low on calories, off on hydration or electrolytes, pushing the pace more than I should for my ability that day...? In a way, it's a fun challenge, like solving a puzzle. Whatever the answer, fix it if and how I can and keep going. I've DNFed a few times and quickly learned to keep going until they pull me. And ultimately, I'd still rather be out on the trail dealing with that challenge and seeing the things I'm seeing than most other things I could be doing. You don't get to race every day, so enjoy it, however you can, when you get the chance.

What race strategy do you try to follow when going into a 100 miler? 
Run comfortable.

With as many ultras as you run each year, you must be focused on smart recovery after a race. What works for you during the recovery process? 
In order - initial compression and icing my legs below the knee to get rid of swelling, frequent walking breaks from the car or my desk, hydration, sleeping, stretching, eating right.

What keeps you coming back to ultra marathons? 
Thank goodness I've been lucky enough to find a true passion in my life. I simply love it. I love trail running, exploring, the people that share that passion and the mental, physical, and spiritual joy I get from it. That's it. And I never take that for granted.

What tips do you have for someone interested in getting into ultra running? 
Know yourself. Learn from others but always decide what works for you, and never, ever get discouraged or give up. Learn yourself, how a comfortable form feels, how different miles per hour paces feel, your body's early signs of dehydration or electrolyte imbalance, what that voice in your mind says when you're tired and still have miles to go. And learn from your mistakes - they're precious gifts and we've all made them. This is fun and there's no end to the things this sport will teach you about yourself and life.

You can check out Susan's website at .

I hope to have more upcoming interviews where we can learn from running and racing experts.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Feeling Barf-tastic and Molly's Nipple

I was jealous of thought about all my fellow running friends who did the Western States 100 this past weekend. I love this funny quote by Mary Gorski: "I think the Western States trail is one of the most beautiful places that I have vomited." 

Monday, June 18th 2012: 4 miles @ the track. This was the first real speed workout I've done in probably 8 months. (Anyone who has read this blog longer than a week is thinking "No duh", because my paces are less than Olympic caliber.) I brought my kids along with me and they joined in a bit of the running:

I actually don't mind the track. The 800s weren't too bad. We went in the evening so it was still pretty hot outside. By the time we left, I was just a little barf-tastic.

Wednesday, June 20th 2012: 18 miles @ 12:14 minutes per mile. I headed to the Diamond Ranch Academy dirt road for a long run. It's a great place to run on dirt that isn't overly technical.

A few days before, I had admired the cannon ball skills my kids had at the swimming pool. I thought to myself: "Self, maybe you could try a mid-run cannon ball." Here is what Self came up with:

(Dear Self: maybe you could be a little faster if you didn't stop along the way to take a canon ball picture.) The sun was throwing some pretty cool light as it started to come up:

I decided since I was in the area that I would run to the top of Molly's Nipple. The total run climbed 2,600 feet but most of it is pretty gradual. This is the area leading to the steeper climb up Molly's Nipple (pretty easy to see in the background):

The view from the top is incredible. One thing I noticed on this trip was the shadow of Molly's Nipple in the foreground:

I also found something that I hadn't seen during any of my previous trips: a geo cache capsule. I ended up spending about 20 minutes at the top reading through the log book which dated all the way back to 2001! This was one of my favorite entries (largely because it mentions Twinkies):

I wore some shorts that I got from the Dogtown Half Marathon last year. They are too short to wear around the neighborhood without feeling self-conscious, but they're perfect for secluded trails where you never see a solitary person:

It's pretty safe to say that nobody has ever looked at me and thought "Wow, he must be using steroids."

Friday, June 22nd 2012: 5 miles @ 10:22 minutes per mile. Boring, early morning pre-work run.
Saturday, June 23rd 2012: 20 mile bike ride with Mel. We plan to go on more of these dates together. Good times.

Speed workouts: Love them or hate them? Don't mind the track, hate tempo runs.
Twinkies: Great snack food or the greatest snack food? Great, right behind Donettes.
Upcoming Summer Olympics: Excited? Can. Not. Wait.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

My Next 100 Miler - Javelina Jundred

It's official. I've signed up for my 3rd 100 miler.....the Javelina Jundred on October 27th 2012! I'm more than a little excited.

Last year I ran the Javelina Jundred as my first 100 miler and seriously loved every second of it. It has the feel of a party. The Zion 100 a few months ago was different. Zion was an adventure. And I love an adventure. Zion will undoubtedly be on my calendar next year. But Javelina is a party. 

Javelina Jundred is held close to Jalloween so there are lots of costumes. The desert scenery is beautiful. It's cool to hear packs of coyotes howling in the distance throughout the night. The aid stations resemble a Costco.

The course consists of 15.4 mile loops run washing machine style and I loved watching the race unfold right in front of me. It's cool to see the elite runners coming back the opposite direction and cheer you on while you cheer them on. Since the loops were clockwise then counter-clockwise I never felt bored, and it was impossible to get lost.

I'm excited that my friends Ben and Travis who I ran most of Zion with will also be joining me at the race. Good times will be had by all. (Actually, I'm not sure "good times" is completely accurate for those last 40 miles.)

I think this race will always be special to me because it was my first 100. If you're ever looking to try to tackle the 100 mile beast, the Javelina Jundred would be a great option.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Must Read: This Guy Is Running Across America

I had an amazing opportunity this past weekend. I got to spend a few miles with a guy who is running ACROSS THE COUNTRY. But not only is Chris Praetzel running across the country, he is doing it totally self-supported. No crew. No support vehicle. Just Chris and a baby stroller of supplies:

Chris started in California and is heading to New Jersey, already covering more than 500 miles. I was blessed to spend a day with him. Since running through the Mojave and into southern Utah, temperatures are scorching so he has been running through the night. I met him at 8:00pm to start running and it was exactly 100 degrees outside. My friend Ryan joined us as well:

Chris is running to raise awareness of organ donation since his brother is alive thanks to a kidney transplant. This topic is close to my heart as well since I work in dialysis centers where people pray every night that a kidney will become available so they can get off dialysis. (Here is my favorite picture from our run.)

What I really admired was his determination and his humility and his kindness. Instead of seeing a cold, uncaring world, Chris sees the kindness and support of strangers. I ran around 8 miles then drove back to meet him along the way to drop off some food from In & Out Burger.

From there he ran a few more hours before reaching Hurricane, Utah. He said over the last 500 miles a few guys from Highway Patrol have stopped him saying they had reports of a crazy guy running through the desert with a baby in a stroller. But when they found out about his cause (and the fact that he didn't have a baby) they were totally supportive and even gave him a hat.

Since he was passing through my town I asked if he'd like to stay for the night and get a real bed, shower, and air conditioning. Our family was thrilled to spend the day with him on Sunday and the kids were so sad when it started to cool off and it was time for Chris to head out.

I found later that my daughter gave him a note before he left that said "Dear Chris, my name is Danica and I believe that you will be able to finish your race. I'm glad that you are able to stay with us. I am so sorry that you aren't able to sleep on a nice comfy bed like you did last night. Thank you so much for caring so much about your brother and running so long for him. I hope you will keep this note as long as you live. From Danica." Our family all stood in the yard watching as he ran down our street and onto the next step in his courageous journey.

Are you like me? Do you think this is the coolest thing EVER? Here's what you can do:
1) Please, please register to be an organ donor. Give the gift of life. Visit
2) You can visit Chris' website at
3) Check out the most updated info on Chris' run at his blog

Monday, June 18, 2012

One Big Snake

I had a few good runs this past week, along with an incredible running opportunity on Saturday.

Wednesday, June 13th 2012: 8 miles @ 11:07 minutes per mile. I ran on the Diamond Ranch dirt road and felt freakishly good the entire time. The miles floated by and I got to see a great sunrise. I also came across this critter which was surprisingly long:

Friday, June 15th 2012: 11 miles @ 11:36 minutes per mile. I wasn't able to get out to run until about 9:30pm after the kids got to bed. It was still 472 88 degrees outside but I packed plenty of water so it's all good.

This run was pretty uneventful. The best part was a blast to the past when Richard Marx came on the radio. At the risk of public humiliation, I admit that I owned every Richard Marx cassette tape back in 7th grade. He was the MAN! I confess that I still like his tunes. And I heard the song "Springsteen" by Eric Church. Have you heard that one? It's a keeper.

Saturday night I had a once-in-a-lifetime experience and was able to run with a modern day Forrest Gump. Seriously! I'll have the full story and some pictures in the next day or two.

I hope you had a swell Father's Day. Do yourself a favor and watch this little Father's Day music video. I was laughing so hard that I cried. I think you'll like it. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

If God Was A Trail Runner

I don't train on Sundays, but this past weekend I was at Snowbird and broke the no-Sunday rule. Snowbird is a skiers paradise nestled in the Wasatch mountains of Utah. I was there for a work conference. I figured that the next time I was likely to stay at Snowbird was the day after, um.... never, so I headed out Sunday evening to explore a trail.

Thankfully I wasn't sore at all from the Utah Valley Half Marathon the day before. My path was the White Pines Trail. Within minutes I arrived at this cool waterfall:

When God was creating the earth, he put a lot of effort into this area. If God was a trail runner, I think he'd be spending most of his time on this trail. It had plenty of rocks and roots and stream crossings and lots of climbing. Heaven.

There was another trail called Red Pines. I asked a hiker if he would recommend Red Pines or White Pines. He said White was more challenging but more beautiful. Sold! He also said there was some snow up the trail, but I figured it wouldn't be much because the weather at the start was perfect.

The trail climbed higher and higher. The air felt mighty thin. And then I started seeing snow patches. And then the snow patches turned to fields of snow. And then the fields of snow turned into a mountain of snow.

 It felt like climbing a vertical ice skating rink. In some steeper parts I saw that people just slid down on their rear end because that was easier. I didn't realize until I turned around that they probably didn't choose to slide down. They just fell. I ended up sliding down the snow multiple times.

These weren't little sissy patches of snow either. It was deep! Here is my proof:

After about an hour and 45 minutes I reached White Pines Lake. I would have loved to stay at the top a little longer, but I just took a few quick pictures because I was chasing daylight and didn't want to get suck on the mountain in the dark.

Seeing the mountain light up as the sun started to go down was incredible:

After three hours I got back to my car filthy from rolling around in the snow and mud. No GPS but I think I covered around 7 miles. Curse the sun going down! I wish I could have stayed out there all day. White Pines ended up being one of the most amazing trails I've ever set foot on.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Utah Valley Half Marathon As Nacho Libre

On Saturday I ran the Utah Valley Half Marathon. Months ago I bought a Nacho Libre wrestling mask to wear at a race, so this half marathon seemed to be the perfect opportunity. I bought some kids shorts and a flesh-colored shirt from the women's section of Walmart to complete the outfit:

My brother Kenny and sister Hollie also ran the race. I sincerely appreciated their help the night before the race to draw a few markings on my shirt to make it look more realistic:

I ran the full marathon last year and the year before but was happy to do the half this year. This race was the first time I have run on pavement in months. The temperature as we began the race was pefect.

I may have been half asleep for the first half of the race. We had to wake up at 2:30am to get to the bus loading in time. No. That is not a typo. 2:30am. That is positively disgusting. But I suppose the scenery is worth the early wake-up:

I was thankful I remembered to look behind me to see our surroundings from a different perspective:

I learned a few valuable lessons running the race as Nacho Libre:
1) Running 13 miles in a wrestling mask feels like running 13 miles in a sauna.
2) Capes are itchy and scratchy.
3) A sweat shirt tucked into your shirt will bounce around like CRAZY.
4) A few people will look at your lumpy stomach and ask in all seriousness "Is that real, or do you have something stuffed in there?"
5) Did I mention that capes are insanely scratchy?

I arrived at an aid station and took my mask off for a second to take a drink. One of the volunteers looked over at me with my mask off and said "Way to go! Are you mom?"

Here is another valuable lesson I learned: When you dress up as Nacho Libre at a half marathon, you INSTANTLY have a couple thousand new friends. It was funny to see how excited the spectators became. I gave a high five to every single person I saw. And then I saw the finish line up ahead. I grabbed my cape and started weaving through the chute. My friend Amber finished the race earlier and happened to catch this picture:

I must say - I loved every second of this race. I had so much fun. My body felt great for every step of the race. I have so much fun running comfortably, stopping to take pictures, and running with only one goal: have a blast. I'm not sure I will ever "race" at a race ever again. The siblings encouraged me to get a side profile at the finish line:

Some people at the finish line said they loved the movie Nacho Libre and asked to get a picture. Afterward I asked if they would take a picture of me, Kenny, and Hollie. This fine photographer snapped one of my favorite jumping pictures ever:

Two thumbs up for the excellent race organization. And the excellent volunteers. And the excellent crowd. And my excellent new runner friends. The finishers medal was the best I've seen from Utah Valley.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

I'm Nacho Libre At Saturday's Race

A few months ago in Mexico I bought a Nacho Libre mask for $10 - quite arguably the best $10 I ever spent. It would be a crying shame to let a $10 Nacho Libre mask just sit in the closet collecting dust, right?

I'm running the Utah Valley Half Marathon on Saturday and I've decided to go full Nacho.
  • $10 wrestling mask - check.
  • Cape from a Halloween costume when you were 6 years old - check.
  • Red shorts - check.
  • Too tight blue spandex shorts from the girls section of the thrift store - check.
  • Flesh-colored t-shirt to wear underneath cape......Houston, we have a problem.
Currently I have no t-shirt to wear under the cape. I was hoping to avoid reliving the nightmare of shirts and skins in middle school PE, but I'm willing to do what I've got to do.

I'm eating ice cream and candy like crazy to pack on a few pounds before Saturday. That leaves me three days to transform myself from a nerdy, skinny geek into THIS.......
Question: Is Nacho Libre a great movie.....or the greatest movie ever?

Monday, June 4, 2012

Zingers, Amazing Trails, and 101 Degrees

I had the perfect week last week. And not just because it was National Doughnut Day. (Not to sound like Captain Obvious, but of course I celebrated with the appropriate junk food.)

Monday, May 28th 2012: 5 miles at Little Black Mountain. This was my first time in the desert area near the St. George Airport. You drive for a few miles on a rolling dirt road and arrive at a towering mesa surrounded by rolling slick rock and boulders. The scenery was just awesome.

I ran 5 miles on the roads around the mesa, but not before checking out what Little Black Mountain is known for: tons of petroglyphs. I'm excited to take the family back here. I think they'll love it.

Wednesday, May 30th 2012: 8 miles. I was in Salt Lake for a work conference. That evening I met up with Josh from PhatJosh, Susette from You'll Always Have My Heart, and Julia from Pain, Pride, and Perseverance.

They took me on some trails through Draper which were incredible. Incredible. I'm so used to running in the desert, I think this was the first time I've ever run somewhere that was green!

The trail had plenty of climbing and rocks and roots. It was so cool running underneath a canopy of trees:

One of our stops along the way was Ghost Falls which I bravely traversed with Julia:

As much as I was loving the trail and the scenery, what I enjoyed most was spending time on the trail with these friends. Susette just did a 46 mile walk for her 46th birthday and has her first marathon coming up soon. Julia is finishing up her Ph.D in a similar field and is kicking butt training for her first 50 miler. And Josh has lost 175 pounds and is running a ton of races this year. You couldn't ask to run with happier, nicer people.

I was sad as we got closer to the parking lot. I didn't want it to end. This was one of my favorite runs ever. But I didn't know that a reward was waiting for us at the end. Susette is aware of my affection for Hostess, and had Zingers waiting for us! It was the perfect ending to a perfect run.

Saturday, June 2nd 2012: 3 miles in Confluence Park. It was exactly 101 degrees when I headed out on the trail behind my house. (Not to sound like Captain Obvious, but that is too warm for a wussie like me to go out running.) You are guaranteed to have a fast pace here, because if you slow down, deer flies will remove your flesh and not even feel bad about it.

That night I went on a bike ride with Mel. With all the running I've been doing so far this year, this was my first real bike ride. We went nice and easy, and the wife and I had more fun than should be legal.

I feel really blessed and fortunate for all the fun I had during the week. I'm running the Utah Valley Half Marathon this Saturday with my brother and sister which will be awesome. In fact I'm so excited that I may celebrate by having another National Doughnut Day.