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This morning as I sipped my coffee and read an article about Mike Wardian's crazy fast treadmill 50k world record — which he set on a cruise ship, after missing the record just day earlier — I stumbled on this quote that described everything I'd been wanting to put into words over the past few weeks.

“Don’t give up because it gets hard or something goes wrong. It’s the middle that’s tough. People cheer at the starting and finish line. The middle miles need mental toughness.

—Mike Wardian, Ultrarunner & World 50k treadmill record holder (3:03.56)

Wardian was speaking about how he keeps himself motivated during a race or record attempt, but it jumped out to me as a broader approach of how we reach our big goals.

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Right now, I'm toughing out the "middle miles" of training for Laurel Highlands. Gone is the sexiness of race registration and endorphin rush of setting a new big goal. The high of writing a fresh, clean training plan has been replaced with the mundane struggle of a long season of running.

Don't get me wrong — I still get excited about running these days — especially when my bum left ankle isn't acting up.  But inevitably, there always comes a point in every training cycle when I wonder if it's all worth it. 

That is why Wardian's quote hit me hard. It's not the beginning or the end of a race (or training season) that we need the most strength and support.  It's the middle miles that require the most mental fortitude.

The middle miles of training is when it's easiest to give up. We feel like we're spinning our wheels and our big goal feels so far away. We think about the social events we're missing, the sacrifices we've made, and the pain we've endured. It seems so easy to just stop and dismiss our goals entirely.

But this is the time we need to reflect on the reason why we set our big goals. That's the only way to get through the middle miles. The reason behind the goal is what strengthens our mental fortitude, and it's what allows us to keep moving forward even when our goal feels beyond our reach.  If we can harness the reason behind the goal,  we can control our mental strength through the hardest times.

And if we can do that — if we can find the strength to power through the middle miles — we might be surprised by the amazing things we can accomplish.

montserrat

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Somehow I cannot believe that I'm already (almost) halfway done with training for the Laurel Highlands 70.5 Miler! The first 11 weeks of this year just flew by and I am so excited to be running in spring-like temperatures. I thought this cold winter would never ever end.

But luckily we got some snow while snowboarding in Park City, Utah a couple weeks ago! This trip was fantastic. Maybe I'll do a full post about it, but here's some pics in the meantime:

me hiking park city
Hiking up to Murdock's Peak counts as ultra training, right?
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At the top of Murdock Peak, in 2 feet of fresh powder! After we rode down they closed the peak down due to avalanche threat...
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View from 9,600 feet, worth the climb

Anyway, more about training. Since I'm just about halfway to race day, I wanted to assess how I feel and where I stand. If you asked me this question last Monday I would have felt awful and unprepared due to a lousy few previous weeks of training in February and March. My ankle pain cleared up after a week of rest, but snowboarding trips also got in the way of running.

But then, everything changed this past week as I managed to get in my first 50 mile week. Something about hitting 50 miles per week makes me feel like I can do anything and tackle any race. That is laughably low for some ultrarunners but for a lower mileage runner like me it is a HUGE deal to hit that at the halfway point.

Milestones for the first half of training: 

Best weekly mileage: Week 11 - 50.4 miles

Longest long run:  Week 9 - 20 miles  (on the treadmill!)

Longest back to back: Week 9 - 20 miles + 10 miles

Favorite long run: Week 11 - 17 miles/ 4 hours of slogging through thick, sticky mud

Most fun run: Chilly Cheeks trail race with the Run 215 bus

The amazing thing to me right now is how great I feel. Normally a 50 mile week would knock me out for awhile but my legs feel strong and I'm excited for the weeks to come.

What's Next 

I'm signed up for a trail marathon on March 29th, the Naked Bavarian! No, it is not a nude run. This race is put on by the folks who run Dirty German (my first ultra) and 1/2 Sauer 1/2 Kraut 13.1 which I ran last summer for fun, so I know this is bound to be a great long training run, and will be an excellent chance to get some quality mileage on the trails.

After Naked Bavarian, I'm running the Hot Chocolate 5k in Philly on 4/4 just for fun. Then Hyner 50k is April 18th! I can't believe that race is only a month away. I've still got plenty of work to do between now and then.

I'm also looking forward to breaking the 60 mile per week barrier in the next three months. I think that increasing my mileage even more will help build my race day confidence and focus.

Okay, that's all for now. Happy running!

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I had a really good first 6 weeks of training for the Laurel Highlands 70 miler. At the beginning of January, I was coming off a strong base of 25-35 miles per week from the previous few months and was ready to steadily increase my mileage. And after 6 weeks of training, I was well on my way to reaching my overall goals of averaging about 40-45 miles per week and peaking around 65 miles per week. (Keep in mind I am a somewhat of a "low" mileage ultra runner and by no means is this a prescribed plan for others.)

Week 1: 29 miles, Long Run 11.5 miles

Week 2: 36 miles, LR 14.7 miles

Week 3: 40 miles, LR 13.1 miles

Week 4: 33.5 miles, LR 12.3 miles

Week 5: 43 miles, LR 17.1 miles

Week 6: 37 miles (planned 43) , LR 18 miles

After 5 solid weeks of building, I felt pretty great and even edited my training plan to increase my weekly mileage totals for future weeks. My long runs kept getting longer and I felt stronger each day.

Week 6 was fatiguing and I pushed myself hard though I was tired and sore. But I was definitely looking forward to a "down" week during week 7 because I was traveling to Vermont for a snowboarding trip.

After 2 days of intense snowboarding and a 4 day break from running last week (week 7) I ran 5 miles on Thursday and felt a slight twinge on the outside of my left foot, but nothing that stopped me from running. I attributed it to residual soreness leftover from snowboarding and took a rest day on Friday instead of a planned run.

Then this past Saturday during my long run on thick ice topped with 2 inches of fresh powdery snow, I slipped on a patch of ice and turned my left ankle outward. This happens to me all the time on the trails, but I am used to bouncing back quickly without feeling any effects after my run.

snow trail run
A beautiful but crazy hard run

I didn't feel any more pain during the run, but when I woke up yesterday I felt a distinct pain radiating up the outside of my left leg, and connected the dots that it was from the ankle turn. It did not feel better throughout the day, so I took another unplanned rest day.

Week 7: 20 miles, LR 15 miles

Needless to say, I'm feeling kinda down today and I'm not sure where to go from here. I am RICE-ing my leg, and I'm definitely going to take it easy again this week because I am thinking 100% about the long game. Ultimately, I am only at week 8 of 24 of training and still have plenty of time to get ready for the big race. I'd rather get there in one piece than push myself into a worse injury.

So, hopefully this pain goes away during the week and I can get in some easy cross training and/or easy runs. But if not, I will reassess and revise my training plan as necessary.

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Last week I decided to whip up a fun and experimental cocktail since we were fresh out of red wine. I had some leftover blueberry balsamic reduction from a blueberry grilled cheese I made a few days earlier (sounds weird, tastes awesome), and thought that would taste excellent in a cocktail! The balsamic vinegar might sound odd, but I found it balanced out the sweetness of the blueberry, and definitely did not add a vinegar taste to the drink at all.

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Blueberry Bourbon Cocktail 
Makes one cocktail

-2 oz. Bulleit Bourbon (or other mid-range bourbon, Bulleit is a good choice for mixed drinks or on the rocks)
-1.5 tsp. Blueberry Balsamic Reduction (see below)
-splash cranberry juice
-splash lime juice
-crushed ice
-fresh blueberries
-mint for garnish (optional)

Blueberry Balsamic Reduction
-1.5 cup fresh blueberries
-1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
-1.5 tbsp brown sugar

Directions:

1)  In a small saucepan, combine blueberries, sugar and vinegar. Turn on medium heat and let come to a slow boil. Use a utensil to crush berries as you stir. After boiling for about 5 minutes, pour mixture into a mesh strainer and let the juice syrup separate from the solid berries. Set aside the syrup for the cocktails, and save the blueberry mash for any other recipe, including the grilled cheese recipe I pulled this from!

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not a food blogger.

2)  Combine bourbon, Blueberry Balsamic Reduction, cranberry juice, lime juice, and crushed ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake for 30 seconds, then strain over cubed ice into a rocks glass.

3) Garnish with fresh blueberries and mint, if available.

4) Enjoy!

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This turned out to be a tasty and strong snow day treat. The nice thing about this drink is that it easily transitions from one season to the next. I could see it being a delicious summer cocktail as well. Hope you enjoy it!

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I'm almost done reading Amy Poehler's memoir, "Yes, Please".  While Amy is one of my favorite comedians, I've been somewhat underwhelmed by her book as a whole.

But I was reading the other night before bed, and was FLOORED by this quote:

"The talking about the thing isn't the thing, doing the thing is the thing."

I re-read this sentence about ten times because it is so blunt, and just makes so much sense. Sometimes we get so wrapped up talking about our race training, or jobs, or other life plans that we never get around to actually accomplishing what we really want to do. Talking about running an ultramarathon someday is fun, training for it and DOING it is another story.

I think this quote hit me so hard because I related to it so much. I write a blog so needless to say, I LOVE talking about the thing! Talking about the thing is sometimes even more fun than doing the thing. But ultimately, talking doesn't get you to where you need to be and won't get you across the finish line on race day.

Running is one area of my life where I talk a lot about the thing, but when it comes down to it, I actually do the thing, consistently. But there are some other areas in my life where I talk about things and never actually get around to doing them because they are big, scary, or difficult.

So, in light of DOING the thing and always moving forward in 2015, I'm finally going to bring to fruition a big plan I've been thinking and talking about for awhile.

I'm becoming a running coach!

I'm enrolled in an RRCA coaching certification class in April, and already have a pretty good idea of how I want to run my business.  I've also taken on a couple of "test" clients who are working towards running their first 5k this year. I hope to share their stories on the blog as they reach their goals!

I can't wait to post more details about my coaching business over the next several months. Most of all, I'm excited to be finally DOING the thing instead of just talking about it! If you are tired of talking about running your first 5k, 10k,  1/2 marathon, marathon or ULTRA, and want to finally DO it, please contact me! I'd love to help you take the next step towards achieving your big goal!

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Something happened to me over the past few years that changed my life. Looking back, it wasn't some big "aha" moment.  It was more of a shift in perspective, or a disruption of a prior way of thinking, over a number of days, months, and years. But it all just finally clicked together during my long run last weekend.

I stopped letting who I used to be dictate who I am meant to be.

Let me elaborate. Last Sunday, I was reaching the end of a three hour, 15 mile long trail run through the wintry woods and I thought about how wonderful this run felt. I was tired, yet felt the strongest I had in months. I was sore, but only because I had climbed hills faster and descended technical trails more nimbly than in the previous two months. But then, a small, doubtful voice poked through these uplifting thoughts, and whispered, "your legs are weaker than they were in 2013. Your endurance is nowhere close to what it used to be. You are crazy to think you can run not one, but two hard mountain ultras before the end of June."

I acknowledged these negative thoughts, and decided to replace them with positive ones about the present and future. I thought about how great I felt at that moment, and how much progress I knew I could make over the next five months of training. And then I finished that run with the three fastest miles of my run.

And then I finally realized, THIS is the key to endurance running. And really, truthfully, the key to everything. And I'd been doing it without even realizing it.

In order to move forward towards a future goal, you must let go of your past accomplishments or failures.

As athletes, it feels natural to fall back on the races we've run and the PRs we've set in the past. It's also easy to look back at poor performances and dwell on what we did wrong. It's okay to be proud of these achievements, or upset by our failures. They are all vital pieces of history that help define us as runners, cyclists, or triathletes.

But what I finally realized during that long run is that it's crazy to compare my present self to my past self. It hit me that I can't look back to 2013 and compare myself to what kind of shape I was in, and how far I was running, and how effortless a three hour run felt.

We can only be our current selves, looking forward to better future selves.

Looking back wistfully on past achievements or dwelling on the past is only useful if we are using that history to motivate one's self for future improvement.  For instance, confidence is gained through positive experiences such as successful previous races and training, and confidence is absolutely necessary for pushing towards a new goal. On the other hand, negative past experiences such as DNF'ing a race or missing a PR might provide the motivation to work even harder to achieve your goal. But unless you use these experiences in a positive way, they are worthless.

Obviously, this is all a big metaphor for life, but if you've read this far, I bet you figured that out already. I'm planning to make 2015 the best year yet by accepting my past for what it is, and looking ahead towards much bigger and better things, in running and other parts of my life.

Bottom line is, you have the capability to affect your future with positive thinking and consistent actions towards your goals. If you keep looking backwards, you will never end up moving forwards.

Here's to relentless forward motion.

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This year, I've struggled to come up with numerous goals, as I have done in the past few years. But since training has started for Laurel Highlands already, I suppose it's time to commit to my 2015 goals. As I continue to think about what I really want to accomplish, there are only a couple of things that keep coming to mind, and they center around my big race this year:

Mile marker 37 on the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail   credit: irunfar.com

"A" Goal : Finish the Laurel Highlands Ultra in June (70.5 miles) under 20 hours 

Why 20 hours? Well, 20 hours is the Western States 100 Qualifying Time for Laurel Highlands, and hell, I'm not sure how many shots I will get at qualifying for the original and most prestigious 100 miler in the world.

"B" Goal : Finish the Laurel Highlands Ultra under the 22 hour cutoff

Let's be serious. If I finish a 70.5 mile race I will be ecstatic, WS 100 qualifier or not.

I have some plans of how I'm going to accomplish my A and/or B goals. Besides the higher weekly mileage and back-to-back long runs required to finish Laurel Highlands, I also have many mini-goals that I am shooting for to help me get through 70.5 miles on June 13th:

a)  Hill training & Hiking

LHHT elevation
source

With about 12,000 feet elevation gain over 70.5 miles, this will be, by far, the most challenging course I've ever set foot on. It's unlikely I'll get out to the Laurel Highlands trail because it's about 5 hours away, so I'm going to train on as many hills as I can find near me. I am a huge fan of power hiking the hills during ultras so I will be practicing hiking up and down the biggest hills I can find. This won't be easy where I live, so I'm planning to make the most of the weekends to get to trails and mountains. I'm also going to make a point to run the bridge and find some stairs or treadmill inclines to get in some other hill training during the week.

b)  Consistent Core Work 

You can't read anything about running without hearing how important the core is for keeping posture and preventing injuries. Well, I haven't worked on my core in a long time. So thanks to the power of Twitter and the suggestions of my Oiselle teammates, I have a bunch of resources that I'll be drawing from to help strengthen my core. I'm aiming to do a short core routine 2-3 times per week.

c)  Getting back to Yoga

There's been so many times in the past couple of years that I go to one yoga class and never return because the soreness afterwards is worse than after a 4 hour trail run.  This tells me I have some serious muscle problems and imbalances. I was always flexible as a gymnast and cheerleader, but since becoming a runner, my muscles no longer want to stretch the way they once did. I've noticed this becoming an issue on my runs, with some pains popping up here and there so I'm hoping that a weekly yoga practice will help solve some of this.

I also have a few trail races already planned to help me get some supported runs in:

Chilly Cheeks 7 Miler (1/25/15):   This one is purely for fun. But having done the similar Ugly Mudder race last year, I know that this is a tough and hilly 7 miles. Add some snow and it is a gnarly course. The nice thing is I signed up for the RUN215 beer bus to and from the course, so it's guaranteed to be a fun time!

Hyner 50k (4/18/15): This race is going to be a huge challenge. With about 7,000 feet elevation gain over 31 miles, this will likely be the closest hill training I get to the Laurel Highlands course. I KNOW this race is going to be hard, and I'm prepared to spend 8 hours finishing one of the most difficult 50ks east of the Mississippi.

Dirty German 50k (5/17/15): I wavered back and forth on whether I wanted to pursue the 50k or 50 miler here. I know the course pretty well, having run it the past two years. But as much as I would love to get in a 50 miler before LH, this race is only 4 weeks out from my goal and I don't trust my body will be recovered in time for my "A" race if I run the 50 miler. Instead, I will run about 20 miles the day before Dirty German, and then run the 50k the next day so I get in a nice, quality back-to-back long run weekend.

I think I've put together a pretty comprehensive plan to get me to my "A" goal for 2015. I cannot look past June 13th at this point, and I'm definitely not committing to any other races in 2015 after Laurel Highlands. It's going to be a long journey to 70.5 miles, but I'm excited push my physical limits over the next 5 months!

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This year was an interesting change of pace for me as a runner. I chose roads over trails most of the time, and did not run anything longer than 25k (16.5 miles). I averaged 21 miles per week, and ran mostly for the love of it. I blogged less, and focused on planning my wedding more. I learned what it was like to run fast again. I recovered from burnout due to an ultramarathon focused 2013.

As much as this feels like an off year, giving my body and mind a break from running and ultras, I cannot forget that I did actually achieve (most of) the goals I set just one year ago.

1) Run short and fast trail races - ACCOMPLISHED

I ran the Ugly Mudder 6.2 miler in January, the Tyler Trail 10k in April, the Dirty German 25k in May, and the Dirty Bird 15k in November. I had a great time at every race, and while I can't say they were all fast, I was very happy to place 2nd in my age group at the Tyler 10k this year.

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Creek crossing at the Tyler 10k

2) Run my first timed 5k - ACCOMPLISHED

I ran my first road 5k at the Hangover 5k on January 1st, crossing the line in 23:27 and winning 2nd in my age group. I ran my second 5k in April and PRed with a 22:47, which was good enough to place 3rd woman overall. It turns out I'm not that bad at running 5k's but they are still not my favorite distance.

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Placing 3rd woman at the Healthy Trails 5k

3) Set 10k PRs (sub 53:00 road, sub 55:06 trail) - ACCOMPLISHED

In March, I ran the NERRC Winter 10k (road) and crushed my old PR by more than 4 minutes with a 48:37. At the Tyler Trail 10k this year, I ran a PR of 54:29, which was extremely difficult since I wasn't training on trails much earlier this year. I am really proud of my results at these races, and still consider the 10k to be one of my favorite distances.

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After setting a new 10k PR at the NERRC Winter 10k

4) Set a 10 Mile PR (sub 1:25:49) - ACCOMPLISHED

If I had to pick a race I was most proud of this year, it would have to be the Broad Street Run 10 Miler. Last time I ran Broad Street in 2011, I barely squeaked under 1:30. This year, I ran my heart out and crushed my old PR by 5:33, finishing in 1:20:16. I won't return to run Broad Street in 2015, but since it's Philly's biggest race, I'm sure I'll run it again sometime soon.

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"Unofficial" 10 mile PR at Broad Street

5) Set a 13.1 PR (sub 1:50:38) - ACCOMPLISHED

At the Love Run Half Marathon in March, I finally set a new road half marathon PR of 1:48:14. This was something I needed to prove to myself over the last few years, since I hadn't run a road half since 2010. I needed to show myself that even though I've gotten older and my body has changed, I could still run faster than before. Though I still hate road 13.1s and won't be signing up for any in the near future, I am extremely proud of myself for finally putting this one to rest.

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PRing in the pouring rain at the Love Run

6) Strength train 2x per week - NOPE

I didn't even strength train once per week. I hate lifting weights. It's really difficult for me to exercise in ways I don't enjoy. So, I will reassess my strength goals for 2015 and make them very specific to the races I am training for.

While I am extremely proud of accomplishing almost every goal I set for 2014, one of my favorite running moments of 2014 wasn't even on my list of goals:

Ragnar Cape Cod with Team #flockyoulikeahurricane!

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Ragnar Cape Cod. Photo Cred: @capecodrunner

Ragnar Cape Cod was one of the best running experiences I've ever had. While I love running trails and running by myself most of the time, Ragnar was unlike any other race I've ever run. I had heard how much fun and excitement could happen at Ragnar races, but I did not realize the bonds and friendships that would come out of it. I cannot wait to run another one in the future!

That about sums up 2014, in my running life at least. I am so excited for 2015 and for all the amazing things that are coming next year!

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In my last post (which was WAY too long ago), I wrote about how I was excited to sign up for my "A" race for 2015, the Laurel Highlands Ultra, a 70.5 mile trail run in Western PA. I refreshed the website every day for a month or two to see if there was any more information about registration posted. Well, when registration finally opened on the day after Thanksgiving without fanfare, I was nowhere near a functioning printer. This was highly inconvenient because Laurel Highlands only accepts old school, mail-in, paper applications.  I was quite anxious that registration would fill up in the one day, so the second I got home I mailed in my paper application and check to the race director.

When my check was cashed the following week, I felt a huge sigh of relief... I was officially registered to run a 70.5 mile race on a beautiful, historic trail on June 13, 2015!  But this relief was immediately followed by that voice of doubt that tends to speak up as soon as the excitement of any race registration wears off.  As a runner, it becomes extremely important to recognize this voice because it never really goes away permanently. It is always there, looming large or small, and only YOU determine how loud the voice gets to be.

I've had the voice screaming in my ear for the last couple of weeks, saying things like, "how are you possibly going to run 70 miles in one day, only 6 months from today?! You haven't even run further than a half marathon in 2014!"  OR, "you are nowhere near the shape you were in in 2013, what makes you think you can do this crazy race?!"

These are all valid points.

However, I have familiar feelings of ambition and passion about next year's races, and I'm starting to feel a lot like I did in early 2013, when I first started training for ultras. Ambition and passion are the feelings that drove me to train for my first 50k and first 50 miler in 2013. And they are what will drive me to work towards running 70.5 miles on June 13th.

Obviously, feeling ambitious and passionate about running trails can't get anyone to run 70.5 miles. Consistent hard work and training are what will quiet that doubtful voice, and are ultimately the real foundation for race day confidence.

So, for the past few couple of months, I've been working on consistency. For now, that means about 4 runs per week with one long run of 10+ miles on the weekend, averaging about 25-30 miles per week. But starting December 29th, week one of 24 weeks of hard training will officially begin for the Laurel Highlands Ultra. And that is where the true work lies.

I wrote my training plan today, and I'm excited to tackle it over the next six months. The simple act of writing the plan has silenced a lot of the doubt that has echoed in my mind over the past couple of weeks.

 Look out for my training plan and race goals in my next post!

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Two weeks ago, I posted about my shift from focusing on one big goal to another. Instead of chasing a Boston Qualifying road marathon time, I'm shifting gears completely. I'm skipping the Rehoboth Beach Marathon in favor of getting more quality trail runs in during the remainder of 2014.

And this winter, I'm heading back into the woods to train for one of the toughest 50k races on the east coast,  the Hyner Trail Challenge, which takes place on April 18, 2015.

hyner instagram

Why Hyner? Well, ever since I first heard of this epic race, I've been afraid of it.  And who in their right mind wouldn't be afraid of an elevation profile like this for the 50k:

hyner 50k elevation
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I've read race reports and seen photos of the last couple years, and always said that it would be "too tough" for me to run because I live in the flatlands of South Philly.

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photo credit: peter lopes

My biggest motivators are often the things I'm most afraid of. I never ever thought I could finish a 50 miler prior to 2013. And yet I did.  One of the most important things I've learned from endurance running is that once you finally push yourself way past your comfort zone, it becomes a lot easier and more enjoyable to do it again.

I know training for this race is going to be challenging, especially if we have a harsh winter like we did last year. I'm going to head to the trails as much as possible, and do some serious incline/decline training on whatever hills I can find. After a year of focusing on my wedding and running low mileage on roads, I'm ready to ramp things back up to intense ultra training again.

The other not-so-secret reason I want to run (and power hike) the Hyner Challenge, is because it will be an excellent training run for another race that I can't seem to stop thinking about.

The Laurel Highlands Ultra 70.5 Mile Race

laurel ultra
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This race has been on my radar for a couple years, and I've heard amazing things about the beautiful, historic Laurel Highlands Trail it is run on. This race is also now one of the few Western States 100 qualifiers on the east coast, so it could be fairly difficult to get an entry. It's safe to say that most ultrarunners dream of running the prestigious Western States 100 (myself included), but that is not my motivation for running Laurel Highlands. I want to go out and experience one of the most difficult and beautiful ultra races on the east coast.

When I consider my 2015 plan, it still seems pretty crazy to me. I haven't run anything close to an ultra distance for about a year. But I am confident that with hard work and dedication, I will spring back to become an even better ultra and trail runner than I was last year. When I think about these two races, I get excited for the challenge ahead of me. Will I regret signing up while I'm running in the snow in February? Probably. But I know it will be worth it when I finish two of the most difficult trail races in Pennsylvania.

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