Q&A: Adi Serbaroli

proposalAdi Serbaroli is an overachiever – not only did she finish the JFK 50 with no training whatsoever, but then she capped off her victory with a life-changing decision at the finish!

Why did you do it?
My friend who has run it twice before assured me that I could run it, with or without training. I thought it would be a unique challenge, so I signed up. However, I did not train for it, and prior to the race itself, had never run more than 15 miles.

What is special about this race?
It’s the oldest 50 mile race in the country and originally created for military officers, and I am currently a military officer.

How important is this race to you?

I’m really glad I put myself to the test to see if I could complete it, and I did.

What is your favorite section and why? 
My favorite section was the first 15 miles, along the narrow, elevated trail.

What is your favorite aid station and why?   

I loved the aid station around the 26 mile mark – I had just come through having hit a metaphorical wall and feeling overwhelmed, and they were there cheering me and my friend on as we approached. It helped me feel as though I would make it to the finish.

Tell me about your big finish.   
About one mile before the finish, I imagined what it would be like if I was actually running 100 miles, and would only be at the halfway point. Needless to say, I was especially thankful to be running the JFK 50 at that moment!

At every viewing point, my sister, brother-in-law, aunt, and then-boyfriend were cheering me on. The signs my then-boyfriend made for me were motivational but also contained clues to his own motivations for my finish. About halfway through the race I picked up on the hints, and my suspicions were correct when he proposed at the finish line!

 

Race Report Pinhoti 100

Lake Morgan waterfallThis is a great race – beautiful trails, wonderful people, amazing support. To be clear, I did not finish as I had to drop at mile 60 (although I ran 62!) due to an injury that would have prevented me from making the time cutoffs. But I learned a lot so it was a worthwhile experience.

Despite reading numerous race reports, listening to several podcasts and talking to runners who had completed Pinhoti, I could have been more prepared and want to be helpful to other runners who are planning to take this one on.

Before the race, I found that there were a lot of inconsistencies – the total elevation gain ranged from between 14k to 17k and runners used wildly divergent terms to describe the trail – everything from cakewalk to tough technical trail. The weather changed from thunderstorms and borderline cold to record high heat and humidity.

As with any race, I tried to hope for the best but expect the worst, which is the right approach for Pinhoti. Still, I have suggestions based on my experience.

The race briefing at packet pick-up was more than 45 minutes, and there may have been only one bit of important info relayed – the GPS coordinates for one of the aid stations was wrong. I didn’t see an email giving runners a heads up. I also heard that the aid stations were easy to find before the race, then heard from several folks that they had difficulty finding more than one aid station based on the directions.

The directions to the starting line were poor, we were lost for more than 30 minutes and saw several cars with ultra stickers driving around in circles as well. When we found the start, there were no volunteers directing traffic or signs pointing to where to go for the start. Give yourself ample time to deal with these challenges to reduce anxiety before you even start the race.

While I don’t know what the actual elevation gain is, you can expect a lot of climbing. Many of the hills I would have found runnable, but since this is a 100-miler I decided to walk just about every hill from the beginning.

Roller coaster trails for the first few miles make it hard to back off, but it is critical. I was surprised that the time cutoffs got more generous in later sections of the race, but setting a solid slow pace in the beginning is key. The race gets more technical and the climbs get tougher in the later stages, so saving yourself early on is key.

Bald rock was not as significant a climb as I expected, but I decided to fast walk/hustle this entire section and it made the climbing much easier (I highly recommend this approach if you have no concerns with the time cutoff). I am a slow runner and I was moving at a slow pace in the beginning (I averaged 15:30m/miles for the first 30 miles), so getting up Bald Rock by nightfall was very doable.

I would estimate that there were about 15 water crossings, and you can expect to get wet at about one-third. I knew I’d get wet so I brought numerous socks to change into, but once I got my feet wet at mile four (and then again and again over the next few miles), I figured it was pointless to change socks since I knew they’d just keep getting wet. Prepare for some blisters, and bring a blister kit and if possible, a crew that knows how to treat blisters.

Since I typically run in Virginia, I am accustomed to well-supported, well-organized races with excellent volunteers who have significant ultra running experience. Overall, the volunteers were great but it would have been helpful if someone had asked if I had a drop bag and helped me get it. At two aid stations, I neglected to get my drop bags, which affected my race.

Everyone is different, but I approach these races with equanimity and try to deal with every challenge and problem in a level-headed non-emotional way. I took a very hard fall on a rock at mile 52, I was scraped up badly but didn’t realize that I had sustained an injury until mile 55. I ran another 5 miles to see if I could move at a fast enough pace to make the time cutoffs. When I realized that my knee was immobile and I couldn’t get enough speed to make the time cutoffs, I asked to drop. The volunteer told me to suck it up and deal with it. I told him that I had a pretty bad injury, and he kept telling me to press on and the race would get easier after mile 60. I ran another mile and turned around to go back to the aid station and drop. It would have been really helpful to have someone to talk through it with and try to problem solve, although I am still certain that I made the right decision. At the time, I was really wishing I had someone to talk to who could help me think through it.

After I dropped, I started to black out from dehydration and found that my knee was in such bad shape that I couldn’t walk on it. The volunteers were going back to the finish so they offered me a ride, but my crew was at mile 68 with no cell reception. One of the volunteers agreed to take me to them, but a word of caution about dropping – the RD also said that there was one AS (I don’t remember which one) that required runners to go back to another AS to get a ride, so think ahead in case you have to drop.

One critical mistake that I made was not bringing Gatorade, which I typically use for electrolyte replacement. An experienced runner told me at AS 2 to stay on top of my electrolytes since it was in the high 70s and humid, but the AS didn’t have Gatorade. Before the race, I pulled up the list of food and drinks that they’d have at AS and Gatorade and coffee were listed. I didn’t see Gatorade until mile 52, and I never saw any coffee. My pacer said that she asked at mile 68 and they offered her instant but said that was all they had.

The RD was clear that the course was marked every 1/4 mile, which was true. But there were some sections that were pretty technical and there was some overgrowth, so it was hard to follow the markers in a few places. I lost the trail completely a couple times and waited for another runner so we could compare notes and we ultimately found our way after a few minutes of searching. I heard that there were a few runners who ran for two extra hours, lost. Pay attention and stop as soon as you realize that you are off trail. For the most part, I found that being on the trail meant that I was still on the race course, but a few sections were rough for a few feet, but the trail did pick back up so don’t wander off trail too long. There were nearly always runners in front of me and behind me (somewhat surprising for a 100-mile race, and again, I’m slow), so sticking with the pack is a good policy.

While the race organizers did not want to disclose how many runners drop, we heard a volunteer say that there were 81 drops at mile 60 based on a starting field of 253.

I would recommend this race to anyone who is prepared for a very challenging, tough trail race because the pluses by far outweighed the challenges. A 100-mile point-to-point race has major logistics, and the race organizers and volunteers were overall wonderful but it helps to go into races like this with eyes wide open aware of the potential pitfalls.

One other note, we had challenges getting around Alabama in general so choose your map app carefully, didn’t figure this one out by the time we left. The speed limits change frequently and there are police everywhere pulling drivers over, we were lucky but a heads up if you are not from Alabama.

Even though I did not finish, I am so glad that I took on this challenge and learned from the experience. Beautiful country and beautiful people in Alabama. I met so many amazing people on the trail, and helped quite a few runners who were struggling along the way who I thought would never be able to get to the next AS to drop, only to find them passing me 15 or 30 miles later, so inspiring. Several of my friends finished and I continue to be amazed by them. Good luck to everyone who takes on Pinhoti, don’t miss mruns podcasts and subscribe to the Facebook page, very helpful.

 

 

 

 

JFK 50 Legends Light the Way

The countdown is on – 15 days until the 55th Annual JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon!

Many runners have hopped and skipped over those rocky climbs on the AT, shuffled along the C&O towpath, and hobbled through the roller coaster hills toward the finish – and their stories are legendary.

Three runners – Steve Bozeman (26 finishes), King Jordan (20 finishes) and Al Montgomery (20 finishes) – are among the legends of the JFK, and as such they have collected many heartfelt memories along the way.

As friends and running partners for the past four decades, they have shared many miles and many adventures. Exuberant miles, heart-wrenching miles, and all-important uplifting miles – and what they know to be true is that it’s not about the miles. It’s about the lives that they have reclaimed on the roads and the trails. It’s about the stories and experiences that they have shared. No excuses, no regrets, no apologies – only pride.

The stories and experiences behind those miles have given their lives meaning and purpose that cannot be shared through spoken words or written words. They weren’t just chasing down finish lines, they were chasing down dreams and creating miracles.

Steve’s wife, Debbie, shared hundreds of miles with them as well. They shared miles and so much more – they shared adventures; they shared victories; they shared defeats.

The common thread that ties them together with all the miles, races, and big finishes – is a true love for the sport that has helped to shape and define their lives. Their stories are epic, and worthy of sharing and remembering (more to come, soon…).

These stories are what make this race so special. JFK 50 runners come together on the third Saturday in November each year to celebrate, commiserate and touch upon profound truths that bring them closer together.

As race day approaches, honor and remember these JFK 50 legends as they are the true heart and soul of this race – and dig down deep to secure your place in JFK 50 history.

Swaha at ATR-12 Hour

LCC Yogaville
Visiting Yogaville a few days after the ATR-12 hour in Prince William Forest Park (Triangle, Va.) gave me time to reflect on 45.5 miles of pure joy.

I ran the entire distance with a good friend who provided hours of entertainment (about 12 hours to be accurate). At one point, I had to beg her to stop making me laugh because I was having a hard time running and laughing at the same time.

The trails didn’t disappoint, from twisty-turn-y trails to gentle long climbs and gentle long descents on fire road to roller coaster single track trails. Athletic Equation knows how to support a great race, and the crew and support were top notch. Including my baby, who had her priorities straight from the beginning, when she bounced out of bed at 3:30am. I watched her hustle out of the corner of my eye throughout the day at the aid stations, my only hope is that I don’t disappoint her with my performance.

But this race was pure swaha – letting go of the spiritual weight that usually bogs me down in races by overthinking my strategy, getting overwhelmed by the miles ahead of me, getting lost in my head instead of just running and being. The swaha of being serious melted away and were replaced by smiles, laughs and reckless abandon surrounded by the beauty and glory of nature and prana (energy).

In between the pain and the joy, we get to touch magic. The suffering is minimized by dreams of victory, hunger for the journey and desire for the sublime.

This is a picture of the sun setting on the James River that flows past Yogaville. I learned swaha at Yogaville many years ago, and found myself on the side of the road realizing that I had found the ability to let go although I knew that I’d be forever seeking it and finding it. There would never be an arrival. Once I reached the finish line, the finish line will keep moving. Isn’t it wonderful?

 

Redemption

IMG_4365Without a comeback, failure is just failure. But the comeback means that failure is the gift, the wake up call. Disappointment, failure, setbacks – these are the gifts.

Here I am finishing the OSS/CIA race in June, way off my goal time and slogging along with the goal of just getting there. But there were woot-woots and high fives waiting for me at the finish. But as my pacer would say, the wheels never came off the bus.

Fitting that the Loopty Loop race (the comeback) was in Michigan, my home state. Surrounded by friends and family – inspiration and hope and love.  I may never be a truly great runner, but I will always toe the line if I am able. I will always show up, for others and for myself. And for my little crew chief, who makes every race special and every moment meaningful.

I loved those Loopty Loop miles – in awe of my friends and baby brother who fought through the challenges to make it happen, to be free, to be alive, to be filled with life.

I love the slow miles, the fast miles; the lazy, hazy and downright crazy miles. The miles that bring me to my knees and the miles that change my life forever. This race brought it home. Failure is the gift, and the comeback is how I give back.

Race Report: Bull Run Run

ganesh
Better late than never, but there was this whole Disney fiasco… I mean, magic. I made some truly classic monumental mistakes, or as I like to call them – opportunities for enlightenment.

First, prepping for the race – I was more focused at the time on trying to escape the American dream, which I’ve been trying to do for the last 20 odd years (I do mean ‘odd’).

The only thing that was important to me was having Ganesh on my person (see pic). Ganesh is the god (small ‘g’) of overcoming challenges, the god of wisdom (body of a child that represents curiosity, Elephant head that represents ancient wisdom. Get it? Child seeking wisdom, as they are the most capable of doing so), and the god of new beginnings. (Honestly, if you are going to be a god you have to go after the big stuff, right?)

Problem was my Ganesh idol that I strapped on my wrist kept getting caught in the netting of my hydration pack. (If this doesn’t sound like a Tracy problem, then I don’t know what does.) But I did not care because it’s Ganesh, and this is one of the toughest races I’ve ever run (did someone say 7k of elevation?), and I was not going to let him go.

In my quest for ancient wisdom (failed… miserably), I forget to pack a change of clothes, fleece, head lamp, change of shoes… actually, I overlooked bringing the whole damn drop bag. I didn’t stop there, I forgot to get water before the start of the race. WATER. Seven something miles without WATER. At the beginning of a 50-mile race with lord-only-knows feet of elevation gain.

My amazing friend Marwa saved the day and gave me WATER, which leads me to lesson #2 – Marwa has way more friends than I do and she is way nicer than I am. Not that this is news to anyone. Plus, she had WATER.

While I have a funny habit of chanting in Sanskrit when the miles are dark, this time my private kirtan kept getting interrupted by Paranoid by Black Sabbath, playing in my head relentlessly in between riffs of the Hanuman Chalisa and the Gayatri mantra, both of which keep me sane during insane times.

But this is an insane time in my life, I’m moving on from broken-ness that I’ve been dragging along for the past 12 years. I’m selling my house and it is liberating while it is also painful. Sounds kinda like trail running to me, actually.

This has very little to do with the actual race, but I know there were some moments during the day that I knew where I was and what I was doing. The rest of the time, I was laughing inside at the cosmic joke that life is while chasing bliss.

As I was approaching the finish line, I saw my Wolfpack family (thank you, Wolfpack, thank you). I took a moment to find the quiet inside and then I found them – all of their bright beautiful shining faces – and began to rewrite the American dream just as I scored my big finish.

 

 

 

 

 

February Marathon Challenge

feb marathon challenge
Gifts from the Wolfpack – thank you!

 

My girl represented in the Arlington Science Focus School February Marathon Challenge, and I couldn’t be more proud of her. Not because it’s running, but because she knows that I want her to run – and, be honest, what do you do when one of your parents wants you to do something? Exactly… the opposite.

She ran more than 26.2, which makes it an ultra marathon. And she did it smiling and laughing most of the time. And she spent lots of time on trail.

But what really impresses me the most is when she realizes the importance of dedication and commitment, as well as the positive benefits of genuine suffering. She may complain when she’s doing it, but afterwards she thanks me (usually). Or tells me how much she enjoyed the amazingly miserable experience. Since we speak our own private language, I totally get what she means.

Somewhere deep inside this girl is a very wise soul who can get anything she wants out of life. One of my many highlights of the month was her decision to climb a very steep section of trail at the end of a 9-mile tough technical trail run (there was a much easier route).

And of course the other highlight is the Wolfpack bRUNch party we had to celebrate her victory. She loves the Wolfpack as much as I do, and we really appreciate the gifts and encouragement and run love.

If she never runs again, but applies what she learns to whatever she wants to do – I will be one happy mama. But in the meantime, I get to savor her big finish.