Sunday, January 18, 2015

Sandman Extreme Half Marathon, 1/17/2015, Wytheville, VA

Starting...I am to the left, purple shirt, grey earband and sunglasses.
Yippee! (Photo by Jerry Scott, Wytheville Enterprise)
What a fun way to spend a Saturday morning! Wytheville, VA is a little over 60 miles from my home, but curvy mountain roads make travel take between 1:20-1:40, depending on who you get behind on the roads.
Wythe County Schools Fund for Excellence put on the 6th running of the half marathon and 9 miler, with all proceeds going to benefit the organization's projects for students. The run started at 9am and was a loop with an out ‘n back in the middle where we ran up a dirt road up and back to reconnect with the loop. We gained around 1000’ in a little under 2 miles. It was quite chilly with a starting temperature in the high 20’s, yet it warmed up considerably and we ended with bright sunshine, no wind and temperatures in the 40’s.
course map: dog leg is up Sand Mtn, loop is the 9 mile version
 I stumbled across this event when browsing running calendars this past Wednesday while on an unexpected snowday from work. Sounded like a fun adventure. I expected it to be so because I knew it would be chilly, the climbing would make for “slow” times and since this was a local fund raiser, people would be out there solely for the love of running and spending time with good people. I was not disappointed.

This time of year, even with a half marathon we runners seem to always struggle with the perfect clothing choice. I laughed to myself as I heard people around me wondering ear warmers or hat? Jacket or vest? I was wondering the same thing and ultimately settled on: road shoes, low socks, capri’s, long bra tank, lightweight Patagonia LS zipT, Columbia Omni-Heat Earband, mittens and handwarmers. I figured if I got hot, I could always gypsy tie my shirt around my waist-which is exactly what happened around mile 10. Though I wasn’t planning on tracking my pace during the run, I did wear my Soleus Fit, in order to review data after the run.
This combo of suede and sheep fleece mittens
 and hand-warmers saved the day
The running field was relatively small. Though it had 100 person cap, I’d be surprised if there were more than 60 folks out there. This is a really neat event and when word gets out, I expect they’ll need to up their race cap. I met many runners from the Wytheville area, several from Roanoke, VA and a man from the Front Royal, VA area looking to run a half marathon every month for this year. I didn’t realize half marathons were so hard to come by in January?

My experience of running was joyful: perfect attire and warm hands, no body pains or cold weather wheezing.  I just ran with happiness and started to feel more in my element as we switched to dirt road and started our climb up Sand Mountain. Ahead of me, I could only see a man and a woman. There were others too far ahead to see. The woman caught my eye as she was willowy tall with an extremely graceful running form. We went back and forth a couple times and later after finishing, I learned she is a bit of a local celebrity-Brie Jackson and she is a reported with a Roanoke based TV station. I enjoyed a brief conversation in the recreation center as we waited for awards.
Brie and I shortly after finishing
Brie and her Roanoke peeps at awards
Because the run up the mountain was out and back it was super fun to cheer for and be cheered on by other runners. I was thrilled to see an ‘ole buddy, Nick Whitehead flying down the mountain in 3rd place. Nick and I have shared many trail miles together, not during recent years, yet we have had shared adventures and I certainly consider him a kindred spirit. Great to see him fast and healthy!
Nick and I after finishing...
There was nothing flat about this course. No chance of getting bored. Plenty of water, sports drink, signs and human’s pointing the correct way. Local law enforcement even gave runners the right of way during the couple intersections on the route. There was an itty bit steep hill at around mile 11 that was attention-getting, but fine.

My Soleus says I finished in 1:43:22 with a 7:49 average pace. Slowest mile was mile 4 at 9:01 with 285’ gain chugging up the mountain, fastest mile 7, loosing 242’ 6:30.

I was 9th overall.  Results here. The photographer/writer from Wytheville Enterprise missed me crossing the finish line, so a few minutes after finishing, he asked me to go back out and finish again. I expect it will look real, yet anyone who knows me might question as I had already removed my mittens... I was flattered and happy to do it.
Showing off my cool sand hourglass which I think will be a hit
 with students as they can play w/ it in my office while we talk.
 The 8th graders of the local Junior Honor Society hooked us up with hot chocolate and snacks after the run.
I highly recommend this event for folks looking for a challenging, yet very “runnable” winter mountain half marathon.

To make the day even better, when I arrived home and walked through the door early afternoon, this is what greeted me:
Georgio and kittio. Life is good.
To make a day even better, I am happy to say that Alison and Jason Bryant, both very accomplished ultra/trail/road runners and seasoned race directors will be taking over New River Trail 50k. Yay! I don't know details or dates yet, and I think they are considering adding some alternate distances too. Stay tuned and I will share as I know things...

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Reflections on Reinventing

A  little 2014 Halloween experiment in reinvention...

A closer look...If only changing oneself was as easy as dressing in a cat costume....
I haven’t posted on this blog in just about forever. It’s been a confusing, whirlwind couple of years and I have been too unsettled for much writing or reflection. Now I am coming into a different head space and look forward to debriefing myself by writing. I don’t know if I will write just to write or to share. Obviously, if you are reading this, I have found a reason to share!

I really want to reflect on 2014, yet since I haven’t posted since 2012, will share brief summaries of those years.

PART I: Troubles…

2012: Since World 100k in the spring of 2012, I knew my body wasn’t “right”. Hip, butt, calf and back pain made it discouragingly painful to move, even running across the road to beat a traffic light was difficult.
Feeling rough while finishing up World 100km, May 2012, Serego, Italy

After 3 different doctors, 2 MRI’s, nerve conduction study, experimenting with different food plans, I still found myself with no apparent injury or condition. In September of 2012 I stopped running and instead found the elliptical which did not promote pain. The elliptical is pretty unsatisfying and that combined with not being able to sleep, or a couple times, not being able to go to work because of pain, I sunk into quite the “funk”. Hurting and not knowing why gives a person a serious case of feeling out of control and powerlessness.

Add to that gaining several pounds (not that I got “heavy”, yet most all females can relate that your body changing into something you’re not found of can be really distracting to all of life… you dare not share your loathing and frustration out loud knowing that even close friends might not “get it” and discount your concern).

In November of 2012, I returned to Brian Beatty, a physical therapist working at Proaxis PT in Carrboro, NC. I have traveled there to work with him on and off over the last 7-8 years.  Brian could tell that parts of my body (rib cage, hips and arms were “locked” and I couldn’t get in neutral). This meant that the muscles responsible for firing when I moved were not getting the messages to work, and my lower back and other muscles took over to compensate. Those muscles were angry being asked to do jobs they weren’t designed to do (ie: lower back propelling running when the glutes should be driving the action)

Because Carrboro is so far from where I live-give or take 3.5 hours, I went weeks between visits, often using my phone to video exercises and postures for “homework”. I settled into such a funk that I wouldn’t even do my homework. Pathetic. My spine was starting to curve, visible through my tank top and I was being lame. Something needed to change. I was swimming in frustration and self-pity.

Going to our little local gym to use the elliptical, I met Andrea Cook a personal trainer, and asked to see if she would be willing to work with me-to kinda “babysit” me while I did my exercises. She agreed. We had two such sessions before I realized I could motivate myself to do my PT if I used personal training as a reward. Plus, I figured, since I wasn’t running, I, at 47 years old, really had to learn to weight train in order to protect my bones since I wasn’t able to do weight-bearing activities. To make a lonnng story short, in December of 2012 I was motivating myself to do PT and started to work with Andrea to stay healthy. I figured since I couldn’t run, the money I would have spent on travel and entry fees would go to personal training.
bicep curls with TRX suspension
TRX we call "running girl"
In late December 2012, I was in the gym when a local physical therapist and towards a friend was also working out. She knew I was dealing with challenges. Apparently she’d been watching me move over a couple weeks time without me knowing and one day announced that she believed she could help me. My first appointment with Tracy-Lynn Schuster was in January 2013.

Tracey-Lynn graduated from Elon University and has her doctorate. She is currently the director of the rehab clinic at Ashe Memorial Hospital. (.75 miles from where we live). She studied Postural Restoration under Ron Huruska who is based in Lincoln, Nebraska.

That winter, I continued to elliptical, work out with Andrea and see Tracey-Lynn (TL) at least once a week. My PT involved such things as blowing up balloons, standing on a plank, breathing and doing other things that I thought were kinda “whoo-whoo”-ie: magical or really out there. Yet I trusted TL and made great progress in becoming unlocked and having less pain when doing normal movements. I still could not get to neutral. When TL exhausted her expertise, she felt certain if I could go to Lincoln, NE to the PRI VisionClinic to meet with her mentor, Ron, I could be helped.

At this point, running again was not on my radar, growing into middle age and beyond and being able to be active without pain, was my goal. The clinic was unable to accept insurance due to it’s interdiscinary approach. The initial 2- hour assessment would be $1400.00 and of course there was the cost of getting from here to there. I used flyer miles to pay for my flight and happily I had just enough from my racing “kitty” (money won or provided by sponsors for travel) that I’d saved up over the years to pay for motel for 2 nights, car for 24 hours, and the appointment. I ate PB &J for 2 days in a row…well okay, throw in a bottle of wine and some motel comp coffeeJ

Ron (Huraska) and Dr. Heidi are the heads of the Postural Restoration Vision Clinic. I had 2 hours with these two amazing folks.

My appointment in mid-April consisted of laying on a table and all kinds of range of motion (ROM) being assessed. After that I was given a contraption to wear on my head that allowed different eyeglass prescription to cover my eyes. With each prescription change, I was asked to walk down a hall to see if could be in neutral. NO. No. no…It took several combinations with muscle testing to reach a place that was magic. At one point, with this weird helmet type appliance on my head and covering my eyes, I obligingly walked down the hall looked out the window to the rain (as I had done at least half a dozen times already that afternoon)…and BAM!!!

I looked out the window to the rain and the green leaves and felt a part of life! I was not a spectator! I almost cried at the vividness of what I felt and saw. I felt like I’d move to a different dimension and was experiencing the world in a whole new way. I really was. As I turned from the window at the end of the hall, I was asked to walk forward toward Ron. He instructed me to stand on one foot, do squats, swing my arms, all things I did with difficulty or not at all, until we found this prescription that I need. At this point all my thoughts of “woo-woo” or silliness left me and I become believer of PRI vision.

I learned somehow I’d developed a nervous system condition that didn’t allow nerves to communicate with muscles properly. After so long, disfunction became the norm and I would have to work to retrain my nervous system to respond appropriately. In the following month, using PRI’s prescription, I purchased a pair of training glasses from an eye doctor that mimicked the experience I had at the end of the hall at the PRI Vision Institute.

It was all crazy, and is still so fascinating to me. For whatever reason I was seeing in weird ways and therefore the eyes were sending messages to the brain, which in turn informed my muscles to do certain things, many of which were harmful. Using these glasses and doing specific exercises every day and seeing TL at least every 2 weeks.

TL assured me if I was patient, a full recovery was possible. Since I am not patient by nature, in late spring of 2013, I knew I was missing my running buddies and although improving, felt lost and purpose-less. I knew I needed to surround myself with happy energy and do more things to distract me from running and to remind myself that I have identity besides that of an ultrarunner. (A humbling, ego-catching realization). I didn’t know how to identify myself without being “the runner”.

Summer of 2013 I auditioned and was invited to be a part of the community theatre production of “Annie”. I was in the chorus and played multiple parts and LOVED it. I continued to work out with Andrea and do PT with Tracey-Lynn.
in the dressing room: Daddy Warbuck's maids..6/2013
Fast forward November 2013. Days before my 47th birthday I was cleared to run! Yay!!!

So, since then, I have been carefully back to running. I will not run under emotional stress or when I cannot be mindful. I must be able to be in-touch with my bio-mechanics. At first this was a real energy grabber, but now 13 months after being cleared to run, I have a much better sense of my body, feelings and positioning. If I am stressed or rushed, I loose it all. It is for this reason, I love to run, yet at this point, am unwilling to train for something-no matter how awesome and cool-training, rather than just running comes with it’s own set of stressful expectations.

Another big part of my recovery has come from wearing the proper shoes. For so many years (8) Montrail was a great sponsor. Over the years the trend had gone from beefy shoes to more minimalistic. I happily adapted to the lighter shoes as they were comfy, lighter and generally just great to run both slick trails and roads in. As I went through my PRI assessment, I learned through kinesio testing that as a light runner I need a heavier shoe to keep me grounded.

Every year PRI puts out a list of shoes they believe to be best for their clients and patients. Although I love Montrail, the shoes are not suited for my body when running. I look forward to using them –and do use them on day hikes and fast packs. Tracey-Lynn tested me after I ordered every shoe off their recommended list (free shipping and return of course). I am now wearing Saucony Pro-Grid Omni 6 for everything but roads and a Brooks trail model for dirt.

During my time off from running, I briefly considered training for a figure competition and spent a day at a workshop in Atlanta learning about posing, walking in 5” heels, etc. I learned enough to keep bodybuilding/figure contest on my bucket list, yet it is not something I will pursue anytime soon.
Girls practicing posing in Coach Herb's workshop
Receiving instruction for how to hold arms & hips
Another awesome thing that came out of not running is the new girlfriends I have made at the gym. Ranging in age for 28 to 59 several us get together almost every month for a girls night out. Although our professions, personal lives and hobbies are quite different, we all celebrate taking care of ourselves and appreciating being able to let down our hair with trusting female companions. 
Mona, Andrea, Kyoko, Lindsey and I celebrating November b'days and gutter guards!
Our first gathering in April: CC from bottom L: Tracey-Lynn,
Annette, Andrea, Catherine, Jenny, Lindsey and Kyoko

PART II: Returning to “racing”.

What follows is just a resume of the running and cool experiences of events I experienced in 2014.

May 2014: NewRiver Half Marathon. My first event in 18 months. Ran 10 miles easy and kicked it up for the last 3+. Perfect conditions. Joyful. I even got a cool prize of a wooden tree sculpture and a 25.00 gift certificate to Stick Boy Bakery in Boone, NC. 436 Finishers.1:44:40, 35th overall, 5th woman.

June 2014:
Critter Crawl 5km (up Grandfather Mountain) . 70 finishers. Forth overall, 1st woman: 25:56. I was excited, especially because I was working on my endurance and worked the elliptical for 90 minutes, did a PT session and ran an easy 11.5 miles road the afternoon before the event. I wasn't at all stressed, and had plenty of time to drive, register and warm up. Too bad life as a school counselor couldn't all feel like summer:)
Approaching the top of Grandfather parking lot. Trying
to maintain form and breathe at the same time...Photo by Skip Sickler

Eastern Divide 50k. George won a raffle in February and we were awarded a 3-night cabin stay in Pembroke VA. He also won a guided fishing trip. Just so happens that the race was on Sunday (the day of our checkout and 20 minutes from our cabin). This course was fun with lots of single track uphill for the first several miles before settling into a combination of dirt roads, grassy fields and single track through miles and miles of ferns. It was so green, I thought we must be in Middle Earth.

I ran the 50k, falling at mile 8 (kinda bloody), just because I was daydreaming about PB &J. To make a long story short, I wound up in 2nd place and later getting 5 or 6 stitches in my knee at an urgent care center in Blacksburg, VA: 65 finishers. I think there were 29 women:  4:54:52. I most definitely want to run this again: a great variety of tough single track, muddy dirt road, smooth trails, very scenic and excellent support. (Not  to mention the yummy veggie (or meat) burgers and microbrews at the finish). Yay! I was sooo very thrilled to still be considered and "ultrarunner", even if a bloody,clumsy one. Too make things even more special, my former amazing coach, Howard Nippert and his wife Karen (they live in the area) met me at the finish and we got to jump up and down together for a few seconds!  (Howard is the person who helped me learn to race 100km's. Check out his coaching site at:

July 2014: The Bear 5 miler (uphill): 751 finishers. 73rd overall and 9th female: 43:56… and Grandfather Mountain Marathon. 291 finishers. 11th overall, 1st woman: 3:28:35 (one of the slowest first place female times in a long time…) Both these races are part of the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games. The Bear is Thursday at 7 pm, 5 miles up hill, the marathon started, around 6 am at Appalachian State University Track and wound it’s way up to the track at McRae meadows, the central location for the Highland Games.
Enjoying the crowd and the bagpipes after GFMM
Photo by Skip Sickler
Sooo happy to be running again!, GFMM, 2014
Photo by Skip Sickler
I also spent a week in New York with Mom. We had some wonderful days together in the Long Island sunshine. The following photo was taken at a cafe on Shelter Island where we treated ourselves to a ferry ride and lunch.
Mom is the best!
My sister-in-law Michele Bednosky happened to be visiting family at the same time, so we met and ran Koziarz 5k in Westhampton Beach, NY. It was fun to be up north again where everyone had no trouble pronouncing “Bednosky”. 490 finishers. I eeked in at 21:40, 49th overall and 1st in the 40-49 age group. The prize was a gift certificate to an Italian bakery. Michele and I feasted and bought lots of goodies home to share.
Annette and Michele post 5k

August 2014: Gardening and celebrating Mom Santucci's birthday in Wilmington, NC. George's bro from CA and our nephew Titus came east to celebrate:
parsnips, beets and colorful carrots in growbags...

Birthday girl Mom Santucci and Pops

Georgio and I celebrating his parents at the same dinner

 and starting back to work going into my 14th year as a high school counselor.

September 2014: Bays Mountain Trail Races. This was especially fun as last year I was invited to be a guest speaker and run. Because I couldn’t run, I still gave a presentation and volunteered for the day. It was gratifying to run a year laterJ Bays Mountain 15 mile: Overall 9th, gender place 1 (2:12)

October 2014: New River Trail 50K. Since it’s inception in 2008 I was the race director. Life, job stress, growing demands of social media caused me to transfer the race to Courtney Wait and NCNR (now New River Cons Conservancy ince I didn’t RD, I got to run. Yay! Good enough for 2nd place. (7th overall, 2nd woman: 4:24:02). I won a prize of a free 2-night cabin stay at a Virginia State Park. Totally great!
Getting set up the day before

Just a note. There is no race director or plans for a 2015 New River Trail 50k. It is up for grabs. If anyone is interested, please contact me at as soon as possible.

Also in October I tried to run fast. Our cross-country team at Ashe County High School sponsored a flat 5km called  Out Run Hunger. The first place guy was speedy-he finished in just over 16 minutes. All the rest of us seemed to take our time. Still, I was happy as a clam to win a gift certificate to Coyote Kitchen (my favorite restaurant) for my 21:38, 2nd overall, 1st woman.

November 2014

Early November, George and I played hooky from an afternoon of chores to walk from Massie Gap to Rhododendren Gap in Grayson Highlands. Chilly,yet no wind and spectacular!

Can you believe we live only 35 minutes driving from the trailhead?  So lucky are we!

Two days after Thanksgiving, (which was also my 48th b'day) I ran Derby 50k to celebrate being alive and able to run:). Yes from 8 years ago with a 4:01 CR...and if that wasn't enough, I ran an extra 9 miles to  equal 40 in order to celebrate my 40th (Yay for me back then:)...Not what I was up to this day!

20ish degrees 3 miles or so into the 1st of 4 laps
Warmer, in the 40's just starting 4th and last lap

December 2014: Time with family. George and I drove to Long Island and joined Ron and Michele who had flown in from Florida to spend Christmas with mom. George and I spent the Saturday after Christmas walking 9-10 miles all over Manhattan. Someday I want to run around Manhattan Island. In researching the possibilities I found an organized 50k… yet I think I’d rather do it alone or with a couple buddies.
Four Bednosky's and a Santucci on Christmas Day

Photos: This one-Time Square the Saturday after Christmas, above, looking north
from Battery Park and the New World Trade Center.

For New Years, January 3, 2015 I participated in Salem Lake Frosty 50km: 9th overall, 2nd woman: 4:31:50…a very far cry from my PR on the course of 3:54???. Can’t quite remember…Yet I was very pleased to participate and run mellow with negative splits…
Early miles of Frosty Fifty 2015

What’s next??? I have no idea.
I am very much trying to stay mindful when I run, realize what I will have to give up should I decide to train for long ultras again… I love running and being outdoors. My job is incredibly stressful (as is most everyone’s) so I have to limit my intense training at this point. I see myself as Annette, a person who loves to be active, a wife, daughter, mom to a 15-year old kitty, professional school counselor, adventurer and so many other things. I continue to dive into and explore myself without the primary identity as “ultra runner”.

I do know, a dream I have to celebrate turning 50, Is to travel to Scotland the summer before and run John Muir Way and West Highlands Way. If I save enough money, I could run 15-25 miles a day, depending on terrain and have my duffle transported and stay at guesthouses. Dreams are fun and researching when half asleep drinking coffee in the am are perfect times for fantasizing:)

It’s an exciting, yet often confusing journey. Please let me know if you can relate?

If you have stuck with me reading this litany of thoughts, I thank you.