Team OAM Now’s Elaine Sheikh Places Second at Yankee Springs Winter Challenge

January 12th, 2015 by Team OAM NOW / Athletic Mentors

By Elaine Sheikh, Team OAM Now Triathlete

January 3rd dawned with a dreary mix of snow and freezing rain. As I squinted through my windshield, I couldn’t help but laugh at myself. I didn’t want to drive in that weather, but for some reason I still wanted to go run 25K on what would, undoubtedly, be slick, slushy, and brutally hilly trails.

I hadn’t really planned on racing the 2015 Yankee Springs Winter Challenge. Between recovering from an injury and the demands of veterinary school, I hadn’t run trails in months and hadn’t run longer than 11 miles since October. Still, two days before race registration closed, a friend talked me into signing up. My choices were the 10K, 25K, 50K, or 50 miler. I was in no shape to be running an ultramarathon, so I opted for the 25K. Of course, when I signed up, the trails were dry and free of snow.

YSWC trail picOn race morning, conditions were different. It was cold and drizzling rain onto the already snow covered ground, turning the trails into a slushy, slippery mess. People were hiding in their cars or in the lodge before the race to try and stay dry for as long as possible. I did a quick warm-up, then, as usual, trotted over to the start line fewer than three minutes before send-off. My original plan was to just enjoy a well-marked, supported long run through the woods. However, my competitive spirit arrived just as I lined up. I slid towards the front of the pack and scouted out my competition. My main competitor would be the stellar runner Emily Machiela. An experienced marathoner, ultrarunner, and Ironman triathlete, I knew she’d be both more comfortable on the trails and with the distance than I was. Still, she would be my carrot.

The race is a classic trail race. There aren’t any fancy timing chips or air horns, just a bunch of passionate people doing what they love – trail running. Race director Kim Owens gave a 3-2-1 countdown, and we were off. I sped off the starting line in an attempt to get a good seeding before we hit singletrack, where passing would be difficult. Emily put a good amount of distance on me off the start. I didn’t see her again until the finish, where she won the women’s field. I looked at my watch and settled into my pace for what would be a long couple of hours.

The next two hours consisted of slipping around switchbacks, sliding down and staggering up hills, trying to find solid footing. I was glad I had a pretty aggressive trail shoe, the Salomon Fellraiser. The race would have been much more difficult in a road shoe. Being out of practice with trail running, I forgot how inaccurate my GPS watch would be. I kept checking my pace, and according to the watch, I was going rather slowly. However, my heart rate was very high and I knew I needed to keep it in check to endure 15.5 miles. I decided to take the stress off myself and just run as hard as I was comfortable with. Instead of skipping aid stations or running through them, I stopped, talked to the volunteers, and savored the water and Gatorade they provided. I confess I was pleasantly surprised to see the finish line when I thought I was at only at 14.6 miles! Lesson learned – listen to your body; technology can be unreliable.

IMG_20150103_120058_446I finished with an official time of 2:16:37, which placed me in 2nd for women overall. I stayed at the finish line and chatted with two men I had run near for most of the race. Then, I realized that it was still raining and I was cold and wet, so I headed to the lodge to find teammate Roxane Kippen, who had run the 10K and finished 5th woman overall with a time of 56:33. As a bonus, there were vegan cookies and the best vegetarian chili I’ve ever had!

A huge thanks goes out to Switchback Endurance for another great race. The volunteers, as always, were amazing – it isn’t easy standing out there in the cold rain for hours on end directing parking, manning aid stations, directing runners, marking courses, or all of the other jobs that go into pulling off a race. The sure did deliver though; it was, as advertised, quite the “winter challenge.”


Team Athletic Mentors
© 2024 - Team Athletic Mentors