Sunday, October 30, 2005

An Interview with 2005 Western States 100 Champion, Annette Bednosky

When the announcement came across the speaker that Annette Bednosky was about to be the #1 female (and 13th overall) for the Western States 100, many west coasters looked at each other and said, “who’s that?”. But the east coasters knew better – North Carolina-based Annette may be new to the ultra scene, but she’s a formidable contender in any race. Her performances at 2004 Massanutten Mountain 100-miler (1st female), 2 times winner of the Mount Mitchell Challenge 40-miler, and 3rd place finish at the 2004 Mountain Masochist 50-miler showed she had the mettle. Now with her 18:39 finish at Western States where she and pacer Kami Semick set a pace no female racer could match, she has claimed a spot among the great ultra runners.

(Annette wins the Laurel Valley 35-miler, photo courtesy of Claude Sinclair)

After constant harassing ;-) from her massive fan base in North Carolina and Virginia, I sought out Annette for a brief interview.

Congratulations on an extraordinary finish at Western States. Did you have any idea that #1 female was within your grasp?


As I began my training for WS I looked at former times and saw that if I wanted to be competitive (place top 3), I would have to finish in under 20 hours at least. I worked hard with my training, and attended training camp over Memorial Day Weekend which really helped. When race day finally got here I heeded the advice I’d heard so much and saw in past race splits - “The race doesn’t start until Foresthill”- so I hadn’t pushed hard until that point and was both relieved and psyched to “unleash”! I didn’t realize for many miles that I had gotten in 1st place (with 30+ miles to go) by passing Bev at the FH aid station. Once having the taste of being in the lead and having Kami’s encouragement, I didn’t want to give it up!

Was the race fairly consistent for you, or did you have some struggle spots?

I loved the snow miles! I laughed out loud slipping around out there. The first 62 miles of the run were very fun, the last 40, much more work. I hit a low point a ½ hour or so out of Foresthill. I felt really tired and that I was working too hard, but when I looked at my HR monitor, it was only 124. Kami asked when I’d last eaten, and lack of food turned out to be the problem. I felt better after eating. I look forward to returning next year feeling better in this spot so I can really enjoy that wonderful downhill section all the way to the river crossing!

How many events (and of what types) do you typically target in a year? What have been the highlights?


I am in the process of figuring what the best number and combinations of events for me. Since January of this year I have run 15 ultras and raced 10 of them (50k, 40 miles, 50 miles, 100k, 100 miles). Part of the selection process this year was choosing at least 4 events so I could compete in the Montrail Ultra Cup -and choosing some big ones so I could honor my agreement as a member of the Montrail UltraRunning Team.

Some highpoints were being the first woman to break 7 hours at the Uwharrie 40 miler in February…this is a deceptively tough course and 100% rolling, rooty single track! Another high point was the Bull Run 50. I was fortunate enough to grab a new record on that one. Yet what made it significant was the lesson that presented itself during the race. It was 5 miles from the end of Bull Run 50 and I was going through a difficult spell when images of my Dad appeared. He’d been dealing with cancer for 7 years, but it recently had invaded his bones. It really hit me about how painful, frustrating, and scary it must be to be my Dad at this time, losing his strength, body and some independence. I knew without his usually strong body he was still Wes Bednosky, but the reliable tough vehicle of his body he’d inhabited for so many years was breaking down. I knew then that the discomfort I was feeling would soon end and I would recover. I knew I could choose the level of discomfort and with more practice, continue to push through discomfort and would heighten my threshold for what I was willing to deal with during training and racing. My choices as a runner were clear, my Dad’s choices seemed far less so. I celebrated having choices and being strong and healthy!

Running to the end of Western States was an incredible experience. I felt like I was flying and floating all at the same time! Coming around the track and hearing my name and seeing my crew and thinking of home and family made it necessary to celebrate life and be grateful for a working body! I think my best race of the year though, was this past weekend at the Mountain Masochist. I came in 2nd to Anne Riddle Lundblat. The race was lots of work and Anne pushed me hard. I was overjoyed at sub 8 hours and having the both of us break the previous course record.

If I want to keep doing this sort of running for any amount of time I have to cut down on the quantity of events. As I’ve learned to race harder and gotten more competitive I am finding that emotional/mental recovery is as important as physical.

You mention the Montrail Ultra Cup. Can you tell us about that?

The MUC is a combination of 12 diverse ultras of varying distances all over the US. It’s open to anyone. There are several divisions and ways to compete, but I chose to enter the “open overall”. This meant running at least one 50k, 50 miler, 100k and 100 miler. The Mountain Masochist was the “championship race” and allotted 50% more points than the others.

I imagine MUC attracts many strong runners. What happened for you during the MUC this year?

I got to run with some amazing women this year. Sadly, a couple strong women who were planning on competing were out with injuries. I had three really good finishes, placing 1st at Western States 100, Great Eastern 100k and at Ice Age 5Ok. I also came in 2nd at the Mountain Masochist 50miler. I had enough points to be the female overall open series winner-I found out last weekend, I am thrilled!

You wear a Montrail/Patagonia jersey in the pictures I’ve seen. Are you sponsored by them?

Yes! Since January this past year! I feel very proud and think it’s especially cool since I’ve been an avid fan of all our sponsors products for years, even before I knew about ultrarunning!

(Annette on her way to winning the Western States 100, photo courtesy of Montrail)

I have a ton of VHTRC folks stopping by my blog. Do you run with this group regularly even though you are based in NC?

I live less than 20 miles from the VA border so it makes sense for me to do long training runs and race in VA. I have run several VHTRC races and love the diversity of the group. They are a fun and supportive group of runners.

When did you start trail running? Have you always been an athlete?

To be honest, I started running trails because I didn’t have a flashlight or hiking boots! Right after college, in 1989, I worked in Yosemite Valley and during my days off I’d go on long solo hikes-I didn’t have boots so I always wore my sneakers. Often have 4-5 left of my 20+ mile day hike and it’d be getting dark-so I’d run back to the trailhead. I started running trails on purpose when I came to work at the North Carolina Outward Bound School in 1992, ran my first 40 mile ultra in February 2003,and my first marathon (trail) in March of 2004.

Growing up I loved to play outside and run in the woods and climb trees, but I wasn’t an athlete. My twin sister, Cheryl, was a cross country and marathon runner and I was into theatre. We kept very tight to our chosen boundaries until we got away from each other and went to colleges 2,000 miles apart! I started running in college.

What made you start running in college?

I’d gained 20 pounds during my freshman year so I started running to lose weight. It wasn’t long before I discovered it also helped me relax and discover new places.

Do you and Cheryl run together now?

In spirit. Cheryl struggled with mental illness for years and took her own life in 1998. I miss her and know that both her and my Dad are somehow there beside me, willing me strength and perseverance when I get discouraged in training or during low points in races.

I read that Kami Semick was your pacer for part of Western States. What section did she pace? Have you guys been running together for long?

Kami was a GREAT PACER-fun, supportive, tough and strong. We ran together from Foresthill to the end. Neither she nor I had ever paced or used a pacer before, so we figured it out as we went along. I’d made some tentative plans with someone else for pacing earlier in the year, yet illness prevented him from following through. So with 3 weeks before the run, I posted a message to Montrail Team and Luanne Park responded and suggested I contact Kami. I’d read about Kami’s running accomplishments and was thrilled when she agreed to help me. We e-mailed each other a couple of times and talked on the phone 2x before meeting race day in Foresthill. I loved running as a “team” of 2 strong women! Hopefully I can return the favor some day.

What inspires you to run? And keep up the training?

I run because it is part of my life, like sleeping, eating and talking with the cat. If I can’t run, then I’m on my bike, hiking, or doing something! I train and stay inspired to do so, because I remember my goals - ones that I often say aloud in order to have others help keep my accountable. I love to race and without the training, racing would be less fun and freeing.

Do some lessons of ultras apply to your job as a high school counselor?

I think everything that happens on the trail happens in other parts of life. I keep most of my trophies/finishers medals in my office at the HS. When students show interest, I ask if they have questions. They are mostly interested in how a person eats and drinks and goes to the bathroom while running so long. If they ask, I tell. The uniqueness of it all makes for easy conversation, and that often opens the doors for more honesty with students and parents. And yes, metaphors abound! Sometimes I use these metaphors with my students, and right now I am trying to use it for my own motivation as I work on my application to become a National Board Certified School Counselor. It is a huge process requiring hundreds of hours of reflection, networking, work and documentation. My portfolio is due March 31. I keep telling myself to approach it as I am training for a 100 miler- can’t do it all at once, but in pieces you can do it - and like my training schedule, I have planned my timeline and “to do list” several months in advance.

Do you ever do road races, triathlons, or other types of events? I have heard you have been known to put in some miles on the mountain bike.

I have completed one triathlon, but because I am a pitiful swimmer, I am not pursuing them at the moment! I did my first adventure race two weeks before my first ultra and loved it (The North Georgia Adventure Race (NGAR)), which I’ve done the last 3 years. I dabble in mountain biking, road riding and cyclocross racing. The longest I’ve raced on pavement running was last December at a half marathon in Winston-Salem. I am slow at all things involving two wheels. Though I like to mountain bike, technical downhill scares me, and most of the time I will dismount and run with my bike on my shoulder rather than “ride”.

What are some of your favorite races/locations?

It’s tough to choose favorites as there are so many wonderful events. David Horton’s Hellgate 100k that started 2 years ago is high on the list. The race begins at 12:01 am the 2nd Saturday of December. The first year we had a full moon, no wind, cold temperatures and several inches of snow on the ground. The reflective snow made headlamps unnecessary most the night. It was truly a magical time. I encourage my running friends who are considering 100 milers and who haven’t run at night to come check out this event. It’s a great opportunity for learning as well as a top-notch race.

I really enjoyed WS100 with the exquisite scenery and helpful volunteers and White River for the same reasons. I could go on and on.

Lastly, a few training questions. What’s a typical training week look like for you? How many miles? When do you add in speed work?

The amount of miles change with what I am working towards. This year, during April and May, I would run 80-100+ mile weeks for 3 weeks, back off several days prior to a race (50M or 50k), recover with low mileage for a few days and jump back with bigger mileage. Usually I have 2-3 hard workouts a week.

A sample week this past May while getting ready for WS might have looked like this:

Sat: Three 11 mile uphill/downhill repeats on dirt to total 33 miles to prepare for WS downhill
Sun: 15-20 miles leisurely in town while listening to a book on tape
Monday: Easy 4.5
Tuesday: 2 X 4.5 miles, moderate
Wednesday: 2 mile warm up,4-5 miles of speed on track with HR monitor, 2-3 mile cool down
Thursday: 7-10 miles all at once or split up, depending on work schedule
Friday: easy, bike, walk, or travel

I have had fun this fall doing hard workouts 1x-2x a week with our high school cross country team. Participating in local 5k or 10k fundraiser runs are hard workouts too.

What are your favorite foods/race snacks?

I have discovered gel this year…I also like Clif Bars, PB&J and salted potatoes.

What is your diet when you are not involved in a race?

I am an Atkins rebel. I love bagels, pasta, all veggies, sugar, atomic fireballs, lean chicken, coffee, and red wine.

Aside from cycling, do you cross-train at all in other sports?

I really like to snowboard and rock climb, but I don’t regularly do much besides running or bike riding-except to workout on a cross trainer if it’s too icy or snowy or I’m feeling whimpy. I’d like to, but there isn’t enough time for everything!

A lot of the blog readers love to hear about “lessons learned” (ie, things that didn’t go right that perhaps they could avoid). Any you would like to pass on?

Yes, I collect lessons! I will list several learnings that have become musts for me. Now I always

- tape (duct or lueco) and body glide my feet where I tend to get hot spots
- carry Compeed and duct tape
- carry at least 2 gel packs for emergency calories
- wear an extra pony tail holder on my wrist in case I break or loose the one on my head
- double-check that my gel is watered down enough so that I can squeeze it out of the bottle easily while running
- set 3 alarms to wake up early
- practice at night with a new headlamp
- take off sunglasses in the shade. The dappled light combined with the sunglasses makes it really hard to see
- risk being seen as anti-social and spend a quiet night by myself before races.

Any tips you would like to pass on to somebody trying their first ultra? How about a first 100-miler? How about their first Western States.

I would encourage that person to enjoy their preparation and choose goals for themselves that their lifestyle will support them reaching. Be sure there aren’t other significant life events that will be hugely distracting during the building phase. Last year one of my friends was in the midst of helping her daughter plan for a wedding that took place 2 weeks before her first 100 miler. At times she was very distracted from running and often had to back out of some of her long runs due to the obligations and stress of the wedding.

For me, making a master schedule of a training plan, work and home obligations and special occasions months in advance help me with successful preparation. Also, besides getting time on feet, I would encourage that person to discover what they can about the course and prepare in similar conditions/terrain and to study a map and look over past finishing times and splits if available. Prepare for rain, sleet, heat, humidity, night running etc… I loved the preparation phase of my first 100 miler, The Massanutten in VA. I read dozens of race reports and studied split charts and ran the whole course in pieces during the months preceding the race.

My approach to Western States was similar. Training terrain specific by running lots of horse trails here in the east and downhills helped prepare my quads. I wore extra clothes for long runs and experimented with different electrolytes to prepare for the anticipated heat.

The best preparation for my brain was attending the 3-day training camp hosted by race management over Memorial Day Weekend. We got to run almost 70 miles of the course. I arrived in CA 4 days before WS to explore and camp and recon other 25 miles of the course. This helped me know what to expect. I also paid special attention to the terrain after mile 80, knowing this could be a difficult section. Mostly, though, I just celebrated being able to run in one of the most beautiful places in the US!

What’s next on the race/run agenda? Any plans for ’06?

At the moment I am in the 2nd week of a self-imposed 2 months off from serious training during which time I’ll run less and participate in a couple of local non-ultra events. I plan to go to a “new” place in January to Huntsville, Alabama for the Mountain Mist 50k. Other plans for ’06 include Western States, and at least 4 of the Montrail Ultra Cup Races.

Thanks for a great interview!

Thank you for your interest and for listening to my rambles!

11 comments:

  1. Thanks Scott for following up on our requests to interview Annette. She is a remarkable runner and her dedication is impressive. Chris

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  2. Great interview Scott with an impressive runner! Love your blog.

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  3. Whoa...she is really fast!!! I see she did really well at the MM50 too, getting second.

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  4. Annette, thanks for talking about the Montrail Ultra Cup. I've always heard about it but could never find it on the web.

    Thanks for the blogterview, Scott!

    Leslie

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  5. Annette is great! Thanks to both for th e interview.

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  6. Annette- I hesitate to call anyone "my hero", but you are definitely a woman who inspires me. Thank you for sharing something of yourself in this interview. I have lots of NC friends who know you better than I do, and they all confirm my general impression of you- YOU ROCK! Cheers, Amy Leigh

    p.s. Scott, I enjoy your blog a lot, I think you're doing a very cool thing. Speaking as a newbie ultrarunner, I think you're providing a great service, love these interviews esp. Thanks!

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  7. Thanks for the kudos on the blog, everyone. And thanks to Chris for finding Annette for me! She is amazing.

    SD

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  8. Great blog Scott!

    Keep up the good work.

    The Nature Boy from North Wisconsin.

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  9. Hey-thanks for the comment on my podcast! Glad to know people actually listen that aren't related to me! I really enjoy your blog. As for your question, I use a free program called Audacity, which you can get at: http://audacity.sourceforge.net/; and I just use a regular mic hooked up to the PC. Hoping to get fancy and get a portable recorder at some point. Thanks!

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  10. Hello,

    I am a professional cartoonist who has created some cartoons dealing with running. I wanted to talk to you about utilizing them on your blog. Unfortunately I couldn't find an email contact, so I'm leaving you a post. You can contact me directly at jaynocera@aol.com. To see some samples of other cartoons, you can go to: http://www.nichecartoons.com.

    Thank you for your time.

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  11. Annette,

    Your are my athletic idol!! I can't believe you were one of my college instructors and a very good friend.
    You inspire me to strive for better results everyday. As soon as my leg heals I'll be back on the bike and riding faster and farther than ever because of you! Take care of our George.

    Love Brandon in Seattle

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