Once More Into The Woods

My friend Sarah is back to share her recent trail running adventure with us! Thus far, she has completed six ultra-marathons!  Her dedication and drive is an inspiration to me.  She encouraged me to get out there to do my first ultra in 2016.  And that was life changing for me–you really can do anything you put your mind to.

Sarah blogged with us a few years ago sharing her stories about the Rock the Ridge 50 in New York (you can read those adventures here from 2013 and 2014).  Today she highlights the beautiful state of Virginia.  Enjoy her story and may you be inspired to chase your dreams too!

Guest Blogger: Sarah Topping

Saturday, March 24, 2018, I found myself at the start line of a race and all I could think was “this is a really bad idea.”  What did I do when faced with the belief I was going to fail spectacularly at the Terrapin Mountain half marathon?  I ran it anyway.  And I had the time of my life.

It was very apparent from my first steps that I did not know anything about this race when I registered for it.  I couldn’t pull up the map on my phone, and it was blocked at work, so I figured I would just give it a shot.  I consider that a good thing now.  If I had known more about it I never would have tried it and I would have missed a wonderful, awful, painful, long, beautiful day in the woods of southwestern Virginia.

There is a 50K that runs at the same time as the half marathon.  Runners have nine hours to finish, so the half also has that time limit.  Turns out that was a very good thing for me.

The night before, I slept in my car in a field on a farm near the start/finish.  I dearly love my Rogue but I have to say, it isn’t that much fun to sleep in.  I could have pitched a tent in said field, but I was afraid I would not want to pack everything up after the run.  So I did that part right!

I woke to a cold and clear morning and the mountains were calling me.  At the sound of the gong (seriously!) we were off.  The race starts on roads near the Sedalia Center in Big Island, Virginia.  Very quickly I was plodding along by myself, the pack having already made their way up the mountain.  The roads turn into trail and suddenly I was where I love to be – the middle of nowhere in the woods.

01. Sunrise on the trail

Sunrise on the trail

This part of the race goes pretty much uphill for the first 4.1 miles.  So up I went.  I walked a bit with another woman but she soon pulled ahead.  Between the cold and the altitude, I was having a lot of trouble breathing.  I used my inhaler more than ever before during this race.

I wasn’t alone on the trail for long before the sweeps were there.  Walking behind me.  I’ve had bad experiences with this before, but the couple that was sweeping this race were really nice and I quickly forgot to be embarrassed.  I did keep apologizing for the walking.  It’s hard not to when you know you’re keeping someone from the run.

I finally made it to the first aid station and the sweeps got to head off a different direction from me to follow the 50Ks.  Courtesy of the altitude, my stomach was not happy so I had a cup of ginger ale before hitting the trail again.  This portion of the race was all in snow.  02. Snowy trailA mile trek to the summit of Terrapin Mountain.  02.1 Snowy trail There were some kids at the aid station and they were playing on the trail.  I had to laugh when they ran past me up the trail that I was struggling so much on.  It reminded me of learning to ski as an adult and having the toddlers whiz by me without a care in the world as I was doing my best Bambi on ice impression.  Two of the older ones kept stopping to give me encouragement.  I don’t know who those kids are, but they are a couple of the nicest children I have ever come in contact with.  Their parents should be proud. 02.2 Snowy trail

I wish I could have enjoyed the trail more (the views were gorgeous and I LOVE snow) 03. View1but the altitude was really messing with me.  I made it to the top then promptly missed the turn to the summit and headed down the trail.  Down, down, down…wait a minute.  Where are the views?  What happened to the summit?  Crap.  Turn around.  Back up the hill.  I added a mile to my race this way.  I got to the top again and easily saw where I went wrong.  Made my way to the summit and the first of the orienteering punches I needed to punch my bib with to officially finish the race.  04. Terrapin Mountain SummitAs I was there, the first 50K runner passed me.  Do that math.  Then it was back down the snowy trail.  I love running in the snow.  Well, except for the really slippery parts.  This run was definitely an exercise in balance.  I got an amazing core workout, too!

And another 50K runner passes me.  This will be the theme of my day.  After some more downhill I come to a turn which takes me to some giant rocks with what appears to be the trail between them. 05. Rocky Horror And I cursed.  Loudly.  I get claustrophobic just looking at the space I have to go into.  I stared at it a minute, may have cursed the race director, then dropped into the space between the rocks.  As I was trying to figure out how to get out of there, the next 50K runner drops down behind me.  I was so worried about holding him up that I somehow managed to get through the space and under the wedged rock and out the other side.  I jumped off the trail the best I could so he could get past me.  What does he do?  He stops to make sure I’m okay.  Another reason to love trail running.  Anyway, the second punch I need to punch my bib is in the space between what I’ve dubbed Rocky Horror and more rocks I need to get over before getting back to less terrifying trail.  06. More rocks

And the trail kept going down.  And down.  07. View2
08. Still heading downAnd down.  With the relentless climbs I kept wishing for downhill, but as we all know, downhill is not really any easier.  The trail dumped down into this really rocky section where I twisted my ankles a bajillion times and concentrated on not falling.

All the while, the 50Kers were passing me by.  This downhill section seemed to never end.  My feet were bruised from the rocks, I kept having random foot cramps, and my breathing still wasn’t much better.  The trail eased out into a gravel road which I followed to the next aid station.  I still felt pretty bad so all I managed to eat was three oyster crackers and a cup of cola.  Then it was back up the road until the turn onto the Terrapin Mountain Trail.  This trail was described to me as “rolling” and I found that must be local humor.

10. WaterThe trail finally hooks back up with the gravel road leading to the paved roads leading back to the Sedalia Center.  I am able to (very slowly) run that entire section.

As more 50Kers pass me.

I finished in 7:35:55. Obviously, I was the last half marathoner and there were only a few 50Kers that finished after I did.

And you know what?  I don’t care.  I am so done caring what other people think about me or say about me or to me.  I don’t run to be better than anyone.  I am not competitive with anyone but myself.  I had a fantastic day in the woods running new trails, meeting new people, and taking it back to what really matters:

11. CoffeeMe.  Running.  In the woods.
It was a long four-hour drive home that afternoon.  On Sunday, I still wasn’t feeling well, but I enjoyed a cup of coffee in my new favorite mug.  That’s what I consider a win.

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Get A Better Night Sleep Tonight

Melatonin—a hormone produced in the pineal gland of the brain—helps to regulate our body’s circadian rhythms, or to put this in layman’s terms, our natural sleep-wake cycle. As we age, however, these levels begin to decline. And because of this, millions of Americans today are reaching for over-the-counter sleep aids that can bring on side effects like dizziness and even hallucinations. Who wants that?! A13F24A5-06A0-40D7-9075-DC0F46A4A43D

There are ways though to treat insomnia in natural ways such as utilizing the strategies I shared in the five-day sleep challenge. Today I want to introduce you to another helpful tool to add to your sleeping toolbox. Sleep Strips are an all natural sleep product made by IDLife. I’m an associate in this terrific health and wellness movement and this is a product that is helping so many people (including me) get a more restful night’s sleep.

It comes in the form of a tiny minty sleep strip that melts in your mouth before bed. The three supplements in each strip work with your sleep cycle:

  • Melatonin: helps you fall asleep quickly, stay asleep and get deep, restorative sleep
  • 5HTP: helps increase calm feelings and releases critical brain neurotransmitters that are impacted by today’s stressors
  • L-Theanine: helps you sleep for longer durations with less waking up by feelings of anxiety or stress

Do you have trouble falling asleep? Do you wake up feeling groggy? Are you someone who can’t picture a night of sleep without reaching for your sleep medicine? If so, I invite you to take the sleep strip challenge! If you are willing to share your perspectives with me I’ll send you some free samples to get started. Message me today to get started. Or get your first 30-day supply by visiting my site.


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Sleep Challenge Recap

As you prepare to move into another week, I highly encourage you to take the time to do the five-day sleep challenge. Start with one challenge at a time and slowly build to a point where all are a part of your daily habits.

1. Track your bedtime and wake up hours

2.  De-clutter your room and headspace

3. Take a digital timeout

4. Commit to a meditative practice

5. Create a no snooze zone


Each of these strategies are designed to help prepare your body for sleep. Of course, good quality sleep also stems from a variety of other healthy habits that we did not go into detail about. If you are taking care of your health through exercise, good nutrition (including caffeine intake and timing) and low stress levels, you are probably reaping the benefits of good sleep too. However, if any of these areas are out of balance your sleep may be suffering.

In my next post, I’ll provide a review of an awesome all natural sleep product that you may wish to consider as part of your daily sleep habits. Till next time happy slumbers.






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Sleep Challenge: Day 5

No Snooze Zone 

The last challenge for this week is to use tomorrow morning to practice not hitting the snooze button. Without getting into too much of the science, many of us are groggy when the alarm first goes off because it could be waking us in the middle of a sleep cycle.  And when we are in that state of mind our first reaction is to want some extra zzzzs.  As we approach waking time, our sleep naturally gets lighter, our core body temperature goes up and the hormone levels (like cortisol) begin to increase. These factors, put together, cause our body to wake on its own.  The alarm clock interferes with this process and when we snooze and fall asleep again, our sleep cycle is reset.  So when the alarm goes off five minutes or so later we are going to feel worse than the first alarm–now we are in a deeper stage of sleep which means getting up is going to be that much more difficult.

So give it a whirl tomorrow morning.  When the alarm goes off take a moment to lie in bed but do not under any circumstances hit snooze! Coupled with the other tactics we applied this week you should already be setting yourself up for no snooze success!


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Sleep Challenge: Day 4

Commit to a Meditative Practice

Building off of yesterday’s no-tech challenge before bed, tonight’s challenge is about replacing your devices with a meditative practice. Identify 1-2 of your favorite techniques to help you relax and integrate as part of your bedtime routine thirty minutes before bed. 


Here are some ideas:

  • Start a gratitude practice and write down three people, places or things that brought you joy, happiness and peace to your life that day. ✍🏼
  • Spend time in prayer or meditation.🙏🏻
  • Read a book or magazine. 📖
  • Take a bubble (or Epsom salt) bath. 🛁

The goal of this challenge is to train our body, mind and soul to unwind. Tap into your own ultimate state of relaxation for a better night’s rest.  And enjoy (and protect) this newfound “me” time that you have now built into your day.

So tell us—how do you unwind before bedtime?


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Sleep Challenge: Day 3

Take a Digital Time-out 

Tonight’s challenge might be the toughest for the week.  We are tied to technology in more ways than ever before. I mean our phones practically go to bed with us (especially if you are like me and use it as an alarm).

So it’s time for a digital timeout.  Thirty minutes before bedtime turn off ALL of your devices—the tv, computer, kindle, cellphone, etc. If you still use your phone as an alarm make sure the display and brightness is set to nighttime mode, hide it in a drawer or move it far across the room.  Our brains crave the opportunity for rest and this little bit of time before bed is so important to create some space for better sleep.


This newfound time is the time to focus on you! Tomorrow we will talk more about that, but for tonight just focus on letting go of those screens.

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Sleep Challenge: Day 2

De-Clutter Your Room and Headspace 

Your bedroom should serve as your oasis, a place for winding down and being peaceful. Today’s challenge is to inspect your room and clear the thoughts from your head before you crawl into bed.

Is there clutter on the floor like clothes that need to be folded? Do you bring work to bed with you? Are the sheets clean? Are the dresser and floors dusty?


A good rule of thumb each evening (or morning) is to do a rapid fire organization (pick 5 items) where you put things that are hanging out in the bedroom back in their rightful place. Also make your bed each morning! 

Do you also find yourself unable to unwind before bed? Even non-physical things can distract us from a great night of sleep. With the notepad you are already using to record your sleeping and wake up times, jot down anything that is on your mind. This exercise will allow you to empty the to-do lists and stressors from your brain so that they don’t distract you from quality sleep.



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