Right before COVID turned life as we knew it upside down, we chatted with veteran TeamSFQ'er Lisa Kopp about getting Faster at 50 and her big plans for her 50th year and celebratory racing season. Today she filled us in on how she made the most of this year after all her plans were cancelled and still found a way to celebrate her milestone birthday with her first-ever 50K trail run.
You had big goals on tap for this year, as you've been knocking down the door of a BQ time and had your first ultramarathon scheduled for this year as well. When all the races were cancelled, how did you deal with having to reset your 2020 goals? Was there a feeling of disappointment to grapple with especially this year since it was an extra special birthday year for you as well?
Indeed, I had big goals when the year began! I ended 2019 on a marathon high - coming back strong from a challenging injury that took me out for a good portion of the year - but missed a Boston Qualifying (BQ) time by just 41 seconds at the Rehoboth Beach Marathon in December. So, I started 2020 off determined and excited to nab that BQ! We also decided what better year to attempt my first ultra than in the year I would turn 50. Coach Hillary coined this as my “50k for 50”.
We had a great race line-up that included a Spring BQ attempt at the OC marathon in Newport Beach and a few different 50k options, also out West. I was going to be joined by my Smash sister and pacing partner extraordinaire, Libby Schroeder, and of course we were looking forward to connecting with all the SoCal women of Team SFQ and Biscay Coaching too. But as the pandemic hit hard last Spring and one by one races were cancelled, I won’t lie - my motivation tanked, and frustration grew. I remember at one-point venting to Coach Alyssa (while Hillary was on maternity leave!), via my workout notes that there was “absolutely no point” in doing a scheduled 22 mile training run when I now had no race in sight! (Apologies for that Alyssa!)
After resigning myself to the fact that 2020 was not going to be the year we had planned, I managed to let go a bit and embrace some of our creative team challenges and found a few virtual events to do on my own too. I participated in a “Corona 6 pack” challenge: racing 1m, 5k, 5mi, 10k 10mi and 13.1mi all in one month for time; a 10k a day- for-10 days special; the Bingo extravaganza; and the super fun Biscay Coaching 2020 Team Olympics. Those, and spending the summer running and biking up in New England 😊, relieved a lot of the disappointment I felt.
How did Lisa's DIY 50K come to be, and can you explain what this event looked like course-wise?
I started to see and read about teammates creating their own DIY races and/or participating in some of the big-name races virtually (i.e.: virtual Boston, Ironman VR, Hawaii at Home, etc.), and I realized that, while I may not be able to attempt a BQ this year, there was NO reason why I couldn’t create my own 50k with the aim of achieving one of this milestone year’s big goals. A birthday present to myself. When I got back to D.C. at the end of the summer, Coach and I agreed that is what we would do. I had run trails in Rock Creek Park in the past but had no idea what was possible so headed out on a few weekends to see if I could put together a 50k route and pull it off before the end of the year. I had only been doing 10-12 mile runs at most, so I knew I needed to kick it into high gear quickly!
How did you involve your friends to make this a more festive run--a mini-event of sorts as opposed to a completely solo 50K run?
As I looked at potential routes, I shared the DIY 50k plan with my local running friends and a couple of teammates. I floated an idea of finding a 10k trail loop which I could run 5 times and which others could join for 1 or more loops. Everyone I asked said “let’s do it” and “how can I support?” It was incredible. So next thing I knew we had a crew of about 15 who were interested and available on the date I chose in November. A few of us did some recon runs, and with the help of a couple of trail veterans in the group, we identified a 10k loop that started and ended in a parking lot not far from our neighborhood in Chevy Chase—perfect set up for a socially-distanced “aid station” and pick up point. I sent out a poll, allowing everyone to choose their loop(s), and estimated the start times for each loop accordingly. To make it meaningful and to further incentivize the group, I also told them that for every loop someone ran, I would give to the charity of their choice. So not only were we doing something selfishly fun, we were also able to give back to the community at a time when so many need assistance.
Can you tell us about your day--how you felt, and the role your friends and support team played?
The day could not have been more perfect! The weather was beautiful (actually, even a little warmer than I had hoped for or expected), and the event went off without a hitch. The course had a lot of elevation, so I knew I had to remember to pace myself from the get-go and stay steady. For each loop I had 3-4 friends which was just right. We were able to be safe while still having fun, and there were various skill levels well dispersed across the 5 loops. We also had a mix of people who knew each other well and new additions too. In fact, Laurel from the Smash team joined for three loops, getting in her weekly long run miles while making new pals at the same time! For both loops 4 and 5—the most challenging, mentally and physically—we had a seasoned crew with fresh legs who pulled me along and didn’t let me fade when things got HARD. My dear friend and many-a-marathon partner Nuria is currently nursing an injury but offered to serve as head of the aid station - keeping both runners and cheerleaders fed and hydrated. She also kept the groups of runners updated via text on how my pace and schedule was looking as the morning progressed.
Did the DIY version of your first 50K live up to your expectations--did you get those "pre/ during/ post-race feels" as you would otherwise?
It surpassed all expectations and more! Beyond anything, I think it gave everyone in the group something to look forward to, during what has otherwise been “Groundhog Day” for months! For that I was pleased and very proud. I absolutely had a few pre-race jitters but at a MUCH lower level than is typical. It was also great to sleep in my own bed and be only minutes away from the starting line. I treated it like a race but also took the time to appreciate every moment along the way, with our amazing crew of runners and the non-runner friends and neighbors who joined to cheer. A true highlight of the day came at mile 28: it was hot, I had failed to fill up my pack with enough water rounding the start of the last loop, and realized I was now empty! Big fail. Someone from the group texted ahead and asked another pal to drop off some water at a road crossing nearby. As we rounded the hill where the water was supposed to be, I saw my husband Toby up ahead.…all dressed to run the last 3 miles with us (the man hasn’t worn a pair of running shoes in five + years)! It was the BEST surprise, and I immediately burst into tears – and this was even before the end of the race! Needless to say, there was no lack of post-race feels when we crossed the 50k finish line. I can honestly say it was one of the most memorable finishes I have ever experienced.
One of our favorite details of your story is that you were running in Washington DC on a monumental day in history--tell us about that!
Ohmygod, another great part of the story! It was Saturday, November 7- do you remember what happened on that day? Somewhere around the middle of loop three, Rock Creek Park erupted in cheers and celebration around us. At first, we had no idea what was happening. I think I even said to the group, “Hey do you think people know what we are up to and are cheering us on?” Ha. Finally, a hiker passed us with his phone in hand and said, “We won!”. And Boom, we realized they had just called the election for Biden/Harris and what we heard was a whole city breathing a collective sigh of relief. It was special to be out there, reaching my long-dreamed goal of #50kfor50 on a day that symbolized a turning point in the right direction for our country. I am so very thankful.
And of course, we have to ask what is next for you!!!:)
I am already itching to get back at it! I am going to spend some quality time during the holidays getting to know my new Peloton bike. And then will start to build running mileage back, as a few of us on Team SFQ are planning a girl’s trail racing weekend out in CO in April. Fingers crossed it will remain scheduled! Beyond that, I will plan to go for the BQ, and would also like to join, or create via another DIY, a 2021 cycling adventure for the books.
You can follow Lisa, her running adventures and more on Instagram @lisakopp00 .