Motivation, organization, determination. These are all traits that help Jessica Holmes continue to push her running boundaries. Her career at the the Department of Finance in Sacramento is stressful and time-consuming but she makes room for a healthy lifestyle. Jessica started getting serious about running about four years ago and trained herself for her first a half marathon. The hard work continues with support from the “Moms RUN This Town” running group in Roseville/Rocklin. Jessica talks more about running and work/life balance, plus what it took to complete her first 50K.
Q: Let’s start with finishing your first 50K, which wasn’t your first attempt, right?
A: That’s right! For a little context, I am an ultra/trail-newbie. For a few years, I trained for and ran road races of 5k, 10k, and half marathon distances. I was relatively casual about training and thought marathoners were crazy. Last year at the 2014 CIM, I became crazy myself when I completed my first marathon. I had worked really hard to train for that distance, had seen positive changes in my body, and wanted a goal to keep me motivated. So I signed up for the Gold Rush 50k. I joined a women’s running club to help me train and upped my mileage and pace. Unfortunately, I also developed some IT band issues and knee pain in the process. I did not want to give up on the race, so I ran the 50k (in May) anyways. I ended up dropping out around mile 23, when my knee seized up and wouldn’t bend anymore. I was so disappointed.
I did not want to give up on ultra distance, so after rehabbing my leg, I decided to run a 50k on my own, with the help of some friends. On July 4, I ran what I dubbed the “Friend 50k” in Folsom. It was amazing and afterwards I was so emotional. I had an “aid station” set up in the trunk of my car and several ladies from my running club signed up to run different legs of the “race” with me. I was never alone for a single step and the support was humbling. Throughout the morning, my friends reported my progress on Facebook and other women posted encouraging comments that my running mates read out to me. I finished in less than 6 hours with pride and an appreciation for the incredible encouragement I had received along the way.
After a hiking/camping trip with my husband in August, my focus turned to the UROC 100k in Auburn in late September. I was wary of my ability to increase my distance so quickly, especially in a race with nearly 12,000 feet of climbing, but I had amazing pacers and I wanted to try. It was an incredible day, and even though there were many challenges (I didn’t do a great job with nutrition, it was very hot, and I found out that the route had been changed mid-race), I made it 48.6 miles, with 10,000 feet of climbing before I called it a day. I was within cutoffs but I felt like I had nothing more to give. But again, I was proud and I’m encouraged to try again. I’ve learned so much from my experiences and I know I will be successful.
Q: Do you have a race ritual that you do before each competition?
A: It may not be a ritual, but I definitely prepare for big races the same way. I decide on shoes, clothing, and food several weeks before the race to make sure I have time to test out anything new far in advance. Then, I go into full Nerd-Mode: I study and calculate. I pore over the map of the race and make sure I am familiar with the trail and/or roads. I love elevation charts and aid station lists; I memorize big climbs and plan out where I will rest. Next, I fire up my computer and make a custom pace chart. I like to know what my times need to be at each aid station to hit certain goals. I usually laminate a miniature version of my pace chart and carry it with me during the race in my water bottle pouch.
In the week before the race, I focus on two things: sleep and hydration. I make sure to drink water regularly in the days prior to the race so that I start sufficiently hydrated, and get lots of sleep as well, just in case I can’t sleep the night before. Oatmeal is my pre-run breakfast, every time. And finally (this is gross, but my fellow runners will understand), I absolutely need to use the bathroom at least once before starting. The worst thing in the world is getting a few miles in and realizing you need to go NOW. I pack TP with me always, but nothing beats an actual bathroom.
Q: Tell us about your running group, “Moms RUN This Town,” and how this group helps motivate you?
A: I joined the Roseville/Rocklin chapter of Moms RUN This Town (RRMRTT) last February. It has helped me grow immensely as a runner (I am faster! I run longer!), has introduced me to some fabulous ladies, and has given me a sense of community I did not have before.
Beyond increasing my speed and endurance, running with a group makes me more accountable and consistent. It also gives me a forum to learn more about my runner’s body, ask questions about injuries, get advice about races/gear, and discover new running routes. For example, when I got injured during my first 50k, a runner in my group suggested a sports massage therapist who is an ultra-endurance athlete himself and who helped me heal and get back on my feet.
However, the most important thing I have gained is support and inspiration. Through this group, I met my beautiful, wonderful pacer and friend Jessica who helped me through tough times during my 100k. I have had people come out to events, specifically to cheer me on, even though I may have only run with them a handful of times. I have experienced comradery training with women for distances or times that are definitely on the edges of our abilities, and have been able to celebrate our victories and encourage each other to continue when we come up short. I have been there cheering others on for huge running milestones in their lives, which can bring me to tears and put my own life in perspective. It has been less than a year with the group, but it has truly changed my life and I am very grateful for it.
Q: How do you balance work, life and the rigorous training schedule required for long distance running?
A: I don’t know that I balance everything particularly well. My house is not the cleanest and I am always behind on oil changes, haircuts, and doctor’s appointments. But I do try to make sure there is time in my life for the things that are really important, including my husband, family and friends, work, and running. Running is not only a hobby, but a key to maintaining life balance and sanity, so prioritizing it is prioritizing myself.
I usually run in the early mornings with RRMRTT in Roseville, or occasionally on my lunch break in downtown Sacramento, when that is possible. I am not a morning person so early runs are a struggle, but having friends there makes a huge motivational difference. I do long trail runs on the weekends in the mornings, and also try to hike on the weekends when I can with my husband. Late evenings and weekend afternoons belong to my husband too, and I try to see family and friends then as well. I work long days, and sometimes on the weekends, but I love my job, so it is worth it. I don’t have kids, which makes a difference. I look at the mamas in my running club and I don’t know how they do it--they are amazing. When I think of them, I have no cause to complain. The one thing that usually suffers the most and that I need to get more of is sleep. Getting solid rest makes a huge difference in my running performance and my positivity throughout the day.
Q: Do you already know which races you plan to run in 2016?
A: Yes, and I am so excited about my plan! I am signed up for Salmon Falls 50k of course in February, the American River 50-Miler in April, and I plan on registering for The Canyons 100k when it opens up (race is in May). The Canyons is my goal race as I really want to complete the 100k distance this year, and with all of the climbing the race offers, it should be a great challenge.
There are also some road races I do every year with my family, including the ALS Run for the Cure 5k (Roseville), Shamrock’n Half Marathon (Sacramento), and the Sacramento Zoo Zoom 10k. These races mean a lot to me as I am able to share them with my parents, husband, siblings, and nieces and nephews.
In the summer, I plan to take time off from running and focus on hiking. My husband and I plan on backpacking the John Muir Trail next summer (if we can score a wilderness permit), so prepping for that will be my focus. Next fall/winter are wide open, which is fun – what will I do next?!