Spirit Animals: A Race Report

Long days in the mountains lend themselves to producing a quality of conversation that is best described as bonk inspired, or foolishly tired.  One such day as we scampered over loose rock down a series of switch backs in the Northern Bridgers more commonly traveled by mountain goats than humans a conversation on spirit animals ensued (yes it progressed to a debate on spirit vegetables as well).

It was on that fateful day my spirit animal was born.  I was no golden retriever, or owl.  No wolf, or rabbit.  I was complicated.  It turns out I am a fawn, but not any fawn.  I’m a fawn that dresses up in fleecy pajamas and tries it’s best to be accepted by the mountain goats it longs to be.  You see, I was not born into the mountain culture I’ve been drawn to.  It wasn’t until 2008 when I left the midwest to go to school that I discovered the mountainous trails that satisfy me.  I was drawn West to the promise of running a different mountain peak every weekend, and I was in love with the notion.


For the longest time I was the “skier who runs”.  It was a great when I beat “the runners”.   And then I was a reformed skier, but not yet a runner.  My lats and triceps left me feeling like an imposter and a wind block when I would toe the line against more demure competitors. Although my lats may be smaller now, I thrive on the strength that remains.  I might still be a fawn in fleecy pajamas, but I’m finding my footing in the world of mountain goats.

Flagstaff Sky Race

Stephen and I hit the road last Wednesday to make the progressive slog down South.  It was nice to have a partner in crime to make the drive and car camping more enjoyable.  As much as I love to solo quest, some things are better shared.  Like waking up on top of Guardsman pass to the golden aspen.  Listening to a coyote party in the desert, and soaking in your first view of the grand canyon.




It was great to connect with friends new and old, to have a one man support crew team, and to high five the other girls who had also taken on three big sky races in the course of 1 month.

The race itself took us from the base of the Mount Elden area in Flagstaff up over and around until we reached the Snowbowl Ski Area.  Although the course profile didn’t look ‘so bad’ with what appeared to be only two major climbs… this naive thought was soon proven wrong.

From the gun we headed off across a rolling, gradual climb.  I slotted in behind the lead group of guys and found my groove.  Heading into the Elden climb I let Megan Kimmel and a speedster from Durango by.  I’m still finding my legs and wanted to take it out a little cautiously. Halfway up the climb I was being shadowed by the eventual 2nd place women.  She was breathing hard, and I let her by.  I thought to myself, “She must not know what’s coming!!”  Turns out she was a local and I probably should have tried to glue myself to her back.

After cresting the top of the climb I was in no man’s land.  I forced down some food and tried to let gravity take over on the descent.  With lazy feet I took my first trail nap of the race.  Clumsy Clumsy. It would not be my last tumble of the race, but what’s a trail race without a little blood?

By mile 8 and our second aid station I could see 2nd and 3rd and felt good coming off a long descent that I felt like I was moving really well on.  I do love some technical descending!

I left the aid station in 4th after exchanging my bottles with fresh ones from Stephen. The trail turned into a humbling false flat. The runable, twisting, single track that wound for miles through aspen groves brought us over, through and around rocky dusty trail.  For the first mile of this section I was full of WoooHooooos… but soon I was dizzy in the zig zagging forrest.  I had to come to a complete stop several times convinced I was off trail, and walked more of this section than I feel comfortable admitting. Somewhere along the way I passed the speedster rocking booty shorts and although I could see 2nd she was always just out of reeling in distance over the serpent of a trail.

At mile 17.4 I proclaimed we were all “snails passing snails” and headed into what was the first bit of our big bad climb to just over 11,000 feet.


Following “shirtless man with hand flasks” we ran along playing the let’s just run to that next flag game.  Up and up through the aspens. We then hit the power line climb, at this point it didn’t take long for me to wish I had ski poles.  I jokingly offered to buy a pair off a guy I caught part way off the climb, he didn’t go for the margarita Clif shot-blocks… so on I forged.  After a brief slog up a ski slope, jumping over erosion ditches, we descended to the bottom.  In a cruel twist of fate we actually have to run across the finish and then loop back out and up to the top of the ski area before one final descent to the finish.  Even though I knew this from looking at the course map I panicked and briefly froze refusing to run through the finish.  To everyone’s entertainment I was coaxed across the line and sent back up the hill.

Clearly paranoid and slightly not all there I put my head down and power shuffled up the climb.  At the top I lapped up water tired of the sugaring fuzzy feeling my whole mouth had developed over the preceding 22 miles. I desperately wanted a tooth brush, and had started to fantasize about brushing my teeth.

PC: Myke Hermsmeyer

PC: Myke Hermsmeyer

After a quick fist pump to the amazing volunteers I took off down the hill scared of the ghosts I was sure were closing on me. Flying down the hill, quads screaming I caught up with Josh Korn who was on his was to finishing the 55km race.  A quick high five my panic driven legs threw me once again towards the base area.  As I cleared the final (cruel) erosion ditch I started to get emotional.  The finish line was looming and in my tired state I was thrilled to know I would soon get to lay down.

After falling in to the hug from Stephen waiting for me at the finish line I moved with surprising quickness towards the ground.


I was overwhelmed as the magnitude of the past year settled in.  I had made it.  After such a long time struggling to get to a start line, let alone finish a race, finishing off the sky running series feels huge.  It’s getting to finally stamp HEALTHY across my training log.

This is my third sky race in the past month. I crammed it all in, sneaking onto the podium with a solid 3rd place finish and 11th overall in the last race of the sky running season. I had no idea what to expect stepping onto this scene, but I knew I wanted to make it my own.  The men and women who show up to these races are absolutely incredible.  They are supportive, understanding, and driven.  In a short 6 weeks I feel like I have made a group of friends from all over the US that I can not wait to see next year.


If you want to hear me ramble semi awkwardly you can watch my post race interview here.

For now I’m back in Bozeman coaching my minions trying to figure out where the next starting line with take me.


Finding My Stride: and associated puns.

After a much needed break from my broken self I decided that this summer I would dip my toes back into the pool of stiff competition. It’s a story in the making. Nearly two years of mending, and fighting it, and mending again.

I fought for a comeback.  I spent a year trying to remake myself, I would be a runner.  It was that simple.  However every time the starting line approached something would break.  My hips were relentlessly tight, my hamstrings tweaked, and heel pain so bad it was crippling.  Albeit, it was incredibly frustrating, but it made me refocus.  Instead of remaking myself, I needed to find myself.  I dove back into academics.  Found blankets, and cups of tea.  Found friends around dinner tables, and new ways to slide on snow.  My heart didn’t race when I tried to sleep.  I didn’t need to search for reasons to get out of bed, and although unsure, for the first time ever I didn’t feel restless.


Scene One
(Enter New Coach)

Roughly a year ago I decided I was ready to start “training” again.  I searched the internet relentlessly looking for someone to offer me guidance for less than 1billion dollars a month.  Thanks to the twitter gods, David Roche and the SWAP team entered my life.  Although I know how to train I need someone to tell me when to chill out and associated expletives.  I needed a community that was united over pizza, pancake breakfasts, and pictures of each others dogs. No matter how distant we all might be, I know if I need advice about running, careers, and cider pairings I can count on them to lift me up.


Suddenly I was 8 months deep and my name was turning up on start lists. Was I ready?  Would my body hold up? Is this satisfying?  Am I okay if I do not perform to my expectations?  Is that okay? What does that mean?  Would there be enough cookies???


Scene Two
(Let the races begin)

I made it to the start line!  …and it was okay.  After dabbling in some of the early season races (including a speedy fast 12k, a duathlon, the Bangtail Divide, and a trip to US Mountain Running Championships) and doing my part to cheer on other Montanans in the mountains it was time to step into the deep end.



Two weeks ago I got on the start line at the Rut Mountain Runs in Big Sky, Montana ready to embrace competition head on. I jumped in the vertical kilometer, also known as “Go till you blow!”  Although I didn’t feel as strong as some of the girls around me I settled into suffer mode and had a lot of fun.  Anna Frost kindly asked if I wanted to pass her… I panicked like a JV track runner and settled in behind her as we scrambled up BoneCrusher Ridge for our first of many ascents up to Lone Peak that weekend.  I ended up 12th in a packed ladies field complete with over a half dozen professional European athletes.  The next day I ran the 25km (errrr… 28-ish km?) and struggled.  My quads couldn’t engage and I slogged through the first half of the course half way between despair and “toughen up!”… I ran into a buddy at the 9 mile aid station where I willing grabbed his flask of bourbon.  Boosted by the cheers of the aid station I reluctantly gave back the flask and trudged on.  Somewhere on BoneCrusher Ridge I felt more and more like myself and found new gears and glee all the way to the finish. 15th women, top ten for Americans, and able to walk.


A lot can happen in two weeks and when I stepped on the start line of my second sky running race of the season this past weekend in Washington I felt ready to compete, instead of survive.  The moment we crested the first big climb of the day and I saw Rainer jutting up in the distance all thoughts about placement fleeted away.  I suffered.  My quads and back screamed for relief, but instead they were treated to the right combination of wonderfully horrible ascents and descents any good trail race offers.  Despite a late charge with 3rd and 4th place insight I couldn’t quite pull it together on the long descent to the finish and had to happily settle for 5th, a handmade medal, and a hug from Stephen who was waiting at the finish.



I am happy to have found my feet and a new chapter in my competitive career.  There were many moments over the past year where I was wondering if I’d ever race again.  If I’d embrace it, or find it overwhelming and ultimately leave me unhappy.  In the past two weeks I found answers.  I was happy, healthy, and excited by the start line.  Two weeks from now I’ll be finished with my final sky race of the season.  I’ll have completed a major goal of mine, and we’ll be looking towards a full 2016 season!



Fatty Fitness and Embracing The Good

I can’t believe it’s already July… in part because  by this point in the summer I’m generally a hurting pony or rather…a sad panda.  A very sad panda.  …And despite my iron being in the tank, and occasionally being  so stressed I cry because I can’t get egg whites to whip, life is good.  Really really good.


At the height of my anxiety this spring I wrote,

 Life is generally good, especially when taken one day at a time.  The struggle lays in getting caught up in the ‘what if’s’ of the ‘what if’s’.  Already panicking beyond a standard deviation into the future.  

When you doubt your theoretical point B even exists, because quite frankly you aren’t sure what or where point B is suppose to be.

You only know that you’re being pulled through your life towards something that may or may not be more than the giant magnetic force of  ‘ifs’, ‘tangibles’, and ‘hypothetical outcomes’.


More recently on a beautiful hike with Jennie we got lost… or as we like to say, took a little detour.  Immediately getting off trail and heading in the opposite direction of our intended destination.  Jokingly it seemed like a metaphor for our lives.  A little off path, a detour here and there, but ultimately heading towards this destination, this peak.  You can see where the gears are going, can’t you?

A lot of my stress stems from waiting for something to go wrong.  Waiting for the next disaster to strike.  Not a whole lot of fun or enjoyment can enter your life… Ew, yes ew… that is the appropriate sentiment right now.  It’s an Olympic year, and the tension is palpable.  My Facebook feed is inundated  daily with athletes yearning to make it work at any cost.  Now there is nothing wrong with asking for donations, but when I lost my funding from USBA and the USOC I vowed I personally would not go into debt for my athletic pursuits.  (a certain clarity dawns on you when you realize you’ve seriously considered selling eggs, and not the chicken variety, to fund your season)  As people around me intensify towards this winter, I feel myself, reflexively, backing away.  And acknowledging this… I can slowly feel my stress dissipate.

As athletes around the world step up their game, train bigger hours, move bigger weights… I’m stuffing my jersey pockets and drink belt with cookies, I’m going on adventures, and I’m collecting all the pieces of me that I left along the trail over the past three seasons.  You seemingly can’t carry all that much onto the podium with you.


Surprisingly, I’m the fittest I’ve ever been.  Maybe there is something to all this happiness training after all?  Recently I’ve embraced the realities of my circumstances.  I’m excited to race and, darn it all, maybe even be fast…   Enter fatty fitness.  Fatty fitness was born to a collective of friends who liked to ski hard and eat harder(sure?). An epic all day adventure that would ultimately culminate with everyone passed out on the floor full to the gills with momo bliss. As the boys like to remind me, “Training is an essential part of the eating process.”  Logically.  More than anything  (although entirely unintended by the founders) fatty fitness reminds me that my life is a total blast and that every race I enter, every inch of single track I travel, and every detour I take is all because I enjoy the heck out of it.

So turn up the good, pass the bacon and hold onto that ice cream I’ll be back for it after this run.


Single-Track Nirvana and Terry Gross

So May happened… Wow, now that sounds anticlimactic doesn’t it?

Realistically that is more a jab at my own tardiness on here than any sort of reference to my spring… because frankly, this spring has been rather awesome.

Albeit my spring had a rocky start. In the span of one week I managed to break my hand, successfully mangle my trigger finger with an immersion blender, turn 23, and get kicked off the national team (yeah I know it was a busy week).   But like every other nordic athlete on the face of the earth it was still April and I was still craving sunshine, and that’s exactly what I got.


April quickly turned into a runcation, adventuring over the hills and mountains of California and Washington.  Stephen pedaled his bike as I got sunburnt running the endless single track.  While most athletes were taking a break from the long race season I ran more than I have in a long time, but it is exactly what I needed.  Nothing will quite your mind quite like the awe that comes over you running through Big Basin state park.  Inundated by beauty all my problems were muted. If I wasn’t running I was pedaling, if I wasn’t pedaling I was on a yoga mat, and if I wasn’t on a yoga mat I was cramming as many avocados, strawberries, and citrus fruits into me as I could manage.  That and awesome mexican food, obviously.











May has now come and gone and with it the training season has started once again.  The hours are creeping in from all directions and although I’m struggling to figure out exactly what it is I am doing I’m overjoyed to have some semblance of balance in my life.  I’ve been spending my days child and animal wrangling, planting a garden, training with my constant companion Terry Gross, and working through the general panicking that goes along with putting your life sized puzzle pieces together.   It’s now June and after a training excursion up North to Canmore Alberta I’m back in Bozeman and oh so happy to be home.













Sometimes you get kicked off the national team… and that’s okay.

I could write words and words about the relatively wonderful end to my season.  How it poured on us for days in Whistler and I discovered my love and admiration for a good pair of rain pants… Or how I raced really well, hitting more targets than I ever have ever.  How the competition was great and the camaraderie better.  How Mammoth Lakes treated us to amazing generosity, sunshine, and smiles…. How a bear crashed our race, and how I crashed on my face.  How I managed to break my hand and within what seemed like hours also make a very good attempt to hack my trigger finger off.

Ladies Podium

Ladies Podium

….But that’s all said and done and great, and I’ve got this massive elephant in the room that needs to write it’s way out.

As of April 3rd I am no longer a member of the national team.  BOOM! …the thing is, as much as I sensed this coming a long ways off, it still feels like I got punched in the soul.  You know that feeling you get in your throat when you are trying to keep it together, grating down towards your lungs, like you’re trying to fit a square through a circle?  It hurt.  It felt personal.

Then the questions started rolling: What are you doing next season?  What do you want to do next season?  Do you want to join a nordic team?  Will cookies make this all feel better?   No?  Chocolate?  No?  Chocolate cookies!?   Do you want to join our nordic team?  Can you classic ski?   You can classic ski can’t you?   What do you want?  Oh my goodness you don’t have a coach! What do you want?  Ahhh!  What do YOU want?  Screw it, just switch back to running!   No, seriously what do you want? Help!?!? (wow… you do not want in my mind)

I’ve worked through many of these questions over the past couple of weeks.  Ironing out the seemingly logistical mess and putting together something meaningful.  And you know what?  I think I can do this.  I recently wrote to a former coach of mine and told him getting kicked off the national team felt an awful lot like getting tossed in the ocean, and realizing that I can swim.

It’s not going to be easy but for the first time in two years I feel like I have a handle on my life and my happiness.  There are days when I’m still not sure which way is up but I have the most incredible support system put in place that I could not be more thankful for.  I’ve got incredible friends and family to keep me grounded and a community behind me.  (So very many shoulders!)

As spring slowly moves into Bozeman I can feel my fledgeling of a self grow stronger roots and boy is it an exciting conclusion to begin with!


Birkie Step One: Catch the Fever. Step Two: Hold on Tight.

Growing up in Hayward Wisconsin the American Birkiebeiner was something that you just learned to embrace, or rather… endure.  You got school off on Birkie Friday.  I skied the barnebirkie every year mostly because that meant I got to get out of school early on thursday too (and what elementary school kid doesn’t love free cookies and swiss miss hot chocolate?)…  However, racing the Birkie never really occurred to me as something I would do.

Scan 36

But there I was…two weeks before the largest ski race in North America doing nothing short of pleading, groveling, and begging my way into the Women’s Elite wave.  …which somehow worked.

The entire week I was home before the race was surreal.  The Birkie trail is where I originally proclaimed my utter distain for cross country skiing but also where I inevitably fell in love with the sport.  I’ve laughed and cried on probably every inch of that trail.  I helped to build the single track originating out of the Fish Hatchery trail head.  The very trail head that I would often bike to from the house I grew up in just a few miles down the road.  Simply put, I was home, I was in my element, and I was amped!


I spent the week listening to really mellow music on my ipod because I kept getting too excited every time I would head out for a ski. I had to fight the urge to yell, “Welcome Home!” every time I passed another skier on the trail.  I stress baked, and whatever energy was left over I channeled into laying on the floor and pumping fluids into my sick restless body.

A day out from the race I was still struggling to nail down a wax tech… Enter stress baking.  So I did what any other desperate overzealous underfunded athlete would do… I showed up to the expo with cupcakes. Yes, cupcakes.  Coffee Chocolate Cupcakes with Baileys Frosting.  Seemingly due to my baking prowess, but more likely due to the fact that I looked like a lost puppy, the HWK boys agreed to help me out.

After that particularly skillful bit of ingenuity the race itself went relatively well despite me being a full fledged amateur.  I laughed uncontrollably on the start line.  I got placed on the front row of the elite women’s field in my plain black tights and gray Craft top…. my grin seemed to be on the only thing in the right place.

I'm the one bobbing around in the bright pink hat.

I’m the one bobbing around in the bright pink hat.

I did my very best to cling, control, and elbow my way into a safe position.  Tucking myself neatly into the lead pack of 12 women I quickly realized that I was surrounded by very good company.  A small but strong field of some of the best women in the country… and I was right there with them!  I coasted on excitement and naivety until  kilometer 39 or 40 and then I exploded.  They surged and I spontaneously combusted.  I cracked.  Shattered.  My limbs fell off. Things started to move in slow motion.  I rode the struggle bus for the last 10kms of the race buoyed solely by a generous coke feed and the very real fear that I would end up like those videos of ironman athletes crawling the last meters to the finish because they couldn’t stand any more.  I did my best to keep my arms and legs moving, but I had blown up in spectacular fashion.

Not only did I find the wall but I collided into it with every ounce of me.  I lost just over five and a half minutes in 10 kilometers… but I made it and hung onto 13th.

It might not have been everything I had hoped for, but now that I can straighten my arms again I think I finally understand what this whole Birkie fever thing is all about… because despite everything a 50k will put you through I’m hungry for more.

Pictures courtesy of Darlene Prois

Pictures courtesy of Darlene Prois

Without a Rifle


My expectations going into Saturday’s race could probably be summed up best in a single shoulder shrug.  Why?  Well… the longest race I’ve ever done was a 20k back in 2009 and I haven’t raced without my rifle in over two years…. What I did expect however was a weekend full of sunshine, spandex clad master blasters, and having a grin plastered across my face at all times.

Turns out, flying by the seat of pants works in my favor.

I was nervous to do my first “big kid” nordic race in what seems like an eternity.  If I know anything about my skiing it is that I generally struggle to stay relaxed in a pack and I loose all sorts of time on downhills and flats.  I’m clumsy, frequently a liability, and (more than) occasionally a bit spastic.  Going into a mass start, of all things, was terrifying.

The start of the women's field at the Boulder Mountain Tour.

The start of the women’s field at the Boulder Mountain Tour.

I’m the scared looking one on the far left hand side of the picture… obviously.

The women’s race was surprisingly calm and mostly just involved me being an amateur doing amateur things all over the place.  I spent most of the race wondering if we were going hard enough and then I would remind myself I had no idea what I was doing so I should just chill out instead.  I dropped my first feed (thanks BA for offering me your water bottle!) and sent most of my second feed back out my nose. Super attractive imagery.  I took myself out twice during the second half of the race but thanks to some wicked fast skis (huge shout out to Chris Hall and Fischer for waxing them up) I managed to never lose contact with the other girls for that long.  My shinning moment was probably pulling strong after the first Preem which broke the women’s pack of 6 or 7 women down to 4… that, and not taking anyone else down with me… besides that one old guy that got in my way… sorry?

Our little group of four never broke up going into the final 5km but our speed continued to ramp up as we got closer and closer to the finish.  Alexa and Brooke dominated the trail while Lauren and I apparently took turns falling over.

In a four way sprint for first I got shut out of a finishing lane and had to ski in the whiskers to move around Alexa and head for the line.  I ran out of ski race before I could get to Lauren’s shoulder and finished a mere 0.11 seconds out of first.  Someone proceeded to ski through my head as I lay on the ground which left me a little dazed but relatively unharmed (we think).

Women's Elite Finish.

Women’s Elite Finish.

Racing was incredibly fun and I definitely came away from the weekend exceeding my own expectations… and apparently everyone else’s!


After soaking it up in the hot springs, mingling with our new British friends, collecting hugs, and filling ourselves with some exceptionally fast-exceptionally questionable Chinese food, Carl, Ben and I headed back towards Montana.  Home to Bozeman.  Although it was great to go to sleep in Idaho and wake up in Montana I also woke up to some bad news.

After a phone call from Europe and a Skype meeting later it turns out I will not be going to Europe to race at European/U26 Championships in Bulgaria like I had hoped.  It was, and still is, a huge disappointment… but I’m trying to turn my focus to the future and what races I do get to do instead.

After much groveling and shameful pleading I will be going home to race the Birkie!  As a Hayward kid who was never old enough to do the whole thing I’m getting pretty excited and looking forward to skiing with a bunch of familiar faces.  Birkie fever anyone?