Lessons Learned: and other stories from Portugal

It’s been over a week since I ran, scampered, and power hiked my way through 85km of the Peneda-Geres National Park in Northern Portugal with a collection of ridiculously fast people.  The bruises have finally started to fade, my legs fit back in “normal” pants, and my right knee is back its regular shape and size.  I’m physically exhausted from the whirlwind trip in addition to coming home to a towering stack of midterms and assignments that were part of my “in November” collection of growing work.  The combination of physical and mental work over the past month has been adding up and after volunteering all day in the rain on Saturday I finally was able to get over the jet lag and sleep for 12 hours straight.  All hail falling back into a bonus hour of sleep!

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The race was a lot of things.  People have described it as punishing, astounding, sadistic, inhuman, a vision-quest… and it was all of that, but it was also a lot of fun.  A mental, giggle inducing, sheer force of ridiculousness.

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My favorite part of the entire race came right before the start.  Mario gathered us together into a huddle.  Our small, but strong American crew, united, like a little life raft in the sea of runners under dark skies.  He reminded us that it was a honor to race for our country and that at the end of the day, we race for team.  In that moment I felt calm.

The starting-pen was tight.  Akin to being at a concert, but without the crowd surfers. I had to keep my elbows (recently sharpened) about 6 inches away from my body just to maintain the tiniest of bubbles and keep both my feet on the ground.  With a count down and a little fanfare we were off.  Into the dark, hundreds of headlamps bobbing their way out of town.  I can’t remember the last time I got pushed around so much in a race start.  Elbows were flying, hands were out, and all I could think is, do we have 10 hours of this ahead? Calm down people! “Tranquilo! Tranquilo!”

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I finally settled into a little group of three with a Swiss woman and a French woman.  They both looked older than me and I thought to myself, “They must know what they are doing.” We climbed up and up a dirt road out of town, our little train of runners spreading in both directions.   Considering we gained nearly 3,000 feet in the first 4 miles I felt calm and controlled.  We had a rhythm, a silent agreement to keep running.  Somewhere on the first steep down hill I reconnected with my American team mate Yiou.  I think the women around us thought we were nuts as we audibly laughed and whooped as the course sent us down what in daylight might have been a drainage ditch. I scampered along behind Yiou through the 15km aid station and then when the road took a turn back towards 18+% she lead the group out as I returned to a more internal uphill running pace.

We ran through the dark for nearly 3 hours.  We felt helplessly remote and then suddenly you would drop onto a cobblestone street and run through someone’s backyard. We traversed moonscapes with boulders the size of school buses and houses, and lush river basins, rocky sandstone, and granite speckled high open cattle range hill sides. Through old burns and new burns to the cry of “YEAH AMERICANO!” and occasionally “HEYA POLAND!” as we all seemed to run in red shorts and white singlets.

I ran out of fluid between the water station at 15km and the first team aid station at 30km despite carrying a liter, and suddenly it became apparent my swollen travel feet didn’t quite fit in my shoes.  A steep down hill at a little over 15 miles in with 2,000+ feet of descent disconnected four of my toe nails all the way to the nail bed. I’m used to barreling downhill and suddenly I was brought to a complete halt. And just like that I let around 6 women go.  As I said, “Go go go!” my feet said, “Yeah right!”, and I would go on to struggle in a jarring, braking fashion on every descent for the rest of the race. As we did our best to keep ourselves upright I met back up with two other women.  As I came up behind them I figured I would just tuck in and travel the last mile into the 30km aid station together.  They had other ideas and without saying anything, came to dead stop, grabbed me, moved me in front of them and gave me a little push. I let out a cat call, and led the three of us down into the aid station below.

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I left the aid station around 20th place, happy to have fluids again as we headed into the two biggest climbs of the day. There was roughly 15km and 4,000+ feet of climbing between us and the next water station. Little did we know then but much of the women’s field would run out of water with about 5 miles of exposed climbing to go.

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I settled into the climb with a women from the British team, as we hiked up hill we joked about forgetting it was a running race. Quickly I proceeded to nearly take her out as I leveled myself over a rock slamming my right knee and hip in the process. Laughing she and a Ukrainian guy rushed to pick me up, make sure I was okay, and then we continued to make our way upwards. Suddenly we came to a flowing downhill and I joined a Finnish gal and Icelandic guy as they ran by until the terrain got to steep for my toes to follow.  At this point the day was warming up rapidly and with little shade on course I constantly looked for places to take a little lie down in some water.  I snow-angeled in shin deep creeks, sat and splashed in river run off, and nearly broke into someones yard to lay down in a cow tub. Right as I ran out of water for the second time of the day I got a flyby hug from my Mom and Scott who had made the journey over to Portugal to chase me around. They cheered and told me I was about 5 minutes behind Yiou.  With a little surge of energy I headed into the exposed climb that would claim many of the drop-outs of the day.  Taking a moment to look up at the climb expanding in front of me I could see the long train of runners speckling the hillside.

Putting my head down I dug into my favorite grinding power shuffle and slowly picked my way up the chain of runners.  We gasped as we passed spectators and volunteers, occasionally asking about water and more often then not they would say “Yes, yes!” and point into the distance where you could make out radio towers.  I fell into marching pace with an Argentinian and a Norwegian girl.  We were all desperate to get to the next aid station and communicated in gasps and sounds of distress, the mutual language of suffering.  There was a little water run off but we were traversing high open range cattle land and any and all water was surrounded by the same cow poop we had been dodging for a mile.  I watched the Argentinian dip the sketchiest bit of water and we forged on.  We laughed on the verge of tears reaching the tented aid station.  Several runners sat down right there and pulled out cell-phones to call their teams, they were done. I drank nearly a liter, filled my flasks, grabbed as many oranges as I could carry and started to descend the long 8km to where I would get to see our team support system around the 55km mark.

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We left the dirt road and headed down a steep, grassy off trail section.  The Argentinian women and a Spanish gal leading us down the grade.  I let them go as I babied my feet and when I got to the bottom I could hear a cow bell coming down the dirt road we were about to intersect.  It took me a moment to realize it belonged to a large, long-horned cow (not a adoring trail running fan) and as it ran towards us the Argentinian women appeared from the bushes to my right, pulling me in with her and out of the way of the charging cow.  We all gave a sigh of relief and thanks as we headed down the creek bottom towards our crews.

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I was thrilled to see our team US crew at the 54km aid station. At this point it dawned on me that I had a spare pair of shoes, I just hadn’t planned on using them.  I asked if our crew could bring them and my spare timing chip to the next aid (12km from the finish), it truly was better late than never… and a total rookie mistake!   I picked up a new watch, as mine had long since died, and shuffled my way out to my darkest moments of the race.  The next 10km was both good and bad.  There wasn’t any sustained climbing or descending but the rock we were hitting was incredibly slick and my quads were pissed from the unnatural running gait I had adopted to get me down the descents for the previous 7 hours. This truly was going to be a race of attrition…

I do remember a moment of panic that came over me when I couldn’t remember if we got aid at 64km or if I had to make it all the way to the 74km mark.  It was getting really really warm and my water was once again running out.  Suddenly I saw people coming down the trail towards me and they informed me that the water station wasn’t far ahead.  I nearly bounded up the hill with joy.  Running up the cobblestone street the people cheered me on and I was elated to arrive at the aid station with a group of volunteers waiting to pour water on us.  I drank coke from a cut in half water bottle, and forged on alone.  For the next 6km I played the run to the flag-hike to the flag game with myself.  We started to run through the Sunday afternoon agriculture burns (read: What???) and headed up the final big climb of the day. Once again I suddenly realized I was coming up on a train of runners and slowly and steadily power hiked my way back up through the field, if only this race had ended on an uphill!

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At the top we moved much more cautiously past a number of other large cows and directly to the worlds best placed water spigot. After soaking our heads and backs we headed down to our final aid station of the day.  We were on the homeward push!  I had caught up to a Polish girl as Vitor appeared on the other side of the hill to give us some cheers and help to guide us down to our waiting teams. I was thrilled to be greeted by a little flat footing, my Mom and Scott cheering and unfortunately a growing number of American team mates the race had chewed up in various ways. Our team managers got me to sit down as they helped me change my shoes.  Richard was less than impressed by how much dirt was in my shoes, but all I could think about was potato chips… as I had eaten one too many gels that day with way too little fluid.

I left the aid station with two handfuls of potato chips only to run directly into equipment control.  I asked if it was okay if I put my potato chips on the bench as I proved to them I had the headlamp and jacket we were required to carry for the entirety of a race despite the fact it was 80F and we would be done long before dark. I tried to most efficiently shovel the potato chips off the bench and back into my fat hands as I was ushered back out onto course.

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The longest 12km was now the only thing standing between me an a excuse to stop moving. I ran surprisingly well for the next 6 or 7km. Moving forwards through the field. Then we hit a series of punchy climbs and steep descents, and despite the shoe change my feet were painfully thrashed and useless when the grade got too steep in the downward direction.  I stubbed my toe on a rock and was brought to tears for the first time all day. I hobbled, and got passed by the women I had passed climbing into the last aid station.. and for the first time in a long time I couldn’t fight my way back.  It wasn’t from fatigue, or that I couldn’t work harder physiologically… I had fallen apart biomechanically early on in the race, and I was paying the price.

I’m pretty certain we were told we had 4km to go atleast 3 times and when we finally hit the cobblestone I knew we had to be almost home. I cursed unintentionally and audibly when we hit a section of -40% cobblestone with less than a km to go, but when I saw Richard waiting for me at the bottom of the hill I knew we had to be there. I could hear the finish line and I’m pretty sure when I saw Richard I let out a loud, “I’m going to make it!”

Running into the finishing shoot alongside the announcer, through a group of traditional dancers, and towards a waving and smiling Mom and Scott I couldn’t think of a better way to end a long day out on the trail.

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A lot of people keep telling me, “Oh well Americans don’t usually do well at this type of racing in Europe…” but I can’t just simply brush it off like that. After all, they put their pants on the same way we do in the morning (post race it involves sitting on the ground for minimal bending).  I truly loved the course, I made a couple of crucial rookie mistakes that cost me a good day, and although it was physical battle, mentally I was rock solid.

I learned a lot on my first adventure over to Europe to race, and although I’m not 100% satisfied with how the day went, I am hungry for so much more! Until then I’ll just keep practicing walking down stairs…

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Special thanks to our fearless team managers Nancy Hobbs and Richard Bolt, with assistance from Vitor Rodrigues, and all of the family members and loved ones that traveled to Portugal to help support us!

 

Shuffle to Worlds

I’m writing this from row 28, seat A in my first germ tube of the day.  We’re currently barreling over the plains of the central North America as we head towards my first connection of this whirlwind trip.  I’m fairly certain my body is going to be confused for the next two weeks as this quick “jump to Europe” is the last trip of incredibly busy October.  I’ve gotten to the point where I literally have life piling up around me and I just keep saying, “I’ll take care of that in November.”  Welcome to my life as a natural disaster.  A whirling combination of enthusiastic tornado and overhyped typhoon.  Splish splash, “yeah yeah, I’ll do that in November…”

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Where am I jumping off to?  I’m headed to Portugal, for IAU Trail Running World Championships where the small but mighty US team will be taking on 53 rugged miles with 15,000 feet of climbing Saturday morning (or Friday night? How does this time change thing work again?).   The work has been done, the donuts have been consumed, and the mocha stores have been topped off!  What more can a girl do? I’m as ready as I’m going to be.

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I haven’t been over to Europe for a race since retiring from biathlon and I’m slightly paranoid that I’ve forgotten something important in my little carry-on. This whole week I’ve been going through the packing list over and over again in my head.  I fretted over how me gels I could sneak into my carry-on… turns out it didn’t matter as TSA was nearly asleep at the scanner. The only hang up was the guy in front of me that decided he needed to take all the avocados out of his backpack…

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What does this weekend have in store?  Well I’m hoping several pastries (what trip to Europe could be complete without it?) and some new inspiring trail visions. There’s a lot of unknown wrapped up in this trip, and that’s scary and invigorating but I’m up for the challenge.  I get to rub elbows with some of the best women on the trail scene, women that I’ve read about for years, that I’ve followed through the results, that I’ve admired and looked up to, it is going to be an experience!

If you want to follow along, jump over to corrinemalcolm, and I’ll be back on her next week with a proper update about the experience!

Marathon Month: a tale of two races.

After the Rut in Montana I hustled back to the the PNW to jump back into grad school with both feet.  This semester I’m TAing two classes and finishing up my Masters course work which means lots of hours in the dungeon lab as I try to get my thesis proposal approved. Needless to say, I’m trying to ride that sweet spot on the Stress:Productivity curve.

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As I start the final prep for trail World Champs in Portugal I’ve been fortunate enough in the last two weeks to get in a couple of race efforts on some of my favorite trails.

Crystal Mountain: Who put this hill here?

Two weeks ago I headed south to Crystal Mountain, for the second fall in a row at the Crystal Mountain Sky Marathon. Scott does a great job with this race, getting us stellar views of Mount Rainer, utilizing elk trails, and putting us through a world of pain!

It’s crazy two think how much a year can change things. This time last fall the Crystal Mountain Sky race was my longest race of the season…This year?  …it’s my shortest!

The weather was decidedly “fun”, meaning over dinner the night before we placed bets on the two conflicting weather reports for the next day and ultimately went to bed listening to rain pelting the roof.

Armed with a belly full of golden grahams and in several jackets I headed to the start area under a gray sky. From the gun we started the first big climb of the day, from base area, to the top of the gondola.  For coming in just under 26 miles this race still manages to squeeze in just over 9,000 feet of climbing!  Trail runners beware, vertmonsters know how to have some fun!

Although I knew a bunch of the guys racing I didn’t know how the women’s race would shake out and was nervous to be leading from the gun. One thing I have learned over the past year is how to gauge my effort, and although I knew I was racing well within myself, I was paranoid to be out front by myself.   I yoyo’d back a forth with a group of guys but ultimately spent the first half of the race getting dropped with bathroom breaks and post scree field shoe maintenance stops.

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After making it through the first off-trail section, a wooohoo filled single track descent, and the never ending dirt road descent I was thrilled as we approached my favorite part of the course.  A 5 mile climb with roughly 4,000 feet of vertical ascent. The bottom half of it is virtually unrunable due to the grade.  A power hikers dream!  I quickly found my rhythm and put my head down. Pushing off my quads I slowly picked off one guy at a time, jokingly proclaiming, “Who put this hill here?” as I moved up the trail. By the time we reached the gondola dock I had passed 6 guys moving from 13th to 7th overall. I high-fived the brave crew manning the upper aid station, grabbed chunks of watermelon, and barreled off the summit. I slipped and slid down the single track and through the fog as we descended down the mountain. I was greeted at the finish with blankets, tea, and the best assortment of rain jacketed supporters of the other runners!  After a warm shower and putting on all the dry clothes I had brought with me I was happy to share some beer and an assortment of BBQ before driving back North to the calling of the dungeon lab.

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Birkie Trail Marathon: The Hilliest Flat Course

After a week at home, some North Shore adventures with Stephen, and helping to pace the  4:00 hour marathon crew a the Bellingham Bay Marathon I jumped on a germ tube and sent it for the midwest, arriving in the the homeland this past Thursday.

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I was immediately greet by our gigantic 8 year old cat Ringo. He purrs like a jet engine, and I’m convinced he was conceived by a bobcat.  (See photo for size)

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I had a day to get my feet under me, to run from the Fish Hatchery trail head that I have run, skied, and biked from so many times before. The fall colors are popping here in the northern corner of Wisconsin.  With a little more red than we get in the west and a little more yellow than is currently in Vancouver (still have yet to confirm that fall doesn’t just drown in BC).

Saturday morning was cool and clear. After waking up on Central Time to left over pasta and coffee I headed further North to Seely and the North Ridge trailhead to the start and finish line for the Birkie Trail races. After about 6 bathroom breaks, prancing around in wet grass, getting free Skratch Lab gummies (thanks dude!), and hugging people I handed my jacket off to my Dad and got in the start shoot behind the front row of guys.  After one of those really long “One minute till start!” waits we shot out of the starting shoot and headed across the field to the Birkie trail.

The men’s field formed a pretty nice pack off the front and I found my way in behind two guys who were running a pace that I liked and settled in. After about a mile I saw Tammi, the women’s winner from last year as she came up on my shoulder, and I left my two guys and followed her.  We exchanged leads, she was moving much better than me on the flatter bits, and swapped chuckles about the race, the trail, and what lay ahead.  A little after the 3 mile mark Tammi pulled up short on an uphill, and after getting word that she was okay I carried on with Jim Kelly as we headed towards OO.

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My dad was waiting at the OO turn that sent us back the way we came on the Classic Trail. It turns out he was in a clutch spot as several guys tried to run straight through. I thought the course was really well marked, but you all know how well our brains work in race mode!  At the next aid station I grabbed a gel without really looking at it. Big mistake, they had diligently opened all the gels… this is great, until you try to put the salted caramel Gu into your pocket…. I spent the next several miles licking gel off my hands as I chased my way up to the next guy. We rolled through some flowy single track winding back and forth to the point where we had probably ran a mile but hadn’t really made it that far as the crow flies. I fell into step with Kyle as we hit the Birkie trail again and shared a really sticky high-five.  After several fast miles of chit chatting Kyle fell back on an uphill and I plugged on ahead and alone.

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This next section of trail was a little bit of a struggle for me on a combination of Birkie trail, North End trail, and single track. I tried my best to keep moving at the same effort, but kept finding myself getting distracted looking for mushrooms in the pine forrest. Oysters, chanterelles, boletus, and coral mushrooms springing up everywhere!  I’d ease off the gas on this personal mushroom scavenger hunt and then realize I had become lost in thought and accelerate again. I was so happy to see the 5 mile to go marker and tried to keep driving as I told myself, “Don’t worry it’s a downhill finish.”

We climbed winding single track back up to the Birkie trail.  At this point the half marathon course merges into the marathon course and shortly after the merge the top two marathon men came blowing by me at a speed I couldn’t quite comprehend, getting startled by both of them as they passed.  With a little over two miles to go the Trekkers merged into our course as well and I cheered for each and everyone of them, trading between “Looking good trekkers!”, “We’re almost there!”, and “How’d they fit all this uphill into a downhill finish!?!?”.

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That last statement rang in my mind.  Every corner we went around came another uphill… The hills on the Birkie trail are punchy. It rolls and rolls without a lot of flat relief. …and as a local, this should not have come as a surprise…

My “downhill finish” never came but I fought through the last two miles and tried to find speed where ever I could. Finally I crested a little rise and saw the clearing in the trees, we were entering the final field and I was flooded with happiness knowing I’d be across the finish safe and sound soon.

It was wonderful to come across the line into the arms of my mom and our good family friend Barb Klippel (who won the 80+ division in the 5km and I want to be when I grow up).   I made it through the finish sneaking under my goal time of 3:30 and got to spend the rest of the afternoon hanging out with old friends enjoying a great fall day!

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I’m excited to have a few more days to play in the homeland, run in some fall colors, and find some squeaky cheese before I head back to the PNW. Fall is a real treat around here, and I’m hoping we get a few more weeks of indian summer before the snow starts to fly.

 

 

 

 

 

Rut-Roh: More Sky Less Mountain

After a whirlwind trip to Montana I’m back in the PNW. Seemingly the rain clouds and marine fog layer are right where I left them, hovering right around 3,000 feet cutting off the tops of the North Shore mountains.

Getting to “go home” to Montana was a breath of fresh air.  An opportunity to refill the spirit sponge, hug all my people, run with old friends, and to get up high into the wide open wild spaces that are ingrained in my running memory.

Despite waking up to some smokey mornings the trip was an all around success!

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After spending much of the week nestled in Bozeman I headed over to Big Sky for the Vertical Kilometer and The Rut 50km for my final weekend in town.

On our way into the canyon we got word that they were changing to the Plan B course for the VK due the high winds and the potential for electrical storms.  That’s weather in the West. It changed quickly, and would become the story for the weekend as we dealt with just about every potential change in the elements.

Coming off of antibiotics for Lyme’s Disease and having spent the last 9months at sea-level my race plan for the weekend was simply to pin bib numbers on for the first time in months, and more importantly to keep my streak of having “the most fun, ever!” alive.

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The VK went smooth. I was nervous, that or I was car sick, but either way I showed up the start line with jitters and an upset stomach. I joked as I slotted myself behind the front couple of lines of men and then we erupted from the start line barreling into 2,000 + feet of climbing in two miles at 6:30 pace. I joked that “sea-level is a b$*#h” and cat-called spectators. As I watched more diminutive competitors float up the scree in front of me I focused on chasing “man in blue shorts” and “man with long beard”. For being a plan b course, the Mike’s did an excellent job on finding the very best alternative suffering terrain.  At the top I snuck in under the 40 min mark, gasped for water, and jogged back down to the base area where I was lucky enough to get a blueberry pie hand-up mid cool down!

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I spent much of Saturday cheering my face off for fellow racers as they tackled The Rut 28km.  The weather held, runners were treated to the full course while I froze my fingers and toes off as I tried to identify runners from a distance as they approached the SwiftCurrent aid station.  Lucky for me, I had a partner in crime Sarah Bard who was committed to doing jumping jacks and odd dance moves periodically before finding coffee the size of our faces.  We were bribed back into helping iRunFar at the finish line with cookies, smooth work Byron, and we proceeded the screaming of our faces off as the runners trickled back into the base area.

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After a shuffle, a well deserved nap, and being fed a hearty dinner by the Meng Family it was time for bed.  The weather at this point looked pretty horrible for the 50km.  They were calling for rain, snow, sleet, and the occasional thunderstorm with a cold front moving through mid-day.  We went to bed not knowing which course we’d be running come 6:00am, but we were definitely promised an epic day on the mountain.

After shoveling fork fuels of leftovers into my face while still half asleep I got  word that the course would be changed to Plan B due to the incoming weather.  And as much as I wanted to prance up and down the headwaters ridge and over lone peak I also knew I was capable of a good run that would be pretty similar to what I had run all winter in the PNW. Lots of climbing in the rain, something I’m now very familiar with.

At 6:00am to the bugle of an elk we took off from the start line and headed up the mountain in the dark. I knew there was a lot of climbing in the first two miles and not wanting to trash myself I slotted in with a group of guys and we chatted our way through the darkness. I followed Twin 1 & Twin 2 as they paved our way up the hill.  The first mile takes you up what we like to call a “douche grade”, decidedly runable, and a great place to show everyone else how good you are at running uphill. Suddenly we veered off the road and onto a steep single track section that slowed our forward progress to a steady crawl as it bottle-necked.  There was plenty of scampering and awkward passing, but I held steady knowing that there was ground to be made up later on.  During this time I managed to take off my wind jacket while hiking uphill with my pack on and congratulated myself on what might be my life’s greatest accomplishment in multitasking!

We cruised across the mountain and started to traverse over to the lone mountain section of the course.  I was dreading this section. Last year my legs felt like lead and I was relegated to hiking large sections of the winding climbing prologue…. but this time around the miles just kind of clipped by. I wasn’t pushing but I was running easily through the rolling upward terrain. I was able to cruise with Hilary and KPat for a while, tucked in behind, but nature called and I quickly detoured into some trees and that would be the last I would see of them for the rest of the race. We cruised back through the 2nd aid station around the 12 mile mark, I exchanged a bottle and refused to take a jacket from Stephen (I would later regret this decision).

I climbed upward by myself, slowly catching back up with the group of guys I had run with up the starting climb.  We wooohoooo’d and cat-called through the trees. This was clearly the group I belonged in these were my people.  We headed further into the cloud and the temp kept dropping. Suddenly the SwiftCurrent aid station appeared through the sleet and I must have looked a bit confused as I searched for Stephen for my jacket hand-up.  Unfortunately there had been issues with the chairlift and my cheer squad had not made it up the mountain in time. I power-hiked out of the aid station with my boys and hoped that our descent down to the Dakota lift would warm me up. We ran further and further into snow flakes and the atmosphere of our group was energetic as we yelled, “Sending!” in marco-polo fashion.

At the bottom of the scree field Buzz and TJ waited for me, soon I realized they waited because the patroller had offered us beer!  We eagerly took the beer feed and continued our traverse to the Dakota lift.  After high-fiving the BRC crew and the makeshift aid station (fireball was involved) we barreled down the descent that brought us to the bottom of Andesite, our last “big” climb of the race.  As it turned out the 11km race was still on course (going in the opposite direction of the 50km) and the single track had turned into the mud version of a slip and slide.  It was so ridiculous I was distracted from any and all effort… I’m pretty sure I laughed my way up the entire climb congratulating the 11km runners as I encouraged them to butt slide their way down the course!

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Buzz and I shuffled our way up to the Andesite lift and was thrilled to see the cheer squad freezing their tushes off in the nearly freezing rain.  At this point my hands were pretty much useless that as I ran to my crew I had to have them open gels for me, and then get me into my rain jacket and zip me up.  With a flurry of kisses and high fives I left Andesite cheering for myself and exclaiming to everyone within earshot that I’d see them at the finish.   Sitting in 7th I was content with my day and just tried to enjoy the fun single track that traversed back and forth across a bowl back in no-mans land.  I was able to catch back up to Buzz and we settled into our cat-calling ways as we descended the final 5 miles to the  finish. With about a mile to go three things happened all at once; the 6th place girl came back to us, we hit the surprise last mean little climb of the course, and the Missoula crew started yelling at us from their hot tub. Buzz more or less told me to get my butt in gear, and I did my best to glom onto him.  Denali and I made that last push to the finish hard as we both fought our way up the final climb with respective cheer crews trying to feed us their energy.

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PC: Myke Hermsmeyer

Somehow I managed to squeeze out a little it of 5:50 pace and crossed the finish line, patted Buzz on the back, got hugged my Stephen, and then promptly decided I wanted to take a little ground nap.

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Due to the change in courses our abbreviated day on the mountain was epic none the less.  Although we didn’t get our high alpine scree scramble, and had a lot more sky and a lot less mountain, I’m happy to have spent a crazy day on trail with my Montana crew and my great big trail family!

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PC: Sarah Bard

 

 

 

Antibiotics Be Damned

This spring lit a fire in me.

From taking the plunge and jumping into my first Ultra in March to winning the National Championships in the 50mile in June I have never found as much joy and sustenance in trail time as I did this spring.

Running got me through my first and otherwise very standard (read, wet) winter in the PNW.  It was my escape from the basement I worked in and the basement I live in, and the rabbits hole of scientific journals my face is frequently buried in these days.

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Running was everything I needed, until we were headed into July and suddenly I was tired. Too tired. I struggled through the sleep monsters and the aches, the brain fog and the migraines for three weeks.  First cutting back training, then not training at all. And still my incessant need to nap did not change. Finally I didn’t want to eat, and couldn’t remember where I was suppose to be going or doing.  And when I don’t want to eat a donut, or ice-cream, or cookies… you know something is probably wrong.

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So I went in for blood work, and called all the doctors in my life (thanks parental units!) and finally decided that the best course of treatment was antibiotics for what was becoming more apparent was likely Lyme Disease.

Nationals in Ithaca was in a tick heavy area, in a tick heavy time of the month… it seemed inevitable.  With worlds on the horizon at the end of October I needed to take action. 3 weeks later I no longer feel the urge to sleep standing up, and I’m a microbiome lighter.  (Sorry gut bacteria!)

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Over the past month, while slowly recovering I spent time alternating between slow mountain adventures with good friends and trail buddies and short easy runs with little bursts of speed to try to spur my legs into remembering we know how to run after taking nearly 2.5 weeks completely off.

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While I might not be 100% in the fitness category, my spirit sponge stores are at an all time high.  Getting to share the wonderland trail with Emily and Yiou, getting a full blown tour of the North Cascades and the Enchantments loop with Stephen and Emerson, getting to spend some time in the hills around Bozeman with Jodi and Jennie, and finally hugging and smooshing my Bozeman family over the past week has me flying high!

I’m getting ready to head back to The Rut in Big Sky Montana for the weekend. A race in my hearts home, surrounded by people I care about seems like the cherry on top.  Am I going to crush it?  Probably not. I have no ill conceived notions of greatness, but I know its where I need to be.  I’m not sure I have the self-control to “not-race” a race… But I’ll be bracing my limitations and giving it 100% of whatever my legs and lungs will share with me this weekend.  I hope to be giving out high fives and catcalls and taking at least half the flasks I’m offered…  for what I lack in fitness right now I hope to match with energy and heart!

 

 

Little Fish Must Like Pie. A story about the Cayuga 50mile.

The Buildup
Time has a funny way of simultaneously moving fast and slow.  Although I came across the finish line at the Cayuga 50mile nearly a week ago, it feels like the race just ended… and that writing this will somehow finally seal it in the past.

8 weeks before the race my coach and I decided to throw my name in the hat.  Why not?  I had just come off a great first 100km, and after the side effects of losing my appetite, having to navigate stairs sideways, and shivering uncontrollably had worn off I felt ready to tackle the next challenge. Hoorah for a gold fish memory!

I was told to win it I would have to have a phenomenal day. That maybe I could be in the lead mix… maybe.  You see, I’m an understandable underdog. My first ever ultra was in March. My Strava feed is not impressive. My running resume is short compared to the women I would be lining up against… but the thing is, I don’t count anyone out… which is great because then by default I don’t count myself out either. I was a little fish, sure, but I was ready.

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TwoWeeks Out
At this point I finally do a little research on the race and I discover two things.
1. There are reportedly lots of stairs… Coincidence we have a lot of those around here.
2. There is pie to be won.  Coincidence, I love pie!

Night Before
My faithful crew for this weekends excursion, AnnaJo, and I roll into Robert H. Treman State Park and fancy park the sprinter van.  The cabins remind me of the summer camps I attended growing up in Wisconsin (overzealous mosquitos included). After getting set up for the evening I run into a motley crew of presumably runners in the parking lot who all turn out to be from the NY area. It’s a welcome distraction and my sarcastic jabs are rewarded with a Little Debbie’s zebra cake/cosmic brownie mashup. (clearly a great pre-race fueling strategy)  I finally try to sleep, but my brain is in Pacific Standard Time and the people in the cabin next to me are having a party long past “quite hours”.

4:00am
My alarm goes off and I swat at it. It can not be time to get up?  I manage to shovel white rice into my face and get down a hard boiled egg.  I listen to an episode of This American Life as I pack up my sleeping bag and head into the parking lot to find Anna at the sprinter with coffee. I guess we are going to do this thing after all.

Runners peacock around the parking lot and starting area nervously fiddling with hydration systems.  It’s only 55F, but we know heat is on the way.

6:00am

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Ian, the RD, sounds the horn and we take off across the field.  The start is calm, pedestrian.  Everyone chitchats, I tuck in behind Sabrina with Kelsey and Laura.  As we head up the hill we start to hit the first section of roots and rocks and Kelsey and I start to pick faster lines.  I feel okay, but these races are long and I take it easy on a long fast down hill in an effort to protect my quads for later in the race. Things are clicking, I eat every 30 minutes, drink frequently, and I watch continuously for the pie tags I have been told will be scattered on course.  At one point I get excited by what I think is a pie tag, but turns out to be a sign about pesticide application instead, false alarm.  The group as thinned out and I’m running alone. Occasionally I catch glimpses of Laura behind me but the distance seems to be remaining constant.

On the way back towards the half way point I start to more fully utilize the creek crossings. Full on snow angel-ing my way through them. I eat a cucumber mint gu and think to myself “You are a gel machine!”.   Somewhere around the 19mile mark I look up and realize the runner I’m closing in on is Kelsey.  I’m surprised and all I can think is:

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10:00am
I hit the turn around point at 3:49:xx putting myself 3ish minutes under Amanda’s halfway time from the year before (and the course record).  I’m terrified.  Richard Bolt says something to the effect of, “Hey you’re winning!” and what I think is “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaah!” and what I say is ,”I don’t know if that’s a good thing!”  I am well aware this is a going to be a race of attrition and I have a long way to go to get back across the finish line.

As I run out I see all the girls coming in to the turn around.  I cheer for each one of them, deliriously saying things like, “Go get them!” and “She’s right ahead of you!”

The great thing about looped courses is that you get to see everyone. I love cheering on other runners, and frequently will lose my voice from being so abrasively enthusiastic during races.  The bad thing about looped courses is that everyone knows where you are and as I am my own worst fear monger-er this can often lead to me running panicky.

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Quickly after the turn around I catch my new found buddy Ben Snodgrass.  He agrees to run with me even after watching me yardsale hard over a root within minutes of joining me. It so nice to have a distraction.  My left quad and foot have been cramping spastically since mile 21. The company is giving me a second wind and we power up the hills. Ben yo-yos with every descent but comes right back.  Somewhere around the 36 mile mark he tells me to run on and let’s me know his crew will try to get a split for me at the Buttermilk aid station.

12:00pm
I slam into the Buttermilk AS double fisting watermelon and pickles as one does at mile 37.5 and thank the volunteers as I head up the Buttermilk stairs one last time.  My watch is dying so I shut it off.  It’s getting really hot and I’m desperately looking forward to the next creek crossing 5 miles up the trail. The heat is starting to cook me slowly from the inside out and I find places along the trail I can jump into the creek… desperately trying to keep my core body temperature down. I thank the state park gods for a conveniently placed water spicket and forge ahead.

I am overcome with joy to make it back to the Underpass AS, I know there are only 7 miles now between me and the finish line. A land of ice cubes and a more appropriate place to take a lie down. I get word that I had a 7minute lead to 2nd place at the Buttermilk AS and although that means my lead grew from the turn around point at mile 25 I’m terrified instead of relieved.  I think to myself, “They’re coming!”

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I leave the aid station on a mission, ginger ale in hand. The next several miles to the Old mill AS feel like they are taking too long. I’m alternating between power hiking and running and I feel like I’m moving in slow motion despite the fact that I’m steadily catching male runners. I curse each and every stone step out loud.  I dash through Old Mill a flurry of thank you’s and I’m sorry’s as my paranoid race brain tells me, “She’s right there, she’s coming for you.” I head for home.  All I want is to get to the final downhill to the road, all I need to do is get there. I’m careening down rock stairs, apologizing and doing my best to smile at families that are out enjoying their beautiful Saturday afternoon.

I dump whatever is in my larger soft flask on me, I think it’s mostly water and I don’t care.  I am so close. I have carried this win for so long.  Protected it for so many miles.  I hit the road and try to move my legs as quickly as my quads will allow.  Not safe, not home yet.  Hitting the turn onto the grass a mom and her kids stop to cheer for me and I’m lifted an inch or two taller.   I can see the road, and no one is there.  I’m in the clear, I’m safe, I’m going to make it.  I can see the finish line and the ribbon looming in the distance and I pump my arms harder.  I’ve made it.  I’m too tired to cry and I lay on the ground as Anna pours water on me.

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The outpouring of love and support from my communities near and far has been overwhelming! Thank you all so much.  After taking a few days in NYC to regroup, remaster those pesky stairs, and eat all the pastries in sight I’m back in the PNW planning the next adventure!

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I Can’t Feel My Legs When I’m With You: A story about Gorge Waterfalls 100km

A lot has happened in the past 6 months.  I left my job coaching kids I love in Bozeman, Montana to move to the PNW and go to grad school at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC.

Between the packing, unpacking [repeat several times], driving through a blizzard, a last minute trip home to the Midwest, and mountains of paperwork my coach and I thought it would be a good idea to target an early spring race. If anything it would provide the motivation to spend months running in a rain jacket as an escape from my new home, a basement lab in a concrete building on top of Burnaby Mountain.

It’s been a wet winter in both Bellingham and Vancouver… like running in my Alpine Houdini every day wet. Indoor track season started, ultra season started, race results were rolling in.  People started finding their way to start lines in the deserts of Texas, Arizona, and Utah… meanwhile, I tried my best to curb my insatiable hunger for mochas and donuts.

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Who thought a spring race was a good idea?!?!

Long runs started adding up, going well. Even though my mileage is still lower than most of the women I toe the line with I’ve started to feel more like a runner and less like an imposter.

Between going cross eyed reading scientific journal article after journal article, and settling into my new communities the winter months passed by. I toed the line of my first official ultra on March 19th at the Chuckanut 50km in front of my new home town crowd. My Bellingham Distance Project singlet gave me extra go-go juice and squeaked in under the 4:30 mark good for 5th, hungry and excited to move on to the next challenge (namely eating my body weight in french fries that evening).

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Enter, Gorge Waterfalls 100km

While shopping for a spring ultra I noticed that Gorge was on my birthday… after talking to my coach it seemed that running 62 miles for my 26th was too perfect. Neither one of us questioned the fact that it would be twice as far as I’ve ever run before or that the race mileage is pretty close to my average weekly mileage… we just jumped in.  What I lack in running history I make up for with a misguided sense of my own limitations and years of training intensely for nordic skiing and biathlon.

Gorge morning came and although I didn’t feel nervous I hardly slept the night before and sprung out of bed when my alarm went off at 3:45am. I spent the little time I was asleep dreaming I kept running off course (maybe I’ll refrain from reading other folk’s race reports moving forward).

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Photos from my wonderful BDP team mate and crew for the day Scarlett Graham

Rainshadow Running’s James Varner led us out for the first 800 meters as we tripped over ourselves, rocks, and sticks. The field comfortably found it’s rhythm as we headed up the first climb of the day.  A line sorted itself out as we continued up the switchbacks, I conservatively tucked in behind Jodee, Ashley, and Amanda. My calves complained up most of the climb but I settled into a comfortable grinding pace.  In the back of my mind I was worried what might happen once we got past the 31 mile mark. The sun was coming up over the hill and we were to treated to the most incredible views of the Columbia River Gorge.

Aside from having to pee from about mile 4 to mile 18 (best pee break ever!) and the dreaded 2 mile road section the miles clipped by comfortably.  I was putting down fluids and food well and cheering for folks out enjoying the sunny weekend. It was my birthday, I was there to party.

Suddenly we were at mile 21 and the aid station was like “WOAH! you are crushing!” and I was like, “Really? I’m just here to party….” After fist bumps and high fives I took off  towards the turn around point. My legs were handling the terrain as long as it kept undulating, the longer downhills or flats were causing my quads talk.  This isn’t news to me. Generally this kicks in around mile 18 and I hold on until the end but we were well into mile 26 before I turned into the weird girl occasionally muttering, “It’s okay little buddy, you’re fine” to myself as I run along. I was hoping to make it to mile 28 or so before the lead men passed me on their way back, and was almost there when the eventually race winner came slamming around a corner.  I have a weird love for this kind of course set up. Getting to cheer on other racers gives me so much energy!  The men’s top ten were moving well and spaced evenly and I took a moment to Wooohoooo for each one of them as we ran by.  Heading into the final mile before the turn around I knew I would see Jodee and Amanda for the first time during the race and we would all get a sense of where we fell in the field.  Jodee had maybe 8 minutes on me and Amanda 5 or 6.

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I was irrationally stoked to be at the turn around. Like awkwardly dancing around as I tried to change my shoes and socks stoked.  I was in third, a place I hadn’t planned on finding myself in a field that I considered so freaking tough! Scarlett was there and I was so happy to see a familiar face. With clean shoes and socks on I switched out watches and grabbed my iPod loaded with nerdy Ted Radio Hour and Things Mom Never Told You. I wanted the second half to feel like a fresh start. As I left the aid station Sam Drove was getting set to head back out, and Keely and Darcy were running in. I cheered to everyone and thought… “well… here goes nothing!”

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The simultaneous look of excitement and fear?

I was running into the unknown. Each and every mile was going to be a mile further than I had ever run before. I hoped my legs would keep working. Sam quickly caught up to me as I power hiked an uphill shoving a honey stinger bar into my face. I’ve been Strava stalking Sam since moving to the PNW to help find routes in the area to run. It was so nice to finally meet her and we chatted for a bit as we both tried to convince ourselves that our legs were happy.  I did some quick transitions between powering walking and running and started to feel better and better. I found myself alone again, to the extent that I was almost convinced I had missed a turn… Finally the mile 40 aid station appeared and I was on cloud nine to restock. 2nd was not far ahead and I whooped as people helped stuff food into my race vest and Scarlett refilled my water bottles.

Around mile 43 or 44 my legs I slipped on a stick and hyper extended my right knee.  I had been moving pretty well and it scared me. After hyper ventilating for a couple of minutes I took off again, but more cautiously bleeding crucial time to 2nd place and to 4th place. The wheels were falling off and all I could do was relentlessly move up the trail.  Somewhere shortly after this Keely came by me like a gazelle that could still nimbly move over sticks and rocks and I thought to myself, “this is how I die” as I trundled along.

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I quickly lost about 3 minutes to Keely and did my best to keep moving forward. We hit the 49 mile aid station and I was hungry, so freaking hungry. I opened all the food that wasn’t nailed down and quickly shoved it into my face.  My watch had died and I must have missed a feeding. With a Rice Krispy treat still only halfway into my mouth I muttered to Scarlett, “Well it’s not going to be pretty but we’re going to get this done!”

Leaving the aid station we hit the dreaded road section, that unlike so many hours before now had a head wind. I cranked up my podcast about brains and tried to focus on the tiny neon clad dots up the road. Before turning back on the trail I was told I hadn’t lost any time to Keely on the road. We were past the 50 mile mark, a distance not long ago I thought was impossibly long. We were in the long home stretch. [Miracle of Miracles! *audible sigh of relief]

The next section of course was undulating which was good for my leggies. Clipping along as one does after 50+ miles I did my best to politely pass the seemingly super large families out enjoying the sunny afternoon. The last 6 miles of this course were going to be torture no matter where you were in your own head or in the field. I dropped down into the last aid station at 56 miles and to my surprise Keely was there. [Oh S*&t] I ate what seemed like an entire orange (sweet sweet nectar of the gods) and with full water bottles took off for the most painful, out of body, 10km of my life. We had a good 1,500ft climb ahead of us with lots and lots of human obstacles.  I did my best to power hike like the best version of my former skier self but my legs felt like itty bitty corgi legs (adorable, but oh so short).

Cresting the top of the climb steep down hill switch backs, wet bridges, several stone stairs, the slightest most painful uphill ever, almost getting doored in the parking lot, and a long loop (read: headwind) around the backside of the lake stood between me and the finish line on a monumental day.  Keely and I caught glimpses of each other, always about a switch back apart over this section. We both gritted it out and held the distance to the finish.  After 62 miles and 12,000 feet of climbing we had made it. We made it through the teeth of the Gorge. We made it in under 11 hours, and under the old course record.

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I don’t know that I’ve ever been so happy to make it to the finish line. Gorge held so much unknown for me. Would I even like racing this far? What happens after mile 31?  Would I even make it?  At what point would I curl up and yell uncle?

Although my legs might currently disagree, I didn’t just survive Gorge, I learned to thrive in Gorge. I found a new layer of guts.  For now I’m content to spend a few days eating donuts as I relearn how to not have to walk down the stairs sideways.

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