Spirit Animals: A Race Report

Imposter
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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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