Mt Sneffels Half Marathon Race Report

My parents have a cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The first time I went I was awestruck. It was remote and secluded, but oh-so-beautiful. The second time I went I started to feel isolated and slightly stir-crazy. The third (and last) time I went, I could not shake visions of a heart attack or snake bite requiring a lengthy and hence fatal car ride to the nearest hospital.

This is how I felt when we pulled into the town of Ouray, Colorado on Friday two weeks ago. I felt claustrophobic and uneasy — surrounded by steep high mountain peaks on three sides. It was only a six-hour drive, but it felt like it was light years away from civilization.

Fortunately I was there to run. (It’s hard to go stir-crazy while running.) All I had to do was make it though the night. Which I did, despite the very thin walls of the Comfort Inn.

Nathan, Abby, and I met Jeff and his girlfriend, Michaela, the next morning at the starting line at the Mt Sneffels Half Marathon. (A little background: Jeff is my cadet in the Saucony 26 Strong program. Together, Jeff and I make up Team 7 of 26 teams across the country. We are training for Jeff’s first marathon — Denver Rock-n-Roll on October 2nd.)

This was Jeff’s first time running the distance and he said his goal was ten-minute miles. His dream-goal was sub-2 hours. If he was nervous, it didn’t show.

(If you wanted to see nervous, you had to look no further than Abby. It was her first half-marathon, too, and being the worrisome 14-year-old she is, she could not stop seeking reassurance and asking questions. Never line up with a first-timer in a porta potty line. The nerves are palpable and contagious. Especially when she’s your daughter.)

Jeff and I ran the race together. We stopped for a bathroom break somewhere in the first five miles. We stopped very briefly at a few aid-stations. But that was it. I knew we had a shot at sub-two hours fairly early on, but I didn’t know the race course (point-to-point with a net elevation loss, on mostly dirt with the exception of the first half a mile or so) and I didn’t know how much Jeff might slow at the end (not much). When we encountered a few hills on the second half of the race and our conversation didn’t skip a beat, I knew he was feeling pretty good.

Even if we slowed to a 10-minute mile pace, we could still make sub-2:00. Then came a monster hill at mile 10.5. We turned a corner and there is was. “It looks worse than it is,” I told Jeff. “Just put your head down and get it done.” We passed a lot of folks on that hill.  It definitely slowed us down, but Jeff still had gas in the tank. Nobody was passing us. We picked up the pace with a mile to go.

Finish time: 1:59.17

I’ve only run a handful of races that shuttle you from the finish back to the start. My least favorite memory of this process most definitely would be at Mt Evans Ascent where you cram your tired, frozen butt into a conversion van at a windy 14,000 feet with 16 other stinky runners for the trip 14 miles down a winding mountain road.

This was nothing like that.

We hopped on a waiting school bus for the trip back to Ouray from the finish line in Ridgeway. It was a great way to debrief everyone else about their race experiences. Michaela’s knees bugged her some. She finished in 1:55.05. Abby ran a comfortable pace and finished 1:53.57. Nathan had a good day with no puking and ran 1:30.35 which was good for 17th overall and 2nd in 19 and under.

Would I travel to this race again? I still haven’t decided. There are a lot of great races closer to home with even more beautiful scenery. But I like smaller races and this was well organized. Maybe I’ll give the full marathon a try next time.

At the start in Ouray

At the start in Ouray

Having no fun

Having no fun

1st Half complete

1st Half complete

Nathan displaying his award

Nathan displaying his award

Happy to be done, now get me back to civilization

Happy to be done, now get me back to civilization

Leadville Silver Rush 50 Mile Trail Run 2013

This was my third time running this race. The last time was in 2011. The course was the same except for a small loop at the turn-around and the addition of a few more turns at the finish. This was in an effort to make the race a full 50 miles. It’s an out-and-back course, which I love for the simple reason that you can see friends. It’s nearly impossible to miss someone unless you’re in the woods talking to a man about a horse.

I’ve had several good races this year: Rocky Raccoon 100, Colorado Marathon, Big Horn 50, and the Leadville Marathon. I know that every race can’t be great (then they’d all be average), but honestly, I felt like I could have run sub-11 hours two weeks ago at Silver Rush.

It didn’t happen. I ran 11:22.

So what did happen? A lot.

I kicked a rock a week before. Yep, I know it’s just a toe. But dangit, it hurt pretty much the whole race. Then, three days before the race, I took a fall while trying to keep up with a speedy friend.

I know, suck it up Katie. I normally do, but you try running all day on a nearly head-to-toe sore body.

To add insult to injury, the weather this year at the race was off the charts on the suckage meter. We got hailed on and threatened by lightning (a repeat of the marathon two weeks prior). Then with about six miles to go, I experienced the worst deluge I’ve ever run in. After the race, I heard a local say he’d never seen it rain that hard in all the years he’d lived there. The trails turned into rivers. The temperature dropped. Thankfully, I was able to run to keep my core temperature up. If I had been walking, I would have been in big trouble. (All my swimmer friends, and my close running buddies know this about me because they’ve seen me turn blue; I have Raynaud’s. It’s more of a nuisance than a disability, but still, it requires that I’m careful in situations like this one).

Wah, wah, wah. There. I’ve gotten that out of my system.

For as high on the suckage meter as the weather was and for as crappy as my body felt most of the day, there was plenty that went right and plenty that I loved about the day.

Here are my favorite highlights:

  • Kathy and Melissa crewing for their friend, Jill. They were there cheering me on at every stop. Kathy gave me my first all-natural Chia seed GU. Entertaining to eat, but, bleh, I’ll leave the seeds to the birds.
  • Running the first hour or so with my friend, Henry. He had stashed a sound bar in his pack and was blasting Muse, Dave Matthews, and even Prince. I’d never run a race with music that didn’t come out of headphones. Fun stuff and more even more entertaining than chia seeds.
  • Seeing so many friends I’ve come to know and admire because they’re always there with a smiling face and encouraging word. Plus all my Runners Roost teammates kicking butt. Running for a team is great, not because we’re scoring points or passing a baton, but because we are part of something bigger than ourselves.
  • Enjoying the view of Mosquito Pass and knowing I didn’t have to run to the top (like in the marathon). Seriously, the views at Silver Rush are amazing. You should run this race if for no other reason than the views. This race or the marathon. And in case you were wondering, the marathon is actually a harder course.
  • Discovering I can survive on mostly GU. I made the mistake of grabbing a stale PB sandwich at one of the first aid-stations, then a nearly rotten-tasting orange at the next and that spoiled the rest of the food for me. I usually eat almost anything during races. In fact, I’ve written that one of my favorite parts of races is discovering new food. But I have to say that at this race, nothing was looking appetizing after the second aid-station. And all the stations had the exact same thing. Anyway, my point is that this actually turned into a positive thing for me. I proved to myself that I can survive on GUs (with a few supplemental bananas). And of course, there’s always the Coke. I can drink Coke until the cows come home.

So there you have it. I ran (and walked) my way to a 18/40 age-group place. Not exactly where I like to be, but I guess it could have been worse.

The start of the race is straight up a sledding hill. They give a silver coin to the first man and first woman to the top.

The start of the race is straight up a sledding hill. They give a silver coin to the first man and first woman to the top. Props if you can find me here.

Leadville Silver Rush

Leadville Silver Rush1Leadville Silver Rush

Last aid station photo by Kathy

Last aid station photo by Kathy. My bananas.

Leadville Trail Marathon 2013

The Leadville Marathon is like no other. Seriously. There is no other marathon that I’m aware of that climbs to an altitude of over 13,000 feet. At one point around mile seven, if you know where to look, you can see the top of Mosquito Pass — the turnaround point of the out-and-back course. If it’s your first time running this race, I’d recommend you don’t search for this landmark. Rather, just enjoy the view. As the race website says: it will leave your breathless, if you’re not already. I have said it before; when it comes to trail running, ignorance is bliss.

Leadville Marathon profile

This was my fourth time running this marathon and I felt more comfortable than ever. This was mostly due to experience on the course (Yeah, I know — I’m contradicting my “ignorance is bliss” comment). However, I also believe that after several years of running longer distances, I’ve finally adapted. (It’s about dang time!)

Lining up at the start this year, it felt exceptionally warm. I double checked my stash of Salt Sticks. I considered briefly trying to find someplace to ditch the raincoat I had tucked into my pack. Then a short sun-shower at the start nipped that idea in the bud. We were in Leadville after all, and anything can happen at two-miles high.

The climb out of town is always painful due to lack of oxygen. The first mile this year was even more painful than usual because I made the very stupid mistake of drinking a 5-Hour Energy before the start. Normally, I reserve a 5-Hour Energy for later in a race, but at Big Horn two weeks prior, I had one at the start and it worked really well. I thought I’d try it again. I don’t wear a heartrate monitor, but I’m pretty certain my ticker had never reached a BPM as high as it did that first mile.  I slowed my pace and gave myself more time to acclimate. It wasn’t pleasant. No more 5-Hour Energy at the start.

The first part of the race was kinda crowded. It seemed like there was a bigger turnout than in past years. About the time we headed out around Ball Mountain, the runners started to thin out and the views became amazing.

The trek up Mosquito Pass was the same as always — a slog. Thankfully, the slog was tempered by the anticipation of seeing the faster runners descending (some of whom are friends), and the view at the top (although I have to say, it’s always too windy and cold up there for me to want to linger). Running down (“running” being an extreme exaggeration in this case) took a lot of mental focus just to avoid wiping out. Descending was almost as tough as the ascent.

With about seven miles to go, a quick moving storm blew through. The temperature plummeted and hail the size of marbles pelted us. Thank God for a thick head of hair. My bare shoulders; however, were not protected like my noggin. I pulled out the rain coat (the one I almost unpacked) and felt a moment of pity for the poor souls who had nothing. Then the lightning came. One strike was especially close and myself and the other runners around me instinctively crouched down. With a fresh dose of adrenaline coursing through my veins, I just wanted to get off Ball Mountain as quickly as possible.

Fortunately, the brunt of the storm passed in less than 15 minutes. We were left with a cool dampness that made the final (mostly downhill) miles seem criminally pleasant. Seriously, I felt really good after that storm.

Someone once told me to expect a Leadville Marathon time 50% greater than a road marathon. In my opinion, this is an accurate prediction. My time has always been slightly greater, but I believe this is because I have never been able to “race” this marathon. I am always in the midst of training for something bigger or recovering from something (Big Horn two weeks prior). My last several road marathons have been four hours or under, and my time this weekend was 6:19. My previous best time was 6:20.

Next up: Silver Rush (50 miles)

Tongue out for dramatic effect or lack of oxygen?

Tongue out for dramatic effect or lack of oxygen?

Topping out on Mosquito Pass. Photo by Eddie Metro

Topping out on Mosquito Pass. Photo by Eddie Metro

Saucony 26 Strong

I am an athlete.

It’s taken me a while to speak (or write) those words.

I’ve been active in sports my whole life. I’ve been running and swimming since I was a teenager. Yet, for some reason, I didn’t see myself as an athlete. Athletic? Yes. But to call myself an athlete seemed like calling a Big Mac a Smashburger.* Athletes were professionals; people who were paid to participate in their sport. They were role models — men and women who inspired others.

I’ve always been competitive. I’ve never been at the back of the pack (unless you count Leadville 2010 where I had the Search and Rescue truck bumper pinned to my butt). In smaller races, I sometimes place in my age group. Yet, in years past, anytime I’d get a physical or blood pressure screening, and I was asked if I was an athlete, my response would always be, “I’m a runner.”

I’m a runner to my core. That’s always been easy for me to say out loud.

An athlete? Meh.

Yet, somehow over the past several years, I’ve evolved — or rather I’ve reflected on my athletic career (yes, I used the word “career” and I’ve never been paid to compete).

I’ve been running nearly 2/3 of my life. I’ve competed in well over 30 marathons. And the other day I counted my ultramarathons (in my case, races of 50 miles or longer) and I’ve completed 14. I’ve been part of a masters swim team for over eight years. I am in the gym at least twice a week, every week of the year.

An athlete? Yessiree.

But ya know what? I was an athlete all along.

(Just to make sure, I looked up the definition in the dictionary.)

ath·lete
noun
a person trained or gifted in exercises or contests involving physical agility, stamina, or strength; a participant in a sport, exercise, or game requiring physical skill.

You’re wondering where I’m going with all this.

I was asked to be a mentor in a program Saucony and Competitor Group have created to chronicle the experience of 26 teams-of-two across the country. The Saucony 26 Strong project pairs experienced marathoners (that’s me!) with first-timers (a “cadet”),  as we both train to achieve a marathon goal. Jeff and I will be running the Denver Rock-n-Roll Marathon on October 20th.

I am really excited to be a part of this program and to accompany Jeff on his journey to his first (but hopefully not last) marathon.

I would not have had the courage to apply for this position ten years ago. I didn’t see myself as an athlete. I’m sure I thought I didn’t have anything worthwhile to contribute to someone training for his first marathon. Today; however, I have no doubt in my athletic ability or my ability to mentor others. I have the training, the physical agility, stamina, and strength to perform well in a lot of sports (dodgeball, anyone?). And after over two decades of being an athlete, I feel capable and honored to be a mentor to a new runner.
Saucony 26 Strong

*Nathan started his first ever job at Smashburger last week. I ♥ Smashburger.
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Bighorn 50 Mile Trail Run race report

All year I have trepidatiously dubbed this race my “Do-Over.” It’s not uncommon for me to have a poor race performance. (If every race were great, they’d all be average.) But Big Horn last year was different for me. I felt limited by my body – specifically my ankles. Despite being in great shape, I couldn’t run the downhill sections and I lost a lot of time.I knew I would have a better day this year because my ankles felt better going into the race. I had a friend ask me what I did to improve my ankles. Honestly, I didn’t do anything. I don’t stretch or do any PT exercises. It might have been dumb luck.

This race has been around forever. It runs like clockwork. There’s a very early morning bus ride to the start (4 a.m.), but it’s necessary for the 50-milers to start at 6 a.m. Aside from the beautiful views, my favorite part of this race is catching up to the 100-milers who started on Friday at 11 a.m. I have always believed that offering an encouraging word to others can go along way for making my own race worthwhile. And nobody needs more encouragement than a struggling 100-mile runner at mile 85. I met one gal, Jeanie, with about 13 miles to go. I didn’t know she was a 100-mile runner until I passed her and turned back to see her bib. “Oh my gosh, “ I said, “I thought you were a 50-miler because you were running so strong.” Her face lit up and we introduced ourselves and became fast friends. When we parted ways, we promised to see each other at the finish.

It seemed like just yesterday I had been on these trails. Every turn, every aid station, every hill, was familiar to me. (The only exception was the start. It had changed slightly from the previous year. The first two miles were different, but not noticeably. This starting line was better. There was more space, a big tent, plenty of porta potties, even a couple of outhouses.)

Just like last year, the course was wet. I changed my socks at mile-18 and put my Hokas back on. I wore the same shoes the entire day. My feet were fine. No blisters or black toenails.

My biggest area for improvement continues to be my climbing. There are certain sections of this race that are just not runable. Everyone walks. Well, I walk. Everyone else power hikes. I need more work in this area. I had a friend who took it out slowly and was 20 minutes behind me at mile 18. He caught me on the longest climb of the course about 7 miles later.

One thing I continue to get right is my fueling. I eat often. I eat a variety. I arrived at the Cow Camp aid station at mile 28.5 right around lunchtime. I was thrilled when, as if by design, the aid station worker plopped a freshly-grilled cheese quesadilla onto a plate. “That’s mine,” I announced. For some reason, having that quesadilla right at lunchtime made what I was doing (running 52 miles through the rugged wilderness) seem perfectly normal.

Most runners wear a Garmin. I don’t in ultras. I wear a watch, which I leave on the time of day. I don’t need to see how many hours or miles have passed since I started. I’d rather know it’s lunchtime without having to do the math. I guess if you know the race course, and you’ve got a race plan, a Garmin can be helpful. That’s just not the way I run.

Anyway, there is a downhill section about 11 miles from the finish. This section is several miles long. I was not able to run it last year, which was very frustrating. This year I took an Advil (thanks, Matt) just before the downhill. I ran the entire thing.

The last several miles were fairly lonely. Most people I passed weren’t in a talkative mood. Thankfully, there were plenty of aid-stations at the end. (There were three in the last seven miles.) The last two had ice. Ice in a hot ultra is like crack cocaine. Once you get some, you must have more. After I downed my ice-cold beverages, I poured the ice into my jog bra. Not sure how I thought to do that, but it worked great. I stayed nice and cool and was able to run the rest of the way to the finish, where a few Runners Roost teammates were waiting .

And there was more ice.

Not everyone had a great day. I was one of the lucky ones. Big Horn is a tough race, but I think it’s growing on me.

Speaking of tough races, up next is the Leadville Marathon on the 29th.

Me and Courtney at the finish. Photo by Courtney.

Me and Courtney at the finish. Photo by Courtney.

Colorado Marathon Race Report

I finally got this one right. By right, I mean my splits. I think this was my fifith or sixth Colorado Marathon. I love this race. It’s a beautiful, mostly downhill, rolling course. It meanders down a valley along the Poudre River for the first 14 miles then flattens out and even climbs some for a few miles before continuing onto a bike path and finishing in Old Town Ft Collins. The fastest time I had run previously at this race was a 4:00.13. The slowest time would have been the first time I ran it and I was probably around 4:30. The most disappointing year was 2008 when I ran the first half in 1:48 and finished in 4:06. I felt like I was holding back the first half, but obviously I blew up.

This is a hard race to run well because of all the downhill at the beginning. When you get to the flat section, it feels like you’re running uphill. Then you get to the uphill, and, well… it’s a mole hill turned into a mountain.

I decided this year to aim for 3:45. I thought a 1:50 first half would be smart. I made a pretty long pit stop just before the timing mat at 13.1 and when I crossed the mat my time was 1:51.00. The 3:45 pacer wasn’t that far behind me. I was feeling good, especially after stopping to use the bathroom, shed clothes, and have a Gu.

Then I hit the flat (read: uphill) section on the highway. I had a moment of panic, as I always do. What was I thinking? I’m not really fooling myself into believing I enjoy this. Because I don’t.

Then I remembered my Cardinal Rule for racing: stay positive and smile if possible.

As if by design, my friend Dimity appeared out of nowhere yelling my name and taking photos. I got a jolt of adrenaline right when it was needed most — near the top of the biggest hill on the course and just before my least favorite section of the race. It was then around mile 20 that the 3:45 pace group passed me. I decided to stick with them as best I could.

They slowly put distance on me. I wished I’d had another Gu because at that point I was simply running out of gas. With about three miles to go I took a gel at an aid-station. I told myself that it was better late than never and I willed it to work magic. I have never sucked a Gu packet that dry. I was able to finish strong. My time was 3:48.03. (1:51 and 1:57)

Believe it or not, the best part of my day was two minutes after I crossed the finish line. While I was still in the finish chute, my BRF (best running friend), Julie finished in an amazing display of guts, grit, and determination. This was her first marathon in 16 years, so basically, it was like her first. She set a PR by 37 minutes. (Who does that?) Julie could have co-authored “Age Is Just a Number” with Darra Torres. Julie is 45-years old. She’s a busy mom of three young kids. She found a plan that worked for her and followed through. She didn’t hire a coach or a nutritionst. She didn’t go to the gym. She kept it simple and did the work. Julie is proof that we can get stronger and faster with age.

The next best part of my day was watching my sister cross the finish line. I’ve written about Annie before. Annie loves a challenge. She does not shy away from trying new things. A marathon at altitude on little to no training? No problem. (The last long run Annie did was in mid-March.) She ran amazingly consistent mile splits. She didn’t walk and finished in 4:54.

Up next is Big Horn 50. I’m calling it a do-over since I had such a terrible race last year. Everything seems to be falling into place. The race is June 15th.

Marla, Julie, Katie, and Annie

Marla, Julie, me, and Annie

medal

Following my Cardinal Rule

Following my Cardinal Rule

End of an era

I am a control freak.

Just when I think I’ve lightened up a little, my freakishness manifests itself in a totally new and unambiguous way. Today it happened at the pool.

I’ve had the same swim cap for eight years. (Yes, a swim cap can last that long if it’s made of silicone.) I have tried to wear different caps, but nothing feels as good as this one. During triathlons and open water swims, I always wear the cheap latex cap the race directors want you to wear; however, that’s the only time I swim without my green silicone cap.

Today I swam on my own. My mind always wanders when I’m swimming alone. (OK, my mind wanders all the time, it’s just particularly obvious when my head is underwater and I’m zoning out staring at black tiles on the bottom of the pool.) Anyway, I started to think about my swim cap and how long I’ve had it and how much I like it and how pretty the color is and how it’s part of my identity and how I couldn’t swim without it…

Holy crap. I couldn’t swim without it?

That realization really bothered me. I started thinking about what I would do if it suddenly ripped. I didn’t like thinking about that, but I knew it could happen. I don’t know what the life expectancy of a standard issue Water Pro Silicone cap circa 2005 is, but it can’t be that long when you’re swimming three days per week.

I decided I needed to get rid of the cap on my terms (i.e. control freakishness). I needed it to be final so I wouldn’t sneak one last swim (which could be the swim where it tears mid-workout and causes me to have a breakdown).

So…

green cap gone

I know my swimming friends aren’t believing what they’re seeing. I know they’re wondering how the heck they will be able to recognize me on deck from now on. I don’t know what I’ll wear next time I get in the pool, but I have a bunch of latex caps, so I’ll find something. But I have to say, I feel better. I’m glad I was the one to end this relationship. On my terms.

Speaking of ending relationships…I was cleaning the boys bathroom yesterday and I found these.
WTH
Who can stand to keep around an empty tube of toothpaste? This is the very antitheses of controlling behaviour. And look at how randomly they’ve squished the contents out of the tubes. This gives me hope. Maybe there’s some calm-natured-go-with-the-flow-mentality in my genetic makeup after all.

Stuffing my face in my green swim cap last year

Stuffing my face in my green swim cap last year