Culmination

A year is a long time to be working towards a goal - espcially when there’s so many individual milestones to be met along the way. In 2018, ...

Sep 25, 2020

Did you read the runner's manual?

 I love volunteering for races - it's hard work but rewarding to man a water station, mark the course or do sweep. Every runner should do one or all of those three jobs at some point. But when I’m doing the race, it's hard to get out and do the physical tasks that are required for this areas. Which brings me back to the equally important, ultra social position of packet pickup and runner check in. I think that's my favorite thing to do really - you are the face of the race, the reassuring smile (if you can see behind the mask...) that your training has gone just fine and you are ready to take on the day. Or vice versa - as a nervous  runner, not sure about the miles ahead, it’s a great way to chill out and forget about the worries. Hard to be worried about your own races when there’s so many other people around! I’ve been doing packet pickup for enough races now that I’m familiar with the questions people will ask. It’s a good fit for me because I’m the kinda person who usually studies all aspects of a race, from the course profile and description to the aid station locations, cutoff times and any other random information I might need to have a successful day. It’s something I should be doing as a runner anyways! 

Normally, there’s a few random questions that are easy to answer. That one tidbit that was in the emails, but so easy to gloss over. Occasionally, there’s a harder one - something for the race director to address because it’s beyond my pay grade. But most of the time, most people don’t have too many questions. I assume they’ve done their research and are prepared for the miles ahead. Hopefully a fair assumption! 

I do remember at one race though - part of the swag that we handed out at packet pickup was a collapsible cup. This was a shorter race - 12 miles total with plenty of water stations, so many of the faster runners normally run without carrying a lot of water. I got so many looks and questions about the cup. "What's this for?" "Why am I getting a cup?" To which I would respond that the race was cupless and if you didn't have that cup or another one like it, you wouldn't be able to get water. Of course, all of that information was on the website, in the pre-race emails and communicated in so many ways! And yet... The number of people who hadn't bothered reading even that highlighted info was amazing. 

Or the course maps. Those are usually posted pretty prominently on the web site, and then linked or posted again in the emails. Yet at another race I helped with, questions about the course came up all the time. The race was in a local state park and there were excellent maps of both the park and the race course. The map on the web site has all the trail names listed with very clear directions. Put that with the state park's map and there's no reason someone shouldn't be able to pre-run without getting lost. Trail names, directions and a paper map. I don't think anyone who asked about the course had even taken the simple step of comparing the race map with the state park map. So as the person helping with packet pickup, I was spending more time describing the course then anything else. 

And there's the simple, quite basic concept of actually getting to the race venue. That's another area that seems to be very challenging. It's even more complicated when packet pickup is in a different location then the race! Driving directions are usually included in all the pre-race - if someone was to bother to read them! That's one question where you just have to smile and nod, then politely answer to the best of your ability.

Maybe if more people volunteered, they would realize the importance of actually reading the runners manual and all the information in the pre-race emails. Maybe there wouldn't be so many questions that would be quickly answered with a quick scan of the website. But no, most people seem to sign up for a race and then expect to have all the information spoon fed to them without having to do any work to prepare other then training. And then when asked if they bothered to read the pre-race info, they get offended and insulted. I know at the last race I helped with packet pickup, when I asked if someone had read the runner's manual or opened the google drive with all the info, the answer was usually no. So for the umpteenth time that afternoon, I would be explaining information that was already communicated multiple times, taking my attention away from the task at hand and forcing other runners to wait as I answered questions. Maybe I should have had had the runner's manual printed out on the check in table and handed that to people who asked then inane questions!

Moral of the story? If you have time to train, you have time to prepare for the race from the logistics side. Take responsibility for your race beyond just covering the miles. Read the information provided, study the maps, learn the ins and outs of the race. You'll have a better day on the trails and every volunteer will breath a sigh of relief with one less already answered question to address. 

Aug 8, 2020

Save the last dance

It's not how anyone imagines a race ending. We always visualize crossing the finish line triumphantly, achieving our goals on the day. We see friends and family joining us for the last lap on the track, buoying us to the end. The alternative endings are never entertained. It just won’t happen. That finish line will be reached. We don’t think about having to walk to the volunteers and say that the day is done. We never in our wildest dreams imagine the race ending sitting on the cooler in the van, sobbing. And yet....

Rewind 17 hours. John sent final starting wave at Silverheels 100 into the darkness and I was off on my journey to attempt my third 100 race. I settled into an easy pace, repeating my early day mantra - if it feels comfortable, it’s too hard. Keep it easy and breath. Don’t race, stay in your mind and focus where you need to be. It was five miles of mostly climbing on dirt road to the first check point and it would be easy to go too hard in those first miles. I shifted my focus from the road and the pink ribbons to the stars above. So many stars and I was lucky enough to see a shooting star before we dipped into the trees. As we started the long climb up to High Park, I was catching runners from the first two waves. That early into the day, we were all excited and eager to be out in the mountains, running with friends again. Every time I caught someone I knew, I slowed and chatted for a while. Solo long runs are great, but it's the community that makes ultras special!
Sunrise from just below High Park, looking Southwest

The sun starting to warm up the mountains to the west

As always, the sunrise brought warmth and energy to the mountains. I made it up to the mine as the sun was starting to peek around Mount Silverheels. It was going to be an amazing day. I was feeling strong, the weather was gorgeous and there were many miles ahead. I kept reminding myself of that as I left High Park Aid station, cheerily calling to the volunteers "See you tomorrow!" After all, it would be Sunday when I returned. Or so I assumed. I took it easy on the steep descent down from High Park. It was early enough in the race that I didn't want to blow up my legs. I kinda remembered things from Last Call last year, but was going in the other direction! Everything that's old is new again when you are going the opposite direction. Unlike last year, I didn't have to worry about getting my feet wet when we crossed Beaver Creek the first time. The water was low enough and the beaver dams in different locations. 

Climb up to the mine the first time. 

Even with trying to keep my pace super easy, I hit the first crew point - Poor Man's Gulch 1 ahead of my anticipated schedule. Nick was ready for me though. He had my food, water and everything all organized according what I though I'd need. It wasn't my best performance at a pit stop. While Nick was great as always, I was a little scattered. I grabbed my second banana wrap, but forgot the rest of my food. I even left the aid station without picking up my poles! Which I would need for the climb between Trout Creek and Tarryall... I only got a few feet outside of the aid station before I realized I'd forgotten my poles, but I didn't realize I'd forgotten snacks until later on. 

For a few miles, we were on familer trails. How different they looked in the day as opposed to the dark of night from last year! I was actually able to take in the views of South Park this time. I kept my easy pace, power hiking when I thought the running was too hard, moving smoothly on the downhills. HPRS had had some trail work days on the course prior to the race and it showed. The trails were in great shape. The course markings however.... Over night, some kids had headed into the mountains to go camping and decided that tearing down course markings seemed like a great thing to do. When the trail hit the road, I had to pause. I knew the 50 and 100 diverged somehow, but couldn't quite remember. Last Call had taken a sharp right at some point where Silverheels went straight. Was this that point? Thinking it was, I headed straight. But there were no course markings and things just didn't feel right. I pulled up the map, studying it for a bit. Should I turn around or continue going? Luckily, Collen was right behind me and she had the course on her watch. We were going the right direction... We did meet up with two other runners who'd turned around and all started heading up hill. As per John's instructions - when in doubt, go uphill! After we passed a group of campers - with one of them looking quite chagrined, the pink flagging suddenly re-appeared.  People...

At Jungle Hill, I refilled my pack. I didn't think it would take too long to get to Trout Creek, so I didn't fully fill. After all, it was just a few miles, including the little out and back to the Crooked Creek hole punch. And other then the Crooked Creek out and back, I knew this section of trail. Or road - as it was a rocky jeep road, just smooth enough to get a normal car down if you drove nice. What I didn't realize from last year was how exposed the road really was. There was almost no shade at all. Even though it was still pretty early in the day - about 10:00, it was already hot out. The heat was also radiating off the road, amplifying the effects of the sun. Huh. I made a mental note of the heat, but really didn't pay much attention to it. Just keep eating and drinking as usual. One foot in front of the other, keep the pace easy and relaxed. Perhaps I should have relaxed a little more? I will never know. I was out of water by the time I hit Trout Creek though - which was unusual for how short of a stretch it was between the two points. John was at the aid station and I said hi and gave him a big smile - which he couldn't see with the buff in the way! I filled up my pack for the climb up and over Little Baldy and took a few chunks of salted watermelon. 
Coming into Trout Creek, pulling up my buff as per race rules
Photo - John LaCroix

Last year there was no choice but getting feet wet as Trout Creek had taken over the road. This year? No such issues. The road was clear and I couldn't even tell where the portages from last year were! Granted, last year had been dark. but still... How different things looked in the light.Except for the climb - straight up! Can't miss that in either darkness or light. There were a lot of things that I'd missed on this section of trail last year. There was some old mining building on the descent down to Gold Dust that I promised I'd take a picture of on the way back. Lots of flowers and a steeper descent then I remembered. My right big toe was getting a little cranky - like it was hitting the front of my shoe with every step. Maybe changing shoes at Tarryall would be a smart move. I tossed that thought around for the next few minutes until I made the left onto Gold Dust. Yes - I needed to change shoes. I didn't want to risk the long road of Boreas Pass in shoes that felt a little snug. 

While I've never run any of the trails I was about to see, I've ridden my mountain bike on every inch of the Gold Dust/Boreas Pass loop, including the out and back to Como. I knew what was coming. I was feeling a little warm, but very comfortable when I made my way to the van for the first stop at Tarryall. Nick had everything ready for me. I ate and drank some chicken broth while he refilled my pack, took my poles and grabbed my spare-spare shoes. I didn't want to change socks - just the shoes. I was hoping the knee highs would keep some of the cankle issues I've had in the past at bay. In hindsight, maybe putting on lower socks might have been smart? I'll never know. I left Tarryall, just a little behind my anticipated time. Moving well! But there was an undercurrent I wasn't paying enough attention to. Something wasn't right. It wasn't my stomach - everything was sitting well and I was still eating and drinking well. It wasn't my legs. I felt really good. A little slower then I wanted on the hike out of Tarryall, but still moving really well. 

The stretch of Gold Dust between Tarryall and Gold Dust Aid station was fun running. It's the flume section of the trail and you are running down the center of a trough like a bobsled run. Once you climb up to the flume, it's very level and just smooth crusing. A few bikes and some other hikers, but the trail was pretty quiet. At Gold Dust, I got some pickle juice, ice cubes, water and more salted watermelon. Yum! Then it was time for the real hike of the section. I decided because it was so hot, I wouldn't even try to run. I would just keep marching. It was the hottest part of the day and there was no respite from the sun. I could tell I was getting warm, but again didn't pay much attention. I should be heat acclimated from long runs in the high 80s and low 90s, right? But at the same time, that wasn't 10,000' high 80s... I found myself looking for the small creeks to soak the sleeves of  my shirt. Normally, my lightweight wool long sleeved works wonders to keep my cool when I get it wet. I wasn't noticing much difference this time. Boreas Pass would be a challenge - dusty, hot and exposed. I knew I was getting close. I could hear the cars above me. A blessing and curse knowing the course. I've climbed up Boreas Pass many times on my bike and I was not looking forward to running down it. I also knew I'd given up huge chunks of time on the climb up Gold Dust. Ouch. 

Near the end of Gold Dust trail, climbing towards the sun
Photo - Emily Royal

Onto Boreas Pass. Immediately, I noticed the heat. The sun beating down from a cloudless sky and waves of heat rising from the dusty road. I would not be running the entire road. I made the decision right there that I would run a mile or so, then stop and walk so I could cool down. As anticipated, there was a lot of traffic. Some of the drivers were nice, slowing down as to not dust me out. Others? Not so much. I kept to my intervals of run/walk even when I felt like I didn't have to walk. I was drinking a lot, but it didn't seem to be helping. At the Halfway Gultch aid station (named because it was on a creek called Halfway Gulch - not because it was halfway into the race!) I broke out my chicken broth packet. I always have one or two with me, but this was the first time I'd had to actually use it. Some more snacks as well, water and ginger ale and I was back onto Boreas Pass road. I was running with Glen now - last year's winner and a guy I'd run a few miles with at Sangre. We commiserated about the heat - he wasn't feeling all that good and mentioned that last year he'd run down the entire road. I knew something was wrong with him when he kept walking after one of my walk breaks. I was again looking for creeks to soak my shirt in - but without much luck. At the driveway looking turn off just after Boreas Pass road ended, we were running through private property. No stepping off the road to the creek just feet away! I knew at the end of the road we would be crossing that creek through. I could wait. My walking breaks were getting longer, which was getting frustrating. The road wasn't that steep and my legs felt really good still. But there was that feeling that something wasn't right and I couldn't shake it. It got worse when I tried to run and just wasn't going away at all - even when I soaked my shirt in the creek.

More salted watermelon and pickle juice at Gold Dust. I didn't refil my pack - it wasn't that far to Tarryall. Just the soft flasks with the usual water and ginger ale. The feeling of something being off was getting stronger. I was hot. Very hot. And I wasn't cooling down at all. Maybe once I got into the shade on Gold Dust I'd feel better. That was the hope. About a mile after the Gold Dust Aid station, I knew something wasn't just off - something was wrong. I'd drained my water and the ginger ale in the soft flasks and my mouth was dry - even with drinking the diluted skratch I still have. I felt like I was burning up - my body temperature was really high and I was radiating heat. Every time I started running, I'd get a few minutes and start feeling slightly dizzy. Yikes. I forced myself to run as much as I could, but allowing myself to walk to cool off. Or attempt to cool off. Even the shaded trail wasn't helping lower my body temperature. And there were no more creeks to soak my shirt. 

I don't know if Nick noticed that I wasn't feeling all that great when I came into Tarryall 2. He had food ready for me, so I sat down to eat. The chicken soup tasted good, if a little bland. I made a few changes in gear for the out and back to Como - including taking my light and my poles. I originally hadn't planned on my poles, but decided that since that section of Gold Dust was the most technical, it might be a good idea. I left my hat - I would be in the shade for the entire section and the sun was starting to go down. Secretly, I was hoping that leaving my hat would also help cool me down and get my body temperature under control. Nick soaked my shirt while I was eating and then I was off. Just about nine miles to go before the long planned pit stop.  I only mentioned to Nick that I was really hot. I said nothing else - not about the dizziness or not being able to get my temperature down. The next nine miles would be the test. It would start cooling off and maybe I'd start feeling better. I didn't want to think about what would happen if I didn't. 

The uncertainty was percolating in my mind as I headed into the woods. On one hand I knew I'd made up some time on the leading woman. On the other hand, I was starting to get worried about finishing. That's a feeling I've never had in a race before - even when things went south as Sangre. Then, I just put my head down, nibbled what I could and kept marching. Here, I wasn't sure that was a good idea. I had to hike most of the climb up to the high point on Gold Dust. The running just sent my body temperature through the roof. And then... Even on the downhill I was struggling. Run for a few minutes, start feeling overheated and then start getting dizzy. Stop and walk - not even my power marching - until my body temperature dropped. Repeat the cycle. Try not to look at my watch because any semblance of time schedule I'd hoped for was well off. Try not to get mad at myself for walking. Try not to freak out then I started feeling dizzy. Repeat. Try not to get frustrated that I wasn't running this beautiful, downhill trail. Hope the columbines would distract me from how I was feeling. Try running again to no avail. And that was on the mostly downhill section into the Camp Como Aid station! When I made the left for the short march up to Camp Como, I know that I needed to make a decision in the next five miles. I'd gone from something not feeling right to something isn't right. And I wasn't pulling out of it like I'd hoped. Even in the shade, even with more walking then running. 

The columbines I hoped would distract me

I tried to put on my happy face for the volunteers at Camp Como, but I was feeling defeated at that point. I was holding out for things turning around as the temperature cooled and now that I was out of the sun for good. But every step made that hope seem more like wishful thinking then reality. I was beyond really trying to run and when the third place woman caught me, she and her pacer passed me so easily. I still made an effort to shuffle along, but the overheating and dizzy spells were getting worse. I was done racing - I didn't care where I finished. I was doing the math to make sure I could still finish as I walked/shuffled down from the high point. I had over 20 hours for 40 miles. I could hike that pace easily and finish. I've gotten down to just under 20 minute miles for my power hiking - but I was closer to 22-25 range at that point. That wasn't much of a buffer. And I knew what was coming. Once I left Tarryall, I would be committing to another 18 miles at least - with the most technical trails left on the course and some of the steepest hills. I did the math again. It wasn't stupid runner math yet, but angry math. Yes. I could keep going and try to make it. But if this 4 miles of shady walk didn't help, what right did I have to head into the night? Maybe if I just took my big pack with my warm clothes and then changed at Poorman's Gulch I would get my body temperature down. But that still left me with 18 technical miles to get to Poorman's. Miles I was not confident in my ability to cover given how I was moving on this easy section of trail. The climb back over Little Baldy. The hike up the Jungle Hill drainage - which had shocked me last year. 

When I came into Tarryall, I told Nick that I was done racing. Not done running, but done racing. I didn't care anymore. I didn't want to know where anyone else was in the race, or how much time I'd lost in the last nine miles. He had food ready for me and I started trying to eat. Even though I'd mostly made up my mind, I wasn't quite ready yet. I had 20 hours - I wanted to sit for a little, see if I felt better. Holding onto hope that something would change. So I had Nick fix up my big pack differently then I had it originally while I was sitting. I just wanted water in the bladder - Skratch and chicken broth in the soft flasks. I changed into my overnight clothes, washing my feet, washing my face and cleaning my eyes. When Nick touched my leg, he recoiled. It wasn't just my face that felt hot. My entire body was radiating heat. I took my bib number - 13 - off my shorts and set it on the ground. I wanted to pin it to my pack since I most likely would be putting a coat on overnight. Once I was changed, I sat down into the black chair to try to finish eating. I don't even remember what happened, but Nick was questioning me about how I felt and what was going on. I started to tell him a little - not a lot. If I told him everything, there was no way he would let me go back out. Inside, I knew though. My number still wasn't pinned to my pack. And that was more then enough of an indicator that he knew exactly what was going on and there was no way I was leaving Tarryall on foot. I kept trying to reason it out though - that I could make it 18 miles. Eighteen technical miles in the dark. Alone. I kept saying that I could do it, I would make it over to Poorman's and then I'd feel better since the sun was down. But again, I wasn't confident in my ability to make those 18 miles. And there was no rescue once I left Tarryall. Nick just let me talk. He was breaking down the pit area, packing everything up. Regardless of what I did, he still needed to pack up for either a drive to Fairplay or the drive to Poormans'. 

Even 30 minutes of not moving wasn't helping. In Nick's words, I felt like a diesel engine glow plug. I'd gone through the motions to get ready for the last 40 miles, but I wasn't going to see those miles. The decision I'd made on Gold Dust trail after leaving Como took nearly an hour to actually be fulfilled. I knew it would be irresponsible given my physical condition to even attempt the next stretch. Yes, there was a chance that I'd pull out and feel better. But if that hadn't happened with 30 minutes of not moving, what were the actual chances? This wasn't like at Sangre where I was physically fine - just not able to eat. I was not okay. And the fact that he had not pinned my number to my pack was a clearer sign then any words that he would not let me go on if I tried. 

There have been two stretches of road that have left me utterly devastated in my running. The first was at the Top of Utah Marathon in 2003, when I made the turn towards the finish line only to see the time I needed slipping away by seconds. There were tears then when I crossed the finish line 17 seconds too slow - visceral tears that took my breath away. The second was the short walk to the Tarryall aid station and then back to the van. I was failing at holding back the tears when I told them I was finished. I was dropping. Add another name to the Dance Hall list. By the time I made it back to van, the tears had turned to uncontrollable sobs. I knew it was the right choice, but I couldn't help it. The reaction to having to make the hardest choice was overwhelming. I was crying the entire drive back to Fairplay, tears streaming down my cheeks and doing my best not to sniffle. When we got back to the stadium where the start/finish was, the Last Call 50 mile runners were lining up to get bib numbers and such. I could have just gone to bed, crawled into the back of the van and hid. But I didn't. I felt that I owed it to John to be there - not just skulking away in shame. I don't know why - but I needed to tell him in person that I'd quit. When I walked over to the runner check in table, where John was doing temp screening and handing out bib numbers everything stopped. And the tears started flowing again. Breaking from the no-hug COVID rule, John and Emily came over and embraced me in a group hug. Did nothing fatal is quite accurate - but it felt like a piece of my soul had been ripped away. 

If it wasn't important, it wouldn't hurt so badly. I will never second guess the decision to stop. That was the only choice at that moment and I am at peace with my name being on the Dance Hall Patron's list. But that doesn't mean I won't be replaying the prior 66 miles over and over in my mind, trying to figure out what went wrong. What little errors, small neglected items all added up over the course of the miles to lead me to that final decision? And how can I learn from those errors so I can return next year? I'm still a young ultra runner. I was lucky all last year being able to cover as many miles as I did without major issues. But luck runs out, despite all the training, all the preparation. And there's nothing ever granted in a race like a 100. 


Jul 2, 2020

Bears Ears Ultra

Way back in February, I signed up for the newest race in the Mad Moose Events line up - the Bears Ears Ultra. I’d toyed with the 50 miler, but with the timing being two weeks before Silverheels didn't make sense. Then all things COVID happened and the race itself was even in question! Luckily, things fell into place for Mad Moose before the race and we were back in action for the brand new race. Just the 50k and 30k this year - with new precautions in place to help keep us safe. So I loaded my camping gear into my Subaru, packed up my food and running gear and hit the road. 

After a short run at Moab Brands, I was heading south again. It's an amazing drive from Moab down to Monticello - the glimpse of the canyons, then huge walls of red rocks and finally the mountain rising up from the terrain. It was those mountains we would be facing then next day. The Abajo mountains. I got my bib number from Denise and did some social distanced socializing. It did feel odd to be around that many people, even though we were all several feet apart. I got the scoop on camping for the night, then decided to drive up the mountain to check things out. I was expecting a slow drive on a rutted dirt road. Instead, a smooth blacktop road greeted me. I drove past where everyone was camping then to the turn off for the race start. Along the way, I passed where the course dropped out of the mountains and joined the road. There would be a few miles on black top! I followed the ribbons onto the dusty dirt road, making note of the hills and shadeless terrain. It would be a hot finish to the day. I puttered about the start/finish for a bit, pondering camping just up the road. With just me and my Subi, I could pull off parking almost anywhere! But I decided that part of racing was being social. Even from a distance! Back to where everyone else was camping! Besides, hard to miss the start when camped with the race directors. 
The start/finish line with Canyonlands in the back ground. 


Home for the night!


Morning came too soon. This was the first time I've slept in the Subi in a while and there are some things I need to work out for future solo adventures. But it was race morning! I did as much prep as possible in my car, then decided to drive over. 

The hint of sunrise on the lake near the start finish. 

Everyone was taking photos of the amazing sunrise!

The race started in waves - with the faster men  in the first wave, then the faster women. I was in that second wave, but not feeling super confident. After all, I'd been running a lot of miles, but nothing super fast. As the men started and the women were called up tot he line, i had to keep reminding myself that this was a test of some skills I'd been working on prior to Silverheels. Pacing, power hiking and being efficient in the aid stations in the time of Covid. So when the women started and the leaders sprinted out from the gate, I let them go. If later in the day, I was in a position to race, I would. But not at the start. 

The first section of the course was deceptive. The gentle climb up the dusty dirt road spread the women out quickly. I knew there was a good chance that some of the faster guys in the later waves would catch us and I had a feeling that plenty of people would go out way too hard on the gradual road climbs. The first six miles were all road - from the dirt road down to the blacktop to a lesser used black top road leading to the first aid station. I kept focusing on Run smooth, run easy and just staying in my own head. And looking around! The views around every corner were amazing. After the first aid station - which I ran through because I as usual had stocked my vest with more then I needed for that first section - the course finally got onto trail. Rocky single track winding through the trees. A bit of a climb first, followed by a fun descent into a creek. Then more climbing. And more climbing. Since most of the trails weren't on any mapping software yet - we didn't have an elevation profile to follow. I'd studied the course map as best as I could and knew there would be some major climbs coming. 
But those climbs were tempered by the views. Completely different then what I normally see on my long runs! Canyonlands in the distance, the red rocks framed in the lush greens of the mountains. 

Hard to see how steep the climb is from this angle - but the runners ahead of me are well above me!


One of the classic views of the day. CanyonLands - lit up by the early morning sun.

Finally we topped out for a bit. A short little descent and we reached the junction where the 50k added on the extra loop. This was a pretty nice course design - stacked lollipops for the different distances. The 30k did the base loop, with the dirt road into the start/finish as the lollipop. That base loop was a pretty steep challenge in it's own right! For the 50k, we dropped off the base loop to add another lollipop on the flanks of the mountain to the west. Had the 50m been held, they would have added yet another loop onto to that! Each loop had it's own nature views and amazing singletrack trails. 

The 50k dropped down to Red Ledges, then climbed back up

At the second aid station, I refilled with some water. No snacks needed - I was still well stocked. Then back into the woods for the loop back to the aid station. I would occasionally see glimpses of color ahead of me - another runner on the course. But mostly, the air was filled with the sounds of nature. Aspens rustling in the wind, ravens crowing. I was lucky enough to find one really cool raven feather and two awesome turkey feathers on the section! Yes, I stuck them in my hair for the rest of the race. I'm a sucker for really cool feathers and have been known to stop more then once for a nice one mid-race. We climbed for whet felt like forever, then finally started going downhill. With Silverheels coming up, I was more cautious on the downhill then in the past. Nice and controlled, nice and steady. I knew that would lose some time, but didn't really care. I also knew that what went down, had to go back up. On the first trip to the aid station, I'd looked down into the ravine below the trail and seen the blue ribbons fluttering along the trail far below us! It was as much a climb as I thought it would be!

Finally back to the aid station and this time I needed to refill everything. I'd completely finished my water on the loop. I wasn't as efficient at I wanted to be - but that was one of the things I wanted to address. Some things to work on for sure. After reading the course description, I knew it would be a long slog up to the next aid station. But I'd misjudged the distance to the next aid station so didn't get as much water as I should have. We retraced our steps back up to the junction with the 30k and then kept climbing. That was the theme of the race! Climbing.... Occasionally when the trees opened up and afforded a view above the trail, I was able to catch a small figure moving through the meadow above me. So far above me. Time to march and work on my power hiking! It was on this long climb where I started catching a few of the 30k runners and some of the men who'd started ahead of me in the 50k. As anticipated, the easy start had lulled some of those guys into a harder pace. Now every minute gained was coming back to haunt them in spades. 

High point of the course!

At the summit, I had another women right on my heels. Guess it was time for racing and for taking a few chances! Once again, I ran out of liquid before the aid station. This time, I was a little more efficient, but the volunteer accidentally gave me HEED instead of water. I couldn't figure out why my hands were sticky after trying to wash them until I tasted it more carefully. Whoops... At least it was the last aid station and a relatively short distance to the finish. Just one more major climb to go. The lady behind me left the aid station a few minutes after I did and was slowly making up ground on that climb. I knew I would have really be smooth on the plunge down the mountain to get any gap for the final push on the roads. Eyes on the trail. No more staring at the views! Even so, I didn't really let myself get crazy. Bigger fish to fry in two weeks! Once off the trails an onto the road, I took a quick glance behind me. No sight of her coming down the double track. There was about three miles left. Time to switch to road runner and really open it up. I did see some 7s on my watch in those last three miles!

Overall, Bears Ears was an amazing event. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a scenic challenge, where the climbs and the views will take your breath away. Hopefully they will have the 50 mile next year - I'd love to see what that next loop brings!

May 23, 2020

A new motivation

I'll be honest. At the end of February and beginning of March - even into April I was struggling. I just did not have the motivation to get out and my long trail runs finished. I wanted to run, but once I got to about 15-20 miles, I just shut down. I didn't want to be out there, didn't want to push to keep going. Part of the lack of motivation was watching race after race get canceled and wondering if my race was next. After all, why bother with the big mile weeks and long runs if there's no race? It was even worse for cycling - the only race I had on the calendar for mountain biking was Growler and I was pretty confident it wasn't happening due to everything going on. I would get to about 90 minutes and go bleh...  I just didn't feel like dealing with the people or the kitty litter. 

While the cycling motivation hasn't changed much, I've found some new motivation for the running through the virtual world. Hilarious for me - I used to deride the virtual races as not real races. But there's still the motivation involved in a race as I found with the Moose Herd Madness 50k. I had my medal, I had my bib. I just needed to finish the distance! So I went out and suffered through a 50k I wasn't really prepared for. The heat was a challenge and the last few miles were hard for sure - but that's ultra running! I learned a few things about running that far self supported, which will be really important for the new guidelines for aid stations I see coming. It was what I needed for the spark to get running long again. So I signed up for a few more virtual races, included the Trail Runner over Texas Summer Series. Four races before August 1st, with a special belt buckle for doing a 50k for all four races. Of course I would do the 50k distance! I had something to look forward to again, and something to get me running and training for Silverheels. 

I was surprised. I was looking forward to the weekend and getting out for my long run, for planning my route to maximize fun and get the distance covered. The first two "races" were hard - two 50ks in two week isn't something I usually do. Then a shift happened. On the third race, with the most climbing I finally felt good. The distance was like any other long run I used to do when I was training for marathons. In three weeks, I ran three 50k long runs, all under seven hours. This week was supposed to be a recovery week, with no long run. But when I signed up for the last race in the TROT series, I started wandering. Can I finish this before the end of the month? Get all four races completed before June so I could focus on a few other things?

I could. On Wednesday, mere four days after my third long run I headed out into the darkness for a final long run. Would I get the full distance? I didn't know. Would I stay under my 7 hour mark? I'd find out! My legs were tired for sure, but I actually was moving well. First lap done, time to head out for the sunrise. And an amazing sunrise it was. Worth the early start. Just under halfway done and still feeling pretty good. The last lap was one for climbing and working on my power hiking. It wasn't until about mile 29 that my legs decided I was nuts. Not so much a mutiny like I've had at various events in the past, but just a subtle middle finger to my brain. Worth the mental satisfaction for sure!

I have two more short term virtual races upcoming and then an entire summer long virtual event. It's the motivation I've needed to get back to the trails. Will it help for my still planned races? We will find out.

Mar 27, 2020

The good of the Many

What a roller coaster. Every day in the last few weeks has brought new data sets, new restrictions and plenty of reactions to those restrictions. The first step was closing stores and services that bought people in close contact - like gyms and movie theaters and such. I’ll admit, I was a little annoyed when the pool closed! I’m not swimming for competition anymore, but I do love the active recovery provided by time in the water. Next thought was to get my new tattoo while the pools were closed. I want to get a dragonfly and a butterfly on my ribs and back. Well.... that was the next thing! So much for using my time out of the water wisely. And then, as various counties around the state issued stay at home orders the governor finally followed suite. The entire state of Colorado placed under a stay at home order - try not to leave the house unless it’s for essential business.

That’s where it gets tricky. Denver originally didn’t include some stores in the essential order and there were lines around the block of people stocking up. Not a good way to encourage social distancing! But the list of things that are essential is rather long - and sometimes up to interpretation. And people are looking for the most flexible ways of interpreting the order. I’m allowed to go out for a run or a bike ride, right? I can drive to do that right? So why not drive across the state to ride? Or host my group ride, making jokes about social distancing the entire time. After all, we all drove separately down from Denver, it’s cool right? No... Or every single person who has decided that now is the time to start hiking. I know that it sounds elitist when we complain about the increased volume, but seriously. Some of the people I’ve been seeing out hiking would be much better served with a walk around the block, then building up to two laps around the block - not heading down one of the steeper trails in Stratton because “look, there’s a trail!” The sheer volume of people out and about is amazing - but at the same time the roads are definitely quieter.

Maybe I’m a little more sensitive to the people bending the rules and looking for specific ways to bend the rules because I’m a hospital. And its a strange environment right now. We’ve canceled all elective surgeries, so the place is eerily quiet. There’s not a lot of patients and even fewer for physical therapy to be working with. But there’s also a sense of unease. That something is coming and we don’t know what or how bad. Actually, we do know what - we’ve seen the previews in other countries and other cities. The lingering questions - are we doing enough? Did we do it soon enough? And why the hell can’t people just STAY HOME? There’s nothing to do. You don’t need to go to Target to peruse everything just because it’s open. The people making a mockery of the stay at home are frustrating - even more so when you read the “gubermint is taking muh rights” kind of posts on facebook or other social media sites.

Stay at home. It's really not that hard. It's not the time to start looking for new adventures. It's the time to start taking care of yourself and your family. Whatever that means to you.

Mar 11, 2020

Out of an abundance of caution...

No matter how hard we try to see things through a nationalistic view, the world is completely interconnected. We are just now watching as something that started in China, as a whisper on the wind, the next epidemic. Right now, it's impossible to know how far reaching this will be - just that it's a daily conversation on the national news. Can it get worse? Who knows. It does feel like every other year, something comes up from the jungle and the news presents it as a pandemic. New viruses make for easy reporting, especially when there's an explosion of cases in various countries and plenty of grim photos to show. But for now, it feels so far away - something that we won't have to deal with.

Until we do. And the first indication that we are going to have to deal with? The cancellations of many many races as the CDC and other organizations start recommending limiting group sizes. I know many races are under 250 in entrants, but that doesn't include all the volunteers and crew helping the race. The entire spring racing season is on hold - either due to cancellation or postponement of many races.  And of course, many of those runners are screaming for full refunds of their races. It's been building to a crescendo this past weekend on Facebook in the trail and ultra running groups. It's amazing how much people are focusing on the money they are "owed" vs the money that the race directors have already spent to support you and the rest of the athletes. 

Some thoughts I while reading the comments demanding refunds - sometimes not in the most polite terms.
1) What can be used at future races as some people have asked? Not much really. Medals and awards have specific logos, dates and placements. Do you really want a medal from XXY race when you ran XYX race? Given the comments I see, no you don'. Can you give the overall winner award from one race to an age group winner in another? No - you can't. You can't reuse awards like that. Shirts have years on them and I know that runners don't want the 2020 shirt for 2021. Bibs often have the runner's name on them so those are hard to use for other events. These are all costs that have been incurred for every race - regardless of what you've paid for the race. And vendors will not take those items back and refund the costs involved. That's one place your money has gone - and those items aren't ones that have been purchased just before the race.

2) Permits have been paid for well before the event date.I doubt the county/city/state/BLM/DOT who issued those permits will refund the costs for the permits. If your race was a point to point race, the directors might be lucky and be able to get the transportation costs refunded. But how much is that really compared to the entire costs of putting on the race. So again, where is the money you are asking for coming from? It's already been used to set up your race. You're asking for money that is no longer there.

3) Finally - and the point that really got to me. We all signed waivers agreeing to refund policies for races - policies that include “acts of god” And now that something has happened you want more then what the race organization is offering. Are we so entitled that we would rather risk bankrupting the organization so we can have our money back? 

I know some people will continue to say - I'm not taking the financial hit for this, the race should. No - the race shouldn't. We want to have these races here next year, right? Then we have to be respectful of the races and the race directors. They are doing everything they can and us runners need to be aware of that. Be nice. Don't put your favorite race out of business!

Feb 27, 2020

Chunk by any other name

Also known as Arizona riding! Outside of trails like Bunny Loop, most every trail in Arizona is full of chunk. Rocks of all sizes, just waiting to slice tires or shred skin. Just the kind of riding I needed after over three months off the bike...

This was the only plan that we had - camping at Gilbert Ray in Tuscon Mountain Park for a few nights. Sure, it was a ways from the last camping location and on the other side of town as our eventual destination. But it's a nice place with good trail access and we thought it would be quiet based on prior stays. Still has the good trail access, but not so quiet anymore! That place was hopping! I think the entire campground was filled both night we stayed.

One of the reasons Nick really wanted to stay at Gilbert Ray was Brown Mountain. It's a short loop trail that starts and finishes right by the campground. The bottom of the loop parallels the road and is pretty fun. There's some punchy climbs, a few little rock gardens and plenty of cactus. On the west end on the loop however, the trail tips up. And up for the climb up to the traverse across Brown Mountain. That is where the real fun begins. I figured I'd be walking most of the traverse because I still wasn't feeling solid on the bike. And while I did walk some, there were plenty of things I was able to ride without too many issues! Some of the tight switchbacks were definitely a challenge and the body language for the rocky climbs was also slightly in need of translation. There were also a few oh crap, what the heck am I doing moments on the final descent back down into camp! I was a little sore in the ribs and tired in the core when we finished, but not as bad as I'd thought I would be.
Sunrise over Gates Pass during my run


The following day I got up early and ran. The blacktop road south of Brown Mountain was quiet at that hour, so I was able to get a solid workout in before the sunrise. Then I got to explore a little on the flat trails south of the campground - there was a little bush whacking as the southern trails weren't the clearest marked trails I've seen. You'd think bush whacking would be easier with with wide open desert and nothing but cacti. It's the whole cacti thing that makes desert tramping challenging. Everything out there wants to stab you! Needless to say, my planned 8 miles got a little longer as I meandered around trying to avoid the really nasty cacti.

Riding in the Robles Pass area on the way back east

After the ride that day, I knew I wasn't up for tackling Milagrosa.  I wasn't that settled on the bike and there's no way to ride Milagroas safely if you aren't comfortable on the bike. Luckily, one of our friends had recently moved down to Tuscon and while he'd ridden Bug Springs higher up on Mount Lemmon, he hadn't done the miracle ride. Didn't take much convincing during our ride for him to jump on the chance! It actually worked out great - Iwould beable to get a nice long run in on a trail I wouldn't be able to ride my bike on and the boys didn't have to ride all the way up Mount Lemmon.

Into the wilderness! The Pusch Ridge Wilderness and the AZT

I spent the entire next day studying my maps and figuring out distances. I wasn't looking for more then about 15-20 miles, so that did limit me a bit. So many trails heading off into the wilderness! Finally, I decided that the best for me running and the guys riding would be to just start at the Molino Basin parking area and do an out and back on the AZT. The guys would ride up the road from there to Bug Springs, drop Bug then refill as needed at the van before heading off to Milagrosa. I would do my run and then drive back down the mountain to pick them up. Perfect!

Looking back up at the Catalina Highway from below the wilderness boundary
Looking into the wilderness, at the ridge before the drop into Sabino Canyon
Now if only the map makers were a little more accurate with the distances between points... I set a firm turnaround distance of 7.5 miles. From all my map studying, I figured I would get to the Sabino Canyon trail - maybe a little further. I really wanted to get into Sabino, since I've never seen that canyon and heard really good things about it. I also figured that I would have a gradual climb up from Molino Basin and then a gradual descent back to the van. Nope! Rolling climbs to start, then as I reached the ridge that marked the boundary of the the Pusch Ridge Wilderness. The trail nature changed and it plummeted down into Bear Canyon. A few flatter miles, then another steep climb. I pondered dropping down Bear Canyon to see what it was like, but I'd told Nick I was doing an out and back on the AZT. So I kept moving forward, climbing up to another ridge. From there, there was an amazing view of the entire wilderness - of the jagged mountains rising up from the canyons. And the trail, dropping nearly straight down into the next valley. Uff - that would be quite the climb back up!

Looking back up the AZT. Such a narrow trail here!
I didn't reach Sabino Canyon. At my turn around, I was still at least a half mile away. I was tempted to keep going, but facing the climb back up, I knew it would take me longer to get back because of the steepness of the climbs. I had two decenly long climbs to face and it had taken me longer to get out there then I'd anticipated. Time to start heading back so I had a decent chance of beating the boys down the mountain!

A surprising number of creek crossing in the desert! I didn't need to be worried about water on this run!