Most people do crazy stuff when they turn 40 - the classic midlife crisis type affair. There's buying a snazzy new car (does a 4WD Merce...

Feb 22, 2019

Acts of Kindness

Life is stressful - there's no denying that. We are rushing from one appointment to another, chasing our tails doing errands, work and still trying to play. In the age of instant communication, we don't like waiting for anything and allow frustration to overwhelm us when we have to wait. The stress and frustration builds and builds, creating discontent and anger. The people closest to us become the targets for our frustration, regardless if they are the source. More often then not, it's a missed placed anger at people who are doing the best they can under already stressful conditions.

I noticed that first hand last week when I was doing some errands and getting two prescriptions for Nick. One prescription was ready, but the other still needed a few minutes. Instead of getting mad that I had to wait, I took care of some other shopping and came back - a far cry from the reaction of the guy in front of me who became irate that his drugs weren't ready. After all, the doctor had sent the prescription over to them 30 minutes ago! Two different approaches, but only one that took the realities of working in a pharmacy or any service industry into account. 

Out of anything we do, waiting for medical care of any kind seems to create the most toxic environments. We are already stressed because of sickness, being around other sick people and the general feeling of helplessness that being less then healthy provides. Add in the fact that appointments aren't always on time and things get even worse. As someone who works in health care, I know that there's a host of factors that effect if appointments are on time. Every doctors office and specialty practice holds some times open for emergency visits - those circumstances that are outside our control. I've been the beneficiary of emergency visits - when the eye doctor appointment turns into an urgent referral to the retina specialist among others. I had no appointment, but still needed to be seen that day. That experience has colored my perspective when it comes to appointments and such. Instead of getting frustrated about waiting, I pull out my book and read. Getting mad at the office staff and nurses won't get me seen any sooner. It's easier to just smile and be kind.

Being kind - it's not that hard, but it seems so hard to put in practice. Holding the door for someone who's hands are full. Thanking someone for doing something for you. Saying hello, offering a smile. The simple things that we seem to have forgotten in the hustle and bustle of the instant gratification world. Being kind - it doesn't have to complicated like buying the drink for the person behind you, it can simply be letting someone with one or two items ahead of you in line at Costco. If we all worked these simple acts back into daily life, we'd be much happier and the community would be that much stronger. Anyone care to join me?

Feb 18, 2019

The Stories Anthology Part 2

This is the second half of my thoughts about Stories. Warning - this collection gets a little more philosophical!

Forward Momentum
I'm fond of telling my athletes "continuous forward momentum". It's a common refrain in both ultra running and cycling. But what does it really mean? It's easy to think of it as a purely physical idea - one step at a time, one crank revolution at a time, no matter how slow the pace is. Just keep moving. Physical is easy to grasp, that one step at a time aspect. But it's so much more then just physical - its a mental mindset of perseverance, determination and moving forward. Positivity, approaching the miles and the time with the attitude that you'll be able to push beyond is the key. Forward Momentum keeps you looking at the ever shrinking distance between you and the finish line. It doesn't drag you down with how slow you are covering that distance. This was a good lesson to learn this weekend. There were plenty of times after I reached the 100k mark where I could have just stopped. It was dark, it was cold. I was getting tired. I didn't need to do 100 miles - that was planned for September, when I had more training in my legs. Instead of looking at the whole, I looked at each group of loops. Two more reds, one more Purple. And when my legs finally gave out and running was no longer an option, I had the mental strength to keep moving. One step at a time, keep focusing on the positive. That is the essence of Continuous Forward Momentum - the mental and physical strength required to take one more step and then another. It's a skill as much as running.

The last red loop, trying to keep moving. Hoggling is definitly an art for ultra runners to learn!
Photo Christy Thompson

Feb 15, 2019

The Stories Anthology Part 1

I don't think I can write a traditional race report for Stories. After all, it was so much more then we started, we ran the red loop in the dark, then the green as the sun rose, then blue and red and repeated throughout the day, into the night and again as the sun dawned for the second morning. No, that's not how I remember the day. Instead, it's a collection of moments and of experiences. The community surrounding the race, made clear by every encounter on the trail. The dedication of the crews and volunteers to keep runners moving as best they could. And so, instead I present this collection of short stories about the race.

Feb 11, 2019

A Short Story

It's dark and cold. The wind is gusting, driving the temperature down even further. The bustle has died down, leaving the night in silence. Then in the distance a glimmer of light. It gets closer, but oh so slowly. The miles and hours are getting long and everything is slowing down. But that glimmer of light. Finally! People are close by. While I'm sure the other runners at Stories Ultra had similar experiences - seeing the lights of the aid station appearing on Acorn Alley, this short story isn't about us. No - it's about the volunteers, the unsung heroes of this crazy sport. While we are out running in the dark and cold, the volunteers are huddled around a fire, trying to stay warm and stay awake. There is nothing to do but wait for a runner to appear on the hillside above the campground.

Every race requires an army of volunteers to run smoothly. From course marking and set up the day before the race and runner check in and other pre-race activities race morning, to aid station volunteers or timing assistance and then course sweep and tear down. At the best races, you never see the army working behind scenes to prepare for the race. You just see the aid station volunteers, hopefully cheerful, helpful and able to offer all kinds of treats. Runners never see the work going into all the course marking or the venue step up. We just see the colored ribbons and the signs telling us which way to go. We don't realize afterwards that every single ribbon has to be removed, the signs all pulled up, the trails swept for trash and the venue torn down. There's a lot that goes into organizing a race that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle.

Course marking. Runners take for granted all those miles of ribbons leading us down the correct trail. We expect signs to tell us where to go, so we can turn off our brains, not bother looking at a course map and just run. If a turn is missed because the runner wasn't paying attention or hadn't really looked at the map to see the nearly 180 turn at one intersection, then we get mad. But what really goes into marking a course? In many cases, it's running or hiking the entire course with engineer tape, signs on stakes and a sledge hammer. Every main intersection has to be marked, double flagged and signs hammered into the ground. After each potential for turning off course, there needs to be more flagging so runners know where they should go. Then confidence flagging so it's clear that you're still on the right trail. And you have to mark it from a runner's perspective. Will they be running fast and looking up the trail or power hiking with eyes focused a few feet in front of them? That makes a difference as to where and how frequently the ribbons need to be hung. I found all this out this weekend when I helped mark the course for Stories Ultra and then ran. It's not as simple as just tying a few ribbons on the trees and calling it good. A loop that normally takes me an hour to run took me nearly two and a half hours to finish. And try running with a Christmas tree of staked signs and a sledge hammer in your pack! While I jokingly said that if anyone got lost on blue I was taking it personally - and I really hope no one did! - there were a few places where as a runner I was thinking that a few more flags or signs might be nice. And a testament to how much John cares about his runners? When one of the loops wasn't quite as well marked as he wanted, he set two volunteers out to add extra flagging the minute he heard about some issues.

Part of course marking - running or hiking a few miles with some interesting signs in the pack!

Aid Stations and Timing. At most ultras, the aid station have a more definite time. They can expect runners between x time and y time. Not a stories. The single aid station had to staffed for the entire 30 hours, ready on a moments notice to serve up a cornucopia of treats. Want a bacon grilled cheese? Give me five minutes and you'll have a hot and gooey sandwich to enjoy. How about a fried turkey with mashed potatoes? At Stories, there was also the added complexity of three different races with three different mentalities. In the dawn of Saturday, it was quiet - the 30 and 15 hour runners on course, still stuffed from breakfast. Then the 6 hour runners joined the fray and breakfast started wearing off for the longer runners. How to balance keeping everyone fed, happy and not lingering? The fact that it was one aid station for the entire race also made it more complicated. Yes, everyone was concentrated in the same area, but it also had the effect of making the race seem bigger. But then, after the 15 hour race ended the darkness and cold descended. It was just the 30 hour racer putting in the miles and the buzz at the aid station died down - until the light of a runner appeared on the trail above camp. Then it was time for action! And every time I ran down the trail to finish a loop, the aid station was hopping - ready to serve. I was cold running at times over night. I can't imagine the layers of clothes needed to stay warm the minute someone stepped away from the fire. Which brings me to the timers. With a race a complicated as stories - three races, four (five really) different loops - the timers had to be on point. It wasn't as simple as runner so and so crossed the line at this time. It was runner so and so just finished the green loop at this time, while another runner is doing her third golden loop. When the Golden Loop was in play for the last hour of each race, runners are also coming from different directions. Try keeping all that in order! Doesn't help when the runners forget what loop they are on either... The timers weren't near the fire either, so they had to bundle up to stay warm. Luckily, John had a propane heater blasting for them. Even so, as the temperature dropped the timers were still out there, always cheerful and encouraging when I ran in.

So, the moral of this story? It takes an army to make a race run smoothly. As runners, we don't always see the army in motion - but we are more then willing to complain when something doesn't run smoothly. Don't complain! Work to make it better - volunteer for something at a race and see what is involved. Become a part of the solution. It's not work when you are having fun and when you are giving back to the running community!

Feb 8, 2019

Just keep smiling.

In less then 12 hours I will be taking the first step in this crazy journey. The Stories Ultra 30 hour race starts at 06:00, in the pre-dawn chill only a February morning can provide. I have the pit set up - hunting tent, heater, the full gamut to do this right. I know the course - Cheyenne Mountain State Park is practically my backyard trails. I know where to expect mud, where the packed snow will be and where there is ice. I have a piece of my heart watching over me on Purple. If I am not ready, it’s too late to worry. What is done is done and what will happen is to be written over the the course of 30 hours. I have one major goal and one dream goal. I have to hit 100k, but damn - that Teddy Bear Buckle is just adorable!

Regardless, I need to remember one thing. Keep smiling. It’s so easy to get trapped in the darkest areas of the mind - especially when the 2:00AM demons are lurking, the temperature is sucking the life out of you and the last thing you want to do is one more lap. I’ve been there before - on wheels. Every time the alarm went off, no matter how tired I was or how miserable weather was, I’ve headed out. That’s what you do what racing as a team and your partner is counting on you. You show up, ready. Even as a solo, it’s the same. From the time the gun goes off until the race is over - keep moving. Only then it’s the crew you are letting down if you stop. So you stare down the demons, put a smile on your face and head out again. I’ve never faced the demons on foot before. Will the voices be the same as on wheels or will they sing a slightly different tune to compel you to stop?

Hammering out the nerves while marking the course. It's actually a lot of fun!

Keep smiling. The outward expression of positivity - regardless of the inner battle. Sometimes the outward expression can out-weight the mental struggle. Appear positive, happy and that’s the reaction you inspire from other people. No matter the hour, we are all out there facing our own struggles. Maybe a smile from me will spur someone else a little further. And maybe the positivity will help me conquer the demons. The voice whispering - nay screaming at this hour - that I haven’t done enough, my training too lackluster for such lofty goals. Acknowledge the doubts but keep them at bay. Keep smiling. Stay positive. That’s been my mission over the past year in both training and racing. Keep it fun and stay positive. The demons have haunted me for years, from close to home and far away. Now is the time for me to finally stand up to them. Smile right at them and keep moving. But in order to do that I have to keep smiling.

Keep the eyes open for the simple beauty over the course of the day. 
What story will be written this weekend? I'll find out soon!

Feb 5, 2019

Super Sunday Traditions - Super Half

After dropping down to run the Game Day 5k last year, I was looking forward to another go at the Super Half Marathon. Unlike in prior years, the Super Half wasn't the target race. That didn't mean I wasn't hoping for a decent time, but just that the training hadn't been targeted towards the flat, fast running on the Santa Fe I had to temper my goals and expectations leading into the race. I figured that I’d be able to run about 7:15s easily so used that as the starting point. I also wanted to be more comfortable running at that pace without looking at my watch. Before the GPS watches, I was able to consistently hit a target pace during races. I knew what the pace felt like and ran at that effort. But now, I’ve noticed I’m second guessing my internal speedometer and adding stress to the race by constantly looking at the watch. So that was my other goal - only look at my watch when I hit the mile markers. Otherwise just run on feel and make an effort to run smart.

There was the usual social cluster before the race - taking pictures, saying hi, getting hugs.... Still getting used to being a part of things as opposed to just showing up to race. But it does make the events more enjoyable, so I will happily add in the extra time pre-race. New this year was the wave start. The race has gotten so big, that there's been some congestion in the narrow sections of the Santa Fe Trail. While I don't know the spacing for the waves, I do think it really made the race better. THe field was more spread out along the trail and there wasn't the pushing right as we entered the trail. But I digress. Back to the wave starts. The pre-race email stated that the waves would be self selected and based on the minute increments, with the first waves runners aiming for sub seven miles. Now, I knew that I wouldn't be running sub sevens, so I was planning on starting the second group. Nope! I found myself getting shepherded into the first group. There was a handful of other women around me, so I knew I was where I needed to be, even if it wasn't where I wanted to be.

And the the whistle. We were off! I held my pace back, not wanting to start out too hard. It's easy to do with the downhill start at the Super Half. First thing I noticed was the calmness of the start - the tight turns right in the first mile were easily navigated. I got some hi-fives from the volunteers and kids at the starting line and then focused on settling into my pace. Again, I didn't want to look at my watch. I just wanted to run on feel. That also meant not racing the other women. I was in fourth, dangling just off the back of the group of three ahead of me. It was tempting to try and surge to make up the gap, but that wasn't the goal.

A mile or so in, trying to stay comfortable.
Photo - Peter Maksimow

My first mile was a little faster then I wanted - 6:40. But that was better then prior years and I felt really comfortable. Now came the hard part - staying inside, not getting in my head and just clicking off the miles. Even though I hadn't really trained for the race, I've done enough runs on the Santa Fe that I knew all the landmarks. I kept my eyes on the women in front of me, letting them gradually pull away. I didn't want to run any faster - the pace was hard, but felt sustainable. I was doing a good job of not looking at my watch except at the miles and was pretty happy with the pace. Just about 7:05, consistently. Unlike some races, I didn't even bother with doing the splits. I just ran. And the running felt good. I had a nice group of easy to run with people around me and could still see all three women ahead of me. This year, I remembered how far the turn around was from Costco and didn't get frustrated by how long it took to get there. And then it was time to start heading back.

It's easy with an out and back course to think it will be all climbing out and descending back. The Santa Fe is not that clear. There's actually a lot climbing on the way back. I was still maintaining a solid pace, with the turn-around mile being the slowest so far. The women ahead of me were slow gaining ground - but that was okay. While I wasn't in a position to be able to make up any ground, I was still making all my goals. Not looking at my watch, staying positive the entire time and running well. The staying positive part was made easy by the volume of Brewers Cup runners and other people I knew. One of the things I love about out and back courses - they are so socially friendly to runners of all levels.

Heading home
Photo - Tom Dewane

I was hoping to avoid slowing more in the final miles, but was starting to getting tired. With bigger fish to fry in a week, I allowed myself to back off the pace a little. Not a lot - I was still hoping to break 1:35, if not 1:34. So I had to keep running hard. The pace dropped from my steady 7:10s to 7:30s for the last three miles. I always seem to struggle on those last three miles through the park. They should be the easiest - familiar terrain, lots of people around... But no. One more thing that made this year challenging was the wind. There'd been teases of the wind on the outward leg of the race, but nothing major. And there were enough people around that we could share the burden of breaking the wind. A few stronger gusts on the way back indicated that the winds of change were coming. As I crossed Mesa Ave for the last half mile of the race, I could see the swirls of dust in the distance. The wind was serious now and ready to make runners suffer. My visor was nearly snatched from my head a few times in that last stretch and at times I had to close my eyes against the sand onslaught - and I was wearing sunglasses! I was practically blown into the finish line with the first of many powerful gusts.

Those aren't clouds in the distance - that's the dust about to sandblast the course...
Photo - Nancy Hobbs

Once again, the people in the back had the brunt of the weather. I can't imagine trying to run against that wind for more then a few miles. I might have finished fast, but the people behind me were definitely tougher on this race.

One of my favorite photos indeed!

Jan 29, 2019

Second Guessing

Less then two weeks out from Stories. I'm trying hard not to watch the extended weather, knowing that it will change every time I look. After the last winter series race, I know a lot more about the trail conditions - but again that will be completely different by the time 6:00 on Feb 9th rolls around. If the current long range weather holds, there will be some sections completely dry, some sections of mud and some packed snow and ice. Humm.... Sounds like trail running in Colorado in the winter! Hopefully there will be more dry sections then muddy sections. Either way, everyone will be running in the same conditions.

I find myself second guessing my goals and my preparation for those goals. I started out just wanting to cover 100k over the 30 hours, keeping it simple. Just me, my car for an aid station and the goal of forward momentum. That's all changed over the last few months. I have a great crew team with ultra running and ultra crewing experience lined up. (Thanks so much Kelly and Christy!!) Nick decided that even though I told him I wanted to do this on my own, we were going to do it right. If I have a crew, I will have the full pit for them to hang out in and stay warm. And as that changes, the goals also changed ever so slightly. From just wanting 100k and being "comfortable" getting that distance done for the Transcendence Series to pondering can I do 100k in under 15 hours to why no look at 100m? It could be easiest 100m in CO simply because of the lack of elevation gain - 12,000' as opposed to 20,000 at Sangre. But...

As Sherpa John has said, no one is ever "ready" to run 100 miles - there's just too much outside of our control to approach a race distance like that with the confidence that you will finish. I was nervous about Sheep Mountain 50m, but confident that I would be able to finish. Maybe misplaced confidence, but I was still confident in my ability to cover the distance. Heading into Stories, I don't have that same confidence. That might be a good thing, given that overconfidence is a weakness. I know I can cover at least the 100k - just chill out and keep it steady. It's "only" 8 miles more then Sheep Mountain the year I did it. (Bonus miles....) But just like the jump from 50k to 50m is so much more then 19 miles, the jump from 100k to 100m seems unfathomable to me right now. Over a 50k more of time on feet. How can I ever be ready to think about that kind of distance? Every time I look at my basic plan and see the numbers for circuit 5 to reach 100m I get nervous.

It doesn't help to look back at the training prior to Sheep Mountain and compare it to what I've been doing for Stories. I had huge weeks prior to Sheepy, with back to backs of 25/15 and 30/18. I was running 50-60 miles a week consistently for months prior to Sheepy. On top of that, I was preping for Growler and getting in long rides of 5+ hours as well. I had weeks in a row of TSS over 1000 - which mean more to me as a coach. Looking back, I feel very under prepared for Stories. I've gotten plenty of long runs between 20-30 miles in since last July, doing three 50k races and one marathon. Weekly mileage has been between 40-50 miles consistently, with some true recovery weeks after the various races. No back to back runs though and nothing really intense on the bike. So just looking at the numbers, its pretty clear why I'm nervous and feeling under prepared But there's more to training and racing then the numbers - something I've learned in the 2.5 years since Sheepy. More is not always better and there's a strong chance that I was over-trained going into Sheepy. I felt exhausted prior to Sheepy and it took me a long time to bounce back. I'd dug a hole but forgotten to leave some steps for climbing out! This time, listening to my body has been more important. I may not have done as much prior, but I've felt better doing it. The long runs haven't been challenging like before and it hasn't felt like work getting out the door - even on the cold days.

Hopefully the joy will carry me through the miles!
Random running photo from Winter Series 2 at CMPS!