Transcendence

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 29, 2016

Demons

We all have them - the demons that whisper in our minds, leading us astray from our goals and telling us that we aren't worthy of even attempting our dreams. And you never know when they will start appear. Even the best athletes and most confident appearing people have their demons. I've heard them many times as a mountain biker - from starting line nerves seeing who I am lining up against (I'm not the same class of athlete, I can't ride nearly as fast as them), to solo pedaling under moonlit skies (what am I doing out here, can I keep going for another 10 hours?) And it was strange to hear them - when I was running, I never had demons. I respected the distances but approached the races with confidence. I've been working on silencing tthem as I progress as a mountain biker. I never thought I'd experience those same voices running. 

But this year has been different. I've been running more and doing a lot more local races. I've publicly announced my major running goals and have began the process of working towards them. I won't lie and say it's been smooth and easy returning to running. I've got years of history as a runner and that history has been hard to ignore. Add in a persistent hamstring injury from a bike crash last year and it's been nothing short of frustrating at times. I can remember, not too many years ago that I was the young punk, pushing the pace at all the local races. I was the fast one, the one people expected to win. I lined up on the start with all the men and was setting course records. Now? Not so much. My course record in the Rescue Run fell and I was left behind at the fun.  And out came the demons. 

Saturday's Winter Series IV - the 20k at Black Forest - was supposed to be an adventure. I'd never done that race, always just the short series. So I was looking forward to the race. I had no expectations, figuring I would finish in 2nd in my age group and hopefully move into 3rd overall. We all started out easy, then Tina and Amanda took off. I was in no mans land with three women right behind me. My hip was tight and my hamstring stiff. When I was passed by all three women, the demons came roaring into my mind. I'm not the runner I used to be (true) - I can't run fast at all anymore (speed is relative...) - what am I thinking, publicly announcing I will be doing a 50 mile race? The demons so loud, I almost considered pulling off the course and quoting. Something I've nothing done before. It was so tempting, but I kept seeing the pony tail of the woman ahead of me. She was no longer leaving me behind. In fact, I was starting to slowly close the gap. I had to keep going, quiet the voices telling me I want good enough to be out there with the new generation of speedy women. Silence the demons - one foot in front of the other. Pull your mind away from that dark place and mental flogging. Just run. Enjoy the movement and remove the expectations. I managed to pull myself back into third, but as I hit the hills after mile 10, the demons started creeping back. I couldn't hold on, could I? I knew Wendy was just behind me. It was a struggle, those last miles. Between the voices say to just ease off, slow down and my tenacity to not give up, I had to just keep moving. That and the red jersey on my shoulders. I wanted my extra point for Team Fieldhouse! 

I'm sure there will be many more dark moments - both running and riding. Such is the nature of the races I have planned. With ultras, it isn't the question of if the demons will rise - but when. The mental battle is what draws me in - and one that I must face head on if I am going to survive. Realizing that while the speed of my youth may no longer be there is just the first step. I need not compare myself with myself.  And acknowledging that even without that speed, I have grown as an athlete is the second. There will be many more steps between now and July - and I plan on enjoying the journey!

Feb 11, 2016

Partly Super Half

This was my third year racing in the Super Half Marathon here in Colorado Springs. While it's not the most scenic course - an out an back on the Santa Fe Trail - the race director Tim B puts his heart and soul into the event. It's his baby and after he's spent all year supporting us athletes, it's time for us to support him. I was a late sign up for the race because of my hamstring issues, but was looking forward to a nice hard and fast race. My race at the second winter series gave me high hopes for a solid race. I knew I had at least 8 miles of speed in my legs and was fairly confident that I would be able to maintain the pace. I was pretty sure I wouldn't be in the mix for the Golden Football, but I knew I could come close to 1:30.

Until Friday. Sneezing fits at work and feeling super tired all day. Saturday was just as bad, but added in congestion and the start of a deep, dry cough. Ugh. Not good at all. I went to bed thinking healthy thoughts. Sunday morning and I knew it would be a battle of wills. My tenacity with racing and the head cold brewing. I also knew racing wasn't the smartest plan at all. Smart would have been staying home and doing an easy run or throwing competitiveness to the wind and running with friends. Smart I am not... 

My warm up was running from home to the race start. Yep. I was tired and had no spunk in my legs. Not a good sign. I got my bib number and shirt, said hi to some friends and figured out my clothes. I had my Osprey Rev 6 with a few clothing options, so was able to do a quick change act into more appropriate clothes. The sun was warm. Very warm. Chatted with Amber for a while - she said I sounded horrible. I debated just running with her for a while, but didn't say anything. Then it was time to line up - or at least pretend to line up! The entire field was crammed into the sun beam between the buildings. No one wanted to be right on the line, in the shade. It took some cajoling, but finally we all moved forward. Tim sent us off into the frozen terrain with a whistle and the pep band.

I settled into a pace that felt okay - not great, but okay. After the first few miles, I knew that 7:00s would be about the fastest I would run and I was already wondering how long I would last that that pace. It wasn't so much that I was coughing, it was that my lungs hurt to breath and I was really congested and tired. Like I said, running the race wasn't the smartest thing I could have done... But it was a nice day and there were lots of people out and about, cheering for the racers. So I kept trotting along, ticking each mile off and refusing to think further then the mile ahead of me. It was a great strategy and one that I've relied on during marathons in the past. Just get to the next mile. Just get to the turn around. That kept me going until about mile 9. And then I was done. Mentally and physically done. I kept the fa├žade up for another mile, hoping to break out of the run. Didn't happen. The bad part about out and back courses? You still have to run the distance to finish even if you feel like quitting! So I jogged my way into the finish, slipping from 6th overall down the 12th. That's what happens when the pace slows from 7:00s to 8:00s in the matter of a mile!

Grabbed my pack and warm clothes and pondered what would be a slushy run home. Motivation wise, I was not ready for it. Lucky for me, I have awesome friends who took pity on me. Amber gave me a ride home after a very short cool down. I completely skipped the after party - both at Jack Quinns and a Fieldhouse in favor of a hot bath and a nap. After all, I would need all my energy for watching the easily excitable boys watching the football game later!

Feb 8, 2016

Hut trippin'

Everyone in the group was delayed by this Colorado traffic jam....
Following along the lines of trying new things in 2016 came our first ski-in hut trip. Sure, we'd done a trial run a while back with snowshoes - but that was very mellow and not really a true back country experience. This time we had a group and we were trecking into Vance's Cabin outside Ski Cooper. It seemed a fairly straight forward route - east from the parking lot, cross the drainage, through the woods then climbing to a saddle, where we would traverse to an open field for a quick descent into the hut. A short 2.5 mile track that promised to be well packed in and easy to follow. Seemed was the optimal word. Shortly after crossing the drainage, we stopped to regroup and shed some layers. Skinning is hard work and getting sweaty not a good idea. There was a group of skiers descending through the deep snow directly above us, but we didn't put it together. The trail appeared to continue heading through the open meadow to the east. So that's the way we headed.

Nick and Todd - our fearless leaders, framed by the snow covered trees
There was a packed in trail in that direction - covered in a few inches of snow, but still a packed in trail. It seemed pretty clear that we on the right track. As we got into the trees, the packed in trail started fading. Not by much, but every few yards the trail got softer and softer. And the terrain got steeper and steeper. We started traversing through the trees, getting further away from the depth of the gully. Then we popped out into a open, snow filled meadow. The packed trail vanished as the tracks we'd been following turned downhill. Not to worry! Our skies floated over the deep power, allowing us to continue our forward and upward momentum. Except for Amber... Her snow shoes were no match for the depths of the snow without the packed trail and she sank to her hips with nearly every step. It took some work and Nick carrying her pack for a while, but we were finally able to get back onto firmer snow where she was able to stay mostly above the surface.

Happy trails for Amber on the firmish trail atop Taylor Hill
A fun little descent and we found ourselves back on the main trail leading to the cabin. Easy skinning again and no breaking through the surface. It didn't take that long to make it to the cabin once we got onto the trail. It was only four miles, but we were all pretty tired and happy to claim bunk space in the expansive basement of the cabin. The other group staying that night had arrived just before us and were already relaxing in the kitchen area. A few of us did another lap or two skinning and skiing, and then it was time for supper. Trying to get 15 people fed and watered on one stove top was an exercise in burner management!. Nick and I joined the other group in a card game before bed time and then everyone crashed. Altitude, adult drinks and exertion took its toll. I got up once to tend the fire, and then slept through the night. A thin mattress and sleeping bag can be quite comfortable when tired!

View from the balcony of Vance's Cabin.
Nick, Nate and Shad on the skin out from the cabin
A decently early start to the trek out had us at the base of Ski Cooper just before lunch. Nick and I opted to stay and resort ski in the fresh - and deep - powder piling up.

Overall, our first skiing hut trip was a success. There are a few things to modify and change to make it a little easier. Our food worked well, but not having a bottle to drink from while in the cabin was a pain. I had two pairs of warm gloves - and was wearing liner gloves most of the trip. Clothing seemed to be spot on for that temperature and effort level with both the climb and descent. We might not get another hut trip in this year, but we will for sure make an effort to do a few next year!