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, ...

Apr 28, 2018

There's always a first time...

And in this case, it was the first time for a DNF. I had really been looking forward to the Cheyenne Mountain Trail Race this year after missing out last year. I love the course and it's a fun event. I was also looking forward to seeing how fast I could run one lap, as opposed to pacing myself for two laps. I was also looking forward to getting out and seeing my friends in the running community after a really rough week.

My warmup felt good, but I was distracted. I couldn't seem to get my mind focused on the trail and the upcoming race. Mistake number one, I'm sure. While the trails at CMSP aren't super technical, there's enough loose rocks and soft edges that you need to pay attention to them. At the start, I was still kind of out of sorts. I'd left my phone in the car and was planning on making the next 2:30 some me time - with my closest running friends of course. We started quick, heading out into the parking lot for a short road climb to spread things out before the singletrack. I was in 6th as we entered the singletrack, but the top women were all bunched together. Running smart on the first climb would be important. I tried to settle into my pace, but just never really felt comfortable. I was running hard, but not as hard as I felt. My breathing was out of synch with my effort.

The field spread out as we climbed up Boulder Run. I focused on my feet and taking smooth lines on the rocks. The trail was soft in places from recent trail work and the rocks felt skittish under my feet. I chalked it up to never really running that fast in CMSP - we were at about an 9:00 pace - much faster then I normally run there. At the turn onto Blackmere, I could see that the women in front of me were getting a little more distance then I wanted. Mistake number two - instead of running my own race and staying in my own head space, I was trying to race. Regardless of everything else going on, less then two miles in was too early to start racing. But that's what I was doing - focusing on everything but what I was doing in the moment.

On the descent down Blackmere, I caught two guys who'd passed me on the climb. Normally, I'm a pretty chill, let me around when it's safe to pass kinda runner. But for whatever reason, I just wanted around them. I wanted to run in my own space and not have them in front of me. Mistake number three - being in a hurry to make a pass happen. The first guy waved me around in a good spot. The second picked not such a good spot - but he'd never run in CMSP so he didn't know the trails well. I should have known better and just waited. It was in the section of lower Blackmere where the rains a few years ago had done all the damage and the trail was really narrow, rocky and not fully packed in in spots. I took the inside line like the guy told me to - again, I should have just waited, realizing the trail wasn't as good as we both thought it was there. As I entered the inside of the corner, I felt the trail shifting. What I'd assumed to be solid dirt was a loose rock covered in leaves. My left foot rolled, the ankle collapsing underneath me. Normally, I can sense that happening and get weight onto the other foot before any damage is done. Not this time. The momentum was too great and I just didn't have the reaction time I needed. It was nobody's fault, but I knew the minute the left foot went down that the race was over.

I was hoping it wasn't as bad as I thought, but I knew it was. Running downhill hurt. I couldn't take a full step, pointing my toes was agony. I stopped to let the two guys around - both of whom slowed significantly to ask if I was okay. I just waved them one - again, nobody's fault - go have a great race. Then I tried just running. Humm, maybe? I passed the turn to the Zook loop - entering the point of no return as it was. If I continued up Blackmere, I was committing to coming back down. My gait pattern was out of whack, I didn't want to move my ankle at all. I slowed again, walked for a bit while there was no one around me and then stopped. There was a little swelling already in the ankle and walking was hurting. Who was I fooling? Continuing forward would be stupid and cause more damage. And for what? I had nothing to prove. It was time to stop. I took my waterbelt off and started limping my way back down. I was torn. I've never DNFed a race before in my life. But I couldn't run or even walk another 13 miles in that condition.

As a coach, I'm always telling my athletes to make the smart decisions. I tell them to live to race another day - one event isn't worth it. It's really easy to say the works, but damn... It's hard to actually follow my own advice. But it is true - live to race another day. The DNF hurts, but not as much as my ankle would have hurt trying to finish. So I will chalk this up to another learning experience and move on. Congrats to everyone who finished today!

Apr 15, 2018

Third time's the charm.

Yay! I finally got to race the Rattler Trail Race!

First - the back story. This was my third time registering for the Rattler. And my first time starting... in 2016, I was registered for the 50k, planning on making that my first ultra race. Whelp, Mother Nature had other plans and a blizzard blew in the morning of the race. Mad Moose had no choice but to cancel the race for the safety of the volunteers and the runners. In 2017, I was ready for the 25k, but my cranky eye prevented me from running all of March and most of April. So I DNSed, only to see perfect running conditions come race day. Given my history with the race, I was hesitant to sign up for the 25k again this year. And last night at packet pickup, I felt like I was jinxing the race ala 2016. Another blizzard threatening, with snow whipping into a frenzy. Yikes. But the difference was the weather was supposed to improve overnight, not get worse. So I packed up a variety of clothes and hoped for the best.

Race morning dawned clear, chilly and windy. Very windy. The ground was dry at my house, but as I drove up to the park, the climate zones of Colorado Springs were on full display. Palmer Park was about 5* colder then home and there was about a half inch of snow on the ground, with slick ice in places. And the wind was howling. I opted for my ShakeDry jacket instead of a vest - I knew it would warm up as the sun got higher, but that wind!!! There were plenty of puffy coats present at the start of the 50k. And it didn't warm up much between the start of the 50k and the 25k... As always, a few people brave enough to wear shorts. I wasn't one of them - knickers and SwiftWick Pursuit wool socks for me!

The start was very mellow thanks to the ice on the road. Nobody wanted to wipe out in first 10' of the race! Then we were on grass heading to the trails and the pace picked up. I found myself in fourth, running comfortably. As we hit the singletrack, I slid into third. Making a mental note of what the first and second place women were wearing, it was time to focus on the terrain. I'd made a few trips to Palmer over the last month to run various sections of the course, so I was pretty comfortable but it's still technical running. The first few miles are on Kinnikinnik, with plenty of rocks and punchy climbs. The rocks were made even trickier with the dusting of snow and hidden spots of ice. There was no racing yet, just running smart and having fun. I was in a small group of guys and we were moving pretty quick. They seemed happy to let me lead on the techy descents, but I knew they'd want to pass eventually. I wasn't ready to really push the pace yet. I wasn't event looking at my watch! Given that both my sleeve and jacket were covering my watch, I didn't really feel like struggling just to see the time or pace. Eventually, I'd look.

This year, the race almost sold out - with just a few openings left in the 50k and 25k and then 10k filled up. That meant lots of other racers and we started catching the 50k runners pretty early on course. I made it my goal to say good morning and have fun to all to the 50k races we caught. The only issue with the increased traffic was knowing where the other women ahead of me were! Palmer isn't a place you can really look ahead on the course because of the rocks and the twisty trails. But as I dropped down to the first aid station, I caught a glimpse of second a few minutes ahead of me. Humm... there was a stretch of easier, runnable trail coming up where everyone could make some time. But after that, Templeton. The hardest trail in the last half of the race, when you are starting to get tired. I made a mental note of how she looked and just kept up my pace and my encouragement of the other runners. At the second aid station, I had definitely made up some time. She was now within reach. I just needed to keep my focus on the trail though so I didn't do something stupid.

The course climbed out of Lazy Land towards Yucca Flats on the easier trails. Despite the wind chill, the sun was warming the trail and the snow was melting into a thin layer of mud. It was turning into a race against the peanut butter coating my shoes! We turned into Templeton and I got another good view of second. She was moving well still, but slowing on the technical running. If I could make the catch before the hardest part of Templeton I could get a gap. That was the plan anyway - but I had to make it work. And that meant pushing the pace out of the Lazy Land aid station up the hill back to Templeton. I used my familiarity with the trail to make the pass - taking the steeper but smoother line. Then it was time to run. I didn't look back, I just pushed the pace, taking some chances on the still icy rocks. I might not be as nimble as I was in my 20s, but I can still float over the rocks easily. By the time we started the drop back down to the stables, I had a decent gap and couldn't see her anymore.

And now there was a new figure ahead of me. I wasn't sure if I still remembered what the leading woman was wearing, but she looked familiar. I skipped the aid station, turning my attention to the climb up Edna Mae, back to the top of Yucca Mesa. As I climbed the rocky stairs of Edna Mae, I was slow gaining on the woman ahead of me. That alone told me she was in the 25k. All of the 50k racers I'd caught so far were running much slower. I caught her just as we turned back onto Templeton. Orange bib number - yup. Leading woman in the 25k. I shadowed her for the first few sections of Templeton and then decided to use the technical running to my advantage. I knew once I made the move, I would have to make it stick though.

As we transitioned back to the easier running, I focused on moving forward and not looking behind. I didn't know where anyone was and was in a section of the course where it was impossible to see the trail around me. One foot in front of the other and stay upright. The 50k runners ahead of me made good rabbits to pick off, one at a time. It kept me focused on forward momentum and pushing the pace on the last climbs. Once we topped out and started the drop back down to the finish line, I knew I had it. Finally. I'd not only gotten to race the Rattler, but I actually won it! I finished in 2:20:44, a little shy of my goal of sub 2:20, but given the cold, wind and ice I was pretty pleased with the time.

One of the coolest finishers medals I've gotten and a really neat award.
Now to get ready for the CMTR 25k in two weeks! That one will be faster for sure, with some speedy people already registered.

Impromptu podium shot!
Brook Handler, 2nd (2:23:24) and Laura Cortez 3rd (2:25:15)

Apr 7, 2018

Playing with heat

And dry air - but no fire! A few months ago, Nick and I got a lovely Excalibur Dehydrator. Why? I remember the round, plastic thing Dad got for Mom many many years ago. It made apple slices and that's about it. It also required a ton of work to rotate trays and keep things balance. So when Nick suggested the dehydrator, I was skeptical. I did hours of research and we ended up with the Excalibar dehydrator. Why that model? It has a rear fan and blows air evenly across all of the trays in the unit so technically no flipping around every two seconds. And my research proved accurate. This has been wonderful so far. I can fill up the trays, set the timer and go out for a run and my food will be done when I get back.

Of course, I started with apple slices since that's what I had in the fridge and it would be a good test of how it worked. The apples came out delicious. OK! Time to practice with some more complicated things. The ultimate goal is to be able to make meals for Nick while he is out bike packing. That means meat, a carb like rice and some veggies - all complicated except for the veggies. I did some more research and found a good online resource for some of the complicated menu items like rice. I also practiced with the vegetables I had in the fridge. My first real meal was rice, chicken and a variety of vegetables. Everything except for the chicken turned out perfectly. Looks like when the cookbook says use a specific kind of chicken there's been a few episodes of trial and error! Even Nick was thrilled with the first attempt at a home-made camping meal we each had a serving on our last camping trip and it tasted great. Much better then any of the store bought meals. And we knew for sure it was gluten-free.

Apple slices! Much better home made!
Of course, there are some things that I need to work on - like water to food ratios for rehydrating, but over all I would say this is going to be a very useful kitchen tool. There are plenty of other ingredients I need to practice with, both for my snacking and for Nick's meals. Fruit leathers require a little work, so I need to try them again. The apple slices are fantastic for traveling and I got a chance to try mango slices as well. Those were a lot of work but tasted really really good. What I personally like about doing my own I know exactly what is in them. I know the ingredients won't last as long as the store bought cases because there are no preservatives. But with good packing and sealing we can get an entire summer's worth of meals into a very small amount of space. The weight of the dehydrated meals is next to nothing which will make by packing even better for Nick. And with dehydrating fruit and making fruit leathers I'll have some good snacks for our camping trips without worrying about spoiling. I am looking forward to experimenting with some other ingredients and starting to combine things for meals. It's going to be a fun and productive summer with my new kitchen toy.
Before - a meal worthy of camping with! Chicken, rice, peppers, spinach and carrots
Same meal after adding water. Looks good!