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...

Nov 29, 2018


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 Mercedes Sprinter count? I see one of those in our future!) There's getting new toys (that 2019 Stumpjumper ST is calling my name...) Some people get tattoos to celebrate things (not ruling a new one out!) But us? We do things a little differently in the Thelen household. For Nick's 40th, it was getting discharged from the hospital with a brand new scar and a new lease on life - literally.

2016 Sheep Mountain 50
Photo - Sherpa John

I've hinted a few times on FB about my 40th trip around the sun celebration. Not a huge party - not my style. Instead, the search for the limits of my potential - going beyond the limits of ordinary experience. It's going to be a full year's journey, each step leading to the next challenge. And it started out as a dream - a goal I didn't ever dare talk about. After the Sheep Mountain 50 in 2016, I was wrecked. It was the hardest thing I'd done to that point. Yet, I found myself alternating between never again and I'm not ever going longer to what could be? Could I dig deep enough to go further - to 100k or beyond? Those questions may have been answered either 2017 or this year if not for my eye last year. And so I find myself looking at 2019 and finally believing that yes - I can dare to dream of Transcendence. Reaching past the limits I've placed on myself through accomplishing the extraordinary.

And what is that? The Human Potenital Running Series Transcendence Series. Six Races across 2019. One 100 mile race. One 100k race. One 50 mile race. Three 50k races. One huge challenge that thrills me every time I think about it - yet terrifies me to the core. Can I do this?

I'm totally blaming Sherpa John for this crazy idea. At first, I was planning on the Adversity Cup - a chose your own adventure of his races. Pick three different races, different distance and finish the Adversity Cup. I was already doing two of the three - the Last Call 50m and the Sangre de Cristo 100k. Add in one more and I would have the Explorer division finish. Then John added a 100m option to Sangre de Cristo. And while other 100m races have sounded interesting, that called to me. The trail, the wilderness, the environment. The challenge was there and that was the one I wanted to do. The K was changed to an M in my planning. I messaged John and asked how that would work with the Adversity Cup. His response? It's going to be part of the Transcendence Series....  Of course I had to look at that. I printed out the description and pondered it. I sent Nick an email. I scribbled notes on how I could make it work. I pondered some more. I wrote up an email to John with my plan and sat on it. I talked with Nick some more, reviewing the schedule for 2019. I could do it - I would have to drop a few other running races I wanted to do. But that was the corporate approval I needed. I looked at my plan again - on paper perfectly doable. And then I committed. I sent the email to John, telling him I was In.

Stories Ultra - 100k 
Tommy Knocker 12 - 50k 
Last Call 50m
Sheep Mountain 50k
Sangre de Cristo 100m
Sawmill 55k

From February thru to December. An entire year's worth of challenge. The last time someone finished was back in 2015. It was a little harder then I think - 5 races, one 100m, one 100k, two 50m races and a marathon. Only one women has finished. Do I dare to think I can be the second?
The best moments are the ones that come when we are challenged. Seeking the ultimate challenge this year!

Nov 25, 2018

Dead Horse Ultra

My first experience with ultra running in Moab. I'll admit, I love short runs in Moab - the thinking running that the technical singletrack provides just makes me happy. I knew when I signed up for this race that it would be different then any other ultra I've run. It might have the fastest course with the least elevation gain, but that would be offset by the nature of the trails. I've ridden every part of the course except for the road into and out of the trail system - the stem of the lollipop. So I knew when I started really focusing my training for Dead Horse that I had to do a lot of concrete running with plenty of excursions into Palmer Park and Ute Valley. I had to be ready for the hard surfaces and the whole body effort that that kind of running entails. Too bad I kept getting distracted from focused training....

As I mentioned before, this trip to Moab was originally a get-away for Mom and I. She was doing the 30k, I was doing the 50k. We'd ride and run and have a fun little trip. Then things changed. Nick had his surgery and all our spring camping trips got canceled. Vapor Trail 125 got canceled. The first one meant that we decided that Nick could come, ride his bike while we were running/riding and kinda tag along on the trip. The second had me pondering doing the 50m instead of the 50k... It was some serious pondering. At that time, I was looking at a 100m running race that required a 50m finish in the last two years to enter, which I didn't have. I strongly considered jumping up to the 50m at Dead Horse so I would have my qualifying race. Without Vapor, I would be able to train for a 50m and have a good race in Moab. Nick (wisely) talked me out of the 50m in Moab. We were going there for vacation and fun as well as the race. If I was doing the 50m, I wouldn't want to do much before the race and I would be way to tired after the race. Add in the effects of running that far on slick rock... I would be smarter to run the 50k as planned and then decide if I wanted to run further on that kind of terrain. I could run a 50m later to qualify if I wanted.

Race morning - darker then anticipated with cold temperatures. I debated shorts vs knickers multiple times prior to starting, finally going with shorts, but leaving my wind jacket on. At the start, I felt off. I didn't know what it was, but the fluidity and joy of running I'd felt while up on Ahab Thursday was gone. Instead I was stiff and unmotivated. Not the best feeling prior to a big race! Oh well. Even now, every race is still a learning experiance. While I knew the single track coming up, I knew nothing about the road. Given that, I hadn't bothered with a chart or plan. I was there to run. Nothing more, nothing less. As we started up the the first climb, I had to stay out of my head as several women passed me, running strong on the road. It was just the beginning of the race. Even after years of running, I still get into my head and start tearing myself down when I'm not running up to the level I think I should be. You'd think I'd know better by now...

As we decended into the valley below the Mag 7 trails, I was in fourth place, running comfortably along side third place. I could see the two women ahead of me, so just settled into the pace. This was the part of the race I didn't know - the road. And after the climb up, there was just as ugly a descnt down. I remember thinking that the climb would be painful at the end of the day... Pretty quickly we got to the first aid station. It was still chilly and I hadn't been drinking that much yet so really didnt need anything. I did want to take my jacket off though. The sun was starting to finally peek above the mesa. Lucky for me, there was a monster climb up from the aid station to the mesa! Perfect to power hike, take my jacket off and stuff it in my pack. I lost some time hiking as the two women in front of me both opted to run. But that was fine - it was too early to start racing. Still time for just running. I’d already decided that I would assess how I felt at mile 20 and decide if it was time to race or just finish. That was about the only plan I had throughout the race - stay in the moment and the mile I was in. Don’t think any further then the next mile.

Finally, we turned onto single track. Yay! Off the road and onto the fun stuff. I didn’t know first chunk of trail - when Nick and I had ridden Mag 7 last year, we’d decided to ride Great Escape instead of Arth’s Pasture. And while Arth’s was super fun running, we made the right choice for riding. One thing I didn’t like was how stiff I was. I wasn’t my normal fluid self on the rocky trail. My stride was choppy and I was searching for foot steps instead of just running. Not a good sign for the later miles. Soon enough, we hit the second aid station. This one had a slight in and out to get too it, and I was able to check in with all three women in front of me. They were all pretty close together and I was just behind. That was a good feeling, being almost in contact with the top three. I just needed to keep running smart. I didn’t need anything at the second aid station and just checked in and out. Back to singletrack. And on trails I knew - Getaway. We were starting to catch the 50m runners now, and I made sure to cheer each and everyone of them. They had a long way to go and a little encouragement can mean a lot. I was looking for one specific runner as well - another COS local. Lynne runs for the Smiling Toad, so when I finally caught here, the only thing I could think of to do was ribbit! Ribbit!! Hopefully the sentiment was appreciated.

At the third aid station, I had to get some water and a little food. That aid station was crazy as it was the drop bag location and crew point for the 50m runners. Lots of people all over. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the woman in second stopped a little longer there and I passed her when I left the aid station. As a result, when I was hearing a women’s voice behind me for the next few miles, I kept pushing the pace. Stupid running and something that I shouldn’t have done. I let my desire to hit a specific place override inteligent running. When she finally caught me and I realized what was going to, it was a little late. The damage had been done. We chatted for a while and then as we turned onto the road leading back to Arth’s Corner she was gone. As I fumbled with refilling my pack with some Skratch, my motivation vanished. I was walking, not getting things done the way I should and really not looking forward to the next chunk of trail. Great Escape. A trail much more enjoyable on wheels. Or maybe I was just projecting that I’d rather be riding my bike! But I was already in my head and not getting out of it this time. My pace was slowing and I was not putting the effort in that I had been before. But I was still in third, so couldn’t completely give up! It didn’t help with the mental bleh that we were catching the 30k runners and unlike the 50m runners, they weren’t paying attention to the 50k runners coming up behind them.

My legs were starting to rebel and I was looking forward to getting off the slickrock. Not the best time to be passed like I was standing still! Down into fourth. I tried for a short time - maybe a mile to keep up, hoping that I’d be able to pick it up on the road. Then the preservation mindset kicked in - why keep pushing so hard at this point when there’s other races coming up? No matter how hard I try, I’ve only been able to talk down the preservationist once. Even then, it wasn’t enough. Given how much I hurt after that race, it’s pretty clear why I tend listen to the preservationist. So I slowed and decided that I’d just run comfortably into the finish. It was only 4.5 miles. With a monster climb and decent between me and the finish! The climb up was as ugly as I’d thought it would be. I wanted to run the entire thing, but ended up walking. I don’t know if running would have kept me in fourth, but I was passed by two more women - one in the middle of the climb and one right at the top. Ugh. Trying to keep positive and maybe I could catch them back on the descent, I started to run. Nope. Wasn’t going to even match that pace going downhill! Time to just cruise into the finish.

While I didn’t meet my place goal, I was within my range for finish goal times, crossing the line in 4:24. A little slower then my dream goal for the race, but I was still happy. Every time I run a race, I learn something. This time? I love my mountain trails and mountain views. Moab slickrock is fun for short runs, but most enjoyable on wheels!

Nov 23, 2018

Moab Musings

It seems there’s always a early to mid November Moab trip for us. It’s a good time to be out there - between busy season and holiday season, but still warm enough to do most of the big rides. The last few years have been after the 25 Hours of Frog Hollow, so the focus has been riding bikes and having fun. This year, the trip was a little different. Having fun was still the focus, but with a higher emphasis on foot vs wheels. We also had a third party along, which meant no camping and 100% in the condo. More accurately, Nick joined Mom and I on a running trip with bikes. After his surgery at the beginning of the year messed with all our great plans, this Moab trip was the only chance he would get for a fun riding vacation. So when Mom said she didn’t mind him coming, he decided to join us.

Join us being a relative term of course. It was more just being along for the ride, but having to do some of the driving to get there! As such, he got to ride a lot of his favorite trails at his pace - no waiting on Tracy. (Not that he usually minds...)

Mom at Lunch Loops - we stuck to the eaiser trails, but the exposure was a bit much at times. 

Stop one was the Lunch Loops on the drive out. Mom and I headed out for a short ride on the easiest trail I could find. (Hard given that I’ve only ridden at LL twice - and never from that parking lot!) There was a bit of remembering how to ride a bike, as well as some skills work. That always happens the first time on new trails. We tend to forget how important the basics are when on home terrain that we don’t need to think about! Regardless, it was a good short ride for Mom and I. Just enough to stretch out the legs. Meanwhile, Nick got to rip a lap of Gunny Loop and Holy Cross...

Jump! Demoing some skills for Mom

We’d originally planned on riding Thursday, but when in Moab, I always want to run up to my favorite whale. Running nine miles the day before the race seemed silly, so we swapped things around. I ran my standard Hymasa-upper Ahab-Hymasa Loop while Nick rode all of Ahab. Mom said she would hike along Kane Creek while we ran/rode. There’s something about the Amasa Back trails - I love running there but not such a fan of riding - my mini melt down after Rockstacker a bunch of years ago colored the riding for me. I think I’ve actually run out there more then pedaled! This was the best run I’ve had out there. I was a little stiff from the drive, but felt fluid and smooth on the slick rock and strong in the climbs. Being in the middle of the week, the trail was empty when we started. One other car in the lot. As I was running back down Hymasa, the bikers were starting to wake up. Five different groups pedaling up, all giving me the “is your bike broken? look.” Nope. Not this time! But nobody asked at least. I probably had a lot more fun then some of them did - looking shell shocked and in over your head right after the cow gate isn't a good way to start a ride. I should know!

Don't ever underestimate the freedom movement provides!

Since we’d flipped Thursday/Friday that meant Friday was for pedaling. We dropped Nick off at the top of Getaway so he could ride the Mag 7 trails and then headed down to the main Navajo Rocks parking area. Time for some new to both of us trails! Since I had no prior experience with the Navajo Rocks trails, I took a guess as to which loop to ride. I had seen some videos of the Rambling Loop so, opted to try the other section. It was about 10 miles, so should be a solid two hours at Moms pace. Perfect. Hopefully the trails wouldn’t be to much over Mom’s ability level, but challenging enough to get her riding some new things. Overall, it was a great ride. There were some tricky spots for her and some of the steep slickrock sections were definitely too hard. But until we got onto Coney Island, on the last mile of trail, within sight of the van it was a perfect ride. Then things started getting really big. More traditional Moab riding then the first two trails. It definitely got a little challenging there! The ride took us a little longer then anticipated, so when we finally got down to the bottom of Portal Trail Nick was waiting, having finished his Mag 7 ride in less then three hours.

Nick making a techy climb look easy

Sunday after the race was the question mark. How tired would my legs be for a fun ride with Nick? Given that I wasn't sure about having the power for hard moves, we decided to go to Bar M area. Nick had ridden there while Mom and I were running, so he was familiar with the trails. I'd only run out there a few years ago, but on the easy trails. I was surprised when I started pedaling. While my legs were tired, there wasn't the deep fatigue as after both Pikes Peak Ultra and Sangre de Cristo. I wasn't fast riding, but I was able to dig and ride everything. The trails Nick took me on were a lot of fun. A nice mix of rocky, techy and easier sandy trails. I missed not doing some of the big epic Moab rides, but given the goals of the trip, I'd say it was a success!

Nov 15, 2018

Of Costumes and Snowstorms

At the end of the second Fall Series race, I was in second place in the series and looking forward to the last two races. I love running at both Ute Valley and Palmer Park - the tricky trails and challenging courses are really my favorites. I knew that it would be a challenge to try to make up the time between me and Kaylen, but was hoping with the technical running I would be able to make it happen. After all, 10 years ago, I won not only the series overall, but three of the races overall.

The Sunday of the third race dawned bright and warm for the end of October. As it was the Sunday before Halloween, tradition dictated that runners wear costumes. I wasn't one to turn down the chance to wear a costume - but needed to make sure it was something I could easily run in. Hippy dress seemed to be the best option and I knew right where to get one!

Because when you are running in a hippy dress, you just have to be happy!
Photo Peter Maksimow

At the start, there weren't as many costumes as in years past. Granted, back in 2008, you got a time bonus for wearing a costume, but still! You gotta have a little fun with things some times. I did feel a little self conscious in the dress. So short, so so short... But not any shorter then my skirts or shorts, just a little looser! After the lap and a half around the track, the self consciousnesses was gone. Time to run. I took advantage of the gradual climb up the sidewalk to work into the lead, but it wasn't by much. Both Kaylen and Haley were right behind me. The racing was on....

I held the lead across the main north-south trail, but could feel them behind me and could hear the volunteers cheering. So much for gaining ground on the easier trails! I knew the last half of the race was the most technical, but had hoped for a bit of a gap before entering the west ridge. Not going to happen.
Power hiking up one of the rocky climbs. 

After we dropped down into the center of the park, Haley surged ahead on one the short climbs. I was able to catch her back on the next descent/traverse, but the gauntlet had been thrown. We matched each other for the next few minutes, but she eventually charged up one of the steeper rock climbs that I stopped to walk. I was able to bring the gap down a little before the water station, but not enough. Now it was time mitigation to first and trying to gain time on second. I couldn't focus on Haley and run the technical stuff and at some point she disappeared from view. I figured I'd see her again in one of the open sections of the course, but no such luck. She was gone. In the time it took me to run the about half the west ridge, there was no sight of her again.

Eyes on the trail!
Photo Nancy Hobbs

But that didn't answer the question of how much time I had on Kaylen. I needed 34 seconds to overtake her in the standing and hold onto my 2nd place in the series. It was pretty clear that Haley would move back into first after this race. I dug deep, really trying to push the pace. I knew the gap had opened up, but wasn't sure by how much. And there really wasn't much time to look around on the technical terrain. This was the first race where Larry had brought out the Pink Cast and I didn't want to end up with it!

In the end, I didn't quite dig deep enough. As expected Haley took over the lead by a commanding margin and I slipped into third - only seven seconds behind!

Some time between Sunday November 4th and Wednesday November 7th, the forecast for Sunday the 11th took a 180* nose dive right into the cellar. A repeat of FS2 looked like it was highly probable. Except instead of the wide open trails of Bear Creek, we would be facing the technical rocks of Palmer Park.... Saturday - sunny and warm with perfect conditions. We went out riding for a short bit, enjoying the dry trails. To the north though, the clouds lurked. Throughout the day on Saturday, the clouds inched ever further south, with the temperature dropping and the moisture building in the air. But this is Colorado - there is always a chance the weatherman is wrong, right? Sunday morning, I woke up to cold temperatures and dry ground. No snow! I'm sure the hearts of 400 runners skipped a beat - maybe we would get lucky and just have cold?

Nope. As I puttered around getting breakfast organized, the snow started falling. And kept falling. The inches started adding up quickly! So much for a fast race and a test of my shoes for Moab... Time for plan B for clothes as well as the temperature was still falling as quickly as the snow. I opted for a little different this time - still wearing my tights with my Skirt Sports Hover Skirt (first one I got - a little big, so it fits perfectly over tights to add the extra layer of warmth), but this time just one long sleeved shirt and then my Gore Shake Dry. It was a little windy and the gore would be the perfect layer to protect me from the wind. And of course, my FH Beerworks team shirt!

Go time!
As the snow kept coming down, my goal shifted from try to make up time to just stay upright and not do anything stupid. As a result, I may have started out a little easier then I should have. We ran up the road ala Rescue Run and I wasn't super motivated to push the pace there at all. Since that was the only spot on the course where the traction was good, in hindsight, I should have. Getting a little further ahead sooner would have prevented some of the conga line issues I encountered on Templeton and allowed me to actually make any moves stick. Oh well...

As we climbed up Templeton, I was in third, with Kaylen in the lead. I moved around second when the trail leveled out, but was a little further back from Kaylen then I wanted. And there were a lot of guys between us... If I'd been younger, I would have blasted around them, bouncing of the snowy rocks and flying around corners. But that was then and with a little age, I've mellowed out. Taking my time to pass and staying upright was much more important then gaining time! I did manage to move around Kaylen just before then end of Templeton, but I had a feeling I'd waited too long. But more importantly, I was having a blast. Sure, the racing was slower and the terrain much more challenging. But the fun factor was through the roof! Adults, running around like kids playing in the snow. Forget about speed, forget about the bib number. In those kind of conditions, thinking about the race can only lead to slipping and falling. 

Oh yeah, I'm having a blast! Much more then the guy behind me...
Photo Peter Maksimow

But I still did have to pay attention to the race. Seven seconds isn't that much and we both knew it. Kaylen was killing herself staying on my tail for the middle part of the race. Every time I looked around, I could see her behind me. It never felt like more then 7 seconds, either. I wasn't sure where Haley was either, since she'd been right behind us on the climb to Templeton. Finally, when we crossed the road to enter Kininkinnick, Kaylen made her move. She charged up the hill, passing me on the road. I stayed right on her tail as we dropped down, but the trail was starting to get really slick and I was starting to slip a little more then I liked. After I almost slid out going around one of the corners, I decided to just chill out. Not worth getting injured over just a local race like this.

Sill having fun!
Photo Tim Bergsten

At the finish, I'd lost time to Kaylen and gained some time on Haley. Not enough to move back into second place, so third place would have to do. Not bad really if you think that the last time I'd run the full series was 10 years ago! Moving from first to third in 10 years while racing against women 16 and 10 years younger then me!

Final Results:
Haley Williamson - 2:59:07
Kaylen Adragna - 2:59:59
Me - 3:00:51

Nov 4, 2018

A question of careers

1. an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person's life and with opportunities for progress.
synonyms: profession, occupation, job, vocation, calling, employment, line, line of work, walk of life, métier
"a business career"

I was asked the other day why people used the term “career” to describe their running. The question took me aback - I’m as guilty as the next runner in regards to calling it a running career. It’s not my job - never has been and I never fell into trap of thinking if I pushed hard enough I’d be able to support myself running. Like most questions though, after I fumbled through an answer, I had to think about it more. And break out my dictionary!

In the colloquial use of career, there’s many similarities between runners and employees. When you are young, the focus is on advancement. As a runner, I took advancement to mean getting faster. As such, there was a singular focus when approaching races and I’m sure I missed a few things along the way. The focus on speed paid off though, with ever improving times and the “perks” that occasionally come with those times. In the dictionary definition, I was meeting the ideals of a career. It was an undertaking for an extended duration with the opportunity for progress. It wasn’t my job, but still a career of sorts.

Then comes the next phase of any career - long term growth. As a young runner in my 20s, there was the sense of invincibility in the movement and the inevitable creep of age was far from my mind. I would be able to run this speed for years. But we all know better. So as a runner, if the times aren’t getting faster, what is next? I still focused on the times in my races, but now it was also the experience. The journeys and the people who made up the journey. To me, this is when I started really developing as a runner - when I realized that if I wanted to be a lifelong runner it had to be about more then just speed. That transition characterized my 30s. The struggle between “I used to be fast! What happened?” and “there’s more to the race then just finishing first.” I think the Brewer’s Cup helped with that - by forcing me out of my solitary bubble and exposing me to all sorts of runners. All of those runners considered their years of racing as a running career. There is alway the opportunity for progress. It might not be a job to any of us, but it is still a career!

And now I stand on the verge of Masters Status. I’m racing against kids almost half my age - the young punk I used to be! It’s just another chapter to be written - but one that is colored by 20 years of experience. And this chapter still has the opportunity for progress. It will not be about the ever faster times of my youth however. As with any career, I’ve learned from those who came before. Speed is relative and there is more to running then just going fast. It is those lessons, along with the 100s of races I’ve done that establishes my running as a career. It’s not just the results or the times - it’s the growth over the years.