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, ...

Nov 25, 2020

Winter Goals

After moving to Grand Junction, doing the entire Triple Crown of Moab made perfect sense. Drive 5 hours total, I race, Nick gets to ride his bike and it's a fast, fun weekend trip - unlike from Colorado Springs. It's three of Mad Moose Events' Moab races - Dead Horse Ultras, Arches Ultra, Red Hot and finally the Behind the Rock Ultras. For the ultra series it's two 50ks and one 50 miler - doesn't matter which of the races you chose for the different distances. You can do two of the first three, but everyone has to finish with Behind the Rocks. Of course, I had to go and make things difficult with my version of the Triple Crown.  Instead of being smart about it and picking the fastest race for the 50 mile, I went off "which race will have trails I don't want to ride?" as my criteria for picking my longest race. Makes perfect sense to me! But maybe not the smartest for the racing aspect of the series. 

Dead Horse - this would be one of the 50ks. Why? Because I can ride my bike on everything. I've actually ridden the 50k course a few times. I also know I could ride the out and back on 7-up for the 50 mile. This is also the shortest of the 50ks, coming in a few miles off pending on how your GPS works. Unfortunately, it's also the fastest of the 50 miles, with very easy and runnable terrain if your legs can handle the slick rock. There's the least amount of elevation gain in this one as well. The smart racers would pick this as their 50 mile. What did I say about smart though? 

Arches Ultra - I opted for my second 50k here. Same reasoning applied. There was nothing in the 50 mile that I haven't ridden already with the exception of the dirt jeep roads separating the single track sections. In terms of difficulty, it's challenging with a little more climbing then Dead Horse and slightly more technical terrain and trail following in places. There's some amazing views for sure, but all easily pedal-able for me. There's also the potential for sandy stretches on the jeep roads. Nick and I have experienced that sand first hand... not fun at all! Hard riding and slow running. 

Red Hot is just the 55k for the ultra series and is a new option after Dead Horse sold out. Since I was committed to my races already, I didn't pay much attention to this one. It's got some similar characteristics to Dead Horse though - starting and finishing with the same 4 miles, but exploring some other areas up in the Mag 7 trails. Given that it's a 55k, there's definitely some time given up for the series as compared to Arches or Dead Horse. 

One of the views I hope to see at Behind the Rocks! We've been out to the Amasa back area many times

And that leaves just Behind the Rocks - the classic Moab race and the longest running in the series. This would be my 50 mile race. This is the race that has several trails I have no desire to ride on my bike - namely the Hunter Rim portage, Jackson's Hole, Rockstacker and finally Jacksons. Both the Hunter Rim portage and Jackson's Hole would involve climbing down sandstone ledges, which is never fun trying to do with a bike. Challenging enough on foot! Rockstacker? I have a thing with left exposures and both Rockstacker and Jacksons have plenty of that - with some serious consequences for missing obstacles! In fact, the only time I've ridden Rockstacker, I had a bit of a meltdown with the exposure. I think I'd handle the trail better now, but... And then there's Jacksons. That one earns a Hell No from me. I've not been on it, but I've seen some videos. Ain't no way I'm gonna even think about riding down that! Of course, Behind the Rocks is also the hardest of the 50s - with the most elevation gain and the longest sections of minimally runnable terrain. So I'm putting myself at a disadvantage right away, but I'll get to see some cool trails! And it fulfills my goal of running the trails I wouldn't ride. So I'll take the chance.

Regardless of the outcome - it's going to be a fun winter with some new adventures!

Nov 19, 2020

I'll Just Run There

Now that Nick is finally here in Grand Junction, we've been able to do some fun exploring weekends. Lots of miles running and riding. One of the adventures I've been eyeing is the kinda thing that takes those long weekends of learning the trails and roads. With that in mind, there have been more then a few times where Nick has kicked me out of the van and I've run to the final destination. No better way to learn then actually running!

The first day was just an out and back while Nick rode with the guys. The first section of trail, and what might be the busiest chunk. My goal was to turn from the Loma Trailhead to the Salt Creek bridge and then back. I wanted about 20 miles and the Koko was the kind of terrain I needed for that day. Lots of runnable miles, but with some good climbing. As expected, it was quiet on Mary's out to Pizza Point. I met a few mountain bikers, but not to many. That stretch was also really fast - after the initial climb, a gradual downhill with just a few punch climbs. When the trails switched from Mary's to Lions, there was more climbing. Rocky and steep, forcing me into a power hike for a bit. Some great views of the valley and the Colorado River though! There would be more climbing after I popped off the single track to follow Koko further west. On some of the tracks, a few of the other runners had dropped down into Crow's Bottom. It looked like that was the route on the map, if you weren't paying attention. And you would avoid the really steep climb up the Mack Ridge Road. But the double track into Crow's didn't go all the way through to Troy Built, leading to even slower bushwacking and scrambling to get back onto the trail. I stayed on the Mack Ridge Road, climbing up to Troy Built and then descending down all the way to Salt Creek. Time to turn around!

This is a good place to turn around!

Every run adds a little bit of knowledge to the bank. An unanticipated camping trip allowed me to get another section checked out. This time, it really was a kick me out of the van situation. We drove to the Hawkeye trailhead and I again started running west. My goal was the Juflas Campground in Rabbit Valley where Nick would meet me after his ride. At the end of the road, I was once again on Troy Built, this time approaching Koko from the north. When I reached the split above Salt Creek, I dropped down to the bridge again. Over the bridge and into the unknown. I really didn't know where the trail was going this time. I'd decided to play with the technology on my watch though, and had built out the run as a route and loaded it into my watch. While the buzzing at some of the turns and twists in the trail was annoying, having the line on my wrist was kinda nice. There was a couple of miles of fun single track along the creek and railroad tracks, then Koko started climbing. And kept climbing. Gone was the nice, well used single track of the Mary's area. This was more rugged and seldom used singletrack. Fun! And some great views again. Too soon though, the single track popped out on double track. It would stay double track, turning to gravel road for the rest of the run into Rabbit Valley. I pushed the pace a little on the long stretch paralleling the interstate, listening to my music in one ear and the trucks on the highway in the other. Nick was waiting for me when I reached the campground. It would be a quick turn around to go ride bikes!

Looking down at the Colorado River from the top of the single track climb

A well marked trail is always the best!

That was 22 miles. Some fun singletrack, some mind numbing dirt road. Time for another big chuck of miles. This time, Rabbit Valley over to Utah. I wanted to at least reach the Westwater Road on that run. Once again, Nick kicked me out of the van with my map, my route in my watch and the spot tracker. I had a feeling I knew a lot of the route from a mountain bike race years ago, but wasn't sure. Either way, having the map and the route on my watch would get me to where I wanted to go. It was after a rain storm, so the road through Rabbit Valley wasn't super sandy. Still, the potential for pace breaking sand has to be monitored. Again, I settled into a solid pace, knowing that it was likely faster then what the ultimate goal would be, but where I needed to be running for my upcoming race. Other then some neat views of Western Rim, there was nothing memorable about this section. Just dirt double track in the middle of nowhere, with an eye opening climb up to the mesa near the end. I remembered the climb - I'd pushed my bike up it years ago. Nick saw me on the climb and yipped - I waved back and then continued on my way towards the Westwater Road. Still on a jeep road, but more interesting at least. I kept eyeing the single track dirtbike trail paralleling the route. That would be more fun, but wouldn't get me the data I needed. After what was actually a pretty neat and rocky descent, I t-boned the blacktop road. While Koko would turn left and head down the road, I turned right and took an unmarked double track back north. Hopefully, I would intersect a single track short cut to get back to the van. The Zion Curtain waited for us!

The ribbon of road (trail?) in the desert

He's the cutest little trail guide!

That's 40 miles or so covered. Just under 100 to go. But as winter settles into the La Sals, the scouting will have to wait. I'll turn to my maps and scribble notes about access points, support areas and other details. And ponder. A long trail attempt has always been a dream of mine. But is this the right trail?

Oct 18, 2020

Return to the Rainbow Trail

There is something about the Rainbow Trail that just draws me in. In 2018, it was a spur of the moment 50k that found me running under a canopy of gold, among a community of runners that really spurred my rebirth as a runner. In 2019, it was (almost) the culmination of a dream year with all the highs and lows that come with a 100 mile race. This year? Maybe a titch of redemption with a lot of learning involved. Redemption from Silverheels - saying that I could go out and run 60 miles hard and feel good afterwards. Learning is always a given at these events - from all aspects, mental, physical and preparation wise. 

There is also something about Music Meadows that calls the wind. All three years it's been windy. This year, the wind kicked up about 1:00, gusting around the parked cars. Guess that good night of sleep before the race was not going to happen! It was a restless night, listening to the wind and wondering if I was really ready for the upcoming miles. Soon enough, it was time to start getting organized to run. With my experience from the 100m last year, I knew that it would be chilly at the start, getting slightly colder as we climbing. I'd originally though about wearing my short sleeved shirt, but given the fact that it was hunting season opted for the brighter pink. Might as well be noticeable! I also decided to wear my good wind coat this time and just plan on leaving it on for a few miles after Music Meadows. A few gulps of coffee and some oatmeal later and it was time to run. I was in the last wave of the 100s at 4:10 so got to watch everyone else heading into the darkness. Inspiring and nerve-racking all at once.

The road up to Music Pass felt easier this year. I let go of staying steady and pacing and just went for it. Running hard and then power hiking. From last year, I knew the road and didn't need to search for marking, Just go up until you can't go up anymore, then get on the singletrack and start going up again! With the wave starts, there was a constant stream of of headlamps on the road, blinking in the darkness. And it was dark, no moon and clear skies. So amazingly dark that when I reached the meadow at the start of the Music Pass singletrack, I had to stop for a minute and turn my headlamp off. The stars were so plentiful and so bright. While I have yet to see sunrise from Music Pass, the stars are always worth the cold. After hole-punching my bib at the stop, it was time to head down. Last year, I'd been a little conservative - not wanting to blowup my quads in the first eight miles. This year? I didn't go crazy, but I also didn't hold anything back! It was actually pretty fun to float down the hill and relax into the descent. 

A quick stop at the van for my vest and some food, then it was off onto the Rainbow Trail. Everything seemed so familiar from last year. Almost the same start time, the darkness of the climb, then faint hints of sun on the horizon as I made the turn. Because of the waves, I didn't really know where I was in the race, but that wasn't really the point. I did catch one of the ladies in the 100k who'd started at 4:00. We chatted for a bit, then she took off again. We would yo-yo for a while. She would bolt away on the flatter sections of trail and the downhills, I would slowly close the gap on the climbs and more technical running. I did want to run a little harder, but also remembered last year. I'd run the first out and back on the Rainbow Trail much too fast just because I was in good company. Not this year. I'd decided that I would stay in my own world until Venable. If I felt good then, I would start thinking about racing. But until then... Just run.

Dropping down into Colony Creek, the sun peaking into the mountain valley

The sun started coming up mid-way through the stretch out the Colony Creek. Faint colors on the horizon then spilling over into blues and purples. It's the expansiveness of the sunrise on the Rainbow Trail that makes it amazing. You are just high enough above the valley with no huge mountain to the east. My fourth sunrise on the Rainbow Trail and each one has been spectacular in a subtle way. Even with the sun, it was still chilly. I was comfortable with my wind jacket on still, so decided I might as well wait until the aid station to take it off. No sense in being cold! It was still windy, a chilly wind teasing the small traces of sun warmth from the air.  Yeah. I'd leave the jacket on. As well as my headband. For some reason, I don't much like being cold. And when I have the gear to stay warm, I might as well!

The sun was fully up as I left Colony Creek. I stuffed my coat in my vest, hoping the next few long climbs would warm me up a little. I felt stiffer then I wanted for so early in the race - with my legs just not responding like I wanted. Oh well, maybe they would come around after some power hiking. Of which, there was plenty. I was being very careful with running and the rocky trail after twisting my ankle the Monday before the race. No need to take chances and add another DNF to the list from making things worse. It meant a lot of things I was able to run easily last year I was going rather slowly through. After all - there's no shortage of ankle biting rocks on the Rainbow Trail! Even with my power hiking and taking it easier then I wanted, I was actually still within sight of the leading woman. Until we hit the three mile descent into Horn Creek... She took off at the top of the ridge line, pressing a pace I didn't want to match. Oh well - if I caught her back, I caught her back. 

Horn Creek was quiet when I dropped down the rocky connector trail - just the 100 runners this early in the morning. I located my drop bag and tried to be as efficient as possible with refilling my bladder and getting some snacks. I got water and ginger ale to go in my soft flasks, then some bacon and a queasily to eat on the climb back to the Rainbow trail. Since my mom was volunteering there, I also broke the rules a little and got a hug! Time to head out to Venable. Again, I was wanting to run a little faster then what my legs and ankle would tolerate. I'd caught back up the leading woman and we were running together with one of the 100 mile athletes. The pace should have been easy. It was the same pace I had been running last year. But it wasn't - I just wasn't as comfortable as I wanted to be. It was a nice section of trail though, with some good conversation. And again, on the downhill to Venable, I was dropped. My confidence for trying to run down the rocky track wasn't there at all. We were doing a strong yo-yo again. I'd make up ground on the climbs, she would take off on the descents. Only this time, I wasn't making up the ground like before...

Time to get into my head and stop worrying about what everyone else was doing. That was hard this time and I couldn't figure out why. Too many minds. Too much internal pressure about what I should be doing and how fast I should be running at that point. It was a little frustrating. I think it was because of the history with the trail. After all, how many time had I taken that descent into Horn Creek? Why was I struggling so much this final time down? I really didn't know, but I couldn't shake it. Even when I got to to Horn Creek - this time a bustling hub of activity. The volunteers were all busy, so I had to wait a few minutes for water. No worries - such is racing in the time of COVID. The aid stations aren't a free-for-all anymore. I actually like some of the new rules at the aid stations, even if it does mean a little more time spent. 

My trail experience didn't seem to help much on the traverse back to Colony Creek. I kept forgetting how many little climbs and descents there were after long climb up from Horn Creek. Each time - oh, we must be there. Nope - false alarm! If it hadn't been so annoying, it would have been funny. The 15 miles between Horn Creek and Music Meadows has been my Achilles heel every year I've been on the Rainbow Trail. Even the first year, I just struggled on that sections - especially the stretch between Colony and  Music Meadows. You can see Music Meadows for miles along the rainbow trail. So close, yet so far... I know I was loosing huge chunks of time to the leading woman, and I had a feeling I was also being gained on. I had to focus on just staying moving, running and power hiking and not let the feeling that I was failing because I wasn't running get into my head. Forward momentum is still forward momentum. And I was catching some of the other runners on the trail, so no matter how cranky I was getting at myself, I was still moving well. 

Single track climb up to Music Pass

As always, Nick was ready for me at Music Meadows. He was once again going to pace me up the final ascent of Music Pass. I wasn't quite in a good mind when I came in, wanting to change up a few things on the plan. As such, we were both distracted and not paying attention to any other runners. I completely missed the woman who'd been closing quickly in the last six miles get her pacer and head back out.  As such, we heading out thinking I was second on the trail. I knew I wasn't going to catch the leading woman anymore, but was still focused on getting in under the current course record. That was been my goal all along - but I would  need to hustle to the best of my ability on the climb up and descent off Music Pass. Nick definitely pushed me hard on the climb. I was running and power hiking at a good pace until we hit the single track. I just wanted to keep moving though - the wind was cold and the sooner I got to the top, the sooner we'd be able to get into the trees. It was on the steeper section of the single track that I discovered I'd dropped into third as the other woman and her pacer passed us going down. I allowed myself to get frustrated and then pissed that I'd missed her. It took a bit to get back into a good mental spot, and I'm not sure I really did. 

Turn Around - always trying to keep a smile on my face!

Even with the less then stellar prep - including smoky training runs and stress of moving, I still had great time in the race. I met my goal of running under 14 hours, as well as having a solid second climb up Music Pass. Every ultra is a learning experiencing, including the ones that go well. There's always going to be down moments in any race. How you react is the key to a successful run. That's something I'm still learning.

Final sunrise on a great weekend

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.