Monday, December 12, 2011


 It is really cold out today and I think that I would rather write about running than actually run...

Last weekend, a 20 mile run was a real challenge for me. I let myself dwell in the pain cave for a long, long time. I couldn't keep up with my companions (except when I got a little canine assistance), and I felt embarrassed and disheartened. After the run I was really sick for a long while. It was a major bummer.

Then I started to get perspective... I ran 20, fairly hilly miles at 5000 feet elevation, in full winter gear with a hydration pack during a 50 mile week. When I calculated my pace including stops, my pace was only slightly slower than my pace for my one-and-only flat, sea-level marathon. Whoa. Maybe I am getting better! Oh, and the people I couldn't keep up with... well, not only have they completed numerous marathons, but they have all qualified for, and run, the Boston Marathon.

At the end of last week, I was tired... really, really tired. After more than a month of streaking and steadily increasing mileage, adding more speed work, hill work and weightlifting, I was at a low point and had to put some energy into maintaining perspective. This is hard. Running every day is hard. Running 20 miles at a time is hard. Running 50 miles a week, despite being entry-level mileage for my friends, is hard! I am struggling because this is simply hard... but totally worth it.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Winning with Mistakes

Three weeks ago, I ran the Blue Sky marathon, my first trail "marathon" and my second marathon. Blue Sky covers over 27 miles of some of my favorite local trails. Not only was it listed by Trail Runner magazine as a "must-run" trail marathon, but it is put on by the most fantastic group of people I have ever met. It is an honor to call these folks my friends.
Me getting aid from Celeste and Maddie at mile 13.

The race is small, but the safety and comfort of runners is their top concern. For me, this is the most important test of race quality. Aid stations were well-stocked with necessities and friendly faces even when supplies had to be driven on rough roads in 4-wheel drive vehicles or hiked in. The course was patrolled by park rangers as well as EMTs on mountain bikes. It was really an amazing event.

I did not come close to my goal for finishing the race. I say that heat is my kryptonite and with temperatures reaching 85 degrees and no shade after mile 11, it was not an ideal race day for me. While I would like to say that my slightly disappointing performance (slightly because, hey, I finished) was all the heat, it was not. I made some mistakes. And I am very proud of these mistakes.
Still smiling at the beginning of the second half

What?!? You ran a less-than-ideal race, didn't make your goal and you are still proud? Yep. You see, normally I am very conservative in races. From my first step, I maintain a pace that I know I can maintain no matter what. I run happy and comfortable. However, I do not push myself. I do not race.

For Blue Sky, I attempted to race. I went out hard, but not too hard. I carried only what I needed and I was focused. I did not spend a lot of time waiting for people or making friends along the way. While I did enjoy the spectacular views and have the occasional exchanges with my fellow runners, I attempted to push myself each step of the way.

By half-way, I was ahead of my goal pace. I was running strong. I had some ups and downs before then, but I felt great at the halfway point. Then I got hot. I was not able to maintain pace. I slowed and felt "bonkish". I did not completely hit the wall, but I was in pain. I slowed. My legs cramped and I found even the most gentle downhill on easy trail almost unbearable. It was a great experience, because I learned a ton.
Slusher, the masters winner, greeted me with a smile at the finish.
Major lesson... It hurts to go slow. The heat causes my heart rate to spike (I learned this last year with a heart rate monitor) and I have a hard time maintaining pace. As I slow, my stride shortens and my hamstrings and calves tighten. I will have to figure out how to deal with this in future races.

Now I have a new goal for Blue Sky next year. I know that I trained hard, and I know that I can train harder. I broke through a mental barrier and I can take that with me to the next race.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Summer Adventures, Part 3

I have to get caught up on these, because the adventures keep coming! This weekend I attended my first Leadville 100 Trail Run. In a word, amazing. I will get to that in a bit.

The next adventure of my summer was the Lake to Lake Triathlon in Loveland, Colorado on June 26. I signed up for the race rather late because I was hesitant to do a road triathlon as it was not really central to my training goals for the year. As it turned out, the race was a special qualifier for the triathlon age group national championships, which were held in my home town of Burlington, Vermont. When I checked last year's results, I realized that, if I had a great day, I might actually be able to make it. So I decided to give it a try. I also would get to train for and participate in the race with my friend Celeste who was doing her first triathlon. Bonus.

Several issues with the logic of setting qualifying for nationals as a goal. It was my first triathlon in Colorado. This meant that not only was the race at altitude, but the course had much more hill-climbing on the bike. Colorado also breeds world-class cyclists like dandelions. They are everywhere. Since the bike is by far my strength, my competitive advantage was all but eliminated out here. Also... it was my second Olympic distance tri ever... it was a very ambitious goal.

I had a blast training with Celeste. It was great to see her confidence and excitement grow as the race approached. But the race snuck up on me. Last year, my first Oly was the DC Triathlon held on June 20. A few weeks before this year's race, I realized that I was in MUCH better shape in June last year. The windy, rainy spring here combined with some serious burn out and I was not running or biking as much as I should in order to be competitive.

The race was a disaster. My age group started with the elites and I spent the whole race trying not to be demoralized by how much I was passed. The swim, a wetsuit legal swim, took me exactly as long as the swim without a wetsuit last year. I was focused on trying to swim fast and I did not swim well.

The bike was ok, but I did occasionally space out and start the enjoy the beauty of the course before reminding myself that I needed to race! A highlight was the group of FCTRs at the bottom of a massive descent. They had gotten up at the crack of dawn to establish themselves (and a boombox) along the course. Their energy really gave me a boost and got my head back in the race as I blew by them at about 25 mph.
At least I had fun on the bike!

The run is where the wheels came off. According to my Garmin, I blazed out of the transition area at a brisk (for me) 8:15 pace. I felt great, but I knew I was going to have to back off. Mile 2 went by at about 8:45 and then I started to collapse. I felt sore, nauseous and on the verge of hyperventilation. I slowed and slowed and slowed and I didn't feel any better. Mile 3 was well below marathon pace and I continued to decline. I rallied briefly near the finish as I passed the FCTR Booster Club. I didn't have much fight left, but I did reel in one person on the final stretch... It was my slowest 10k in any race ever (including marathons!). I had no hope of qualifying.
Smiling... actually laughing at how slow I was going!

Cat, Scott, Sarah, and Chris greeted me at the finish. Their great energy and respect kept me from falling into a funk. We returned to the course to watch Celeste grit out the end of the race. She was amazing. During the run, she destroyed the lead I had built in the swim and bike, and finished faster than me. It was amazing to see her determination and competitive spirit. What an athlete!

Post race massage... so necessary
I am disappointed in my performance in that race, but it has left me with some goals for next year. Nationals will be in Burlington again next year. I am going to make it this time. I know that I gave the race everything I had. I was exhausted at the end. Next year, I am going to have more to give it.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Summer Adventures, Part 2: Big Horn Trail Races

The view from Dry Fork
The Bighorn Mountains rise up out of the prairie in norther Wyoming. They are a narrow band stretching parallel to I-90 and crashing through the border into southern Montana. They are quiet and isolated because they sit between two of our most famous natural areas, Mount Rushmore (ok, "natural area") and Yellowstone. They also, despite encompassing one of the nation's oldest national forests, are not as famous as their sister range, the Rocky Mountains.

The course was rerouted because there was still snow up there.
Each year, in June, which is normally spring in the Bighorns, for the last 20 years, a trail run is held. The original purpose of the run was to engage people in protection of the area when plans for a dam were being developed. Apparently it worked and the races continue and clearly enjoy a huge amount of support by local folks. The first Bighorn Wild and Scenic Trail run was held in 1992. The distances, in keeping with Wyoming's laid back culture, were roughly 50 miles (actually 52), 50k (actually 32.5 miles) and 30k (actually 17.5 miles). In 2002, they introduced the 100 mile distance.

Celeste and Cat on the 18 mile "home stretch." Amazing duo!
Early in the year, before I had ever run more than 26.2 miles, buzz about this race popped up on the Fort Collins Trail Runners listserv. I had no intention of signing up, but after Red Hot, I knew I wanted to do more 50ks. One Tuesday night, Chris H. and I made a pact to sign up. Unfortunately, the race was full when I went to register. The 50 miler was still open, but that seemed like too much.

Ean leaving on the 30k... she set a PR. Go Ean!
As excitement built about the race, I decided that it would not be horrible to just go and check it out. I convinced Chris to join me, so the dogs and gear were loaded into the truck and off we went. We arrived in Sheridan, WY in the evening. It seemed like everyone in town was excited for the race.

Alex brightened up when he saw his fan club at the aid station.
We wedged Chris' truck and camper in the campsites held by the Mays, the Walters, Mary and Scott (Celeste was already on course with Cat). We arrived after the 100 mile start, but did attempt groggily to wish the 50 milers good luck as they passed the camper (I am pretty sure none of them heard, but we tried!). Later that morning, we headed to the Dry Fork aid station in time to see the 50k and 30k starts and cheer through a lot of the Fort Collins Crew. We had more than 15 runners across all races and it was a joy to see the boost they got as they dragged themselves, tired, sweaty and a little beat up, into an aid station where they were greeted by friends.

After ensuring that each runner had passed through Dry Fork (we did miss a couple of the super fast guys), we joined the rest of the Fort Collins Love Bubble at the finish line to cheer in every last one of our friends. At the awards breakfast in the morning, about 1/3 of FCTRs walked away with awards. What an amazing showing.
Brian finishes his 1st 50-miler with daughter Sandis

As we drank beer and cheered at the finish line, a plot was hatched... Celeste, Ean and I will run the 50 mile next year. Ean put it in her blog, so it is on! And I am excited. Next year it will be me running my longest race ever, through beautiful wildflowers, over amazing terrain, and being greeted at the finish line by a bunch of sweaty, tipsy people, who also happen to be some amazing friends!
FCTRLB (Fort Collins Trail Runner Love Bubble)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Summer Adventures, Part 1

In my last post, I mentioned that I was back on the training wagon... it sorta didn't last too long. Well, that is not true, I have been running, biking and swimming up a storm, but I have not been on any prescribed training program. I am okay with that, but my race results are sure to show the effects. I have spent most of June and July exploring mountains at a slower pace and really developing a love affair with Colorado. The next few posts will contain the highlights and get us caught up.

June Hiking -
Gotta learn my peaks, but I think this is Long's

Looking down at Estes Park from Estes Cone

I took a few trips with a new friend who showed me parts of Colorado he loved. We did a lot of hiking and camping. I felt like I was back to my roots. We visited Rocky Mountain National Park and hiked Lumpy Ridge and Estes Cone. We bumped around the bottom of some of the 14ers around Buena Vista and camped high above Salida on BLM land far away from everyone and everything.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

The biggest adventure was a hike down the Tomichi Route into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Now it is called a route because you actually "hike" down a rock slide and there is no trail. When we stopped at the visitor center to get the required permit, the rangers all gathered around with raised eyebrows when my companion indicated that he had taken the route before. Apparently, once is enough for most folks.

Sliding down the Tomichi Route
Sunset over the Canyon
Although the hike was only 1 mile each way, the loose, talus-strewn route  with an elevation change of 1930 feet made this route pretty challenging. We had to go one at a time to avoid killing each other with rocks kicked loose. We rested at the bottom along the swollen Gunnison River, devouring several bagels each and falling asleep in the cool shade at the bottom of the canyon. We crested the rim of the canyon again 6 hours later. Yes, it took us 6 hours to "hike" 2 miles. But, the park suggests that descent along that route take 1.5 hours and ascent take 4.5 hours (which they handily point out is 3 times the descent time)... so given our extended pit stop, we made pretty good time.

Wildflowers in CB

We wrapped up the trip camping in the same spot as I had on my very first trip to Colorado 15 years ago. It was just outside Crested Butte, so before heading back to reality, we tempted ourselves with a quick peek at the trails leading out of CB... a future trip will be needed!

Next up... Big Horn Trail Races

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Back on the (Training) Wagon

The last few months have been filled with a lot of recovery and relaxation. I have rediscovered my love of biking and just being outside. Although I have always appreciated nature, the running miles that I have put in over the last year have changed that relationship a bit. This spring I spent time hiking rather than running through the mountains, and taking long, leisurely bike rides that allowed me to connect with friends.

A few weeks ago I started to ramp up my swimming and biking workouts, and I added in a few, shorter runs. I returned to the Tuesday night trail runs with the Fort Collins Trailrunners and was quite content with my place at the back of the pack. I am again reminded of how fortunate I am to be able to run with such an amazing group. Where else can you find folks who can laugh and joke their way through 20 mile runs up and down mountains?

My focus for training this year is balance. Last weekend, I did my first "long" run in preparation for October's Blue Sky Marathon. It took a long time, but I really enjoyed my time on the trail. Although training is a process of breaking down and building up physically, I am going to try to maintain a consistent upward trend mentally.

View from our campsite in White River National Forest
I followed that long run with several days of fun in Vail at the Teva Mountain Games. My friend, Danielle, accompanied me to the mountains near Vail where we met up with the May family in a beautiful camping spot in White River National Forest. On Saturday, the Mays (minus Alex), Danielle and I ran the Mud Run. It was 3 half-mile loops with a 30-foot mud pool near the end. It was Danielle's first race ever, and I got as excited as always when I get to be around someone meeting the challenge of a new run or ride.

This week, I have attempted to return to some type of discipline. The week has been full of little triumphs that have left me tired, but motivated.

I did a short hills workout on Monday and swam with Celeste, who is training for her first triathlon, the Lake to Lake Tri on June 25. That is going to be an amazing race because not only will I again get to be around someone meeting a new challenge, but the race is also a Triathlon National Championship Special qualifier. The top 33% in each age group will be invited to nationals, which are being held in my hometown, Burlington, Vermont. Based on my results from my last Olympic distance triathlon, I could make it, but there are so many differences in the course and my conditioning... and the inherent uncertainty of a race... that qualifying would be a great bonus, but not a prerequisite for happiness.

Tuesday I ran with the Trailrunners and, although I wasn't fast, I felt better than I have in a while. Wednesday I finally rode all of the hills along the Horsetooth dams. It wasn't fast or pretty, but I made it. This morning was an interesting 55 degree swim at 5:30am in Carter Lake. I wore my sleeveless wetsuit and my arms completely froze. If it were not for Celeste's energy and fantastic attitude (and refusal to freak out in her first open water swim), I am not sure I would have made it.

So, in sum, I am back on the training wagon. I bring with me a new attitude and a gentler approach. I am going to celebrate little triumphs and hope maybe there are some bigger ones and some fun adventures along the way. I guess they are inevitable when you lack common sense and the ability to say no.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Phenomenal Weekend!

After eons of rain, stress from exams, severe allergies/respiratory infection, I was finally able to get outside and love Colorado this weekend. I forget how much I need to be outside!

This season's training is off to a slow start. I am feeling recovered from the overtraining, but I am ramping back up very carefully. The end of the semester was two weeks of massive stress, so I focused on being very gentle with myself. I had very little time, so I focused on easy bike rides and swims paying very close attention to how I feel and only working as hard as I want.

Through this recovery process, I have learned to really celebrate what I have accomplished and enjoy my sports for just being sports that bring me pleasure. I don't need to be faster or stronger than anyone... this week, I bought a "new" bike. It is a 1979 Schwinn Suburban cruiser for commuting to school. I LOVE IT... not because it is fancy, but because it reminds me that riding bikes is fun. I can just take it easy and revel in the pleasure of the journey...

Mindy and Danielle starting up the trail
So, this weekend was focused on just that idea, with some pretty cool accomplishments thrown in. Saturday, I felt like I should run, but I have a terrible cough that was pretty unbearable after my run on Tuesday. I decided to substitute a hike, and, fortunately, my friend, Danielle, was available to accompany me. We chose to do the round trip on Gray Rock in the Poudre Canyon. I had hiked most of the route once before, but we ran out of time and were not able to summit. Yesterday, I finally got to scale the big rock and was rewarded with beautiful vernal pools and a rainbow that appeared below us. This hike allowed me to let go of the stress of the semester and really get recentered. What a gift!

Photo taken at 25 mph
Today was quite an adventure. Along with my friend Dave, I participated in the metric century ride (61 miles) of the Ram Cycling Classic, a fundraiser for the Global Social and Sustainable Entrepreneurship program of CSU's business school. We were treated to a windy, but warm and sunny outing, which was Dave's longest self-propelled journey to date. I love being with folks who are reaching new goals!

Dave was a rockstar... he crushed the ride on a steel 10-speed. His setup proves that tech is no match for.... toughness, strength, idiocy? I dunno, but it was pretty impressive to see him motor past folks on $5,000 road bikes! I had a blast for most of the ride (except for scary wind gusts from the side) and enjoyed taking pictures and hitting over 40 mph for the first time.
Dave riding motoring along the flats

The ride was followed by a couple of New Belgium beers, great pasta and live bluegrass from a band I really like. The afternoon wrapped up with a quick trip to the hot tub and a stop at the cookie store.
My bike with cows... one stinky aid station

View from the Gray Rock trail

Vernal pool at the TOP of Gray Rock

Rainbow below us on the way down from Gray Rock

The Gray Rock

The meadow on the Meadows trail to Gray Rock

Minutes earlier, I was on top of that rock behind me

Biking and hiking. Beer and bluegrass. Cookies and friends... I couldn't ask for a better time!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Another Athlete Allegory

... or "Oh, Yeah. Now I Remember Why I Do This."

I should have posted a Horsetooth Half race report, but I have not gotten around to downloading my pictures, so that is going to have to wait. I just had a mountain bike induced revelation that I thought I would share.

Don't know how many of you know this about me, but I am no stranger to anxiety. Mostly I manage it by running, biking, swimming or doing feats of insanity that prevent my brain from getting carried away. It works pretty well most of the time.

I went for a short mountain bike ride today after having worked on papers and presentations since yesterday afternoon. I decided on the Pineridge Trails (right near my house) because time was short and, since I was alone, I wanted to be within hobbling distance of my house. I am not highly coordinated on the bike.

I am just getting back into mountain biking after not going out much at all last year. I need to build confidence and strength, so I went out with the intent of just making it around the loop and being alive at the end. I didn't need to go fast, and I would not beat myself up for putting a foot down here and there.

I had run the trails enough that I knew where the tougher spots would be. Let me say that I am aware that none of Pineridge is exactly hard, but I am super chicken when it comes to the mountain bike. Don't judge.

I started down the mellow part of the loop. I was amused by the heron I startled 3 times before he let me pass about 20 feet away from him. And I saw a flock of pelicans. As I started up the far end of the loop, leaving the really easy part... the part that I knew that I could handle... my anxiety started to grow.

I got a bit shaky in spots. I freaked myself out on stuff that I probably could have handled. I kept thinking about the upcoming steep part. I knew that there were big rocks and a pretty steep drop off the side of the narrow trail. The more I thought about it, the worse I handled what was right in front of me. At one point, I pulled over to allow a paceline of young men by. I took the opportunity to remind myself, in the words of a new friend, "You are okay where you are." And then I carried on a little calmer and with, literally, a lot more balance.

I began to enjoy the ups and downs, twists and turns, and before I knew it, I was through the section that I had feared. I even chose to take a more technical route to the end of the loop.

It occurred to me that I needed to take a lesson from this ride. There is something in my personal life that is going to come to a sad end. It is out of my control, but I have time before that happens. Rather than being nervous about how badly it will hurt when that happens, I should choose to enjoy the ride I am having right now. If I do that, I will probably handle the bumps along the way better, and I know that I will spend more time enjoying and less time fearing.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Overtraining... oh, I messed up

Saturday was a beautiful day. The sun was shining and the temperature rose into the 80's. I invited myself along on my friend's run at Devil's Back Bone and was really excited to check out some new trails. His intent was to run about 4 miles, so I figured I would just stay out longer.

I arrived earlier and did a little warm-up recon jaunt of about 1 mile. Things did not feel great, but I was hoping that, after I broke through my 3 mile warm-up barrier, life would get better. It did not. Things got really bad, really fast. Before the end of my second mile (now with Running Buddy in the lead), I was crawling along at an alarmingly slow pace. I begged him to go ahead so I didn't ruin 2 people's runs, and I continued to slog away.

I am not even sure what I was doing up the hills reached walking pace, yet I was gasping for air. On the down hills, I was so uncoordinated and clumsy that I ended up walking too. Before the third mile, I was far enough behind that Running Buddy had turned around and come back fearing I had died.

While I knew I wasn't going to die, I knew that I was not okay. It was not an urgent, panic-ridden realization. It just dawned on my that I had finally pushed it too far and I was, most likely, suffering from overtraining syndrome. Crap.

This is a hard and embarrassing admission to make. I don't like to admit that I screwed up my training and that my body is not able to handle what I have been putting it through. I feel like it is an indictment of me as an athlete... if I were fitter, I wouldn't have gotten overtrained. But, if I am going to write about my successes in training, I have to write about the failures.

I have been flirting with overtraining for months. I bumped up my mileage big time in January and have been holding on since then. I successfully managed it by tweaking my mileage and intensity while I was just running. About a month ago, I started to incorporate bike and swim workouts, and I think that is how I got in trouble.

I not really decrease my running mileage by very much because, although I was running fewer days of the week, my weekend long runs were quite long (most weeks well above 20 miles) and I also had quite a few races in there. Now I realize that I also used swimming and biking, activities for which I have not built endurance in recent months, as recovery. I think that I was not recognizing that getting back into the pool after 6 months was a lot more stress on my body that I expected. Likewise with the bike. I thought, "Hey, I am in good shape. I can run 20 miles no problem, so I can swim a mile or so and bike 30-40 miles without a problem, right?" Flawed logic.

I also drove myself into overtraining. As my performance declined, I just worked harder. I have never made it very far to the front of the pack, so I thought I was just in bad shape. If I worked harder, I would do better. It was frustrating that the opposite happened. Even more frustrating given that I know how to train smart.

So, I am benched. I have not run since Saturday. My legs and joints still hurt, but I can now make it to the top of the stairs without being out of breath. My plan is to take this entire week off and then start slowly building mileage again. Running Buddy suggests that I limit myself to runs of 5 miles or less and that I only run once a day. We'll give that a shot and see how it goes. I am open to any suggestions.

It will certainly be interesting to see how the Horsetooth Half Marathon goes. It could be a stellar race because I am well-rested. It could be tragic if I am still overtrained.

I am making lemonade from the lemons though and using this week to get caught up with friends and sleep. I am happy to report that I am not suffering from the stress I normally associate with lack of running. I think it is because I am really, really tired.

So, I will let you know how it goes. Take it easy.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

24 Hours of Utah

It seemed like a good idea at the time. After having run several 200 mile relays (on teams of 11 people), I thought, now that I am an "ultrarunner" running for 24 hours should be a piece of cake. And thus began the journey of the FCTR Extreme Team at "24 Hours of Utah: The Run" (man, I love a race with a subtitle.)

On Friday afternoon, the Mays (minus Ean... sad face) bundled me into the car and whisked me off to Utah for the second time in just over a month. After a few hours of driving we arrived to a cold, windy campsite graciously staked out by Brian, who had been in Utah with his family all week. Man, it was cold!

Maddie helped me get my tent up and I could not get myself into my sleeping bag fast enough. Despite the fact that I brought my -20 degree bag, I was pretty cold all night. When my alarm went off at 6 am I began the first iteration of the ritual I would reenact every 3-4 hours through the night: extend one gloved hand from the safety of the sleeping bag to collect all clothing necessary; drag clothes into sleeping bag and lie on them until warm enough to touch without gloves, frantically change while trying to keep sleeping bag completely closed, emerge quickly from sleeping bag (like ripping off a bandaid), emerge from tent and sprint toward a hot drink and start line.

The race began at 7am as the sun rose over the desert. I was hopeful that the rising sun would bring corresponding rising temperatures, but the wind seemed to negate those and it stayed pretty cold all day. I headed out on my first lap around 9:30 with Cat hot on my heels. We were a few minutes ahead of our fellow Fort Collins runners, but I knew there was no way that I would beat Cat. She caught me in the first mile and jauntily said, "Man, you are hard to catch" as she disappeared up the trail in front of me.

I worked hard that first lap. The course was beautiful starting with some technical bits at the bottom, leading to a long climb on slick rock and then descending back to fun single track before dumping out on a road for a sprint to the exchange. I went the opposite direction in the second lap, and it seemed much easier. I felt that I put in less effort and managed to improve my time by a minute despite taking time to take pictures and having to walk the down hill because I got cramps (who gets cramps running down hill?!?)

The Mays greeted me at the end of each lap. Maddie ran me in, but we had an agreement that she had to run slow so that she didn't make me look bad! It was a great thing to look forward to. As I finished my 2nd lap, Micah and Maddie were super excited to show me our new "den". It was amazing.... The Perrys had brought a canopy tent with sides. there were rugs, chairs, cooler full of food. It was a great place to chill out after laps and get going before them.

After my first two laps, my pace slackened a bit. I had done the first part at marathon pace, which made me happy. Despite his best efforts, Alex couldn't pull me faster on my first night time lap, and I felt like I was letting myself down.

After a few hours of sleep, I headed to the exchange for my last lap. Rob was out, and if he returned when expected, I would have to run really hard to give Brian a shot at finishing a final lap before the 7 am finish. Fortunately, Rob was few minutes behind schedule, so my last lap was going to be the team's last lap.

As I left for the last go-round, I passed Cat. Lindsey and Celeste were going to run the opposite direction and they were just a few minutes behind me. I didn't think that there was any way that I could stay ahead of them, but I was willing to try... until I twisted my ankle... and started tripping all over the place. When I crossed paths with the other runners a little short of my halfway point, and they were flying down the hill singing Journey songs, I knew they had it. I wish I had more to give it, but the harder I pushed, the more I stumbled and got frustrated. The ankle sent a good reminder of my physical state as I continually twisted it on the way down the slick rock.

So, I opted for safety and I adjusted my pace. The other Fort Collins team, consisting of 3 runners, had done an amazing job all day and night, and they were going to pull it out in the end. So, I enjoyed the sunrise. I turned off my headlamp and ran the last mile by the light of the rising sun. I finished a long 14 minutes after Celeste and Lindsey. But I finished strong.

Sunrise start

Alex at the start line "What am I doing?!?"

Cat finishing lap 1 looking cool

Celeste taking off

Beautiful Joselyne-Rob handoff during the sunny lap

Celeste powering toward Lindsey and Wilie

The big rock we ran around

View from the top

Lindsey, Maddie, Celeste, Micah, Alex and Brian: Happy Runners and support crew
I guess I forgot that it was a race. The comradeship, fun, and beauty were the top things on my mind. I will have to learn to be more competitive and drive myself, but I will leave that for another race. For this one, I will focus on the shocked expressions of the aid station workers as Celeste and Rob did the electric slide at 4am. I will remember the fantastic determination of people the like the only female 100 mile competitor who gashed her face horribly on a very early lap, but continued to run finishing in over 29 hours. I will remember how bright the stars were when Alex made me shut my light off at the top of the climb and enjoy the darkness. I will feel good about the laps that I ran at marathon pace and recognize the need to work on night running and mental strength. I will take all of the good parts and leave the bad parts to shrivel up in the desert.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Every other week insane runners have the opportunity to drag themselves up a massive incline, spiking heart rates, burning quadriceps, searing calves, gasping for breath (or, if you are like Pete, breathing like a not-to-distance freight train) and, with luck, not vomiting from the effort. This is done while trying to catch slower runners who have left the safety and tranquility of the parking earlier, and while being chased, like a wounded animal, by the masochists who have been able to complete the 3.3 mile, 1750 foot climb more quickly in previous outings.

We short-hand this little adventure "Towers", and I dread it. I have only journeyed up the full length of Towers, so called because the route takes Towers Road up to radio towers at the top, about 5 times including tonight. I am told that the torture lessens with time, but this will need to be proved to me. My experience is that I start well before most people even arrive at the base, run myself until I keel over gasping (well, that only happened my first, and fastest time) and then, at the steepest part, within half a mile of the finish, I am passed by a herd of gazelles who don't seem to be having any trouble trotting up the slope that makes me want to crawl into the woods and go fetal... mountain lions be damned.

This is not a fun experience for me. Again. I. Dread. It. For several days before my first ascent, I was seriously nervous. I feared humiliation all week, but the actual running of it was worse that I had expected. After a few outings, my pre-Towers panic has reduced to a number of hours rather than days. I still fear it.

I have several tricks that I use to motivate myself. The mental preparation takes a lot out of me. Today, I got help. It was amazing!

On my bike ride home from school, I started to think about my friend Christine. She changed my life  when she asked if anyone wanted to run the 2009 Global Race for the Cure with her. I had only run one other race in my life, the 2006 Cherry Blossom 10-miler. Training and running that had been a lonely experience. I pretty much stopped running after that. However, I was not about to let Christine run this thing alone, so I signed up. After that, she kept suggesting that I join her at races. She got me out on my bike. Through her, or outings with her, I met many of my best friends in D.C. I learned how to race and have fun. Most importantly, I gained confidence in myself as an aspiring athlete.

Christine is running her first half-marathon on Saturday. I cannot tell you how much I wish I could be there for her. I have no doubt that she will obliterate my PR, but I am looking forward to that so that I have a new goal time for the half that I will run next month. She has always set a bar for me.

When I arrived home, I had a package from Christine. It was a fantastic surprise (and lucky cuz I almost never check my mail 2 days in a row as I did this week). She had already sent me the book "Running Through the Wall" to congratulate me on my first ultramarathon, and now she was sending along another gift. The package included a beautiful card made by her cousin in which she said, among other things, "it is great to see you out there pushing yourself." (and she also included a race calendar for EX2 Adventures, a race company of fantastic, supportive and fun folks)

What a gift to get on a Towers day! A reminder of how far I have come and that I need to keep getting out there and pushing myself... carefully, so I don't break... but steadily taking on new challenges and sharing new adventures.

So I went to the hill tonight. It took longer than ever for me to get to the top. I wanted to stop, but a little encouragement from my friend 1600 miles away would not allow me to give up on myself. I ran it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

... and it just keeps going

Last night we had quite the adventure on the weekly Fort Collins Trail Runners (FCTR) Reservoir Ridge social run. A sudden temperature drop and near hurricane force wind gusts made for some interesting, and funny-looking running. I am sure that if any cars saw us as we attempted to run while being buffeted like rag dolls, they commented on what a fit group of drunks were on the trails.

I was super tired, but Lindsay's promise of a free beer for being her cheerleader on Saturday (though I am not sure I did all that much) lured me to the Trailhead. I am so glad that I went because, again, I enjoy the FCTRs so much.

We had a fun conversation about how we all read each other's blogs. I learned about a few new ones, and I checked them out today. What a treat to have such amazing people around! I get so much energy from each interaction with these folks, even when they make me run up an evil mountain that makes me want to go fetal.

This weekend, I get to enjoy a relay with some of my favorite folks in the group. Friday morning we are headed back to Moab, Utah to run the 24 hours of Utah. My team consists of Alex, BrianJoselyne, and a new friend from Boulder. With luck Cat and Celeste will also have a team (though both of them are nuts enough to do the whole thing solo).

It may be completely insane to be looking forward to running roughly the equivalent to a marathon in 24 hours, through the night, in the desert and getting no sleep, but I am psyched. (check out Joselyne's blog for a note on running addiction). It isn't just that we are running, it is that I am going on an adventure with folks who do not let me let myself down.

In the months that I have been running with them, I have lagged far off the back of the pack numerous times. I have never heard anyone say anything unfair or mean about anyone else... not once. This is a radical change from what I have experienced before in group workouts. There is a good bit of competition in the group, but it is the definition of healthy competition. The only thing that would disappoint anyone in this group is if you just gave up... and that is pretty hard to do when you are out in a beautiful place with beautiful people.

So, off we go for another adventure. I don't know how this one is going to work out, but I am fairly certain we can't help but have a blast.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

It takes two (or more) baby!

This weekend was chock full of activities that were greatly enriched by the presence of others. While I enjoy my time biking, running and swimming alone, I had done that a lot last week. This weekend's adventures were not only fun by nature, but fun because of who was there.

This is what I can take away from this weekend. These are nothing new or very profound, but a nice reminder...

1. When you bring others along, you can celebrate their achievement just like they were your own. Saturday was a riot of running activity with 20-30 runners taking off for a circumnavigation of the Horsetooth Reservoir (followed by a really great BBQ at Alex's and Ean's). The routes ranged from 9 miles (which wasn't really a circumnavigation, but still a great run) to more than 34 miles. It was my first circumnavigation and I chose the route that was originally slated to be 23 miles, but we opted out of one big hill so we came in around 21.5... The group I ran with for the last 10 miles included two people who were running their longest distances ever. One was adding an additional 10 miles to his longest run. It was amazing to be there and watch them support one another, build brain calluses and amaze themselves. I thrived vicariously through their experience. Can't do that when you are alone~

2. When we are with others, we go further. Today was a 34 mile road ride. The route we took is roughly the route that my friend will have to complete when she does her first triathlon in June. There were four of us and we headed south to Loveland in a fully diheartening wind. It came at us at an angle, so there was no drafting. We just had to put our heads down and grind it out for 10 miles. For a couple of folks, this was the first ride of the season, and it was no piece of cake. Once away from that road, the ride was beautiful and fun. As we finished up, one rider declared that, if it wasn't for us, she would have turned around after a mile of that wind. The crew got her through to the pretty spots, and she would have missed out if she had to get through it on her own (and I don't blame her!).

3. Having other people there let's you see yourself in a different light. This is probably the most important one. Again this week, I ended up pretty far in the back of the pack at group runs. I have been frustrated by my performance, and I don't feel like I have improved at all. At the beginning of yesterday's run, the group dropped me. I ran on very tired legs and had to work hard to keep myself going. The beautiful weather and scenery helped me keep a positive attitude, but I was really lagging behind. Soaking in the sun and enjoying cold beer after the run, we all chatted about our experiences from the day. "You looked strong", "I couldn't have made it without you." "You were a great cheerleader even though I did want to punch you sometimes. Thanks." "Wow, you are a much stronger runner now than you were a few months ago." "I am really glad you joined the gang," Hearing things like this, and having folks who remind me of where I started gives me the motivation to keep going. I don't feel like I have gotten any better. Improvement is incremental and sometimes hard to see from the inside. But others see it, and that allows me to give myself a break.

So, this is recovery week. I will not do "speed" work in the pool, on the bike or at the track, nor will I do strength work. I will run Towers on Thursday, but I will just take it as easy as I can.

Next weekend is 24 Hours of Utah. I am running it on an "extreme" relay team. It will be a blast, and I will let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The need for speed... and exceling at mediocrity

Several friends have posted really creative and beautiful things on their blogs lately and I am feeling a bit dry. I am a bit embarrassed to just talk about workouts, but I think it is important to share frustrations and challenges. It certainly helps me to know that good athletes have days that they don't want to get out of bed, that they have workouts that they dread, and that they mess up. I hope someday to be a good athlete, but I hope that just by being in the middle of the pack, I can remind the folks at the front that they have not always been there, and remind folks at the back that they are fine where they are, and, if they want, they can work their way up too.

Last week I started my first multi-sport build cycle of the year. My priority is speed with run, bike and swim taking focus in that order. It is a depressing process. I don't seem to get faster. I think that the excitement of the beautiful trails and the fun of running with great people has caused me to run faster than I should. Then, when I go to do "speed" work, I am tired and just training my body to go slower. There is a lot of literature on this. And a recent, succinct article in Outside magazine gets to the point
Beware of the Black Hole

Today I had a hard time running 4 consecutive miles at marathon pace. Ok, it is windy and I am a little under fueled, but I think I just went to hard on the bike yesterday. I have to own where I am and accept that slow and boring is where I need to be for most of my workouts. It is hard to watch my running buddies pull away, but, if I don't slow down and train smart, I will never be with them.

I am looking forward to tonight's social run. Not only will it be the first run in day light, but it will be a good test of my will power to stick at my own speed. I will be slow after this morning's "speed" work, but it is essential that I train to my level and stick with it!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

On the road again

Got out on the road bike for the first ride of 2011. The first time I rode out here, I had just come in first in my division in a sprint triathlon. My bike time was what did it, so I was feeling pretty confident. I headed out on a ride that I found on and soon discovered that it entailed riding about 10 miles in each direction along a 60mph undivided highway. No.

So I trekked up the road to where I had stayed when visiting Fort Collins last March. It had seemed pretty low traffic and mellow. Although I had seen warnings about the big climb on Rist Canyon, I thought, no problem, I will just turn at the big climb. Um, it was not that there was "a big climb" on that ride, it was all a big climb... 3000ft over 12 miles.

I had just arrived in Colorado, so was not acclimatized.  After grinding away for about an hour, I had made it about 1/3 of the way up. I wanted to take a nap. So I took a break, ate food and then descended at over 30mph, which took like 5 seconds. Depressing.
Not from today, but the stupid look on my face is not far off from how I must have looked 

With that in mind today, I was wondering how hills would be now that I can breathe up here. Well, I made it up all of them, but it wasn't pretty... there was gasping and snot, not gonna lie. But I was pretty happy that I made it.

I didn't take the monster hills (the one in front of my house is actually called Monster Hill), but I still made. I frequently wished that I had one more gear (my bike is geared for the flats of the Mid-Atlantic), but I must be finally getting some brain calluses from the bi-monthly torturefest that we call Towers, cuz I just kept going.

70.3 shut out... making lemonade out of lemons

I had intended to do the Musselman 70.3 in Geneva, NY. Well, I had to check with school to see about my summer schedule before registering for races. Musselman was open last week when I checked, but it was closed when I went to register last night. I sought out any other 70.3 (which is a half-Ironman triathlon) races between Colorado and Vermont and found that all of them are full.

Plan B. I could have bumped up to Ironman, but I don't think I have the money for that. Also Ironman is inconsistent with my current training goals. I have to get faster before I can do any longer distance races. It takes me half of a day to run and recover from a 20 miler at my current pace. The combination of being short on time and having to cover long distances has had a detrimental effect on my overall fitness, I think.

In keeping with my desire for shorter, faster races, but wanting to try something new, I have registered for my first complete Xterra off-road triathlon. It will be August 27 at Lory State Park... but, if the mountain biking goes well, I may also register for the Indian Peaks Xterra earlier in August.

I have competed in 3 previous Xterras as part of relay teams. My teams have done pretty well (1st and 2nd) in the races that I have been the runner, but I was not stellar in the race in which I was a biker. I am not the strongest mountain biker in the world, but that race was rough... figuratively and literally. My front wheel rattled loose twice and, with about 3 miles left to go, my seat rattled loose and I ended up running a lot of that last 3 miles.

Lory State Park - Site of my first solo Xterra
I am pretty nervous about this race, but I have learned a lot about mountain biking since the 2009 Charlottesville Xterra. Now that I am registered, I will definitely get out there on the trails... but this should be interesting!

Friday, March 11, 2011

In the beginning...

So, now I live in Colorado. I have hooked up with a bunch of insane runners who graciously let me run behind them... sometimes far behind them. But, they always wait for me, and they let me drink beer with them at the bar after runs.

Some friends suggested that I start blogging because I keep having some pretty fun adventures. These adventures are largely the result of my complete lack of common sense and my inability to say no when it is the prudent course.

I expect that I will post some stuff about races and the stuff I learn from them... it is amazing how much I learn during each race... And, I expect I will post stuff about training plans. I am always looking for training partners to run, bike and swim behind... but you'll have to be sure to wait for me and let me drink beer with you after.