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.