Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Year in Review: 2015

I 100% stole this idea from Andrea at Born and Raced in Chicago. She has such a great blog, you should go check it out! Usually I do year-end posts where I recap every month. This year I am too lazy for that nonsense. I actually seem to be too lazy for just about everything as we skid in to the end of 2015 . . . .

But I digress. This list pretty much encapsulates any runner's high points throughout a year. What were yours?

Best Race Experience: For this one I am going to have to go with the Sun Mountain 50k. It was my first 50k, which means it will always hold a special place in my heart, but it was more than that: the setting was perfect. My family was there to support me. Several friends were on the course and at the start/finish. When I got hurt other runners immediately swooped in to help. And Rainshadow Running races have the best finish line of any race I've ever done!

Official race photo from Glenn Tachiyama.

Best Run: I went back and forth a bit, but my first run at Mt Rainier won just barely over my second run at Mt Rainier. Our little group started at the Fryingpan Creek TH and finished at Box Canyon. I had never been that close to Rainier, and it was a beautiful sunny day so the mountain was "out" in her full glory. The run was incredibly challenging, but every step was amazing.

Just a bit of a view. Photo by my friend Callista.

Best New Piece of Running Gear: This will have to be my Ultra Jacket from Ultimate Direction. I went around and around and around on whether or not to drop the serious $$$ on this jacket. I tried out several other jackets first to try and save money. In the end, this one fit the best and it has accompanied me on several runs, including one marathon and one 50k. I struggled a bit with it in the marathon (hell, I struggled with everything in that marathon), but during the 50k I adjusted some things and it was perfect. 

Wearing my Ultra Jacket at the Deception Pass 50k. 
Photo from Glenn Tachiyama.

Best Piece of Advice: Not going to lie, I gave this advice to myself. It was "Do. Epic. Shit." I gave myself this advice after the first run at Mt. Rainier I mentioned above. 

Most Inspirational Runner: This is impossible to pic just one. I am incredibly lucky to get to run with a local running group called High Heels Running Group. It is a group of badass women who trail run and meet weekly for runs around the Seattle area. Every one of those women inspires me. Simply hearing them talk about their race accomplishments made me realize that ultra running was something I could attempt- and fall in love with! 

Favorite Picture From a Run or Race: There were several for me, I have posted them all above. My favorite picture for someone else was this one I took of Ellen on our run at Mt. Rainier:

Doesn't even look real, does it?

Race Experience You Would Repeat: I am not sure if this point was for an entire race experience, but I want to pick one experience in an otherwise kind of tough race. It was at the Deception Pass 50k when I made a friend and we ran together for the last 10-ish miles of the race. We were the last runners for the last part of the race and we really helped motivate each other to the finish. It turned a run that had become dreadful and grueling in to something that was really wonderful. I really loved watching her finish her first 50k, too! This might be my new favorite thing: helping other runners finish their first 50k. Will be doing it again with my friend Tara in a few months!

Finishing up a tough race.

Sum Up Your Year in a Couple of Words: Epic. Shit. I feel like this year I have time and time again stretched the limits of what I thought I could do and it's only made my desire to figure out what else? that much stronger. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

50k Recovery

50k recovery has been going swimmingly. I was limping pretty good on Sunday, but that was the worst of it. My knee was in rough shape! Likely it didn't help that I had to sit in the car for about three hours to get home after the race and then sit in the car again the next day to go to Great Wolf Lodge with my family. I spent all day Sunday just sitting or laying around and reading-- no water slides for me! By Monday I was feeling normal, save a bit of exhaustion from everything. I even climbed the stairs, pain-free, for a few water slides by Monday night. Woo hoo!

Heading in to the 50k I knew I would take at least a week off of all exercise afterwards-- this wasn't that hard as it was a pretty busy week with work and pre-Christmas activities and things going on for my girls. It didn't feel like much a break, unfortunately, but some rest is better than none! 

After a conversation with my chiropractor on Friday we decided the best thing for me was to take a break from running through the new year. By January 2nd I will have been off for three weeks and hopefully have had enough rest to start clearing up some nagging issues that stuck around up to the 50k. My right hip has been . . . interesting, but never bugged me while running. Then my left knee joined in on the fun, busting out some pain during the race. Want to make sure that doesn't turn in to full blown ITBS!

On Saturday I joined my running group at Cougar Mountain and had a nice little walk with three other girls while everyone else ran. Having never been on those trails without running them, it felt a little strange, but good. We walked for just over an hour then had coffee. So much easier than my usual multi-hour runs! 

There are currently three races that I am signed up, with two more to come as soon as their sign ups open. Eek! If that isn't just me taunting the injury gods, I'm not sure what is.

Here's what's coming up:

January 9th-- Bridle Trails Winter Trail Running Festival. I am on a team running a 50k, so it's 5 or 6 miles for me.

March 19th-- Chuckanut 50k

April 17th-- Yakima Skyline Rim 25k

May 21st-- Sun Mountain 50 mile

August 21st-- Squamish 50k

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

There Will Be Adventure: Race Recap of the Deception Pass 50k

Being blown down the trail near the start.
Photo from Glenn Tachiyama.

Heading in to the Deception Pass 50k, I wasn't feeling entirely confident. I had trained, yes, but life being what it was, I would have rather done just about anything than run a 50k that day. Since I knew the weather was going to be challenging, and I knew it wasn't going to be a fast (for me) day, I came up these three goals for the race: to remain present, enjoy the journey no matter the weather, and stay under the cut-offs.

The day started with a 4:30 a.m. alarm. I headed north from Seattle and arrived at Deception Pass in the pitch black. The weather was already threatening: lots of wind, but no rain yet.

After checking in and getting my bib (lucky #7!) I hunkered down in my car and arranged my things, waiting for the race to start. Once it got close to go time, I joined the crowd of runners at the starting area -- an unmarked spot in the parking lot. The race director, James Varner, gave the pre-race announcements along with some news: he might cut the race short at 11 miles. Strong winds were moving through and making for a potentially dangerous situation. I'm not going to lie, after how exhausting the previous week was, I did a small prayer that the race would be shortened. Despite standing in the group of runners it still hadn't sunk in that I was about to run a 50k. I eyed the sky as I hoped my rain jacket would hold up, my hands would stay warm, and that I made the right decision in donning shorts.


Then we were off! I stuck near the back and moved slowly. Since my Garmin no longer holds a charge for longer than about 6 1/2 hours, I decided to wear it simply as a watch instead of turning on the GPS. I have no idea what my pace was at any point during the race. Instead, I ran by feel. This worked out well... I never had a single moment of panic because I never knew my pace! 

The trails wound through Deception Pass State Park, which was absolutely breathtaking. Sometimes we ran under under thick tree cover, sometimes out along the water. In the trees I couldn't really feel the wind, but once out in the open it hit hard. Mostly I didn't mind it. In fact it cooled me down a bit since I was pretty warm in my rain jacket. The only time I found the wind downright awful was when the course took us over the Deception Pass bridge--twice. I held my baseball hat in one hand and kept my other hovered over the railing, ready to grab on whenever I lost my balance a bit. I couldn't even look up to see the view!

Course map.

As I passed through the aid station at mile 7.3 I asked a volunteer how close I was to the cut-off. He said I was 45 minutes under so I was cautiously excited. I was doing well, but there was a lot of race left. I grabbed some snacks and Gu Brew at this aid station and moved on. 

The first half of the race was so much fun. I loved the trails, which weren't too muddy and held a lot of fun climbs and sweeping views. The climb up Goose Rock might have been my favorite part-- steep switchbacks and views for miles. I felt great and my effort level remained comfortable.

During the race random songs kept popping in to my head, including one of my nine year old's favorites: "Stitches" by Shawn Mendes. "And now that I'm without your kisses, I'll be needing stitches . . . ." echoed through my brain. It made me laugh. 

I ran with others who enjoyed chatting a bit and there were several spots where we crossed paths with runners coming towards us. Almost everyone said some version of "good job" and it was nice to feel this sense of community. I even had the chance to meet some folks who I had only previously known on social media and that was really great.

Eventually I realized the RD wasn't calling the race short and a bit later I passed by him on the trail. He asked me if I was having fun, to which I replied "Yes, I am!" And I truly was. In that moment, at least, I was very happy to keep running.

Elevation profile. I think almost 5,000 feet of elevation gain?

Once I hit the aid station at about mile 15 I was finally starting to feel the effects of the hard work. It was so great to see some friendly faces, awesome ladies from the High Heels Running Group, working the Cornet Bay aid station. I grabbed some snacks and drinks and headed out to do my first of two big loops. 

During the first loop things got difficult. My outer left knee started throbbing in pain. I knew the feeling: the dreaded IT band. I hadn't felt it in a few years, so was confused why it was showing up now. The trails in the loop were much more difficult than the first part of the race, with lots of puddles and some difficult ups and downs in solid mud. We were shielded from the wind down on the trails, but the tall trees swayed violently overhead. There were many trees down on the trail, as well, turning the race in to a bit of an obstacle course. Over or under? Sometimes I was crawling, sometimes I was hoisting myself up over tree trunks. The rain was fairly constant most of the afternoon, but thankfully I never felt completely soaked. 

I spent the last few miles of that loop in a very low spot. I had no idea how long the loop was and just kept thinking: "it has to be over soon, I've been out here forever!" I went back and forth in my head, wondering if I needed to drop out because of my knee. I walked for a while, contemplating my foolishness for thinking I could even consider a 50 mile race next Spring when I was falling apart this far in to a 50k. I ran my fingers along the hem of my Cascade Crest 100 shirt from volunteering last summer, which was serving as a reminder of my ultimate goal of finishing that race. It felt completely out of reach in that moment. Finally I decided to make a plan for the aid station: first, figure out where I was on the course and how long that damn loop was and then grab some ibuprofen and swap out my wet buff from my drop bag in hopes of helping my body feel better.

After situating things at the aid-station, I was still ahead of cut-offs (though I assume just barely) so I semi-reluctantly ventured back out again. I decided my knee would hold, and so there was no solid reason to drop out. There was really nothing to do but finish the darn thing. 

On the way out of the aid station I came upon a runner I had previously seen at the top of Goose Rock. We chatted and walked together and she mentioned she was struggling a bit. Not feeling too great myself, I appreciated her company. We decided to stick together and it made the idea of doing that loop again much more tolerable. 

With some walking, some running, some chatting, and even a bit of laughing, I was surprised at how fun that second loop was, especially after the significant amount of dread I had going in to it. My knee felt a little better, good enough to keep moving at least. I repeatedly reminded myself of my three goals. Despite a small rough patch I was "back in the game," nearing the end, and hitting each goal. 

My new friend and I came through the aid station at about mile 28 and were told we were the last runners out on the course. This was shocking news; I knew we had fallen back in the pack but there were still several runners that I knew had to be behind us. Apparently they weren't allowed to head out to do the second loop because of the strict cut-offs. I felt simultaneously sad and excited by this news-- "last?! How in the world?" And also: "We weren't cut off!" After that aid station it was up the road for a bit before ducking back on to the trails. We came upon another runner and landed in a great spot to take a commemorative photo:

This was the only photo I got with my phone all day.

We kept winding around some technical trails trying to figure out exactly where the finish line was. It felt like it would be "just around the corner" but over and over it wasn't. Since I didn't know the mileage I kept asking my friend where we were. Finally we heard the cheers from the finish line: we were close! We dropped down on to the parking lot from the trail. Through the parking lot, wondering where exactly we needed to go, a volunteer directed us towards the finish line. We turned the corner on to the gravel path and, as we approached. I heard someone shout my name. I don't know who it was, but it sure felt amazing to hear! High fives to James and with that the race was over. 7 hours, 48 minutes and 27 seconds after I started. Like, whoa.

The smile was not forced!
Photo near the finish by Glenn Tachiyama.

I went through just about every range of emotion out on the course and finished feeling strong and happy. Joining friends for a beer and food in the shelter after the race was icing on the cake. It felt perfect.

Driving home after the race pretty much sucked, my knee was not thrilled. But I had a smile from ear to ear and certainly increased my level of badassery a notch or two. 

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Race Goals: Just Finish

Checking in really quick while baby is sleeping. Have I mentioned my fantastic nannying gig? While typically I don't have so much sitting around time to fit in other things, this morning I do. Christmas shopping on Amazon and blogging FTW!

Here's the deal: Despite 13 good, solid weeks of training, I am not very excited about this weekend's 50k. I can't find a good reason to not do it other than "I just don't feel like it", so I'll be on that starting line early Saturday morning. When I signed up for the race I managed to completely miss three things that make life a bit extra stressful.

First: it's the holiday season, which means my attention, time and money are drawn in a million more directions than usual. No matter how much you give of any of those things, it is extremely easy to feel like it's no where near enough. UGH. GUILT.

Second: Um, hello RAINY SEASON. It's been dumping buckets in the Pacific Northwest-- and that isn't unusual. Why didn't I plan for this??? Grand Ridge was awful, Point Defiance was awful, the weather at both just like it is being predicted for this weekend. I have new gloves. I plan to try and stay warm, at least, even if I can't stay dry. 

Third: I am working now, and even being occupied with that a few hours a week means my non-work hours are that much more packed with stuff I need to get done. It isn't fun.

All of that said, I absolutely loved my last Rainshadow race, and I assume this one will be just as awesome. There will be a great field of runners (no loneliness out on the trail!) and the aid stations and finish line should be amazing. Despite the weather, and my stress level, I have high hopes that the race is enjoyable. I pushed myself too hard at my training races, and I hope to NOT do that at Deception Pass. My goal is to just finish, and feel okay. I don't want to try and beat any times other than the cut-offs.

My family leaves for Great Wolf Lodge the next day, which was either an awesome or terrible decision on my part, that remains to be seen. The car ride will stink for sore legs, but I will have a great excuse for lots of R-n-R at the waterpark! A book in one hand, cocktail in the other, ahhhhh.

The GWL trip will also be the first few days of a short-ish break for me. Very limited running, more focus on things like yoga and gentle strength training, at least through the holidays. I have some aches and pains to clear up and a level of exhaustion to bring back to normal. Oh, and a little thing called motivation that I seem to have misplaced.

Recently Swim Bike Mom wrote a blog post on motivation vs. discipline that seriously rang true for me. I suggest you read it if you struggle with the same thing. It was a good reminder that we continue to work for goals we've set because we are disciplined, not because we have an unlimited supply of motivation. That idea has dragged me out the door more than a few times in the past several weeks!

See you on the other side . . .