27 February 2013

Future Plans

I now have a 50 miler on the race schedule to prepare for the last few spikes of this little run in the San Juans:

More soon,


22 February 2013

Reflections in the Afterglow

Beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. 
The least we can do is try to be there. - Annie Dillard

I’m slowly coming down from my slick rock high. Despite coming in the bottom third of finishers, I’m still jazzed about having a great day in a jaw-droppingly beautiful place. I've gotten choked up about it several times this week, feeling blessed to have such a full appreciation of my race experience last Saturday. Having no expectations of how I would perform, I was able to run my own race and be satisfied with it.

While I’d love to be fast enough to be a podium finisher (who wouldn’t, right?), it dawned on me that I was free to enjoy the race in a way that a top runner can't, especially if racing is their livelihood. While I plan to run my best, I’m able to approach it more as a supported adventure run. I won’t be assessing my race based on whether I ran faster than anyone else.  Did I enjoy the scenery? Oh my, yes. Did I enjoy the company? Absolutely. Did my feel good overall? Yep.  Then it was a great day.

I'm glad that I don't have to work through the ambivalent feelings that Prez wrote about here after finishing well last Saturday, but not as fast as the winner. High expectations -- internal or external -- are such a heavy burden. This just feeds into the lie that significance is tied to performance. Pegging our worth to our accomplishments is "like nailin' jelly to a tree". No one always wins -- not even Kilian. Performance eventually declines. Worth must be derived from something which remains unchanged through success and failure in life.

"I'm sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody" - J.D. Salinger

I suspect that I may never run a stunning course as fast as I could -- at least not the first time.  I’m not even sure I’d be less distracted if I ran it again and here’s why: As I’ve gotten older, acquired more life experience, took responsibility for others and loved those whose triumphs and tragedies affect me directly, I need beauty -- lots of it. I need beauty that exceeds the pain, sorrow and disappointment of life. Beauty makes the hard more bearable.
Halibut Cove, Alaska
It’s been a very difficult two years, having to leave New England and make a new life out West. Feeling trapped in a job that piled stress on me and my family made it 10 times worse. Resigning from my job and enjoying three adventure runs in Moab these past two months have given me hope -- hope that my best days may not be behind me. Do you see why an ultra run on slick rock can move me to tears? It’s more than just running. It’s a doorway to hope. It’s grace.   

This is why I’m compelled to drive hours through the mountains to get to places like Moab, the Canyonlands, the Grand Canyon, the Rockies, the San Juans etc. I look for beauty in the everyday and it shows up in strange and interesting ways – small deeds of compassion, the sound of rushing water, words aptly spoken, an unprompted kiss from my child, a delectable meal. But there are times that I need the visual magnificent; where the awesome is dialed up to the red zone. Those special days have a way of carrying me through the longer, grinding sections of life, providing comfort and delight as they are relived in my memory. This is what my race in Moab meant to me and why I seek out these adventures as I settle into Colorado life. Not only will they give me joy, but these experiences are formative and will make me into the person God has destined me to be. I can count on it.
Chamonix - Lac Blanc (Photo credit: Kilian Jornet)
We do not want merely to see beauty...we want something else which can hardly be put into words--to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.– C.S. Lewis

Happy Trails,


17 February 2013

Moab Red Hot 55k (my first ultra!)

There are only two things that pierce the human heart. One is beauty.  
The other is affliction. Simone Weil

Distance: 34 miles 
Elevation: 4,100 ft
Time: 7:35 

Yesterday's race was an affirmation of what I love most about trail and endurance running -- the diverse artistry of nature, running with other lovers of landscape, seeing friends and meeting new ones, accepting and managing the inevitable discomfort and seeing myself accomplish something I've never done before.  It was without a doubt, the best day of running I have had and the best first ultra experience I could have hoped for.  I wonder if I ran the whole way grinning like a crazy person, because my heart was bursting with joy the entire time.  I kept looking around and taking in the views because I knew it was going to end soon and that I would miss them when I crossed the finish line.
I was totally prepared for pulling out the kick-yourself-in-the-arse mantras like "Suck it up, Buttercup" or something inspiring like "Someday you will no longer be able to do this; today is not that day", but I never needed them.  I did repeat "Feel the burn, embrace the burn, love the burn!" a few times, more for giggles than anything else.  Instead, I found myself praying, "Thank you God, for legs that work. Thank you for joy in running.  Thank you for a good day".   Running is a gift and any day that everything is working well and conditions are perfect is an extra special gift.  

I wrote in my last entry that because my last few long runs had been with faster runners, my confidence going into this ultra was not high. The 18 mile cutoff of 4.5 hours was weighing heavily on me.  I felt like I had two races, the first being 18 miles and the second being 16.  Turns out, fear of failure (for me, a DNF) is a huge adrenaline rush, so while I was having a good time chatting with folks, I kept coming in under my splits.  I may have been having too good a time because I had some gas left in the tank during the last 12 miles when I started passing folks that had been ahead of me.

Besides the cutoff, the other question in my mind was how well I'd manage the discomfort of running 8 miles longer than I had before.  Turns out, it was never a big deal or distracting to me.  After hiking the climbs on Gold Bar and Golden Spike, I was able to break out into a run with no problem.  I was surprised at how good my legs felt after 30 miles.  I began to wish that I was doing a 50 miler, because the way I was feeling, I know I could have kept going.

I credit the right shoes to being a big part of why I enjoyed the run today. It's impossible for me to ignore the typical heel pain I get after 15 miles, even with cushioned insoles.  I had none of that with Scott eRide Grip 2.  Shout out once again to Ian Corliss of Talk Ultra who first introduced me to this shoe here.  If you are interested in ultrarunning, dump his Talk Ultra podcast into your iTunes and listen to them on your next long run (they're 3 hours long!).  I love the runner's stories and race reports and the training tips in their talk training segment are really helpful.

One of the nice surprises was to run with my new friend Meghan, who I ran with two weeks ago in Canyonlands National Park (blog post).  She's a faster runner than me, so imagine my delight at seeing her early in the race and enjoying a couple of miles of conversation with her.  It's always extra special to see someone who isn't a stranger and it just lifted my happy spirits even higher.  Great job Meghan, it was great to see you again!

(Psst...Meghan wrote a guide to running around Moab -- check it out here)

I met so many cool people today -- Breein from Ogden; Mike, Tony, Gay & Colette from Salt Lake; Shelly from Chattanooga and others whose names I didn't get.  So fun sharing the trails and convo with each of you and I hope you'll be back next year so we can have a reunion of the 7-hour pace group. 
I first became familiar with the Red Hot 55k through Moab's own Dakota Jones, who wrote about it here.  Others were blogging about the race here, here and here.  After reading the report by the 2012 female winner here, I decided that this race would be my first ultra.  I had run in Moab before as J-man is an avid mountain biker, so I already knew it was a great place for trail running.  As you'll see below, the views are amazing and while some people curse the slickrock saying it's like running on gnarley concrete, I love it.  The open expansiveness that I had never experienced running in the woods was totally foreign to me the first time I ran there in '06.  It didn't take long to get used to a constant visual stream of the Arches, LaSals, canyons, mesas and other rock formations, even if off in the distance.  Being from Alaska, it takes a lot to impress me and I was taken by the allurement of this desert landscape.

And speaking of Prez (Dakota), he was my micro-celebrity meeting of the day -- that's five, after last month's PP.  He and Rob Krar both came under Dave Mackey’s four year old course record of 3:58-ish.  Speedgoat and Krissy Moehl were also there, but no good op to chat with them.  On the nano-celebrity side, I chatted briefly with FoCo runner Ryan Burch, who seemed as surprised as his buddy Aaron was last month that I recognized him.  Hey guys, isn't it nice knowing that more than your friends and family read your blogs?  I'll expect to see them both and Sir Nick at Quad Rock in May -- Booyah!

Some snaps from our trip and the race:
Suited up and ready to run
Start line giddyness
And we're off!
Shelly and Meghan
Amazing views and runners
Creative course markings
Tony and Mike, my trail dates for a bunch of miles
Photo op at Arth's Rim
The only mud/clay we encountered was here
Any view with the contrasting LaSals is a favorite
Mr. Red Shirt walked faster than I could run
Running across Slickrock is big fun!
The world's newest ultrarunner coming in for the finish
The reward after a hard days work
Thanks to Chris at Grassroots Events and everyone who volunteered to help put on such a great race.  I will be back again next year for sure.

Big thanks to J-man, who came out with me for logistical and emotional support and our sitter Sarah, who took expert care of our kids while we were gone. 

Moab, I can't wait to return to your beautiful slickrock, arches and mesas again.  You are an ever so lovely place to play and make merry.  

Happy Trails,


09 February 2013

Anticipation and Anxiety

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” - Eleanor Roosevelt

In this Year of the Ultra, my primary racing season will be from Feb – May with a summer off season and picking up the training again in the fall for a couple more races.  Having an off season in the summer is odd, but this is the prime time to spend Saturdays with the kids and get them out for family adventures.  Unless I happen to pace someone, I’ll be watching the big races online and cheering for my favorites.

I'm happy with the mix of races I have for the year – a 55k, two 50ks, two marathons (one trail, one road) and a 25 miler.  Seemed like a good way to move into ultras without overdoing it.  Some have significant vert and/or technical trails, others, not so much.  I still enjoy marathons, so I'm keeping them on the schedule. My one road race (Chicago) will be the 15th anniversary running of my first marathon there in 1998.  I'm looking forward to bringing my high altitude lungs to the Windy City and besting my 20-something self.

The Red Hot 55k is coming up next Saturday and I’m starting to get the butterflies now.  The past several weeks I’ve run with people who are faster than me and that has affected my confidence.  People keep asking me if I feel ready. How can I feel ready for something I've never done?  I do know that running the full race distance in training isn't necessary, thanks to race-day adrenaline.  I also know that my legs will be hurting well before I hit the halfway point, so I’ll have at least 20 miles of suffering before it’s over.  Finishing and feeling good about the experience is what I’m hoping for.  More specifically, I just hope to stay ahead of the sweeper.  If I happen to come in under 7 hours, I’ll probably pee my pants from excitement.  Just sayin’.

             Montrail                vs                 Scott

Drum roll please... After more than a month of wrestling with my choices, I've decided on the shoes to wear in Moab. As much as I love the stability and traction I get with my Mountain Masochists, the pain in my heels and instep were too much for 34 miles and slickrock.  I saw a review here on the Scott eRide Grip 2 and decided to give them a try.  I’ve been wearing them around the house this week and loving every cushiony step.  Took them out on my 13 miler this morning and the aggressive outsoles performed well in the snow, scree and the technical terrain. Best of all, my feet felt good the entire time.  Glad to have that finally settled.

Speaking of today, I had a funtastic run with new folks hitting some familiar and not-so-familiar trails in Cheyenne CaƱon.   Had great convo with Chelsea and Sheila – Chelsea is an adventure racer (rad!) and Sheila is a 100 mile queen (boss!).  I hope to run with these lovely ladies again when I can.

View from the Columbine Trail
Chelsea, me & Sheila

Selfie with Sheila
Post-run berry-nana-protein smoothie
In honor of my friends in New England who spent the day digging themselves out of Nemo -- Justin McKinney feels your pain (Warning: Language): 

And so, the countdown to Moab begins... T-7!

Happy Trails,


03 February 2013

iRunFar in the Canyonlands

 “No friendship is an accident.” - O. Henry

If you had been in southeastern Utah yesterday, you would have had clear skies, 30° - 50° temps and dry, runable trails to enjoy.  If you had decided to drive 45 min south of Moab to Canyonlands National Parkyou would have found this national treasure nearly deserted.  Moreover, had you been in the Needles District, you might have seen me and two other lovers of the landscape: Bryon Powell and Meghan Hicks from iRunFar.  I'm sorry that you weren't there, because it was a great day of jaw dropping beauty and incredible desert running.

Bryon and Meghan run a website that keeps ultrarunners informed on just about anything that pertains to the sport, such as race reports, training advice, gear reviews and articles from some of the talented runner-writers they have amassed.  I became a regular reader last year as I was starting to chew on the idea of moving into ultras.  

Through a random tweet to Meghan last month, tweets led to emails and BAM, an adventure run was planned.  She suggested Canyonlands and I heartily agreed.  Not much beats going to a beautiful place I’ve never been and enjoying the landscape with like minded folks.  Getting my last long run in before the Red Hot 55k couldn’t have been more perfectly timed.  As an added bonus, Bryon joined the fun and even hung back with us for much of the 24 mile run, before bounding off and snagging a few extra miles for himself.
(Photo courtesy of Bryon Powell)
(Photo courtesy of Bryon Powell)
Snack time (Photo courtesy of Bryon Powell)
(Photo courtesy of Bryon Powell)
Confluence of the Green & Colorado Rivers
(Photo courtesy of Meghan Hicks)
(Photo courtesy of Bryon Powell)
Cyclone Canyon
Bryon geeked out over the fossils
Class 3 scramble - loved it!
Snow capped La Sals to the east
A smile-worthy day (Photo courtesy of Bryon Powell)
Meghan is training for her fourth running of the Marathon de Sables -- a 6-day, 156 mile stage race in the Sahara Desert.  This amazing adventurer, beautiful inside and out, has an appreciation for the desert and it was a delight to join her on this amazing run. Bryon,after years of hard work building iRunFar, is re-prioritizing his own running and overall health while training for the big dance, Western States 100.  

Good luck Bryon and Meghan as you continue with the Moab Project and pursue your 2013 goals!  I know that all of us who enjoy iRunFar are grateful for the gift that you give to us.  Thanks for letting me spend the day with you and showing me the beauty of the Canyonlands.

If you haven't been there, do yourself a favor and put the Canyonlands on your bucket list of National Parks to explore.  I love coming to Moab in winter when I can escape the heat and the crowds while staying cheap during the off-season.  Keeping an eye on the weather, folks within driving distance can book a last-minute trip and enjoy some great scenery and trails.  

I'm looking forward to returning with J-man and seeing Meghan & Bryon again for Moab's Red Hot 55k, my first race of 2013!

Happy Trails,