28 April 2013

Cheyenne Mountain 50k

I run because it always takes me where I want to go.” 
-Dean Karnazes
Distance: 31 miles 
Elevation: 4,000 ft
Time: 7:01

The Cheyenne Mountain 50k is the only hometown race on the docket for this year. The 25k and 50k race has been held at Cheyenne Mountain State Park, in the shadow of NORAD, for the past three years. It's a groomed course with occasional technical sections and gradual, steady climbs and descents. Maybe not identical to the Quad Rock course, but a good place for a long training run two weeks before.

Upon arriving, I immediately saw the one person that I knew would be there, my friend Rebekka who I met back in January at the Ponderous Posterior. She's known for going out slow and finishing strong in the second half. I thought I'd stick with her and keep myself from pushing too hard. Little did I know she'd leave me in the dust and run her bad self to a 3rd place division title. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
One of us is faster than the other
The day promised to be a beautiful one, it started around 48 and was expected to rise to the upper 60's. With the abundance of aid stations (8 total), I didn't think I'd need much more than one water bottle and a few spare gels, in addition to the well supplied aid stations. Wrong. Temps rose to the mid-70's and I was fighting nausea from at least the half-way point. I kept my water bottle filled, sucked down two gels every hour and ate potato chips, but the ill feeling seemed to be crouched at my doorstep if I pushed too hard.

The best thing about running a local race however, was that the huz and kids were waiting for me at mile 22. My boy handed me a new bottle of energy drink and my girl gave me a gel. The aid station volunteers were kind enough to let them have snacks from the table, which kept them happy while waiting. I spent a few extra minutes with them as I ate and talked to the kids and watched about 8 people pass on through. 
My crew took good care of me
Quick family shot before taking off
I wasn't feeling great at that point, but seeing the fam definitely lifted my spirits. I was running solo for the most part except for leap-frogging with this couple between miles 8 through 20-ish, before she took off and I didn't see her until the end.
She had a better day than he did, poor guy. 
I ended up catching all of those that passed me back at the 22 mile aid station and a few more (mostly men, I might add). I suppose the heat may have gotten to them too. Felt good to move up a few more places among the overall finishers.

Ran across the finish line barely missing my goal of a sub-7, but that was due to the extra time spent with the fam, which was worth it. Rebekka hung around and congratulated me as I finished up.  Looky at her shiny metal for running fast!
In the company of greatness
My post-race massage from Caleb was the best I've had after a race and I can't forget to mention the meal from Carrabba's. Fabulous. 

All in all, it wasn't a bad run, I just didn't have the energy in the second half that I had back when I did my 55k in Moab. I kept the iPod going virtually the entire time to keep me either distracted or motivated to move at a steady clip. I hate running in anything hotter than about 60 and I was feeling the effects of the heat after such a long winter of two and three layer runs. Gotta get acclimated.

Thankfully, my knee wasn't giving me grief. I've been wearing my Hoka Stinson Evos the past week as I've been babying the sore knee after the beating it received at the Grand Canyon. They're not as steady on the techy sections, so I thought this a good course to try them out for a long run since there's very little of that. Only afterward when J-man massaged my feet did I realize that I needed insoles with arch support... ouch. I'll remember that next time. 

Now, I turn my sights towards the big one... Quad Rock 50. I'm recovering well after this race and have one more week of training before the taper. Deep breath and here goes!

Happy Trails,


22 April 2013

Grand Canyon: Lessons Learned

"The wisdom you glean is invaluable 
but the means by which you get it is hideous." 
– Daniel Mangrum

This is the companion to my original blog post on my inaugural running of the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim, published a few days ago here. Being as it wasn't without it's bumps and blow-ups, I intend to learn from those mistakes so my next 50 miler won't be characterized by the same issues. To do this, I made three lists:

What I did right:

Dressed appropriately for the weather & brought the right gear. I had a good eye on the weather forecast and what could be expected for the day. I wore shorts and tech shirt, long-sleeve shirt and extra-light windbreaker and spent 90% of the run without the latter two layers. Hat, sunglasses and tech poles were a necessity and I'm glad I had them all that day.

Applied body glide and sunscreen.  'Tis the season.

What to tweak for 10+ hour runs:

Bring more nutrition than I think I'll need. I was prepared for about 14 hours of running and was out there for almost 16. With all of the climbing and additional energy needs, I needed more. Next time I'll overestimate my nutrition needs by at 2-3 of hours for a self-supported run, just in case.

Find fuel that's less sweet tasting to use in the later half. This wasn't an issue in my 7 hour ultra where gels, coke and PB&J didn't bother me. I found out that after about 10 hours, I wanted something plain like potatoes, avocado burritos or a watered down endurance drink. I'm going to try the plain GUs too. 

What I did wrong:

Poor shoe choice. I had complete amnesia about the fact that my Scott eride Grips gave me a toenail bruising when I wore them in Moab. What was a small annoyance in a 34 mile run with 4,000 feet of elevation loss, was brutal in a 46 mile run with 11,000. Dumb, dumb, dumb and it bit me in the arse not even half-way through with 6,000 feet of downhillin' right off the bat. Oy vey. I should have worn my trusty Sportiva Wildcats which have never given me problems on my long runs.

Ran 50k pace. I know what my marathon pace is and I slowed it down a little more for my 55k and had no issues. Apparently, I need to slow down quite a bit more for 50 milers because I was pretty tired during that final climb out of the Canyon. I plan on going out much more conservatively next time to ensure I don't blow up. 

Forgot Chapstick. I was peeling off my lip's top layers two days later... ouch.

Forgot watch. Well, I brought my Garmin, knowing it would die within 7 hours. Since I couldn't capture the whole run on GPS, I should have just carried my regular watch so I could keep myself eating every 30 min. After we reached the north rim and my Garmin was dead, eating frequency was based on intuition so I'm sure I got behind on it.

There may be others and those that were there can feel free to comment on anything I may have missed. I was able to use what I know from marathoning to race a 50k, but 50 milers are a different beast. Nutrition, pacing and shoes -- getting those right will make all the difference in how I make it through them.

In other news...

Toenail report

Look away if you think it's hideous. If you've been following along for at least the past two weeks, then you know I had one black toenail after Moab. Well, now I have two, no thanks to those toe crushing shoes I wore:
My badge of honor. These toes will be a dead giveaway of what I like to do for fun and sport anytime they're out on display. For me, they're happy memories of two incredible runs in the desert.


Since I was driving back all day Sunday, I was sore until Tuesday morning. Did a 10 miler on Wednesday morning and could tell that my knee wasn't rested enough yet. Rested it again on Thursday and did a marathon on Friday... on my bike, that is. Felt good to get out and do something active, at least.
The huz got to have his adventure ride out in Grand Junction this past weekend, so I used the lack of babysitting to rest the knee a bit more. This morning I had a really enjoyable 8 miler and the knee felt much better. Will probably do another easy run on Wednesday in anticipation of this weekend's 50k race.

Now that I'm unemployed, eating out doesn't happen, which is ok. Today however, I got to have a sushi lunch with my honey while the kids were at school. My favorite food with my favorite guy. O Happy Day!
Seafood and jalapenos... so good.
Well, I'm off to the library to finally pick up Cheryl Strayed's Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail which I've been waiting 3 months to read. Looking forward to diving into that this week.

Happy Trails,


18 April 2013

Grand Canyon R2R2R

“Suffering is humbling. It pays to know how to get your butt kicked.” 
- Christopher McDougall

Photo: Doug Seaver
Distance: 46 miles 
Elevation: 11,000 ft
Time: 15:40

Brace yourselves. This is a long one.  

Running across the Grand Canyon is a top adventure run on any ultrarunner’s bucket list. After reading countless trip reports during the past year, the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim became the #1 run on mine. By a stroke of good fortune, I had the opportunity to join a group of runners this past weekend and fulfill this dream. 

I was invited by Steve and Deb Pero, who were running it along with Deb’s brother Drew and two other friends, Doug and Kevin. With the Quad Rock 50 coming up in 4 weeks, it was a good training run for a race of nearly the same distance and elevation gain.

After an all-day drive, I made it to the park just in time for a quick dinner with the gang before heading off to bed. We planned to meet up at 4am the next morning so we'd be done before dark. I was car camping at Mather CG, which I'd never done in my RAV4. Turned out to be pretty comfortable with the back seats turned down and our patio chair cushions underneath my sleeping bag. The only bad thing was the campfire smoke from my neighbors that kept me coughing until well after I was sealed up in my car. Otherwise, it suited me just fine for an $18 hotel room.

South Rim to Phantom Ranch

We met up at 4am and after a short run to the South Kaibab TH, took some pictures and we were off. Being a ridgeline trail, it was probably better that I didn't see the steep drop offs and focused on what was in front of me. There was quite a bit of fog that made it difficult to see with the headlamp, but within 30-45 min the sunlight began to rise on the horizon and we could begin to see the surrounding beauty. Headlamps were off about 30 min after that and the depth of the Canyon and what we were aiming to do came into view.
Photo: Steve Pero
1 hr and 15 minutes in
Black Bridge
The tunnel leading to the Black Bridge is so awesome to go through and come out of. I tried to capture it in this video:  

Crossing the mighty Colorado
Coming out of the darkness into this view was pretty spectacular. Crossing the Colorado River, we were about to begin our run across the Canyon -- woot woot! We passed the Bright Angel CG and shortly after came to Phantom Ranch, about an hour and 50 min after we started.  

Phantom Ranch to The Residence

For the next 14 miles we ran across the Canyon as we watched the morning sun spill its light on the Canyon walls. A treat I hadn't expected was the sound of rushing water through much of this section. The temps felt really good and the thermometer at Cottonwood CG read mid-60's.

L-R: Steve, Kevin, Doug, Deb and Drew
Lots of this going on

Photo: Steve Pero

Creek crossing / rock hopping  (Photo: Steve Pero)
Photo: Steve Pero

The Residence to the North Rim

Getting ready to climb...
This is where the real work begins. After filling up our bladders, hitting the restroom and getting our trekking poles out, we were off on a steep 5 mile climb up the North Kaibab trail. Deb set the pace, which I was able to hang on to until about half-way. 

I caught up with everyone again at the Supai Tunnel and after that, I was on my own until I reached the trailhead. I kept eating and drinking and my stomach felt fine, but just knowing that I had another long climb at the end kept me from pushing harder. I made it to the top around 7 hrs. My watch died just as I was about to take a snapshot of it.
Photo: Steve Pero

Photo: Steve Pero
Still smiling (Photo: Steve Pero)
Kevin and I (Photo: Steve Pero)
Looking back from whence we came...
...and again, just before arriving at the North Rim
Group shot at the North Kaibab TH

The North Rim to Phantom Ranch

With 21 miles done and 25 to go, we were not yet at the half-way point. I was a bit tired, but certainly could go downhill for 14 miles. There were two issues that I was dealing with at this point which were of greater concern. 

First, I had pain in my left kneecap, which flared up on the descents. It was tolerable, however. The bigger problem was that both of my big toenails were bruised, so anything other than flats and uphills were hurting worse than the knee. With the steep downhills slamming my toes into the toe box, I was reduced to a walk for the first few miles. Despite the Tylenol I took, it distracted me from enjoying the beauty on the return trip and made for a extended time on the trail. I took far fewer pictures at this point.
Supai Tunnel damage (Photo: Doug Seaver)

Got dropoffs? (Photo: Doug Seaver)
Coconino Overlook (Photo: Doug Seaver)
Photo: Steve Pero
Leaving the Residence (Photo: Steve Pero)
Photo: Doug Seaver
Photo: Steve Pero
Photo: Steve Pero
My feet felt fine on the flats and while the temps registered 85° at Cottonwood, there were strong spring winds to temper that. I was anxious to get to Phantom Ranch and get me some all-you-can-drink lemonade. When we arrived at 4:45, we found out they stopped serving it at 4pm. I wanted to go into the fetal position, thumb suck and all. Now I had a long hike out of the Canyon and no citrus-y sweet goodness to fuel it. Boo hiss.

Phantom Ranch to South Rim

"It was fun until it wasn't." - Deb

At this point, I was just ready to get it done. I was tired, sick of gels and ready for real food, but I wasn't sure just how long we had to the TH from there. The decision to do Bright Angel (less steep, but 2.5 miles longer than South Kaibab) was made the night before. I had brought enough to eat for 15 hours, but was doubting whether that was enough. I didn't know that we had almost 10 miles to go and I would be out there for another 5 hours... 
Silver Bridge (Photo: Doug Seaver)
Early evening glow
The trail wasn't steep but it seemed to go on forever. When we got to the Indian Garden campground, the sign informed us that we had 4.9 miles left to the trailhead. That sucked the wind out of my sails. I turned to Deb and said matter-of-factly, "I'm gonna bonk." I had one gel that I could tolerate and a sandwich that I couldn't. But we had to get going, so off we went.
Leaving Indian Springs
We were behind schedule so out came the headlamps again sometime between the CG and the 3 mile rest house. That was depressing, since we were planning to be done earlier. This is where I began to experience nausea and for the first time, threw up...twice. It's so delightful to hear yourself wretch and have it echo off the Canyon walls like a megaphone.   

So my first 40+ miler produces the first bonk & chunk-spewing. I'm pretty sure that Dante never ran an ultra or else he wouldn't have neglected the 10th Circle that I'm convinced I experienced those last three miles. I was telling myself that I never have to take another step on a trail ever again. I thought about pulling out of every race I had planned for 2013 and just getting myself a stupid little job to go to each day. Sheila would have to find another pacer for her hundos. You think crazy things when the wheels come off.  

Thank God for Deb, who walked with me those last few miles in the dark, holding my poles as I heaved, offering encouragement along the way. I was so sleepy -- I recall seeing tunnels one minute and then forgetting having gone through them the next. It was a hard, slow slog, but we finally made it around 10pm, I think. What a day. Hardest thing I've ever done. But I'm now a double-crossing ultrarunner, which is pretty cool.

Even with the painful second half and blowing up at the end, it was still an amazing run and an experience I'm grateful to have had. I've learned a lot of important lessons for my next 50-ish miler. I'm already looking forward to my next R2R2R run. Thanks to Steve, Deb, Drew, Doug and Kevin for letting me come along for the ride and for being such great trail mates. I look forward to seeing some of you again at Quad Rock and Hardrock for more smiles and trail adventures.

Stay tuned for my post on lessons learned... 

Happy Trails,


15 April 2013


I cried when I was born and every day shows why. - George Herbert

I had plans today to start working on my trip report from the Grand Canyon. So many things in my head to organize into a coherent and interesting report of running the R2R2R. As I sat down in the early afternoon, I was interrupted by a text from a friend in Alabama asking if I was in Boston. When I told her I wasn't, she told me about the bombings. Checking Facebook, our Boston friends were already letting us know they were ok. Many of them were downtown to watch the marathon, but thankfully, none were near the explosions.

Scanning over the news reports, I couldn't help but think of the years that I spent going down to Boylston St on Patriot's Day to watch the runners cross the finish. I either stood at the 26 mile mark or at the corner where the runners turn left onto the final stretch, close to both detonation sites.
Watching the 2008 marathon
My heart goes out to all the people who are now facing pain, loss, disfigurement and a long recovery. My prayers are for their comfort, healing and hope. In the midst of such violence, we saw the courage of those who ran toward the wounded, tearing off clothing to help to stop the bleeding. Reports of runners who continued to run to Mass General to donate blood shows that even when such evil is inflicted, compassion shines like a lighthouse in the storm.

"This life is not all; neither the beginning nor the end. 
I believe while I tremble, I trust while I weep." 
-Charlotte Bronte

My faith in a God who came down to earth to suffer in order to rescue mankind means He is not immune to pain. He was willing to stand in the worst of it. While I don't know why He allows suffering to continue, I know it's not because he doesn't care. The cross tells me otherwise. His resurrection shows me that He has conquered death and I can place my hope in the promise of a better world. The God of justice and mercy will make it right in the end. 

I lived in Boston for eight years and though I moved there because I needed work, I realized soon after how perfect it was for me. I fell in love with the place and the people. When I stepped onto the sidewalk outside my apartment in Cambridge, it was like getting an energy buzz. Memories of coffee at Diesel, burritos at Anna's, Alison Krauss at the Orpheum, strolling through the Public Garden and along the Waterfront, consuming all-you-can-eat-sushi at Minado, Sunday afternoons at the Gardner, cheering the Red Sox at Fenway, Saturday rides on the Minuteman Trail and people watching in Harvard Square are what come to mind tonight. I put up with all the traffic, crowds and congestion and got used to the outrageous prices by living on less. I loved living in a culture-making city with so much to discover and enjoy.         

Running with Steve Pero this weekend and hearing his Boston accent was like having a bit of "home" again. In case you need some interpretation, here's something to help with Boston speak: 

I love you Boston and friends. Be safe, keep the faith. I know you'll take care of your own and those passing through.