Author Archives: runbirdierun

Mt. Hood 50 Mile: Race Recap

I’ve spent the majority of this year with my mental and physical training focused on one race: the Mt. Hood 50 Mile.

Funny enough, I didn’t actually get into the race until the end of May. I entered the lottery in January, and while Adam got in during the first name draw, I was placed on the wait list. But, thanks to some luck and moderate trolling of the race website, I had a good sense that I’d get in eventually, so I prepared and planned according to the thought that in July I’d be running my first 50 miler.

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There she is!

TRAINING

Without going into overwhelming detail, training for this race went very well. I ran a few races within the months beforehand as build up (a trail 25k in April, a trail 25 mile in May, and the Mt. Evans Ascent in June), which kept me engaged in my training enough to not get bored. I really enjoyed these races too, and while they weren’t “A” races, they were a great way to build confidence leading into Mt. Hood.

With Mt. Hood falling smack dab in the middle of summer, I was afforded enough time to safely build up sufficient mileage throughout the spring, and when it came time for peak training weeks (>70 miles/week and back-to-back long runs), I was able to (mostly)  execute all the miles and the recovery.

I didn’t follow a training plan, but instead I did what I always do and scheduled one week out at a time, with a general understanding of when my big weekends ought to happen in conjunction with tapering. This worked well, and it allowed me to maintain flexibility while still increasing volume. I really enjoyed this training cycle overall, and despite the extra time it took, I was pleased with how well my legs held up to a higher load.

All this to say: physically and mentally I was confident going into race week. I’d tapered well – good sleep, very hydrated, low mileage – and I was feeling restless when it came time to fly out to Portland, which in my experience is a good sign that I’m ready to race.

PRE-RACE

The race was on Saturday, and we flew into Portland the Thursday before, arriving at the most peculiar of airport hotels late Thursday night. After an okay sleep and a four mile shakeout, we ate a big breakfast/brunch and loaded up to drive to Mt. Hood. The drive is only an hour and a half of so from PDX, and we listened to Jim Walmsley on the Citius Mag podcast the whole time.

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Several photos of Mt. Hood were attempted from the car. Does not do justice!

Approaching Mt. Hood was unreal; it’s unlike a lot of Colorado mountains since it’s so prominent all by itself. Treeline is much lower the more north you go, so it was wild to stare at the summit while simultaneously being surrounded by the tallest pine trees. This is also a good place to note that the actual race doesn’t really involve the mountain, despite the name. The peak does come into view a few times on the course, however the bulk on the race takes place on the Pacific Crest Trail at the base of the mountain.

Anyway, we arrived at the Best Western Mt. Hood Inn (highly recommend!) with tons of afternoon time to spare and mostly tried to relax and get ready for the next day. I’d scouted out food options in the week ahead of time, so we didn’t worry about finding anything and were able to get a dinner spot no problem.

From dinner onward is when I actually got really, legitimately nervous for the first time. I think at that point I’d been saturated with rest and was just ready to go! It was that feeling where you kind of want the race to start right then just to get over the anxious hurdle.

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Water stein! I hardly remember this photo being taken from how anxious I was feeling.

GOALS

While sitting at dinner and mowing down our spaghetti and meatballs, we started discussing our goals for the race. We always admit to having dual private goals and public goals: public being the goal you’ll tell your coworkers and friends and your private goal being the one you keep to yourself, if not with one or two other people.

Public goal: Whenever I run a new distance, my goal is always just to finish. Particularly with ultras, you never really quite know what will unexpectedly pop up, and considering this was uncharted territory mileage-wise, there was definitely no need for unnecessary pressure. That said, considering my training and what I knew about the course, I was also confident saying that under 10 hours was a realistic goal.

Private goal: The real truth – I knew my training was pretty excellent, and it would be a lie to say that I didn’t have higher hopes for my race other than to finish. I am a very consistently top 10(ish) female finisher in most of the trail races I’ve taken part in. And that’s great! I’m always very proud and satisfied with those results, and typically I don’t feel that there’s much better I could do. When I allowed myself to dream about what a “perfect” day would look like at Mt. Hood, the thought of finishing in the top five women and finishing under 9:30 kept tickling my brain. That seemed like a reach yet realistic private goal, but again…I shoved those goals into the “if and when” bucket, considering the unknowns I knew I’d come across.

And finally, when Adam and I were reviewing these goals the night beforehand, I told him that the most secret, pie-in-the-sky outcome, if I was being really really honest about the whole thing, would be a spot on the podium. Based on previous years’ times, I knew it was within a small realm of possibility, but not really sensible to go for without knowing how the field would look. But if the opportunity did present itself, I wanted to be in a position to give myself a shot.

Regardless, I was okay having a multi-tiered goal approach to this race, and for me personally – having a more narrowed focus is extremely motivating, regardless of the end results. I knew that so long as I stayed smart and gave it my best effort, there was no chance I’d be disappointed in the outcome.

RACE MORNING

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Exciting photo

I slept probably a grand total of one hour on Friday night beforehand. Obviously race eve sleep is never great, but this was exceptionally awful for me. I woke up constantly with a paralyzing fear of the distance, which was the first time since registering that an actual “fear” came over me of running 50 miles. Had to happen at some point, right?

Regardless, our wake up call rang at 3:45am and I popped out of bed, ready to get everything in order. Our drop bags, hydration vests, outfits, etc. had neatly been arranged the night before, so all we had to do was dress, eat, and pack up. The race was a half hour drive from our hotel, so we were on the road by 4:30am or so to get to the start with plenty of time to spare. I ate a packet of Picky Oats (How ‘Bout Them Apples) along with a can of cold brew coffee. This combo was a favorite of mine throughout training, and it worked perfectly energy and stomach-wise. I also sipped on a Nalgene of water all morning, although I was wary of starting the race with TOO much water in my bladder.

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We arrived at the start and it was fairly smooth sailing. We dropped off our drop bags, picked up our bibs, sunscreened, portapottied, and before we knew it we were being herded to the start line for instructions. I was excited! And oddly calm; it felt like we were about to just go for a casual group long run into the woods. During the countdown to start, I gave Adam a good luck kiss, and all of a sudden we were off to run 50 miles!

RACE, PART I: MILES 1-13

The course is a double out-and-back, with the start/finish line in the middle, and nine total aid stations (three of which you hit twice). This made the whole thing very easy in my head to break up: four distinct long runs, one at a time. The first out and back was ~26 miles total, making the first 13 a very comfortable distance to mentally manage. The weather was ideal (50 degrees, clear) and straight away – the trails were something out of a dream! Squishy soft and dry dirt with the greenest, diverse vegetation 360 degrees around. I had to hold back from whooping and hollering around every corner.

I found myself running the first couple of miles with a long line of guys who were all a tad combative to pass one another, only to be immediately leap-frogged by someone else. No bother, I just hung in my spot and focused on staying exceptionally comfortable and relaxed. I wanted to be totally chill on the first section – treating it like an easy long run. It was really simple to do so since I was in a long conga line of people and simultaneously so distracted by the scenery. The only issue I noticed from the get-go was that so many people together made the air around us exceptionally dusty. I wasn’t really breathing much in, but I consciously noted that we would eventually need to spread out simply so that so much dirt wouldn’t be constantly kicked up in the air.

Eventually, the train thinned and around mile five, there was a lone runner behind me – a female whom I could tell I was able to lock step with pace-wise. She introduced herself (Kylie – from Manitou Springs, Colorado!), and within less than 10 minutes we discovered that not only were we both CO natives, but we knew a ton of the same people, both ran the Pikes Peak Ascent the past two years , and we worked as lifeguards for the same pool growing up. What?! The trail world is so small! Anyway, I was thrilled to have someone to easily run with, and the miles were flying by as we chatted the whole time. It was both of our first 50 miler, and we were both intent on not getting carried away and staying smart. It was so comforting to have another newcomer to share in that endeavor! Both of us kept saying to one another that we could go ahead if we wanted, but it was pretty clear we were both much more interested in company than being alone.

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The trails were so runnable, and I was so distracted talking to Kylie that I was shocked when we’d already started to see other runners coming back the other way! I love out-and-back courses because I love seeing other runners and cheering for people. After a couple of guys passed by, we saw the first place woman who was crushing! She was seemingly so far ahead of us. Neither of us knew where we were standings-wise (nor did either of us really care at that point), but we were shocked when we passed by a photographer who yelled, “Second and third women!” when we went by. Uh, say what? I admittedly didn’t really believe him, and since it was basically a quarter of the way through the race, it didn’t particularly matter. But, sure enough, we came to the first turnaround/aid station and hadn’t seen any other females. We loaded up on more water and food, and as soon as we turned around, there was female number four right on our tails.

RACE, PART II: MILES 14-26

After a few minutes on the way back to the start/finish area, the fourth woman (Jen, from Florida) caught up, and the three of us were all running together! Lady gang! This is what I am all about. Not too long after we’d saddled up with Jen, there was Adam coming the other way! He looked awesome and I was so happy to see him so soon after the turnaround.

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Kylie in the background!

Jen had an impressive ultra resume including a few 100ks and a 100 miler, and it was so lovely to learn about her and Kylie throughout this first section. I’ve admittedly never been so fortunate to have this kind of partnership in a race before, and I’m not sure how I’ve survived so far without it! I really leaned into the fact that I was leading our cohort and could therefore set the pace; since neither of them were interested in separating, I realized that I was completely in charge of our effort and could really keep it controlled since they were following me. This is a good place to note that I also kept my watch on time-of-day mode the entire race, meaning I was running entirely by feel, and I cannot recommend this more for ultras. I stayed relaxed, kept drinking and eating, and couldn’t stop exclaiming how beautiful the scenery was.

We leap-frogged with a couple of different groups of guys throughout this section back toward the start/finish line, but generally the three of us stayed together the whole time. At one point around mile 23 or so, Jen decided to jump ahead of us and I followed her back to the midpoint with Kylie close behind. Running behind Jen, I did notice that she hesitated a little on the rockier downhills – which I only recognized since I myself am not particularly strong on them – but I did make a note in the back of my head that this ought to be something to remember later in the race.

Coming into the mid point, I still felt exceptionally relaxed and calm, and I was encouraged at how easy the miles had felt! My plan was to take my time at the start/finish aid station and use the time to regroup physically and mentally before the next out-and-back.

Jen and I ran side-by-side into the cheers of the volunteers and race directors. I took off my vest and asked for full refills in both my bottles. I took a salt pill (I took several salt chews throughout the day as well) and ate watermelon and potato chips feverishly while getting sponged off. Amazing! I added more Tailwind to one of my bottles, put a new pack of Honeystinger chews in my pocket, and darted for the bathroom. On my way to the porta-potty, I saw that Jen was already headed out for the second half and moving really well. No matter, I just needed to run my own race now.

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Photo of Adam getting his sponge soak at the halfway point. It is my favorite photo of the day, and I didn’t get one of me — so here you go!

RACE, PART III: MILES 27-38

I think I spent 3-4 minutes total at the start/finish aid station, and once I set off for the second part of the race, I tried to very intently refocus on the new task at hand. I knew this part would be hillier, hotter, and obviously more intense considering the miles we’d already logged. My goal was to finish both of my bottles between all the aid stations in this section (24 ounces every six miles), which was a lot for me but proved to be necessary as the temperatures rose.

We immediately headed uphill on this second out and back, and I found myself once again in a small train of guys. We all chatted, exchanged info on where we were from, but generally the tone was a little more hush-hush than the first half. Understandably, since things were starting to get a little more serious. This was the only section of the day that my stomach was a little sloshy and unhappy. I blame the watermelon, but it didn’t last too long, and I remained intent on eating, drinking and taking the chewable salt pills that were now disintegrating in my vest. Generally, whenever my mind started to wander or get nervous, I distracted myself with more fuel and liquids.

I was hiking more in this section and starting to feel a little fatigue, but my spirits were high, and I was really happy to be over halfway done with the run. The small group of us came to the first of three aid stations in this section, and this was where I got my first sports bra full of ice. The glory of this cannot be overstated; having a slow-melt of ice soaking your shirt after nearly 30 miles of running is a sensational feeling. I had partnered up too with a guy from Washington (William!) who had run several ultras, including this one, and he was complimentary of how I was faring in my first 50, which helped motivate me forward.

Following this aid station, William and I started a long descent which lasted a few miles. It was very enjoyable and nice to turn our legs over, but all either of us could say was how much it was going to suck climbing on the way back. This section was also a little overgrown too, so I was getting moderately bush-wacked on top of already being filthy from all the dust/dirt. This was also the point in the race that I dropped my one and only f-bomb (due to a fly that would not leave me alone), which is actually a small miracle on its own.

During these miles (31-35 or so), I also started thinking about my finishing place. I knew I was in a very solid third, considering the first place woman was so far ahead of any of us and I hadn’t seen Jen (#2) or Kylie (#4) for a long time. And honestly, I was completely thrilled! Third place was not only super solid for me; it fell right into my secret A-goal of being on the podium. In my head, the spot was mine to lose, so finishing in third became my primary objective as we neared our final turnaround point.

And then, about two minutes up the trail, I saw Jen. I was initially a little surprised since I was sure she’d plowed ahead, but my surprise quickly shape-shifted into exhilaration.

All of a sudden, I felt like a lioness who’d just come upon food for the first time in days. All of a sudden, this had become a real race.

I paraded into the final turnaround aid station with a huge smile and a boatload of energy upon my newfound competitive adrenaline flowing. While my bottles were getting refilled, I loaded my pack with gummy bears, ate some chips and coke, and got a full soak-down with two wet sponges. I’ll say it again: the glory in this feeling was like none other. As the volunteers were doing this, I looked each of them (somewhat deliriously) in the eye and told them that all of this was worth it for how good it felt. I also got my hat and sports bra filled with ice, grabbed a grape Otterpop, and gallivanted back to the trail for the final stretch of the race. On my way out, I noticed Jen still had her pack with the volunteers…and considering the long downhill section we were about to be gifted, I decided now was the time to make a move.

RACE PART IV, MILES 39-50:

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Photo by Adam, amateur spots photographer

I’d say I “bombed” downhill, but that isn’t entirely true considering I’d now run over 38 miles and my legs had zero “bomb” left in them. But I was hustling, and I was wildly happy! I sucked down my Otterpop, rejuvenated by all the ice on my skin and my soaking wet shirt. I was practically screaming at the other racers coming up the trail about the Otterpops at the aid station, as if all I was meant to do in the world was to deliver the glorious message of sugary ice at the end of the trail. There was certainly a primal feeling motivating me at this point, and I didn’t question it.

My main focus, though, was to just keep moving. The narrative in my head was on repeat, something to the tune of: “Get distance between you. The more you run, the further ahead you’ll get. This is hard for everyone at this point. Second place. SECOND PLACE. Could you even imagine, second place?”

The downhill section was moderately short-lived, but eventually I started seeing a lot of runners coming back the other way which was really encouraging. Several of them started yelling out, “You’re number 2!” – which obviously was incentivizing. I made sure to smile and cheer on every single person I saw, and nearly everyone did the same – are there any better people than trail runners? One guy in particular whom I had run some of the early miles with yelled, “SAVAGE!” when he saw me, and we high-fived enthusiastically as we crossed.

Right around mile 40, I saw ADAM! I was so excited to see him. I raised my arms in the air and shouted nonsense (something about Otterpops). He said, “You’re definitely in second, and you’re definitely not catching first.” Ha! I loved seeing him and how good he still looked, and of course he reminded me of the big climb that I knew was coming.

The temperatures were around 85 or so at that point, which I definitely noticed, but I also felt very ready for it, as if my body had hardened a bit to running in the heat. While wilting in the hot weather is always a specialty of mine, I’m proud to say that this was perhaps the first hot race I’ve run where the temperature wasn’t really in my mind all that often.

All that to say, the mile+ long climb in the sun wasn’t fun. I allowed myself to walk nearly the whole thing, knowing I needed to stay smart and preserve energy for the final miles. Throughout the last section of the race, whenever the upward slope flattened a little, I did try and run for short segments, consciously thinking, “I don’t run Dino Ridge every week to get beaten on the hills!”

I was all alone now, save for the people I was passing on the way out. I maintained enthusiastic cheers whenever I saw any other racer, and otherwise maintained a systematic rhythm of drinking, eating, and salt-ing. Around mile 43, a woman yelled that I was about a mile and half from the final aid station, and as I went by her she yelled, “You look great lady bird!”

Obviously she had no idea of my name or my nickname, but this comment both nearly brought me to tears and made me acutely aware of all my amazing friends who’d encouraged me during the race and who were undoubtedly thinking about me (and Adam) right then.

I snuck a look behind me as I came up to the final aid and saw no one within the minute or so of trail. I refilled my bottles (succumbing to the Gu Brew energy drink at this point since I was out of Tailwind), got more bra ice, and was deeply inflated by the volunteers who all encouraged me to “go get the number 2 spot!”

I was hurting though, and as I confirmed on the way out that there were still over five miles to run, I narrowed my focus on one foot in front of the other.

The good part about the final five miles was that they were moderately downhill. The bad part was that it wasn’t downhill enough to really give any gravity assistance; you were definitely still needing to work. On fresh legs, these woodsy miles would have been heaven, but right now…there was nothing fun about them. Despite still having my watch on time-of-day and not actually watching the miles click by, I knew I was moving slowly. Both of my IT bands felt like bricks in my legs, and my quads were seizing a little with each step.

But, I maintained focus: eat, drink, salt, breath. It was practically on autopilot right now, and I kept myself distracted by thinking of all the training I’d done to mimic this point.

I remembered running in Leadville at 2:00pm the day after the Mt. Evans Ascent, on a trail that was exactly like this.

I remembered running the final downhill stretch of Kenosha Pass, which I distinctly remember thinking did not feel downhill at the time.

And I very specifically remembered the 90+ degree runs I forced myself to do after work in order to condition myself to endure these conditions.

It was working – all these instances had worked – and they were motoring the final miles of the longest run I’d ever done.

With about 2 miles to go, William (!) surged by me, and he was the first person who passed me this whole section. It admittedly worried me a tad, and I timidly asked him if he’d seen Jen recently. He told me he’d left her at the previous aid station, meaning she wasn’t all that far back. William was running well and fast which made me think I still had a good enough gap, but this certainly helped motivate me to keep running.

I thought about what Julia had told me before the race: “You only get to run your first 50 miler once, make it a good one to remember!” It felt like I was running this for both of us in a lot of ways; we both had the goal of running 50 this year, and she’s practically the reason I started trail running in the first place. I didn’t actually start believing my training for this race was sufficient until Julia acknowledged and praised it as such. That’s the thing about training partners…their belief starts to fuel your own. With less than two miles to run, telling Julia that I had gotten second woman was truly the only motivation I needed.

Second place…second place…it’s yours to lose at this point. Keep moving!

We were at that point where around every single corner, you expect to see the finish line. Frustratingly so…the trail seemed to curve and continue without any end. But then, like the sweetest song you’ve ever heard, the distant noise of music and cheers came into earshot.

GO!

I saw the trailhead entrance and was welcomed by a few volunteers, reminding me where to go for the finish (thank goodness, because it was likely I would have stopped right then and there). The lead-up to the final road stretch was up a short and steep little climb, and I jokingly asked the volunteers if it was acceptable to hike those few steps.

I turned onto the road, made a left into the dirt parking lot area, and straight ahead saw the most beautiful finish line I’ve ever seen. No other runners, just a perfect straightaway for me to float along to the end. I don’t actually know if I’ve ever smiled that big.

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I heard my name announced as second woman, crossed the line, and fell into the most soulful embrace of the race director. Following immediately after, the first place woman gave me the biggest hug as well. Again…no better people.

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POST-RACE

Within a few minutes, the cheers of the spectators picked up again and there was Jen, finishing with the biggest smile on her face too. We both hugged as well and immediately went to sit in the shade. I drank three full pint glasses of ginger ale and the two of us surveyed the aftermath of the day to our legs, before getting a good hose off from some volunteers.

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Following, we had the awards ceremony where I received a unique, etched glass and a free pair of Nike trail shoes of my choosing! I spotted Kylie too (who finished 4th!!) and gave her a hug and we each thanked one another for all the shared miles we’d had. I am certain we’ll have more runs together in the future!

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Left to right: Jen (3rd), me (2nd), and Hannah (1st)

I plopped down eventually and changed into my flip flops, though everything I was doing was in fairly slow motion. Relaxing in the shade seemed like the proper move while waiting for Adam, and while I sat and chatted with some fellow runners, I noticed that November Project SF leader and pro/badass ultrarunner, Paddy, was strolling around! It was one of those awkward instances where I very much knew him and he very much didn’t know me, but I went to introduce myself regardless and after telling him who I was, who I knew, and how I finished, I don’t think he gave me less than three hugs.

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In the midst of talking with him, I glanced behind my shoulder only to see Adam running into the finishing chute!!! He will be the first to admit that he, too, was far ahead of when he thought he would finish and again…I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a bigger smile on his face.

I “darted” toward the finish line to greet him, only to overhear him thanking the race director and telling her, “What a great race!” Anyone who knows my husband (himself included) would agree that this is not his normal demeanor at the end of any race. 🙂 What a day!

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After some food, story-telling, and cheering for people coming in, we gingerly and slowly made our way back to the car to head for the hotel. I could not wait to tell everyone A) that we survived, and B) that we thrived!

AFTERWARD

There’s still a lot for me to process about this race. Overall, I am overwhelmingly satisfied and psyched with the outcome; for perhaps the first time, my patience and my understanding of running “smart” matched my competitiveness – and it’s a symmetry I’m not sure I’ve ever achieved before.

Physically, I’ve probably never been so beat up following a race either (short of having an actual injury). It’s five days later and I’m still so tired, so hungry, and I have a little bit of a cold. My legs aren’t acutely sore anymore, but the two days after the race were probably the most soreness I’ve ever felt.

I’ve been asked by a few people if I think 50 miles is my distance, which the verdict is still out on. I did really enjoy the training and confirmed I have the endurance to compete, but it really is so…long. I do understand why the ultra community jokes that the 50 mile is the first “real” ultra distance. There was a distinct point during mile 29 of Mt. Hood that I thought, “Wow, I’ve never missed the 50k distance so much as I do now!” which is humorous in hindsight to think of 31 miles as “short.” So, to be determined what this means for future races…but I can say this race has really inspired my trail love even more so.

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I cannot finish this report without an enormous thank you to my people: my training partners, my family, my friends, my fellow runners…I have been overwhelmed by encouragement and kindess both before, during, and after this race, and without you – none of this would be nearly as rewarding or fun.

The community of runners, the volunteers, the overall ethos of the sport: trail running is an exceptionally comforting reminder of how good and supportive people can be. I’m so happy to have chosen this race and experienced it so fully – as for what’s next race-wise, still yet to be determined, but for the rest of the summer you can find me hiking big mountains and running trails with my friends!

 

DETAILS

Official finish time: 8:56:49

Gender place: 2nd

Overall place: 28th

Nutrition (estimated): 4 sticks of Tailwind, 2 packs Honeystinger chews, 1 bottle Gu Brew, potato chips, watermelon, gummy bears, salt tabs, 1 life-changing Otterpop

Strava file

Results

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NYC Marathon 2017 Race Recap

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When I first registered for the New York City Marathon, I knew that my first and foremost goal would be to have fun. I was doing the race as a means of raising money for a great organization, it would be a short training cycle, and…it was THE New York City Marathon! It’s been a bucket list race for me for years, and I wanted to enjoy and relish my experience rather than have it tarnished by time goal pressure or suffering. Not to mention my last marathon was Boston 2016, and despite a near-perfect training cycle and a PR, my memory of that race has left a long-lasting bad taste in my mouth. NYC was about fundraising, training the best I could, and treating race day like the big ol’ party it promised to be.

To touch briefly on training, I went into the race with a roughly eight week training cycle following the Grand Traverse. I recovered for a week from GT and then slowly transitioned into bread-and-butter marathon training. I got in three 20+ milers, a small handful of speed workouts, and averaged between 50-60 miles per week. Granted, this wasn’t the ideal training season that I have experienced in the past, but considering the timing, it felt adequate enough.

I should also mention that I spent the eight weeks before NYC actually doing the little things. I saw a PT after the Grand Traverse for my never-ending glute/hamstring/quad fatigue, and a quick assessment landed me with a multitude of butt strengtheners to do. Every other day, I was spending 30ish minutes going through a variety of glute activation exercises, strengthening moves and general pelvis alignment stuff. It was tedious and inconvenient…but it worked. The all-encompassing leg fatigue I had been experiencing for nearly the whole year was subsiding, and generally I felt more durable when I ran. Coupled with dry needling every other week, I had started to feel much more like my old running self – which was a welcome change.

My fitness felt decent, but I didn’t really have much indication as to how that would translate in the race. So, when asked what my goals were and what my estimated finish would be, I truly had no idea! That’s what I told everyone who asked, including Adam, and it was the absolute truth. Plus, as previously mentioned, I wanted to have fun and enjoy the day – which I felt primped and ready to achieve. There was, however, one little sparkle in my eye when it came to potential outcomes: three weeks before the race, I ran the Denver Rock ‘n’ Roll Half-Marathon (following a seven mile “warm-up”) in 1:38, and it felt…easy. Legitimately easy. Hmm…maybe there could be more to NYC after all.

In the days leading up to race weekend, I felt so excited. Certainly more excited than I ever have before a marathon. My only nerves were surrounding logistics and getting there; when it came to the race, all I felt was pure bubbly anticipation. It helped that we’d never been to New York before and had a variety of other plans made that I was looking forward to. That said, I also had the best taper week I’ve ever had. I was sleeping well every night (8+ hours easily), I wasn’t fidgety due to decreased activity, and I generally felt calm and confident about race day. Every time I thought about running 26.2 miles during taper, I felt fired up but not antsy, ready but not over-trained. I can’t fully describe why this was such a good taper other than I felt either calm or pumped up all week, and it was a great respite from constant anxiety or nervousness.

PRE-RACE

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Sleepy airplane selfie! We’re on our way!

We arrived at JFK at 1:00 pm on Friday afternoon, cabbed to our Air BnB on the Upper East Side, and immediately made our way to the expo. I always prefer to visit expos two days out from a race should the option be there, and we figured it would be a good way to get to know the subway system. We made our way to the nearby station without a hitch, got off on our stop, and voila – public transportation savants! I personally LOVE utilizing any available public transport in new cities and am always impressed be its efficiency while also disappointed Denver falls so short.

The expo was other-worldy in terms of size and organization. Volunteers were there to answer questions before you even knew you had them, everything was laid out in a completely logical order, and they even had a designated station in which you could try on a shirt to make sure you got the right size. Brilliant!

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After getting our packets, we pitter-pattered around for a bit before bee-lining back to our home base to shower and change clothes before our Friday night outing…HAMILTON!

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CANNOT CONTAIN THE JOY!

Since this is a race report, I’ll spare you the full details of our NYC extracurriculars, but I will say that outside of the race…Hamilton was the thing I was most excited for. My two-year fandom was honored by an absolutely awesome show, a delicious meal beforehand, and sharing it with my dude.

GOALS

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Flat Robyn!

I’m a big believer in having race goals no matter if they’re time-oriented or not. That said, my “A” goal (and only goal) for New York was to run a race I was proud of; a race that was well-executed, in which I remained positive and fought hard no matter what. I talked a lot about my strategy with Julia beforehand, and she made the great point that since I had no time or pace objectives, this would be a great opportunity to practice tactical racing. For me, that meant being patient and chill to start off and then hammering home at the end. Every feel-good marathon I’ve had up until then (three out of seven) have entirely revolved around slow starts and fast finishes, so I wanted to try and execute a stellar negative split at this race if possible. It’s also worth noting that considering my 2+ hours in the medical tent following Boston, I was very intent on not allowing anything close to that to happen.

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Flat Bear!

 

When chatting with Adam on race eve about these goals and whatnot, I told him that my race was going to come down to one question: “Who do you want to be today?”

This is the thought I planned to keep in the front of my head the entire day as a reminder that I was, in fact, in control of how my race was going to go. It’s so easy to look back in hindsight and think that you “should have” and “could have” in certain situations, and I’ve fallen victim to this backward-looking mentality more often than not. But when it came to NYC, I decided to flip my attitude and instead have some foresight: if I’m writing the story of this race, I’m in charge of the role I play in it. How I want to remember it, then, is entirely up to me.

RACE DAY

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I never said I wasn’t cheesy. BTW, I did not take this screenshot at 12:19 am on race day 🙂

My alarm went off early, and thanks to DLS it didn’t feel too bad at all! Right away, I read the “Do Not Open ‘Til Race Day” pump up email Julia wrote me, which was SO good and totally got me in the right frame of mind to start the day. I took a shower, dressed, ate some overnight oats, and before we knew it we were on our way to the buses! As you may or may not know, since the NYCM starts on Staten Island and is a point-to-point course, all runners (yes, all 50,000+) are either bused or ferried to the start line, which is no small feat. Sure enough, when we arrived at the line-up of people to get on the buses, it was overwhelming. So many runners with their checked bags, sweats and food all huddled in lines that weaved around multiple city blocks. It took us probably 25 minutes of waiting in line to actually get on a bus, but once we did it was super chill and relaxing. In fact, both Adam and I fell asleep on the ride to Staten Island. Bonus sleep! We sat next to a Swedish gentleman who was running his second ever marathon, and it was his first trip to the U.S.! I should underscore here that this race is SO international in nature and the variety of languages overheard surrounding the race was incredible.

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In line and in throwaways

Arriving at the start village was pretty smooth sailing, and we easily navigated through security to Adam’s start corral. Even though we were in different corrals, I wanted to hang with him as long as possible beforehand, and it wasn’t any trouble to do so. We found the coffee and bagels immediately as well as a spot close to bathrooms with nearly an hour to go. I put my legs up, ate a little, drank water, and remained pretty darn chill up until it was time to get into my corral.

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Found our Dunkin’ hats! Score.

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Just in case you need some canine company. Casual.

Once we heard the final announcement for me to get going, I kissed Adam goodbye and wished him good luck (more emotional than I expected!) and somewhat hastily rushed my way to check my bag and find my group before they closed the entrance. Thanks to NP NYC, I was able to get a spot in the “Local Competitive” corral which is a qualifier group that starts in the front of the other waves following the elite men. Fancy! It was a small group of people, and we were right up in front of the start line of the lower level of the Verrazano Bridge. I quickly found Starbuck in his crab costume as well as some other NPers. My people! We had another 20 minutes or so of standing around waiting to kick things off, but between the National Anthem, the elite women starting, and last-minute stretching, it flew by. During the one-minute countdown, I frantically realized I kind of had to pee, but hoped it would just go away once we started (spoiler, it did).

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All at once, Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” was playing over loud speakers, and we were off! Woohoo! The atmosphere was as electric as I’d anticipated, and I was already smiling from ear to ear. The bridge is nearly two miles long up and then down, and I’d been instructed to neither care nor pay attention to my pace for the first mile since it’s so crowded and satellites are wonky. My watch was set to show lap pace, meaning I’d only know what I was averaging for the mile I was in.

A lot of people were passing me on the bridge, which I both expected and welcomed. The quality of my entire race was going to be determined in my first 5-6 miles, and I focused on how great it would feel to be passing people later on rather than right now. Not to mention…I was so distracted! From the bridge we could see skylines and buildings all around us, and upon entering Brooklyn, there were tons of people already welcoming us! My friend Franny told me to find a good groove in Brooklyn since it’s mostly flat, and I could immediately tell how easy that would be once we got there.

If I’m being perfectly honest, I have very little memory of the specific miles during the first half of NYC. I remember the crowds, I remember establishing a solid fueling strategy, and I remember feeling super happy and relaxed, but as for mile-by-mile details, I don’t have much. Which is actually a great indication of just how floaty the miles were – they were flying by! It was so easy to break this race up too thanks to the different boroughs and various people/landmarks I knew were coming.

MILES 1-6

Save for one downhill mile, all these miles were over an 8:00 pace which was entirely my plan. Conservation was key for a fast finish, and I wanted to make it to the halfway mark feeling as fresh as possible. While I didn’t exactly feel springy to start off, I quickly established a comfy rhythm to ride along and enjoy the early sites of the race. Brooklyn was charming as could be and positively PACKED with people. I was constantly smiling, thanking people and trying to take in as much of it as possible. I noticed I was sweating more heavily than normal, which I could easily chalk up to humidity since it was overcast and misty, but that was mostly a non-factor.

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We’re doing it!

MILES 7-13.1

Still in Brooklyn, still cruising. I gave myself permission to up the pace a little, and when I saw my watch click off 7:50, I actually said out loud, “This is where you live now.” Somehow by telling myself to stick right around a certain speed, I thought it would just subconsciously make it happen. Anyway, my next checkpoint goal was getting to the halfway mark feeling good, and I felt well on my way. Per usual first-half-of-a-marathon protocol, I tried to “stay boring”; deep breaths, shaking out my hands, high-fiving people – all in the name of relaxed running. I was easily distracted though, thanks to the nonstop party going on and the anticipation of all that was to come.

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The halfway point came right before we left Brooklyn for Queens, and it was the single time in the race that I clicked my watch to check overall time. 1:44 – perfect.

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Somewhere around this point, I heard over a megaphone that Shalane had taken a dominant lead with about a mile left to go, which gave me actual chills and pumped me up so much! We were only in Queens for a hot minute, and I was primarily focused on getting to the Queensboro Bridge which I’d heard would be both quiet and a good place to check in with how you were feeling. Back at the start line, I chatted with an NYC local who had run the race numerous times and told me that this bridge is always a make or break indicator for him as to how the rest of the race would go, which I took pretty seriously.

As luck would have it, when we got onto the bridge and the crowds subsided (pedestrians aren’t allowed on), I actually felt…antsy. I was ready to GO! I heard a “Robyn!” as I was running along and turned around to see Jason from NP Denver! Out of all the people out there, he managed to spot me and we chatted for a few seconds about our races and how we were feeling. It was comforting to see a familiar face and he told me something like, “Go and get it!” when I left him.

My glutes were feeling fatigued (standard procedure) at this point, but that was just a reminder to think about my form and engage my butt muscles. As soon as I made some slight tweaks, I felt fresh again, and this self-reminder helped me throughout the entire rest of the race.

“Who do you want to be today?”

I remembered my mantra as we crested the bridge and prepared to pummel downhill into Manhattan. I was already feeling proud and satisfied with my execution so far, and when it came to how I wanted to remember the miles from here on out…I knew I wanted to compete and fight.

MILES 17-23

1st Avenue promised to be perhaps the biggest hype party of the day, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Admittedly, I didn’t necessarily the notice the famous “wall of sound” that’s describe here, but it was positively electric regardless.

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Miles 17 through 20 of this section are essentially a straight shot in which you actually feel like the crowds are pushing you from behind. There were rows and rows of people lining the entire way, and I stuck to the left since I knew there would be familiar faces on that side of the street. Ali! Mary! Danielle! Amelia! Angel!

A peak down at my watch showed that I’d increased to a 7:30-ish pace, which felt very manageable. I was passing a lot of people too, which the crowds seemed to love and acknowledged when I ran by…totally firing me up! I was smiling at and thanking basically everybody I could, and I figured that once this section finished up I’d settle back into a little bit of a slower pace.

We crossed over into the Bronx at mile 20 (notoriously “the wall”!) and I started to get antsy for Central Park. I wanted to be there! I knew we had a bit of a ways to go still, including the 5th Avenue “hill,” but all at once I had this itch to really race the rest of this thing. My energy and legs both felt intact and sustainable, and I loved all the energy in the Bronx and actually wished we had spent a little more time there. All the crowds seemed to know and appreciate that this was where the marathon can get really hard, and they were all welcoming and encouraging us to press onward.

Right when we reentered Manhattan (final borough!) we went through Harlem which easily had the best entertainment of the day! There were multiple bands lining a fairly concentrated section of the course, and it really motivated me for the climb to come. Loud music keeps you out of your head! Again, I could not physically stop myself from smiling, which consequentially found itself powering my legs. Miles 21-23 were 7:26, 7:20, 7:21. Um…was this actually happening?

MILES 24-26.2

I’d prepared myself for the 5th Avenue mile for a long time, since I’d read that despite only a moderate gain (~100 ft), at that point in the race it was killer. And truly…I think I over-hyped myself a little bit for it. It wasn’t too bad! My pace naturally slowed a little and I began to feel both my IT bands, but since we were running right alongside Central Park, the siren sound of the finish line was getting louder…and I was psyched to be so close!

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“Who do you want to be today?”

As soon as I started to feel that familiar leg fatigue, I actually said this out loud to myself. I knew my energy was plentiful enough to keep up my momentum, and I wanted to do everything I could to execute what was left of my speed.

We entered Central Park right at mile 25, and this was probably my favorite part of the race. With all I’d heard about the magic of this park and this race, there was nothing quite like actually entering it with a little over a mile to go. We were gifted a gradual decline down Cat Hill, which gave me a refreshing moment to take in what was happening before getting to the grand finale. My legs were really starting to talk to me and my stomach was turning ever so slightly, but all I remember was nearly feeling weightless. I was passing so many people and consequentially getting “You go girl!” feedback from the crowds, which only propelled me forward even faster. I have no memory of feeling like I was grinding or bearing down to just get it done with, and in fact over that last mile I felt a hint of sadness that it was almost over.

With just over a half mile to go, we ducked out of Central Park to run along the south side before reentering at Columbus Circle. I can distinctly remember looking up and seeing the beautiful Plaza Hotel right in front of us and thinking it was hysterical that I was so distracted by a hotel at this point in the race. Looking back…maybe I was a little more delirious than I remember.

Back into the park, and we ran by a main-stage where the performer announced, “Look out, NP is taking the lead!” referring to my tagged shirt, which I loved! Right then I clicked off a 7:11 mile, which I was sure had to be my fastest of the day, and I buckled up as we headed into the finishing chute.

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Again, my mantra pulsed in my head in those final moments, and my brain flashed back  to Boston as I giddily thought, “I’m still standing!” as I made my way to the end. The finishing chute is long and a little uphill, but it felt like the most celebratory place in the world to me. I was whooping and cheering, and all of a sudden, there was the finish line! DONE!

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I stopped my watch and finally looked at my cumulative time: 3:24:16. What?!? I actually looked at my watch multiple times when I stopped it because I couldn’t quite believe that without any intention or plan whatsoever, I managed to run a PR race that felt so strong.

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I was SO excited up as we made our way through the medals, heat sheets, and food. I was probably a little annoying, in hindsight, as I couldn’t stop talking about how amazing that race was!

I immediately became focused on getting to my phone to find out how Adam was doing, and somewhere in my gut…I was pretty sure he was having a good day, too. Call if wifely instinct, but somehow I felt like we had shared a race plan that day that was going to work out for both of us.

After a longggg walk, I finally got my checked bag and got updated on Adam’s status. He was running SO well and on track for a 3:56! This was his first marathon and his big goal was to run under four hours, although he wasn’t totally sure how do-able it would be. Of course, he was crushing and I couldn’t wait to see him!

With about an hour to go though until then, I made my way out of the park to our designated meeting point and desperately tried to find a bathroom. There isn’t a bounty of public restrooms in NYC, but luckily an employee at a small grocery store took pity on me and let me use theirs. I was able to change and warm up a little before heading to find a beverage and a bench to plop on. I responded to messages from friends and family and anxiously waited for the notification that Adam had finished. When Julia texted me that his last mile was a 7:56, I knew he was feeling good and was going to destroy his goal.

A few minutes later, a notification came though: ”Adam Mayer has finished the New York City Marathon in 3:54:07.” AHHHH! Best day ever.

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The happiest couple in all the land!

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Ali on the Run in real life! She found us and it was amazing.

POST RACE

We spent the rest of our time in NYC eating, sleeping, and seeing as many sites as our sore legs allowed. I was actually grateful for all the walking we did, ultimately, as I think it helped move along my recovery since my soreness subsided after only a couple days. As we cabbed back to the airport on Sunday night, I was positively starry-eyed: the city, the race, my race, Adam’s race…all of it was just so good and I couldn’t have imagined a better outcome for the weekend.

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The universe, however, decided to grant us one more magic moment.

As we sat at our gate before boarding, Adam was looking behind me and said, “…is that the female winner? Shalane?” I whipped around to see a familiar tiny blonde taking a photo with someone. Holy crap! I told Adam to grab his phone as I walked over to her with zero chill to say hi. She was literally the last person boarding her flight (and carrying her wreath crown!) and could not have seemed more tired (understandably!), and then there’s me…blubbering away about how inspiring she is and how much she means to female runners.

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Cherry on top of the weekend!

I could not be more proud of how I ran this race and how I approached it in general. Lower-pressure races with fewer expectations and more question marks seem to work very well for me, and it’s something I’m definitely going to remember going forward. I have no real idea of what the next big thing will be for me, but for the time being I’m happy to hang my hat on a high note. This year was full of so many different kinds of running experiences as well as lots of ups and lots of downs, and I’m so pleased to have finished it off with a big performance I can remember so fondly.

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XOXO

Thank you NYC!!! I love you.

Official results

Strava file

The Grand Traverse Mountain Race – Recap

In order to adequately describe all that happened in this race, I need to start with a bit of context about what’s been going on this year. It’s a little more whiny than I’d like, but it still feels necessary. All that to say, the year has been tumultuous on a much grander scale than my own petty complaints. I’m fully aware that none of the below touches much of what’s been going on around the world recently, but it is my own personal, relative, experience.

PREFACE

The one word I would use to sum up 2017 is simply, hard.

Life has been spinning in circles over the past eight months with lots of changes, busyness and plans, and I’ve had a hard time coming up for air through it all. Granted, lots of it has been great and exciting, but the compounding effect of it all has kind of punched me in the face. There’s no self-pitying to be done, because truly lots of it has been good, but generally most parts of life have taken a lot of work this year, including running.

This leads me to some real talk, most of which I’ve only recently admitted to myself.

Ever since I finished The North Face 50k last December, running hasn’t been going so great. To make a very long story short, my body hasn’t felt very good or healthy all year, and no matter how much I would tweak training or rest or supplement, it was never clicking. I would string together a few weeks of strong training, only to take several steps back of feeling achey and incapable of progression. I did manage to run a few good races this spring (the high point of my running year), but generally I’ve spent the year pretty frustrated. Combine this feeling with the overall burden of a stressful year, and I can only sum up 2017 as hard.

But you didn’t come here to hear me complain, you came here to read about a race! I preface this recap with all my gloominess to set the stage, though, as to what my mindset looked like going in and why I really needed a change of tide.

THE BEFORE

Adam, Colin and I registered for The Grand Traverse, a 40 mile mountain race, back in January, inspired by the thought of a new distance goal and beautiful summer trails. I managed to recruit Julia to join, and Ryan Starbuck jumped at the mention of a fun challenge. We had ourselves a small team of people running their first big ultra! No one really followed a strict training plan, but through long days on our feet, mountain climbing, and playing around the Front Range, we all felt confident in our abilities to finish.

Leading up to the race, though, I wasn’t feeling confident…I was feeling dread. Two weeks beforehand, I finished the Pikes Peak Ascent in what was perhaps the worst race of my running career. I was unbelievably negative throughout the race, and my entire body hurt from the very first step. My finish time was pretty far from where I know I’m capable of, but beyond that, I have never been so down on myself while doing what I love. Gulping down tears at 13,500 feet on my way up Pikes, I was hit straight between the eyes with the realization that at some point this year, I had stopped believing in myself. I’d allowed the months of frustration and stress to trample on my confidence, and it all came to a head while climbing up a mountain.

Little did I know, I needed this to happen. As bitter as I was afterward, I was reminded that the mental aspect of running is almost equally as important as the physical – and somehow I’d let mine slip away entirely. It was time to reinstate a new perspective if I wanted a chance at finishing the Grand Traverse.

So, in the week leading up to GT, I visualized everything that would make the day successful. I wanted to feel strong, I wanted to spend the whole race with Julia, and I wanted to feel proud at the end. There wasn’t anything I could really do to affect how I’d do physically at that point, so I poured all of my last-minute energy into changing my attitude.

PRE-RACE

The race is a point-to-point course from Crested Butte to Aspen, run almost entirely on single-track trails. We stayed in Crested Butte on Friday night beforehand, and with the exception of an unfortunately expensive speeding ticket, everything pre-race went super smooth. I felt well hydrated, well rested and fueled perfectly for me. I wasn’t especially nervous until right before going to bed, so I didn’t end up sleeping well at all, but that’s a bit to be expected.

We all jumped out of bed in the 4-o’clock hour ready to get moving. I showered, dressed and ate some overnight oats and coffee before it was time to pack up for the start line. For fuel, I decided to heavily rely on Tailwind, along with Shot Bloks and the salty food that would be at aid stations.

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Upon inserting this photo, I’m realizing that in the last post I wrote I was wearing the same shorts and shirt as I did here. So predictable. Side note: indoor bathrooms for the win!

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Julia and I decided months before running that we’d run the race together – which I think kept both of us composed leading up, knowing we’d be distracted by each other’s company. Probably too many times I had made comments about how either we shouldn’t run together or she should plan on going ahead because of my aforementioned lack of confidence in my running, but she was insistent that part of the inspiration to run this race was to do it together. I couldn’t have agreed more, so I leaned on knowing she’d be there to keep me out of my own head.

THINK ABOUT YOUR BUTT

The start of the race was ethereal; it was dark and cool, and there was a very low visible fog ahead of us that we were headed straight into. It was awesome! None of us had headlamps, but there were enough around us to move along with ease, and the sun was rising within 20 minutes or so of the start. Once we left town, we headed gradually up some winding single track at the base of Mt. Crested Butte, and I looked back behind us to see a weaving line of headlamps stretched along the trail moving steadily along. It was serene, and I loved feeling so at peace at the beginning of race.

Julia and I steadily ran along for the first 5 miles or so, allowing an anxious conga line of runners to dart past us (y tho?), and I told her that it was the best I’d felt running in two months. And it truly was. Be it the cooler air, the cushy trail, or the tapering…I felt light and strong. A feeling I’d legitimately been missing the entire summer. I was encouraged, and I made it my priority to hold onto that feeling.

We spent the next few miles on a dirt jeep road cruising downhill, at which point I reminded myself, “Think about your butt.” Part of the physical issues I’ve had this year have been due to lazy glutes, so I have to actively remind myself to engage my butt muscles while running. Sounds silly, but it really helps. Whenever I’d start to feel any familiar nag or ache, I would remember to think about my butt…and my form instantly straightened out.

During this road section, Julia told me with absolute certainty that I was going to have a better day than her, and I knew she was already hurting. She’d been sick with a cold the entire week leading up, and we both hoped it had cleared up…the altitude was proving otherwise. After a very brief discussion with her making sure I wanted to stick together (duh), we pressed on.  I talked a lot, not really expecting her to respond, and on we went. We were approaching the part of the course that we knew would be several miles of uphill climbing to 12,000 feet, and we were counting on lots of hiking to re-calibrate our energy.

For better or for worse, this section ended up being a lot more run-friendly than we expected. Julia proclaimed it as “annoyingly runnable,” meaning that while it was certainly all uphill, it was mellow and non-technical enough to really run most of it. We ran/hiked by feel and chatted with everyone we saw along the way. We were skirting along the side of a basin at this point, headed to Star Pass – our first high point. The terrain was a great combination of woods and alpine meadow, and I couldn’t stop declaring how beautiful it was. Not to mention at 8 am in the morning, the temperature was perfect, the birds were chirping and the sun was slowly illuminating the beautiful valley. I knew I was talking a lot, and I navigated the line between distracting Jules and trying not to annoy her.

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This was the first time I have A) carried my phone during a race, and B) taken photos during one!

Around mile 13, Colin caught up to us and we swapped stories a bit about our days so far. He was ready to attack the big climb so he went ahead while we continued a good cadence of running and hiking. While Julia was vocal about potentially holding us back, I knew that keeping our pace sustainable and composed would be the only way for me to continue to feel strong, and looking back I’m grateful for remaining conservative.

I GOT SMARTER, I GOT HARDER IN THE NICK OF TIME

When Colin went by us, he asked which song we all had stuck in our heads, and after some jokes about Look What You Made Me Do – T.Swift was pounding in the front of my brain. Luckily, I got stuck on the most applicable and helpful line in the song, “I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time,” and it was like an endorphin shot for me. I’ve always leveraged music and lyrics as running mantras (often times of the musical theater variety), but this particular lyric felt directly correlated to how I was feeling in this race compared to how I’d felt all summer. In the nick of time…I was pulling it together.

Heading up Star Pass, the terrain began to feel very similar to hiking a 14er. We were out of the trees and faced with an exposed alpine slope that crudely reminded you just how far you had to go. I was up ahead of Julia by 100 yards or so during this climb, and I focused on evening out my breathing, hydrating and of course…thinking about my butt. I like to use the hiking ascents to take some huge gulps of water, and since I knew there was an aid station coming up I tried to empty both my bottles.

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Heading up Star Pass

Approaching the top of the pass, I was feeling pretty damn happy. I felt really strong, we were nearly 18 miles into the race, and it was so beautiful! I was smiling every which way, and I hoped that since the bulk of the climbing was out of the way, Julia would be encouraged at how far she’d made it despite not feeling well.

I began descending slowly down the other side of Star Pass, which I knew was where Julia would catch back up naturally due to her superior descending abilities. This was the most technical part of the course so it wasn’t hard to take it easy, but after so much climbing over the last 10 miles,  I was ready to stretch out my stride a bit more.

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Backside of Star Pass

Julia and I ran mostly side-by-side from Star Pass to Taylor Pass (the second high point), and while she said she would’ve considered dropping out at Star Pass if there was an option to, I noticed there was a bit more pep in her step than beforehand. While we were up super high elevation-wise, we were mostly descending on runnable trail, which I think energized both of us to finish up the last big climb.

Taylor Pass is the final cutoff point and also where they allow drop bags for runners, so it’s a great checkpoint. It’s also over halfway through the race, so it was encouraging to get there and still feel energized. We spent about 3 minutes there, in which I drank Coke, ate chips and watermelon (do not recommend watermelon), and grabbed more Tailwind and some additional fuel from my drop bag. I had packed extra socks, sunscreen and other miscellaneous items in my bag, but I hardly even thought about them in the moment.

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Nearing top of Taylor Pass, looking out at Pyramid Peak in the distance (Maroon Bells are there too but hidden).

We had caught back up to Colin around the top of Taylor Pass, and while all of us were whooping and excited to get to the final peak climb, we were instantly faced with a wall of a hill that everyone needed to switch-back their way up. The course along this section of the race was a wide dirt road, which lent itself well to running side-by-side with people, but it also meant that both 2- and 4-wheelers would zoom by us every so often. I didn’t mind the motorbikes so much at first, but after one too many families on ATVs forced us to the shoulder of the trail while pumping car exhaust into our lungs…I was over it. Not much to do about it on an open course, though.

Julia, Colin, and I found Starbuck at this point too. I was feeling a little hot under the full sun and my legs were definitely fatigued, but overall my energy was sharp. I felt alert and motivated and generally ecstatic with how much better the day was going than I’d anticipated. Not to mention we had sweeping views of the Elks at this point, and I felt really fortunate to live in a place that offered this kind of beauty.

SMILE

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Julia and I found our legs a bit between miles 25-30 (I recognize the hilarity in that statement), and as we approached a big group of people to pass around mile 29, Julia boldly said, “I feel like myself for the first time today.” Woo! There she was. Funny thing about an all-day race: even after hours of low points, miraculously you can drag yourself out of it. We were ready to move and tackle the remaining 10 miles to the finish.

While most of the climbing was behind us, there were a few stinger hills left that stopped our running dead in its tracks to a slow hike. During a particularly hard one when I began to feel overwhelmed at the distance remaining, I remembered the greatest truth about pain in races – it’s inevitable. Accepting this inevitability somehow took the power away from the pain, and I found myself smiling and feeling grateful to be so deep into this race and still making good progress. I’d been feeling so much anxiety leading up to it, I was a little overwhelmed with joy to feel the physical effects of all the efforts we’d already put in. It was then that I realized that smiling was having an actual, physiological effect on my tired legs. When I’d smile, I felt my muscles relax and my back straighten, as if energy was being injected into me. I remembered how my sister, Corey, looked when she finished the Ascent two weeks before; she hadn’t trained for it and sort of jumped in at the last minute, and her smile at the finish line could not have been bigger. She was joyful and proud – and remembering her inspired me to do everything I could to finish this feeling the same way.

On we went. Every surge of energy we’d get from a little downhill was quickly derailed by any uphill. We’d vacillate between feeling pumped at the little victories (mile 32 was the furthest we’d ever run!) to feeling overwhelmed just minutes later (8 miles to go is still a really long way…). I tried talking to everyone around us, since it seemed to help keep me out of my head the more I stayed engaged with others. I also tried to remember to keep drinking water and fueling as much as my stomach would tolerate; it was getting warmer, and it would only continue the lower we descended.

The portion of the race I’d been most anxious about since the very beginning was the final five miles. Not only were they entirely downhill, but we’d lose 3,500 feet over those miles…800 feet of which would be in mile 39. I’m an okay downhill runner, but after 7+ hours on our feet and the steepness of the terrain, I was wary of have any gusto left in me.

We arrived at the final aid station of the race which was right before we headed downhill into the woods. We drank straight out of a 2-liter of Coke, shoved some chips in our mouths, and bolted out of there ahead of a big group of other runners we’d been leap-frogging with. Julia took the lead, which I was really encouraged and comforted by; while I’d been in the lead most of the day, typically when we run trails she’s in front of me – so this felt more natural. Additionally, I was able to follow her ease and footfalls as we flew downward, which helped me loosen my normal rigidness.

Going from 11,000 ft to 8,000 ft meant super steep and unrelenting switchbacks, plus essentially running straight into an oven of heat. We were mainly on an exposed ski slope which seemed to never end – Aspen looked so far below us no matter how far we ran! We’d been moving for so long, the most we could focus on was staying upright and following the hastily marked course – praying we hadn’t taken a wrong turn at some point.

Both of us said more profanities during this descent than I think we ever have on a run together. Even Julia, who normally eats up the downhills, was all aboard the hate train with me on this one. There was one point that we literally had to slide on our butts since it was so steep, which made our already filthy legs completely laughable.

Admist the grind, though, I again could not help but smile – we were doing it! I was actually finishing a 40-mile race with one of my best friends after a year of questioning my capabilities of a runner. Yeehaw! I was actually feeling pretty emotional the closer we got to the finish line, and much like Pikes Peak…I had to choke back some tears a few times. Happy tears this time, though!

Seemingly all at once, the noise from the finish line was all around us, we rounded a final corner and there it was…the end!

We held hands across the finish line, triumphant in what we managed to accomplish together.

8:34 finish, 40.1 miles, 6,922 feet of climbing. Bonus: we were 6th and 7th female (technically tied for 6th), which was a welcome surprise to us both.

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THE AFTER

Greeted at the finish line by Instagram-Live Celebrity Turboletti, we basked in the accomplishment while waiting for the rest of our crew to finish. I felt a little restless and had a hard time sitting still afterward, which I attribute mainly to the shock to my system of being fueled by endorphins and adrenaline for an entire day.

Adam, Colin, and Ryan all had similar sentiments as we did upon finishing: overwhelmed by the beauty of the course and the magnitude of the challenge. It was fun to compare experiences from the day, and generally I think we were all really proud to have completed something bigger and harder than we’d ever done.

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Dan drove us back to Crested Butte (thanks be to him!) and I felt equally exhausted and ecstatic about the day. Following this past year of running, I was in desperate need of a reminder of the joy in this sport – which is exactly what I got from the Grand Traverse.

I spent the week after regaling the epicness of the race to anyone who would listen, eating a lot of baked goods, and not running a single step. It was one of my better post-race recovery weeks, and it left me ready to transition into the final challenge of the year…the New York City Marathon! I’m really looking forward to sharpening my edges, focusing on strength and recovery, and generally enjoying the joy that is fall running. I truly feel like the Grand Traverse reminded me a lot of what I’d somehow forgotten over the past year…and I plan to carry forward the positive momentum as best I can through the rest of the year.

Strava file

Official results

 

 

 

 

CO Half-Marathon Race Recap

I may not have managed to recap the last two weeks of training, but I’ll be damned if my resurgence in the blogging universe doesn’t result in a race recap!

I ran the Colorado Half-Marathon last Sunday and felt about as prepared as I could have going into it. As always, I could have stretched more often, done even a little bit of strength work, and probably fit in a few more workouts. But considering my schedule, I’m happy with how training went overall. Here and there I was feeling like I’d plateaued a bit with running; general lack of big improvements and my recovery time seemed to lag a bit. However, I was hitting the paces needed to run the race the way I was hoping to, and at this point in my running “career,” really any incremental fitness increases are worth celebrating.

PRE-RACE

I went into race weekend feeling rested, calm, and focused. I was ready to really race hard and execute on the past few months of training. I’m not really afraid of race pain on the front end of a big goal race, in fact in some ways I crave it, so generally I was psyched to see what was possible. As for specific goals, I had a hard time defining a specific time I wanted to hit throughout much of training. I’d love to run under 1:30 at some point, but to go from 1:33:57 (my current PR) to 1:29 is a huge leap, so I decided that something in the 1:31s would be more reasonable. Still hard, but do-able. This would mean averaging just under a 7:00/mile pace, which was intimidating but felt possible on a good day.

The course is net downhill; not very steep, but noticeable enough to give a little boost. I was counting on this, and I actually checked out the decline per mile so I’d know the points I could push a little bit. My plan was to go out right around a 7:00/mile pace and chip down as the race progressed. I felt confident in this plan, although I’d never really strung together more than 7 miles at this pace before.

Anyway, I arrived in Ft. Collins around 3 pm on Saturday before the race and everything was smooth sailing. I was rooming with a stellar crew (Troy, Mike Bell, Pace and Dan Nally), the expo was easy, and we were fed and ready for bed nice and early. The boys were all running the full marathon and Pace was playing race sherpa/cheerleader, so we were all focused on our respective races but also jovial and relaxed. I went to bed around 9 pm (ready for a 4:00 am wake-up) and slept decently enough; in and out a bit but there were some solid hours in there.

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#flatfam

I was up before my alarm and felt nervous but not anxious; certainly better than I’ve felt before other big goal races. I had a power outfit picked out including my new favorite bright NP-tagged tee (above), Saucony spandex shorts, my trusty Brooks hat, Stance ankle socks, and my Adidas Boston Boost shoes. I braided my hair, dressed, sipped on water, bathroom, Picky Bar, coffee, re-braid, bathroom, banana, ordered an Uber, bathroom, and was out the door!

We needed to be bussed to the start line since it’s a point-to-point course, and even though our VRBO was only a mile or so from where the bus pick-up spot was, I didn’t want to waste energy or risk getting lost. A $4 Uber ride it was! I waited in line for the buses for 10 minutes or so, and soon enough we were all loaded up and ready to go. All I wanted to do was listen to music, close my eyes, and focus on getting amped up. I listened to my go-to motivating songs all while visualizing strong and steady running. I don’t race with headphones (anymore) so now was the time to reel in all the musical inspiration I could get.

Once arriving at the start line, we had about 45 minutes until the actual start, so I visited the porta-potties, found some of my NP friends, and Tyler(Tiger) and I headed out for a little one mile warm-up jog. I was happy to be around him since he was also trying to get in the zone and we could stick strictly to race-talk and help one another temper our nerves.

Soon enough, we were lining up, a high schooler played the National Anthem on a trumpet, and we strolled 200 yards or so to the official “start” line. 3-2-1, go!

RACE

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I was right up front and surrounded mainly by a group of people following the 1:30 pacer. Thanks to my incessant curiosity of certain race paces, I knew this meant they’d be running right around 6:50 pace, which was too fast for me. So, I hung back from the group right from the get-go and tried to settle into a comfortably hard pace. My initial plan was to keep my watch on time-of-day mode and just run by feel, but since I didn’t want to run too fast in the early miles, I switched it to show current lap pace. That way, I wouldn’t be obsessing over my overall time but could focus on my per-mile pace, one at a time.

The first mile went by fast in 6:56. A little quick, but I was comfortable with it. I was already running somewhat by myself and kept my mind focused on turnover and deep breathing. Staying relaxed would be instrumental in not getting overwhelmed and maintaining ease. Mile two was also 6:56, and I was happy with the consistency since I hadn’t been checking my watch too diligently.

We got to our first aid station midway through mile 3 and I was ready to rinse my mouth out with water (my mouth always gets super dry at the start of races). I started saying “Water?” as soon as I was passing because none of the volunteers were saying if they were holding water or Nuun. And they just blankly starred at me! I irritably snapped, “Is this water?” when I got to the last volunteer and she told me water was behind me. I may have let an expletive slip since I needed to take a few steps backward to get water. I felt bad once I left, but c’mon! Tell runners what you are holding!

Along I went, and I already felt sweaty and a little warm. The weather was pretty ideal (50s and overcast), but since I was working hard I expected to feel hot throughout the race.

Mile 3: 6:58

Mile 4: 6:59

I took a couple of Honey Stinger chews right after mile 4 along with more water and was determined to finish the whole pack before I hit mile 11. No fuel malfunctions allowed!

I knew mile 5 would be one of the more downhill miles, mile 6 would be uphill, and mile 7 would be the steepest downhill of the day, so I was able to focus on each individually with their own unique pacing plan.

Mile 5: 6:42

Mile 6: 7:02

Midway through mile 6, I started getting a little overwhelmed at how much further there was to go. I’d already run 10k faster than I’d ever run it before, and I was supposed to run another one…plus more! I’ve experienced this kind of mental battle before and commended myself to stay in the mile. “Just get to 7.” I knew the November Project aid station would be between miles 7 and 8, so I kept my focus on getting to them.

Mile 7: 6:44

Despite the mostly downhill, I was starting to hurt. My lungs felt okay, but my legs were getting pretty fatigued from the pace. We had also veered from the pavement onto a cement bike path, which is my least favorite  surface to run on. Plus, I was still all alone! I could see runners 1-2 minutes up ahead of me and there were sporadic groups of people cheering, but overall it was just me attempting to take deep breaths and trying to stay in the mile.

I finally saw and heard the NP cheer station up ahead near the 8 mile mark and I was determined to smile and carry their positive energy along with me. It was awesome to see everyone and they were by far the loudest and most encouraging spectators of the day.

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photo credit: Kaitlin Pace

Mile 8: 6:57

I got a little boost from seeing people, but I quickly crept back into the pain cave…and it was getting worse. We were at a really windy portion of the bike path at this point, which I love on a regular run, but in the race it made it hard to feel like we were moving anywhere. 5 miles to go also felt like a really, really long way, so I just kept repeating in my head, “Just finish the mile.” I knew I was averaging a pretty good pace still, but it was feeling harder and harder to hang onto.

Mile 9: 6:58

After mile 9, everything just kind of got dark and spooky. It was physically impossible for me to speed up even though I knew my pace was dropping, and it was starting to take every ounce of self-encouragement to not just slow down. “Just get to 10, just get to 10.”

Mile 10: 7:05

We had finally entered the part of the course that cross-pollinates with the 10k runners, and I couldn’t have been happier about it. I needed some kind of a distraction, and I didn’t even care that I was needing to start dodging around people. There were also more spectators since we were getting closer to the end and I’m pretty sure I was a sight to see amongst the 10k walk-runners; I was starting to heavily pant at this point and my pain face was strained at the effort.

Mile 11: 7:07

I had no concept of what my overall time was at this point, but I knew there was no possible way I could work harder, so the only thing to do was not let go. I had started talking out loud to myself a little bit, things like “You’re okay,” “Don’t quit, don’t quit,” literally anything to keep my head in the game. I kept thinking that if it had been a workout, I would have keeled over long ago and stopped dead in my tracks. That pain that I craved before the race started? Here is was. A few times the expression, “PRs aren’t supposed easy,” popped into my head, and I felt especially annoyed by how true it felt right then.

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I hated this bridge.

Mile 12: 7:15

Just get to the end! I imagined the 1 mile it takes to run from my house to a specific stoplight and how “easy” that normally feels. I hadn’t felt this kind of tunnel vision since Boston last year, and oh how glad I was to only be running a half instead of a full.

I finally came around the corner where you leave the bike path, turn right and run the straightaway to the finish line. This straightaway was wayyy longer than I’d remembered it when I spectated last year, and so much as I would have liked to, I could not have had less of a finishing kick (almost comically so).

Mile 13: 7:13

Last .2: 7:40 pace

Official time: 1:32:27

I had no idea what my finish time was going to be until I hit the stop bottom on my watch upon finishing (with my hands on my knees and my head down, of course). At first I couldn’t even remember what my PR was, and admittedly I was bummed to not see a 1:31:xx. But once I gathered myself together a bit, I realized that I’d run a 90 second PR, which of course I had to be happy about! It only took a few minutes more to admit to myself that there was no way I could have worked harder in that race; I was maxed out, and considering I didnt’ give up when every part of me wanted to, I was/am really proud of the outcome.

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hi

POST RACE

Lesson learned? You can actually hit the wall in a half-marathon. I haven’t felt that kind of race pain in a long time, and if nothing else, it was a really great exercise in not succumbing to the temptation to quit. I hardly think I would have literally quit and DNF’ed this race, but I spent the last 4 miles denying my body’s cries to pull back.* More than anything, I’m really proud of myself for hanging on. Do I think I have a better race in me? Absolutely. Do I think there was anything more I could have pulled out last Sunday? Definitely not. With that, I cannot help but be satisfied.

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November Project Denver racers!

Of course, though, I am the kind of runner whose satisfaction doesn’t sit still for very long. I love the half, and I think it’s an excellent distance to train for and push the limits on. I’m looking forward to whenever the next one will happen!

But for the time being, I’m really ready to say “See ya later!” to specific time goals. While time goals are certainly motivating to me, and likely always will be, there comes a time every year when I’m ready for less structure. I can’t wait for the months to come that includes single track and summits! There will be races and undoubtedly goals along the way, but until then you can find me blissfully mozying through the Colorado back-country.

After all, I need to get it all out of my system before a certain special huge marathon the first weekend of November. Spoiler! Stay tuned…

RESULTS:

1:32:27

9th female (of 650)

2nd AG

Garmin pace: 7:00/mile (13.2 miles)

Clock pace: 7:03/mile (13.1 miles)

Strava

*In some races, it’s absolutely best to pull back when your body is telling you to, exhibit A.

CO Half-Marathon: Weeks 8 and 9

Busted! After 7 consistent weeks of blogging in a row, I fell behind and now I’m in need of playing catch up! That means my rambling will be minimal. Let’s get down to it.

edited to add: my rambling is not minimal

WEEK 8 (4/10 – 4/16)

This feels so long ago! Thank god for Strava and the iPhone notepad.

Monday: Rest! Perfect, blissful rest

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First step: sleep on the same couch. Second step: snuggle party!

Tuesday: 10 mile Tuesday on Green Mountain!

The best weekday run of the summer is back in the rotation! Julia and I ran our standard 10-mile route on Green Mountain and were #blessed with dry trails and a gorgeous morning. We ran super easy and it felt really good effort-wise. As much as I thoroughly enjoyed this run, my stomach had a mind of its own. I had to pull over on the side of the trail (first time for that on Green) where there were zero trees and a measly little bush. After we finished I had to go again, and I was pretty much off an on the toilet for the rest of the day. TMI, but this is unfortunately a theme recently. Luckily it all mostly calmed down by that evening.

Wednesday: November Project + run to/from (7 miles)

We did “100, 100s” at NP, meaning 100 leg tosses and 100 push ups split up over the course of 10-15 minutes or so. Considering this is the most “weight training” I’ve done in months, I was horribly sore, specifically my abs, for the entire rest of the week. It was a gut-punch (literally) of a reminder that it would be who of me to throw around my body weight every once in a while. I ran easy to and from the workout as well, which was intentional because I had speed work planned for Thursday!

Thursday: 3 x 2 miles + warm-up/cool-down (9 miles)

 

I debated about what to do for my speedwork all week and decided to up the ante a little on a workout Julia and I did a few weeks ago: the notorious 2 mile interval. Only this time, I would add a set. Scary! My plan was to run these between a 6:50-7:00 pace (goal race pace? TBD) and hope that I would be able to remain consistent effort-wise throughout the whole thing.

Full disclosure, I had a super bad night on Wednesday and when I woke up Thursday morning, I almost didn’t run at all. Then I thought, “Okay, I’ll just run slow and easy,” and eventually I decided, “Well fuck, I’ll just try.” Yep, sometimes you need to swear at yourself to get your butt out of bed. So what if I was dehydrated and tired? Was I going to die? No. Was I incapable of moving my body? No. There was no point in not trying, so off I went. Admittedly, I thought that just doing a 2×2 would suffice.

After a 1.5 mile warm-up, I started the intervals and felt…good? Dare I say it, I actually felt great; smooth, in control, and focused. I realized during my first set that doing speed work under not-so-perfect conditions is actually ideal race prep, especially for later in a race, so I was hungry to finish the whole thing. I recovered with two minutes of standing rest between each set, and I felt like I could actually feel the physiological benefit of this recovery period. My legs would flood with lactate toward the end of the intervals, and by the time I started the next one I felt fresh again. Cool stuff! Anyway, my last mile was rough, but otherwise I’m pleased with how it all panned out:

Splits: 6:49, 6:50, 6:47, 6:49, 6:45, 6:50

Faster than I planned, and I’m not sure what it all means for goal race pace. Maybe I’m just getting better at two mile repeats? Who knows.

1.5 mile cool-down, bada-boom.

Friday: Easy podcast jog (7 miles)

My legs were wrecked from the day before, but that’s the point of recovery runs, right?

Saturday: Dino Ridge Relays! (9 miles)

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The long awaited Dino Ridge Relays! Mike Bell and Julia planned a fun partner race/relay inspired by our favorite Thursday-morning hill. A bunch of us teamed up to tackle the 2.2 mile out-and-back course, which we’d each complete twice. Do I need to tell you Julia was my partner? She was. I went first and third, she went second and last, and I had some big time apprehensions before we got started; my stomach was super off and I was concerned about lingering fatigued from Thursday’s workout.

Shockingly though, I felt fantastic! Right out of the gate, I felt like I was somehow floating uphill. I was going faster than I’d ever run up Dino and felt the best I ever have. Crazy what a “race” environment will do for you, eh? Before I knew it I was turning around to head down and I had a great time cruising. Once finished with my first lap, my lungs were super wheezy, but the little rest I had while Julia was running helped a lot and I was rearing to go by the time she got back. My second climb didn’t feel quite so spritely as my first (although looking back my splits were almost identical each time up), but I hammered away on my final downhill. Glancing down at my watch I saw a 5:45 pace looking back at me while descending, which was scary and exhilarating! I loved doing this relay, and I had a lot of training confidence afterward.

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Side note: I inhaled a bagel and cream cheese immediately following my second lap and proceeded to be absolutely starving for the rest of the day, no matter how much I ate. Dem hills!

Sunday: Long run (14 miles)

I wasn’t super amped to do a long run, but I wanted to get one in since I hadn’t really done one the week before and it felt a little incomplete without one. So, I set out with very little expectation other than to try and run 14 miles comfortably. We were in Colorado Springs so I was gifted with my standard no-frills bike path that requires little thinking and ample Pikes Peak viewing. While I swear there was a headwind both ways, this run was decent.

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A competent running blogger would have taken a cool photo of Pikes to seamlessly transition from text to photo. Instead, I have a cutie photo of my mommy on Easter. It counts, though, because it was the same day as the long run, obv.

Total: 56.3 miles, highest for this training cycle! 2,450 feet of climbing all from Green and Dino

Highs: Tie between my Thursday workout and Dino Ridge relays. Nice to feel fast on both flats and hills.

Lows: My stomach was generally a mess this week. Abnormal, Crohn’s-related feelings which were not fun.

 

WEEK 9 (4/17-4/23)

Monday: Rest! Best.

Tuesday: Green Mountain! (10 miles)

The best thing about being lazy and blogging about two weeks at once is that I don’t need to remind you what Green is. Another ten-mile loop, no bathroom emergencies, good times. I truly love this run; it’s a rough wake up call (4:30 am for me) but it’s always peaceful and pretty, plus nothing makes me feel more badass than 10 miles on trails before work.

Wednesday: November Project + run to/from + afternoon run (12 miles)

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Stomach issues again! We did a workout that I love but I had to miss maybe 10 minutes of it to make a mad dash to a nearby bathroom. My go-to Panera had closed unfortunately, so I headed into CorePower yoga knowing they had a bathroom available. The girl at the front desk looked at me like I was a martian when I asked (begged) her to use it, but ultimately the crisis was averted. Annoying! The rest of the workout went well as did my hobby jog there and back.

I doubled-up and ran again in the afternoon with Mona. I wanted to also listen to a podcast but I’ve realized that the combo of the dog, her leash, and the spi=belt I need in order to carry my phone is just too much. So I just sang her praises and told her how good she was the whole time instead.

Thursday: Rest

I had to look this up because I’d forgotten that I look two rest days last week! Sweet!

Friday: Little Man hill + park loop (8 miles)

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I don’t know who that person is without a hat…

Little Man hill repeats is my favorite November Project workout so I was amped to run some ups and downs with my peeps. I did a little 4 mile park jog ahead of time to get 8 miles for the day and then drove over to the Highlands. The boys had a little bit of an alternative workout planned with a new hill route and a few exercises, but I just ran the hill portion instead since I really just felt like running and I’m also not great at switching a plan once I have my heart set on it. Working on that…

Saturday: easy run (8 miles)

Ugh. I fully intended to do my long run on Saturday (which was also my planned big workout for the week) but I woke up and knew it was a no go. My stomach was super off, I had a headache, and it was already getting a little too late. Once my out-of-whack ailments subsided a bit I cut my losses, planned to do my long run Sunday, and headed out for an easy jog instead (podcast included). This run was terrible! I felt like I’d never exercised a day in my life and generally everything felt crunchy and sore. Blah.

Sunday: Long run with 10k at tempo (15 miles)

I was feeling rather discouraged by the week (and my stomach) so I committed myself to having a good run on Sunday. I needed it! I was a little intimidated by the paces I had planned out, but I’ve found that when I go into a run mentally resolute and determined to make it happen, it always manages to work out.

I headed to Waterton Canyon which is a great option for a non-technical, no-climbing “trail” run that’s out of town but not super far away. I wanted to run here because it was dirt and it would give me a long gradual decline that would simulate the course a bit at the Colorado Half-Marathon. While there’s no real hills, the 6 miles into the canyon is ever-so-slightly uphill (~250 feet of gain total), making the way back optimal for practicing some “downhill” tempo running. The run into the canyon felt fine if not a little head-windy. I listened to a Runner’s World podcast to keep my pace easy (apparently I run with headphones now?) and sipped Tailwind consistently. Before I knew it I’d hit the 6.2 mile mark and it was time to head out – fast! My aim was to run around a 7 min/mile pace and stay as comfortable as possible given the slight decline.

I ran the 10k out of the canyon in 42:30 seconds (6:51 pace) and was both super pumped and wiped! My lungs felt great and my endurance was all there, but my legs definitely got tired toward the end. Which shouldn’t be entirely concerning considering 1) it was the end of another 50+ mile week, and 2) it was technically a 10k PR for me! I did a 3 mile cool down to round out 15 miles for the day.

After, I promptly treated myself to a burrito and an epsom salt bath. Hay in the barn!

Total: 53.1 miles, 2,100 feet of climbing

Highs: Successful long run with paces I don’t think I could have hit even a month ago

Lows: Lots of general lethargic feelings plus continued stomach woes

 

Week 7: Ups and Downs

Side note: The wizards of WordPress let me know that last week’s training recap was the 300th post on this blog! Kind of exciting. I may neglect this site more often than not nowadays, but I did feel a little pride in just how much content and work I’ve put into it when I realized this milestone. Here’s an lol-moment with my first post here!

Onto training. Quick refresher: I’m currently training for the Colorado Half-Marathon on May 7th. It’s in Ft. Collins, it’s moderately downhill, and with any luck it will be a fast race to kick off the summer. I’ve retired from spring marathons for the time being, so training for a half felt like a happy compromise.

Monday: Easy run (8 miles)

Woof, this did not feel easy. Technically I had a rest day the day beforehand so I expected this to feel okay, but it was one of those runs that started off bad and just went south from there. Thinking about it afterwards, I realized my “rest day” the day before was hardly one at all. I did 75 minutes of yoga and over 5 miles of walking, which wasn’t very conducive to true recovery from my harder-effort long run on Saturday.

The rest of the day didn’t go much better. I had a bad sinus headache and both my lymph nodes were super swollen. Allergies! I had originally planned on doing a track workout on Tuesday, but considering the aforementioned ailments, the pending forecast of snow, and my obvious lack of recovery, I bagged that idea without any hesitation.

I spent the whole evening doing lots of foam rolling and legs up the wall.

Tuesday: Rest!

As stated, a morning run – specifically a track workout – was not happening on Tuesday, which I could not have been happier about. We woke up to snow everywhere, and after weeks of sun and blooming, it was kind of rough to see such a site out the window in the morning. I patted myself on the back for proactively being non-weatherproof.

I thought I’d do an easy run when I got home since the weather improved a bit, but it was still a little touch and go with snow showers. I got home, wavered back and forth about running while chowing down on goldfish, wavered some more, and instead decided to put on sweatpants and call it a day. I baked banana bread and a batch of these pb&j bites that Adam and I can’t get enough of.

Wednesday: Three-peat?? (13.1 miles)

There was zero “plan” to run exactly 13.1 miles on Wednesday. In fact, the only plan was to go to November Project and not feel as terrible as I had on Monday. It was really cold on Wednesday morning (~26 degrees) so I was a little worried about slick roads from the precipitation the day before, but it turned out okay. The NP workout was “climb the mountain” which is a pyramid circuit of stairs and body weight things, and I felt pretty good throughout.

During the day, the sun and blue sky came out, melted all the lingering snow, and all of a sudden it was spring again! I got home and had to get on the phone with Century Link (which I never, ever recommend), and since I knew I would mainly be on hold for a while…I plugged my headphones into my phone and headed out on a little jog. Wednesdays have kind of turned into my optional “double day,” I suppose. Anyway, I ran for 4 easy miles and was literally on hold the entire time.

I decided to be a good runner and take an epsom salt bath a little later on. Adam was about to get home from work later than normal so I decided to wait and say hi to him before getting in the tub. He walked in, saw me still in my running clothes, and immediately recruited me to come run his one mile for the day with him to keep up his run streak. I couldn’t say no to helping my dude out. So, the hot water waited for approximately 9 minutes, and I managed to log exactly 13.1 miles for the day. How d’you like them apples?

Thursday: PlayGldn (8 miles)

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We stayed up late on Wednesday, so the early morning call to head to Golden came a bit rudely. But, remembering my FOMO from the week before, I headed west with the promise of a good sunrise and good people. I decided to make the hill repeats my workout for the week, so I decided to try and work hard-ish despite my desire to instead perform DGAF-frontz (Mike Bell – TM). Overall, I felt decent. I worked about 75% effort, specifically on the ups, and while it certainly could’ve been better, I called it a win.

Friday: Easy run (3 miles)

I was a bit confounded with what to do on Friday. I kind of wanted to take another rest day, but I wanted to go to NP, but I didn’t want to do body weight exercises. So when Julia suggested running a few miles during the NP workout instead (after the bounce and before the finish/photo) I was all game. It was a nice little shake out with my buddy on a lovely morning. We finished it up with some suicide relays and lots of hugs with the tribe. Happy Friday indeed.

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I claimed temporary ownership over this sweet little girl. Charlie!

Saturday: Green Mountain (10 miles)

I wanted to save my legs a little for pacing duties at Sunday’s half-marathon, so a 10-miler on Green Mountain sounded just right for a sunny Saturday morning. I also wanted to test out my new trail shoes, the La Sportiva Bushidos, which I’m hoping will be the perfect hybrid trail-runner/14er-hiker shoe I’ve been pining after.

*Edited to add: two runs in the Bushidos, I love them! Lightweight but sturdy.

Meaghan is tapering for Boston and was looking for a similar medium-long run, so she joined me on the loop. After my last unicorn jaunt on Green, I was hoping for a similar floaty experience; alas, it was a bit of a death march. My whole body felt achey (specifically my back, hips and hamstrings), my energy was super low and I just didn’t feel like I could make my legs move at all. Luckily it was a gorgeous morning, albeit a little hot, but it was great to be on the trails and hear all about Meaghan’s plan for Boston.

Afterward, I felt super thirsty and drank two Nalgenes of water before I had to pee. Might explain my lackluster feeling a bit, huh? I spent the rest of the day drinking many beverages, stretching and generally relaxing.

Sunday: Platte River Half Marathon spectating and pacing (11 miles)

Race day! Even though I wasn’t racing, I felt like I had skin in the game with so many friends going for it at the Platte River Half. I ran this race two years ago and had far less-than-favorable memories from it, so I was exceedingly thrilled to be on the other side this time. I arrived at the NP5280 cheer station location right at 8 am (race start time) and looked like a child who’d lost their parents. Multiple volunteers asked me if I had either a) misunderstood where the start line was, or b) needed to know where the relay hand-off was. No! I’m just here for my friends!

I decided my best course of action would be to just jog over to mile 8 where I intended to pick up Julia for some shared pacing through the back half of her race. I found a great spot just before the mile 8 marker where I could see people coming from a couple hundred yards away. It was really fun cheering for the front of the pack, although several of them had their super-serious faces on and didn’t exactly love my emphatic chants. But then I saw a happy, familiar face. Dan! He was in the top five and looked relaxed as could be. You should go and read his own race recap. I also saw Jim, Tyler, Danny, and then…Julia! She looked strong and under control, and I was ready to help out however necessary. She wrote a race recap that far exceeds any description I could give, so I recommend reading that here. In a few words, her legs and brain were in it, her stomach was not. The worst! She fought hard and I, as always, was proud to run alongside her. I was reminded that the last few miles of this race aren’t the best for running fast; rolling cement, one steep hill right at the end, and a stretch where you run right next to the interstate. Bleh.

Anyway, I ran into the finish area with Julia and cheered with the whole gang as we watched more NP runners finish their races. It was so much fun and I was reminded how inspiring it is to witness the grit of runners, specifically of friends, as they fight hard for their goals. I was pumped up! Afterwards, I did a 180 and retraced the course back to where I’d parked my car (about 3.5 miles backward).

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Totals: 53.3 miles, 2,317 feet of climbing

Highs: After Tuesday, I thought this was going to be a wash week of training. I’m happy I managed to pull off another 50+ mile week without a lot of wear and tear and having some fun along the way.

Lows: My hamstrings and glutes both continue to be super susceptible to getting uber tight and rickety. Maintenance of the little things is proving to be crucial!

 

Week 6: Springtime in CO

Mother Nature reminded us this week that while the flowers might be blooming and the grass is getting greener, winter’s not quite over yet. Throughout the week, it was pretty rainy and gloomy and everything from the foothills to the 14ers received a solid covering of snow. As anyone here will tell you though, “We need the moisture,” and it couldn’t be more true. Luckily, training still went pretty much as planned. I’m getting excited though for more shorts-and-tee shirts only runs!

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#artshot

Monday: Lookout Mountain (9 miles)

Back at it with the Golden girls! We did the standard jaunt up and down Lookout, and not one, not two, but all three of us had to use the bathroom at some point. Happy Monday? I always enjoy starting the week off with this crew and this run, but I also didn’t sleep well at all the night before (ugh, again), so the rest of the day was kind of miserable. I felt like I was getting feverish all day and even had two coworkers tell me I looked clammy/pale. Compliments, I’m sure. No idea what happened there, but maybe I’m getting too old for early mornings following short nights.

Tuesday: Easy around Wash Park (7 miles)

I hadn’t actually done my standard 7-mile Wash Park loop in a long time, and I was happy on Tuesday to indulge in a super relaxed run after sleeping in a little. While nearly the entirety of Denver hangs out at this park on the weekends, on the weekdays in the early morning I like to think it belongs to the runners (and walkers). There’s a lot of “regulars” out there and we all kind of recognize/know one another; it’s like a quiet, comforting little active community.

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Mommy it also belongs to doggies!

Wednesday: Clovers at November Project + after work dog jog (12 miles)

Clovers again! At the end of every month, we run a course of stairs and straightaways at November Project and everyone is supposed to count their laps and try to beat their previous PR. It’s one of the best NP days of the month as everyone is super energetic and encouraging, plus it’s our hardest and best workout.

On Wednesday, my goal was to get over 17 clovers. My PR is something like 17.3, but considering that it was kind of wet out and I’ve only run over 17 three or so times, it felt like a good goal. I slowly ran the two miles there as a warm-up, and when I got there I was surprised at just how much the prospect of rain had scared people away. It was a small group! This is actually a good thing for clovers, because it makes it easier to navigate around the tight turns. Anyway, off we went and I was feeling great! I felt relaxed but also really strong, and I was actually thinking early on that I might be able to pull out a real PR. I was cheering on people and knocking out laps one after another and on one 90 degree turn…splat! I slipped on the wet brick and took a pretty decent fall, landing first on my elbow and scrapping up my knee. A few people stopped around me (I think it looked worse than it was…) and after a minute or so of assessing that there wasn’t any permanent damage, I continued on. I remained a little more cautious about my turns throughout the rest of the workout (two other people fell too!), but as we approached the end and I realized that I was nearly at 17 clovers and I’d lost a minute when I fell, I was kinda pissed. It felt like a wasted opportunity considering how good I’d been feeling beforehand, but…safety first. I finished with one section of stairs short of 17 clovers, and later on realized we’d only been allotted 33:30 of the normal 35:00 time window. Dang. Next time I’ll be ready to bust a move!

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My elbow pain lingered the longest following that fall, in fact I can still feel it a tad 4 days later, but ultimately I got lucky.

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Knees are weird looking. This is from Saturday.

I decided after work to double up on the day and take Mona out on a little run. This went better than the nightmare of a run we had the week beforehand, but man…my stomach is not into running in the afternoon. Wearing the hands-free leash around my midsection doesn’t help anything out either, so I might need to be a little more strategic in planning my lunches on days where I do these afternoon jogs. It was nice and slow though, and it’s a good way to get in some shake out miles without a lot of wear-and-tear.

Thursday: Rest!

I really, really wanted to go to PlayGldn, but it had been several days of running in a row and I was ready to sleep in. I had intentions to go to yoga but instead just did a long walk with the dog instead after work. Real dog > downward dog.

Friday: Easy run with Adam (8 miles)

Adam and I decided to take Friday off work (like, three weeks ago) in order to have some scheduled time to hang out together. I’d been looking forward to our day off for a long time and obviously scheduled a “group” run for the two of us to get everything started. Unfortunately, Adam really wasn’t feeling great on Friday morning, but he muscled through and we ended up taking the whole run pretty easy for both of us. Fortunately for me, this meant that the 8 miles weren’t especially taxing on my body and throughout the rest of the day I had kind of forgotten I’d run that morning. That’s probably the way recovery running is supposed to go, eh? Anyway, the better parts of the day included a long delicious breakfast and a long delicious (?) trip to REI where we were both patient enough to leave with new trail running shoes that should be good for both mountains and smooth single track.

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Marriage real-talk: when a selfie on the couch together is an accurate description of “quality time.”

Saturday: Long run with progression finish (17 miles)

I had been watching the Saturday weather like a hawk all day Friday and didnt’ really know if I’d be able to do my long run. It had sprinkled rain all day Friday, and it was supposed to turn into consistent snow throughout the night and through Saturday morning. I was really hoping to run long on Saturday instead of Sunday, but before I went to bed on Friday night I decided I’d need to make a game time decision upon conditions in the morning. I naturally woke up around 6:30 on Saturday morning feeling very refreshed, peeked out the window and…no snow! There was a bit of precipitation in the air, very Seattle-ish in fact, and I quickly made the decision to go for it. I took my time a little waking up, drinking coffee, and outfit planning – all of which got me in the long run mode. I haven’t done a long run alone in a long time actually, and while I missed my crew I was actually excited for a solo effort along with some tunes.

I headed for the Highline Canal trail and the plan was to do a second-half progression. I wanted the first half to feel easy and consistent and to make it hurt in the second half by gradually cutting down my pace every mile. I’ve never done this workout during a long run before, but in my limited experience with progression runs it’s important to be very patient. Go too fast one mile, then it’s going to be even harder to go faster the next mile, on and on. The point of the progression is to practice accelerating on tired legs, which is really good prep for race day, or you know…so I’ve read :).

Anyway, off I went on the easy miles with my earbuds in (throwback!) and I felt fantastic. It was 34 degrees when I started which is actually my ideal running temperature, assuming I’m dressed correctly. I was clipping off very even 7:55s and feeling like I was holding back a lot, which was encouraging. I wasn’t paying a ton of attention to my watch during the first half but every time I glanced at it I had to slow down to save some steam for the second part. I was feeling great though and kept picturing running into and striking up a conversation with one of the Broncos’ players who live in the area (okay, mostly just Peyton Manning). Alas, only a bunch of regular rich people :(.

I stopped briefly at my halfway point and calculated (in my head) how I ought to go about my progression miles. Since I had 8 of them to do, I couldn’t get too ambitious right away, so I decided that shaving off 5-6 seconds per mile would be perfect and land me right above 7:00/mile by the end. I switched the screen-face on my watch to show lap pace so I could keep close tabs on my speed, and off I went with a fresh Pandora station blasting (Pitch Perfect radio, FWIW). Right off the bat, I had to keep reeling myself in pace-wise, which ended up being the trend almost every mile. Stay patient, stay patient. This workout got a little scarier every mile, which was actually kind of entertaining. One mile would beep on my watch and it was time to kick it up, but just a little bit. Overall, it was a great practice in control and making small adjustments, as well as staying in the current mile. Forewarning: this required a lot of watch stalking and like I said to Julia later that day, it’s actually a good workout to do by yourself. I’m really happy with how the progression miles went, and I was definitely fighting for those two at the end:

7:48, 7:43, 7:37, 7:30, 7:25, 7:17, 7:12, 7:06

One cool-down mile and I was toasted, which was exactly the goal. Admittedly, it was a little intimidating to think that the ending pace of that progression is where I’d like to be half-marathon pace wise (comfortably…), but this was also supposed to be a tired leg, race-simulation situation at the end of a 50+ mile week. Calling it a success.

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So this was a braid at one point.

Sunday: Yoga + long dog walk

I slept in for real today, took Mona on a big park loop and eventually found myself indulging in a Core Power class. I don’t go to CP regularly because of cost and general time availability, but I do enjoy it on the off chance I decide to go. My hips and hamstrings certainly appreciated the love, and it was a super sweaty and satisfying class overall. Good Sunday!

Total: 53.6 miles

Highs: I was able to run over 50 miles including two non-running days and a lot of slower miles, which meant that I didn’t feel overly exhausted at the end of the week. My two workouts this week were clovers and my long run, and while clovers didn’t go exactly as planned, I felt pretty fit during both harder sessions.

Also! I was way better about foam rolling and stretching at night this week, which I think were really helpful.

Lows: My sleep has been relatively poor recently, which is really counterproductive to training and my overall demeanor (I’m a mean tired person…).