Sunday, June 12, 2016

Mt. Evans Ascent - High Altitude Fun and Suffering

Mt. Evans Ascent

Distance & Vert: 14.2 miles, 3500 vert (10k to 14k)
Time: 2:24:33 (10:07 pace)
Place: 6th female, 3rd age group


Before this race, we did several training runs at Mt. Evans so we could see how the altitude would feel and get familiar with the race course.  The first couple of times we ran from the start to mile 5-6 and back down but the last time, Brady dropped me off around mile 5 so I could run 9 miles up to the summit.  He parked at Summit Lake (mile 9) and started running when I got there, this meant I could run more uphill without having to do the same amount of downhill.  I felt great on these training runs, I was somewhat surprised by my pace and it was encouraging.   When I originally signed up for this race, I set a goal of 3:00 because that meant I could win one of the special rocks but after our training runs, I realized I needed to rethink my goals and decided upon 2:30-2:35.   I had ran the entire course during our training runs but hadn't done the entire 14 miles at once so it was still unknown what might happen come race day!

I had a mini-taper this week, we did a hard 3 mile uphill run at Lookout Mountain, which has similar grade to Mt. Evans and I felt pretty good despite it being 80*.   I also felt really good on our run Saturday morning, just 4 miles easy with some hill strides but my legs felt fresh and I was ready to go!  My mindset going into this race was calm yet excited.  My coach reminded me that this race was just a stepping stone and I kept that in mind.  He told me that Evans is just an excuse to see some beautiful things and push myself to my limits.  He also said that races are life balled up into a little, fun-sized morsel that we can enjoy without any risks - ah that's great perspective!   The day before the race he told me that there were two things he wanted me to focus on: 1. lean into the mountain and 2. embrace the suck.  I knew that those things would be on my mind during the race! 

Race Day

Our alarm went off at 4:00, we had some coffee and left around 5:00 for the 7:30 start.   It was cloudy and cool when we got there, the weather prediction included a chance of showers and the race directors said we could see some rain, snow or hail at some point during the race.  The forecast was making me second guess my choice of attire including short sleeves and arm warmers so I decided to throw on a super lightweight long sleeve shirt and it ended up being a great combo.  I was also trying to decide whether or not I wanted to wear my vest and carry water, I wanted to take in water every mile or so and the aid stations were every 3 miles so I decided the vest was a good idea.  

Instead of taking splits every mile, I planned on breaking the race into thirds - miles 0 to 5, miles 5 to 9 and 9 to the summit.  This way I would know how my overall pace for each section compared to our training runs.  

Start to Mile 5

We started off up the road, I tried not to get caught up in the lead pack that was going way too quick for me but sometimes its hard to lay back during race situations.  I eased up and reminded myself to do my own thing, that lead pack took off really early on and they were gone.  I was feeling ok the first mile, I thought back to my training runs and I remembered the first 3 miles were challenging and the start usually took my breath away a little bit.  I came through the first mile in 8:51, oops, that's a tad bid faster than I was targeting.  Then a stitch decided to pop up outta nowhere, WTH??  I'm used to having stitches on the downhills but why is one plaguing me going uphill?  Go away stitch, you are not welcome during this race!  Miles 2 and 3 felt similar to training and I continued along the way, my pace was slowing down but that was also similar to our training runs.  I knew that once we turned the corner to mile 3, the road shot up a bit and that the wind would most likely be fierce.  I took some water, powered up the incline but the wind was rather tame - that was somewhat of a pleasant surprise.  I checked my watch at the 5k mark, I was 29:20ish which was very similar to training.  I knew that mile 3 to 4 usually came with some suffering so I put my head down, lean into the hill K, lean into the hill.   Ok, I got it, leaning in!   Take some nutrition K, ok, here's a gel.  Dang, this gel is so goopy in my mouth and when I close my mouth to swallow, I feel like I cant breath - fricken high altitude running.  K, just focus and make it to mile 5, the course eases up again and you'll catch a break.  

Time for this section: 47:58, 9:57 pace, ~1500 gain.   I was under my anticipated pace by a smidge so that was good but at the same time I was struggling and my mind kept going from stay strong to ugh this hurts, don't bleed too much time.  

Miles 5 to 9 (Summit Lake)

This section of the course has less total elevation gain compared to the first 5 miles and the last 5 miles, there were even a few downhill sections - woohoo!  Somewhere during mile 4 while I was tending to my stitch, a couple of girls passed me. Before that I was in 5th place but then one came by and then another one.  gosh dangit, you need to pick up the pace during this section, during your training run you averaged under 9:00 pace so try to gain some ground and drop your time.   The stitch seemed to eased up and I surged a little bit, lean into the hill, K!  I passed the girl in green, ok, that's more like it.  Now keep this up and make up some time.  As the miles ticked by, I stuck to my goal of taking in water every mile or so.  I was falling behind on my nutrition though so around mile 7 I took the rest of that gel and of course I felt like I was struggling to breathe again.   We hit the downhill and I picked it up, my legs were feeling good again and I wanted to take advantage of that, I passed the girl in orange and opened up my stride, here comes the stitch!  

Time for this section: 37:56, 9:36 pace, ~750 gain.  My pace was quicker during this section but not nearly as fast as during my training run. But during my training run this section was at the very start of my run, not miles 5 to 9 of a race! My heart was pounding and my head was throbbing.  I took in some of the views and reminded myself that the views made it worth it.

Mile 9 to Summit

K, this is where the race begins, this is the challenging section.  Time to really lean into it and embrace the suck, this is going to hurt!   Mile 9 felt good and flew by, around 9.5 the road starts uphill again and the stitch didn't go away.   The girl in orange caught up to me around mile 10, we said a few brief words of encouragement and she started to pull away.  My legs wanted to go but the stitch had other plans, I eased up a bit, tried to massage it and breathe out on the opposite foot but it wasn't working, it wasn't going away.   This section of the course was going to be tough enough without this darn stitch, I took in some more water but that didn't seem to help.   The switchbacks were never-ending and I could see runners ahead of me and runners behind me.  I didn't see any girls that were within striking distance but I always believe that anything is possible, if someone really crushed those super high altitude more power to them, I felt like I was fading.   At this point, I decided to start looking at my overall time versus my avg pace so I could gauge my finishing time. I was surprised when I looked at my watch and did some math and thought hey, I could finish in like 2:26 - yowzas!  Just keep moving forward, one foot in front of the other, embrace the suck, lean in, embrace the suck!   Yay another downhill before mile 11, take advantage of it!   Its really hard to breath now, my legs are running out of energy and this time at altitude is starting to take its toll.  I kept checking my time, ok, still on pace for that 2:26.  On all the switchbacks, I'd look down to the road below me to see if any girls were gaining on me and they still seemed far enough back, just hold your ground K.  Focus on what is in front of you, lean in, embrace the suck, look around, smile.  My smile might look like a crunchy face  (we'll see what my pictures look like) but I was somewhat smiling on the inside.   Those views are incredible, smile just a little bit.   I feel like I'm moving at the pace of a slug but some guys behind me are walking so at least I'm moving better then them.   Why are there so many switchbacks??  I can see the summit but the distance is deceiving.   Finally hit mile 14 and I knew there was about 0.5 miles left, I checked my time, still good, checked my pace 10:30 ok so about 5:00-5:30 more of suffering, that's nothing at this point now.   Just finish strong, you are almost there.   I took the inside corner to the finish, they had some cones lined up as a little finishing chute and theres a lady with a baby strapped to her and several small kids right in my way.  Some people yelled at her that a runner was coming and they just were all over the place, just kinda stared at me with a blank look on their faces.  Really this is the last thing I want to deal with when I'm trying to pick up the pace into the finish.  I darted around her and her baby while avoiding a car and made my way to the finish.  Stopped my watch: 2:24 - holy bajeebers, that's faster than I thought it would be.  I came to a stop and my legs felt wobbly, felt reminiscent of a stair climb however I didn't need to totally collapse on the ground and curl up in the fetal position, I chose to sit on a rock instead.   

Time for this section: 59:39 (10:41 pace), ~1300 gain

view of some wild critters on the shuttle ride down

I surprised myself with my overall time, I thought maybe it was possible but at the same time, you never know what might happen on race day.  There were some things I could do better, still need to take in more nutrition/hydration.  I probably could've shaved a little time if the stitch wasn't nagging me but its hard to say what could've happened.   Last year my time would've been good enough for 3rd place, this year 10 girls went under 2:30, last year there were only 2.   I am pleased with my time and place, especially since this race is a stepping stone.  I'm ready to ease up for a few days before getting back to the grind.  The grind is where gains are made and I need to make lots of them :)  This race is challenging in so many ways, the grade of the course isn't too bad but the high altitude is just a unique feeling, I don't even now how to describe it.  Its shallow breathing and like my muscles are gasping for oxygen and my heart is beating in my head. I'll admit, I kind of liked training on Mt. Evans, don't have to worry about rocks and roots and nature's obstacles on the road, can just focus on moving onward and upward and taking in the views.  These ascent races are filled with all sorts of pain and suffering, I'm not quite sure what I'm getting myself into but I'm looking forward to it!  Lean in and embrace the suck :) 

I got a ceramic bowl for placing 3rd in my age group
and a fancy rock for finishing under 3:00

Strava Data:


Saturday, May 21, 2016

Fear the Deer Half Marathon - 3rd OA Female :)

Fear the Deer Half Marathon
Time: 2:02:08
Elevation Gain: 2724 feet

What's been going on in 2016??

Over the winter, I started to get a bit more dialed in on my training.  I was starting to feel like I was ready to race again and discover my inner greatness.  In 2015, I had sort of lost my luster for racing, I really just wanted to explore the mountains without any added pressure.   My goals are constantly evolving, over the past several years I've focused on road races (mostly marathons), stair climbing, ultramarathons and now I have moved on to the next phase - mountain ascent races!   I've set some big goals for myself, I know that sometimes goals may seem crazy and unachievable but if they give you butterflies and at times you question if you'll be able to accomplish them - that means you picked a good one!   I decided to hire a coach to help guide me, I still need to put in the hard work but this takes the guesswork out of my training.  I know that I need to work consistent and hard and I'll start to see results.  I'm already getting faster and have set PRs on several challenging uphills.  

Fear the Deer

Deer Creek Canyon is one of my favorite local spots to run.  It packs a punch as far as elevation gain goes especially if the first couple of miles.  When I saw there was a race there, I thought it would be fun.   We signed up but as the date got closer, I wasn't sure whether or not I wanted to actually race since it wasn't part of my master plan and major goal races but decided that it would be a nice challenge. 

I didn't really feel all that nervous before this race, I hadn't put any pressure on myself and just wanted to go out and run - that was a nice feeling compared to race anxiety I sometimes feel before major races (especially when I was stair climbing!).  

Brady and I got to the race, did a short warmup and some strides. It was already 60*, sunny and the Colorado sun is fierce!!   Everyone gathered at the starting area, this race had a pretty laid back atmosphere.  The RD have some last minute instructions, counted down and we were off.   The race started in the parking lot before veering off onto the trail and everyone took off like a bat out of hell.   I knew that the first 2 miles were all uphill so I didn't want to get caught up in anything too fast, I just wanted to settle into my groove.   A girl passed me early on and ran off into the distance.   Another girl passed me, stumbled on a few rocks, I passed her back and then I never saw her again. In the meantime, another girl passed me and I found myself in 3rd again.  Where or where are my uphill legs on this climb??  My heart and lungs were working heard but my legs decided to take the day off.    We kept climbing, at times it was quite steep.  We hit the section where I normally run up the stairs however they had it blocked off saying "no stairs, seriously".  ah danggit, we gotta run up the "rock wall".   Powered up the rocks and continued on my way.   When we hit the steep climb after turning on to Plymouth Mtn trail, I could see the race directors had put all these little signs along the way.  I'm someone who actually reads signs like that during races, Brady said he didn't even notice they were there.   Saw one sign that said "good little trail runners always get beer", I thought I'm good, I'm little but I'm not really into beer.   Another sign said "always follow the direction of your dreams...UP!", ah very clever since we were suffering up this climb.  

We finally reached the top of Plymouth Mtn and turned onto Homesteader. Ok, I know this section is a bit easier, not a lot of climbing and some smooth single track.  I waited for my legs to get back and started to push the pace again. I could no longer see the first or second place girls.  We cruised through Homesteader then were forced into another climb on the Red Mesa loop.   My legs were still feeling it on the climbs but I was trying to make up a bit for it on the other sections, I'm not used to running fast on trails so while the pace may have felt speedy, I'm sure it wasn't anything to write home about.  

Going into this race, my plan was to feel strong on the climbs then whatever happened on the "flats" and downhills, would be what it is.  However, this race really wasn't going to plan since the uphills didn't feel all that great.   But I was gaining on the guys in front of me on a downhill section, wow, I'm actually catching up to people on the downhill??  That was a new experience to me.   Downhills are a major weakness of mine, I usually get this horrible debilitating side stitch (I think some organs start tugging on my diaphragm, pleasant I know), the steeper it is, the worse it gets.  And my mind during downhills just gets all negative, either its swearing at the stitch or its thinking, don't fall and jack your head on that rock there, watch out of that rock garden you might break your ankle in there.  Yea, thanks brain, that's exactly what I need to hear every time I'm running downhill.   The night before the race, I asked Brady what he thinks about during downhills and he said that he doesn't think, he just turns his mind off.   My coach also told me "Take off the breaks.  Descents are not a weakness of your body, but your mind. It's all about learning to drop fear".   I definitely thought about that during this race, let yourself go and just go with the flow.  I found myself taking tiny steps and dancing around rocks and it felt great!  

We got to our first out and back section on the Golden Eagle trail.  This was the first time I could see the girls in front of me and behind me.  I could also see Brady, I gave him an encouraging hi and great job and we squeezed past one another.   After the out and back, we had another downhill before hitting the steep section up Plymouth Mtn again.  I knew that was going to be a grind, I just put my head down, took tiny steps and made my way up.  We had another out and back on some scenic loop, this was the only portion of the course I hadn't run previously and it had a surprising uphill!   That caught me off guard but nothing to do about it except put one foot in front of the other and go with it.   The 1st place girl was still cruising, blazing it and looking effortless.  The 2nd place girl was probably about 2 minutes ahead of me and the girls behind me were several minutes back.   Once we got back to the main trail, I knew we had about 4 miles left and most of those miles were downhill.  I did not want to get passed during those last few miles, I knew if some girl had a killer downhill she might be able to catch me since my downhill running still leaves much to be desired.   I charged off and past a couple of guys, whooo I'm passing people on the donwhills.  We hit a couple of minor uphills, legs were still not working on those.  Seriously, what is the deal with my uphill legs today?   We came down Plymouth, turned on the little bridge and hit Meadowlark.  I knew from there it was only about 1.5 miles to the finish with about a 1/2 mile uphill then the rest downhill.  I couldn't see anyone behind me and tried to keep pushing the pace.  I hit the home stretch and tried to put on the burners to finish strong - 2:02.  I was pleased with that, wasn't really sure what to expect with this race as far as time or place goes.   Brady finished a few minutes behind me and would've been even faster but he rolled his ankle the last mile, dang, so close to being done! 


- I am pleased with my race, my time and my place however this leaves me wanting more.  I want to get better but I know the only way that will happen is to stay consistent and to put in the hard work. 

- I tried to make a point to smile randomly during this race

- I failed on my nutrition/hydration for the day and that was one of my major goals.  I was taking in water but not nearly enough especially for a hot day. 

- Downhills can be fun if your mind lets go and just lets your legs do what they want

- Some guy told me I was a blast to follow because I'm such a smooth runner.  Ah, thanks man, not sure it feels that way when I'm out there.  Another guy told me that he loved my bright pink calf sleeves, bonus!  

- I need to blog more this year :)

Strava data:

Saturday, December 19, 2015

big changes in 2015

The main "theme" of 2015 was "the mountains are calling and I must go".  

Making the Move

- Brady and I decided to move to Colorado.  We sold my townhouse, packed up everything and hit the road heading west in April.   We got settled in pretty quickly and were immediately climbing the stairs at Red Rocks, heading to the Incline and exploring new trails.  

Climbing High

** The Incline - A favorite training spot of ours.  When we first moved here, we were going down to the Incline every weekend.  But as summer rolled around it started to get more and more crowded.  One day we got there at 6:00 AM and the parking was full, the incline was crowded and there were people all over the Barr Trail - we decided not to go back for a while!   My first Incline time when we moved here was 33:00, my fastest time of the year was 27:54.  I've set a big Incline goal time for myself in 2016, we'll see what happens :)

** Red Rocks - Another training staple of ours is Red Rocks!  We love doing the stairs there but during the summer there are concerts every day so we aren't able to use the stairs but running the roads at Red Rocks became an instant favorite of mine!  It allowed me to run a bit faster than on the trails but it was also really scenic and had some nice elevation gain!   My first all out climb time was 2:47, my best for the year ended up being 2:15.

** Vertical Kilometer - I think the Skyrunning series has some really cool races, I love doing vert so I knew we had to do the Vertical Kilometer in Aspen.   Talk about a challenging race, more than 3k elevation gain over the course of 2.7 miles!   The lead group started off running the steep section at the start of the race so I followed them however they quickly pulled away and I found myself running/climbing solo.  Brady wasn't too far behind me but once we started hiking, it didn't take him long to pass me.  There weren't many people behind us either which was a new experience!    As we got closer to the finish, I saw Joe Gray running back towards us (winner of the VK and US Mountain Running Champion), he turned around and started running next to me giving me words of encouragement - talk about a cool way to finish the race!!   Brady finished in 1:03 and I was 1:04 - need to come back faster and stronger next year!  

** Barr Trail Mountain Race - The day after the VK, we ran the Barr Trail Mountain Race which is a 12.6 mile race with about 6k of elevation gain.  It's an out and back on the Barr Trail, turning around at Barr Camp.  This is a great prep race for Pikes Peak since it does about the first half of the course.  After the VK, my legs were kinda tired and Brady left me in his dust.  My time to Barr Camp was ok but then I got a side stitch on the way down which really ruined my race.   Side note, this side stitch has been bothering me on lots of downhills since we moved here - super annoying and frustrating plus painful!  

** 14ers - I became enthralled with the 14ers so we bagged several of them over the summer while training for the Pikes Peak Ascent.  Our first was Mt. Bierstadt, which is one of the easier 14ers.  We then hit Grays & Torreys combined and also climbed Mt. Evans.  The 14ers are great workouts and can be challenging but some of them were so incredibly crowded which just kind of takes away from the whole experience, at least in my opinion.

** Pikes Peak Ascent - The main target race this year was the Pikes Peak Ascent.  We set some decent goals for ourselves and we got in some decent training including the 14ers I however I don't think it was quite enough.   I didn't feel that great at the start of the race, just felt a little off.   I stayed with a pack of people up to Barr Camp but whenever I would start hiking, I would fall behind.   Another reoccurring issue I have, I suck at hiking!    It seemed like after we hit Barr Camp everyone around me started hiking!   The higher altitude was taking its toll and people were slowing down.  I tried to do my own thing and would run little sections passing people to only have them pass me once the hiking started again.   It was a major game of leap frog!   I wore my running vest so I would have access to water however whenever I would try to drink at the higher altitudes, I felt like I couldn't breathe!  It was warmer too so that seemed a bit draining.  I tried to keep up my run/walk routine but I was dragging those last few miles!   I finished up in about 4:09 which was much slower than my goal or what I expected! 

** Maroon Bells Four Pass Loop - Over Labor Day weekend, we decided to go to Aspen to hike the Maroon Bells Four Pass Loop.  This is a 26-27 mile hike with over 8k of elevation gain including 4 mountain passes.  The Maroon Bells area is incredibly beautiful, seriously the most beautiful place we've ever been!   After 3 of the passes, we could see Snowmass Lake which instantly became one of our new favorite places, the mountains reflecting in the bright colored water was just so serene!!  This was a challenging hike and ended up taking longer than expected which made for a long day but it was worth it!  I would love to run this route in 2016!

** Snowmass Lake Engagement Hike - We loved Snowmass Lake so much, we decided to hike back there a couple of weeks later when the Aspens would be changing colors. We ate lunch on some rocks overlooking the lake and that's where Brady asked me to marry him. It was perfect!!!! :)

** Red Rocks 5k - I'm pretty sure this was most challenging and most scenic 5k I've ever done.  The first 2 miles of the race start off downhill and the last mile is uphill on Shiprock Road and ends with a run up the ramp and stairs to the top of the amphitheater.  This race was perfect for us since we train on Shiprock all the time and are always doing the ramp and stairs!!  My downhill miles weren't the greatest but I passed a bunch of people going up Shiprock and up the ramp/stairs.  When looking on Strava after the race, I actually had one of the fastest, if not the fastest, splits on that section of the course - fun times!!

** I've explored so many new trails since we've moved here and there are so many good spots to run after work and on the weekend but there are an unlimited number of options, we haven't even scratched the surface of places to go!!  Some of my local favorites for bigger vert are Deer Creek Canyon, Mt. Falcon and Mt. Morrison.   The Dakota Ridge hogback is great for technical practice.  The big hill at Green Mountain is awesome for repeats.  There are several spots I like for easier runs, Waterton Canyon is definitely a favorite along with the lake by our house and for some easy vert I can head to South Valley, Red Rocks or Green Mountain.  

Reflections on 2015

** I find myself looking around and smiling during each and every one of my runs.  I definitely appreciate the mountains and being able to run in the foothills all the time

** Grateful for my best friend, who I love so much.  Looking forward to a life filled with fun mountain adventures :)

** My easy runs now can either be flat or consist of like 500-600 feet of elevation gain.  My vert jumped instantly once we moved out here and I'm addicted to it! 

** Moving was very stressful for me, I found it hard to focus on training and race goals.  I was also sick early in the year so I missed out on some training so I was a bit "out of shape" when we moved here.  I decided I didn't want to put a lot of pressure on myself as far as racing goes, I just wanted to enjoy our first summer here and take it all in.  I wanted to explore the mountains with Brady without being forced into a specific training plan.  

Goals for 2016

** I'm finally feeling confident in my training and have been seeing results.  Recently, I've been feeling focused and strong during my workouts.  I'm ready to target some races next year.  As of now there are a few races I'm really targeting and have set some big goals for myself: Mt. Evans Ascent, Barr Trail Mountain Race, Vertical Kilometer and Pikes Peak Ascent!  

** I love ascent and mountain races so I think that will be my focus for 2016 :)

** Our wedding is September 3, 2016 at Copper Mountain so definitely looking forward to celebrating with all of our family and friends!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Wild Duluth 100k

Wild Duluth 100k

Training Recap

After Ice Age, I couldn’t quite pinpoint a fall race that sparked my interest.   After leafing through Running Times one day, I saw a section on scenic trail races and they highlighted the half marathon at Wild Duluth – I saw they had a 50k and 100k option so I quickly looked up the race and I was sold.  I was looking for a challenge and a 100k seemed like it was the next logical progression in the ultra world plus I had never been up to Duluth before and I heard the Superior Hiking trail was beautiful yet challenging.  I targeted my training towards this race, I started doing my Saturday long runs on the trails out at Bullfrog with the Flatlander Ultra group, these folks provided me with loads of encouragement and they’re all chock-full of knowledge.  I was hitting all my back to back long runs on the trails and felt strong on most of them.  I wasn’t digging the pavement though, my runs during the week felt awkward and off, my body was having trouble adjusting – luckily avoided the pavement for the most part by doing plenty of runs at Deer Grove during the week and I also found several side trails at Busse that I ventured off on regularly.  

I hit 75 miles during my last big week of training including back to back 22 & 23 mile long runs.  My taper was a bit off this year because I did a Spartan race with Brady 3 weeks out so I wasn’t able to get in any long runs that weekend.  The following weekend I was in the LA region for a technical conference and got in a great trail run with my friend Jeff, this route had lots of elevation gain, it gave me confidence for my race and was just a fun day – although the first 2 miles have over 2000 feet of elevation gain, my flatlander legs felt like jello after running up that!!

Leading up to the race, I was feeling strong and positive.   However, while I was in LA a jar fell on one of my toes.  Great, 2 weeks before the race, I get a busted toe.  It was bleeding, bruised, swollen and sore.  I hobbled around the airport all day and hobbled around the next day, I decided to give it a couple of days rest and it ended up being just fine!   Then the week of the race, I got a cold – I was all sniffly and congested, just felt worn down.  I tried to stay positive and not let the cold get to me but I spent the day before the race just lying around my hotel room feeling super tired and not all that great.   I tried to hydrate and fuel up, sweet potato for lunch and sweet potato for dinner, then went to bed on the early side. 
Revised Course Elevation Profile - 7090 feet
Movescount Elevation Data - 8,953 feet
Strava Elevation Data - 10,351 feet

Race Time!

The race had an early start of 6:00 AM so we’d be starting in the dark.  I woke up around 4:15, jumped in a hot shower to wake up my nervous system and had some coffee and breakfast.   We got to the race around 5:30 so I didn’t have a lot of downtime before the start, less time to fret and get nervous.   The forecast for the day was calling for a high around 49 and sunny, seemed like perfect running weather although I was a bit worried about getting chilled throughout the day since I would be out there for so long!!  I decided to go with shorts, compression socks, a tank, short sleeves, arm warmers, gloves and mittens – this was the perfect combination of gear! The good thing about wearing a pack is that it’ll provide extra warmth when needed as well!  During my two previous 50 milers I’ve had some issues with keeping tabs on my nutrition and making sure I had everything I needed whenever I wanted it, I decided that I wanted to be self-sufficient so before the race I stuffed my pack with all the snacks I thought I’d need during the race.  I didn’t wanna leave any drop bags so I filled up Brady’s backpack with everything I might need and he planned to have it with him at all the aid stations. 

Miles 0 to 3.1 (AS1 - N. 24th Ave. W TH)

The race director went over last minute instructions then we all wandered over to the starting area, I found a spot towards the front and we were off, our headlamps bobbing in the dark.  We started on pavement for less than a mile before climbing up the trail.  I quickly found myself among a pack of guys, we were going a decent pace and I reminded myself to stay relaxed since there was still a very long ways to go!  We hit the trail and began to ascend; the lead pack took off running while the rest of us began power hiking.  This was the first time I was running technical trails in the dark and I soon realized that my lamp wasn’t quite bright enough, I found myself watching the light of the person in front of me and avoiding the shadows cast by those behind me.   We reached the first aid station and blew right by it; 3 miles seemed to go by quite quickly! 
Miles 3.1 (AS1) to 8.8 (AS2 - Highland/Getchell Rd. )

We continued along in the dark, pausing a few times at the top of trail to look at the city illuminated in the darkness.  A few times, our small pack of runners had to do a double take to make sure we were heading the right way since it was hard to see the markers even though they were reflective.  We popped out on the road at one spot and were looking around for a while trying to find which direction to go, a girl passed us and said “you’re obviously not from around here, it’s this way”, I quickly responded with “no, I’m from the Chicago area” as several of us followed her down the road.   We got back on the trail and began to climb again, she was leading our pack and I thought to myself, this climbing is a bit too slow for me but I stayed behind saving my energy.  My power hiking was feeling incredibly strong in this section and I kinda felt like I was being held back but decided to go with it since it was still early on in the race, might as well be conservative.  One of the guys snuck passed and disappeared down the trail; I decided to make the same move shortly thereafter.   After that, I found myself running with another guy, we chatted for a few miles about various races we had done and our goals for the day.  Right before AS2, we made a wrong turn because the marking was a bit hard to follow; we started down one path then second guessed ourselves and turned back to head down another.  While we were running down the wrong path, I could see the guy who had darted off earlier running down the road and I was like hey, we need to get out there so we spun around and made our way into the aid station, luckily this didn’t cost us too much time.   I was still feeling really good at this point and was in high spirits although I realized with it being dark and me focusing so much on the trail, I had barely taken in any water and I had yet to have a snack.  I stopped briefly at the aid station to pull out some snacks and started eating a homemade energy bar packed with sunflower seed butter, oatmeal, raisins and chocolate chips.  As I headed off down the road, I hear my mom yell, “there’s another girl right behind you”, I kinda waved her off and kept going, I thought, dang now that girl is gonna know I’m competitive!!   I ate part of the bar then took half a gel to give my energy levels an extra boost.  My goal was to take something small every 20 minutes, it was 1:45 into the race and I was already behind! 

Miles 8.8 (AS2) to 13.7 (AS3 – Spirit Mountain)

I continued another mile or so with the same guy I was running with earlier until I slowed down a bit to take off my headlamp and put it in my pack.  I was then running on my own.  I was running along enjoying the scenery, found myself smiling about how colorful the trees were and the next thing I know I was on the ground!!  I had slipped on a wet wood plank covered in leaves; of course they had warned us that some of these might be slippery!!  I regrouped, my knee was bleeding – this dang bloody knee, I swear every time I fall, I jack up my knee – but otherwise I was ok.   I took a few steps and started running again, at this point I decided to take the rest of that gel I had shoved in my pocket.     I reached the aid station and filled my bottle, I joked about someone having to fill my bottle for me since I felt like a little kid wearing mittens and unable to do anything for myself. 

Miles 13.7 (AS3) to 15.7 (AS4 - Magney-Snively TH)

Somewhere during this section, I started to feel really rundown – it seemed like I was having a hard time breathing and my HR seemed higher than it should be, it was like the pace was taking more effort than it should.  The closest thing I could equate it to is the feeling of running at altitude!  All I could think about was this lousy cold and how it was dragging me down.  My head just felt like it was pounding.  I kept telling myself, its ok but this is not my day and that I needed to let Brady know that I was adjusting my goals – I just wanted to run and enjoy it, take it all in.   Rachel a veteran ultrarunner who I’d been doing my long runs with told me to breath deep every now and again and to remember how lucky we are to do what we do, and she was right so I took a deep breath and looked around, it was beautiful and calming and a smile came across my face, I was definitely grateful to be out there.   I saw Brady as I crossed this neat looking bridge, he ran with me into the aid station and I told him that I wasn’t feeling all that great – that my head just didn’t feel good and I was also having some side stitches, plus my stomach just felt hollow and empty which was a weird feeling to me.  My initial idea of eating the homemade energy bars and having Pocketfuel wasn’t working; they were giving me side stitches so I turned to Hammer gels.   I filled up my bottles at the stop and started back down the trail.  So far this course has had lots of elevation change and plenty of technical spots including jagged rocks and wooden planks to run over, wooden stairs and rock steps.   So far, it was much more difficult than I expected and there was still plenty more challenges to come!!  Up until now, I was playing leap frog with another girl.  We kept passing one another and taking over the lead.  Leaving this aid station, I was still in the lead. 

Miles 15.7 (AS4) to 20.0 (AS5 – Munger Trail)

This next section of the trail was crazy wicked as we climbed up Ely’s Peak.  The trail was extremely rocky and we’re talking like big rocks, some of them I could barely step up.  At the top, you had to navigate the trail based on blue blazes on the boulders and some of them were a bit hard to spot.  Of course, I got off track and that girl passed me again, saying the course is over this way.  I followed her down commenting that it was kinda confusing up there.   The 50ker’s were coming back at us now and everyone was super encouraging,  we were all telling each good job, keep it up, etc.   Heading back down the other side of the peak, wasn’t any easier than coming up.  I seriously had to watch my footing, I didn’t wanna fall and slam my head on a rock.  Plus it hard with people coming up the trail too!  I reached the aid station at mile 20 and saw the girl filling up her bottle.  Great, she wasn’t that far ahead of me.  Brady told me that even though I wasn’t feeling well, I needed to make sure to stay on top of my nutrition and hydration, which reminded me, I needed to pop some electrolyte capsules and get some calories in me.   This was the last time I would see Brady and my parents until the turnaround point at mile 31.   The guy who has the course record told me that Ely’s Peak was the most technical section of the course and that the next part would be much easier, I was relieved to hear that! 
Miles 20 (AS5) to 25.6 (AS6 – Grand Portage)

The girl in black left the aid station before me but I wasn’t that far behind her.  I soon came across her on the side of the trail searching through her bag, she asked me how I was feeling and I said eh, not that great, mentioned that I had a cold and she said she was sick too plus was having some stomach issues, so both of us were running at less than a 100% and it we were both rookies when it came to the 100k distance.  I passed her and wished her luck.  These next 5 miles were not pretty for me, I was feeling incredibly run down and sick, and my mental attitude was shot.  I was running along and tripped on something and fell to the ground, another part of my knee scuffed up and sore, I limped for a few steps while it loosened up.   I drank some water and continued on, next thing I know, I was on the ground again and again and again.  At this point, I was getting really frustrated and the girl in black had already passed me.   I drank a bunch of water, took some electrolytes and downed some calories. I kept on moving but I was not happy, I was wondering why I was even out there, telling myself that I should just call it in before I seriously injure myself.    I wanted to just sit down on the side of the trail for a while and cry, tears started to swell up in my eyes, I think a few rolled down my cheek – I felt so frazzled and so tired and sick and just out of it.  I’ve never been on the verge of tears in a race before; I never felt this bad, at least not this early on.  How the heck was I gonna suffer through 35-40 more miles of this??  While all of these negative thoughts were in my head, I kept repeating – I will not quit, I will not quit.  I knew that barring any serious injury, I would not allow myself to quit, I just couldn’t do it.  I would finish this thing no matter how long it took me.  I finally reached the next aid station and filled up one of my bottles with water and the other with Heed, which was refreshing and hit the spot.   Dang, if this was only 50 miles, I’d be halfway done!! 

Miles 25.6 (AS6) to 31 (AS7 – Turnaround – Chambers Grove)

After leaving this stop, they told us to follow the trail up to the power lines.  I wasn’t really sure what that meant but I would soon find out.  The trail jutted up a 100+ foot climb in less than 1/10th of a mile, this thing was steep and this thing was covered in slippery mud!!!  I looked at it and muttered a four letter word along with you’ve got to be kidding me as I started hiking up it, my feet slipping backwards, I was grabbing at grass and braches along the way to  help pull myself up and prevent myself from sliding all the way back down.  As I was powering up this thing, I thought about Brady and his Spartan Ultra Beast race in Vermont.  If he could power up a steep hill like this carrying 2 – 60 lb sandbags, I could get myself up this thing.  I finally reached the top only to see that the trail took a steep descent before heading back up again, ugh.  I could only imagine how much I would hate heading down this on the way back!!  It finally flattened out and the trail eased up for a while.  This next section was on a new mountain bike trail and I loved it, it was incredibly runnable.  The trail had lots of ups and downs and twists and turns but it was smooth, there weren’t very many hazards to trip over so I felt like I was making up some time during this section and could run almost the entire way without having to navigate any tricky terrain or hike up some steep massive hill.  I was still in 2nd place and found myself feeling a bit better but I was still feeling off.  I stepped aside for a few mountain bikers to pass me, geez guys you could at least tell me that you’re coming and give me a heads up – they later informed my dad they had no idea a race was going on!  I came around the corner into the aid station at the turn around to see Brady, my parents along with Jason and Brenner, a couple of fellow stair climbers who came up from Minneapolis to cheer me on.   I came into that aid station around 6:40, much slower than my initial targeted time of 6:00.  I went straight to Brady, I told him how much I had been struggling and that I really suffered miles 20-25 and how I really wanted to quit.  He knew that I didn’t have it in me to give up and that I would find a way to keep going.  The girl in black was sitting at the table while her crew attended to her, Brady told me that she didn’t look all that great either.   I went to chat with Jason a bit and told him this wasn’t my finest hour but appreciated their encouragement, as I stepped back out there he told me to stay tough out there, that thought rang through later in the race.   It would be another 10 miles until I saw my crew again and that would be when Brady could jump in with me, knowing this kept me going!!  I knew that it would probably take me about 2-2.5 hours to get back there especially since this whole race had been taking me longer than expected.  I figured I would get to the 42 mile mark around 9 hours. 

Miles 31 (AS7) to 36.4 (AS6 – Grand Portage)

The girl in black and another guy left the aid station before me but I darted off with a new sense of purpose, I had to make it 10 miles to where Brady would be able to run with me.   I could see the girl in black on the switchbacks and I inched closer towards them, I was still digging the smooth mountain bike trails, I could just put it on autopilot and run!!  I ended up passing that girl about a mile or two after the aid station and I just kept moving forward.   I could see the other 100k runners who were heading out towards the turnaround and everyone was super encouraging.   I made my way out to the power lines, ugh, now I gotta head down this super steep muddy trail!!  I cautiously walked down that hill and I felt like I was moving at snail’s pace, at one point my foot snagged on something and my heart started racing as my body was flung forward, I grabbed a nearby twiggy branch and luckily kept myself upright.   I finally made it down but it was time to head back up the other side then back down again, I eventually made it safely outta there and into the aid station.   I was cruising at this point, another guy who had passed me a while ago was there and made a comment about me picking up the pace and making up time, he was right, I was on a mission!  

Miles 36.4 (AS6) to 42 (AS5 – Munger Trail)
Mentally I was a little worried about this section because it’s where I really struggled on the way out and hit a major low spot, I also found myself on the ground several times so I was a bit more cautious as I made my way through.  This course was scattered with rocks, wooden planks, stairs, little bridges, etc and this section was no different.  I found myself power hiking the inclines, maybe a bit more than I should and the descents were a bit slow, I know my downfall is technical descents, I’m just not very confident in myself and need more experience!  The guy in the blue shirt would get closer on the hills and I would pull ahead on the runnable portions, why am I such a weak hiker?  I felt so strong power hiking at the start of the race but now I was just inching along up those hills.  He eventually passed me before coming into the next aid station.  I kept looking at my watch, I was ahead of schedule, I started to worry that Brady might not be there since I was moving at a quicker pace.  My crew was there but Brady wasn’t quite expecting me yet but he dropped his stuff and was ready to run!  I came in super excited telling them that I was feeling much better than I was 20 miles ago, which was shocking.  I’m not sure if my cold decided to stay behind at one of the aid stations or if my fueling was getting better so I was gaining more energy, either way I was feeling good. 

Miles 42 (AS5) to 46.3 (AS4 - Magney-Snively TH)

We left the aid station and I pointed out the peak we were about to climb and told him it was incredibly rocky but the views were incredible.   We ran down the road and turned up the trail which at that point was just a bunch of giant rocks, he’s like wheres the trail??  I said, here it is, let the adventure begin!  We started the climb, chatting with the guy in blue as well.   Brady was off in front and the other guy was like oh look at mr. showoff with the fresh legs, haha.  It was true, we’d been moving for more than 42 miles!!   After we reached the top, the guy in blue blasted off down the trail saying that he wanted to stretch his legs, we continued on at our normal pace.    My legs were still feeling pretty good, whenever I was running I felt strong and like I could keep on going but the hiking and super technical spots just slowed me down.   Coming around a turn, I was surprised to see my dad – we deemed him the trail gnome of the day since he was always about a quarter to a half mile down the trail from the aid station.   We reached the aid station, my mom told me that the aid station captain told her that I needed to eat something, he was worried about me because I didn’t grab anything when I came through the first time around (back around mile 15.7), she explained to him that I was a vegan and very particular about what I ate and that I was carrying stuff in my pack.  During our run, Brady told me that this aid station had a full tent with a heater inside and lots of warm food even had a little window so you could peek out to see what was going on, he’s like we can stop in there if you need to and we’ll show you around.  I was like that sounds nice but we’re in a race and we’re crunched for time, haha :) I filled my bottles again and we were off towards Spirit Mountain, only about 16 miles to go!  

Miles 46.3 (AS4) to 48.3 (AS3 – Spirit Mountain)
Spirit Mountain is a tough section because we climb down the mountain then have to go back up but we just cranked through this section onto the next aid station.  

Miles 48.3 (AS3) to 53.2 (AS2 - Highland/Getchell Rd. )

This next stretch would be a big longer; we had 5 miles and at the rate we were going I figured it would take us around an hour or so.   We kept cruising on the easy sections and hiking on the hills, I told Brady that I was sorry for slowing us down, that I was doing the best I could.  He commented that the terrain wasn’t easy, he had only done 10 miles but already thought it was a tough course!  As we approached the 53 mile mark,  I threw my arms in the air and yelled, single digits with a smile on my face; we were so close yet so far away!!  It was like never-ending trying to get to that next aid station, time just kept ticking by.  I kept saying it doesn’t feel like we’re moving that slowly, why aren’t we there yet.  We took a wrong turn somewhere, there were some pink flags associated with a construction area and another random runner guy saw us and called us up towards the trail, at least we didn’t venture too far off the path.   We hadn’t seen any other runners since the guy in blue left us back up on Ely’s Peak.  We hit the pavement and I was like ok, the aid station is right up around this corner, we turned and nothing.  WTH?!?!?  Where did the aid station go??  Did they pack it up, no they couldn’t do that there were still too many runners out there plus my parents would still be standing there even if the aid station was gone.  We kept on running, my mind playing tricks on me.  I was thinking dang, I need water, we still have over 8 miles to go and I need water.   It was starting to get dark and chilly too, we were gonna need to pull out the headlamps soon too.   We navigated some more trail, then popped out in the construction zone, now I knew we were really close to the aid station.  We turned down the road and I could hear my parents cheering for us.  We came into that aid station, Brady grabbed some snacks, I filled up my smaller bottle with Heed which reminded me at one of the stops the Heed flavor was strawberryish and that just cracked me up, I made a comment to the girls there and one said, this one is melon and the other one starting laughing and said no, its melonish.  Good times, haha.  I got my headlamp off and put on a long sleeve shirt since it was getting dark and cold, we had about 8.5 miles to the finish and the time on my watch was 12:24 (real time 6:24), so much for me finishing in under 13 hours!!    

Miles 53.2 (AS2) to 58.9 (AS1)

At the start of the race, it took me about 1:43 to get to this stop so I thought it might take us about 2 hours to reach the finish.   We headed off with the sunlight vanishing, my watch let out a few beeps, it was about to die, dang!   I thought my watch would make it through this whole thing!!  I looked down several minutes later and the screen was blank, dang how would I know how much time had passed??  The distance on my watch was a little off, it gets wonky with all the elevation change and switchbacks and twists and turns of the trail, I think my watch was about a mile or two behind but when it died.   But the time was valuable, then I would at least know how long we’d been moving plus I’d know when to take in some calories.   I felt like I should’ve had a backup watch, Brady didn’t have a watch either – he had his phone but it was tucked away in his pack.   We continued onward and upward, always seemed like we were continuing upward!   We had another long stretch before the last aid station, the sun was setting quickly and I was thankful for my extra layer and for my mittens.  We reached the top of the climb and the sunset was incredible, lots of pinks and oranges and I smiled.  I was glad to have Brady there with me, he kept me going and kept me focused plus it was just nice to have some company.   It was getting darker and darker and the trail was getting harder to see, we rounded a corner and a guy in full camo pops outta the trail with a loaded bow, “hey” he says in a raspy voice.  Both of us are thinking, what the heck is that guy doing out there??  Talk about creepy, I was certainly glad to have Brady with me at that moment.   Not sure what that guy was doing or where he was going but hopefully he didn’t mistake any runners for whatever he was hunting.    This was another section where it seemed to take a really long time to get to the next aid station, it was pretty dark now and the terrain was tricky in the dark.  Brady kept stubbing his toe on rocks and roots, so far I was doing alright, hadn’t fallen since my 4-5 falls back in the “early” stages of the race.   I kept thinking we’d be approaching the aid station any time, I saw a white looking tent through the trees so I yelled out to Brady that it was just around the corner, nope it was just someone’s house.  Onward and upward, I knew where we were, we were at that same spot where the girl in black passed me and group of guys when we were searching for the trail, ok we gotta be close now.   The tendons in my feet were killing me, during my training I’d been having issues with the posterior tibialis tendon in my right leg which goes down from your calf into your ankle so my ankle would get really sore about 10 miles into my run, well that pain had subsided and now the tendon in the front of my foot was feeling really tight and sore, I tried to ignore the pain and kept moving forward.  I just wanted to get to the finish! 

Miles 58.9 (AS1) to Finish

We approached the aid station and I called out my number, they had a huge fire blazing here and it looked so inviting and warm but we were on a mission and the finish was within reach!   As we left, a girl called out, it’s all downhill from here!!  I said I’m not sure that’s a good thing!  As I mentioned above, my downhill skills aren’t all that great and now we’d be going downhill on technical terrain in the dark!!  Plus my foot was not digging the downhills.   Only 3 miles to go, before we left, I asked the guy for the real time, it was about 8:00 – ok, trying to process finishing time in my head.  How long can 3 miles take??  I was thinking maybe 30-45 minutes, I’m still get used to the timing on trails and in ultras, everything just takes longer but I’m starting to accept that and my mind has learned to process the extended timeframe needed for long runs and these races.   Going downhill in the dark on rocky terrain was totally tricky; we spent a lot of that time walking because it was just too hard to plan your next step.  We saw a group of people which ended up being 3 ladies, they said they were pacing one of their friends who was walking.  My mind quickly started questioning who they were pacing, what do you mean you’re pacing a girl, where did this girl come from, how did someone pass me without us knowing???  Brady had the same reaction, he mentioned that I was the first place female in the 100k and the girl mentioned that her friend was in the 50k, phew!   She told us to watch for the reflectors on the way down and if we got lost they’d be behind us, she also mentioned that we were about 2.5 miles from the finish.   In several spots I kinda had to shine my light in various directions to find the markers, sometimes the markers would be a ways down the trail and hard to pinpoint, I kept thinking we were off track then I’d see the reflector shining in the distance.   I could tell we were getting close to the bottom of the trail, Brady tripped and was on the ground, he kinda tweeked his back but got right back up and kept on moving.  I was worried about this back, I was feeling bad because this was taking so long and because he wasn’t into endurance events like I am and he was only out there because he wanted to be there for me and support me, navigating in the dark wasn’t easy and it’s frustrating when you can’t totally see where you’re going or when you keep stumbling.   I knew we were getting close to where the trail would end and where we’d pop out on pavement, head over the pedestrian bridge, around the park and into the finish.   I could hear voices behind us, I started freaking a bit, was that the girl in black, was she gaining on us, I felt a sense of urgency.   We hit the pavement and I just took off, I bolted down the sidewalk, my legs felt so fresh and so free, it’s always amazing to me that at the end of these races, your legs can move so quickly.   It didn’t feel like I had been out there for 61 miles, I didn’t think about anything I just kept running, I looked behind and Brady was behind me but I didn’t see anyone else, I just kept running.  I turned the corner and could see the finish, I picked up the pace and even though there was only a handful of people milling about, I could hear them clapping and cheering.  

I crossed the line as the first female in 14:42, I was much slower than I originally anticipated but I finished.  I persevered, I didn’t give up when it got tough and I wanted to quit, I made myself power on and it was definitely an experience.  This course was wicked and tough but beautiful, this distance is no joke.  I’m not sure what’s up next, several things are circling in my mind but this race has pointed out several things I need to think about and work on such as, running technical trails in the dark, downhill running and power hiking.   I also need to get stronger during the off-season, I’m planning to lift weight and do core exercises.  I’m not sure when or where my target race is but I’m just going to take it easy for a while and see what sparks my interest.  

thanks for carrying my luggage!