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: