Thursday, September 18, 2014

Storm/Carry On: Summer, Fall And Beyond

My heart is a river, and so I run.

I have a secret, come meet me at the sky. You can fly, you can fly, you can fly.

(click on the lyrics in red, and play this lovely song that sounds like I feel upon reaching that summit or peak amidst wind and whatever other weather is out there)

The closest I could come to finding a YouTube video of the track "Storm," that speaks to me most on Colorado's own Paper Bird's album "Carry On," was this. The whole album is there but check out that's Great Gig In The Sky when the folky/bluegrassy ladies are wailing in the second half. These guys played a killer show at Palisade Bluegrass in a crazy windstorm as if nothing was happening, and then I was fortunate enough to catch another amazing set at a tiny theater in Paonia months later, two of the best shows I've ever seen. Their last two albums have been the musical interpretation of how I feel running in the mountains. "Running," used loosely, because I am no Antonio Krupiccio.

I hate to write something that feels like a forced essay or resume summarizing my races, which is probably why I haven't blogged in months. That, and I just finished weathering the storm which was a season working Palisade Peaches with some of my closest friends (want to test friendships? Try that), caring for my children every other week at my place (and being as available as I can be even when it's not "my" time", and am desperately longing for "sleep," and working my regular jobs. I trained as best I could but it didn't leave a helluva a lot of time for running. Still, I got in and out of the Silver Rush 50 feeling good about things. And, peaching season taught a lot of lessons, many of which were applicable to ultra running, dealing with unpredictable weather and product, being tired and cranky (friends being tired and cranky), carry on. Sometimes you don't even have the experience to handle the weird, unique situation presented during your day, but you just go at it the best you can at that moment. We had fun, too. My coworker Michaela and I figured out how we liked to operate the peach stand, and things just flowed. We made cracks about her brother and father peaching on the other side of the mountain and narrated a fictitious reality show about it. We worked hard and had a great time, even if we were tired and banged up at the end of the way. Much like a good day on the mountain.

The Silver Rush wasn't a fast day but steady and surefooted. I knew I would finish-there was no doubt in my mind. It was the first time my children got to watch me race in years. That was a huge deal to me, and there was no way I was going to fail out there. There was a lot of joy in being in Leadville, with them, being crewed by my kids. It was just awesome. I'd kind of dreamed of something like this and it was happening. My friend Tom made it all possible in giving up a weekend to follow my slow ass around the mountain with my kids, something I've said I will happily repay some time. I've been told, though, that he's never going to do anything that dumbass. He might be on to something.

Leading into the Leadville Trail 100, I kind of knew I was burning the candle at all ends. I was feeling good about doing good things for my family but this meant less running than I'd normally be doing. In hindsight, I can see that there was no way mental toughness and stubbornness alone was going to get me through the LT100 with the Extreme Peach Taper, and in hindsight I almost wish I hadn't brought friends out to help, but then again I know they were there for me because they wanted to be there, and that I would do the same for them anytime. I had my wonderful friends Emma-Leigh, Tom, Angela, Elizabeth and Kyle there to crew/cheer at various points, and had past finishers Bryan and Ben there to get me in and out of Twin Lakes,  the last aid station I cleared, with masterful flow.
The gals had me in a dry shirt there before I could even turn around. They were there at the 4 a.m. start, there after I got off of that magical first loop in the dark around Turquoise Lake.  I also was fortunate to get feedback and advice from various LT100 finishers, including two previous winners of the race, who were incredibly kind and generous in sharing their experiences on the course, and how I might apply strategies that work well out there (thank you Kirk and Lynette, two class acts who took time to say things that really helped me to keep moving forward).  I owe all these guys and gals a debt of gratitude for being supportive of my little dream, and offering help when there was nothing in it for them. That's not to mention all the other friends and family who wished me well, fellow INKnBURN ambassadors, and anyone else who supported this common love we all have.  Humbled, that's what I was.

(A role reversal of the 2012 race. I just need to hold up my end of the deal and FINISH the next time)

 It was a fully successful failure to get halfway through the race (the "Hopeless Aid Station 50 Miler," as I call it now), and be deflated, dejected momentarily, but realize that I got to meet the sky in my failure before turning back down to Twin Lakes to think about how to do it right the next time. And that most people would not have gotten nearly as far on what was, frankly, piss-poor training on my part at the end. Not by design, but let's call it what it was.

 I know next year that there can be peaching, and there can be Leadville, but there can't be peaching and Leadville. The most talented and well-trained runners have no guarantees of success at this race, and I don't have a lick of mountain running talent to carry me for 100 miles. I will be working that section out of Twin Lakes multiple times next year, practicing going over Hope Pass, and get in the mindset of being WAY up on time coming in so that when I slow down, I have a cushion to move me slowly to the sky, back down, back up again and over to Twin Lakes.

In the weeks after Leadville I thought I'd bounce back well but was surprised at how little I felt like I had in me-physically, emotionally, for much of anything. I just wanted to sleep all the time. Still, I thought I'd rest up, and come into the Imogene Pass Run, rested and ready to go. Oh, it was far, far from that. My body told me it was done, DONE. It needed a break. I had already accomplished a pretty epic personal worst by the time I found my friend Emma-Leigh, grimacing from a wretching stomach and clearing out her gut several times already at that point. Right then the only thing that was important was us getting in together. Not the race that I was expecting by any stretch. Being as competitive with myself as I have been, I could've been down about it but the fact that it was such a hard day made it empowering. We got to the finish when it would've been easy to say you know what? Fuck it. My dad was there too, and made it to Upper Camp Bird, but felt awful. He opted to turn around and go back to Ouray, satisfied that 15 mile hike was okay this year. Dad then booked his room for the next year, and what will be his third IPR start and presumptive second finish after returning to the strategies he employed in the first finish.

I'm at an odd crossroads now. I am back to my day job, and part-time job number two. I got a small promotion at work and am focusing on learning that new gig. It's not a dream job but it challenges me to learn a lot of new stuff, and talk to patients all day, which is cool for me. And, for once, I am not signed up for any all. I'd planned on the Run Rabbit Run 50 miler last weekend, but without a shred of energy to run it, or drive to show up and run it with my head, I stayed home. We cleaned things around the house, which sounds boring, but had an immediate positive impact on my stress and fatigue levels. I joke around but I do wear my emotions on my sleeve at times, and my heart is definitely a river that needs to run. In this case, it told me I needed to just get out and run a little bit, easy, every day. Not think about training for the next big event, but just let it run and flow. I'll be back to racing soon enough, but for now, it's just time to carry on, and know that I CAN fly again, on and off the mountain.

Carry On this way in my heart, carry on this way in my heart

(Click again for more awesome Paper Bird. It's really ironically (or, perhaps, accurately in my case) called "Don't You Run" but just enjoy the rocking close to the blog)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

As I Am: The Leadville Trail Marathon

"These arms of mine were made for lifting up
And when I set things down again
I hope they are better than they were"

-Paper Bird, As I Am

"I will not just survive, I will be better than before." 
-Vince DiCroce, as quoted on the back of a Leadville Marathon runner's shirt.
DiCroce, a former city attorney in Denver, recently passed away from a brain tumor. He ran more than 30 marathons and 7 Ironmans, most after his 2004 diagnosis.

I admit, I had a different song in mind all along for this race. Then, sometimes, another message comes through- loud, clear, timely, and meant for me. The above song popped up on shuffle as I drove past Turquoise Lake early Saturday morning to pick up my race packet. The "lover" in the song is definitely my mountains, and speaking to letting go of fear and the past could not have been more timely. I had also never heard of Vince DiCroce until the final moments waiting to start the Leadville Trail Marathon, where I read the above message on the back of a shirt, and saw repeatedly as I followed the man up the mountain who was wearing the shirt. I committed the quote to memory, and upon googling it when I returned to Grand Junction, learned that Mr. DiCroce was a kindred spirit to those of us who like to get out, live life and challenge ourselves despite the odds. So, this is my humble tale about trying to be better than before.

Winds are blowing, the sky is clear
Let go of fear
And what's happened to you

The Leadville Trail Marathon, while I'd tried not to play it up in my head, was kind of a big deal to me this year. Leadville Trail 100 dreams went kaput pretty early last year, but this year, things have been different. My game plan has been one I've put together to point myself toward success in August, doing what I think is important for me to accomplish a finish in under thirty hours.

I abandoned speed work, the roads, and anything that would be a hindrance to reaching that goal. I took every opportunity I could to climb hills, and get more and more used to steep up and down terrain. In a perfect world I would have liked to have a higher mileage base, but I felt that I really was doing things better than I have done before. The mileage, right now, has been enough for this point in the game, so long as I continue to build and challenge myself. Still, I was very nervous. Yes, I'd run on the Grand Mesa, gone on long outings on the Fruita trails, done the gnarly Garfield Grumble and done another steep run up the backside of Garfield with my friend Cheryl. Would it be enough, though? Despite all that work, I am still much slower on trails than most of my friends. I don't know why, but no matter how hard I try I am not the same speed there as I am on roads.

I had at first thought I would go up solo, but late in the week, I chatted with my friend Butch about coming up to Leadville for some cool mountain air, and hanging out. Our friend Ernie was also going up, and offered space at the campground where he'd be staying. A plan had been hatched.

Friday night came, though, and I was a literal hot mess. It was 98 degrees when I got off work. I couldn't find anything I needed. I wasn't motivated to pack. And, despite an overwhelmingly high number of good days dealing with my new life situation, it wound up being one of those evenings when I had a total crying meltdown. I'm kind of ashamed to say that, but sometimes stuff just comes out. And, well, I think it was meant to be. I hit the shower to cool off, and felt like I'd pretty much purged any negative, pent-up energy I'd had going on. I picked up Butch, we headed to Leadville, found Ernie's campsite and pitched his tent at about 11pm. Despite the late hour I felt very mellow and relaxed. The skies were clear, the temperature perfect for sleeping in the mountains at night. I must have been awake for no more than 30 seconds before I was out like a light, and I did not wake up until I'd accomplished six good hours of coma-like sleep. For a gal who has trouble sleeping much of the time, this was great.

Waking up before my alarm, I took a stroll to the shore of Turquoise Lake, just steps from our campsite.

 It brought back good memories of pacing my friend Ben around the lake in 2012, on his way to a finish in the LT 100. The sun had been rising on his second day of racing, and he was still going, having survived all the troubles of the night. I made packet pickup at 5:58, hit City On The Hill, the coffee shop, at 6 on the nose, and got my steaming hot caffeine just prior to the massive rush of runners piling in through the doors. This seemed to be a sign that this would be a good day; it was also a treat to be in here since it had been two years since my previous involvement in a Leadville race. I seemed to have the mojo and energy of it being MY first time to be the runner, not the support crew or pacer.

After the beverage I came back to camp, finding Ernie and Butch awake and ready to go. We rode into town for the start, and the skies were clear and blue. I managed to make it through the bathroom line just in time to join the massive throngs of Heavy Half and marathon runners with about two minutes to spare. Unlike my disastrous gastrointestinal issues at the Colorado Marathon, everything had thankfully, uh, come out just fine today. I was feeling good and ready to go.

As the race began, I felt free, happy, and in the moment. I'd made it here, and was going to enjoy this experience for all it was worth. As we started, I moved forward with the crowd, and was pleased that my lungs were not screaming. A mere mile in, I was talking with new friend Kate who had recently moved to Grand Junction, and was glad I could carry on a bit of a conversation.  Soon, we reached the split where the Heavy Half-ers went straight ahead and we, the marathoners, turned right. This was the beginning of what I expected to be much more steep and straight uphill, but had more of a nice continuously rolling uphill feel. I had no grand plans to knock myself out today; this was about maintaining an honest effort, running as much as I could, and being present on the course. When a fellow runner said it was a privilege to be out here today, because not everybody could do such things, I knew what he meant. I kept moving ahead, looking around and appreciating where I was.

After hitting the first aid station, we reached a flat with gorgeous 360 degree views. I stopped to look around a bit and take a picture or two before continuing on.

 This was the first time I really noticed the blowing winds. I debated staying in my short sleeves, and was really feeling "The Force" of my shirt...but decided that I did not want to get too cold and then try to warm myself out. I tugged my old Boston Marathon shirt out of my bag and it seemed to be just the ticket. Climbing up, up, up, I would chat with some of the now usual characters with whom I'd been sharing the trail. Soon, we saw the first Heavy Half-ers come flying through...Ewen North first, with another guy and a badass chick not more than a minute back. As a woman in the sport, this was exciting to see. We would learn later that she went on to finish third overall, and set a new course record for the ladies. Great stuff.

Now, it was time for more climbing. Again, no great speed on my part but I had not stopped once due to fatigue or a less-than-tough mental state. I was emboldened by feeling for once like I did not suck at climbing. It was, in a weird sense, relaxing and meditative. To quote Scott Jurek, "Sometimes you just do things." I just did what I needed to do here.

Reaching the last aid station before the final climb, I saw eventual winner Timmy Parr go blowing by. He'd stayed at our place for Desert R.A.T.S. in April and it was exciting to see him absolutely killing it; he'd had a tough day in the mud here two months prior. After passing through that aid station, I saw local Corey come flying through in 4th or 5th, and as I continued working my way to Mosquito Pass, I eventually saw new locals Sean, and then his wife Laura. I was further along than I expected when I saw all of these characters, and I just kept that momentum going.

In the last series of switchbacks, I was feeling pretty good. Relative to the racers I was with, I was able to push uphill as well as anyone, and challenged myself to give the most I had here. Finally, I could see that the summit was imminent. Upon reaching it, there were two people manning it. A kid bundled up in a sleeping bag and jacket, and..Ken Chlouber, Leadville Trail 100 founder! It took me a minute to figure it out, and when I did he was taking a picture for a runner. I asked if he wouldn't mind getting a quick one for me and he happily obliged, telling me it would be better if I stood by the sign to get it in the picture, adding "Honey, you're getting cold!" I assured him I was more than fine, and didn't mention that I was totally geeked to be in his presence. A very genuine interaction, and one that would have me grinning all the way down the mountain.

Heading downhill, it was decidedly colder and windier. the water flowing down from the top had increased and was now very muddy. My hat blew off as I ran a section with plowed snow next to the trail. I jumped up on it quickly and was able to retrieve the hat before another gust could pick it up and blow it away. The sky was no longer clear but I felt invigorated by Mother Nature making her presence known.

Another issue was causing me troubles now as well. I'd stepped hard on a rock a month or two back, and it had pressed up through the sole of my left foot against my cuboid bone. On the one downhill section on the climb in miles 5-8, it was causing me some grief. Now, I could really feel it. It did not require any debate in my head about what to do. I was going to protect it, and not hammer down like this was my big goal for the summer. I needed to be able to run the next weekend. I hated not hammering but I knew that to preserve my future races, I needed to not do anything super stupid today.

Moving along, the skies were darker at times, but there were also breaks of light. At one aid station, a volunteer asked if I had rain gear. Uh, no, I said. Just this shirt, but I do have hat and gloves. "It IS going to rain, he said. Put your gloves on if it comes." I was actually rather annoyed with him thinking I didn't know what I was doing, and somehow I had this feeling, in the certainty of his remark, that the rain was not going to come during my run. I politely let him know that I had been wearing the gloves the whole time anyway because my hands get cold easily, and that my long sleeved shirt was perfect for me for the last nine miles down the hill. I made a quick pit stop and continued onward.

Chatting with gals I'd been with the whole time, I hit what became the most challenging section of the course; miles 18-21. I'd been advised by veteran trail runner Bernie Boettcher to save something for this section, and I am so glad he offered this advice. This was the same territory covered in miles 5-8. Holy shit. This kind of hurt. Once again, though, I was surprised that I moved ahead of all the gals I was with, and never felt like the climb had the best of me. It more of a challenge for me to prove to the hill that I could handle it. Reaching the final aid station, I got a few more comments on my shirt, and I commented on how I'd been hoodwinked about this being a flat and fast course with a rock and roll band on every corner. I grabbed a handful of salty chips and got ready for the final descent. It was still windy but no rain had come.

Moving through the final miles, I was stoked. I was not in it to win it; far from it. I was in it as a first test to see if I was on track for my summer, and I believe I was passing this test. Heading down the last stretch of road to the finish, I just soaked up knowing that this was not the end of the line but a first big step of letting go of my fears of failure and just going for it. When I finished, my friend Butch was hollering like a madman and gave me a huge hug. This would've been a great solo journey, but it was super cool to share the finish with a friend who has a thing for the mountains as well, and knew what this day entailed for me.

The last few hours in Leadville involved dark skies, and high spirits as we cheered in the final runners. It was a thrill to encourage them on, and see them smile and fist pump upon coming through.

Some say Leadville has sold out or that it sucks. And, I hear it WAS kind of a mess at the 100 in 2013, but I was not there so I can't comment. Maybe that is their truth; it's not mine. This is where I first saw friend and neighbor Bryan finish the 100 in 2011, barely ahead of the cutoffs and with 15 minutes to spare at the finish. I watched my local friends go six for six the next year, and aided one of them along the way to that goal. Now it's my time, my goal, my race. I'm smart enough to know that I can't base success in August off a marathon in June but it was a huge positive step forward toward that. Getting ready to leave for Junction, Butch and I encountered a guy who was a LT100 finisher, and who had advice that had kind of swirled in my head, but not as he articulated it. "Just look at it as another day. Sometimes you'll feel bad in that day but it's just another day and it'll keep going on." He also added, "See you in August." I am actually starting to see myself there in August.

This was advice that was race-specific, but quite applicable to all I've been through lately. And, after the race, I did feel like I'd lifted my arms up and offered myself to the mountain, and had come out better than I was before. If I can just keep doing that-keep trying to be a little better than before-there is a strong chance I can keep it going to the finish of that race, in August, as I am, as I came to be.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Home/Colorado: The 2014 Colorado Marathon

Settle down, it'll all be clear 
Don't pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble it might drag you down
You get lost, you can always be found

This song came like a message especially for me at the 20 mile aid station at the Colorado Marathon on Sunday. Imagine my complete delight when I looked up the video, which I'd never seen before, and quite clearly spotted Mount Garfield and the Bookcliffs in Grand Junction (Wikipedia says I am was shot on the road between Denver and Salt Lake City on tour). All the more apropos for the weekend.

I hadn't trained seriously for a road marathon since about 2011, and really hadn't had much of an interest since then, with a Rim Rock Marathon in 2012 when the weather was crap, and I felt like crap. Then there was the "one 20 miler in five months" training plan for Rim Rock 2013, when I knew, going in, that it was a fun effort, and a guaranteed personal worst. It was fun, and a personal worst. 

But, before that, there was Boston. 

I was hurt, angry, pissed, and wanted to get back to "our" race. I signed up for a race that several friends had finished, and enjoyed tremendously-the Colorado Marathon in Fort Collins. Also racing was my friend Rochelle, who started running with regularity two years prior, and would be completing her first marathon this weekend. Then there was friend Tom, a longstanding active member of our local running club who has done every type of race in many sports under the sun in his 61 years, except, surprisingly, a road marathon. We went to Fort Collins on Saturday, staying with my friend Kim, who answered our "thanks for letting us all crash here!" with a shrug and "Runners are runners!" assertion. We all grabbed some food together and wandered Old Town for awhile.

Eventually, our friends Marty (and brother to Rochelle) and Cheryl made it to town after supporting another friend of ours, Marco, at a trail race in Buena Vista, the Collegiate Peaks 50-miler. Tom and I chilled out and wandered Old Town Fort Collins with them while Rochelle chilled out back at Kim's, and eventually made our way back to turn in for the night. I was tired and ready for a good night's sleep, not really thinking much about the race. My training cycle had been far from perfect, but was also far from a high suckage percentage. There had been virtually no speed work, with my summer racing goals in mind, and knowing how that was not where my energies needed to be spent in base building for those races. I did, however, rack up a bunch of runs 20 miles or longer, and finished my fourth RedHot 55K in February. I was also, er, a few pounds up from ideal racing weight. I was pretty curious what the over/under would be on all factors. Regardless, I was going to have fun out there, give it my best, and enjoy.

Sunday started out comically. We boarded the buses, and were the last three runners put on the bus. I made my way to the three open seats in the back of the bus, where I was seated next to a young man who had his head in his hands because he'd not trained for this race, and was just realizing that no training and his only race ever being a 5K on Super Bowl Sunday might not be the best training plan. As we rode along in the dark (we'd boarded buses at 4:30 a.m.), things got more exciting. Rochelle came back to use the bathroom on our luxury bus and says "We're going the wrong way." No way, I said. Way. The driver had followed two other buses and missed the turn up Poudre Canyon, where we'd run the first 17 miles of the course. What followed was pulling a u-ey through some farmer's dirt circular driveway, with the bus pointing straight down at a point where the circle dropped sharply. I was imagining how surprised these people would be to find a bus on its side in their front yard at 4:45 a.m., but we made it through and got up the canyon.

When we reached the start, things felt great. Temps were cool but not cold. No wind.

 We found our Junction friend Angela's sister Elizabeth/Lizzie, who had some injuries and down time but decided to go ahead, enjoy the race, and let it be whatever it would be. She found us a much shorter port-a-potty line that the massive one everyone else was in. This was great, except for the first time ever, uh....(sensitive readers, avert your eyes), I was having gut troubles for the first time ever in a race. As in...could not get myself cleaned out. This has never once been an issue. We'd barely gotten through the bathroom line when they started calling for the start. Rochelle, Tom and I jumped into the corral, and I made sure I had the Garmin I'd borrowed from Marty ready to go. My good friend Kevin O'Brien from Paonia had advised to not get too carried away with the early downhill miles, because it would flatten out later, and there was the matter of a big hill at mile 19. I just committed to racing on feel as the gun sounded.

Crossing the starting mat, there were a few moments of being a little bit slowed down, but we got moving freely surprisingly fast for a race with 1500 racers. I'm not sure if this has anything to do with so many people using this as a Boston qualifier, and being capable of being in that striking range, or if having the full two lanes of road to start made things space out early. Probably a little of both. All I knew is that I took off like a relative bat out of hell, with Kevin's voice kind of in my head. I also had that voice of go big or go home, nothing ventured, nothing gained. 

The first four miles rattled off at 8:00-8:05 mile paces, and being quite a bit ahead of 3:30 and 3:40 pace groups. This should have been my first clue to really heed Kevin's advice. But, I did feel good, and I know that my very best races have come from overshooting what the pace charts and tables said I should be expected to do, and just going with how I felt on days when all systems were perfect. So, on I went. It was quiet; the only noise I could hear was the flow of the Poudre River. It was slightly overcast and temperatures were perfect.

In the next few miles, I slowed a bit, but not dramatically. I had consciously told myself to back off the 8:00 miles and was hitting closer to 8:15-8:20 now with some surges and slowdowns at different points. Around mile ten, though, it began. My stomach started talking to me. I ignored that sensation and convinced myself I could will it to away. Crossing the half in roughly 1:49, it seemed like I was in good shape, with room to positive split and still BQ. My gut, though. It was ANGRY. And making more noise.

In miles 13-17, I could tell I was slowing more and more and the business I couldn't do earlier....yeah, if you're going to do something new on race day, blowing your entire cushion of time for a several minute pit stop in the port-a-john at mile seventeen is not something I'd put at the top of the list. On the upside, I felt so much better to have finally cleared the plumbing. But, not where I needed to be timewise with the big hill on the course coming, and no more downhill to get that free help from gravity. I climbed the hill feeling frustrated that I'd pretty much paced entirely wrong for this course, and that a factor that has never, ever hampered me had made such a dent in the day. Oh well, suck it up and trudge on. I passed folks with "May The Fourth Be With You," "May The Course Be With You," and "Your Feet Hurt Because You Are Kicking Ass!" signs and embraced the energy. 

Then, that big hill came that Kevin mentioned. It was long, not steep, but just kept coming. I felt okay other than knowing that I was slowing down when I didn't need to put myself at a more of a deficit, and digging myself a hole on any chance at a BQ. I was having moments of "screw this," when I came through the aid station at 20 miles. That popular song, "Home," came on, precisely on the verse that gets repeated multiple times. Settle down, it'll all be clear. Don't pay no mind to the demons, they fill you with fear. It was the roundhouse kick in the ass I needed then. Heading out of that aid station, I got out of my head that I was going to rack up my third personal worst in a row and just started running again in the moment. Maybe I could pull something out of my ass to BQ, maybe not, but I wasn't going to roll over and give up.

We then entered what I will now lovingly refer to as the barren wasteland section of this course. Canyonlands has the "on the highway" two miles that I'll NEVER complain about again after the "concrete path under the powerlines with sand and scrub and no soul" section of course at the Colorado Marathon. It sucked.

I was tired, and tried stopping once or twice here, only to kick my own ass and make myself start running again after a few walking steps. That was only going to prolong the time out here. This eventually gave way to a section with a few trees and more people, and then a long, wooden bridge that I realized was suspension once I felt it moving under me. My gut immediately started rearing up again. I thought I was going to puke...for real. Again, something new. I have never had motion sickness but something about that bridge swaying gently was not awesome for me in that moment.

Moving down the bike path, we were entering shadier territory, and moved through a tunnel. Soon, the last mile was there. I wasn't sure if or where I would see any friends. I can't tell you in which order I saw them-it's a blur-but I think that I first saw Cheryl and Marty. I shook my head going past...Marty looked at his watch and knew I wasn't going to BQ, and Cheryl hollered something about digging my outfit. Still, it was great to see them and it gave me a little levity when I was feeling rough. And then I think I next saw Laurie, who is a fellow INKnBURN ambassador. We hadn't met before but she knew I'd be here, and we spotted each other immediately. Her fiance Kurt started snapping pictures like crazy, ran down the path, took more pictures, and so on, for a stretch (he's a runner too). Again, I felt a little lighter from that interaction with Laurie and Kurt. 

Finally hitting the home stretch, I was over 3:45 now. There would be no BQ today. But, I could still finish strong and fend off a PW. That was just shy of 3:52 at Rim Rock. I was thrilled to see that finish chute coming, and was determined to leave it all on the course. The dude on the mic was awesome, and seeming to catch everyone as they came in. I soon heard my name and my hometown, and kicked it through the finish, 3:50, a good five minutes off that BQ goal. Nowhere close, a lot I could've been disappointed about, but feeling like I'd salvaged a bad race in the places I could. 

I got my water, and finisher poster, and then headed out of the finish chute to find Cheryl and Marty so we could watch for Rochelle and Tom. My legs were throbbing. Along the way, I hollered and cheered on finishers, many of whom I'd shared the road with at multiple times during the run. Getting back on the bike path, I reached Laurie and Kurt first, and visited with them for a bit. My legs were killing me and it felt great to stop on the grass. They told me they'd seen my friends move on up the path a bit further, and I told them what my friend Tom was wearing in case they saw him and could get a quick picture, but that Rochelle would probably be harder to spot as a 40-something female in black shorts and generic yellow shirt. Then, I headed down to meet my friends. 

They asked if I'd seen Rochelle just to make sure we hadn't missed her, but I'd walked the full reverse from the finish and had definitely not spotted her. It's so hard to say how one's first marathon will go, and we just didn't want to miss that moment. Right when we were having that conversation, I was the only one facing that direction and spotted her coming. We jumped in alongside Rochelle, and suddenly my dead legs were moving again. Kurt spotted us and started snapping away, getting a great shot of all of us running alongside Rochelle. 

We ran with her until we reached the street into Old Town Fort Collins, stepping out and running alongside the course. I told Cheryl that we probably needed to get ahead of her because they were directing traffic about two blocks out, and we might get held up there. Luckily, we made it across that intersection, and on down to the finish, to see her chasing down the 4:15 pace group leader and coming in just under that mark, 4:14 and change. What followed were hugs and happy tears from all that on one hand, I wished I'd pulled the camera out to save, but on the other hand, was just so nice to be present in the moment to enjoy. 

That extra bit of running sort of (very much) hurt, so I was happy when we decided to station ourselves on the sidewalk in the final three blocks to watch for Tom. I didn't think I had it in me to run most of the last mile again. Sure enough, just under 4:30, we saw that orange "The Other Half" race shirt coming, and started hollering "Tommy Toast!" Hundreds of running races, a number of triathlons, adventure races, ski races and the awesomely hard Pike's Peak Marathon, Tom finished his first road marathon with a smile and a woot. There were more high-fives, hugs, pictures, bluegrass, margaritas, leg soaks in the river, Cinco De Mayo festivity walkthroughs, and just the enjoyment of all of us being "Home" with one another. 

Despite being a really imperfect race in a lot of ways, it was a really perfect weekend. I had some momentary thoughts of "revenge marathons", getting back on the wagon really fast to try to BQ again, but the fact of the matter is that's not my goal for the summer. I quickly talked myself out of that, because the focus has got to be on the three races this summer here in that state we all love so well, as sung by probably my favorite musical act in the past few years, Paper Bird. I blasted that tune several times on training runs, and on the drive over to the race, so I think it's appropriate to end/continue the next chapter with that. Hop on board or just run because we ain't gonna stop until we had our fun, doing the things we'd never thought we'd do. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Happy: Canyonlands 2014, Behind The Rocks, and The Arrival Of Spring


Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth

Rolling into spring, I've had a sense of optimism that has been far more the norm than anything else. I've felt settled into my "new normal," new schedules and routines, and not wondering what crazy changes are coming in the next week. That sort of freed me up to say this year that I was going to really enjoy a spring tradition-the Canyonlands Half Marathon-to the fullest. Except for one thing. After many runs in the half, I decided that what I really wanted to do was race the accompanying 5-mile race. And I wanted to go big, and win the Female Masters division. Anything worth doing is worth doing full out. I had no Canyonlands hardware prior to 2014, and dammit, I wanted that to change this time.

This 2014 edition of this race was going to be special not just for what would be a new race for me, but for a lot of friends coming in from out-of-state as well. In my early years of running, I was pretty active on the RWOL (Runner's World Online) forums, and got to know a lot of folks in the Boston forum, meeting up with many of them at the 2010 and 2011 Boston Marathons. A hearty handful of them decided to come out to Moab at the urging of several of us from the group. It was pretty exciting to get to show off "our" race and place to these guys and gals who were here for a fun weekend. I was also going to get to camp all weekend with my friend Rochelle and her family, and not rush back to Grand Junction following the race finish. It was "my" weekend....a new concept. I rode down to Moab with Rochelle and her Dad Ed, AKA "The Gongfather" or the dude who bangs a gong, co-owned by several of us, at all of our races. Truth be told it's really his gong. It just sits in other peoples' homes between races. We posed for pictures on the way to Moab like goofy tourists. 

That afternoon, we hiked Corona Arch, which is always fantastic. When evening rolled around, we filled up the back of Miguel's with all of the Boston crew, eating, drinking and hashing out plans for my special 12.5 mile aid station. We have a Boston Marathon tradition of a fella named Troy handing out cannoli from Mike's Pastry for that last turn and run down Boylston Street. Since I was only going 5 miles, and the rest of the crew was running the half, the idea for a margarita mile was born. I would run my race, then hand off single-serve margaritas while Ed banged the gong to bring everyone in. Perfectly normal, right? The Boston crew thought so. I was stoked. 

Getting back to our campsite, we turned in for the night, not sure if Rochelle's brother Marty was going to make it to our campsite or not. Sure enough, he rolled in with son Tyler who would be running his first half marathon the next day, and daughter Michaela who is an old pro at these goofy race weekends. Our campsite was pretty spectacular and the night skies were like a room with no roof. Just stunning, dark, lit up with stars and the nearly full moon. 

When morning came I was surprisingly well rested, given all the activity the day before. I played my "which INKnBURN shall I wear today?" game, settling on the Sugar Skull top and Pink Ink skirt. Getting back to my roots of wearing skirts on race day felt good. Heading to the start, I was telling myself I did have a great shot to make my goal and was pretty happy about it. The weather was pretty nice. Not too hot, not too cold, and I was thrilled to be running the 5-mile and not the half. When it was time to line up to race, I felt about as good as I could. I was the happiest I've been in awhile, and just didn't feel like there were any major stresses or worries that could get to me today. My fitness was not perfect but I was as ready as I could be given all circumstances. You just do the best you can do at any given moment. 

When we took off, there was a small handful of gals who were off and gone. I was definitely in the top 15, though, and this seemed like a good starting point for me. Another part of running the 5-mile was that this was to be my farewell to racing short things in preparation for Leadville, so the pain of trying to race fast was tempered by the knowledge that I would not be in speed work mode for a long time following this race. 

After less than a mile, there was a petite gal with short hair who...maybe she was under 40, I told, Karah, who are you kidding, she is for sure another masters female. I pushed ahead of her, knowing I don't have a great history as a kicker later in a race. I also drifted past several early kickers who faded fast. Presumed Masters Gal passed me back, though, and floated up the road quite a bit.

Coming to the drums so early in the race was a treat, but also weird. I'm so used to seeing the Taiko Dan drummers when I am nearing the end of the half. It was kind of funny to start the race and then reach them right away. I gave them my now-traditional (since taking up yoga) thumbs to third eye and "Namaste" as I passed. It's a great place to give and receive good energy.

I seemed to be pulling closer to Presumed Masters Gal but every time I thought I could overtake her she pulled further away. Entering the highway, I got really close and thought I might pass her but then she pushed onward. I did pass a teenager through here that I'd been reeling in the whole time. I just kept the head tucked, not looking up for that Denny's restaurant where we turn toward the finish. I knew it was a long, long way away.

When I finally reached Denny's, I was stoked to know I'd be seeing Ed on the gong soon. I pushed myself to push through without a slump at the end. I could still see PMG but wasn't making up enough ground to overtake her anytime soon. I finally could hear that gong, and then realized, comically, that this would be a VERY bad corner for my refreshment station in Utah. This was an excellent distraction as I thought about where else we could set up in a low-key fashion. When I saw Ed on gong, I made the final turn for home, and tried to not focus on how far away that freaking finish chute was from me. I was in drive-it-home mode.

Heading toward the finish chute, I focused on the space about ten feet ahead of me and picked it up. as I neared the beginning of the finish chute, the teenaged gal passed me back but we were both making up ground on PMG. It wasn't quite enough for me, though. As I entered the chute, PMG crossed the timing mat near the end of it, and I heard Jeff up on the microphone at the finish line declare "and here is our first female masters finisher." Darnit. So close. I stayed pretty close to the teenager and came close but couldn't pass her again before crossing the finish myself, about 23 seconds behind not the Presumed Masters Gal, but Definite Masters Gal and Champion. I finished 10th female overall, second masters female, and 1st in the 40-44 ladies. I'd say I was only moderately disappointed because I really didn't have any more gears to go to, I'd stayed in it until the end, and had just picked up my first hardware at Canyonlands.

After the race, I regrouped, and found Ed, and my friends Willie and Geri Virtue, and it was determined that not on the last corner by the police car, and not in front of the LDS church were good choices with regard to the final aid station for friends in the half. We found a nondescript corner about half a block from the beginning of the finish chute where we banked on friends hearing/seeing Ed and being able to spot us. We thought Richard or Kevin might be some of the first few in, but we were blown away when Kevin came blazing through well before the first female finisher. There was barely time for me to chuck a beverage at Geri, who handed it off to Kevin while I banged the gong (the GongFather had taken a brief break).

 As the race continued, we were joined by other friends and family of racers, and continued passing off beverages with near seamless handoffs, with the exception of our friend "Crazy Tom" from Utah. I feel bad about that one...will need to have an idea of his costume ahead of time for next year's race. Later, visiting the awards tent, I was excited to see that the trend of functional items at Moab races continued, with my first place award being a cutting board from Triassic of Moab (though my friend Marty, who won overall male Master, thought it was hilarious for the next week to say, "I think my wood's bigger than yours," which, as it turns out, was indeed a slightly larger cutting board). There was more hiking and fun throughout the weekend, celebrating the efforts of all, and really taking advantage of the time in Moab.

Not more than two weeks later, I found myself back in Moab, but this time for a volunteer gig. I've run GrassRoots Events' Moab RedHot five times now, and after seeing a number of Junction friends at aid station tables, I made plans to help out at the upcoming inaugural Behind The Rocks 50K and 50-miler. It was a weekend when my kids would be with their dad, and I've been learning that the best way to ease that lonely mama heart on "my"weeks is to fill that time with things that are fun and fulfilling. My friend Tom, who does all kinds of racing, and some race directing/volunteering, came down too and we were the final aid station on the course. The course was simply eye-popping, and the resolve of the runners to get through what turned out to be a beast of a course was clear. As a mid- to back-of-pack trail runner, it was quite the privilege to pretty much crew those last few runners in, get them what they needed, and send them out. Seeing the front-runners in obvious fatigue and pain, but determined to keep it going and finish big, was also an amazing sight.

Once the last runner left our aid station, we drove down to the finish to wait for the final three to arrive in the dark with head lamps, and sure enough, each of them got in with a smile on the face and a little bit of celebratory relief.

I loaned my phone to one of them (his had died) so he could text his girlfriend to let her know he'd finished. When she later replied back, "thanks!", I could see his note of "OMG. Almost quit. Tough course." If I can get down again to volunteer next year, I'd love to be back in that same spot, that last chance to refuel before the final push in the race.

The weekend ended with me getting a 22-miler in, kind of a hybrid training run for the upcoming Colorado Marathon (road) with more basebuilding for the Leadville summer series. Some rolling and climbing but not the steepest thing we could find in Moab. I've got a sticker on my increasingly stickered-up old Toyota van that says "Moab Is My Happy Place," and that would be the truth. It feels good to run happy, and let that carry over into my daily life.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Finally Moving: 2014 And Beyond

Oh, Sometimes I Get A Good Feeling, Yeah
Get A Feeling That I Never, Never, Never 
Never Had Before. Oh No.
I Get A Good Feeling, Yeah.

2014 is here, baby. And I think I've never been quite so happy to have one year and one chapter close, and flow on into another. In many ways, it's started exactly the same as other years-getting back into my running brain, focusing on shaking the fat, and setting goals for the year. In other aspects, it's an unfamiliar, exciting, uncertain, and sometimes scary new chapter. It'll be whatever I make it. This is a thrill, and a challenge to me.

In other years, I've done a "year in review" of sorts. Hit the highlights, lowlights, and everything in between. 2013 certainly had a lot of wonderful moments for which I'm very thankful. As a whole, though, I would like to just leave it behind me, and not re-hash. My running is at the core of who I am and what moves, motivates and drives me. I felt very "stuck" for much of 2013-like I couldn't move the way I wanted to. The best races I strung together last year-last fall, to be exact-evolved in such a way and at such a time that I didn't enjoy them in the manner I should. Everyone hits those low points at some time, though-and it did seem to be not just me. The year was a bumpy one for others who are important to me as well. It wasn't fun to be there but I do feel like I am finally moving again, and able to run and move again as I never have before. I find myself not anxious and worried about my goals for the year. I find myself, dare I say, optimistic that I will create balance and see opportunities to reach my goals. Rather than focusing on the past, berating myself for shortcomings or wishing I could change them, I'm focusing on the steps in front of me.

This year has already featured some traditions that help to kick the year off right. I ran in the new year at midnight, January 1, 2014, a running group annual tradition. A few days later, I took my deferment from last year, and re-registered for the Leadville Trail 100. There aren't any guarantees that things will be any different than last year. I can say this,though-I'm already doing things differently. No dumbass 2x a week speed work, one day on a rubber-covered cement indoor track. Just getting out to run, with plans to gradually increase my mileage, and hit key races along the way to help me be successful at finishing in August. The first will be the early season Moab RedHot 55K. This is the event that's taught me that your mind can either make or break you, and that if you get in your mind that it's something you can get done, you'll make choices and take action that helps you get there. It'll be a slow slog for me, but I have no doubt I will make it through the 34 miles. And then it'll be a stepping stone to other things.

I'm planning to break from the same 'ol, same 'ol with some race choices. After years of running the Canyonlands Half Marathon, and always liking, but not really loving that race, I just downgraded to the 5-mile. I ran it once with Alexis, when she was about nine, running with her on her way to a 10-and-under girls podium finish (she's a dancer now and doesn't talk about her running much, but I'll do it...she's outstanding at everything she tries, and running was no different). I really love racing stuff in that 5 mile/10K distance range, but don't get to do it that often. I was feeling the pull this year, and so I emailed race director Ranna last week to officially make the change. When I'm as stoked as I am about that decision, and feel myself smiling to mention it, I know it's the right choice. I'm going to race for a women's masters win; don't know how things will shake out but I'm focusing on that goal, and work toward making it happen.

Other than Canyonlands, the focus for 2014 is going to be on going long. In another change, I'll be running my first road marathon since 2010 that is not Boston or Rim Rock. I'll be hitting the Colorado Marathon in Fort Collins this May, with a goal to run a BQ time. I was moved to do so after the events of last April. Whether I make it back to Boston in 2015 will be another matter. I just want to run that sub-3:45 again. Ideally, I want to shoot for another sub 3:30, which I've done only once. My 2013 Rim Rock Marathon best of terms, an undertrained effort done for fun. That said, I am not planning to disrespect the marathon like that again. I've gotten in more 20-mile road runs, and 3-4 hour trail runs, in my base building phase in the past month than I did in the last several months of 2013. And, they've felt great. Not great in the sense that they were easy-they mostly did not feel like that. It just felt oustanding to get out and move. To get it done.

And, back to Leadville...Leadville. After last year, I thought it just was not in the cards for me to think about it again. Then I thought about it some more. I had to be honest with myself and realize that it is absolutely do-able. It's all about choices, and making choices that reflect my goals. On "my" weeks, the choices will certainly be easier than they ever have been. I'll be able to run just about any time I'm not working. On weeks with my kids, the choices become more important. Timing will be everything. Meaning...early early. Late. Whenever I can squeeze it in. I'll be looking at supplemental training activities that I can do at home, with the kids, on those weeks, too. As I write this, I've just finished getting my road bike set up on a trainer so that if I've got 20 spare minutes, I can hop on that sucker for a workout. There's a treadmill out on the back patio, too. While not ideal, choosing those activities over nothing, or despairing that I'm not hitting the trails every single day for hours, will be important. And, perhaps, they'll help keep me stronger, and less prone to injury. For certain, they'll help me balance out everything on busy weeks. I'll hit races that I believe will help me along the way, namely the Leadville Trail Marathon and the Silver Rush 50 miler. And I'll get high as often as possible...the Grand Mesa, locally, or doing Mount Garfield repeats, or taking weekend trips up to Leadville when I have weekends to myself. Sleep in my spacious van. Enjoy moving, enjoy rest, enjoy quiet. But mostly, now that I'm finally moving again, I simply want to keep moving.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Sweater Weather: The INKnBURN Holiday Sweater Experience/Review

 All I am is a (wo)man...I want the world in my hands.

Actually, I'm far more simple than that; I like to spend time with my kids and friends, I like to run, and I like to live colorfully. Last year, I'd seen this groovy INKnBURN tech "sweater," which looked a heckuva lot like a real sweater. When winter rolled around this year, and the company came out with a smashing new red, white and blue tech sweater, I knew I had to have that. In a year full of challenges, just the simple act of putting on something that fun brings a smile to my face. You can't wear a running shirt that looks like an ugly Christmas sweater and not feel a bit of joy. Better yet, that joy is infectious, as it turns out.

 I first got this year's tech sweater prior to the Rim Rock Marathon. I'd worn it for some training runs, and I was pleased that my INKnBURN holiday sweater was definitely cut for a woman. This has long been a pet peeve of mine-so many race shirts and running shirts seem to have a unisex design....AKA, fit like a potato sack. INKnBURN does a great job of making sure their products fit the athlete wearing them, whether he or she is 4'10", 6'5", long and lean, or proud Clydesdale or Athena. What I did not anticipate was all the talk about what I was wearing on the race course. That was quite amusing, and on a race day that was tough for me, I laughed to hear men whispering "yes, that's definitely a sweater," or have women ask to touch my clothing after the race. I take my running and training seriously, but I also take seriously that this is a joyful activity, first and foremost. This soon became my go-to item for winter running.

I wore it again for the Winter Sun 10K, which is normally a crisp and beautiful December race. This year, in the midst of freezing temperatures, snow coming down hard during the race, and laughing to myself at how absurd it was that we were all out in this weather, it felt like the perfect thing to be wearing as I tore down the bike path toward the finish at Moab's high school, snow falling all around, and frosted trees hanging above. I wore it to a free Monday night race put on by the host of the Footfeathers blog, which was to test a brand-new timing system, and ended at the Copper Club in Fruita, Colorado, with free beers. Mr. Footfeathers and the gal helping him out said they remembered my goofy sweater from Rim Rock, and I once again had folks ask to touch the fabric. It's pretty cool that the thing looks like a real sweater to the point that strangers ask to touch you. Well, it might be weird to some, but not to me if it's made someone smile or question what the heck I'm wearing.
(pre-race, rocking the sweater at second from left. and, why yes, that is a gong that we tote around to races.)

I've also worn it to my job. I work in the largest hospital between Denver and Salt Lake City, spending my mornings registering patients for a variety of procedures from basic lab work to CT scans, pet scans, MRIs, x-rays, and other things that nobody yells "heck yeah, I'm going to the hospital today!" over. In the afternoon, I'm registering folks at another location for physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech and other treatments that might not be the most fun thing in the world for the individual across the desk from me to be doing with their time. Surprisingly, I've gotten more compliments and laughs about it at work than anywhere. That's a pretty cool thing; I strive to be that first friendly contact who makes the whole process a little easier, and if I can take their mind off things for even a moment, it's a good thing.

 I most recently wore my holiday tech sweater for what has become "my" annual tradition of running Serpent's Trail, my beloved local hill on the Colorado National Monument, on Christmas Eve. Each year, a few folks have joined me in festive attire to run or hike up and down the hill, and celebrate being outdoors. As mentioned early on, this has been a challenging year for me. But, it felt SO good to be out there, doing what I love to do, and remaining colorful and positive. It may sound cheesy....but, at the most difficult times, that's what has saved me. Getting a smile on your face, not taking yourself too seriously, and being a goofball may not bring about world peace, but it softens things. Lightens things up. Gets one in the mindset to seek positivity...and it often follows from there. Hope this gave you all a little joy and amusement, and some positivity to end 2013 carrying into a new year. Sometimes it's remembering to do the little things we love, and doing them joyfully and with humor, that makes the biggest difference.

Top of Serpent's Trail, 12/24/13
Wishing You And Yours Peace, Love, Health, and Good Humor in 2014.

(If you would like to try out some INKnBURN, first time customers may use the discount code "karahtoldme" for 15% off your first order. I bet you'll smile as much as I do when I get to wear their fun stuff)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Road To Nowhere: The 2013 Winter Sun 10K

Well, we know where we're goin'
But we don't know where we've been
And we know what we're knowin'
But we can't say what we've seen
And we're not little children
And we know what we want
And the future is certain
Give us time to work it out

My 7th Winter Sun 10K started with a bit of a rude awakening. I'd meticulously set my alarm for 4:45 a.m., leaving plenty of time to putter around and be ready to transport a full van of friends, and a gong, to Moab, Utah. Imagine my surprise when I awoke naturally at 5:30 with a departure time of 5:45 a.m. out of Grand Junction, and no coffee to speak of anywhere in sight. I know, it was my basic nightmare too.

I did quickly get my crap together, thankfully, having determined the night before that it was going to be butt-cold for race day, and that I was best wearing tights and as many lightweight layers for the race as I could. I threw my stuff on, packed up a change of clothes, and was ready just in time for friends to begin arriving for the drive to Moab.

My friend Rochelle and I had planned to carpool and take whomever wanted to go; by Friday night we had nearly a full van scheduled to ride with us. This was great news for me as I don't have any extra change these days to cover a full tank of gas by myself for a day trip, and I also think these regional races are best experienced communally, with like-minded friends. The weather had turned cold-very cold-earlier in the week, and we were holding out hope for warmer temps, but it became very clear that this was going to be a cold and snowy one.

Heading down I-70 toward Utah, the snow started blowing. Visibility was crap, and at times I couldn't really see where we were going on the road. It was, quite literally, the road to nowhere when the snow drifted and blew across the highway. I took it slowly, though, and soon enough, we'd made it to Moab.

I laughed to see that everyone who was there bright and early was from Grand Junction-apparently, we don't use snowy, cold weather as an excuse to miss a race, and are willing to get up at ridiculous hours to make sure we don't miss the show. I chatted with race director Ranna a bit about the course, and found out that it really wasn't as bad as it could have been. There were some icy spots at the bottom of the hill in the second mile, and track had only been plowed in one lane. Beyond that, though, it sounded mostly runnable. Our crew socialized with friends coming in to the high school for awhile, not wanting to rush up to the start and the inevitable miserable cold.

messing around with Jeni and Rochelle before the race

We eventually loaded up, no more time to delay the inevitable. A few things were certain. It was freaking cold, and we were going to run from the golf course down to the high school track.

We screwed around at the van for awhile, and finally got about the business of warming up. It was...well, not comfortable, while I warmed up, but less miserable. My friend Cheryl has the Masters course record here, and was running again today for the first time since that race where she set that record, finished second, and I finished third overall with a 10K PR. There was absolutely no danger of that today; even in perfect conditions, I was not at racing weight nor had I been on any sort of regular training schedule over the past few months. That said, I was coming into the race on an upswing; consistent running since Rim Rock, and regular speed work. I knew that my new age group was not any easier than the one I'd just come from; Cheryl would be in there, and other regular podium finishers who left a fifth straight age group podium for me far from certain. I liked it this way; I think I had my mental A-game on much more than other years when the age group wins came with less fight and struggle. We posed for a few requisite photos with our gong, and moved toward the start.

It's all about the windup on the gong

When the time came to start, I was ready to go. It was bitter cold but I just kept saying "tropical sands, tropical beaches" as if it would magically make me not cold. It did work a little bit. Ranna climbed the scaffolding at the start, declaring " the Winter No Sun...." and everyone giggled a bit. It had been 60 degrees here at the finish a year prior; this weather was just stupid. Soon we heard the on your mark, and go. My 7th Winter Sun was now underway, eyes watering from the cold, brain wondering "Why the hell am I doing this?" Then, primal racing instinct kicked in.

This course is net-downhill, allowing a runner to typically go much faster than they would on a flat or hilly course. Today, though, I felt a bit stifled by the cold. I spent most of the first mile fighting the urge to walk and bail. There was no magical zone of pain awesomeness today. Just me, the elements, and a few hundred crazies out here with me. I started out with a good eight women ahead of me. Not good; in recent years, I'd been in the top 3-5 and this was not where I wanted to be today. But (and even though I hate the expression), it was what it was. I focused on trying to establish a rhythm, and not letting anyone else sneak on past. I became aware of snow landing on my face, swirling around, and realized that it had just started up again and was really starting to come down.

Heading into the hill in the second mile, I really felt like toast. I've run this course more than any other race since becoming a runner, not missing a year since my first run in 2007. It took everything I had today to not adopt Walter from the Big Lebowski's "F--- it dude, let's go bowling" approach, and just bow out in favor of anything but dealing with feeling tired and crappy in the weather. Then, racing Karah took over that whiny bitch and dragged her off the road. I got my game face back on and was determined to claw my way back into things.

Of course, right when I was thinking this, my friend Marty's 19-year-old son Tyler passed me. This is not much of a surprise as he's usually a bit ahead of me at these shorter races. I tried to stay on him, and also keep Cheryl in my sights, up the road a bit. There was another gal between Cheryl and I as well. I decided that my mission was to get past Tyler and that gal, and then see if I could reach Cheryl. Cruising along, I essentially held my position, but didn't feel like I was blazing through this section like I usually did when given that gradual downhill section, my one true strength as a runner. I tucked the head. The snow kept coming down. I felt a weird tightness around the bottom of my hat, which meant only one thing; the sweat in my hair had frozen into stiff hairsicles. Awesome, baby. In these middle miles, I got passed again, this time by another local friend named John. The snow was seriously coming down now. I couldn't see anything with the cold making my eyes water heavily. I think I laughed to myself a bit at one point about how absurd this whole scene was, and that I'd paid money to be a part of it.

Coming into the fifth mile, I really felt myself waking up. I crept on, and passed, Tyler, surprised because usually once he's passed me, I can't get back into it. I was also gaining ground on that next gal. Coming to the left turn into the residential neighborhood, the curve monitor alerted us to the ice on the turn. I felt good in my footing and hammered through; the other gal, not so much. I'd passed her and it gave me a surge of energy to stay ahead. She seemed to be less confident in plotting her vector through the neighborhood, first running on the other side of a line of snow and ice in the middle, then jumping in behind me. I fueled on that and pushed even harder.

When I reached the turn on to the bike path to the finish, I nearly missed the turn. It just looked SO different in the snow. The volunteer here directed me just in time, and then I weaved through the funky little gate before pounding down the bike path. Here, the snow looked positively magical. I hurt, and my face and hair were frozen. But, dangit, I'd made it here. I felt good; as good as one can feel here. I was running a bit scared, though. I did not want anyone to catch me.

The bike path runs behind the high school, and then hits a short uphill patch of grass to the track. Today, it was covered in snow. I managed this stretch better than expected, and hit the track feeling nearly depleted but knowing I couldn't quit. Folks were too close behind me; I had no guarantee of anything. I was confused momentarily..I'd heard the track only had one lane plowed and my racing brain didn't know what to do when I saw it was the outside lane. Gongmaster Ed was banging away on the gong, and I heard Marty yell "outside lane..." and got myself in the cleared lane as the snow continued to fall hard. I saw the time rolling over on the time clock and thought "well, s#it," seeing that it was a good two minutes off my performance in three of the last four races, and then quickly threw any frustration aside to hammer it home on what was a truly strange weather day.

Pushing around the track, I could feel without looking back that nobody was going to pass me but pushed to get to that finish as fast as I could. Cruising into the finish, I was not caught by anyone else, and came to a stop knowing I'd done the best I could on this day, and fought to stay in things when I wasn't feeling great. This was a good feeling.

Awards were held inside, in the cafeteria at the high school, for the first time since I'd run this race. After The Other Half, I was still holding my breath to see if I'd made the podium, knowing that it was entirely possible that the small handful of gals ahead of me were all in my age group. Going through the results, it was a veritable parade of Grand Junction runners; Cheryl's brother Dewayne won the race as the only non-GJ racer in the top five, followed closely by Kevin D, Marty, Kevin K, and Jeff.

(Cheryl and her little brother/overall winner Dewayne)

(Jeff, Kevin D and Kevin K cleaning up mens 30-39)

 The women's race produced the first female winner from Junction I'd seen since starting the race with Ezzy, who ran for CMU, taking the overall women's title. They finally got to the Old Chick divisions, and I did not recognize third place, or have a clue if she had been ahead of or behind me. When Ranna said "From Grand Junction...a long-time supporter and participant of Moab races...." I said "phew" in my head and went up to claim my second place medal. Cheryl had won the age group, so it was pretty sweet to be up there with a chick I've got a lot of respect for as a runner. Neither of us killed it out there-far from it-but we both gave all we had today.

The day carried on with celebration at the Moab Brewery. This year, our Triple Crown Award (for those who have completed Canyonlands, The Other Half, and The Winter Sun in the same calendar year) was a nice stainless steel mug/glass, and a complimentary beer at the brewery. This is our typical post-race Grand Junction hang anyway, so free beer went over like gangbusters. Heading out of Moab and back to dodge, I asked everyone in the van if we should take the highway, or up the more scenic canyon/Highway 128 out of town. Everyone voted scenic route, which led us to a true road to nowhere, with near whiteout conditions, wild turkeys, cows on the highway, a stopped train, a game of snow baseball during said stopped train, and somebody (what happens in the van stays in the van) peeing their name in the snow with brilliant peemanship. And many, many laughs. It felt like the perfect fun weirdness to end the day.

they were in the middle of the road before we crept up

didn't go all the way back to GJ with 10 people in the van...promise!
Snow baseball. I have no photos of the peemanship, thankfully

The weather, the race, and everything, seemed like a very fitting end to my official 2013 racing season and year in general. It was a formidable storm to fight through at times; I wanted to quit at other times. Still, I pushed through and was so glad I did come along and take that ride.