Sunday, February 28, 2010

Moab RedHot Photos

Yes-a mere two weeks after the race. But wait-there's going to be more. I got a buttload of disposable camera photos developed (no, don't own a small digital camera-the one we have is a bohemoth), and have some Imogene Pass photos from 2009 and 2008 to share soon as well. I wasn't tech-savvy enough to figure out the one-use camera to disc to computer to Blogger thing-but better late than never, eh?

Without further ado....Moab, Utah in all its glory. Now you can see why one would have to drive me kicking and screaming from my little corner of the universe.

Waiting At The Start Area

Hanging With Jen

And The 34-Milers Are Off!

'Scuse Me While I Kiss The Sky

Not Awesome Quality-But Look Close For The Red Dirt Up And Down My Right Side

I'm eager to take another stab at this course in 2011, minus trying to outrun a jeep! More photos to come in the next day or two from the wayback machine of the Imogene Pass Run.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Moab RedHot 33K Race Report

(photo swiped from Jen-I'm sure she won't mind :P )

The Moab RedHot 33K is a race I hadn’t heard much about until a few months ago, but once it appeared on my radar, it turned into something that I really wanted to put on my spring race schedule. Moab is one of the most beautiful places on earth, and the 33K (roughly 20.5 miles) and 50+K (actually 34 miles) would take a small field of runners literally off the beaten path, over red dirt and slick rock through a series of ascents and descents between the Gemini Bridges trailhead outside of town to the Poison Spider trailhead just on the edge of Moab. The 33K course has a total gain of 2,681 feet and descent of 3,326 feet, but follows a series of rises and falls rather than the straight up/straight down of the Imogene Pass Run.

I’ve been slow to master the basics of good technique for trail running but have been making incremental gains, and this seemed like the perfect challenge to start off a spring racing season to continue working on it. I also knew that when things got tough, all I had to do was stop, look around and remember where I was. The views above Moab will take your breath away and can get a fatigued runner through any tough spot.

After making plans to go up at o-dark-thirty on Saturday, I got a late Thursday call from my friend Jen, offering me a free place to crash in Moab the night before due to a last minute schedule switcheroo on her part. I jumped at that chance and hurried to get my things together to hit the road early Friday afternoon. After picking up my packet at Eddie McStiff's, I met up with Jen and Nick from my local running club, did dinner and talked about course conditions. It's been an unusually cold and snowy winter out here, and we knew there would be a lot of the white fluffy stuff out there. As far as what this might mean for the trails, we really weren't sure. The last minute email from the race directors, who had just marked the course, sounded pretty optimistic. They described it as having "some snow on the course" but also "very runnable." Nick had just been through Moab a few days prior, though, and taken some photos of the start area. White fluffy stuff all around. We were curious what "runnable" meant in their book, especially when snow angels were mentioned in the email. This didn't really matter, though. After the brutally cold December and January, the relatively warmer temperatures and sunshine had me itching to get out there and see what was possible in the weather.

The next morning, we headed out bright and early to the start area. It was cold, but of the pleasant variety. It also appeared that there were not any no-shows from the sold-out combined field of 350 runners between both races. I had no idea what to expect so my plan was run less technical sections as fast as I could, and take care with the more technical and steep stuff. I wasn't going to do it "just to finish" but honestly, it's not my goal race and and I didn't want to blow the season doing anything stupid. I had my CamelBak ready to go with a full flask of water and some assorted snacks and gels. Though there were three aid stations on the course, there would be a good gap between the second and third. Self-suffiency was going to be very important at this race. We watched the 34-mile start at 8:00 a.m. and then half an hour later it was our turn. We funneled onto the snowy trail and immediately started climbing.

The trail underfoot was slushy and slippery, but I just looked ahead and plotted my path, moving along with the rest of the 33K crowd. It felt not unlike the start at the Imogene Pass Run and I just used this time to get into a groove. After the first mile and a half or so, we started rolling gently but this was one of the more flat-ish parts of the course. I moved along as briskly as I could here, knowing that the time would come in the steep climbs when I would really fall off this pace. Every now and then, a runner would take a digger on the sloppy snow but it really WAS pretty runnable even if we weren't moving as fast as we might have on a totally bone dry course. I had to look around constantly at the red rock formations and 360 degree views, and wonder how I got so lucky to have the chance to be out here. The sun was shining, the crisp air was still, and here I was with a bunch of people who also wanted to run hard and enjoy the beauty around us.

I arrived at the first aid station, roughly 4.5 miles in, and stopped for a quick drink. Jen and Nick were pacing about the same at this point though I knew I was likely to drop off their pace as the day went on. I felt good and just planned to keep doing my thing-be safe and smart about following my own pace, but give it a push whenever possible. Soon after this aid station, we started climbing and I started power hiking any uphills. Some people were running these but on the step stuff, I found that my running pace wasn't any faster so conserving energy seemed like the thing for me to do. I'm a bit of a trail clutz, too. I'd slip and fall down here and there, but since I wasn't going at it like a bat out of hell and expending all my energy, I could get up easily, brush the dirt and snow off of me and keep moving.

After a steep climb I found myself at the fully stocked aid station at roughly 8 miles. Now, one of the first things I gave up in my fat days was soda and I don't drink it anymore with the exception of what seems to be a once-a-season trip to Sonic when I'm jonesing hard for a vanilla coke, hot salty tater tots and bacon cheddar toaster. Well, the Coke in little cups on the table sounded like THE best thing on the face of the planet-so I reached for one. Whoops-broke a cardinal rule of running and tried something new on race day. This was THE most delicious carbonated beverage I'd ever tasted in my life. No joke. One of the other runners stopped at the aid station said to me that "THIS was what we drank for sports drinks back in the day-no Gatorade-we drank Coke! Frank Shorter won the Olympic marathon drinking Coke! Of course....I'm dating myself now." I chuckled, shoved a small peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my mouth, and trotted on along the course.

Nearing the halfway mark on the course, I heard the sound of the phone in my jacket pocket-the sound it makes when someone sends a text message. Who could that be? My husband knows I'm up here...maybe it's a good luck message? I'm at a decent spot for a photo-op with the disposable camera so I stop, take a picture or two, and pull out the phone, and laugh when I read the text. I've recently been getting random wrong-number texts, and though I keep meaning to, I haven't called the phone company to block the number. Messages from this person have included "I love you and I'm sorry" and "I'm awake-get over here!" Well, this message was simply "I'm here." This was probably hilarious to nobody but me, but I giggled knowing that mystery texter was "here" just as I was "here" in the middle of a trail race where I felt like I was touching the sky.

Hitting the halfway point in the race (or, halfway according to Garmin-which is notoriously inaccurate on routes with significant elevation changes and measures courses dramatically short), it looked like I might have a shot at finishing the race in under four hours. Kind of average for this course but pretty good for me. The legs were getting a little jello-like but I didn't feel terrible. In this section, I encountered MUD. We're not talking a little bit of moist dirt-we're talking monster truck mud bog. I had to try to clomp through snowbanks and really shake a leg to get all of it off my feet-it was REALLY heavy and I couldn't get any traction from my trail shoes unless I got rid of some of it. I kept on trucking along, not speedily but not gimping my way through in a death march either.

About two-thirds of the way in, I found myself moving along a plateau of slick rock that seemed like it should be easy, but it comes at a point in the course when the legs are really starting to get tired. The trail would meander up and down a bit through wet red dirt and snow, so it just wasn't possible to tune out and fall asleep even if you wanted to. Twice in this section, I had to stop and look for the little red flags marking the course, and I also had a fellow racer ahead of me stop at another point, asking if I could see the markers. This ain't a Rock n Roll corporate race-while it was VERY well supported and safe, it's up to the runners to be alert, watch for course markings and take care of themselves up there. As it should be, in my opinion-but it's a bit unnerving when you don't immediately see those markings that keep you moving in the right direction.

I knew we had to be about 3/4 of the way through, and a guy came trotting along in in the other direction saying that the last aid station was not far ahead. Oh, excellent. I was starting to get that third wind, and while I'd been lapped by EVERYBODY on the uphill, I started passing people and got into a good, loose rhythm on the way to that last aid station. This was my first encounter with front-running 50+K-ers, who yeah-were now lapping me. They started on the same route as the 33K, veered off for a longer loop out, and then reconverged on the same course for the home stretch. I was in awe of their gazelle-like movement over the rocks, fluidly scampering up and down without a hint of hesitation or lack of confidence. I looked at them and tried to mimic what they were doing-lifting those knees, running loose but with a definite sense of direction and focus.

My whole body was feeling that good hurt now-tired and turning to jello all over but no true pain or red flags. We were pitching downhill toward the finish area, the sun was shining and I was feeling that sense of satisfaction from knowing I would soon be finishing. And then-THUD. Down I go with a roll. Whoops. I got too loosey-goosey and in a zone, took a funny step and rolled to my right into the ground. Luckily, though, I learned how to fall the right way when I started skiing regularly upon arrival to Colorado thirteen years ago. I hadn't tensed up, and put out my right arm toward the ground when I was falling. My shoulder, elbow and hand absorbed the fall as I rolled and I think my head may have tapped the ground. Still, I was no worse for the wear. It must have looked bad, though-the woman running behind me shouted out "ARE YOU OKAY?" I shouted back thanks, yes, I'm okay but she must not have heard me, asking again if I was all right. I was running again now, swinging out that right arm with a wet red line down my right side. I let her know that I was okay, and tried to shake off any negative thoughts about my wipeout.

Coming into what I knew had to be the home stretch and series of jeep road switchbacks to the Poison Spider trailhead, I looked ahead and could see that there were actually multiple jeeps on the route-and there were a whole pack of them totally blocking off the trail which briefly split into two sections before merging again. I didn't know which way to go so just picked the right side and squeezed through the jeep wall.

Making my way down the next switchbacks, I saw a slowly moving jeep. A man running ahead was literally stuck behind it, and I though oh hell no. The jeep pulled to the side at the top of the next switchback and let him through, and then started following behind the runner. Now I was stuck behind the jeep with another runner but I wasn't fast enough for this to make a difference. The jeep stopped again at the top of the next switchback, and the guy who was driving it with one hand while drinking a Red Bull in the other let me by, along with the runner just ahead of me. Then he started driving down the trail immediately behind me.

Oh, great. So this is how I'm going to die. Sorry, officer, I didn't see her-I was distracted by the yummy goodness of my energy drink. No pressure here. The adrenaline kicked in-I was definitely terrified of two tons right behind me, not knowing a thing about the driver's skills. Even if he knew what he was doing-the whole one handed driving on an unstable surface was enough to make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Off I barreled down the jeep road, trying to put as much distance between myself and the jeep as possible.

I thought I probably had further to go at this point, but once I turned down the last switchback, ran a bit and rounded a corner, I could see it-THE FINISH! Yahoo! Well, the finish area, anyway. Again-we're talking nicely understated trail running and I looked around until I saw a very small chute and a guy waving his arms over his head to lead me home. Final official time-4:10:10. I'd been shooting for four hours, just guessing what I could do in the conditions based on the prior year's times of other runners I know-but this wasn't terribly far off that mark. In all honesty, I'd made no attempt to run the steep climbs so I think this was about the best I could expect to do with the way I'd chosen to complete the course.

I grabbed a bread bowl at the finish area that was promptly filled with with a homemade potato leek soup, and sipped on the New Belgium beer that was slipped into my hand after the soup. Oh yeah, this was the life. Sopping wet with sweat, tiny puncture mark on my right hand, slightly bruised elbow, mud up and down my legs including that line straight up and down the right side, 20+ mile trail run behind me, rehydrating and nourishing myself with a bunch of folks who covered that distance or more. I'm strangely drawn to runs like this-they're hard, I sometimes wonder what I'm doing out there, and I fall down with plenty of other near-misses. Somehow, though, these races where I'm just hoping to be consistent and maybe crack the midpack are the ones that I itch the most to run again, and run better the next time out. Oh, and that midpack goal? They posted results today, and I was THE midpack of the Open women, finishing 24th out of 47 with exactly 23 women ahead of and behind me. If you factor in the Masters women (33 in all), I get a bit of a bump into the upper half-so it's encouraging to know that I'm making a bit of progress since the first time I laced up a pair of trail shoes.

As I used a disposable camera (with good reason-our regular camera probably would've been in bits after that spill), I have no photos at this time. I'll get it developed soon, though, with the hopes that a few shots will be good enough to share and post. The course description is really useless without pictures, so be on the lookout for them next week.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

"Look Kids-Big Ben! House of Parliament!"

You know what that means. It's time again for Tuesday at the track. Where I see the same landmarks over...and over....and over again.

I'll officially admit, though, that I am really enjoying my weekly track night, despite many long distance runners ranking it down there as one of the least favorite places to get in a workout. After dodging the injury bullet with what was starting to feel like a possible spring race season deal breaker, it's just exciting to cut loose and just run. I know my legs won't take a brutal pounding there, and it makes it easier to run hard and without worry. The track is part of our municipal stadium complex and is well maintained by the city, and the local college and area high schools use it for a variety of sporting and other events. It's also just a few blocks away from the dance studio where my kids spend much of their time, which works out perfectly to allow me to hit the track in the early evening when I'm through working, and then swing by the studio right before their last class ends.

After running in circles for an hour or two, I'll just have one workout left, and then a few days off before the Moab Red Hot 33K! Oh, am I ever happy now that I downgraded from the 50+K (AKA, 34 miles) for a variety of reasons. I think slushy and frozen are going to be the words of the day-great if you're at the Dairy Queen, but a lot of work on the trails. I'm kind of liking this "my leg doesn't hurt" thing and don't want to make a point of sliding around on it for so long that it does hurt once again.

We also thought early on that it would be a family weekend in Moab, since it's almost always warmer down there than here, and just a short two hours away. Then, it turned into me just going down the night before, and getting the cheapest motel I could find, coming back that night. Then, it turned into me feeling a lot better about going down when the husband offered to drive down early that morning, which would eliminate just about all expenses but gas. He and the kids could drop me at the start, go hiking or something, and then meet me at the finish. If I'd done the longer race, that would've been a lot more waiting around for them. The kids can hang well at races at this age, but there's still always that point in time where the spaz-o-meter goes crazy. That can spell epic fail family day, so the shorter race will get us out of there before it enters the red zone. I can also look forward to it being more of a change-of-scenery long run with potential for camera action. Even if the weather is craptastic, it can be more fun for it to be craptastic somewhere else than the same ol'. Ending the day with legs stretched out in the car and headed for home with the family, and someone else driving, doesn't sound like a bad way to post-race, either.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Friday Funnies: "She's a MAN, Baby, YEAH!"

Okay, I swore I'd never do theme days on my blog, and this may or may not become a recurring thing. I stumbled upon something funny, though (and a little lame, but mostly funny), and it involves me (sort of), so I had to share.

A few of the half dozen of you who visit my blog may know that I've had some good "close but no cigar" races-the six seconds off of Boston Qualifying in 2008, or the dog being declared the female winner at a very small area 5K last year where I'd actually managed to be the first of the human females. I've been more than a little busy over the past two weeks, so when I got all my work out of the way yesterday morning, I took advantage of a rare quiet house to put my feet up, kick back, and do whatever I felt like doing. I blogged, I knocked out a few chapters of recreational reading (Christopher McDougall's "Born to Run"-I'm really getting in to it), and then I wandered over to the Bolder Boulder website. Despite our recent reduction in income, this race does look like something I should still be able to run this year as my friend Liz and her husband Alex are again graciously opening the doors of their townhome in Boulder where I may stay again.

As the Bolder Boulder is such a large race (second largest in the nation, with over 50,000 runners), their awards work a bit differently than other races. There are no age groups, but rather awards for the top 15 finishers for each individual age. It's just another one of the little things they do to make this huge race feel kind of like a local race, giving people who might be in the mix for age groups in their own cities and towns a chance to do the same thing in the streets of Boulder.

I paced my oldest daughter in 2008, and when she finished 5th among 8-year-old girls, she got a small medal in the mail a few weeks later. It was pretty cool for her, and when I went up to Boulder solo last year, I'd scoped out the prior year's results for my age, and made it a goal to make it into the top 15, something that certainly wouldn't be a given, but appeared to be possible if I ran hard. Yeah, it's totally the "Meet the Parents" ninth place ribbon from an awards perspective when you talk about a 15th place medal, but it was more about just making that standard. It was a good thing to aim for on that hilly course. So, at last year's race, I had a decent and consistently split but not out-of-this-world outstanding race. I finished 16th for my age, about 15 seconds off 15th place and a bit more than 30 seconds behind 14th place. It was a little bit of a bummer to miss a goal by just a bit, but whadaya gonna do? I did my best but it just wasn't one of those days where you feel bulletproof.

So, anyway. Back to the free time and navel gazing yesterday afternoon. I decided to pull up the results for my age, and then thought, "hey, I wonder if I saw any of these women on the course?" I have a decent memory for faces, and even though there's the multi-wave system at the race, I knew that a lot of them who run around my pace would be situated in waves close to mine, or even MY wave. Who knows...if any of them are really distinctive looking, maybe I'll be able to spot them on the course THIS May.What the heck-this would be a fun fact-finding mission for the afternoon.

One by one, I clicked on the names and photos of the ladies who finished ahead of me. I don't know how I missed this last year when I originally found my result, but one of them turned out to be Melody Fairchild, a two-time national cross country champion who now has a running camp for girls, and focuses on girls being strong, healthy runners with good nutritional, training, and recovery practices. Sweet-I think it's great how she's giving back to the sport, influencing young runners positively, and is still kicking it out there. If I'm following in her footsteps, that's pretty neat.

I continued down the list, and clicked on the 14th place finisher for my age, a woman named Jennifer B. who finished in a time of 46:54. I clicked through to her photos, and what did I find?

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you "Jennifer."

I was confused for a minute, and thought that maybe it was one of those deals where the photos were misfiled because the bib number was hard to read. If you look at all the photos, though, there are several more clear shots of "Jennifer," and everything matches up between names, numbers and results. Apparently, the "real" Jennifer couldn't make the race and gave/sold her bib to this dude. Who didn't really care if it monkeyed with the results to run all out and/or cross the finish line as "Jennifer."

Kind of a lame thing to do, but again-it was just a goal I was after, so it was cool to find out that I really WAS in the top 15! Exactly #15 to be exact. That is...if the other women in my age group REALLY were the age they claimed to be (cue the sinister cackle). If things work out the way I'm hoping they do, I will be back in Boulder again in May, and will take another swing at an official top 15 finish.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Coming Up For Air....

Yeah, I've been a little quiet lately. While I don't like to sugarcoat things to death, sometimes I make the decision to avoid spewing negativity on the old blog. In a way, not dwelling or talking too much about it actually gets me into a mindset to "work the problem" as they say in Apollo 13, and not get bogged down in pity parties. I'll make brief mention, though, because it is important and it's kind of the one major stress in our home now. Everyone in my husband's office has been working on shortened work week for almost a year. While it sucks, it's been amazing how much more resourcefulness it created even when we thought we were already doing a decent job in that department, and we've managed to keep on keepin' on without much trouble.

About a week ago, however, the office got word that hours were going to be shortened again (rather than just laying off someone outright), which buys the company a month without layoffs if they do not see a pickup in business. We know, and they've been told that it's the last thing the bosses want to happen, and that they do not want any potential layoffs to be permanent. Of course, loyalty and sincerity doesn't pay the bills so we're hoping to see more working coming in for them as spring approaches. If it doesn't we're just not sure which positions will be trimmed and can't make any assumptions or guesses on which way they'd decide to go. Hope for the best, and prepare for the worst-that's the mode we're in right now.

As far as other reasons for my relative silence-it's that nutty time of year for me when I'm due for various continuing education and re-certifications, and I've hit a perfect storm this year of several certifications that are good for 2- to 3-year blocks coming up for renewal in 2010. So, I've had to focus on taking courses online, going in to the Red Cross to renew First Aid, CPR, Bloodborne Pathogens and AED, and in another two weeks I get to renew my Medication Administration and Universal Precautions certification. You know...because with four kids I've probably forgotten how to wash my hands since 2007. Ah well. It'll all be finished soon, and then I don't have to be retrained in hand washing for another three years. Oh, the joys of being self-employed-I love it on one hand, but on the other, the training and upkeep of the business falls solely on me, and part of it is this annual month of crazy.

In more shiny happy news-guess what? The leg is feeling great, and all the slippery white and clear stuff is finally melting off. I took two days totally off this week for several reasons-classes, mini-tapering for the trail race in a little over a week, and really put the nail in the coffin to kill the leg pain once and for all. It was feeling decent over the weekend on my long run, but you just never know. I ran a short recovery on Sunday, and my regular o-dark-thirty run on Monday, and all systems were still a go. When I got out this morning after the off days, my leg felt the best it had been in about six weeks. I seriously wanted to dance and skitter around outside on the roads and sidewalks that now looked wide enough to land a jumbo jet without the snow and ice.

That, in a nutshell, is what I believe to be the main cause of all that calf and shin pain. I was running tense on the slippery stuff for so long, but didn't realize I was doing it. When you run with any degree of caution on snow and ice, you do tense up some-and I think I was WAY tense because I know more than a few people who have taken some nasty spills in that weather. Add in the funny-stepping, slips and slides to avoid falls-and my leg cried "ENOUGH!" I could really tell the difference with how comparatively relaxed my legs have been for the past week or so. This is progress in the right direction-and really good news right now to know I can officially get excited about training hard and doing my best in the spring racing season.