Thursday, December 29, 2011

I Get Knocked Down, But I Get Up Again, You're Never Gonna Keep Me Down: 2011 In Review

We'll Be Singing When We're Winning

This is the first time I've done one of those "look back at the previous year" retrospectives. Like the Boston sticker I finally put on my car, it's one of those things I've resisted doing. I've done some things this year, though, that were surprising in both extremes, with some epic collapses and implosions, as well as success and strength at times and places I never thought possible. That might come from getting better at picking myself up, and looking honestly at the failures so that I can move forward with more confidence and success.

I kind of rode into the early part of this year on a wave of the best running I'd ever done; 2010 ended with three truly awesome races in a row, the last one being the Winter Sun in Moab. Cruising into the new year, things seemed to be off to a good start. I hit up the freebie/cheapie Appleton Freezer 4-miler, and stayed competitive with my speedy friend Suzie until the end when she dropped the hammer on in. This ended with those equal parts bliss and nausea, doubled over on the side of the road, knowing you laid it all out there. We were up at 5th and 6th overall in a small but very speedy field, and 1st and 2nd women overall. Being a slow-twitch kind of gal, this was pretty awesome.

Moving on from there, it was more or less all about running long and slow. I'd flaked out of the 55K at the Moab RedHot the year prior, opting instead for the shorter 33K. It was a good move that year; I'd been slightly injured and a little undertained. I hit the long runs but had my doubts about getting through 34 miles to the point of almost bowing out again. A wise friend-the same one who taught me the ways of POSE running-told me I'd regret it for sure if I did that downshift, and just needed to get out there and DO it, proving that it's those running friends who do seem to know me the best.

My other friends who thought they might race it were not registered; I'd be lone-wolfing it. It was, if anything, an opportunity to prove to myself that I COULD run trails-and COULD run really long. It wouldn't be as fast as one of my road races at a similar distance, and that was cool. On that day, I knew my mission was enjoy, keep moving, and finish. I truly expected that a point in time would come when the pain of the distance would overtake me. Imagine my surprise when, as the miles ticked off, I became more and more tired, but never reached the point of being miserable, or of the distance being more than I could tackle. This was one of the most wonderful things about that day. I wasn't there to contend against anyone else; it was all about defeating my fears. Doing it solo, taking pictures and video of the spectacular scenery-it made for a special day.

Moving ahead, my running better way to put it....a little distracted and uninspired at times. The lack of training log or Garmin was fantastic for me for awhile, but I'll be the first to admit that I lost a little discipline with that lack of structure. Heading to Moab for Canyonlands, I battled that miserable wind blowing up the canyon, and I think the canyon, and highway into Moab, won a resounding victory. This fast course has always stymied me a bit, but even I was a little shocked at how bad I sucked on this course in March.

The next weekend promised to be loads of fun, and I looked forward to it; the 24 Hours of Moab relay. This was an example of things coming together organically. Our 5-woman, 1-man team was coming together for the first time this weekend, and we all just meshed. We were just there to have fun, but quickly found ourselves in the running to win the large team division. Our system of handing off to one another, and general organization, kind of flowed and happened. You couldn't wipe the smiles off our faces even when we learned we were NOT the winners, and had taken a close second to another team. The only damper was that damn fall I took, and the only major injury I've sustained in five years of running.

After the initial excruciating pain of the ankle roll and fall on slick rock at 3am, I'd been able to walk around camp at the relay. It was the end of my running for the race, but that was okay. I figured a few days of ice and rest and I'd be good to go. I was horrified, though, as I watched the ankle puff, and could feel the pain getting worse. I don't do pity parties, and I don't cry on Facebook about how my life sucks. I've got SO many blessings and good things going on, but when my regular doctor and ortho doctor told me "No Boston," I was crushed. This was going to be my year to run it for a PR. The thought of my first DNS had never entered my mind. Still, I made plans to go ahead to Boston to cheer on my friends. Plane and hotel reservations had been done ages ago; I could be bummed at home or try to make something positive of this injury.

Enter the miracle man, my physical therapist, Bryan. He'd seen my appointment scheduled for the week following Boston. Bryan called me up, and saved the day with thoughts of a plan of action to get me to Boston. I really didn't want to get my hopes up, but this was beyond exciting. I was willing to try anything, and knew I'd feel better about missing the race if it came down to it. Bryan drove me like a mule for a week and a half, and I did everything he asked of me. When I finally got to my two test runs at the end of all this guerilla physical therapy, he wished me good luck at the race.

This paved the way for an experience I never imagined having-running a major marathon to finish, not for a PR. I hadn't run long in five weeks due to the injury, and knew that even with conservative pacing, I could have problems. While I wouldn't wish those torn ligaments and marrow edema on anyone, the resulting Boston experience was a true gift. I got to really enjoy the course, the hang with fellow runners, the famed landmarks and fans on the course, and open arms that the whole city of Boston throws out on Marathon Monday. I took iPod videos, pictures, smiled, enjoyed, smiled, and had a very special all-out final mile when I knew the ankle would not prevent me from finishing. The icing was that it was only a few minutes slower than the year prior, and another BQ under circumstances when I thought I wouldn't run at all. The cannoli I brought Bryan hardly seemed adequate as a thank you for helping me, but I hope it was enjoyed.

From Boston, there was a month or two of pretty structureless running. I probably needed it, but this got me further off-track in the speed and discipline department. In June, I registered again for the Imogene Pass Run, the challenging, beautiful 17.1 mile trail run that is what I like to refer to as my "extra layer." I refocused on hitting NBT....Nothing But Trail. The higher the altitude, the better. I skipped out on the Bolder Boulder and other smaller 5K's locally to save money and focus on those long runs. I can't say that I ever felt like I was getting faster, but my trail confidence headed in an entirely new direction.

I did do one unique thing racing-wise in June. When our 24 Hours of Laramie team fell apart entirely after injury and illness, I decided to take the rare opportunity to race a double, completing the Children With Hope 10K on roads on a Saturday, and the Turkey Flats 10 mile trail run on Sunday. I had an age group finish at the first race, and was pleased with staying steady on tired legs the next day. And, as it was a Striders freebie race, there was food and Beer Cooler of Awesomess with friends at the finish; perhaps the best part.

Soon I was teaching my friend Loralie the ways of the POSE running, and she was getting good return on investment from the better form as well. We ran high altitude trails all over, doing Turkey Flats near Glade Park outside of Grand Junction, Crags Crest up on the Grand Mesa, and the Bear Creek Trail outside of Ouray, Colorado. Along the way, we to pictures, had fun, ate lots of good, healthy food, and had the occasional beer chillax or two. I also had the incredible experience of cheering/spectating/crewing a little at the Leadville Trail 100 for my friend Bryan, where a number of friends were there all weekend to crew and pace. Being a part of, and witnessing his amazing accomplishment was just more fuel for the mojo fire. I didn't know if sub-4 was going to happen at Imogene, but I felt confident that I could stay on my feet and run strong. There was a little tune-up race at Mary's Loop a week before Imogene, and I ran that to shake out any tension before IPR.

When it came time to go from Ouray to Telluride, I ran a nearly identical time to the year before, but it was with a controlled climb, fast descent, and nice rebound after having to walk out a late-race side stitch. We'd held a party prior to the race, making Honey Badger shirts for any Grand Junction-area runners who wanted one, and it kind of mobilized us as this fun, semi-organized group at the race. When several of our own ran to podium finishes, it was with great pride that we cheered them on to celebrate their success. It was also amazing to see the beaming faces of my first-time finisher friends Sandra and Kevin. This may not be an ultra, but it's an epic race. The elation felt at the end of this race just cannot be matched for shorter trail runs.

The rest of the year was kind of a broken record, but a favorite broken record I don't mind hearing over and over. I ran my fifth Anna Banana 5K in late September (fourth, really, since I paced my oldest daughter one year), and nearly matched my prior year's time, coming in second woman overall to Suzie, and picking off several women late in the race. I've struggled with second mile slumps in 5K's, and with general speed at the distance. I was surprised but very pleased to have success on this day at the short distance thing. It's a special race to me, as well, for the celebration of Anna's life, and those groovy ceramic bananas. It felt good to step it up on Anna's day.

I thought things were looking pretty good going into The Other Half. This race is really special to me, and I've always run it well. I'd done some good, specific training prior to race day, and felt anchored by that, and a solid Anna Banana. Pre-race weekend was very low key and mellow. I didn't sleep great, which in hindsight, had been a problem for months. Any life stress seems to come out in my sleep, and this is about the only answer I have to explain the ugly race that followed. I ran to my second worst half-marathon finish ever by time, and hands-down the worst I'd ever run without considering the time. Inexplicable nausea and fatigue overtook my race. I wanted to walk, I wanted to stop. The victory on this day was getting to the finish, and the fire it sparked to finish the year right, and finish the year strong.

He Sings The Songs That Remind Him Of The Good Times, He Sings The Songs That Remind Him Of the Best Times

The final official stops on the 2011 tour were the Rim Rock Marathon, and the Winter Sun 10K. It would be my third time at the marathon, and I realized going in that it was a great gift after The Other Half to take NOTHING for granted...not how much I love the course, or that I've run it well before, or that the weather looked pretty good for race day. Being a somewhat competitive gal (ha), I'd already been checking out the entry lists, and knew that the multiple-time defending champ would not be there. I had a real bug up my butt to win the race. I spent all my time running on the Monument, or doing hill repeats of the Serpents Trail. Some of us did the Run To Whitewater, 18 miles on trails, as a challenging tune-up long run for the marathon. I consulted with a few trusted training partners on how to best accomplish this goal. All that was left to do was show up, and execute my plan according to the training.

The race that followed was one of the most amazing, surreal experiences of my running life. It didn't hurt that this was right in my own beautiful backyard (quite literally). If I picked the one race out of all I've ever done to name as the one where I did the most right leading into the race AND on race day, this might be it. Yes, I kick myself a little bit on occasion for a three-second margin of defeat, and second place overall finish. Overwhelmingly, though, I feel joy for bouncing back from other bad races, general crap and stress, and getting my body and mind totally in the game that day. 26.2 miles coming down to an all-out sprint in the last 100 feet? What a gift to be a part of that. I also never expected all the love, positivity and support from my friends, fam, and fellow runners, though I don't know why not. They rock, and it was so neat that they didn't think I was a schmo for coming up a few seconds short of my ultimate goal.

As the year started coming to a close, an idea was hatched. It was such a great experience at Imogene to come together with other Grand Junction runners. We've got a lot of people who like to run here, who are very self-motivated, and who like to be as competitive as possible. Right before Rim Rock, a speed workout group was formed, and we began having practices weekly at a local high school track. There were four of us the first week, and things just grew from there. Runners who don't typically do track workouts or short distance started showing because they heard it was fun, and a good workout. Newer runners looking for general improvement, not necessarily hardware, started getting their feet wet. Many of us had sights on the Winter Sun 10K, and we were doing workouts that were going to pay off (hopefully) in Moab. I was also working at getting in fast downhill runs and other quality runs to make me faster on the net downhill course, and did two local 5K's with results that were some of my best in about three years. Heading down to Moab along with most of the regular Grand Junction runners, I again had thoughts of winning in my head.

Getting up on race day, it was a little breezy. Still, I had my game face on and ready to go. When I got word that Olympic Trials qualifier Megan Lund-Lizotte was there, I laughed, and shifted my strategy to seeing how long I could see her in the early stages. The race that played out was not a perfect, magical pixie dust run. I think that's what made it the perfect way to end my year. Well, no. Perfect would've been a magical pixie dust run. A "Work The Problem" kind of race with good execution, though, and not a total collapse when it gets rough, is not the worst way for things to play out. I started too fast, got passed, had to calm down, refocus, and then mount a consistent build into the finish. I wasn't close to an overall title with my fifth place finish among women, but from that rough start came a second consecutive age group win, and a sweep by ladies in our speed group of the 30-39 women.

The rest of the Junction crew (and honorary Grand Junctionite Ilana from Durango) killed it too, occupying podium slots overall and all over the age groups, and knocking out PR performances right and left. Being with this familiar, comfortable crowd, and celebrating one another's efforts-I wouldn't want to end the year any other way. Nobody's life or running is ever perfect, and there have been bumps this year for me in both regards. Sometimes it's easy to get into a funk, to get exasperated, and to not deal with these things well. I know, I've been there, done that, bought the tee shirt some days. Being a runner, though-having most of my best friends coming from this environment of working hard, having fun, and supporting one another-it is a wonderful thing. It's moving me forward into 2012 with confidence and hope.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

You Spin Me Right 'Round Baby: Speed Group Fun, and Trail Runs

I have found myself increasingly pulled by the current of work, end-of-year school, music and dance performances, a couple of "special assignments" that required my attention, and general holiday mayhem. With all that craziness, keeping to a regular running and exercise routine has been more important than ever. It's not that these events haven't been fun; to the contrary, it was fabulous to see my son and middle daughter perform instrumental solos for the first time, and I'm looking forward to a dance concert and two parties this weekend. It's just been nonstop, and getting in good running time has been crucial.

Over the past few weeks, we've been seeing our new local speed workout take off, and have recently added a new component to the workout-an optional, but highly encouraged mile time trial at the end of the workout. We did it for the first time last week, and I found myself briefly cursing an idea that was hatched with fellow runners while relaxing in a hot tub post-race in Moab a few weeks ago. There was no denying that this was a great workout, though, and a mental one as much as anything else. Running 6 x 400's can be hard enough, but knowing you're going to do a hard sustained mile effort after a brief recovery period really takes mental stamina and discipline.

Last week, I did my mile in 7:07, which wasn't bad for tired legs after a long week and good speed workout. We had eleven runners stay for the mile, and when we moved to our new location this week at the municipal Stocker Stadium track, it was pretty awesome to see that we had about 16 or 17 runners for the workout, and about ten who committed to stick around for the mile. What was exciting this time is that one of them was a brand-new runner. I can remember the intimidation of being new and feeling slow, and it was cool that this woman was going to put herself out there for a mile that would be hard for everyone at maximum effort.

After our regular warmup, drills, and intervals (this time, having enough of a pace divide to split up into two groups), I borrowed a watch from a friend, and log sheet for times from our coach/leader who had to depart early, and set up to time the mile. As I'm not fast enough to be first around to then time everyone else, and being a little sore this week, it was no biggy to skip the mile myself. I knew there would be plenty more opportunities in the future to make up for it.

Everyone got off to a rolling start, and then I just made sure I shouted out splits loud enough when the runners came around. In the end, we had runners coming in from 5:16 to 8:45, and it was a pretty cool thing to know that we were having success in beginning to draw the newer, less experienced runners. I'm pretty thankful for the folks who paid it forward with me when I was brand spanking new to running, so it just feels natural now to be welcoming and encouraging to the folks who show up for runs and races, not quite sure what they've gotten themselves into, but wanting to give it a try nonetheless.

After the mile, I cooled down (or...more like, warmed up after standing to time) with a couple of other runners, and picked the brain of one who ran a local 50-miler that seems to be calling my name. It's the Desert RATS Trailrunning Festival, and is a double-loop of the 25-mile course available on the same weekend, during which half-marathon and 5-mile trail races will be run as well. I must say that I get nervous about such a long race for a variety of reasons. When I finished the Moab RedHot 55K last year, I was SO happy to be done and wasn't sure how people ran a step further than 34 miles. Then there's that nasty ankle roll I took last year. On the other hand, I feel the need to do something bigger and longer than a road marathon or standard 30-something miler. So, it's been nice to talk to several local runners this week about it, hear their experiences, and think about how to best prepare for a hypothetical 50-mile run. I have not officially pulled the trigger, but am moving closer and closer to making the official jump up in distance. It's scary, but exciting.

In preparation for my potential long, slow trail run, I'm going to be taking advantage of time on the many beautiful and challenging trails in the greater-Grand Junction area. Yes, I said greater-Grand Junction. There are so many places to run long around here and I am getting excited to hit them up this winter, explore unfamiliar territory, and get ready to test myself next spring. There are other cities in the region that are certainly more well-known as trail running meccas. This is a sweet spot for access to great trails in all directions, both within city limits or nearby. With an already strong running community locally, it's been an added boost to know that we're mobilizing better than ever now, and hopefully creating a movement by example.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Windy With A Chance Of Nausea-The 2011 Winter Sun 10K

Every year since becoming a runner back in 2007, I've finished out the year with a cool 10K in Moab, Utah called the Winter Sun. For many years, this was a smallish affair, mostly comprised of runners from Moab and Grand Junction's running clubs with maybe a few dozen runners showing up. Over the past several years, though, this race has grown exponentially, in part because the first 100 entrants get a guaranteed entry into the Canyonlands Half Marathon, but just as much because it gives runners the chance to run a fast net downhill course. It's also the third race in the Moab Triple Crown (the Canyonlands Half and The Other Half are the other two races), and again, Triple Crown runners also earn a coveted guaranteed entry into Canyonlands.

The first time I ran the Winter Sun, I ran 48:59, finished 11th in my age group, and couldn't believe I could go that fast despite being pretty sick going into race weekend. I'd wanted to make the top-10, and finishing just off it hooked me, and lit my competitive fire. Over the next three Decembers, I worked hard to move up the ranks, finishing 5th in age group the next year, and then onto the age group podium the next two years. I was 3rd in my age group in 2009, and ended a really special fall/winter 2010 running season with an age group win, PR, and 3rd woman overall in the race. After an up-and-down 2011, I came into this race weekend as ready and well-prepared as I'd been for any race this year. I didn't know who might show up, but I did plan on racing to win in my fifth time at this race.

The week leading into the race was busy, but I got in some workouts that were good tuneups for the Winter Sun, including some hill work with a focus on downhill running, and a track night workout with a focus for our growing group on the race, which a number of us were scheduled to run. I'd already been to yoga twice during the week, and had planned on laying low Thursday and Friday with all physical activity. As it turned out, I felt the need for some serious stress relief on Thursday, and hit up another yoga class. It was good for me but afterward I did find myself kind of wishing I'd sat on my butt as planned. I was good on Friday, though, resting, and heading down to Moab in the early evening for dinner with Ilana, Kevin and Kevin's wife Nora. Kevin was injured and would not be running, but he and Nora came to Moab to cheer on the many friends they've met via running in our area. This was super cool of them, and Ilana and I were pretty excited to know we'd have friends waiting at the finish. After dinner at Eddie McStiff's, Ilana and I headed back for the rest of the Patented Karah And Ilana Pre-Race Hang®, which consists of a soak in the very hot outdoor hottub at the Gonzo Inn. It has magical pre-race mojo, I'm convinced....or is just really relaxing with the hot water and cold air. We laid out our gear, turned in for the night to rest and prepare our bodies and minds for fast running the next day.

My night of sleep was pretty decent-good enough that I woke up around 5am and couldn't fall back asleep. Ilana must've been doing about the same, because close to 6am she said "Well, I'm up!" We got dressed and I checked the weather for the first time. The temperature was great-cold, not freezing. It was kind of breezy, though, and seemed to be of the headwind variety as it related to our race route. Heading over to breakfast at the Moab Diner, I received the first of several texts from Grand Junction friends requesting point weather forecasts on the drive down. This was amusing, and I really thought my friends shouldn't trust a weather forecast from a woman who said "hey, it's not snowing after all" just seconds before the 2009 Rim Rock Marathon snow squall. I was getting excited that so many local were here or en route. After breakfast, we headed over to the high school, mingled for awhile, checked out the entry lists, and got on the first round of buses to the start.

Stepping off the bus (or, large passenger van in our case), the wind had picked up noticeably. Really? C'mon. I was not excited about this. I don't ever remember Moab being particularly windy, and I thought we'd met our wind quota for the year at Canyonlands back in March. This was going to be somewhat of a factor today. The temperature was still perfect, though. We hung out near fire barrels, chatting with other runners. Some time while we were here, I got a text from a friend informing me that Olympic Trials runner Megan Lund was entered. I kind of laughed to myself knowing that running to win this race was off the table now, texting back that I'd have to see how long I could run fast enough to keep her in my sights.

As race time drew near, Ilana and I got in some warmup time. I wasn't quite as springy as I'd felt in the prior year when I ran my 10K PR, but wasn't feeling crappy either. I wasn't too worried about it; I have never tended to be someone who feels great in warmup. We stripped off our outer layers about 15 minutes pre-race, lined up about 5 minutes pre-race, and saw that other than Megan Lund, it looked like what I call Hardworking Midpackers Delight in the womens race. There was Keith (she's a lady), a great Masters runner from GJ, Annie, a petite 20-something speedster who also teaches at the yoga studio where I've been practicing, and another woman I didn't recognize lined up near the front. The the front of the pack in the mens race was clearly going to be very fast, with no easy pick for the winner like Megan on the ladies side. Race director Ranna gave her traditional greeting to all of us, and then the countdown was on. The starting gun sounded, and off we shot.

Right away, I had a problem. I was using a newer model Garmin Forerunner with the bezel, and I am NOT a fan of it at all. I'm a simple person and liked my old-school, 1970's calculator watch Garmin 205. Sure, it's big and ugly, but I never had issues with basic functions before it decided to fry itself. Somehow, I'd touched something funny on the bezel and brought up a graph of some sort. Oh well. Guess I wouldn't have splits or time during the race today. It was just going to be one big surprise at the finish with regard to my time. After two 5K's now without a watch, it didn't throw me off one bit, and was almost a relief to know that I'd be focusing entirely on how I felt, and on racing my competitors.

Running away from the golf course start, there was already a medium sized pack of men ahead and beginning to string out, and I could see Megan up there too. I immediately charged ahead, running second woman from the start. This felt realllllly fast but I went with it. There were several men from our track group in the lead group, and they were looking strong as they forged ahead.

Coming into the second mile, I was starting to pay for that too-fast start. I was kind of nauseous, could feel my heart rate out-of-control, and naturally slowed down. If anything, I wish I had Garmin data to see my split on that first mile because I know it was much faster than I had any business going. Soon, the masters-age-looking woman I didn't recognize passed me. Next, Annie passed me. Then, Keith passed me, saying something encouraging, but I can't quite remember what it was now. I knew I had to find my reset button, settle my body back down, and find a pace I could sustain all the way through.

As we hit the one big hill on the course, Ilana was now creeping past, and looking good. Dropping four slots within a mile was not part of my plan but it was still pretty early. I kept my cool, relaxed, and shortened my stride. After getting up the big hill, I felt like I was getting myself together again. No one else had passed me, and I seemed to be pacing pretty evenly with a couple of guys. Megan was long gone, but I could see the other four ladies. I was still in this.

Hitting the halfway point on the course, I was-dare I say it-starting to feel stronger, more competitive, and less nauseous. The headwind, though, was quite noticeable. I was not digging it at all. It helped to employ a strategy I'd been taught to use recently, though, and brought my gaze down to just a few feet in front of me, focusing on running in the now, and not on down the road, or putting my face up in that wind. I saw Keith move past Annie up ahead, and I was now making up some ground on Annie. Ilana had moved past Keith and Annie but was behind the unfamiliar masters woman.

As I reached the four mile point, I felt like I was in a good rhythm, and dialing in to that sweet spot on pace where I was slightly nauseous but still able to breathe well and turn the legs over quickly. I was really close to Annie now, and eventually caught up with her, running side by side for a bit. I said "let's hold off the other ladies back there!" and a minute or two later, I started inching ahead. I was getting pretty close to Keith now. Turning off the main road and into a residential neighborhood, I flew ahead, trying to catch her, and any other runners I could pass. We ran the road for a bit, and then made the awkward zig-zag around this funny gate at the beginning of the bike path portion of the course. I'd always felt clumsy here, but I think the track workouts and running into turns helped a bit this time, as I didn't feel as if I was going to hit the gate or stumble.

This last section of the course is not so much physical to me as it is an exercise in mental fortitude and stick-to-it-ness. For some reason, there are always people who start dropping like flies on the bike path and in the final stretch before the infamous track lap. It's slightly downhill, so it can be a great opportunity to pour it on and get some help from gravity near the finish. I reached the Taiko drummers, and got a real bump out of the festive atmosphere there. The drummers are a staple at The Other Half and Canyonlands, but had not appeared on the residential neighborhood course until about two years ago when we were pleasantly surprised by three or four drummers. This year, it seemed to be the entire Taiko Dan with a ton of kids and families there as well. I flew threw the party scene, determined to do as much passing as possible in the home stretch. I could see Ilana ahead, crossing the bridge, and saw her look to see who else was coming. Keith was just ahead of me, and when she turned on the bridge too, it was clear she didn't know I was back there. She started pushing harder, and I started pushing harder to stay with her.

The bike path made its final turn underneath a bridge/through a little tunnel, and then climbed up to the sidewalk. Soon, we were on the final stretch, coming down the road to enter the track for our final lap. I'd never turned around to see where Annie was, and wasn't about to now. I also didn't know if any other runners were sneaking up on me, and just laid it all out there. Keith was flying now and I wasn't going to get her today. I entered the track and saw Nora, who hollered and cheered for me. Tucking the head, I rounded the corner and pushed as hard as I thought I could go. I saw another friend from track group/track night at half a lap to go, and he yelled "Push, push, PUSH!" at me. Somehow I found one more gear and cranked it up some more. I wanted to hurl but I was SO close, and kept going at this pace.

Turning the last corner for home, I got my first look at the time clock. It was not going to be a PR at all, but I was cruising to what would be my second fastest of five runs at the Winter Sun. I could also see that I was not going to be caught by anyone at the finish, and had held on to that fifth female slot for more than four miles after that too-fast start, and brief fade in the second mile. I didn't let up and hammered through the finish, crossing with a finish time of 43:33. Yes, A PR or something close to it would have felt best, but the rebound after the shaky second mile and momentum build for the rest of the race felt great.

When results came out, I learned that I had indeed finished 1st out of 78 runners the 30-39 women, and 5th out of 342 women overall, marking my second age group win at this race. It wound up being an awesome day on the podium for Grand Junction runners, and runners from our track group in particular. The 30-39 women's podium was a track night sweep, with my friend and Dirty Girl relay teammate Shannon coming in second (I embarrassed her by yelling "Dirty Girl" loudly as she was collecting her medal), and group runner Michelle just behind her. The overall title went to another one of our group newcomers, Jake, and our head cat wrangler at track night and two-time Winter Sun winner Marty took the male Masters title. Shannon's husband Kevin, a Leadville 100 finisher, was fourth man overall and winner of his age group. Keith, Annie, and Ilana (the "Durango Interloper") all won their age groups, and local runner/track grouper Ben also nabbed hardware in the 20-something men. There were also strong finishes and PR efforts from many other locals, and it was just very cool to see all the smiling faces and camaradie in the finish area. Keith joked with me about how "Yeah, you went out way too fast" and how she didn't know she had anyone behind her until that last turnaround. Then there was runner friend Ray declaring that next year, we'd all have to show up at the finish area wearing Snuggies. I'm not too sure about that last idea; at least I've got a year to think about it.
Clockwise from center: Keith (in lime jacket), Me, Shannon, Julie (who placed in women 40-49), Ilana, and Loralie (my frequent high altitude training partner over the summer)

Lastly, this is a fun little video clip shot by Kevin. I really can't thank him and Nora enough for coming out just to cheer on and support the rest of us who were running. His attitude in injury recovery has been great, and having cheering friends at the finish was all the more appreciated in knowing that he would have much rather been running. Oh, and I didn't mention it earlier but Megan Lund did kill the women's field, finishing in 36:xx despite a pit stop halfway through. Watching this video clip, it was cool to see how strong and fast we ladies can be, and admire the speed of one of the best ones around these parts. I don't know who will show up next year, but I'm going to work hard and come back next year aiming for the top of the leader board again.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Hope's A Funny Thing-It Shines Like A Ring: Turkey Trotting And Speed Working

Firefighters over the starting area of the GJ Firemans Turkey Trot
Photo by Me

I have to admit to being rather unmotivated to blog this week; or, more accurately, so busy with other stuff that I've not wanted to do much of anything when down time finally came to me. Good things have been happening, though, so they're worth sharing.

First of all, this new weekly speed work group we started about a month ago is REALLY taking off, from four of us the first week to ten the day before Thanksgiving, and twelve yesterday. It's not just straight-up speed work; we do a warmup, some drills and exercises for strength training and injury prevention, intervals (of course) where we already seem to be pairing and grouping off with other similarly paced runners, and cooldown. Interestingly enough, three of the four workouts have come before races for me, but we're learning how to modify the speed work pre-race so that it loosens us up and gets us ready to go rather than taxing or exhausting the body. I wasn't sure if I should go last week, since I decided late to do our local Turkey Trot the next day. Our fearless leader assured me it was a good thing if I ran my 400m intervals at around 70-80% effort for the first 300 meters, opening up to race pace in the last 100 meters. When I went to bed that night I did feel a little tired, but I think this was more to do with two races and a bunch of speed work less than two weeks after a marathon. The Turkey Trot was not some huge target race of mine, so it was a great time to experiment with racing a little tired, but with high hopes and confidence for a good race based on my recent running.

I showed up about an hour early for the Turkey Trot, which I figured would be plenty of time to pre-register. It was, but I learned that unfortunately, they only had 900 timing chips and already had more than 900 runners registered. The good news here was that they'd lowered the race day registration to cost to $15 to make up for this. I wondered, though, how they were going to record times for those of us who were unchipped.

I warmed up on the riverfront trail pre-race, and just tried to keep it about going through the motions with good form. I didn't want to overthink and remind myself that my legs were a little tired-I just wanted to get out there and run as fast as I could. To that end, I'd ditched the Garmin again, as I did previously at the Holy Family 5K. I was just going to run fast and hard, and have no idea my actual pace.

When it was time to line up, there were all the usual local speedy people out there, as well as what appeared to be some non-local speedy people in to visit family and friends, and whup up the locals. There were actually close to 1200 people toeing the line today-an amazing number in a city with a population somewhere around 46,000. It's great to see so many people-from competitive local and regional runners to recreational walkers-out to start the day off right, and support several local firefighter charitable groups. Soon we counted down and took off.

What's that rule about 5K races? Oh, yeah. They HURT. BAD. Today was no different, but on the upside, nothing seemed to be hurting me above and beyond the normal pain threshold for short distance. It was a little cold, and my lungs were struggling a bit to adjust at first, but I soon settled in. There was a good handful of women who were off and gone; there were a few others of us who paced kind of near one another in the first mile. Considering that I was 12 days post-marathon, this was a pretty decent run on tired legs thus far. I focused on a high cadence and running with good form, and tried to ignore the small mile marker on the ground at the end of mile one. I didn't want any outside influences other than me pushing and keeping up my own pace; I didn't want to let in any chance of a second mile sag.

Heading down the road and turning toward the Connected Lakes, I managed to pass a guy or two, but also had two local women pass me-with dogs. They are speedy gals, and I tried to pick it up but they were picking up more. Running down to the turnaround, it was so uncomfortable to have to corner the orange cone quickly. I boomeranged around it and got my first look at how close any other women might be to me. I saw two less than 30 seconds back from me, and knew they were good runners who could pick it up anytime. If I'd had any thoughts pre-race of this maybe being a fun run where I let myself coast, they were gone now and I was in full racing mode.

Hitting the second mile marker, I was pleased that although I knew how far into the race I was, I hadn't obsessed about the long second mile, nor did I feel like I'd dropped off any. I was running now on the paved riverfront trail, which curves, twists, and has a number of uneven spots and little bumps. It's a real workout late in a 5K on what had been fairly smooth and flat surfaces until now. I was bound and determined to really hammer through and finish strong, and not sag off or get clipped at the finish. There was a little bit of leapfrogging with various men running about my pace, but there had been no passing or being passed by women since before the second mile ended. Coming toward the finish, I could see the balloon arch and time clock, and got a look at the time...clicking off in the 21:xx range! This was going to be another good 5K finish for me, and I surged ahead with a little bit of a third wind. I crossed the finish in 21:44, and moved through the chute, happy to be finished.

Moving past the finish chute, I saw Ali come in (one of two ladies not far behind), and we hung out and talked, soon joined by another one of her friends. Looking over my shoulder at one point, I saw that our track group leader dude was talking to a reporter from a local TV station, so I knew at that point that he must've won-sweet! I learned later that he did, but it was by the most razor thin of margins, with the #1 and #2 men shoulder-to-shoulder coming into the finish. Still, a win is a win. For my part, I did not have an official time logged but Bryan, physical therapist extraordinaire and host of the race at his PT offices allowed me to go talk to the timers to have my time recorded. With the time clock, I was able to report the exact time I'd crossed the timing pad, backed up with my self-reported time being a few seconds behind a local runner I could identify as finishing just ahead of me. So, that was cool that I was able to log an official result even without the bib.

When the results were published online, I could see that it was a fast race at the front. I was 10th out of 467 women overall, with three women running 19:00 and under, and four more running under 21 minutes. I was 2nd out of 120 in age group, so all in all, I was very happy with my result. The speed work, racing, and practicing good form when tired worked out. I know I didn't just go out there and hope I'd do well-I'd been working hard and working SMART at training for goal races on my schedule-but having self-confidence, hoping, and expecting to do well did pay off.

This week, I again focused on smart training. I did a comfortably paced but still very challenging run on Serpents Trail, an area trail with 1.75 miles of climbing, 900 feet up, and then descent back to the trailhead. There was also a good hour of running early morning running on neighborhood streets, a downhill speed workout in a neighborhood that provides good practice for the Winter Sun 10K, and speed work night again yesterday. I'm feeling a little fatigued, but nothing that won't be all rested away by Saturday. I've also been to hot power yoga twice this week, and am finding that it is making me stronger, recovering me from hard workouts faster, and allowing me to really become tougher with workouts in extreme temperatures. The practice is at 98 degrees, and it killed me in the beginning, but a few months in I'm finding that it's a great supplement to running.

Tomorrow's the big day to hit the road for Moab for my 5th run at the Winter Sun 10K. Other than still being 7-8 pounds up from last year, I find myself as confident, strong and hopeful as I've been for a race. After just talking about how I need more speed work for some time, I'm actually doing it now, and am beginning to see results from it already. The strategic downhill workouts should also be very helpful for race day. I hear the race day weather forecast is getting crappier by the moment, but really am not putting much stock into it right now, or deciding in advance that I can't have a good race. Hope's definitely a funny thing....that, coupled with trusting my training, and being mentally tough when it gets hard, could have me on a road that I believe can bring me to a podium finish in Moab this weekend. If that doesn't work, maybe a pre-race margarita and soak in the Gonzo Inn outdoor hot tub will do the trick.

(The song that inspired this week's blog post by Denver's own Paper Bird)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Bad Ideas Club: Tom Turkey Prediction Run Race Report, And Other Things You Shouldn't Do In Marathon Recovery

Right off the bat, I have to say that I was positively surprised and overwhelmed by friends and family offering congratulations after last weekend's race. I felt great about my effort and execution, but there's a natural tendency to want to kick one's self and play "what if" in a race that came down to the final seconds. I think I've got a pretty healthy outlook on those races when one comes up a little short, but all the good energy squelched any bit of self-doubt or negative thoughts that could have crept in to my brain.

In the days following the race, I had a recovery week unlike any other before. I don't know if it's being slightly older now, or the sprint at the end of a marathon, but I've never been as physically and mentally drained the day after a race as I was last Sunday. My whole body hurt and my brain-well, let's just say that basic thought patterns were a challenge. I am lucky enough to have a gig cleaning in trade at a local hot yoga studio; the cleaning job there should take about 45 minutes tops, and really can be done in a little over half an hour. This Sunday, it took me close to an hour because things like "moving the laundry from the dryer by lifting them out with your hands" and "now you pick up that broom that you've been staring at for five minutes but can't see, and push it around the floor" were incredibly complicated concepts.

By Tuesday, though, I was feeling human-like again. I did a fast-hike up and slow run down Serpents Trail on Tuesday morning, and when the opportunity to learn a good downhill speed training route that same night presented itself, I said "what the heck-go for it." Then, on Wednesday, I hit the second meeting of our new local speed work group at the high school track. I knew our fearless leader wouldn't be there but thought someone else was in charge. As it turned out, he hadn't necessarily planned on being a solo substitute leader, so I co-hosted practice with him. It was surprisingly fun even though I hadn't expected to be leading any drills or intervals, and nobody revolted when I said that YES, we were going to do that last interval and not wuss out early. On Thursday, I did another short early run, and seemed to be feeling the effects of running more, and with a higher intensity than I have post-marathon any other time. Friday off was a no-brainer.

Saturday brought a local prediction run called the Tom Turkey Prediction Run. This is one of several long-standing events in our running club; it's a low-cost, no frills event with a twist. The prizes-actual Thanksgiving turkeys donated by a generous local grocery store-do not go to the fastest runners. The five turkeys go to the runners who guess closest to their actual finish time, and no watches or Garmins are allowed to help with that pacing. I did this run in 2007, in my first year of running, and loved the concept, though I was such a new runner that I missed my mark by over two minutes. I got up on Saturday morning still unsure if I'd do this run, but after coffee, decided that punishing myself a bit would reap greater benefits than laying around. I was pretty dead-legged and completely lacking mojo, but hey. Possibility of a free turkey! I dressed warmly, swung my oldest daughter out to a dance rehearsal, and then swung back over to Larry's house, the start and finish of the 6-mile prediction run.

Right away, I saw a lot of the usual suspects. There were several of us there who had run Rim Rock the previous weekend, and I thought "oh, good. So my thought process was normal in thinking this was a great idea." Denial. It's a great thing. I ponied up my dollar, and asked myself "how slow are you going to run this after a week of random post-marathon speed work, and trying to throw in a race?" I figured somewhere in the 44 minute range, but somehow 44:14 sounded good. I wrote down my prediction, lightly warmed up, and joined everyone at the starting line a few minutes later. When Larry asked if anyone had any last minute questions, I asked "is it too late to back out?" I had NO idea why I thought this would be a good idea. Oh, wait. Turkey. A few seconds later, we hit the ground running with no concept of time or distance.

From the second we started, there was no denying it-I was TIRED. This was HARD. I thought that just stopping, going home and having some coffee might be really, really yummy. But wait. I'd paid my dollar. This was good speed work even if I felt like crap. And hey. Possibility of free food. So, on I trudged. I hit a point that kind of felt like the end of the first mile and resisted the urge to think about how I had five more miles to go.

Now that I was warmed up, the temperature felt quite comfortable. I almost wished that I'd worn shorts, but had felt too lazy to look at weather forecasts and plan in any kind of detail what to wear. Oh well, too late to do anything about that. What was mostly on my mind now was WOW, this was a really TERRIBLE idea today. I knew it was a terrible idea and I convinced myself otherwise. Did I have to do this? Couldn't I just lay down and take a nap? Oh, wait. No. Turkey. And I had to get back to my car eventually. I ran across a section of dirt road and tried to find line that didn't feel uneven and challenging. Couldn't really find that place today, though. Shoot. Onward on the uneven hardpacked dirt.

Hitting road again, my mind started wandering to other places but inevitably would come back to the fact that WOW. That marathon, and the speed work this week? Yeah. I feel it. Awesome! I mean, "AWESOME!" By which I mean, "S#it. This hurts." My brain tried to remember how to get the body to run with good, relaxed form. That did help a little bit, even though I kind of felt like I was going in slow motion and backwards. I hit a point on the course that seemed like we were probably about four miles in, and there was a little glimmer of hope that I was not, in fact, going to die out here today. Don't confuse that with feeling good-but it appeared that a search and rescue party would not be necessary.

Turning onto a long, straight, stretch of road, it seemed like the road went on forever. Finally, I could see Bryan, a local runner and member of the Marathon Maniacs with 75 marathons to his credit, make a left turn a good minute ahead of me. Sweet. The end was approaching. Maybe. I finally made it to the same corner, and then fondly remembered how much it sucked to climb a hill at the very end five years ago. It was time to tuck my head and just finish this thing out. My turnover felt okay, considering that my mojo was out the door. I wasn't moving as fast as I could fully rested and recovered, but this was amounting to a pretty good run with a very tired body. I kind of had my first tiny spark of energy and started playing the "run to the telephone pole" game I do to break up the courses on country roads in this neck of the woods. Finally, I crested the hill and could see that I just had the last half mile to go, and then would be back at La Casa De Larry. Go girl go. Run for the Turkey.

Oh, crap. This felt like one of those dreams where the road stretches out, and your destination moves further away the harder and faster you run toward it. Wow. This was an awesomely bad idea except for that whole free bird thing. I realized it would be kind of stupid to walk now, though, and just made friends with the pain. Or, frenemies. Finally, I hit the promised land...the edge of Larry's driveway. I did my usual gasp-and-stagger that causes people to ask if I'm okay after a hard effort ("No, this is totally normal! Carry on! Nothing to see here!"). Larry shouted over that as of now, I was the best guesser. I walked over and saw that I finished in 44:23, just nine seconds off my prediction. Well, how's that for a bad idea? I might be in the running for free food!

As other runners came in, I continued to be at the top of the prediction board.I'd finished about seventh overall and second woman, and once I'd regained normal breathing, I did a cooldown jog with the first handful of finishers, cheering in runners on their way in. When we got back, we didn't have to wait long before Larry hopped up in the back of his truck and started passing out turkeys. He seemed to mostly be working through reverse order from worst to best guesses, and finally we got to the turkey winners circle. Suzie, one of several regulars, nabbed the first turkey, and sack of extras/sides. I believe it was about a 14 lb bird. Moving up through the order, I still hadn't been called, and was pretty sure now that I'd guesstimated closest. It finally came down to the last two of us, and the second best guesser had come within ten seconds, so I was indeed the prediction winner. Woohoo! I met Larry at his truck to receive my turkey time card, 19-lb bird, and bag of stuffing mix, gravy, and canned cranberry. Pay a dollar, run a painful race, win turkey. A beneficial arrangement all the way around.

This week was fun and crazy with the running. Part of me wants to say I'm not racing again until the Winter Sun 10K, but I can't say that for sure. There's are two area Turkey Trots coming up-one on Thanksgiving locally, and a new one the Saturday after in neighboring Delta, Colorado, and that just might be good to keep waking up the speed now that I'm truly back in the habit of putting myself into that level of pain. Making sure I'm getting balanced training, and playing the racing by ear seem to be paying dividends right now, though, so that's how I will proceed for now.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Wavin Flag-The 2011 Rim Rock Marathon

(video by John Kohls from the Frunners, a group of, well, fun runners in the area. Blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo by Sandra and I in the last 30 seconds)

Give Me Freedom, Give Me Fire, Give Me Reason, Take Me Higher

I normally wait a few days to try to form coherent thoughts about a big race, but I thought this one was best written while still on the sore, exhausted, euphoric and hungry post-race high of the 2011 Rim Rock Marathon from Grand Junction to Fruita.

This weekend marked my third time running the Rim Rock Marathon. The race has been a surprising acquired taste; I volunteered at the final two Rim Rock Runs, 37K gate-to-gate across the Colorado National Monument, and swore I'd never do that crazy climb and descent. I was hooked in, though, in 2009 at the inaugural edition of the full marathon in the snow and mist. I wanted to run sub-4 since I knew it was not a "flat and fast" marathon, and was thrilled with a 3:41 finish, handling the uphills, but running the downhill a little too fast and hitting glycogen depletion in a marathon one and only time, at mile 25 that year. It was good enough for fifth place, and the next year I came back with plans to run it smarter. I managed that, and also set an unlikely marathon PR, running 3:29 with a strong uphill, slightly controlled downhill, and solid trip down Highway 340 to the finish at the James M Robb State Park. I moved up two slots to third place, and felt pretty good about that finish in a race with some strong regional ladies.

This year, my racing has been pretty inconsistent. After bombing out and having one of my worst races ever at The Other Half, I kind of had the gift of knowing that I couldn't take anything for granted on a course that felt good and homey. To that end, I'd spent the final few weeks prepping on the course, getting in numerous short runs at the start and two long runs that incorporated most of the course. I'd also participated in the first workout for a grassroots speed work group that we're getting up and running for local runners, and it was a perfect way to get the pre-race heebie jeebies out. I knew the race could go a number of ways but was feeling that I'd truly done everything in my power in these past few weeks to be ready for race day. My mileage base was smaller than a year ago, and I'm somewhere in the 5-10 lb range over my best racing weight, but I had a lot of optimism and confidence in really knowing this course, having the muscle memory, and a definite game plan in mind. Though a 5K has no bearing on marathon performance, my most recent race made me think I was back on track. I knew that two-time defending champ Keri Nelson was NOT registered; she's in an entirely different league and would have been the easy favorite. Knowing the field was wide open, and with a recent crappy race, I was hungry. With experience being everything on this course, I felt I had every reason to expect a good result on race day.

The day before the race, I decided on short notice that a pedicure would be a good idea, and roped in my friend Elizabeth for that. I got my gnarly runner nails cleaned up a bit, got the feet and calves rubbed, and had a kind of badass coat of purple and black crackle toenails when we walked out. Don't ask me why this kind of stuff is good for my race day mojo sometimes; it just is what it is, but in a good way. A nice pre-race dinner with friends and fellow runners got me deeper into that relaxed and focused zone, and an excellent night of sleep followed this day of chillaxation.

See The Champions, Take The Field Now, Unify us, Make
Us Feel Proud

Getting up early the next day, I had some coffee and nibbled on some cinnamon bread in a quiet house. Sandra came over to my house, and we got a ride down to the start, picking up my son's teacher Molly along the way. It was pretty cold, but not miserable, and the skies were overcast. Perfect. I'd thought long and hard about going Garmin-less, but in the end, opted to borrow a 405 from my friend Jess. I felt good about how I would use it; I'd just check my time at several key points, and other than that, it would be pure racing on feel. Lining up shortly before the start, I felt pretty free and ready to run. We were counted down by Chris Reed, the race director, and then we were off.

This first mile was a nice opportunity to warm up. There are purists who were opposed to this race becoming a marathon, but I kind of love this chance to let the body get in race mode before the climb begins. From the get-go, there seemed to be a small pack of ladies together. I recognized one local, but was unfamiliar with the others. After we hit the Monument, I tried to remember anything I've ever been taught about efficient, short strides, high turnover, and relaxation. Things felt a little hard today, though-much harder than last year. I did what I've been working on lately, though, and focused on a space just a few feet ahead of me without a focus on how high I needed to climb. Run in the moment and enjoy the gift of running was where my head was at this point. I was at the tail-end of what seemed to be 6-7 women, and had all of them in my sights. I fought the urge push up front when I wasn't ready, and just worked on being relaxed and keeping that rate of turnover high.

Getting into the second half of the climb, I found myself REALLY not feeling good. My effort and heart rate felt a little beyond where they should be here, and I was moving more slowly to boot than I needed to be. Today, though, I had a cool head prevailing. I disconnected from the ick, and kept that gaze a few feet ahead. It was a little ugly, but I was now getting close to Cold Shivers Point, and still with what seemed to be the lead pack of ladies. It was a bit confusing, though, because there were also relay teams in the mix, and there were some speedy ladies on these teams.

When we finally hit the high point on the Monument, I momentarily had a break from the feeling crapola, and took this opportunity to "relax" by getting the shoulders out of my ears, boxing nuns fists back down and swinging loosely, and increasing turnover. I did this for a bit on a flat section and felt okay, but the next time we started climbing (it's not over after the initial five miles), I found myself feeling worse than I did at the start. I'd briefly hopped ahead of two of the ladies-one in pink and one in purple-but they popped back ahead here. On one of the climbs in the shade, I felt so yucky that it seemed like this could turn into my Other Half death march. I was resolved to not allow that to happen again under any circumstances, and tucked the head again, blocking out any negative thoughts that tried to creep in about how things were going so far. I focused on the fact that even though I felt crummy, I was hanging in there, and none of the other women looked to be on fire either. The uphill was a challenge for all runners and we all looked the part.

Approaching the halfway point, I made my first real pass of one of the "Gang Of Five Or Six." I expected an answer, but that was the last I saw of her. I was feeling slightly more settled in and human, and took the opportunity to look around now at the amazing scenery. This course is gorgeous on a bright and sunny winter day, but it's almost sacred on a cold, overcast and grey day. Being out here with people who feel the same way about races like this felt good; every time I was running near someone, there would inevitably be a comment about the beautiful day. These are my people, and I drew off that positive energy.

Approaching the half-marathon point where relay runners exchanged, I was curious to see who dropped off but knew there were also possibly runners far enough I ahead that I couldn't tell for sure the positions and placement. Still, I watched closely to see who dropped off from the group. It appeared that one woman had handed off but I wasn't really clear at this point if there were other women up ahead. I was now pretty close to the pink-shirted girl and purple shirted girl, and was running behind the two of them, third in our small pack. The pink-shirted girl just didn't look 100% comfortable to me, and I kind of smelled blood in the water here. The purple girl was not running aggressively but looked okay. When we finally got up and over the big hill at 13 miles, I started working at moving ahead. If I was to make a move, it needed to be on the downhill section. Moving closer to Pink and Purple Girls, a relay runner told me "that pink girl's the leader!" I said "Oh, I know!" and could feel that suddenly, I wasn't feeling crappy anymore. I felt ready to race, and that I'd done a good job of running my pace and dealing with the race without regard to others. I slid past Purple Girl here, and found myself about 25 feet behind Pink Girl.

We were now starting to enter the part of the course that features several flat-to-downhill sections, but there were still little climbs here and there. I found myself very relaxed now, and let gravity do its thing, carrying that momentum into each small climb. Soon, I found myself shoulder to shoulder with pink girl at about sixteen miles. We chatted briefly, and she was a pretty cool lady. I found it a little surprising, though, that she was willing to carry on conversation as the leader of this small pack, and possibly the race leader.

I learned that not only was this her first Rim Rock, but it was also her first marathon-period. She had been a collegiate swimmer so there was a good athletic background, but the running thing was a new endeavor. I told her that I was on the beer drinking and quarters playing team in college, and got a chuckle out of her. We agreed that when aid station attendants told her that she was the leader, that it was best to assume nothing. When she said, though, that this was much faster than she'd trained, and "felt great," I just knew in my gut that I could come out ahead. Purple Girl was a little behind but close. I continued to run shoulder to shoulder with Pink Girl, and was just surprised that she was neither dropping off or making a big move ahead. It was a good pace for me, so I just stuck with it. Heading up to the 20 mile aid station, though, I knew that it was time to be aggressive, go for broke, and see what happened. I grabbed my drink on the fly here, pouring out half and continuing to run. From what I could tell, Pink Girl walked this aid station as she did not wind up catching up to me as I moved through. I hammered ahead and got my game face on for the section that I'm best at, and needed to nail.

When I Get Older I will Be Stronger
They’ll Call Me Freedom
Just Like a Wavin’ Flag

Moving ahead, I caught up to and passed one or two men in the race, but didn't see any women in sight. I let gravity do its thing, and did pay attention to my pace on the downhill. My undoing at the '09 race was flying through here like it was a 5K. When I got off the Monument and hit Highway 340, I slowed down, and then had a total collapse at mile 25, slogging through what felt like wet cement to the finish. I found a pace that felt as aggressive as I could run, and still have a little something left for the end.

Coming down through the two tunnels on the Fruita side, I looped around and through an aid station where I was told I was second woman (had been told third woman at the last aid station), and was able to get a look up. Purple Girl was now clearly past Pink Girl, but still easily a minute behind. I ramped up that turnover as much as I could while gravity was still giving me free help. As I came down the shorter switchbacks, I looked up and saw that there was one man behind me, and that Pink Girl was a full switchback behind, but I couldn't see Purple Girl. I was getting too tired to turn around and just focused all my energy again on the here and now, tucking down for the most mentally gruelling part of the course.

Turning on to highway 340, I was now running in the shoulder with traffic zooming by; many drivers gave thumbs up or waves, though. That's the great thing about Colorado-not everyone runs, but everyone spends time outside and most tend to support stuff like this. I could feel natural attrition setting in and knew I'd slowed down some but I wasn't on the verge of collapse. I remembered a drill we did at group speed work earlier in the week with jogging in place on the balls of the feet as fast as possible (to work on strengthening the calves and increasing turover). I applied it here, and felt like it was saving me from a total dropoff. Still, I knew I had to fight as hard as I possibly could until the end and then some. I was SO ready to be done as I ran across a bridge over the river near the finish, but tucked the head again. Finally, I could see it...the last turnoff into the park. And then, I heard it...footsteps behind me. Looking over my shoulder for the first time, I saw someone I hadn't seen in a long time...Purple Girl.

And then it goes back
And then it goes back
And then it goes back
And then it goes

I hit mile 26 and pushed as hard as I pushed as hard as I possibly could. She'd made up a huge amount of ground and for a moment I thought I was dead in the water but again just shut the brain off and set the body to an even higher gear than I thought was possible at this point. Turned out her pass was NOT inevitable and I found myself still ahead of her approaching the final left turn toward the finish. Then, it happened. All I saw were high knees, arms pumping, and I threw myself into it with everything I had to stay ahead of the purple. She surged ahead, though, and my best was not matching it. As we hurtled toward the chute, I was incredulous when I heard "Here come our first two women, and it's going to be a close one!" I thought we might be the lead two but didn't really think we were for sure. I threw everything I had into the last stretch but it wasn't enough today. She crossed the finish and doubled over immediately; I flew through right after her, and we exhanged a high five/back slap/"good race." My friend and Dirty Girl teammate Shannon was working the finish and removed my timing tag, and then I collapsed on the ground outside the finish chute.

I wanted to win-REALLY bad. Laying on the ground, though, I wasn't imagining anything I could have done differently to make it happen, and was in a sublime moment of knowing I'd raced well, pushed myself, and attacked opportunites. I fought through the icky stuff, and ran aggressively as soon as I could, not allowing others to dictate the race. I didn't concede, either, when I found that the subsequent winner was right on my tail. In the end, I learned that a mere three seconds separated me from the winner...3 seconds over the course of 26.2 miles. I can't imagine a better ending than going to pure guts and desire at the finish. I really wanted to be able to say I won a marathon today, and yes, there is certainly the part of me that says "where could you have made up those three seconds?" There was something supremely satisfying, though, about coming from behind, learning in hindsight that I'd led a marathon from 19-ish to 26.1 miles, and slugged it out with a woman who wanted to win as bad as I did. It leaves me hungry, and there's nothing more motivating and satisfying that working to fill that hunger.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Yeah, Yeah, Oh Yeah What Condition My Condition Was In: The Holy Family Spooktacular 5K & A Monumentally Long Run

This week was sort of crazy beyond my normal level of busy. It was the end of the school quarter, so there was the onslaught of related conferences and off-days, end of my son's soccer season, and the performance week for my daughters who were dancing at our downtown "Spooktacular" festivities. Still, I'd been pretty disciplined with my running, shifting all my runs onto Rim Rock Drive, the road over the Colorado National Monument where the Rim Rock Marathon takes place in 12 days. I got in several shorter runs as well as a good medium-long run at what is a pretty nice clip for me. I think it probably kept me from blowing a gasket on a busy week, and it sort of gave me an added boost in confidence to feel the muscle memory coming back on the route. All runs were either early morning or evening as well, providing some cool views of Grand Junction, and an added chillax factor. Yes, it keeps you on your toes to be on that curvy road in the dark, and one has to be alert, head-lamped and reflective-geared to do it safely. I'd say there's an added benefit to that as well. The focus is good, and maybe something that has been lacking in my running at times in the past few months.

I was aware of two 5Ks taking place locally on Saturday morning, and thought about doing one or the other. I wasn't sure how well I could race, though, after a busy week and quite a bit of up-and-down on the Monument. I decided to make a game-day decision, and had a very fun, relaxing night with some neighborhood runner friends. I hadn't intended to stay late or go costumed, but somehow I found myself throwing together a last-minute Maude Lebowski costume from The Big Lebowski.

I'm a huge Coen Brothers fan, it's one of my favorite movies they've done, and I'd wanted to do the "Gutterballs/Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" scene's Maude viking costume for years. I didn't think about racing the next day, and didn't put pressure on myself to decide the night before. It wound up being a fairly late night, but I went home and slept like a log afterward.

Getting up around 7:15am, I was still totally undecided, dorking around for a few minutes on Facebook while drinking my coffee. There, I read that my friend Suzanne from up the road in Rifle would be coming down to run along with her new baby daughter (her first race). Besides thinking it would be good to do some racing speed work, I wanted to visit with them a bit. I finally decided what the hey, I should go and try out racing without a watch. I'd run the Holy Family School's 5K two years prior, and it was a well-organized, smaller race. We'd finally crossed over into our late fall/early winter crisp-cold weather in the past week or so, and it feels so good for racing.

I drove over just in time to register ($10 option if I didn't want a tee-shirt, since they were out of mediums-yay!), warm up briefly, and visit with Suzanne, her baby girl, and some of her fellow teachers/colleagues I'd met at other races. It felt strange to not have a Garmin, but it was sort of exciting to be winging it without having the option for even an occasional pace check, or glance down at my mile splits. A few people were costumed, but for the most part, the costumed/recreational running kids were waiting for the fun run after the 5K. Lining up just prior to 9am, we heard a runners prayer/blessing from one of the school's priests. I'm not Catholic, but the message about being able to come together in celebration of running and health really resonated regardless of one's faith or non-faith. I was standing in a sea of 10- to 12-year-old boys, and near a couple of the usual suspects at races in Grand Junction. A minute later, the start was announced and off we went.

Right away, many of the little boys shot out to the front of the pack, along with a few of the local men. Coming out of the school lot and onto the main road, I was running first woman but knew there were several fiercely competitive local ladies who were probably right behind me, and just starting to fire their engines. We turned into a residential neighborhood, ironically called "Paradise Hills"-they didn't feel like paradise at 5K pace, but I did at least feel like I was getting that "good burn" in the lungs and legs. This felt like a pace I could maintain and maybe pick up today.

My first need to pick up came pretty early. One of the ladies I've raced several times locally was soon right next to me, and beginning to pull ahead. I focused on shortening my stride and increasing my turnover, and managed to slide back ahead coming out of the neighborhood, but knew I'd have to keep it here and try to pick up even more speed. The whole time, it felt really bizarre to have no clue regarding my pace, but it actually felt a little freeing in a 5K. I've had issues with "second mile sag" at some 5K's, and this was just forcing me to be unaware of where I was on the course and just keep pushing. Somewhere near the end of this first mile, another familiar runner made her move past me and into the women's lead. I worked to increase my turnover as much as I possibly could. She was pulling away, but I felt like I was doing a good job of keeping up my pace, and picking it up a little here and there.

I passed one or two of the men in what must have been early second mile, and found myself still smack in the middle of a sea of boys. I couldn't believe they were still holding this pace; often, the younger kids go out like a shot and then fade. These guys were running strong, with about four ahead of me and two right behind. There seemed to be this almost comical "Dangit, I'm still running with these little guys," and "Dangit, why is our MOM still pacing with us?" energy that had us all hurtling through that second mile. I knew as well that the woman running third was really strong, and that I had to pick it up as much as possible now.

Making an uphill turn into the last mile, I was still with the boys, and trying to disconnect from the fact that I was, in fact, running uphill and hurting. I brought my gaze to about five feet in front of me and tried to run within that space. The gap between the first woman and I had widened, but it seemed like it wasn't quite as wide as it's been at other races. I wasn't sure how close the third woman was but just assumed it was CLOSE.

Soon, we were cresting the hill and could see the school ahead. Two of the boys in front of me started pulling away hard. I kicked it into the highest gear I could find, and started easing past the third boy who had been with them. It was obvious he was hitting a tough spot mentally and starting to let up a great deal. I didn't say that awful "almost there" that nobody wants to hear at this point in a race, but managed a "c'mon!" Crossing the street and turning the corner toward the finish at the school, I was still running second woman. I ran toward the finish full-out, and could hear feet closing in. Flying toward the finish chute, that boy who was starting to sag two minutes ago came through like a lightning bolt, crossing about a second ahead. I came in right behind him, and as I walked through the chute, the third woman came through, less than ten seconds back. We did the out-of-breath high fives, feeling that runner's high that I swear only comes after you've fully spent yourself.

I checked the table where the bottoms of bibs were being lined up by age group, and really couldn't quite believe my eyes-21:32, my best 5K in about two years, and I think probably 3rd best of all time if my recollection is right. All on a day when I wasn't tan, rested, and ready for 5K action. It was an age group win, and felt good after my Other Half cluster-run. The 5K in general has not been a consistent strong suit of mine, so to run with consistency at two of them in a row makes me think I ought to do more of the no watch/no watching the watch short distance racing.

The next day, I had a planned long run with Sandra, and this was to be our last prior to the Rim Rock Marathon. Yes, we'll do 15 or so next weekend, but this was kind of the big one before the taper. It was decided, since we've done a bunch of stuff on the first 5 miles of the course (with steadily climbing, curving road) that we would run the rest of the course, starting from Cold Shivers Point on the Monument, and running to the finish area at the James Robb State Park in Fruita. This was a roughly 21 mile route, and required some car logistics that took a bit of time in the morning, leaving my car in Fruita and riding up to Cold Shivers. It is the "flat" section of the course, but there's really nothing flat about it with some rolling upward for several miles before finally hitting the fun, fast descent off the Monument and onto Highway 340.

This would be another watch-free run, and a test run of sorts. I am pretty sure this will be my first watchless marathon ever, so this would be entirely on feel. I didn't feel much fatigue from the day before, and in fact, was kind of excited at the prospect of running really long on the race course. I was practicing with a different hydration strategy as well. I've mostly used the aid stations on marathon courses for the past two years, choosing to carry nothing. I don't like holding stuff while running, so what I was practicing with today was a waist pack spun around with the bottles/bottleholders in front. I thought this would annoy the heck out of me, but this set-up felt surprisingly good. I won't decide until right before the race, but think this system will be used to avoid slowdowns for fluids at the aid stations.

Chatting away for much of the run, Sandra and I were oblivious to our time and distance, but the pace felt good-kind of in that long run sweet spot with a gradual increase in pace coming down the Monument. We passed another runner going the other way whom we did not know. He knew what we were doing, though, and yelled out "See you in two weeks!" Though we mostly stayed where we should-against the traffic-there were a few blind curves where it just was safer to move into the other lane, especially with the very limited car traffic early on a Sunday.

Of course, on one of these shifts, the next vehicle to 'round a corner heading east was a park police vehicle. He blinked his lights at us and slowed to a stop. Crap, we're going to get a ticket. "Training for the marathon?" he asked. "Yes sir, getting in our long run," we answered. I thought he was going to read us the riot act for being on the wrong side of the road, but he just reminded us that we needed to run in the correct place. We agreed and did let him know we'd been doing that most of the way, but shifting over on some of these scary blind curves. He was very cool and understood we weren't just going out of our way to be rogue runners, smiled, and waved us on. Phew-no citation today. I know they can't have us flagrantly flying in the face of the law, but I think the various agencies on this route are good about accommodating runners, and not coming down too hard on us for shifting a bit on that road when we can't see around a blind curve.

Getting off the Monument, we had our last two mile stretch down to the park in Fruita. I was kind of stoked to know that we were already 19 miles in. The time had flown by and I felt tired now but there was no struggle to the run. I couldn't have hoped for a better weekend of running. When we hit the park, it was time to enjoy some tangerines, water, and coconut water. It had warmed up, and the sun was glistening on the water near the finish. Checking our approximate start and finish times, we were pleased to have dialed in on a near perfect long run training pace.

Once we'd refueled, it was time to drive back up to Sandra's car, and stop off for her small bag or "aid station" tucked behind a wall and bush at one of the scenic overlooks. When we pulled up, we discovered someone had taken her bag. It hadn't been greatly concealed, but that's just not something people tend to do up there-especially for a bag that just had water, gatorade, and an old race shirt. LAME. Sandra wasn't that upset, though, and said "next time I'll hide it better!"

Now, I'm starting to geek out a bit about race day. I'm a little tired today on my day off, but generally feel pretty good. My S-Caps are ordered; I think I have a plan for what I'm wearing that day. I'm going to continue to run on the Monument until race day, but just taper off on the overall distance. I was feeling a slight lack of confidence about how my conditioning was for race day, so the weekend's good running came at a perfect time. Or, maybe it was just dressing up like a viking and playing competitive Halloween puzzle assembly or having balloon blowing and popping races that did it. Yes...this is what competitive runner types do for fun. Either way...the FUN was there, and it made the run that much better.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Ray Of Light: Run To Whitewater (18 miles from Grand Junction to Whitewater...The Pretty Way)

And I feel like I just got home
And I feel

After my ten minute pity-party for my ugly running fest through the canyons in Moab, I was already thinking ahead to making the most of my little bit of time between now and the Rim Rock Marathon, with the Winter Sun 10K and February's Moab RedHot 55K in my head. After a few days off following The Other Half, I resumed running with a nice sunset "recovery medium-long run" with Sandra, one of my frequent running partners, and another shorter recovery-ish run with Laura, my early morning headlamp show running partner for about two years now. The good thing that came out of the crappy race was that it lit my fire to bounce back, really get accountable about my time spent running, and enjoy the process of getting ready for the bigger races. What worked so well for me last fall with my string of PR's was just running a lot, but for enjoyment, and picking out routes and courses that would make me WANT to run a lot but still provide a challenge and progress in my running.

One of the key components to good training then had been back-to-back weekend runs, typically consisting of a long road run on Saturdays and a medium-long to long trail run on Sunday. I hadn't done this for awhile, but I know my running improved at all distances with it as a regular part of my running schedule. While this would have been ideal in my head this past weekend, Saturday was just too jam-packed with triple-booked kid stuff and my stuff to even consider that option. Sandra and I decided we'd do an easy up-and-down early Saturday on Serpent's Trail, at the base of the Colorado National Monument, and then something for a long run on Sunday. We did it around 5:30 on Saturday, and it's amazing how this run has gone from being really painful the first few times to something that one craves, and enjoys. It's still hard, but I can feel the strength that comes from just doing it, and practicing that continuous climb followed by "how fast can I go in the dark?" descent back down.

We'd kicked around running on Rim Rock Drive (the road that runs across the Colorado National Monument, from Grand Junction to Fruita) as a long run, looking to get in a good 18-20 miles, on Sunday, but left it open. Some time Saturday, though, we started thinking seriously about one of the few Mesa Monument Striders run/races I have not done-the "Run to Whitewater," starting at the Bangs Canyon staging area, and running the Tabeguache Trail for 18 miles to a trailhead in Whitewater, Colorado. I'd never done this run before, and it's probably one of the most sparsely attended races. It's a self-supported gig, crossing slick rock, dirt, and rock fields which vary widely in condition from year to year. No aid stations, no Rock and Roll Marathon bands. You have to pay attention to the course instructions, and keep yourself going in the right direction because no one will be flagging or directing for you out here. The beauty of this event is the beauty of this event, though. It's a trail that's a little less populated than a lot of other ones in this area. There's also that thrill of going point-to-point, like the Imogene Pass Run, "Seventeen miles from Ouray, Colorado, to Telluride, Colorado, the hard way." And, as I've learned, the Beer Cooler of Awesomeness and real food always seem to appear at the end of these no-frills running club deals. When it looked like we could make pretty easy car shuttling arrangements between Sandra, me, and Ray, another local racing regular, I said yes, let's do this thing.

I'd been up later than normal the previous night, attending a small gathering with some friends (hosted by Julie, who was one of my 24 Hours of Moab Dirty Girls teammates, and her husband Mike, ultrarunner and Mad Dog team runner at that same relay) just south of town in Olathe, Colorado. I'd eaten dinner before heading down with three of my kids for this fire pit and Dr. Seuss reading party, eating what amounted to a second dinner, and also partaking in some peach moonshine provided by Bryan and Elizabeth, fellow runners and generally outside-type folks who came here by way of Kentucky. This could have been a recipe for disaster, but I slept like a log for a good six hours. Getting up in the morning, I didn't even bother to look at the weather forecast. My muscles were still sore from last weekend's race, so I figured I'd go with some lightweight tights and a lightweight tech shirt, even though I knew it would probably be pretty warm by the time we were wrapping up this race.

I picked up Sandra and headed out to Whitewater, which is straight south out of town on Highway 50. We had rough directions from Ray on where to park, but were not sure where exactly to go. As it turned out, he was only a few minutes back, so we just pulled off and waited for him, following his truck over to the lot where we'd finish later in the day. We left his truck there, and shuttled back to the Bangs Canyon staging area in town in my car.

As we pulled into the lot about half an hour before the starting time, we saw several other runners and the regular race director for this gig there in the parking lot. Signing in, I was beginning to regret my choice of tights. It was clearly going to be warm today. Upon pulling out my Garmin which has been duct-taped to my wrist for two races now, I realized that it was just about time to have a proper burial for the thing. I zeroed out the previous run, but then couldn't get any of the buttons to work. Oh well...I think I knew this was coming. I tucked it in one of the pouches of my Nathan pack in case the thing decided to work at some point, and I wanted to calculate elapsed time. Sandra and I both agreed we'd just treat it like a training run, and try to run on feel without regard to pace and time. It was a brand-new course for both of us so might as well keep ourselves guessing.

I'd remembered that very few people ran this race the year before when I'd gotten the club newsletter with results. As I found out later, there were a whopping seven runners the previous year, and the course had been sloppy as hell. As starting time approached, I was surprised to see that there appeared to be about two dozen runners here. It was a beautiful, crisp, cool, and bright Western Colorado morning, though. Most runners were folks I knew, and the few unfamiliar faces were quickly introduced. One of the runners showed up about two minutes before the start, which was held off long enough for him to make a quick pit stop (one of the great perks about small, local deals where everybody knows your name). Once he was out, Kim, one of the co-race directors, said "okay, you guys can start now!" as our official start.

For a minute or two, everyone was fairly together, but we quickly strung out across the early ups and downs over slick rock and rocky trails. This was to be a good training run for us, though, and we'd never seen the course, so it was just about settling in to the run now. I was kind of tired from the previous weekend, and putting in a good effort over the past few days in training, but things felt pretty good. We worked our way over some pretty regular climbs, took in the view, and I marveled at how freeing it was to have no clue on my time or pace. Five years of running, and this was my first race, other than a Thanksgiving prediction run in '07, when I would be running without any gauge of pace or time.

In the early miles, my body felt kind of slow to warm up to the running thing, but it was waking up, little by little. There was quite a bit of climbing in the early miles; I'd say that this is my area of running that is always in a "state of progress." We were moving along at what felt like a consistent pace, though. We chattered about upcoming races, past events and runs, Zombie Prom (which I said was Sandra's official descent into running madness...skipping a local event she'd attended with her husband for several years in a row in order to have a more productive and run-filled weekend), and anything else that came to mind.

Now it was definitely warming up. Shorts would have definitely been a better move for me, but I was getting some cooling from rolling up the sleeves on my tech shirt. I'm not sure if there's any science to it, but I'd slathered myself in sunscreen so I didn't feel like my face or head were overheating and burning, and was only mildly bothered by wearing those lightweight tights. We hit what felt like was about the hour mark, and were kind of rambling through more narrow, tree-lined trails now. Passing another runner for the first time, he said to us "Oh, I was wondering where you were. I thought you stopped for lunch." Hehe, wise guy. We saw our friend Ray,who had car-shuttled with us, on several occasions up ahead. It seemed like every time we got a little close, though, he'd be out of sight when we crested the next ridge.

Continuing on our way, I kept wondering to myself why I'd never run this race. It was so pristine and quiet out here; we'd occasionally pass cool landmarks, like an ancient, flipped jeep that had been used for target practice, and at one point, there was a funny voice in the trees behind us. It wound up being the mountaineering partner of the guy who was now running right behind us, and who happened to be camping out there. We kind of laughed about the "talking bush," and moved along until we hit a bit of a crossroads with two different directional options. We'd been told to keep meandering right after one initial left, but the way that it seemed we needed to head was toward the left. We decided to wait for the guy behind us to see which way he thought was right because we just didn't feel like getting lost.

When he caught up to us a few minutes later, we looked for tracks on both trails, and just were not sure. It seemed like there were more tracks on the left trail, though. Coming back to the crossroads, I finally noticed the post near the left trail with an arrow and "Tabeguache" on it. We were relieved to confirm the correct route, and headed on our way. I was running in front, Sandra a few feet back, and our trail buddy behind her.

After about a mile, and moving into a rocky downhill section, I heard the distinctive "thump" of body hitting trail. Turning around, I saw that it was the guy. He'd eaten it pretty good. We asked if he was okay, and he replied with an "Oh, I'm fine," as he picked himself up and began to run again. Sandra and I kept moseying along with his "all good." Soon, he wasn't right behind us anymore. We didn't know if there were any other runners behind him and were a little concerned at how he was doing, but he also one of those old trail runners you know will make it in one way or the other.

Faster than the speeding light she's flying
Trying to remember where it all began
She's got herself a little piece of heaven
Waiting for the time when Earth shall be as one

The sun was still shining bright, and lighting up the bright autumn colors on trees near and far. We'd get views here and there of Mt. Garfield, the Grand Mesa, and back toward Grand Junction, and it felt pretty sweet to see how far we'd already come on foot. There's something cool about these point-to-point races that are off the beaten path. We were gathering a little bit of momentum and starting to loosen up into the run now, and it felt pretty good. We still didn't have a clue on time or pace. I was imagining, since we weren't really "racing" today, that we might be on pace for about a four hour finish. It didn't matter much, though. We hit a point that felt to me like it was probably about ten miles, and rather than wanting it to be all over, I really just wanted to take in every bit of the run and hard work. Our next encounter with another runner was somewhere in this stretch-a guy who came bounding along and said "Boy, am I happy to see you guys! I took a wrong turn for a mile or two" before running on ahead.

We were getting more frequent downhill and flat-type sections now, and it felt good to open up and fly down little stretches. My other "area of progress" on the trail stuff has been the opposite problem of sometimes building up enough speed that I loose all control. This leads to those rolled ankles, falls, and awesome bruising or other body marks. It was feeling okay today, though, with no out-of-control hurtling down rock fields. We kept gathering a bit more speed here and there, backing off a bit at times on the climbs, but staying consistent in the effort.

Coming over one of the hills, we passed another runner, this time one of the ladies we'd seen at the start area. Sandra knew her from one of the local outdoor stores. We said hello and moved along. Not too far up, we encountered Tom, who is kind of a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to outdoor activity. He runs, puts on all the cross country ski races with the nordic council here, does adventure races (one of which involved a mechanical bull ride for one stage earlier this year), and anything else outside that seems fun. He was running more slowly and carefully than he normally would, and seemed to be backing off to just finish without hurting himself in a tired state. We said hello, and he said "save a beer for me!" as we ran along.

Next, we saw a funny, out-of-place looking landmark we'd been told to watch for-some fenced off retaining ponds that kind of look like a random tennis court in the middle of a Colorado wilderness area. Sure enough, there was the tennis court oasis. We laughed at how much it did look like a tennis court on the approach, and kept moving along. It was nice that I'd started this thing a little sleepy and not really warmed up, but just kept warming up and feeling stronger as we continued.

Coming over the top of another hill, we saw a guy on the edge of a trail with a jug of water. I recognized him right away as one of the local running club's older, long-standing members. "Need some water? Trail mix?" he shouted as we came down. Sweet! An aid station of sorts? I was still pretty good on water, but I happily accepted a top-off. I figured it would be good to have a little something extra to rehydrate. Sandra had a smaller flask in her hydration pack, and was near empty. She refilled hers, and we thanked him for being out there. "Only 3.9 miles left!" he told us. "Some sections you'll have to hike, but mostly runnable." Off we went again. Turning left toward Grand Junction, it was awesome to see how far we'd come. We were running through more open-type space now that kind of rolled nicely but didn't climb a ton.

And I feel
Quicker than a ray of light she's flying
Quicker than a ray of light I'm flying

Finally, we could see that we were near the road where we'd left our vehicle to take back to town. Our pace may not have been blazing, but it sort of felt like we were flying now with the finish in sight. We came over one last hill and around a bend, and could see right down to the lot. They could see up to us too, and started hooting and hollering. This was great. We weren't expecting a cheering section, and it was cool to descend the final switchbacks from above to reach them. Getting to the edge of the trail and hitting the last bit of road, we weren't sure if we were supposed to get on the road and just come to them the easy way, or if there was some trail on the other side of the street into the lot. They saw our confusion and waved us down the road, and in we came. As it turned out, we were well under four hours in our fun long run on trails, coming in at around 3:43.

I went back to the vehicle and changed my clothes, grabbing some camping chairs for the finish area. There was a full spread of pasta, bread, zucchini chips, grapes, water and Gatorade, and of course, the Beer Cooler of Awesomeness. As we sat down with our post-drink refreshments, stories were swapped about wrong turns and getting lost. Turns out that we'd done well to not go totally off-course, and find our way in that moment of confusion. Several runners ran a little bit out of their way, and our friend Bryan wound up getting so off-course that he decided to turn around and go back to the start. Another runner, a previous winner of the Leadville Trail 100 with a streak of about 19 finishes in a row there (sans pacers), added a bunch of extra miles somewhere, and wound up coming in behind us due to his extra long run. Someone yelled "Ah, here comes Kirk and that walking stick!" and we hooted and hollered for him as he finished. Most runners continued to chat, eat, and rehydrate on various beverages until all were in, and then hung out and talked a little longer on this beautiful late October day. Usually, I'm the one saying "let's go do X, Y or Z race or run today." This was a day when I was really thankful that others suggested something totally different, because it wound up being one of those days when I re-charged and hit the old re-set button.

I'm looking at a week ahead of solid running and training, and then will figure out some sort of two week taper plan for the Rim Rock Marathon. Upon thinking about what went wrong at The Other Half (and there was a LOT), I think I need to be careful that I'm not building or doing some sort of reverse taper in these last few weeks. I may have gotten a bit overexuberant leading up to that race, and just didn't taper enough. It was just one of those days, too, but I'm going to make sure I fix the things for Rim Rock that stand out as things in my power to change. If I make the most of my preparation, then I'll be ready for those things that are not in my power to change.