Monday, January 30, 2012

How Bizarre, How Bizarre: The Great American Beer Run 15K

Blog title courtesy of the pre-long run DJ stylings of Ben H. You can send me a cut when your DJ business takes off, man.

I'd been looking forward to last weekend's race for weeks. The Great American Beer Run, or GABR in its short form, is an event put on by Jeff Recker, a local runner and triathlete whose voice you may have heard at the finish of the Canyonlands Half Marathon, where he does finish line commentary. The original race was a half marathon. After a several year break, Jeff decided to revive it as a 15K, beginning out in the desert outside of Fruita, Colorado, and ending at the Hot Tomato Cafe. It was originally supposed to end at the new Suds Brewpub, but with the restaurant not open for business, the location was switched to the pizza place right around the corner. This run had a lot of things going for it; no entry fee, no crowd, beer at the finish, and really, most exciting to me, a distance I'd never raced before. The course was also similar to the Canyonlands Half, making it a nice early season tuneup opportunity.

Sandra showed up at my place and we carpooled out to the Hot Tomato at 9am. When we arrived, there was a small group of regulars signing in. Race Director Jeff, and course director/photographer dude Ray were wearing sweet shirts with a very bosomy St. Pauli girl reading "The Great American Beer Run-Where Dreams Come True." Everyone signed in and visited with one another, and then cars were loaded for the start. Pre-race directions included "turn left at the dead coyote" and "don't worry, if you take a wrong turn, everything in Fruita is a square and the distance will be the same anyway." Once we made it to the start, Jeff thanked us for showing up on this "dead weekend" before the Super Bowl with no races on the schedule, and then had us recite a Beer Pledge of Allegiance. A few moments later, we were started, and headed off down the road.

The borrowed, frequently malfunctioning Garmin was on my wrist again today, and I was pleasantly surprised that it was functional. I didn't look at it, though, after my first check to make sure it had started without pulling up some graph or chart. Kevin, the RD from Bangs Canyon and track night regular, shot off like a bullet, with Ben not far behind, along with a few other guys from the local triathlon club. Quinn, another track group newcomer, was a bit ahead of me as well. I tried to settle into my pace and see how I felt, and how hard I thought I could push today. The downhill start and incredibly fast pace by the men up front, though, had that natural effect of drawing out those of us right behind them. I didn't feel bad so I just went with gravity on the rocky dirt road. I looked down at the beep at the end of mile 1, finished in 7:09.

Somewhere near the end of that first mile, I gently eased past Richie and Kevin from the triathlon club, and Quinn. They all looked strong, thought momentarily about staying back and whether I might be starting too aggressively. Instead, I just went for it. I didn't feel bad and I was operating on the premise that I should run how I felt, and really push since this wasn't a goal race and there was nothing at stake today other than a beer song mix CD. I really wanted that CD, though, and a good PR for the distance, so I opted to push. My second mile split came in exactly the same as the first at 7:09.

We'd hit regular paved road now, and also flattened out. My next few splits were indicative of that, with a 7:17 for mile 3 and 7:23 for mile 4. Somewhere in this stretch, I reached Greg. I wasn't sure if I could hold onto his pace because he usually beats me, but I still wasn't feeling awful. I thought about the various things we've worked on at track, like a high cadence, short stride and good form. I did feel like I was walking that edge, and had maybe started too fast, so coming back to basics really helped to settle me down and avoid heading in the blowup direction. Greg and I agreed it would be good to pace together and pushed on down the road. This is when that four-letter W word appeared-wind. We ran toward the big hill on the course and it really picked up. Most of the drivers on this country road slid over a bit, or moved all the way over into the other lane. Approaching the hill, we had one driver of a big truck give us NO room at all, and appear to even creep closer to us. It was close enough to scare me a bit, running on the edge of the road and not anywhere near getting in his way in the lane.

Tucking my head down up the hill, it was almost a relief to have a change in the flat terrain. I slowed in the wind but it didn't suck altogether. The short, relaxed stride was getting me up the hill, though more slowly than I'd have liked. Approaching the top of the hill, Ray was there rocking the tunes from his truck, and taking pictures. When another truck came flying over the hill ahead of us, Ray gave the guy a very clear "slow down" hand motion, a deed that did not go unnoticed. 99% of the drivers were sharing the road with us, but all it takes is one to change lives forever. Finally cresting the hill and coming down, I regrouped and tried to take advantage of gravity. Mile 5 was over in 8:22. Quite a dropoff from the first four miles, but I felt good to make it back up with the hill behind me.

Getting into the second half of the run, I realized that I'd probably taken the first few miles a little too fast. I did another assessment and knew my form was getting crummy, and refocused to the short strides and high cadence. Every time I thought I was going to drop off Greg's pace, I was able to settle down. I was tiring, though, and not sure how long I'd be able to hang with him. Miles six and seven came in at 7:32 and 7:27 respectively.

We began to see the beer arrow signs with more regularity now, and it was nice to be running with someone else so that we could confirm that we were, in fact, running the right way. Yeah, it shouldn't be hard to run a square course, but on racing brain, some simple things become incredibly hard. We'd turned left after heading straight south for some time, and there was a wicked crosswind that seemed more difficult to run through than the headwind we'd just experienced. Turning that corner, I could see that the tri-guys were about a minute back but didn't see anyone else. Greg and I hit the end of the road and got momentarily confused about the sign at the end of the road. It was on a left corner, which didn't seem like the way to go. As we got closer, we could see that it was pointing downhill/south/toward Fruita. Okay, phew. That made sense. Mile 8 was finished in 7:52. Yep, getting tired now on this new distance but not dead yet.

Now in the home stretch, Greg asked if I had any kick left. I said I wasn't sure. We turned left again down a neighborhood street, and then made another right. Again we found Ray directing traffic at the next big intersection like a pro. I booked it across the street, ready to be done, and get to that beer. Mile 9 was a slight negative split, finished in 7:44.

Greg was really dropping the hammer now and I pushed to stay with him. I could feel that I was accelerating, but he was stringing out just a bit ahead of me. As we ran down the last few blocks, I saw Jeff, and he was pulling something out. What is that....tape? My first time getting to break tape? I smiled when I saw that my first ever finisher tape to break was police tape saying "Do Not Cross." How apropos...I didn't get into running the traditional way, and this was a delightfully bizarre and nontraditional race. My last .5 mile (course was slightly long) was at a 7:22 pace, run in 3:40, with a total time of 1:11:35. Greg finished six seconds ahead of me, third overall male, and winner of a coveted beer songs CD. Kevin had won the race, and was the only runner to go under an hour, finishing in 56 minutes and change. Ben had finished second in about 1:01, I believe. Stoked kind of sums up how I felt about my first try at this distance. My hill climbing is still kind of crummy, and I need to work on that. My overall race experience was good, though. I listened to my body, but pushed beyond a safe, comfortable race effort.

I watched for others to come in, hanging out with the other finishers, and Sandra's husband Eric who had arrived to see her finish, and hang at the Hot Tomato post-race. She wound up with a top-10 finish in a field of non-beginner runners, continuing her steady progress since picking up the running thing a few years ago. Once most runners were in, we meandered inside. I changed my clothes and had a beer and a calzone. Once everyone was in, we had the awards ceremony. The top three men and women received Beer Song CD's, the hat was passed for the Three Sisters Land Purchase, a project to which donations were encouraged since there was no registration fee involved with this race. This was yet another cool thing about the race; the land purchase will connect all major trail areas in Grand Junction, allowing access that runners, hikers, and mountain bikers have never had before to get around the city. We also passed the hat for silly pictures. You have to act like a nut when wearing a hat like this after a race.

Yes, I will run for beer.
Jami and D
Quinn and Ben throwing the 2's, each second overall by gender
Randee showing off her door prize...a 6-pack shirt
I didn't catch this guy's name, but hey, BEER!

While this may have been a small race, it goes to show that there's a lot that goes in to putting on a good event when things flowed as well as they did at the GABR. We're kind of on an unprecedented run of freebie/cheapie local races lately, and this was yet another case to me to stick with more of these, and avoid the bigger races for the most part, other than my beloved Moab events.

The next day, I'd planned on 3-4 hours of trail running with Sandra, Ben, and Ben's eyeball sniffing, ADHD dog Leila. The mood was set with some awesome songs on the drive out to Loma and Mack with some Vanilla Ice, Michael Jackson, and the little earworm at the top of the blog, How Bizarre, a one-hit wonder by OMC. When we started running, it was obvious everyone was more sore and tired from the race the day before than expected. Still, we plugged away, going a little nutty quoting the latest in the "S#it _____ Say" Meme. I don't like all the videos out there, but this one was fairly spot-on in my short experience training for ultras. I don't need a toe sock for my junk, but can appreciate that sentiment.

We decided it might be better to take this as more of a cutback week, and do the "listen to your body" thing. None of us was feeling good for 4 hours of running, and it seemed like a better plan to make this day easier than planned with a peak weak for the RedHot the next weekend in mind. In the old days, I might have beaten myself up a little bit or considered it wimpy to do this. When I was able to get up today, though, and put in a quality run, I was convinced that this was the right thing to do. I'm excited about getting in good mileage this week, running a long time next Saturday, and then tapering off for another 34 mile adventure on the trails above Moab.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Round Up The Usual Suspects, & Ambi-Turning In The Desert

I'm not sure I can get through writing this blog entry with Derek Zoolander giving me the Blue Steel look, but I will try my best.

This weekend brought the 30th annual Appleton Freezer 4-miler to the racing schedule. The Freezer is a small race, but one of the longest continuously occurring running events in Grand Junction. It's a no frills race without awards, medals, or prizes. What it does provide is an early season opportunity to check one's current running fitness for almost nothing, with a two dollar entry fee. The Freezer also has a history of drawing competitive runners-those who are competitive against others, and those who really like to push themselves and race for a PR. Every year, one can find pages and pages of fun stats, including best times by age, most Freezer runs by individual runners, and top-25 male and female times of all time. Suzie and I cracked into that list last year with our run-'til-you-puke push to the finish, ranking it as one of my favorite racing experiences ever between the competitive push and resulting race PR. The small field and hassle-free "registration" (you sign your name and age to a list, and throw two dollars in the cash box) make it a race I've made a point to do every year except one when I was a little under the weather.

After hitting a low point midweek with no energy and some terrible workouts, I stayed true to my plan to add some extra rest and regroup. I did absolutely nothing exercise-wise on Thursday, and tried to log extra time sleeping in since I wasn't getting up early to run on Thursday or Friday. On Friday, the weather was absolutely glorious, with temperatures in the 50's by midmorning. Normally, the day before a race-even something that isn't a big seasonal goal race-would be time I'd take to rest. I was very antsy to get in one good run, though, before the Freezer.

The Friday run was not what I'd have normally done, with a short, steep uphill bushwhack to an gently rolling trail, a session of throwing stones at the river halfway through, some sets of strides on the way back, and steep downhill bushwhack to finish. The warmth from the sun and unconventional run breathed new life into me, though. I knew that even if I didn't run a PR the next day, this run allowed me to hit the re-set button more than any amount of rest would've done that day. In the evening, I got to spend a little time hanging out with friends and being silly. By silly, maybe I mean stupid. I tried to do some yoga headstands and armstands and some point in the evening, going straight over one time. I rolled out decently, but in the morning, I thought, "maybe that wasn't such an awesome idea." The top of my head was sore, and I could feel in my arms that I'm kind of a weenie still when it comes to arm strength. I did my usual coffeeing up routine, and headed over to Appleton Elementary School.

Driving over, it was clear that it was not going to be bright and sunshiney like the day prior. It was overcast and misty; the temps had cooled considerably. As I got closer to the school, the skies opened up and it poured for a bit. We're spoiled around here with weather, so this was unusual. It was still raining when I reached the school, and I made my way indoors where everyone was hanging out. After signing in, I visited with all the usual suspects who routinely turn out for most of the Striders runs. Eventually, I could put off warming up no longer; though part of me wanted to chill inside and use the beginning of the race as a warmup, I just wasn't to that point of not caring about my race result. Warming up in the rain wound up being a good idea; I assessed that I was a little tired, but feeling decent given the low point I'd hit in the middle of the week. It was suggested that just playing with my pacing would be good based on how I was feeling, so I knew I would not go out like gangbusters like the year before. Today, I would look for an even effort and listen to my body throughout.

A few minutes later, we all gathered outside at the starting line. A few friends and relatives of runners were here in the rain, along with a reporter and photographer from the Daily Sentinel, our local paper. It was a little surprising and very cool to have them here for a funky club run, and the photographer said that these were his favorite events to cover. He asked if we were cool with his camera being on the ground at the start. Somebody made a crack about running him over, everyone laughed, and then we were off.

What was it I said about dialing back and running evenly? Oh, yeah. Forget it. The first handful of men shot out at a breakneck pace, and I was drawn out fast by default. Rather than dialing back, I just held that pace, shortened up my stride, and made myself stay focused on keeping the cadence high. Based on who had turned out, I thought that Elizabeth from the UK, AKA "English E" would be in the mix for top woman, and other club regulars like Ernie, and Marathon Maniac Bryan Baroffio, were surely nearby. I hit the one hill on this course, near the end of the first mile. All I could think was "Crap, my arms hurt! My head hurts! Why the hell was I doing yoga headstands last night?" On the upside, my legs weren't heavy and my breathing was about where it should be for a hard short distance effort. Good deal.

I finally made it up that first hill, and again assessed how I was feeling now that I could relax a bit more. I determined that I could and should push a little harder. If I blew up, this was only four miles. I wanted to be the first woman through and finish as high on the leaderboard as possible, and pushed to stay close to the man who was running slightly ahead of me. Mile two transitioned into mile three and I still felt like I could push more. Making another left turn on this square course, I was very conscious of my cadence, and I worked to up it here. I hadn't looked back at any point and wasn't sure where any of the other runners were, but assumed they were pushing as hard as I was. I cranked it up here, taking advantage of the flat course.

Heading into the fourth mile, it felt like someone was close behind. I wasn't sure who it was but I thought I could hear someone. Making the last left turn for home, I was sure that there was someone there. I didn't care if that person was male or female; I didn't want to get clipped. My arms were killing me; I thought about how absurd it was that this was my biggest distraction and body ache today. There was certainly someone very close behind me, and I poured all I had into breaking down the course, leaning slightly forward, and aiming for the next fence or telephone pole. I was extremely fatigued now but wasn't letting up; this felt amazing after the previous week. I could hear the footsteps really, REALLY close, though. Shit, whoever was back there was as determined as I to get to the finish line first. And now my arms really hurt-what a stupid thing to be hurting most right now.

As the finish line approached, though, I was able to hold off the mystery runner, coming through in a time of 28:42. As it turned out, the mystery runner was Bryan B, and he came in right behind me. Fully exhausted and out of breath, I felt empowered. My time was about a minute slower than the year before, but still the second fastest of my runs here. It wound up being great that yet again, my borrowed Garmin did something funky at the start and left me running with no concept of my pace or time; just how I felt. Bryan, who did have a functioning timepiece, told me he'd been catching up to me, and tried to catch me in the home stretch, but that I'd negative splitted the last mile. A pleasant surprise during a super-painful final mile.

I caught my breath a bit, and cheered runners as they trickled in one-by-one. Ernie, Tom, and "The Good Doctor" Andy came in next; Andy was ticked that he'd just overshot the 30 minute mark by a few seconds but looked strong coming in. I saw Elizabeth pushing in next and hollered at her to push push push to the finish. Runners continued to stream in, and once everyone was in, I headed inside for hot cider and a cookie. Another great perk at this event; homemade grub, and something to warm up the insides. The next day, a cool article with picture appeared in the Sentinel (my head, and orange shoe are hiding behind the stroller), with details on top performances, the weather, a little plug for our speed group, and the fun story of James, Laura, and their baby girl, whom they'd registered both years and now had two Appleton Freezers (riding in a stroller) under her belt. She'd screamed like crazy the year before; this time, she was chill, and passed out sleeping at the end.

The next day, a medium-long trail run was on the agenda. After the midweek breakdown blog, I had a few people say hey, yeah, you need to take it easy. I felt a little like a schmuck for getting anyone concerned about me, and knew they were right that I'd just get into a continuous cycle of being worn out if I didn't pay attention to my body. Four of us-me, Shannon, Sandra and Ben, started together, and Ben and doggie Leila headed back in after an hour with early afternoon plans. The three of us ladies continued on for another six miles or so, getting in about 2.5 hours and 12 miles through some snow, ice, and mud, but also nicely packed and dry trails.

With mojo somewhat restored, it was time to focus on another fortuitous opportunity I'd never have had if I hadn't laced up to start losing baby weight five years ago. Facebook has many, many pages and groups, and I'm on one called the Ultra Dogs, created by Mike, a friend and ultrarunner from nearby Olathe. I first saw this guy...I mean....his huge flowy mane of curly blond locks kept at bay with a the Rim Rock Marathon in 2010. He's a character with a lot of experience at running ultras, and I've enjoyed being in the group even though I've only run one ultra thus far. It's a great group in which to be a fly on the wall, and learn from the more experienced. of the members is a local photographer named Robb Reece. He does all kinds of outdoor photography, and posted in the group that he needed some trail running "models" for an upcoming deadline. I expressed interest, not really thinking I'd get to do the shoot. As it turned out, I was not roundly rejected, and found myself scheduled to participate in a shoot out in the Rabbit Valley area near the Colorado/Utah border. I also chuckled when he said that "I just got a message from Marty-do you know him? He'll be there Monday too." Yeah, we're acquainted, I said. Robb had a second photographer, Ken, with him, and my friend Elizabeth (Kentucky Elizabeth) was also there. She snapped away on my camera, doing the whole "pictures of guys taking pictures" thing.

What I learned is that it's a LOT harder to hit your mark and look natural running than one might think. My old ankle injury left me a little tentative on some of the passes back and forth across the rocks, but I think I loosened up and started looking more natural near the end. I did take one slider off a slippery rock after changing into my bright orange road shoes, but didn't hurt myself. It was such a cool experience to be out there with light stands behind us, making quick wardrobe changes in the middle of nowhere, and getting to play on the rocks, snow and dirt. We were even paid for our time, and will get copies of a few of our better shots. It was wild to see how much goes in to getting a few good pictures, and how Robb and Ken rolled with the weather and lighting changes. Elizabeth got some pretty sweet pics, too, on my basic camera. It also took away my nervousness to have a buddy hanging back, smiling and enjoying the scene.

This first one is THE money shot by Elizabeth, snapped at just the right time and taking advantage of the professional photographers' lighting.

Near the end of the shoot

I almost went off a rock here
Bouncing down for a running pass. We did these over and over and over. Kind of a numbers game to do it enough times to get a few useful shots.

We did get to sneak peek a bit at what Robb and Ken had on their cameras, and man did those pictures look cool. It's amazing what the professionals know how to do, and I can't wait to see how the finished product(s) turn out. I'd definitely do this again in a heartbeat, but feel lucky to have gotten in on this even once.

In the meantime, I'm making a good effort to do that "listen to my body" thing. I'm taking a day off from running today in order to be decently rested for track this week. This weekend will bring another stop on my "2011-2012 Cheap Or Free Race Tour," and one I've been looking forward to for awhile. It's the Great American Beer Run, ("The GABR"). It may sound like it's all just fun and games, and I know it will indeed be fun. I do intend to find that balance, though, and let my competitive side come through during my first-ever opportunity to race 15K. It'll be an automatic distance PR, but I'll definitely by waiting until after the race to kick back and enjoy my tasty adult malt beverage.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Running On Empty

I'd originally set out to post about the Olympic marathon trials, which were AMAZING, by the way, and more about the fantastic 5.5 hours and 25 miles of trails I did with a group last weekend. I'll likely mention it anyway in this blog, but the week really unfolded differently, and I feel like I need to be more true to reality instead of just focusing on the awesome that was last weekend.

I don't think that any of us who love to race and run come with personalities that tell us to sit back, relax, take that rest day, and all that good stuff. "Suck It Up, Buttercup" is a frequent mantra, and others in the vein of "What Doesn't Kill Us Makes Us Stronger." For the record, I DO generally agree with that most of the time; we can do a lot more than what we limit ourselves to, and sometimes we do have to go too far to discover those things we're capable of doing. Some of my best runs and races have come on days when I just wanted to stay in bed, or when the first handful of miles didn't feel great. There are times, though, when running isn't the magical cure-all. Sometimes, rest is just the thing, even though it's hard as runners to admit that time off is just as crucial as the tempo runs, speed work and long runs.

My week started harmlessly enoough. My plate's been especially full lately; I wrote off not being able to double-up on local Serpents Trail on Monday as fatigue from a weekend with a very long trail run, yoga, and hike with 2000 foot elevation change. The next day, though, I just didn't have any mojo. There were outside reasons for this, but I've always been able to "just run" and block that stuff out physically and mentally. I canceled my early run, and figured that Wednesday track would be great. Wednesday wound up being many times worse than Tuesday. My body, heart, and mind were not in it for running, yoga or any other kind of moving around. Still, I told myself, suck it up. Don't be a pansy. I've always said "listen to your body" is a bunch of B.S., because often the body says "go eat some chocolate cake!" or "mmmm, wouldn't those french fries taste good right now?"

What followed shouldn't have been a surprise, but was totally discouraging nonetheless. I felt like I was moving through sludge on the warmup. This wasn't an epic pace; just waking up the body. The planned workout was different than what we've been doing, and was something I should have been able to hang on to easily; 800 meter repeats with 400 jogs between, done in groups of three with similarly-paced runners. I barely made it around one time, feeling like a brand new runner who was attempting to run a world record pace on the track. My back had been bothering me since Monday, and that was also wound up tighter than ever. It hurt, and everything was tight. I couldn't do it, and bowed out of it, walking it off a few laps. I was dejected but tried to tell myself hey, it's okay. Everyone has off days. I needed to go clean at the yoga studio where I work in trade, so I decided to leave early for the first time since we started this group, and head over to take the "playtime" class, and follow up with a cleaning. This is considered an advanced yoga class, and I am NOT an advanced yogi. Still, it's encouraged for all because of the fun and playful nature, and the chance to work on cool inversions, jumping into stuff, and basically just play around on the mat. I figured, hey, the body can't handle running tonight. It's cool. Yoga's what it needs tonight.

Yoga wound up being even worse than speed work. This was a totally fun class; something where I should have felt like a kid again, jumping, handstanding, and other cool things. I just wanted to lay down and go to sleep, though. By the time I finished, I think I'd spent close to half the time on the mat in child's pose, a restorative pose that one can assume if things are too tough or overwhelming. I rarely go into this in the regular, hotter classes, so it was a shock to me to feel this bad for the "playtime" class. As someone who always pushes through, and gets it done, I really felt like a failure for going 0 for 2 on attempts at physical activity that should have been no brainers.

What went wrong? Well, I guess I've just been lucky in being able to push through stuff....pain and fatigue, whether directly related to running, or not-but it finally caught up with me. My first instinct was to beat myself up about it. Recognizing this as not productive after doing a little bit of it, I worked to change the mindset. I started with settling down, getting showered, and laying in bed reading to relax until I fell asleep. I finally headed to the chiropractor this morning, and already feel more relaxed. He could have easily used a sledgehammer for the adjustment; I was wound up tight as a tick. This felt good, but I was still feeling like a bit of a schmuck between the bad workouts, and my friends knowing that something else was obviously going on, and showing their concern. I jokingly add "of awesomeness" to a lot of cooler of awesomeness, mile of awesomeness, long run of awesomness......while I don't dig Debbie Downers, I think I'm figuring out that I do need to cut some slack on the idea that I need to be positive about everything all the time. Some days, some workouts, some life situations, are just shitty and hard. There's no way around it. Working the problem, and figuring out the best solution, is what matters most.

The chiropractor, the fabulous Dr. Yale here in Grand Junction, advised me to skip yoga or running this evening, so I'm going to stick to that advice as much as I'm itchy to do what I call "revenge run" or yoga practice to make up for the way things went yesterday. I know he's right that I need to give the back and body the rest but it's hard to follow through sometimes. I'll take the opportunity to do other things and make the most of the down time, and keep in mind that I've made enough training deposits to not be concerned about a few days off this week.

Next up on my schedule will be the Appleton Freezer 4-miler on Saturday, followed by a 2-3 hour long slow trail run on Sunday. I did a glorious run with a group of eight local runners last weekend, covering 25 miles around Mary's Loop, Steve's Loop, Moore Fun, and other trails here near the Colorado/Utah border. I feel a little off-kilter for racing, but maybe this unintentional extreme taper will be good. I was also very inspired by the runners at the Olympic marathon trials, and getting to watch a fun, stealthy feed by another fellow runner who did a small-time stream of the event. I felt like I was right up in the action as he ran back and forth on the trials loops, and commented about ALL the runners, and not just the two or three big names in the game. Though my body sort of said "enough" this week, my mind is more in the game than it has been in a long time, and the trials just fueled that enthusiasm. I'm going to be patient, let the body catch back up to the mind, and let the two start trying to get along again out there on the roads and trails.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Occupy Bangs Canyon: The 2012 Bangs Canyon Fatass 30K and 60K

The idea of running something called a "Fatass" is probably not all that appealing to the uninitiated. You don't hear about tens of thousands of people signing up for the 116th Boston Fatass, or the Fatass 5K to Benefit Children in Need. It's such a refreshingly simple means of getting out to run, race, and learn to rely on one's self, though, that the appeal really should be as wide and long as the race this past Saturday through Bangs Canyon, amidst the dirt, sand and slick rock of Western Colorado.

A Fatass is the moniker attached to smaller, community-based races characterized by the phrase "No Fees, No Award, No Aid, No Wimps." They often occur just after the new year, and are most popular with your rank-and-file trail runners and general long distance crowd. Courses are generally very sparsely marked, and runners can't depend on aid stations or rock and roll bands to get them through. Runners carry what is needed, including a map, cell phone, water, and whatever else one needs to bring along to stay out of trouble.

Grand Junction had a Fatass that was put on for many years, and the tradition was revived a few years ago by local Ironman, Leadville Trail 100 finisher and all around great athlete Kevin Koch. I'd never heard of a Fatass in my early years of running, but as I got into longer distances, I heard that we had one in my neck of the woods. A really well-written piece on last year's event in our local newspaper really piqued my interest, and with no marathon and two long trail races on my spring schedule, I was all over it this year. The Race Formerly Officially Known As A Fatass had been given the civilized name of the Bangs Canyon 30K/60K. Whether it was good word-of-mouth in the local running community, the more "friendly" name, or generally decent whether, there seemed to be many more people talking about running and racing this year compared to the previous few years, when 10-12 people total participated between different distance options. Besides local usual suspects, my friend Jen from Delta had committed to come up, as had Mad Dog relay teammates Mike from Olathe and Audra from Ridgway.

Usually, I've got a plan as far as my race and distance when there are multiple options, but I was decidedly undecided right up until the start. A couple of other runners thought they'd be doing the 60K; Jen and I both said that we'd play it by ear and consider a "loop plus", if not the whole two loops out in the canyon. Jen showed up at my place, and I drove us up Little Park Road, past sections of the Tabeguache and other area trails, until we got to the Bangs Canyon Staging Area. I still remained completely noncommital on distance, with a plan to run the first loop at a consistent pace, and then figure out if another loop would be prudent based on the first 19-ish miles (yes, 19 miles is a bit more than 30K, but as with some longer trail runs, all "official" race distances are approximate).

We signed in, and more runners started to trickle in. It was a truly gorgeous morning, and the early sun lit up the canyon while runners socialized and milled about. As race time approached, I stripped off some outer layers and put on a bright pair of OP shorts. I wasn't about to wear a skirt in this-I know how often I've fallen in other trail races-but needed some color and flavor out there. Probably sounds insanely stupid but I race better that way.

(Sandra, Ben, and I are really confused over the trail map)

(some of the boys, with race director Kevin at left)

(and some of the girls)

Besides the human entrants, there were a number a canine runners as well. This was going to be an all-comers kind of day. We all had our maps in hand, and when race time came, Kevin asked if there were any questions. I had to throw out a "Will there be any bands on the course?" smartass comment before he gave us the official go-ahead.

Almost immediately, we had our first-near crisis in the run. EVERYBODY failed to follow the course map and Kevin's directions, bearing right at the first fork in the trail instead of left. Shannon, Kevin's wife, immediately saved the race and yelled that everybody was heading in the wrong direction. Whoops. Soon, the two-dozen odd runners were turned around and headed in the correct direction, running downhill over packed snow, dirt, and some occasional muddy and icy spots.

Rather than embracing my inner "You're not as fast as these gnarly trail chicks, hang back, be conservative," I seemed to be setting a plan early on to run one strong loop, more aggressively paced than I might do on my own. I stuck with the half-dozen or so ladies who went out in a pack together, not able to run AND talk at that pace, but able to tuck in at the back and keep up. Eventually, Audra and Vanessa meandered ahead, but I seemed to be able to keep up with Sarah, Shannon and Kathaleen decently. I wasn't quite sure how long I could maintain this effort but stuck with it. I'd run sections of this area before, but never this portion of the trail, and the novelty of something new was helping me to hang in there. When Kathaleen started talking about how wet she was (from her Camelbak leaking), we all just busted up. This was making it pretty easy to mosey along at their pace that was a bit faster than I'd have gone on my own.

We'd been warned to save something for the climb back, but as we ran toward the river, I started to feel more and more relaxed, continuing to hang at the back of the pack of ladies. Mike took multiple pit stops in the early miles, and I had to give him a hard time the third time he passed me up. I also chatted a bit with Adam, who had a beautiful chocolate lab that looked much like my dog Wilson as a pup.

Plummeting down toward the river, I just had to look around a few times and appreciate everything about this run; the beauty of the trail, the company I was keeping, and having the good health to be able to participate.

Hitting the bottom of the route, we ran along the river, and then began the long, steady climb uphill-the hard part for which we'd been told to save ourselves.

Early on the uphill, we encountered Greg doing his best zombie impersonation,

and soon after that, we saw John, a 2-time Leadville Trail 100 finisher, and Kirk, a 17-time LT100 (and onetime winner) and Hardrock 100 finisher. We were about eleven miles in now, and I felt okay, but a little off the pace of the other ladies. Somewhere in here, I was doing nothing in particular, and felt a little "ping" in my right calf. Nothing bad or horribly concerning, but running uphill took on a new level of tweakage, with that calf kind of pinching with every step. As much as my mind was totally in the game for pushing to stay with the ladies, I recognized that as a Bad Ideas Club submission immediately, letting them go as I fell back a bit.

There were some lonely miles in here. This was the greyest part of the course; I was by myself, and my A-game wasn't around today. I had a bit of a moment during this time, alone with some people moving on ahead, and others out-of-sight behind me. Any deep, profound moments didn't last long, though, as I refocused on making an effort to alternate speedy hiking with running to avoid overtaking and injuring the calf.

Turning back onto a familiar section, I passed the ancient, overturned blue jeep I've never photographed (soon...soon....old camera died and am still awaiting a battery on a "nused" DSLR camera). Ah, yes, I knew a big uphill slickrock climb was coming, but I knew there wasn't too much more to run. As the trail snaked up and down, I'd hear occasional joyful, faraway yells from other runners, but wasn't sure how close or far away they were. It echoed through the canyons and put a smile on my face.

Making a turn downhill for one final plummet before the long final climb, I could see a runner who looked like Shannon. She appeared to be closer than she was; in actuality, I needed to snake around quite a bit to get back to where she was. I heard a few more celebratory whoops off in the distance, and as I eventually started moving uphill myself, I could see two runners off in the spot I'd been when Shannon seemed so close. Continuing up the slick rock, I was very tired, but managed to alternate hiking and slow running. Then, clear as a bell, I could hear a loud, operatic scale being sung somewhere behind me in the canyon by someone I presumed was Elizabeth, one of the runners who did a little singing on New Year's Eve. I couldn't tell exactly how close it was, or who it was for sure, but was music to the ears late in the game.

Getting close to home, I saw Adam and his dog heading back out again. Ah, so there would be at least one 60K runner today, or so it seemed. Nice. I knew I was not doing another lap, but thought it was cool that others were going to stick it out for another loop. Continuing uphill, I passed John and Marty, who were done, but meandering their way back down the slick rock a bit. It was pretty slick here, and as I slid around cautiously on that funky ankle, I saw John go down hard. He seemed okay, but it made me cringe. I had no doubts as it was that I was just doing one loop, but knowing myself, I knew that calling it a day after one solid lap was probably a great idea. The light was getting flatter, stuff was icing up a bit, and I didn't see anything for me to gain today by attempting another lap.

Once off the slick rock, I just scampered with what I had left to get up the trail, but didn't know the time. The borrowed, newer Garmin I've been using yet again died before the event was over (I'm wondering if anyone else with newer Garmins has experienced this issue, which I never had with my now-dead 205), so I didn't really know where I was time-wise. I was sure I was over four hours, but was feeling decent about my effort regardless of the time. Coming into the lot and finishing, Kevin called my time as 3:57. I was the last sub-4 runner in, and pretty stoked to hit that mark. This hasn't been my forte, and it was a sign that I've indeed closed the gap a bit between my road and trail running.

In the end, Audra had won the women's side of things,

and that pack of women I stuck with for the first 10 or 11 miles had finished about ten minutes ahead. Feeling really good about my performance, and hanging with those ladies (yeah, it was easy running for them, but still), I happily got into some dry clothes and assumed my position by the fire pit. Thus began the "Occupy Bangs Canyon" portion of things. I've joked with friends that when I finish the Desert R.A.T.S. 50-miler, I'd just like a few of them to show up shortly before I come in. They can go home, read War and Peace, shower a few times, kick back a beer or two...I don't care, it'd just be nice if the finish area is not deserted. In that spirit, I layered up and settled in for the long haul, as Adam continued his second loop, and Jeff, who was running his one loop consecutively after his wife Kathaleen so someone could always keep an eye on their kids. As we hung out, the snow began to fall, vintage 80's boomboxes appeared, and hula-hooping skills (or lack thereof) were demonstrated. Ray busted out a buffalo pelt from his car (because, as you know, everybody keeps one of these things in the trunk of their car, right?). Too much fun was had with that thing.

Now that it was getting later in the day, I was beginning to chill, but Adam and Jeff were also due in anytime. Sooner than expected, we saw Adam and his doggie come up the trail, and soon after that, Jeff made his appearance. Adam got one of the lovely plastic winner medal that the male and female 30K champs had received.

When Jeff got in, he got a beer and the satisfaction of being through running solo late in the afternoon. No, he's not really crying here, though it kind of looks like it. I'm not going to pick on Jeff-he brought me a shirt from the GABR, or the Great American Beer Run, which he will be putting on again for the first time in a few years at the end of this month.

I stuck around for a little bit before heading off, thoroughly invigorated by my own race, and the ensuing hang that followed for the others still on the course. There was a brief bit of worry that I'm not quite prepared for the Moab RedHot or the Desert R.A.T.S. run, but that thought was squelched because I knew this was a good run for me for the day, and that with incremental increases in effort and distance, I'll do both of those races upright and unbroken. On this particular Saturday, it was good to just get out and move my post new year's "fatass" around the trails with friends for a bit.

(Thanks to Shannon and Kevin Koch, and Jen Stagner, whose photos appear in this entry)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Beer Running, Tandem Treadmilling, And Running In New Year

Ages ago-well, more like 16 months ago-I had the good fortune to be selected as a test subject in a study for an article in Runner's World magazine regarding running performance and alcohol consumption. It was a great excuse to run, drink some beer, and go through all kinds of cool testing that I wouldn't have been able to do otherwise. I chronicled the experience here, here, and here, and then just waited to see what would come out in print. After the story was pushed back several times, I wasn't sure that we'd ever see it in print. Well, this week, it finally ran (pun intended). It was a hoot to read it, and remember how things went down with people whom I was only somewhat acquainted with back then whom I'm fortunate enough to call friends now, including "The Lightweight" Bryan (featured in one of my posts this summer after his amazing Leadville Trail 100 finish), and badass trail runner Cynthia, a top finisher on the women's side at the Imogene Pass Run this year and regular at the yoga studio where I've been practicing since August. It wound up running at half the length it was originally written, and with none of the photos taken during our study ran in the article. So, if you'd like to chuckle at Bod Pods, and running with all kinds of crap strapped to the face, you'll have to check the pictures in my above links. I know we looked pretty funny, but I'm thinking we're a bit more photogenic than that frightening Homer Simpson picture on pages 54 and 55. Although I know the group was too small to draw any major conclusions, it was cool to see that we ladies held our own.

Another big event for the week was an annual gathering to celebrate and run in the new year. I went last year, and it consisted of some hula-hooping, a little Kentucky moonshine courtesy of Bryan and Elizabeth, and a freezing/life-affirming midnight run during which I donned a running skirt, swore a blue streak until my legs became numb, and then ran from 2010 straight into 2011. To the outsider, it might've seemed strange, but this was such a cool way to ring in the new year that I knew I'd be doing it again. This time around, Elizabeth was putting together a video compilation of the year in running, and all while back visiting family and friends in Kentucky. It started to get amusing when I'd get texts asking "what race did so-and-so bruise their foot in?" or "what race had the bowl with the animal in it for an award?" but it was fun to recall each of these races while being point woman in the research department. Although I'd helped some, I really had no idea what Elizabeth had come up with, so it was a real treat to view this and check out all the experiences had by folks in our running community.

There was other fun at the party as well, including the revival of tandem treadmilling. My friend and Dirty Girl teammate Shannon joined me for an attempt at treadmilling for two. All I can say is that the results are not pretty; we'll have to practice if we ever hope to be better than the likes of Ace And Gary, featured early in the 2011 running video. There was also a surprising musical portion of the evening, when we learned that longtime club member Liz can play a mean guitar and sing. And, yes, there was alcohol, oh alcohol. I don't often cut loose like that, but it just sort of went that way between peach smoothie awesomeness being blended in the kitchen, my own beer on hand, and some preservative-free red wine being uncorked late in the evening. This was all while some of us were decked out in the night's theme of "Polyester, Or Clothes That Should Be Recycled." It was a curveball, but I'd say we rose to the occasion.

After that night of craziness, I had one of those rare "Man, I am not motivated to do ANYTHING" kinds of days, but did manage to make it to the hot yoga community class in the afternoon. Runner/partygoer/peach farmer/smoothiemaker James was there too, and I laughed when he said he was going to be keeping an eye on me to make sure I didn't pass out. Once again, though, a little bit of physical activity proved to be just the ticket to hitting the re-set button. It was a brutal class after the party, but I felt a gazillion times better at the end.

Getting back into the swing of things, I'm excited to start a surprisingly busy January as far as running and racing goes. Track night is still going strong, and I had a workout this week that is proving to me that even a little speed work goes a long way. We have a self-supported 30K and 60K coming up this weekend, and I'm legitimately toying with running the 60K as a training run. It's probably an awesomely bad idea, and I may very well do the safe thing, and stick to the 30K. The weather's been great this week, though, and I am hearing the call of a longer run. I'm also buying into the theory that sometimes you have to go a little to far and cross that line to see that of which one is really capable. I won't be the first to finish and may very well be the last, but that's not my motivation. Watching that video on New Years's Eve, and seeing some of the impressive stuff accomplished by my friends, from first Imogene Pass Run to 50-milers, 100-milers, Ironmans, and gets me to challenge and push my own self-imposed limits. I know the road to success in such events is paved in sweat and blood, but that's what will make success so sweet in the end. 2012 is going to be all about pushing through those walls, learning to be limitless in goal-setting, and holding myself accountable to doing the work to make those goals.