Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Sweater Weather: The INKnBURN Holiday Sweater Experience/Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Road To Nowhere: The 2013 Winter Sun 10K

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

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

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

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

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

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

messing around with Jeni and Rochelle before the race

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

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

It's all about the windup on the gong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Cheryl and her little brother/overall winner Dewayne)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Counting Stars (Everything That Kills Me Makes Me Feel Alive): The 2013 Rim Rock Marathon

Everything That Downs Me Makes Me Want To Fly

The Rim Rock Marathon is a race with origins as a gate-to-gate 37K run, originally dreamed up by a handful of Mesa Monument Striders, in the 90s. I've recounted on other blog posts how I volunteered at the race before it became a marathon. As a new runner, I enjoyed volunteering but this was one race I swore I would never run, thinking "these people are out of their minds." My experience in the snow in 2009 at the marathon changed all that. The race eventually was in the hands of professional race directors, but circumstances led to them eventually giving up the race, and the race almost not happening this year. It was again a small handful of MMS members who took on keeping the race alive this year, just a few months prior to the traditional November race date.

This year, simply put, has been weird and inconsistent. That's in the context of running, and life in general. I had not been training for a marathon. Basically, I had the Imogene Pass Run for a long run over the past four months. That's it. I didn't want to miss Rim Rock, though, and initially chatted with my friend Andy about being a relay team when he posted a Facebook query about it. After all, this would be the sensible, logical thing for two folks not trained up for a marathon to do. It's funny, though-this conversation seemed to steer both of us toward what we were moved to do-running the marathon anyway, lack of training be damned, and being okay with whatever happened. Seven years of continuous running, experience on the course, and a strong desire and pull to be there were going to be what would get me through this year.

I signed up again, knowing that in all likelihood, this would be a long day for me out there. It's a tough race with a lot of climb at the beginning, some middle miles that are not as flat as everyone thinks, and flying down and off the Monument for the "beautiful" (AKA...car exhaust and fatigue) finish down Highway 340 and finally into the park in Fruita. A number of my friends had signed up for the relay division, including Angela, Kristin (who got injured and was played by Shannon on race day), Corey H, Emma-Leigh, Butch, Randee, and Keith. My friend Kim's husband Corey D was in for the full marathon, as was Andy, and a fella named Mike who would sometimes come to the Tuesday morning speed group I used to facilitate. After being on the receiving end of a lot of heckling, Marty became a late entry, ponying up a registration fee at packet pickup the day before the race. We'd done a 20-miler, 10 miles up Little Park Road, 10 miles back down, two weeks prior, and it had gone well enough for me that I was convinced I would not die at Rim Rock. I have a hard time not being competitive but that was reality-I wasn't going to run a PR today on two true long runs in four months. I could still run it the best I could, with what I had, and enjoy the day.

Which comes to that day. The weather was as spectacular as it had been in four prior runnings of this race. Last year had been plain miserable, with rain and snow blowing in sideways. Today, it was crisp, cold, and sunny. I, on the other hand, had not been spectacular, feeling drained and sick for much of the past week. I was a little better, though, by race morning. Some things that had weighed heavily on me in recent days, while far from perfect and totally resolved, were better. I was so glad to be toeing the line in any condition, and that the race was happening this year.

When we lined up to start, it was pretty sweet to see all the starters. The turnout was strong if one considered that the race almost didn't happen this year. I didn't recognize many of the people who were here from out-of-state or out-of-town, and saw a few Marathon Maniacs, 50 Staters, and Half-Fanatics for the relay. I'd donned my new INKnBURN holiday tech sweater (this is not shameless advertising, folks...the tech shirt kind of took on a life of its own as the race unfolded) and it was reflecting my attitude for the day I was feeling celebratory to be here, and needing to do things with color and flavor today. 

The start was a little odd, with just kind of a "go" without an audible gunshot or horn. In that anti-climactic moment, I pitched forward with everyone else from the Gem And Mineral Society building on Monument Road, and began a familiar trip. Passing the ranger station at the east gate onto the Monument, I said "Good Morning, Rangers!" and got smiles and a good morning back. There were already a handful of women ahead of me, and Marty had blazed to the front of the pack, but with another guy hot on his tail, and Corey not far behind that guy. I just worked on getting established in my run, trying to play my edge and hit that sweet spot where I pushed as hard as I had any business doing today. This wasn't feeling great today. I hurt. But, unlike last year, when I just wanted to curl up and quit several times, this pain was making me feel alive today. I was stoked, and just thinking "Yeah, let's do this, run to Fruita, baby!" 

I tried to stay on my friend Shannon for a bit. She was running the uphill for team WTF 1 (Welcome To Fruita, Where's The Finish, What the ....."). I also tried to stick close to Mike, who tends to be a bit faster than me, but was a good one for me to chase. Working our way toward the tunnel, I saw Marty, guy #2, and Corey disappear several switchbacks above. The front end of things looked like a real race might happen-they were close together and nobody seemed to be running away with anything. I still didn't feel good but I looked around, thinking "hot damn, here I am again. Sweet." It's pretty unlike me to be, well, content with knowing I wasn't going to be mixing it up for overall podium slots, and in all likelihood would run my slowest marathon ever today. I knew the level of my training and that kind of freed me up to enjoy things. I think this is probably a pretty healthy turn for me-turning off the extreme competitiveness for just one day.

Winding up, up, up, I was finally at the tunnel. There's something magical about running through in the dark, in near silence, with just the sound of feel slapping and echoing in the darkness. There was some guy breathing heavily and painfully in there, and I couldn't help it, it made me laugh. I tried to keep it to myself, though. 

Continuing onward, I passed Cold Shivers point, and eventually reached the High Point on the Monument sign, crossing to the other lane to run over and give it a slap. The guy running near me did the same. Around now, I did the first of what would be many leapfrogs with another gal. As we continued along, she'd let out a "yow!" with each passing mile marker. I would wind up like a fast-pitch softball pitcher, slap each mile marker, and let out a "woohoo!" If she was ahead of me, I'd see her fist-pump in the air. She'd overtake me every time we hit an uphill, and I'd cruise past on most downhills. We were pushing each other, and this was just what I needed today. I could be a realist about my training but can't turn off the urge to race altogether. I would hear occasional comments at aid stations or from runners behind me about my attire for the day ("Is that a sweater? Are those jeans?") It was starting to amuse me because a lot of the conversation was coming from dudes. 

Hitting the middle miles, I was running by a fella in Vibrams, neon green shorts, no shirt, and rocking a perfectly curled Snively Whiplash mustache. I still did not feel physically good at all, but there's just no way you can't enjoy yourself running next to that. My good friend Tom was working an aid station and I heard his familiar whoop as I approached. This is the cool thing, as a local-you get to see your friends, and the local businesses out, working the aid stations. Soon, I saw the mob scene at mile 12, which is where the relayers were to hand off. The gals I knew on relay teams hollered at me, and I heard a "no, those are DEFINITELY jeans" from yet another Dudeman. I still had strong notes of "Feel Like Crap" but with definite hints of  "But It's A Beautiful Day And I'm Halfway Through With My Favorite Part Still To Come."

Shannon was up at the 13 mile aid station, looking for refreshments after passing off to Angela. She got me as I went past. When I saw this later, I was surprised to see that I didn't look as miserable as I'd felt. 

The rest of the race sort of continued on as a pain-filled, fatigue-tinged, yet blissful blur. That gal and I kept leapfrogging and whooping through the mile markers. I eventually lost Snively Whiplash (I think he stopped for a bathroom break). I had long been following a guy named John who makes a great video of this race every year, and I finally caught up to him a little bit past the Visitor Center and downhill tunnel. We joked about how gimpy those of us in the marathon looked compared to the jackrabbits hammering through on fresh legs in the second half of the relay. I looked at my wristwatch (I'd been paying it little mind) and could see that I was probably on track for a personal worst (I have a PR of 3:29 on this course, and a PW the year before at 3:47), yet was delighted that it looked like it was still going to be a far better time than I had any business running today. 

There had been no aid station at the bottom of the hill coming down from the tunnel, and this threw me off. I always planned to drink here, and part of my race strategy every year included the oddly missing aid station. I learned later that it was my fault-if I had read the course description on the website, I would have learned that there was indeed NOT an aid station scheduled in this spot this year. I hoped I wouldn't start bonking hard, and that there was still an aid station coming off the Monument.

Getting off the Monument, I was relieved that yes, there was an aid station here. I was getting pretty spent, and slammed a water and a Gatorade here. Leapfrog gal passed me one final time coming down the road. My kick was gone but this was somehow the least mentally torturous run I'd ever had on the 340 section of the race. There were so many relayers out here, and so it felt like we were all in this end-of-race pain together. 

A relay bus went flying by to the finish, and I heard the heavy New Jersey accent before I saw Emma-Leigh, screaming out the window at me. She joked later that this was probably not something awesome for a school principal to be doing-exactly what she tells her students to not do-but hell, I dug it in the moment. 

Turning into the park, I was just wanting to get this sucker done. Heading down the gravel path, I was surprised to hear bagpipes-yes, bagpipes, and then saw Bagpipe Lady playing a tune for me.

(taken later as I was watching other runners finish)

I hit the last corner for home. Not a banner day by time at all. But, hell, I knew that's not what I was going for today. Grand Junction to Fruita over the Colorado National Monument in 3:51 is something that I think was the best I had with what I had today, and fuel to train properly for a marathon this spring, not disrespecting the distance, and doing what needs to happen for a few months in order to run my best race possible.

I watched finishers come in, and checked out the results. It was a bonus that on what was not my best day, I'd snuck into third place in the 40-49 women, 11th lady overall, and gotten some groovy, hand-cut hardware for that. Keith and her teammate finished third out of 29 relay teams, and Angela and Shannon fourth. Emma-Leigh and Corey H got a podium as well, and it was a true joy to see Randee squealing that she'd never won anything before as she and Butch collected their co-ed Masters hardware. Marty had led up to about ten miles before the younger guy in second pushed past, and came in second overall. Corey D had dropped off that third but still finished rock-solid in fourth-pretty amazing if you consider he's a family practice resident who is working, well, all the time, and in a constantly sleep deprived state. I had no less than three women come up after the race, comment on my race attire, and ask if they could touch it. I don't know why this seemed perfectly normal...maybe because these are my peeps, and this WAS perfectly normal for the day-and let them touch my clothes. 

Getting a hug from Kim Cole at awards

(those are real jeans now)

This was just such a cool day. If you know me, you know I hate the expression "It Is What It Is." True, sometimes you can't change certain facts and truths, but you can change your perspective and attitude for the best possible outcome. That's what today was about. Everything that kills me makes me feel alive. Gonna take that money, watch it burn, sink to the river the lessons I learned.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

My Town: The 2013 Other Half Marathon

I'm going back to my town
I won't be there for long
I'm going back to my town
Where I Can't Lose And I Can't Go Wrong

I'm going back to the city
Where everyone turns around
I'm going back to the city
Where my feet spin fast off the ground

I'm going back to my town
I need it oh so bad
I'm going back to my town
When I Leave Your Face I'll Be Sad

(another of several blog titles from The Samples, for whom I sold tour merchandise nearly 20 years ago. check out the live version on their Underwater People album...it's good stuff)

My running joke is always that my second home needs to be a teepee somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Moab, Utah. It's only a partial joke; this city was basically the birthplace of my running, and a place where I have always felt at home. The energy there always feels good, and it's kind of a spiritual home for me. I feel connected to the vastness and beauty of Moab; in that, whatever negative energy, emotions, or circumstances I might be feeling or experiencing melt away. I can't go wrong here; I've learned to race, had some great experiences, some challenging experiences, but have always been able to learn something new and grow from them.

The Other Half Marathon is a race that holds special significance for me. It was the one that started my running "career" back in 2007. It is less crowded than its larger, older counterpart, the Canyonlands Half Marathon, and the beauty plus the challenge of the late rollers on the course make it special. I don't do this thing half-assed; it holds the distinction of being the race where I ran my first, best, and worst half marathons. It's all about getting into a rhythm, and flowing down this course, which starts out gently rolling downhill, then opening up into a series of progressively larger hills in the second half of the race.

Some years, I've flowed along nicely on this course, getting a good handle on the "what goes up must come down" rhythm. In 2010 I ran a race that can best be described as the closest to a perfect race I've ever run, in which I ran hard, aggressively, and made the half marathon standard of sub-1:37 to qualify for an guaranteed entry into the New York City Marathon. The very next year, I turned around and ran a personal worst, twelve minutes slower than the year before. I nearly quit that race, feeling terrible for no particular reason. The rhythm of the hills...I didn't have it that year. I didn't quit, though, and got through it, even though it was pretty much a massacre of this sport we call running.

This year, I came into the race in the midst of a perfect storm of transitions. Some were coming, expected and positive, and others not so much. My "normal" has been turned on its head this past year, and in particular, the past few months. Running has become a precious commodity; I never know when I can squeeze in a run, and it's a sweet pleasure to be able to do so. I've felt pretty darn exhausted a lot of the time, and uncertain when entering races how things are going to go. Despite that, my results this fall have been the best I've had in several years. It hasn't been about the physical part of running; it's been about leaving uncertainty, doubt, sadness, hurt and every other negative feeling at the door, and trusting that I can still do what I've loved to do for seven years now. It's been about making myself stronger in pushing through pain, and knowing that if I can do it in a race I can do it anywhere in life. That feeling is exhilarating.

  I wasn't even sure how I was getting to Moab late in the week; in the barter deal of the century, my mechanic had taken my car on a road trip with his family to Las Vegas (8 passenger van, yo) in exchange for doing a ton of work for free for me. The day prior, I made arrangements with my friend Emma-Leigh, who had run the Chicago Marathon six days prior, to ride down together. En route to Moab, we drove the race course, talking Boston qualifications, training plans, and goals, and she decided that racing The Other Half would be a great idea. Fabulous...I love enabling other runners! Truth be told, she didn't need my help and would've done it anyway...but it's part of what I love about running. These are my peeps...it's not weird or odd with this bunch.

When we got to Moab, there were the usual hikes, hangouts, and meetups with friends from all over the region.

The evening prior ended with a small group of us hanging out, talking, and enjoying one another's company. I went to bed and slept like a log. For a girl who has had a lot of trouble with sleep over the past few years, this set the tone for the day.

We got ready, headed to the gravel parking lot, and rode up to the start. The air was damper than usual, but the temperature was nice. I was a weird ball of many emotions. Anxious that I wasn't going to perform well. Excited to be racing. Stressed about stuff back in GJ. Distracted by a difficult situation that was impossible to avoid this weekend. Motivated to not let it get the best of me, and channel it into a good race. And, finally, optimistic that I could do that. If there's a shred of optimism, there's a chance for things to go well.


Today, I was racing with a sport watch, no Garmin or other specialty timing devices. My plan was simple. Push hard early, manually calculate my mile splits as I ran, which would keep me from obsessing about instantaneous pace or other matters. I'd race, and race hard. I would fight to stay in it on the uphills, and attack on the downhills, which is the one strength I'd say I have as a runner. As we lined up, I greeted my friends Ilana and Kevin. We've got such a good history together in Moab and it was a joy to be at the start line with them here today. I joked around with other runners, a surprising number of whom were in costume or with beer tied to their person right up front. Soon, we were counted down, and off we went. It's on. Time to attack.

Going into the first mile, I ran like a bat out of hell...and by that, I mean a 40-year-old mother of four who was f'in tired all week but had energy to burn now. I chased out with the lead women, even though I knew I probably wouldn't be able to stay with them. Sometimes, you just go with it. What's the worst that will happen? I was running with reckless abandon and it felt terribly, fantastically perfect.

Near the end of the first mile, I chatted a bit with my friend Ernie, and we hit the end of that first mile in just about 7:00 on the nose. This was waaaaay too fast for me, so it was a good thing I did not have a Garmin to tell me that, and maybe slow me down unnecessarily. I kept hammering through the next few miles, rattling them all off in under 7:30. When I reached the end of a mile, I'd check my time, and calculate where I needed to be by the end of the next mile. The running math was coming along shockingly well, and I didn't think about it again until the time the next mile rolled along. This simple plan that came out of me not being able to find my Garmin was simply fabulous today.

By mile four, I could hear familiar breathing...sure enough, Ilana. She crept on past and I knew I'd gone out too fast, but I was not deterred. I told myself, hey, now you made a big cushion of time to play with. What's the worst that could happen? I continued on knowing that I was not going to be hitting 7:00 miles the rest of the way, but determined to keep up with this "mile by mile" approach, and make this day and this race something special.

Nobody passed me until we started hitting those rolling hills. Over the next few miles, I had two women move past me. I really, really wanted on the podium again and moving from 10th lady to 12th was not what I wanted, so I dug in more to keep it from happening again. I shortened up my stride, increased my cadence. I felt like I was really tiring, but every time I did my "mile by mile" check, I was not in nearly as bad of shape as I was feeling. I guess that's a good thing...if you're running your hardest, you're going to hurt really bad.

I kept looking around, filled with joy at the beauty of the red rocks around me, the sky, this road filled with people who all love to run. I thought of my friend Rachelle whose mother is in the end days of her fight with cancer, and has ALWAYS had a smile on her face when I've been around her. I thought of friend Judy whose daughter Katie lost that battle as well. My discomfort was nonexistent and silly in comparison. I pushed hard, kept looking around, and fighting to stay strong.

Coming through the biggest hills, I found myself approaching that magical spot where the Taiko Dan drummers pound on their instruments to the rhythm of the runners hitting the road. I remember how full of emotion my heart felt here in 2007 when I ran past the drummers. That emotion was here today, but different. It was like coming home, back to my town. I wouldn't be here for long but I was sure going to soak in every little moment of today's journey. I clapped vigorously to the rhythm of the drums before raising my thumbs to third eye, and bowing to the drummers as they played, mouthing "thank you" as I ran past. Now it was time to really kick it into high gear.

Heading down, down, down toward the turnoff to Sorrel River Ranch, I realized I'd made it through this whole thing on a pace that appeared to be much faster that last year, when I had podiumed in the 35-39 women. I didn't know how things would shake out this year, but I knew my result was going to be better than all but one run here..the one that happens to be my dream, perfect race three years ago. I kicked it into an even higher gear, feeling just about ready to die but knowing I was really ready to live in this moment.

Making the last few turns toward the finish, I could see the time clock and realized that, wow, I think I was going to come in to the finish in under 1:40. This only happened once prior, at that aforementioned Race Of Awesomeness. This wasn't that day, but then again, my circumstances coming into this race today were a LOT more challenging. I was emboldened...filled with positive emotion at what I was doing today. There was no good reason for this to be a strong race, but here it was. The finish line. And I crossed in under 1:40 for only the second time ever, finishing in 1:39:36. My friend Jeff Recker was announcing finishers, and I heard him call my name as I passed through. With that, I was finished, spent, nothing left. I'd given it my all, and then some. I was thrilled that I didn't let "stuff" hold me down, and had managed to use "stuff" to propel myself forward.

When it came time to check the results, I'd been joking that half of those dozen women in front of me would be in my age group. I'd done research and it's a funny bracket. Some years were incredibly difficult to make the podium...the age groups just under and over age 40 seem to be that way. This was another one of those years. Despite running three minutes faster than the year prior, when I finished third in my age group here, I'd failed to podium this year, finishing 5th woman out of 121 in my age group, and 12th gal overall in the race out of 750 or so.

I'm a competitive gal and it would be a lie if I said "I'm just happy with the great time!" But, I am looking at it as positive fuel in the fire to come back and run a PR next year. Getting older doesn't mean getting slower-just ask Ilana who won the Master's title when all was said and done. I wasn't crashing and burning after all-she'd just had a phenomenal race, and it was a thrill to see her do it.

One by one, my friends came in...Emma-Leigh running a PR just a week after her first marathon, Angela finally running her first half marathon in under 2 hours, and countless others. We joyfully drank our 3.2 beer, listened to the band play, and watched friends go up for awards, one by one. Our friend Ray was honored as one of the first 10 Year Club members at this 10th anniversary Other Half, and we all whooped and hollered accordingly.


  The weekend seemed to come to an end very quickly. It was sad to leave the faces of friends I don't see all the time, and sad to know the race was over and that it would be a year until the next incarnation of this special race. That's part of what makes it special though. I know I won't be there for long. None of us are here for long. We should make the best of those moments when we're together with the people we care about, doing the things we love. That's what happens when we come to Moab. We can't lose and we can't go wrong.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Runnin' Down A Dream

I'm runnin' down a dream
Never would come to me
Working on a mystery
Going wherever it leads
I'm running down a dream

Sometimes, you have no expectations. That doesn't mean you're not working hard and dreaming of big things.

This weekend brought a race I've run since being a brand-spankin' new runner. It was my first 5K, the one where I nearly hurled at running an 8:37 pace, which I knew just happened to be exactly what I would need to run to qualify for the Boston Marathon. A dream was born then, and I knew it wouldn't come to me. It was proof enough to me that I could go for it.

Besides that special race, there were multiple other opportunities to race this weekend, a "problem" I say we're blessed to have now in our non-major metropolitan area. It presented the unusual opportunity to race trails at altitude the day after hitting a hard 5K. Last year, I'd thought about it but not followed through on it, kicking myself after the fact. This year, it was my plan to just go for it. At worst I might be pretty damn sore, but who cares? Working through pain and fatigue is part of chasing down bigger dreams and goals.

Saturday brought the old faithful, the Anna Banana. The week prior to the race featured a lot of crap I'd rather not rehash. It also was punctuated by opportunity to reflect on all that was as good in my life...and there was a lot of good stuff. Much of that was worked out during runs, in solo meditations and in conversations on the run. I went into the race day with the best night of sleep I'd had in about two months. Turnout was lower than usual for this race. I typically finish somewhere in the top-10, with an oddly out-of-place win in 2010.

I felt so good like anything was possible
I hit cruise control and rubbed my eyes
The last three days the rain was un-stoppable
It was always cold, no sunshine

It happened again this year, much to my pleasant surprise. After a lot of rain over the past few weeks, the weather was perfect today. Cold, and sunny. I had no expectations today, but I felt like I could do anything, for whatever reason.

The men all went out like gangbusters, and I let myself get drawn out with them. There was a gal I've seen occasionally on trails who was ahead of me going into the first turn, and I increased my rate of turnover to get ahead. Oddly, the local young gal I haven't beaten in about three years was behind me. I was puzzled by this but knew that since I'm not a kicker, I needed to pour on whatever I had now. Last year, all the local ladies who are clearly faster than me were here. There was just one of them here today, and my fighting instinct kicked in early. I knew she had to be very close but I never once turned back.

I passed a two or three men over the course of the race, never knowing where the ladies behind me might be. I ran like they were on my shoulder, knowing that chances to win things for your average age-grouper are few and far between. With everything else I've had going on lately, this was oddly "easy" push myself to the hardest effort I had in me today.

There's something good waitin' down this road
I'm pickin' up whatever's mine

Taking the final turn for home, I realized I had it. A good four minutes slower than my friend Kim, an outstanding mountain goat, ran last year to win, about a minute slower than what my friend Suzie has won this race in, but you race who is there that day. Today, I got to be the top banana. It was fanstastic to run, and celebrate great runs with the folks who motivate me, and vice-versa.

The next day, a race I'd always wanted to do, the Thigunawat 10K, took place on the Grand Mesa. I came very close to not going. The plan was to go up with my daughters (I don't hate my son. He was just having a weekend of fun with a buddy). They got home from a movie at midnight, and we almost didn't go. I finally decided it would be good for everybody, and met up with our friend Angela to carpool up.

I'd never done this race before. I'd thought of it the year prior, but didn't go up, thinking I was just too tired for it after the Anna Banana on Saturday. Angela and my friend Marty did the double, though, and I kind of kicked myself for being a dainty, delicate flower who was too tired to race. I picked up some delightful caffeinated beverages for myself and the older girls (hot chocolate for Ava), and off we headed to the Grand Mesa.

This race...this was special. This is why I run.

I had pretty good course recon from Angela. Water crossings, deep mud, a bunch of up and down, mostly single-track, mountains and trees. It was pretty darn windy before the race, and I was tired. Still, I was thrilled to be up here. My girls may not have been thrilled now but I still think it is super important for them to see that I try things that are hard...and see them through. I want them to know that when I am scared, tired, not sure how I'm going to do at something, that I try it anyway. That's all one can do..keep on moving.

When we started, I'd thought this would just be my fun trail run after the Anna Banana. I love trail running but possess no amazing speed on trails. So much for that thought; the racing instinct kicked in almost immediately.

Climbing the first hill, I was surprised to be near the front. Quads were sore from the day prior, but I kept moving. My god, this course was gorgeous. This is why I moved to Colorado.

After the first climb, we plummeted downhill. I used to be terrified of going downhill on trails. Now, wow...I love it. I made up some ground on other runners, and got into a groove. There was a speedy gal ahead of me for a bit, but eventually she pulled away. Nobody had creeped up on me, though, and I established a pretty good rhythm, hammering downhills and talking myself into running as much as the uphills as I could, taking a few strategic power hike breaks, with the quad-push that seems to help me keep moving quickly. One fella and myself kept leapfrogging, but we were essentially pushing one another to run as much of this as we could.

Rather than walking around the mud bogs and stream crossings, I hit them hard, and kept running through. The feeling of that cold water in my shoes, and mud squishing through-this is why I run. I've never felt so alive, wet feet, mud up the legs, mountains and sun above.

One aid station told me I was sixth lady as I headed toward home. My oldest daughter Alexis told me I was third overall. You never know, but when things shook out, I had indeed grabbed that third slot. My legs were tired today and trails are never speedy for me. The joy of being on the mountain, in the mud, with my family here spectating and like-minded runners out to play, made it easy to go wherever the trail would lead.

This was pretty special today to hit that mark behind two awesome local athletes, and to be enjoying autumn in Colorado with my family and friends. Heck, it was a pretty special weekend in general. I was running down a dream. It never would come to me. I had to go for it.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

INKnBURN Gear Review (Limerick Style)

There once was a girl from Grand Junction
Whose running gear could hardly function
She found INKnBurn
Then things took a turn
And she went to Mt. Sneffels with gumption.
She already had Performance Denim shorts

And Independence Tech shirt of course

So what did she try
So on race day she'd fly?
Dragonfly Tech Shorts made her a force.
She toed the line in blue and green
Power and poise could be seen
 Then took off from the start
And lots of heart
Ouray and Ridgway she'd run between.
In Dragonfly she ran down the road
Her running just naturally flowed
 She felt strong and tall
Never took a fall
And into the finish she strode.

What did this girl like best
Of the shorts she'd sought out to test?
She felt colorful and strong
Things stayed where they belonged
No worries about how she was dressed.
And what happened on this day
Forty years after she entered the fray?
She won her age group
Wasn't thrown for a loop
In INKnBURN color, not gray.
She liked these shorts so well
Soft, and harbored no smells
So with friends she shared
(Because, she does care)
So that their running, too, could gel
Want to try INKnBURN out
And hear what the fuss is about?
Use code karahtoldme
And you'll save 15
You'll love INKnBURN, no doubt!
So this is the end of today's tale
Of running gear that did not fail
They show off some color
Simply like no other
And that girl hopes for more in the mail!
**This was indeed my first race testing out INKnBURN's Dragonfly running shorts, and camisole top. I felt strong, colorful, and had that additional bit of confidence as I raced the Mt. Sneffels Half Marathon, which helped me push hard enough to make the podium as an age group winner on my birthday, and first race as a masters runner. I do, by the way, recommend checking out the fabulous Mt. Sneffels Marathon and Half Marathon, which takes place each August, runs a beautifully scenic course, and benefits the Mt. Sneffels Education Foundation.**
The above code is no joke-use code karahtoldme on your first order with INKnBURN at http://www.inknburn.com/ and they'll give you $15 off the order, AND $10 off with the 10 Reward Points that appear in your account when you register an account at INKnBURN. Check it out, and see what you think! **

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Always Climbing

It's been so long since I updated this blog, I'm not quite sure where to begin. I suppose a painting that's become near and dear to my heart is as good as any.

It sits on top of the block shelves at yoga:Vinyassa. If such a title existed, I'd be "Senior Cleaner" there. For the past two years, I've cleaned the studio in exchange for class credits. It's honestly a pretty sweet deal. Even when it's super-schweaty in there, it's a pretty darn clean place to clean. I find something very zen and calming in being in there in relative silence. It's a good place to think about important things, or think of nothing at all. I haven't had time to practice lately, and I miss it, but the class credits will be there for me when I have opportunity to do so.

One day this spring, the painting appeared. It was painted by a former instructor at the studio. And it perfectly expresses everything I've been going through lately, but can't quite put into words.

Sometimes it's hard to move forward and upward. It's freeing, though, to realize you CAN do it. Sometimes it does mean crawling on hands and knees. Other times, it means grabbing that hand that reaches out to pull you up out of a slippery spot, or keep you from tumbling down the mountain. And, it feels glorious to climb toward amazing things and realize, hey, I CAN do this.

That's in the figurative, and in the literal sense. A week ago, I was reminded that I hadn't used my race benefit for July that I receive through my job. At nearly the same time, a friend texted to ask if I'd like to carpool to a run in Silverton-one of those long-running yet still fairly under-the-radar mountain races. We'd have to leave at 4am. It just felt like one of those tough, beautiful runs that was meant to be. And, it was.

We climbed from town, literally under the clouds and then up above them, six miles and about 4000 feet to the summit. At the top, there was a 250 foot scramble to the summit, with traffic going both ways, and runners taking care to help and encourage one another, as well as being careful to not send a rock tumbling down the steep slope into another participant. The view straight up to the blue skies at the bottom of the climb, line of runners working their way upward, may have been the best running moment I've experienced since taking up the sport (and, there have been many). This is why I do this.

On the way down, I met a sixty-something runner from Cortez named David. Our conversation flowed naturally, and we agreed we'd pace together on the downhill. Downhill trail running can be deceptively challenging. I've struggled with it for years. Today, though, the running flowed right down the mountain and back into Silverton. There was a lot of joy in pushing through the climb, and then feeling truly free to open up on the downhill. There was joy in sharing that energy with others, celebrating and cheering on others who hadn't yet reached the summit, and later on, those who had gone down and were headed back up for the "K2" or second summit. I thought, "that's so hard. Why?" Then, I felt silly for thinking that. In that struggle to climb the mountain, there's joy, glory, beauty. Lots of pain, yes, but above all, a sense of satisfaction and well-being that comes from pushing through it all.

I can't tell you where I will be a year from now, but I can tell you I will always be climbing. That doesn't mean I won't backslide and fall sometimes. I'll take a moment to regroup, though, and continue moving forward.

I'm thankful for some great opportunities that have come my way this year. I've been working at the same chiropractic clinic for six months now. I love that we get to help people improve, and reach their goals of being more active. And, when I hear folks who don't have running-friendly or outdoors-exploring-friendly workplaces, I'm stoked that I am somewhere that has an Outdoor Awesomeness Team, and a supportive environment to such pursuits. In that climb, I'm learning more every day, sometimes wishing I could pick things up faster. I've learned a lot in a short time, though, and know I can keep moving with that.

I'm thankful that despite it being a long shot with the number of applicants, I was selected as an ambassador with InkNBurn. I've always loved their gear-beautiful, artistic, yet fully functional, beat-the-crap-out-of-it-and-it'll-still-hold-up running apparel. They do have some elite athletes, but I'm just a gal who likes to run, and that's the deal with all the ambassadors. Folks who love to run, love to climb, and some have struggled in their climbs, but continued onward and upward. Jeez, they make a shirt with the father of ultrarunning, Gordy Ansleigh, on the front, AND my favorite running shorts of all time, my "technical Daisy Dukes" as I call them. I feel stronger and tougher climbing in their stuff, and it's cool to get to represent the brand.

I'm thankful that my kids are still very healthy and keeping me on my toes. It's true that there's no handbook for parenting but I love spending time with them-individually, and as a group. I'm really proud of them, and just want to keep nurturing the things about them that make them, well...them. Sure, some days I wonder if I am doing the right things with them or if I'm just backsliding down a hill. Then, I learn to stop second-guessing, and just keep moving, trying to make good decisions, but keep taking steps forward with them. And, I try to remember it's okay and even good for them to see that it's not easy to keep climbing, but that you don't curl up in the fetal position and quit after a fall.

And I'm thankful for friends who reach out with that helping hand. Sometimes, I take it (and really need it). Other times, just knowing that hand is there really frees me up to advance and climb on my own. Other times, just talking through things and climbing together with others is just the ticket. Then, I, in turn, have those moments where I can reach out that helping hand, and help someone else climb with less of a struggle.

I'm far from having it all figured out, but I do know this; I'm no longer intimidated by tough climbs. No matter how long they are, or how steep they are, I will take them one mile at a time, one step at a time, and keep climbing to the top. It may take some time, but I'll get there.

**Lastly...if you have not read it, I implore you to read The Oatmeal's "The Terrible And Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances." If I could be half as funny, honest and eloquent as Mr. Inman, I'd be doing okay.**

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In): The RedHot and Beyond

(One of the best movie scenes ever, which inspired my best Halloween costume ever-the "Gutterballs" scene/dream sequence in The Big Lebowski. I'm not a fan of musical interludes unless it's as wildly fantastic as this.)

 I've spent a lot of this winter bitching about the cold. I know it hasn't been as cold as it can be in other places, I need to toughen up, blah blah blah. But, that said-it was pretty freaking cold, snowy, icy-just plain yucky-a lot of the time. To be fair, the few folks I knew who did make a point to get out seemed to be able to log nowhere near what they would have liked to be doing, and often seemed to be getting hurt slogging out there. This was the polar opposite, quite literally, of last winter, when there was minimal snow, mild temperatures ruled, and I was able to log long runs every weekend in preparation for the Moab RedHot 55K, and later the Desert RATS 50 miler.

A year later, though, my long runs were looking pretty sparse and lame. I'd managed to amass one 4-hour photorun/hike, and participated in the s#it show that was the Bangs Canyon 30K, in which I had the dubious distinction of being one of several runners who should've known better, but managed to get dehydrated and not eat enough. This was hardly looking like the kind of training I needed for 34 miles.

 In the two weeks prior, I was very, very close to not doing the long course in Moab. The 33K was an option, and I had all but decided to downshift to that. I'd been having a pinchy hip issue, and figured there was just no way I was going to be able to get through 55K without considerable misery. Most running friends said do whatever you feel, but I had the one who said "You're doing Leadville, why wouldn't you do the 55K? Just treat it as a training run." There had been a tiny, nagging voice in my head, and he was pretty much articulating what that voice was saying. With that, somehow my perspective changed from "this is going to be a shitty death march" to "Oh....you're right. A training run! In beautiful Moab!" It wasn't going to be a PR kind of day, and in deciding to stick with the 55K, I knew it likely meant a PW (personal worst) kind of day. But, there was freedom in taking that pressure off, and just doing the long course just for the sake of enjoyment and training.

 Heading down to Moab, I was prepared to have the race suck at some point, and was ready to embrace the suck. I had also embraced the "if you can't be well-trained, at least you can be well-rested" mantra. I rested my tweaky hip for several days pre-race, and actually hadn't even done a long run the week prior, instead pouring myself into other work and pressing matters. This could've been a terrible idea, but I found myself with very good energy levels as I rolled into town with friends on Friday. With this being my fourth time at the event, and it being a pretty chill deal in general, I just seemed to be in a "whatever-it's all good" mindset.

This carried right over into the next day, and I showed up at the starting line ready to enjoy myself. I headed out with my friend Jen, whom I've known for years after "meeting" her on the various RWOL forums. We were kind of in the same shape today-not trained up like we'd like to be, but enough endurance that we'd probably be able to pull off a slow run today. Climbing the first hill, I felt my first hint of optimism that today might not suck when I realized we'd chatted all the way up the hill right off the start, and wasn't dying. I felt pretty fan-freaking-tastic, actually. My watch was on but I had no plans to really look at it much.

We made our way from the four-mile cutoff up to the right and began the 14-mile loop that would eventually come back and join the route the 33K runners would take straight through. This is actually the easier part of the entire route, which made it a great first ultra for me in 2011 after completing the 33K in 2010. Jen and I had not planned to run side by side, but it was just working out today that we were sticking together through the first ten miles. You know you're probably feeling decent if you're able to spend time catching up with someone, and not thinking "gawd, when is this hell going to be over?" I used this energy to just stay in the moment and not even allow myself to worry or think ahead. Eventually, Jen started pulling away, but I didn't really feel "alone." It was a gorgeous day out here. The stress of my impending divorce and all its implications have been weighing heavily on me, but today, it didn't matter. I felt light-buoyant, even.

Continuing around the loop, I had a weird mental break and thought I had to make it to the 18-mile cutoff by noon rather than 12:30. This caused me to push myself a little harder around miles 13-16. By then, I realized I had plenty of time, even if the cutoff had been noon. In a way, this little snafu was a good thing. The little surge got me down the trail a bit faster, and was a good diversion in the middle of the race.

Coming down the hill to the cutoff, it was like sliding through wet cement. I should've been flying through this, as a strong downhiller, but it was just sloppy. I made it past the cutoff, and instantly felt a bit lighter. That was the only bit of pressure hanging over my head today; worry about getting pulled from the course for getting to the cutoff too slowly. Now began the climb.

The next handful of miles consist mainly of relentless climbs, and up-and-down, banking stretches of slick rock. I remember how much I dreaded it the first year; I've gotten more used to this kind of thing, though, and actually enjoy it more now. I moved along, talking to folks, sharing miles with people here and there. Aid station #4 came along, and I felt pretty good. I was fully expecting to run out of fuel at some point, and was embracing that idea of pain, whenever it came. I was getting tired, but that pain was nowhere to be found. It was a spectacularly gorgeous day-probably the best weather I'd experienced here. I looked around and felt truly lucky to be able to complete such an event, and to be in Moab with like-minded people who just GET IT, no explanations necessary.

I hit the last aid station, fueled up, and with that, I realized that yep, it was happening today, and yep, I was wise to listen to my own voice, and that one friend who gave me the little push toward the 55K. I surely would've run a more competitive time in the 33K, but it would have been totally inside my comfort zone with no room for growth. This, today, was a much scarier proposition, and now I was so thankful I'd gone ahead with the "scary" thing. I wasn't sure what kind of condition I'd be in at the end of this race, but I definitely didn't think it would be this good.

 Late in the race, I started focusing on two things to get me through. One, being able to tell my kids that mom didn't wimp out, and made it all the way through. The other was to try to get in before awards started. Our friend Kevin won this race last year, and I knew he'd be a contender again. Our friend Marty had a tough day here last year on the long course but was running the 33K this year, and in good shape for it. I wanted to push along to get in with enough time to see the awards ceremony, and see if they, or other folks I knew, had nabbed hardware. This mindset worked great through about mile 30. By then, I started to get REALLY tired. To think, though, that I was still enjoying myself-this was AWESOME. Again, I felt light on my feet, even if they were moving along very slowly now.

Coming down the series of rocky switchbacks toward the finish, I was excited. It was looking like I was going to run a personal worst, but by mere minutes off my first run here, when I was well-trained. In being realistic, and finding an even level of effort appropriate to the way the winter had gone, I was getting it done. Making the last turn and heading in to the finish, I figured I'd missed awards, but it was all good. I came across the line and the friends started to wander over. It seemed that everyone had really enjoyed themselves-my race roommates Jason and "Mr. Pants (John Bagge, AKA Bagge Pants)" had a good time out there, and Jen had kept on trucking along, finishing about forty minutes ahead of me.

And, I hadn't missed awards after all, and was able to catch all that action. In a bit of a reversal from last year, Kevin had gone out balls-out, racing with a lead pack that broke the course record, only to blow up and drop back to 12th overall. It was a gutsy run but just didn't pan out today the way it did a year ago with his perfectly executed race a year prior. Marty, who blew up 20-something miles into the 55K last year, knocked out a rock-solid 33K this time around, and came in 2nd Master and 9th overall in a loaded field. Just goes to show that no matter your level, pace, or experience as a runner, we all have good days and bad days. You don't throw in the towel after the bad days, and you celebrate when a good day and good race comes together.

Since then, I've been trying to take that confidence I got in finishing this year's RedHot, and channel it toward my ultimate goal this year-completing the Leadville Trail 100 under the 30 hour time limit. Between lack of funds, feeling under-trained in the early season, and, well, lack of funds, I'd planned to skip the Desert RATS Trailrunning Festival, or else just do the 25 Miler. Well, sometimes circumstances intervene in a good way. My boss at my part-time job in a chiropractic clinic in town is a huge supporter of our running and triathlon community, to the point where one of my employment benefits is allotments toward entries in local and regional races. Besides that, he likes to get active and involved in races. Talking about the Desert RATS event, we figured out that we both wanted to run (he's doing the half), and I got him contact information for the race director to look into having a booth there. Well, due to permits, he can't do a booth, but the race director said he'd comp us entries for working aid stations. Me? Happy dance! That's a $110 entry fee, covered for helping out others. And, rather than living in 25-mile Comfort Zone Land, I'm going to embrace the pain that might await me in the 50. It probably won't kill me and it sure as hell will make me stronger. And that is a good thing going into Leadville and beyond.