Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Wonderful World, Beautiful People

Take a look at the world 
And the state that it's in today 
I am sure you'll agree 
We all could make it a better way 
With our love, put together 
Everybody learn to love each other

2014 is coming to an end and 2015 shall come to pass soon. I finished racing-not that there was much of it in 2014-at the only race I've done every year since starting to run, the Winter Sun 10K. I'll cut right to the end result-fourth place in my age group, first time off the podium in five years. If I measured things only that way, the race kind of blew. Measured it terms of doing what I love to do, showing up, being with some wonderful and beautiful friends, and doing what I could that day, it was outstanding.

My racing has been at a minimum this year and I took a fair amount of down time this fall. I had my wonderful travel experience in October, and great time with the kids and in my new place upon my return. I had some good runs in the weeks leading up to the Winter Sun. The weather was perfect, riding down with friends in the morning, I felt miserable, napping in the back of my friend Heather's car while she and Hannah chatted. Feeling kind of like a schmuck for being that sleeping passenger but feeling too lousy to care, I did my best to get a game face on.

Warm-up felt lethargic and my gut was turning. If you want to unintentionally clear a path for yourself at a race, gagging and wretching pre-race, and during a run will certainly do it. I gave serious consideration to saying screw it, I'm not running. There's no better way to get back into racing, than racing, though. I knew that was the chicken way out, too. Only racing if I was 100% confident I'd succeed. 

The first half was pretty ugly. Making nasty blerching sounds most of the way, I felt like I was moving slower than last year in the snow at this race. And I was. I kept my friend Rochelle in my sight, though. We run together sometimes, she's had a year of getting better and better. A lot of people race just for themselves but I'd be dishonest if I said I'm not also there to race other people too. And it's fun, a cool thing-to play with that good energy with others, many of whom are friends met at various races through the years. Some of my best memories are getting to mix it up during the race, then hang out after, talking about how it went, having a beer and a bite to eat. Beautiful people enjoying this wonderful world. So I hung in there and picked it up in the second half, slowly picking off a few runners. I was pretty far back so it didn't make much difference, but finishing strong and not fading away was what was on the brain now. I finally caught up with Rochelle, and worked to keep momentum in my favor-forward, and onward.

The time on the clock didn't quite register a personal worst but it was crummy by time standards. Still, when I hit that last track lap, I vowed to be strong going around. There were wonderful friends who hollered my name, and the names of other friends, as I hit the track. And, given the runs other people turned in, what my training looked like, and how I felt, 4th out of 57 was exactly where I was supposed to be today in the rankings. It's pretty rad, too, that my friend Cheryl won our age group, and Rochelle came in 5th. I'd had this dream that the three of us somehow did a 1-2-3 in age, which didn't quite happen, but we all put it all out there. There were a bunch other friends who made the podium, some regulars and some for the first time. With nearly a quarter of the race participants being from Grand Junction, and a number of other regulars and friends attending, it was also exactly where I was supposed to be. 

 Met all three of these crazy cats at races over the years.

Not even close to everybody, but we did our best to round up all the local townspeople. 

This is a year that really came down more to the people who helped one another through good times and bad.  Difficult life transitions and struggles and unexpected events dotted the calendar.

 Conversely, there was a lot of good energy out there. 

Friends helping friends through tight spots. Calling up or texting one another for runs or hikes. Helping one another with mundane, everyday tasks, and bigger projects alike. 

Being human to one another. Open. Seeing the best in others and forgiving the flaws and shortcomings. Sometimes challenging the opinions of others, even if it was uncomfortable. Telling someone what they need to hear, with compassion. Hugging the shit out of people. New and evolved friendships, and friendships that changed or ran their course. I'm glad for it all.

We have a semi-regular "Margaritas" hangout with a group of local gals. We get together, and, yes, margaritas happen. We visit, though, celebrate and toast things that have gone well. Sometimes we're coming together as a distraction in rough times. But, we're there. Present in one another's lives. Our next hang is going to be screening Wild, the movie adaptation of Cheryl Strayed's autobiography about hiking the Pacific Coast Trail. And then, yes, margaritas. I'm looking forward to being there with those who can make it for this go 'round. I couldn't get enough of her writing; the book had been recommended by several friends and this is going to be icing on the cake to see the movie. Among many things she's written, this rings truest of all right now. 

“You have to pay your own electric bill. You have to be kind. You have to give it all you got. You have to find people who love you truly and love them back with the same truth. But that's all.” 

Sure, it's not all. Kindness, and paying the bills is a good start.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Lost In My Mind

How's That Bricklaying Coming?
How's Your Engine Running?
Is That Bridge Getting Built?
Are Your Hands Getting Filled?
Won't You Tell Me, My Brother?

'Cause There Are Stars
Up Above

We Can Start
Moving Forward

I am out of the new music loop. This "new to me" music is about five years old now.  My discovery of The Head And The Heart was in a true moment of zen. Exhausted after a long day on last summer's peach gig (feeling free, accomplished, but...utterly exhausted), I'd lay down for "just a minute" on my bed, window open. In no time at all, I found myself in a deeply relaxed, but alert state. Okay, so yeah, I was drooling on the bed, semi-catatonic, I think.

 Some lovely music started playing, and I picked up on the soaring "loooooooost" over and over, from somewhere in the neighborhood. The breeze and the music were washing over me, and I committed that "lost in my mind" to memory, and determined the next day, thanks to the googles of the interwebs, that it was "Lost In My Mind." I now associate it with being focused but content in the moment, and asking myself, how's my engine running?

 There's no race report to write here. But, the joy of running is back and here to stay. It's not fast like it used to be, but it feels good. It's my freedom. I've run roads and along rivers that are familiar, and hit trails that are brand new. The bricklaying, so to speak, and my new house-the first that has truly ever been mine and mine alone-is coming along. I'm  renting, but it's my name alone on the lease. It was freedom to travel alone to Mexico and really enjoy being lost in my own thoughts, and it's freedom to write that rent check. I think, but don't worry all the time about paying bills.

One of my kids has been really sick, and will be healthy eventually. It's been difficult to see your take-no-shit, strong, intelligent, and active child reduced to a few hours of low-level homebound activity a day, and desperate to have a normal energy level. But, it's stripped things down to a very basic, day-to-day, and moment to moment existence. How are you feeling? What would help right now?  And, this amazing kid has taken her shitty hand of getting sick, and used the time when she's felt decent to do things I never asked for or expected, but helped me tremendously around the house. And filled her hands with something that mattered to her-freedom to make our space what she visualized. I'm beyond thankful for it, and pleasantly surprised that it all came from a 15-year-old I've told to stay in bed, to rest-but wants to do things that let her get lost in her mind and feel normal when she can't go to school or dance.

 Winter has come and hit "hard" so far this year, but I know we still have it pretty good. I've run in colder weather, at the buttcrack of dawn, and am ready to take another "crack" (ha, had to go there) again. I signed up once again for the Winter Sun 10K, knowing that it is extremely unlikely that I'll top my best effort at this race in 2010. Moving forward doesn't constitute sitting scared, waiting for the perfect scenario, though. It's on a day that flows easily for me, so I'm going. And the first ultra I ever ran-The Moab RedHot 55K-is the next race up after that. Volunteering at another Grassroots Events race, Behind The Rocks, punched my ticked for this one. It's another no-brainer in moving forward. There's also the "free" monetarily, but punishing, Bangs Canyon 30K/60K. The race directors for all of the above events-Ranna, Chris, Kevin- are true stewards for our sport, and make it fun while managing events we all return to, year after year. They make it seem low-key when in fact it's a major undertaking to get it done right. It's up to me to move forward and show their kickass runs some justice.

 I want to take another swing at Leadville, but am not going to force the matter. Instead, I am keeping eyes and options open to different 100 mile races-ones that I can enter if I feel trained up, and can reach easily from Grand Junction. My current job was a slight step up from the last one. With this one comes more responsibility, more use reasoning, planning, and a combination of my head and my heart. It leaves less flexibility, though, to vacation time. This may move me forward to opportunities I can choose without needing permission-things like The Grand Mesa 100, or possibly Run Rabbit Run. Or, I may say, forget it (nah, this isn't true at all. I want to complete 100 miles on foot, and experience all that goes with that journey). And, then, a chance encounter with a good friend who doesn't live here anymore opened a great conversation about a run that would be fun, long, beautiful, and entirely about getting out there. Like Rim To Rim of the Grand Canyon, but closer, and not something I would have come up with by myself at this time. The fires have been stoked. In Zion.

 In the meantime, I am content to get lost in my mind on a run, come back with some clarity, extra energy for my family, and build bridges toward better things.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Banditos: The 2014 Rim Rock Marathon

And everybody knows 
That the world is full of stupid people 
So meet me at the mission at midnight 
We'll divvy up there

Our region has several great races and runs that started as bar bets, impromptu treks, or other circumstances. Things that seem like bad ideas, if you look at things from an entirely analytical perspective. Stop and think about things too much, and the things never happen. Action never occurs.

 Thought isn't a bad idea; I'm a great proponent for it. Some things are truly stupid and bad ideas. Sometimes, though, the mind can limit what the body can do. Or, one can convince himself or herself that doing things the same is always the way to go. That the same is good enough. And, the brilliant thing about a bad idea is that you don't have any illusions about what you're getting yourself into. If things go well the expectation has naturally been exceeded. And, there are times when you just have to try something to know to never do it again-at least not the way you attempted it the first time around.

 So, it was one day in early October when my eventual teammate for the Rim Rock Marathon relay, Tom, and I were having a beer in a Grand Junction watering hole after some run, and decided to jump into the fray at this great local run. It used to be gate-to-gate across the Colorado National Monument, or 37K. Five years ago, it became a full marathon, and starts off almost immediately with a 2000 foot climb. Runners get to enjoy spectacular views, though, and what goes up must come down. I'd run the marathon every year it had been a full, and volunteered at the final two Rim Rock Runs (37K). A month out, though, I remained uncommitted to anything racing.

 There were only four team slots left out of thirty at that point. I hadn't done any speed work in a good six months and really hadn't run much of anything since Leadville. I'd actually blanked out on running the Imogene Pass Run this year, it was such a pisstastic race on my part. This, though, sounded pretty awesome. Tom was only willing to do it if he could run the uphill. He had a bunch of other adventure races, running and ski club obligations, and, you know, work and stuff. I said screw that uphill stuff, I only want to do the downhill. And I had two jobs, one position brand new, a new place, and four kids every other week, Perfect. What could be a worse idea than signing up for a race now?

 I was energized, though. More energized than I'd been in many months about doing a race. Some people hate road running, and a bunch really hate downhill road running. This section of the Rim Rock course was one of my favorites, though. I could see in my mind that amazing, panoramic view out of the second tunnel on the downhill. The full marathon was a great race, but the Colorado Marathon in May had not been my finest effort. I didn't want to do another marathon out of habit, and turn in another subpar performance. Tom was jazzed to do the uphill. And good at uphill running. The team name came quickly: The Bad Ideas Club. We were in, and about two days later the relay was full.

 Race weekend rolled around, and I'd  not thought too deeply about Halloween being the day prior. The week had been incredibly busy. Somehow, though, everyone in my family got where they needed to go. My youngest and I trick-or-treated with our friends, the peach farmers, and their daughter (sounds very Sopranos; I really do have James in my phone as "James Peaches"), and it was great. Probably much better than sitting around and trying in vain to go to bed. My friend Carrie was willing and happy to get my kids to the finish line on Saturday. The kids were down with the plan. I didn't push or worry, but things just flowed after bouncing ideas back and forth with friends. Tom and I had some excellent "Amigo" shirts I'd gotten from INKnBURN to wear for the race for fun. We were dialed in for awesomeness.

 Getting up early on Saturday morning, I stepped outside. The temperature was perfect, but shit, that was lightning. Tom swung by early for me, and we headed out to Fruita. This was my first time catching the bus; in prior years, I'd gotten rides to the start for the full marathon. This time, we headed to Fruita in the dark, parked the car at the finish, and divvied up into buses headed for the start, and the halfway point. On my bus were two local doctors named Andy who are also strong runners, Kristin and Kathy, who are also rock solid regulars, and various folks from around the state and region. Someone got on the bus and told us there were bananas, water and snacks for us while we waited. This was great news to me; my stomach had been a little funky and I wasn't hungry early on. Now, I was hungry. A banana, water, and pretzels sounded perfect.

 The weather had really cleared up. It was brisk, but sunny. I asked Kristin if she wanted to trot up to the port-a-johns; if we'd been on the trails we would have just ducked off in the brush, and part of me wanted to do this anyway. It just would have been really uncool, bad mojo, a bad idea, when the park police, rangers, and volunteers were out there being cool and taking time to make sure things were done right. We trotted easily up the hill, did our thing, and came back. We sat on the bus for a bit, had to go again, and ran back up, deciding it was a good time to start watching for the first marathoners. Sure enough, they were on their way.

 The first dudeman in the marathon trotted along in no time. He was young, springy, shaggy and smiling. I didn't even get my phone out in time to catch him until he was past.

(too fast for my camera)

Our friend Julie, on a team with fellow meteorologist Paul, got dropped off by her fiance. It felt weird that I'd be racing soon, but with no idea when I'd go. Friends Angela and Kelly showed up to spectate. More and more runners were coming along now.

Two of our local first-timers who turned in outstanding runs, Alex and Ezzy

It was almost anti-climatic when Tom appeared, and we high-fived (the official regulation move to carry on with the second leg). I was guessing he was about the tenth relayer up the hill but wasn't sure. Perfect; we were kind of in that fun/competitive sweet spot. But first, I had to do the only little uphill stretch on the downhill.

 Ever had a decision validated immediately? I knew, heading up the hill, and passing a runner right away, that this Bad Idea to enter a race while sitting in a bar had been a great one. I hadn't run close to a half-marathon distance in the past two months but I'd run enough to feel like pushing. Relaxed and focused, relaxed and focused, I told myself. This is what worked in my best race here, and really any good race I'd done. My friend Kathy had tagged off earlier, and I couldn't see her, but the fact that I had a stretch goal to catch her was a rush. Whether or not it happened, just wanting to race, and thinking strategically, felt good. I wasn't about to let anyone pass. Tom ran a strong leg and that team obligation was a good thing; I wasn't about to give less than my best. And, MUUUUUAH. I just felt MUUUUUUAH for the first time in a long time in a race.

 It was around Artist's Point when I first noticed that strong side- to tail-wind. Tailwinds are great, but it was not consistent; kind of a random hard shove. Quite a first world problem, yes, but finding a rhythm was sort of a challenge. Since we were switching back and forth, it occasionally became a headwind. Keeping the mind in "patience and persistence" mode, I found that pace that was uncomfortable but felt like something I could maintain. Passing another runner or two, I eventually saw what looked like Kathy ahead. Running further down the Monument, through that big, favorite, stretch after the tunnel, I was confused when I looked upward and could see that Kathy was behind me now. I figured she must've made an emergency stop, an unfortunate turn I'd had to take at the Colorado Marathon. Pushing on, I passed another runner who I believed to be on one of the relay teams. This put us into first in the Masters (over 40) relay spot. Just in time for coming off the Monument and heading down the road. This has been a mediocre to average stretch for me in past years. Getting my ass handed to me several times in the past here kept me moving in manageable chunks, finding the sign or driveway a quarter mile away, not looking down the full stretch of road.

 Turning into the park, I was pretty sure I didn't have anyone close, but didn't turn back and didn't let up. This wouldn't be remotely close to my best second-half effort in previous years, but that wasn't the point. Hitting the finish, I knew this had been a fantastically bad idea. My kids, my friends, being outside, all of it. No self-imposed performance pressure. I'd wanted to be out there for every moment of the race and even told myself once or twice, hey, good choice to not run the full marathon. We wound up winning Masters and placing fifth overall in the relays.Even better-we didn't get struck by lightning at any point. It would have made for an exciting story, but any time you don't wind up in the ER is winning. The wind was pretty insane at the finish; it reminded me of the days during the summer, selling peaches, when we had to stake down our tent with as many heavy things as possible to keep it from launching. Runner after runner came in, and we cheered them on, whether a PR, or a struggle from beginning to end. I was glad the weather was pretty beautiful for my girls chilling out at the finish. I know it's not fun to spectate when it's pouring

Not banditos, we paid for our entry

The friends. The fam damily

 Today, I'm stupid sore. The day after the race brought a yoga class, my first in months. It brought balance and consistency to my lower body soreness, causing everything in my body to feel perfectly sore. The yoga was a challenge but I could tell that I'd moved beyond my fatigued and burned out state. Poses weren't perfect but I tried everything. When I couldn't hold it, oh well, but at least I gave each pose an honest effort. And that seems fair, that seems fair, to give everything, good or bad idea, an honest effort.

Monday, October 20, 2014

You Can Call Me Al: Not A Race Report.

If you'll be my bodyguard
I can be your long lost pal
I can call you Betty
And Betty when you call me
You can call me Al
Call me Al

I have a feeling I was not the only kid in the mid-eighties who looked forward to this video every time it popped up on the fledgling VH1. Or maybe I'm just a weirdo. Wait, I know that I am a weirdo. The song came up comically to me, again and again, as I arrived to a beautiful spot in Mexico during an intense thunderstorm, staying for a week with a friend I hadn't seen in two-and-a-half years, but "see" every day on the Facebooks of the interwebs.

 It's not a unique phenomenon to have everything happen at once, but boy, did I, leading up to this adventure. I moved. I was in a very burned out state, and I knew it. It feels strange but honest and freeing to admit that. I wanted to run but needed to sleep. Have two great jobs that make the difference between making ends meet, and not. If you knew me this time a year ago, or if you don't-my first job experience with my current employer was one of the most difficult experiences of my life. I try to find the good in everything, and I struggled to find anything. Fast forward a year, and sticking out that difficult road led to the recent upgrade into a position that isn't everyone's cup of tea, but challenges me in a way I enjoy.

 I came close to saying, screw it. I'm not going on this trip. Oh, what a bad choice that would have been.

 It was a bridge from a what was a good transitional state in many ways, but a leap of faith out on my own. Time to not be rushed. Time to back up and be less critical of myself. Just time.

 I had smooth sailing on all of my flights to Mexico, but realized that due to my poor initial Spanish-speaking skills, the weather, and really having no idea where I was after riding the bus from the airport to Playa Del Carmen, I was a little freaked out about not knowing what to do next. Instead, I chilled out and just waited. After all, I'd made it this far. Lots of people travel all over, and this is, I'm sure, quite laughable. But, this was my first time traveling solo internationally, with my other trip out of the states being to the UK with my dad when I was a teenager. (He says I gladly accepted a glass of wine on the flight over when they mistook me for being older than I was...I do not recall this event.) Somehow, I did manage to get a text out and soon enough, my friend was there. It's pretty cool that the randomness of being at the same race (the Imogene Pass Run) a few years ago ultimately led up to the trip. You meet cool people running, and most are pretty kindred spirits.

 There's not much to the next week, but oh, so much. I was going to be very happy just to couch surf. The space I had was my own space...above and beyond what I'd ever expected. And we had communal space to chill out, eat, talk. That was great. And then it was just amusing when the place across the street...."un secto" as one of Elizabeth's friends called it-started their "show" and a frenzied pitch several nights a week.

 I also got my own photo opportunity, my shot at redemption. I didn't bring my "real" camera but did what I love to do, observing, taking pictures on my phone of things that interested me. We ran at sea level with 100% humidity. Really, it was there because of the daily rains, much like my days working for Disney World on their college program (20th anniversary trip was this weekend...IamnotthatoldIamnotthatoldIamnotthatold). I watched E play with two different bands. She trained classically but the girl has found her niche with rock and blues. It's good stuff. The guitar player in each band was quite Anton Krupicka-esque. I declared it a future requirement that any new bands contain one guy who vibes my favorite trail runner.

 I took a yoga class, open air, en espanol. I sheepishly admitted to not being a Spanish-speaker when she asked, and then, much to my relief, she did teach it nearly entirely in Spanish. I was surprised how well I "understood" without understanding each and every word. I was a little intimidated to try to spend pesos and be understood in the "Mega," which is pretty much like Wal-Mart or Target, but with motorcycles for sale, and an ice cream parlor, merchant stands, and ATM underneath. I finally realized nobody was judging me, or gave a shit what I was doing, and came to embrace trying to put myself out there. Speak in Spanish no matter how terrible it sounded. Ordering from the most amazeballs open air quesadilla shop, where I got as far as ordering everything competently before I blanked on how to say "to go." Then it poured rain, I sat down to eat there, and it didn't matter as I enjoyed just being.

I found the best spot on the beach, loads of Mexican families, kids burying their siblings to their necks in the sand. Guys going in the water in jeans. I could use a big word but it was just damned nice.

 Sometimes, I thought about nothing. Or read. I got all the way through "Wild," which I'd started several times but, like a lot of other things, just didn't take top priority until now. Here, I had nothing but time. Damn, that was good to read. I'd see kids who reminded me of my kids. I was missing them a ton but knew this was a rare opportunity to be where I was. My favorite race, The Other Half, was this past weekend, and it was big that I was able to decide, hey, the race will be there next year. I was just looking forward to seeing my kids and sitting in my new house with my kids, and my new cat. Hear that? That post-divorce dog I was going to get is a motherfucking cat. He picked me long before I picked him. And I wanted to hang with the cat too.

 I decided, some time during the week, that I am going to take another swing at 100 miles. I'm over the "failed at Leadville" mentality. I went out at the toughest spot, not because I quit, but couldn't move fast enough. It'll be something in the spring, in the place of a spring road marathon.

 I thought about school, doing something different that what I am doing now. Uncannily, I started Aron Ralston's "Between A Rock And A Hard Place." True to my impatient nature, I skipped ahead to some stuff at the end-where he's recovering from his 127 Hours here in Grand Junction, Colorado, at St Mary's, where I've worked since last summer. He's describing the view from the hospital roof (the "old" hospital, not the top of the tall, modern tower that was recently built), in my neighborhood, with...as I read thank you's, the recreational therapist I know from the Life Center whom I'd refer to as "The Yeti" the way he stealths in and out from the pool over there. I laughed at how damned small the world really is, and that hell, you only go around once. Working at the Life Center, I'd started seriously thinking about going back to school to be a PT assistant or recreational therapist. I'd watched what they did. Talked to a few of them about their jobs. It would be a major undertaking. I enjoy my job but don't want to be in central scheduling forever. I also laughed that when Aron thought he might not never get out of there, he was thinking about talking to friends and having a big, salty margarita. Yeah, that's a good focus rather than your arm being pinned to a rock.

 When I came back, one of the first things I did was sleep a lot. And then I easily gave up my yoga cleaning gig-on a permanent basis. I'm still on as a sub but letting one thing go that wasn't a top priority was big. So, the yoga studio owner suggested it, but it was a good idea. She's right, I have about a million class credits there. I just need to go in and practice again.

I hung out with my kids and my cat, who went on a big wander right after we moved him. I know cats don't want to be found if they don't want to be found, so it was with great joy that my youngest kids spotted him and coaxed him inside. He's going to get to resume indoor/outdoor lifestyle soon, but he's also sleeping off an adventure. So, that's that.

I was sad to not be at The Other Half this weekend, but also not, when I woke up at 7am on Sunday after ten hours of sleep, knowing that I needed it, and that my friends had boarded the bus an hour prior. Oh, my competitive side is still there. I did look at results and see where my 2013 time would've landed me, but...it's just a race. It'll be there next year. It was much better this year to be seeing angels in the architecture, spinning in infinity and saying hey, hallellujah.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Storm/Carry On: Summer, Fall And Beyond

My heart is a river, and so I run.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

As I Am: The Leadville Trail Marathon

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

-Paper Bird, As I Am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 5, 2014

Home/Colorado: The 2014 Colorado Marathon

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

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

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

But, before that, there was Boston. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 31, 2014

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After less than a mile, there was a petite gal with short hair who...maybe she was under 40, I told myself....no, Karah, who are you kidding, she is for sure another masters female. I pushed ahead of her, knowing I don't have a great history as a kicker later in a race. I also drifted past several early kickers who faded fast. Presumed Masters Gal passed me back, though, and floated up the road quite a bit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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