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, 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.