Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Montrail Ultra Cup

After such a spectacularly fun weekend at Western States, I’m finding it difficult to pull myself from my current state of recovery-bliss long enough to put together a race report. Of course, eventually I’ll collect my thoughts (and my photos) enough to share all the details. But in the meantime, I thought I’d share one of the many moments from the weekend that stand out for me.

It’s this moment right here:

After the top ten men and women finishers are honored at the Western States awards ceremony, Montrail presents awards to the top five men and women in the Montrail Ultra Cup. I was lucky enough to take 4th female.

For me, entering the Ultra Cup just made sense because I’d planned to run all these races anyway, and entry into the series was free. (Special thanks to Craig Thornley for emailing Where’s Waldo participants after the race and reminding us to sign up!)

Points series are fun because they comprise a slightly different set of elements than the individual races themselves. They can allow someone like me an opportunity to stand shoulder to shoulder with the elite women. In no way am I trying to be self-deprecating here, but if you look at my race finishes compared with those of the other 4 women, they are all much faster than me. It’s a simple fact.

Only the first three places get cash prizes (although 4th and 5th do get some sort of prize package), but I got all the award I needed just getting to stand up there with Meghan, Amy, Pam and Helen. I was totally honored to be included among such amazing and talented women, and in such a prestigious setting.

Thanks, Montrail, for sponsoring the series, and congratulations to all the participants!

Pam and Amy congratulate me. What awesome women!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Western States: Before the Big Day

My first week of summer has brought with it beautiful trail running, roaring waterfalls, soothing time with family, and no small amount of pre-race jitters. Unless you happen to have your head in the ultrarunning sand, you know that this weekend is Western States. Waaaahooo! It would be no understatement to say that I am excited, and that I have little else on the brain right now. 

Before all that pre-race talk though, a few pictures from my first week of summer:

A perfect start to things, wouldn't you say?

I’ve had plenty of time to consider goals for Western States. Practically a lifetime. As far as a predicted finish time, the numbers have bounced around all over the place in my head. What I’ve finally settled on is this: Running Western States is a journey.

In other words, in a somewhat similar fashion to last year at TRT, my goals are centered less around a specific finish time, and more on how I want to handle things during the day. On the physical side, I want to run smart, take care of myself, and deal with every problem as it arises. On the mental side, I want to enjoy it as much as I can, appreciate the entire experience no matter how it’s going, and accept my best effort whatever it may be. I really think if I take care of myself physically, the outcome will take care of itself.

Check-in at Squaw this morning was nothing but smiles and friends and excitement on a beautiful mountain day. If tomorrow is anything at all like that, it is sure to be a good experience.

If you’re one of the few people (it seems) who won’t be at the race, you can follow the whole thing on their awesome webcast. If you want to check in on me specifically, I’m runner #119.

I also have to offer a huge advance thank you to all the volunteers, the RD, and WS Board. I’ve seen what happens at this race from the spectator/volunteer/crew perspective and it is phenomenal. I can’t wait to see it from the participant side of things.

And to all the other runners, pacers and crew getting ready for a big day tomorrow – good luck, and have fun!

We are ready to run!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Glorious Food

Anyone who has ever trained for a hundred mile race can tell you: It takes a lot of fuel to feed that fire. It's been a constant struggle this spring to get enough healthy calories when I want them. 

In other words: I'm hungry all the time!

Food in our culture has many associations. The two biggest that come to mind for me are pleasure and (consequently) guilt. The beauty of burning so many calories is that food becomes what it is actually meant to be: fuel. And while I used to subscribe to the Quentin Cassidy school of thought - if the fire is hot enough, anything will burn - I have fallen more towards healthier foods and away from my standard cravings for junk.

Why? Simple: better fuel.

I have a horrible sweet tooth, and admittedly I still consume my share of chocolate, but in general the carbs just don't cut it right now. I used to eat a bagel for breakfast every day. For probably the last 15 years, in fact. Now I eat a two-egg sandwich and a banana. (The bagel didn't get me past 7 AM before I needed second breakfast.) I've managed to avoid alcohol, and I go through an extra large bag of apples in a week. 

No bagels? No beer? Who have I become?

On long runs it's challenging to carry enough food. Jamie, my training partner and mentor in all things Western States, assures me that this will not be a problem on race day. After tapering, my metabolism will drop down a notch, just like my dress size. Let's hope so.

The last time I really viewed food this way was when I was hiking the PCT. I carefully examined the nutrition information on packages to see what food had the most calories for the least weight. One of my favorite items was a chocolate espresso Clif Bar slathered in peanut butter.  About 500 calories.

These days I can't get enough of two things: eggs and Greek yogurt. Strange, I know. I'm loving 'em though. They fill me up and keep me going.

What's your favorite fuel between training runs?

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Perspectives from the Auburn Trails 34 Miler

It was late afternoon, and the sound of the rain on the roof kept increasing in volume. I stretched out on my yoga mat, my back to the floor and legs straight up the wall. After six and a half hours of running that day, it was exactly where I wanted to be.

“I want to start with this pose today so that we can all think about turning things upside down a little,” the instructor explained in a voice like a soothing blanket.

Immediately, that Jack Johnson song, “Upside Down,” popped into my head. (I’m good at finding stillness in my body during yoga, but stillness in the mind still eludes me.)

The teacher asked us to try accepting things as they were. “Don’t fight adversity,” he said, “instead try to look at things from a different perspective. Sometimes that’s the only part of a situation you can control.”

I think he was referring to the endless winter, which has caused no shortage of grumbling around here recently. I’m not entirely sure though, since while he was talking, I was still singing in my head and trying to remember what came after the line “Who’s to say, I can’t do everything? Well I can try.”

Anyhow, both the song and the advice to accept difficult things rather than fight them summed up my day rather well. Circumstances weren’t exactly ideal, but the Auburn Trails 34 Miler had been absolutely brilliant!

Friday morning before race day, I awoke with a sore throat. With Western States just three weeks away, I met the situation with a heavy sense of doom. However, three weeks could be plenty of time to recover from something minor. Suddenly the prospect of running for 34 miles in the rain didn’t sound like such a wise idea. What if I gave myself pneumonia? Then again, what if I was just suffering from drama-queen-taper-paranoia? The whole dilemma just depressed me. I put the option of skipping the race on the table, and headed to bed early and undecided.

The sore throat was still with me in the morning, but no other nasty symptoms had manifested. In fact, mentally I felt great and couldn’t imagine going back to bed and not running that day. The idea didn’t sound like any fun at all. (Know what did sound like fun? Running. In the rain.)

At the start in Auburn, I had some clothing decisions to make. I had recently received a sweet little blue Power Peak Jacket from Columbia – a waterproof breathable number that I’d yet to really put to the test. It was a little much for running I thought: No matter how breathable a jacket is, if it’s waterproof, it never seems to keep up with the sweat rate of a high-octane run. However, I knew I wouldn’t be running too hard that day, (This was merely a last long training run before beginning my taper.) and I was really tired of being cold and wet in my non-waterproof windbreakers on my runs. (Remember that endless winter thing?) Plus, if I was going to protect myself from a full blown illness, it wouldn’t do well to be cold and shivering all day. So I went with the jacket. It was the first of a couple of smart moves that ensured I had a great day.

The race started at the Overlook Park in Auburn, headed down to No Hands Bridge, and then did two laps on a modified Olmstead Loop before returning across the bridge and finishing back at the park. The rain came down steadily as Robert implored us to depart the shelter of a large oak and gather at the starting line. I said hi to a few friends before finding Donald, and we headed down the hill together with a small group of intrepid runners.

I had figured Donald and I might be a good match for running together that day since we would both be taking it easy, so when I lost him a few miles into the first downhill, I was disappointed. We cruised down from Robie Point along the Western States Trail, and I couldn’t help but think about what it would be like to run this trail in the opposite direction, the last few miles of Western States,  in just a few weeks time. Or, um, hike it, as the case may be. It was pretty fun to let myself get excited.

After crossing No Hands, the course headed steeply up the training hill, also known as K2. It was a good steady hike – the kind where I usually feel strong and pass people. So it was a pleasant surprise when a familiar voice from behind asked if I knew the joke about the clownfish and the sea anemone. (Well, of course I did.) Donald had caught up!

Now I had my running partner with me, and I figured we may as well stick together. That was my second smart move of the day.

As it became apparent that the rain did not intend to let up, I became more and more grateful for that jacket. My favorite feature turned out to be a little snap at the sternum that allows you to run with the entire thing unzipped for ventilation but prevents it from flapping all around like Superman’s cape. With that and the pit zips opened, I had great breathability! Later in the day I got a little colder and zipped everything back up, which worked out to be excellent temperature regulation.

The little blue jacket that could.

The Olmstead Loop looked pretty green for this time of year, and wild flowers were still out in subtle waves of color. It was also awfully wet and more than a little muddy. We splashed along across meadows and past broad oaks. We went for long periods without seeing anything but grass and flowers and trees. Mostly, it didn’t feel like a race at all, and that was just fine with me. I couldn’t help smiling. Is there much better than a long, rainy day of stomping through mud puddles with a friend?

We talked about training and time commitments, reading and writing books, family, past and future adventures, Catcher in the Rye, shoes, and rabbits that poop jelly beans. 

You know – the important things.

On our second lap, the puddles and streams were clearly wider and deeper, the mud more plentiful. I didn’t worry about hurrying through the pond-sized puddles; I splashed joyously. I turned to swing my leg, aiming a spray of muddy water at Donald. Hey! Where was he? Undoubtedly he'd been held up by some photography mission, craftily escaping my ambush. I just kept splashing along, confident he would catch up eventually.

The return hike up to Robie Point was a breeze. I barely felt like I had even run. I suppose that’s an appropriate situation for someone who will be running 100 miles pretty soon here.

The finish area was quiet when we strolled in, the rain not being very conducive to socializing I suppose. I was ready to get into some dry clothes, while my running partner still had business to take care of. What do you call it when an ultrarunner doesn’t find an untramarathon to be long enough and needs to keep running? Ultra-ultrarunning? I know what some people would call it, but I’d say tenacity is the best word. Donald still needed 16 miles to complete his planned 50 for the day. A few minutes after we crossed the line he was strapping on his hydration pack and heading back out on the trail. Damn, that man has heart. (He’s also a glutton for punishment, but I think that’s probably a good thing since he’s training for the TRT 100 this summer.)

This whole day can be described in one word for me: Fun. Circumstances which could have made for a very bad day turned out not to be challenges at all. I was very lucky to have a friend to share the miles with, and some of my fun surely came from turning the world upside down.

I wanna turn the whole thing upside down. I'll find the things they say just can't be found. I'll share this love I find with everyone. We’ll sing and dance to Mother Nature’s songs.” 

Oftentimes, finding the fun in a situation is all about perspective.

I am incredibly grateful to Robert, Linda and their team for braving the rain all day to put this event on for us. It got me out on a solid run which surely would have been much shorter without all the support. Thank you!!  

Monday, June 06, 2011

For the Love of Reno

Trails near Peavine Mountain, just West of Reno.

A year and a half ago, my husband and I both began commuting to Reno from our home in Truckee for work. I was beginning a new job teaching 5th and 6th grades at a private school; he was attending paramedic school and eventually working on an ambulance in the city. On our drive home, we would share our days, and marvel at what opposite worlds we experienced in the same city.

The world of a paramedic is less than glamorous, as I'm sure you can imagine. While I was awash in loving, well-off families, bright, happy children, and a world that values education, he existed in the seediest of underbellies for such a small city, describing scenes straight out of the movie Seven. His work is beyond admirable, but I have to say, I prefer the view from the teacher's desk. 

After spending so much time there by this point, I've developed an ardent fondness for Reno, and in fact, I owe it a lot. Let me explain what I mean.

Aside from being home to a job that I love, and of course, Trader Joe's, Reno has an awesome community of people. Being a runner, I'm primarily speaking of the running community. I have yet to meet a runner from Reno that wasn't friendly and enthusiastic. There are my favorite Team Library Dorks, and all the folks who are involved with events like Silver State, Escape from Prison Hill, and Tahoe Rim Trail. There is a vibrant running community!

I also have great affection for both the trails and climate of Reno. Running through a winter in Truckee means pounding a lot of pavement, frequent whiteout conditions, icy roads - adversity in all forms. It builds character but tends to kill the weekly mileage.

Remember March? We had over 200 inches of snow that month. My house looked like this:

Reno typically looked like this:

This is Flat Stanley hanging out with me at the top of the hill at Bartley Ranch Park, where I do my weekly hill repeats.

Only 30 minutes away, but Reno exists in this wonderful little thing called the rain shadow. It's magic, really. Storms come in off the coast and slam into the wall of the Sierra Nevada. The mountains effectively act as a giant umbrella over the East side, sheltering it from the rain and snow. Storms rage in the mountains, while the sun shines peacefully in Reno.

Not only am I running in better weather, but there are nearly always some snow-free trails to be found. I run more miles and almost no pavement now because I get to run after school in Reno.

I like to hit up trails at Peavine, or in the hills above the Patagonia store. Turi did a great write-up of one of my weekly destinations for speedwork, the Steamboat Ditch Trail. There are trails east of Reno, south in Galena or down in the Virginia Highlands where the wild Mustang roam and surely more than one cowboy movie was filmed. 

I give Reno full credit for my strong Winter and Spring training this year. Did I mention the weather? This was my house on June 2:

Um, yeah. And here it was this morning, June 6th by the way, after the morning dog walk:

And by comparison, here was the sky in Reno today:

Enough said.

Thank you, Reno!