Wednesday, June 27, 2012

From One Extreme to the Other...

Two weekend's ago, you might recall I did a little 4000' uphill race (it's here, in case you missed it and can't go to sleep until you do).

So to confuse mixup my muscles a bit, I ran a 2000' downhill half marathon in the mountains last weekend called the 'Slacker Half Marathon'.  Some evil masochist apparently thought running a half marathon where you lose 2000' in elevation would be super easy and thus deemed the race Slacker.

Don't be fooled...those little uphill "peaks" really were miserable when your
quads were programmed to go extreme downhill

But this race is anything but easy; as my quivering quads can attest 3 days post race - I'm still walking like a 90-year old geriatric who just ran an 100 mile ultra marathon.  For a race I didn't actually want to "race" for fear of not being able to move for many days after, I seem to have accomplished exactly what I didn't want to - sheer post race pain.  Running where you rapidly lose elevation and you're having to put on the brakes with that large quadricep muscle in the front of your leg will do this I guess - no matter what pathetic pace you run.  .

Though Mt. Evan's race didn't really leave me sore, it left me really tired.  Add that I have a really tough high altitude trail race next weekend, I did not want to run this race hard and destroy my body; I just wanted to run the first 5-6 at tempo pace and then use the remaining mileage as recovery and enjoy the miles along some gorgeous (and so far un-burnt!) scenery.  I had a goal of 2:00 - 2:05....and though I came in exactly where I planned (2:03:somethingoranother), I did anything BUT enjoy this thing.

We can mostly thank Mother Nature's desire to burn down half of Colorado for most of this:

Ryan was running the race also.  He started pre-season summer training last week so his coach told him to just tempo run it, nothing really hard.  Ryan's dad drove us both up, he was going to bike while we raced...this was actually a godsend because we didn't have to ride the bus to the start line.  I did the bus thing one other year and queasy-stomach me got a little motion sickness before the start.  I texted fellow bloggers Cynthia and Kathy to see if they wanted rides up to the start, but Cynthia wasn't there yet so Kathy and her crew all piled in my car and we had some fun girl chats along the way.

The race started at the base of Loveland Ski area.  Not a spec of snow in sight on the slopes (see weather forecast above).

One of the highlights of the day was sporting pink port-a-janes at the startline.  Let me tell you ladies, these puppies were awesome.....there was no urinal with pee splattered everywhere like male-infested regular port-a-johns.  How far as port-a-potties goes.

We line up for the start and it's hot!  At 8am at 10,836' high.  I knew it was going to be a rough day for me as the sun rose up over the mountains and started baking the valley quickly.  Me and heat are not good friends.

Mile 1: Total dust ball run.  It was a narrow path and on a dirt trail and dust is flying everywhere from runners in front (in addition to being a hundred billion degrees, Colorado also has not seen rain since about 1993).  Ugh.  So gross.  I was worried about Ryan and his asthma - which is exacerbated by dust - but hoped he was well ahead of the thick pack I seemed to be stuck in.

Miles 2-5ish:  This section used to be a continuation of the dirt path from mile one but now is a paved bike path. (I've run it many times for training...the pic you see in the upper right corner "about me" - and the one that shows up as my profile in comments - is taken on this once dirt section).  It's narrow but the crowds are thining some and I could quickly get a decent pace going.  It's also very shaded with all the tall pine trees so I didn't really feel the heat.  Yet.   But I felt fairly awful.  I had a horrible headache and my stomach was bothering me some and my over-zealous 8:40 pace felt miserable.  I think mile 4-5 I felt pretty decent, but I knew it wasn't going to last... I just had one of those feelings where you can tell early on it was going to end poorly.  You know what I mean, I'm sure.

Mile 5:  The paved bike path ends and you now hop on a paved service road.  Totally exposed to the blazing sun.  And a climb up what feels like Mt. Evans last week.  I decided 5 miles at faster-than-tempo pace was more than enough and I walked through the water station up the hill and poured massive amounts of water on me.

Miles 6-12.5:  Somewhere around mile 6 I mentally checked out of this race.  I didn't feel good - at all - and my head was screaming.  I swore if I saw someone drive by I was going to thumb a ride.  But the road was close to traffic and no cars were coming to save me.  I decided about mile 8ish that I just needed to let go how bad I felt and just slow the hell down and start taking in the views...drowning in sweat or not.
Thank you whomever I stole this off the Internet from
I ran when I wanted to and walked when I didn't and that seemed to do the trick and I felt much better.  I'd get to the aid station and walk about a quarter mile or so.  Part of me thought walking in a half marathon was about as lame as it gets, but remember, I really didn't care, and running seemed to hurt my stomach and head more.   I saw Cynthia up in front of me and I'd catch her when I ran but when I stopped to take a shower at each of the aid stations, she pulled ahead.  Whatever; this race wasn't suppose to be a "race" fo rme anyway.  About a mile and a half to go, you enter the Georgetown Loop Railroad Station, a little train that will take you to the tiny old silver mining town of Silver Plume.
Railroad bridge in the distance....see it?
I love this section of the course, so pretty - but also very steep - and it was getting HOT!  The altitude wasn't saving us today, and I was definitely feeling the affects of the heat.  We wound around the railroad station parking lot and head into the little historic town of Georgetown, where the race ends - eventually.

Miles 12.5 - 13.1:  The heat's beating the crap out of me and I'm really sick of this race by now.  I've run 2000' downhill and my quads are screaming they really hated me, then you hit the last section of town which is either flat or uphill - pick your poison.  I'm sure I was pretty dehydrated, even drinking 6 billion cups of water and Gatorade (badly dehydrated, actually - indicative by some issues later in the day that you really don't want to know about - trust me!).  I glanced at my watch and knew I could run a sub-2 hour if I wanted to kick it in.  And probably I should have - but I didn't really give a damn right now.  In fact, I cared so little that I just walked in the rest of the race and was perfectly okay with my 2:03.

I saw Kathy and her group of friends after I crossed and chatted with them a bit, then Cynthia came up and we talked some, too.  Good to hear about everyone's races....many of them placed in their age groups and raced well (aka: everyone but me!).  I needed to find Ryan in the sea of 2000 sweaty finishers so I wandered off from the group and found him sitting on the benches down the road.

He had hoped to run about a 1:35 but ended with a 1:38 (thanks again, Mother Nature)....but excitedly, placed 2nd in his age group.

After I ate a Popsicle and some grapes, I felt a little better but as we stood around waiting for Ryan's award, I realized I hadn't been re-hydrating and I suddenly felt really sick again and light headed....I had to sit down instantly and once Ryan got his award,we high-tailed it out of town.  It would have been fun to stick around some and talk to the girls and see if we won any of the numerous drawings they were giving away...but at that point, I'd have gladly PAID 10x the price tag of the free giveaways just to go home.

We piled into the car and I begged for a some cold Gatorade so we stopped at a gas station before hitting the highway home.  I was having more stomach issues (yay!) and so while I was taking care of that matter, Ryan suddenly felt nauseous and the second I got back to the car, he barfed all over the gas station's sidewalk.  On his running shoes. Awesome.  He actually had the audacity to try to get back in the car - puke infested shoes still on feet.  I really came close to losing it and told him the shoes go in the trash (thankfully, they were on their last treads anyway) and socks, too, if he wanted to ride in my car on the way home. 16-year old boys have many brain cells?  It was so nasty.  I still own him, so he thankfully chose the trash can for the shoes and socks!

I curled up in the back of my car, grateful for the ride home, and slept the whole way home and felt a heck of a lot better after a nice cold shower!  Ahhhhh!

It was actually a good day, despite my fate.  I got in a great tempo run.  I got to meet up with some fun ladies.  I got to run along some beautiful Colorado roads.  Ryan got an awesome AG placement and medal.  I was reminded I must hydrated like a madwoman in the heat.  And my quads got a killer workout.  Sometimes races teach us more about ourselves than a displayed clock time....this race was definitely about the experience and I am so grateful for it.
Yes, a dog tag for a medal.  I'm not going to was a free race and
I obviously got in a good workout, indicative how sore I was after :)
So you're probably asking where my mind is...running Mt. Evan's 4000' climb then a week later Slacker's 2000' decent!  Probably thinking I need some sort of racing intervention or therapy of some sorts (which I probably do....but that's a post for another time).

Ahhhhh, well, there IS a big purpose behind doing these two races....this weekend I'll be attacking this little trail gem in Leadville:

The Leadville Heavy Half race.  It should be interesting to see how this race unfolds in the next few days.  You may have heard that our entire state is practically one big fireball; and though Leadville is essentially in the clear, there is a fire not too far and I heard they may re-route us so we don't go to that tippy-top peak in the center of the profile.  Oh darn!!!!  I'll let you know next week how it goes....either way, I've done the work - I'm ready (sort of!).

Until then.....

Run Strong!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

America's Highest Road Race: Nailed it!

Seems like some of you know me better than I know myself - all those who commented on my last post that they thought I'd do the Mt. Evans Ascent when I mentioned I wasn't sure I would, were right.  I did it.

But fact is, I must have waffled back and forth whether or not I'd run it about 30 times.  The Mt. Evans Ascent is run on America's highest road (man it's great to live in Colorado :)!!), thus rightfully earning its "America's Highest Road Race" title.  It is almost 4000' up, starting at an elevation of about 10,200' and topping at 14,264'.  It's not like I've done much altitude training (one whopping run, which I felt pretty miserable doing) and it's not like I've done much massive hill climbing training (same one whopping miserable run.  Okay, two son Ryan and I ran a 1650'decent then ascent trail run last Tuesday, which left my quads so sore I could barely walk the next day).  Nothing like cramming all your training into one week! :)

I'm usually up for a good running challenge.  But I know my training right now is pretty sub-par and my weight isn't exactly making massive gains in the "lost" category.... the reason I was so wishy-washy about doing Mt. Evans because I was honestly scared of not making the strict cut-off times.  I've run this race two other times, I know how demanding it is.  I was mortified I was about to embark on my first race being swept by the sag wagon along the way.

How horrifying!!

So, I finally told myself the night before the race that I'd at least go  and if it was crazy windy, like it tends to be up there above tree line, then I was out.  This was the 31st time I changed my mind, but negotiating with the weather is so much easier than leaving it up my feeble mind to make the decision.  Nice!

Of course, when I got there, the weather was perfect.  Of course!!

I ran into some friends I used to run a lot with (back in the days I used to be much faster - whaaa ) and snapped a quick picture before lining up (btw, if you didn't read last week's post, the header picture at the top is Echo Lake - the start of the race).

Then it was time to line up.  This race is relatively small - about 500 runners - and it's not packed with your typical road racers.  These people are die-hard nuts and look like your classic mountain man ultrarunner.... I just thought to myself: I really don't belong here.

Shut up, head.  Here I am.  I am running!

The race is sort of divided into two different sections:  The first part is 9 miles to Summit Lake where the first cut-off point of 2:30 lies and it's about 7% grade incline.  The second part is from Summit Lake to the top in 5.5 miles and is about a 9% and must be reached in 4:30.

The first 3ish miles are some of the steepest of the first section and the body just isn't adjusted to the climbing yet.  Lots of pine trees here which do a pretty good at sheltering the wind, if there is wind.  Today there was none and because of that, the crazy Hyde Park Fire to the north of the race site was causing smoke to fill the valley and not be pushed out.  My eyes were watering like crazy.  But as we climbed and got above tree-line, we also got above the smoke so the eyeballs were much happier.

Haze from the Hyde Park fire
I was feeling really well.  Like I-can't-believe-how-well-I'm-feeling well.  I knew I had to run a 16 min/mile to get to the first check point at Summit Lake and though my pace was slipping the higher I climbed, I was feeling remarkable and knew I was going to make the cut-off time (unless I fell off the mountain, which is always a distinct possibility).  I hit Summit Lake check-point at 1:58.  HOORAY!   I hate to sound like a broken record, but I was just stunned how good I actually felt.  Last week in training at this point, I felt like dog food.
Approaching Summit Lake at mile 9
Summit Lake
But now the tough stuff starts: the super steep and lack of oxygen stuff.  I wasn't worried, I knew I could make it to the top with plenty of time to spare, but I knew it was also going to get tougher.

As I'm climbing, my back is starting to hurt - I can only suspect my posture was absolutely crap and I was leaning into the climb way too much and for way too long.  I had been looking forward to seeing Kathy at mile 11.5 where she was manning the aid station there, a familiar face in this crazy race would be such a welcome sight.  What a wonderful spirit boost to see her and she even had her car all decked out to cheer me on :).

Around mile 12, I see white clouds on the down side of the mountains....crazy to be running above the clouds.

But on the up side of the mountain, I'm noticing dark clouds rolling in.  Oh crap!  This means trouble soon.  Storms roll into these high elevations VERY quickly and I just wanted to get done ... and get down.

The last mile seems to drag on forever.  You can sort of see the top of the mountain, but you're weaving back and forth on so many switch-backs it just never seems to get there.  I was so glad I didn't have "elevation" displayed on my watch, if I knew how much higher I had left to climb, I'd probably poke my eyes out.  Finally reached the top....  3:32:31.

Happy, Happy, H A P P Y!

I quickly found my checked bag with my warm clothes and ran over to the summit sign to have someone take a picture.  I was stunned how the mountain was now almost engulfed in one large cloud....and, it was starting to get really cold.

Screaming in happiness.
Usually you can see for hundreds of miles from this spot.  Not today.
I found the line to get on a shuttle back to the bottom, but there were no shuttles to be found.  Seems there was a slight issue with a few Alpine Search and Rescue vehicles and helicopter taking up the road as they were hunting for a fallen climber on nearby Mt. Bierstadt.  By now, I've been on top the summit for about 10 minutes maybe and there's no shuttles coming and it's now starting to snow and sleet.  To top this circus off, the woman in charge of manning the line, was running all over asking people who were up there to pick up runners and/or out sightseeing, if they'd take us runners back down.  Unfortunately, she wasn't taking runners from the front of the line, she was just announcing she had room for x-number of people and those in line started scrambling for a spot in someone's car.  Whomever could get out of line the fastest won!  So when in Rome as they say... and when she yelled out someone could take one runner, I ran as fast as my dead legs would let me, and caught a ride down with two guys from India who were just out for a leisurely ride on America's highest road.

They were really nice though, very inquisitive about all the Search and Rescue vehicles and how it all worked (like how were they paid, and such).  The guy next to me was super annoying but he seemed to know everything so I just let him do all the chatting to the Indians.  I was way too busy saying my prayers that we made it down the mountain in one piece, preferably not upside down in the Indian's car having rolled 4000' down.  There were cars going up and down on a road that really is only 1 1/2 vehicles wide; runners were still coming up; crazy road bikers were coming up - and down.  All of us sharing this narrow road, with non-existent guard rails - all while it was SNOWING and SLEETING!!  Scared the crap out of me.  At one point about half way down, Mr. Know-it-all announced he couldn't find his I.D. and maybe we should turn around and see if he dropped it at the top.  Are you kidding me??  Time for Jill to speak: HELL NO!!!!! 

I think it took about an hour to get down the 14.5 miles.  It was raining when we reached the bottom so I didn't hang out to find my friends, I just wanted to go home while the smile was still beaming across my face.

My 3rd Mt. Evans race completed.  Worst finishing time of all.

Proudest of all three.

Stolen official race photo.  Yeah, posture sucking big time!
I can't believe how good I felt the next screaming calf or glutes as past ascent races produced.  I can only thank my new mid-foot strike for that.  Really, had I not had my calves and glutes suffer big last fall when I changed from a heel to a mid-foot strike and worked those calf muscles like crazy, I'm certain I wouldn't be walking well right now.  But today I went for a 6 mile run and aside from a little overall body stiffness, I felt really, really good.

I kinda like running in my "discomfort zone" sometimes, once I settle down and relax; it allows me to see if I have any of the grit left in me which I left behind so long ago before my foot disaster.  The more I am aware of it, hopefully the less likely I will avoid it.  I don't have it all back yet, but I'm working on it....

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

No Beaching... but a Little Racing

Gray, gloomy skies
Whomever coined the phrase "Sunny California" definitely wasn't including the month of June.

I've been home for 5 days now. I'm utterly exhausted

My daughter, the 21-year old, needed to get away from life's crazy rat-race for a few days.  She said she'd flip the bill if I wanted to go somewhere with her (score!), so like any running junkie would do, I combed the Internet for some races I could run and then planned "her" vacation accordingly :).  California is stocked full of races; it's suppose to be sunny and warm; and we have some friends nearby that would be fun to visit. Southern California seemed like a great option and Abbey was game so I instantly registered for the San Diego Rock and Roll Half Marathon.  Aren't all vacations planned around races?  If not, I've definitely been doing it wrong for years.

We arrived on Saturday.  First on the check list was to get to packet pickup so we parked near Seaport Village and walked over to the convention center.  It was the only time during 3 days of San Diego time where we saw the sun - a whole 45 minutes worth.  Abbey managed to get a slight sunburn on her shoulders and I got the flip flop tan line (a nice diversion to the sock tan line).

Having some Marriott points banked, we opted to stay in one in the Mission Valley area.  We picked it based on the fab pool and had great intentions of using it frequently.
Please note the sunny blue sky in the background.  Aka: I did not take this picture
I think I stuck my toes in it one day when I went to the gym to use the treadmill.  That was it...that was all the water time we (*I*) had all weekend.

It wasn't a big deal the sun wasn't out (at least it wasn't raining), it just make the weekend a little more challenging to find things to keep us occupied.  Relaxing at the pool or beach doing nothing is so much easier than doing nothing in your hotel room where we were more restless.  But we managed, just fine.

Sunday was dinner with friends Irene and Mary.  Mary drove 2-hours down from Northern L.A. ... always love seeing that girl, she always makes me laugh and Irene is just a pure gem.  I really wanted to keep the meet-ups while there low-key, I knew Abbey's tolerance for me trying to connect with many blog friends to talk about running with going to be limited...and this weekend was about her, so I didn't contact too many while I was there (sorry for those I didn't :( ).

Mary, Abbey, me, Irene.  I'm pretty sure Mary isn't afraid of Abbey.  But maybe!
Sunday was race day.  I decided the night before that I wasn't going to race this thing.  I just am not "there" with racing right now and while swimming one day last week with Tara, I told her I could push my pace to run a little under 2-hours or relax and run a 2:30 half, both are so far off from where I should be, so I may as well relax and enjoy the course.  Running a relaxed 2:30 definitely is less mind damaging than killing myself for some slightly better crappy time.  So that's what I opted to do.

I was thrilled at the thought.  I decided to tag onto Irene and be her wingman when she told me what her pace was.  I couldn't think of a better way to run this thing..  Aside from that failed 50k I did in March, and the pacing job I did a couple weekends ago, I've never run an entire race with someone (there's actually some psychotic mental reasoning garbage behind this, but we don't need to dive into any of my unstable mental issues right now.)

This race is ginormous - like 35,000 people huge.  I have run races this large before (Boston and Bolder Boulder, come to mind) but I never felt so many people around me.  Irene and I lined up in her corral #10.  It felt great not to have pre-race jitters!

I crack up every time I look at this picture :)

Ryan Hall and Meb Keflezighi were both running the half (I'm guessing they weren't in my corral 10, just a guess though), but because the course is a point to point with no loop-backs except for mile 9-12 (for which they were well done by then), I never saw them racing.  Would have been cool, but oh well (Meb won in 1:03:11, Ryan was second at 1:05:39 (Hall said he started out too fast.  Be still my racing heart!)).

Ryan and Meb.  Admittedly, stolen pic from the Internet
It's hard to tell what type of foot strike they have when no feet touch the ground
I think that's called flying.  Must be why I'm so slow - I don't fly.
We started off and I instantly felt the muggy humidity and thought it was crazy I was sweating so much so early on for a race I wasn't ... racing.  So I made a mental note to remember to hydrate at each of the aid stations, which was a cluster crap load of people.  I do have to hand it to Competitor and the RnR series, they are well-stocked with frequent aid stations and the volunteers are ALWAYS so nice (price tag for these races are another story, for another time perhaps).  As we got to each aid station, I just told Irene to keep moving and I'd catch up.  Bless her for wearing her easily findable bright orange cap. Who knew there'd be another light blue shirt / orange cap wearing runner at mile 5. I spewed out a few words before "he" turned around and gave me a 'who the hell are you?' look.  Opps.

Irene was doing great.  We didn't chat you recall from my past pacing experiences, I'm not a good multitasker talker/runner.  But I asked Irene now and then about the sights we passed and really loved the first half of the course and all the cool things we saw.  I brought my camera since I knew I had time to dillydally, but I was finding it really annoying removing and replacing it from my pack.  Plus, whenever I looked at the field of runners around me, I just saw a sea of purple Team in Training tank shirts.  Nothing against them and their cause, but it was a bit overkill.

How many purple Team in Training shirts can you count?
So I ditched the camera and just enjoyed the run.  I made a classic rookie mistake and wore new shoes having never run in them before and my feet were aching (in my defense, they are the same Brooks PureFlows I've been wearing all spring so I thought I'd be okay.  Um, no). As we got closer to the coast, it got cooler and I was started to get cold from the earlier sweat soaking my clothes. I was having a great time - and not once did I even plug in my iPod, a rarity for sure - but I was pretty much looking forward to being done.

Irene and I crossed, together, in 2:33.01.  Got our medals, met some of her great track club friends, almost froze to death (thanks for the jacket, Irene!) then high-tailed it back to my hotel, courtesy of Irene's friend who came to pick us up.  I had a great time running this race.  The heart resonates in present and playful moments with special people we share our life with.  It was a very fun course and I got to run it in the company of a dear, far-away friend...perfect!!

The dorky girl I am LOVES the sparkly palm tree :)
The rest of our vacation included visiting La Jolla later that day after the race....

LOVE this picture!
Seals ... everywhere.

A quick trip to Sea World (courtesy of complementary tickets with the race registration - sweet!)....

A little window shopping in the Gaslamp District.  And a bit of drooling over the beaches at Point Loma that were way too cold to sit on :(.

We left San Diego on Tuesday morning, bright and early with a long lay-over in San Francisco before our flight home to Denver.  We decided to rent a car since we had a few hours to kill and we hit about everything touristy that we could possibly hit in about 5 hours.  Major bonus points: It was SUNNY.  I've been to San Francisco about a half dozen times - even ran the SF Marathon in 2010 - and never once have viewed the Golden Gate Bridge not socked in a thick cloud.

But not today...

Really simply breathtaking.  We drove up to some lookout point on the other side of San Francisco and wandered through this tunnel (I'm way too lazy right now to Google any official names of these landmarks!) to find this view....

Sooo pretty!  If you look, you can see many trails throughout the hills...I'd love to come back one day and run them.

Lunch at Fisherman's Wharf with the sea lions...

Perusing the Embarcadaro's Farmer's Market...and eating way too many cherries...

Pretty sure there's no such thing as too many cherries.
And a little sugar...

Definitely no such thing as too much sugar!
Driving up the hills of San Francisco
Trolly (duh)
High on my list of "must see" was the Painted Ladies Houses across from Alamo Park.  Not sure why I had to see them other than I've seen pictures of them and love this era of architecture.  Finally found them (thank you, iPhone maps) after a quick trip through China Town.  I have to admit, though the houses are really pretty, I was greatly disappointed.  I guess I expected a vast array of endless Victorian houses for blocks on end.  Not so much.  Just 6 in total, really (and a few sprinkled in here and there), and a few of them were in great need of some repair.  Expectations set too high on my part I guess, but I was still glad we went to see them.

After our super-condensed version of everything touristy in San Francisco in 5 hours, we high tailed it back to the airport and caught our flight back to Denver just in the nick of time, exhausted.

I've been trying to get caught up on life upon my return, utterly failing it seems at times.  Last weekend, some friends and I ran the first section of the Mt. Evans Ascent race, which is this weekend.  I'm registered for this race, courtesy of a free entry I won in a race a couple years ago for winning my age group, which they let me defer to this year due to my inability to run it last year with my foot issues.  A couple weeks ago, I sort of decided to blow this race off, knowing I am nowhere remotely close to the condition I need to be to scale 4000' in the allocated time frame.  So I just thought I'd run it with friends as a training run and see where I landed at the first check point at mile 9 (BTW, the blog header picture is Echo Lake, the start of the Mt. Evans Ascent.  Nice, huh!?!?)

This is the road to the top of the race, 14,260'.  UGH
I felt like total dog food the first 3 miles.  This is some of the steepest section in the first 9 miles of the race and it starts at 10,300', so I'm not surprised, but I was sucking wind bad and walking way more of this than I have any other time up there.  But surprisingly, I started to feel better around mile 4 and actually make the first check point by the skin of my teeth.

Hummmmm.  Now my brain is teetering back to the possibility of running this thing after-all come Saturday.

You'll be the first to know what happens :).

Until then...

Run strong!!