Monday, August 22, 2011

Pikes Peak Ascent? Check!

Friday evening, I started combing through some old race reports of years gone past and came upon my 2009 Pikes Peak one, which I decided to re-read.  Here's a little blurb I found from the report ....
"...I am done with it [Pikes Peak Ascent] and hope I have the common sense to never do it again."

Funny I said that....'cause on Saturday, I did the Pikes Peak Ascent.

Clearly I lack common sense. 

Thankfully that's okay because though this year's race was much slower than Ascents past, due to the tiny fact I haven't been training for anything and my fitness level pretty much sucks, I'm so glad I did it.

I know I didn't exactly broadcast I was doing this race (a few of you Facebook spies knew and I thank you for all the well wishes) but when I signed up for this race back in March, my foot was at an all-time max ouchness (that's a real word) level and the chances of actually doing it were slim to none, so I didn't want to make a big deal about it ... up until the day before the race, I wasn't even sure I was doing it.  The race fills up most years within hours so back in March, who knew where the heel fiasco would find me come August. My physical therapist and I both came to an agreement we would put the whole Pikes Peak race thing on the back burner and revisit doing it when/if I could run 13 miles with no heel or ankle repercussions during or after.  I worked like a madwoman, taking my running from zero to 13 in a mere six weeks and crossed that magical number in early July, just before I headed to climb Mt. Whitney.  I got the thumbs-up from PT-man, and Ron,(who has a great article about BF running HERE) to do the Peak, but due to the fact I was still severely out of shape (apparently, it takes longer than 6-weeks to gain back what you lost in over a year.  Whaaa!), I was a teeny bit ... um....fearful.

Not fearful I couldn't do it, I knew I could climb all 8000' in a day, but could I do it in the race's cut-off times was the big question mark.  Very strict time limits are placed at 3 different check points along the route - this is due to the fact that the Colorado mountains produce very quick moving afternoon thunderstorms, and I can attest it's not a fun picnic being above tree-line in lightening.  And, according to the race director, this is a race afterall, so time limits are enforced.  And as I learned yesterday, they are pretty strict about this.

I suspect there was an ulterior motive behind all the altitude climbs and runs I did this summer - aside from the fact I just enjoy testing my mettle against the elements and reveling in scenic vistas.  If you recall, just a few weeks ago I ran/hiked to the first check point on Pikes Peak... the sole purpose was a test if I could make the cut-off time for ths race.  Sneaky me.

I knew the race would be tough - one can't climb 13.4 miles with an 8000' gain with lots of jagged rock beneath your feet in under the time limit and it not be.  So I was mentally prepared for that....and well, I love myself a good physical challenge!  What I wasn't prepared for was just HOW hard it would be - especially above 10,000' and just how tired I would get.  I think all slow moving things - like snails and rocks - moved faster than me; bagged time at earlier check points (and very minimal at that) began slipping through my fingers the higher I climbed.  It was much hotter than my previous two ascents (and I was way overdressed....but in 2008 I raced it in a snowstorm and almost froze to death....I now enter in the "be prepared for any weather" mode); I ran out of water in my Camelbak; the hose leading from the summit to the last check-point at 12,000' sprung a leak so there was no water at that aid station (I can only suspect this was due to the hose hitting many jagged rocks along the way down from the top) and thus I had no water for many miles and my throat was drying up fast.  And I was a bit dizzy.  I was stopping more times than I cared to give myself a little break and time was clicking away - fast.
The trail around mile 11.5
With about 1.2 mile to go (or the "Cirque" at 13,600' as they call it), the last aid station appeared and thank the heavens above - the hose worked and there was water.  I drank about 4000 gallons.  It gave me some the strength I think; I suddenly just felt good here.  I started climbing stronger and a woman behind me began chatting and soon we were both talking about our hellacious battle with PF and Achilles tendinitis - isn't it great, in a sad sort of way, when you connect with people because of an injury!  She couldn't have been any friendlier and the refreshing thing was that she was totally in agreement with my "no orthotics, minimalist low heel-drop shoes, mid-foot planting, toes and hip strengthening" PF antidote.  Time felt like it was flying and before I knew it, I was at the top, with about 45 minutes to spare.  Phew!
I didn't hang around at the top long - just enough to get my medal, use the pottie, and grab some grapes (in that order of priority)... I was just plain tired and wanted to get down to the bottom to see my friends.  Jon, from 2slow4boston was in town from Wichita to do the race and he was texting me to get my sorry ass down to the bottom to share a celebratory beer with him and my Denver friends (he finished a good hour and a half before me.  Hate those flatlanders!! ;)).

Jon and I just before the start of the race
By the time I got the shuttle and bus back down to the start line and grabbed my finishers shirt (no shirt just for registering, you earn your shirt in this race by finishing in the allotted time), Jon and my other friends were pretty liquored up (ha!).

1/4 zip light-weight wicking purple shirt front.  Sweet!

Status quo for the shirt back.  Love it! (see my side bar for 2009's
finisher's jacket)
Jon soon had to catch a ride back with his family so we didn't get to chat too long after (Jon nailed the race, btw, finishing well ahead of all my local friends - way to go Jon!) but we did get to have dinner together when he and his family arrived into town - which was awesome.  Such a great guy and a beautiful wife and kiddos.  So glad I got to meet them all, Jon's been one of my long-time blog followers and has a blog I greatly admire!  After Jon left, I was sitting with my friends, trying to eat something (my stomach wasn't overly happy) when I just happened to look over and saw another blogger who flew in for the race - Pennsylvanian Ann, from Trailway to Heaven.

Myself, Ann, and Ann's hubby, Gary
Small world, eh?  A beautiful soul that woman has; her and her husband did great in the race (far surpassing me) and it was so much fun talking and she told me a lot about her Hoka shoes and how they might be a good match for my foot issues (I am very intrigued!).  I also met another blogger, Hannah from More Than A Marathon, from Wichita but don't have a pic....I'll try to get one from Jon and include next post.  She was really fun and super fast too (hum...I'm starting to see a "fast" and "Wichita" connection here... maybe I need to start training the Wichita way!).

How did my foot hold up, you ask?  It's actually hard to describe exactly what was going on with it, but I did notice something there.  Early on, I had some problems with the balls of my feet and I think that was from being on my toes so much going uphill.  I felt my feet swelling as the heat, and the running, continued and I won't be surprised if I don't end up with a few black nails.  The heel was rearing it's ugly head from time to time but honestly it wasn't anything unbearable and the ankle and the Achilles held up remarkably well.  Today, I'm walking just fine....had I done this race 3 months ago, I'd be crippled and crawling to use the bathroom.  I have come a long way in the past couple months...something I constantly remind myself if I start to get down on how much conditioning I have lost.   

I finally got home about 14 hours after I left that morning, accomplishing "America's Ultimate Challenge" - I couldn't have been happier if I tried.  No, it was not even close to my best time - but this race wasn't about a finish line time.  I was about seeing if I had the "grit" (as my friend likes to call it) to do it, to test my foot to see if it could handle the torture of that beast, and hopefully ignite a little fire under my butt and jumpstart some serious training in me. 

I had the grit.
My foot did well.
My one prevailing thought up that mountain was that I am so ready to put the past year and a half behind me and get into some decent shape.

I'd call that a one highly successful race.

BTW, I also had another blogger meet-up this weekend, Amanda from Runninghood was in town for a little reviving of her soul with some quality girlfriend time.  We had a pre-race carb-loading burger and fries and then a fun little trip to REI and had some great laughs at some funky running stuff.  Good times!  She has this wonderfully big heart and so glad I got to meet up with her and share some great laughs.  Thanks, Amanda, I think all those greasy fries did the trick on Saturday :).

I will not write in my 2011 RR that I hope I have enough common sense to never run Pikes Peak again ... I plan to be back - I got a little redemption and it WILL be about a finish line time.  Bring it on!

Run strong, my friends!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Get Your Ass Over The Pass / NB Trail Shoe Review

Well, if I weren't completely exhausted from the whole Mt. Whitney ordeal upon my return home, let's add a 200 mile, 2-day relay to the equation and learn what REAL exhaustion is (or, perhaps it was yet another hike up Mt. Whitney with dear Kate?  Read here for a great laugh).

I DID get my ass over that damn pass though. 


I always think that elevation profiles and maps mean nothing to readers; unless you've just lived the whole 2-day ordeal, it's really hard to wrap your head around what the profile crap really means....but I know what it meant because I got the "pleasure" to live. I'm including it for my own reference  - so when I'm 99 and look back and read this post (if I can read by then) I'll think, "Holy Sh!t, did I just do that??  I was BA!!" :)

16,257' elevation gain.  I'm pretty sure I ran all of that!

That long, solid, white line at the top of the map is the Colorado/Wyoming border.
Lame-o me just thinks that's pretty cool the race crossed into another state.
Okay kids, here's the scoop in a nutshell, just some random few brain-dump sentences as that's all my brain can really compute right now: 
  • I am dog tired; I slept 1 hour in the 41 hours I was gone (this included drive time to and from).  I can't seem to get caught up on sleep no matter how intimate my pillow and I have been upon my return. 
  • It took our team much longer to finish than we predicted - we can thank my sorry, out-of-shape butt for some of that. 
  • It was ungodly hot. 
  • It was ungodly steep. 
  • It was ungodly windy. 
  • It was ungodly dusty. 
  • I got to run in Wyoming (I think that's a first, despite having spent 6-weeks there for geology field camp a hundred years ago) on my 2nd leg at 2am; coincidentally, this was also my fastest of my sorry-ass slow legs. 
  • My heel and ankle did surprisingly well (a noticeable limp after the run and whenever I would sit too long in the van, but running my short legs felt good!).
  • This was the first real "speed work" I've done in well over a year; my pathetic quads are reaping the consequences of that. 
  • I got to lay my sleeping bag out on the grass by the river in the crazy big town on Jelm, Wyoming (go ahead, Google it) for about two hours and watched an incredible meteor shower.
  • Site of meteor shower viewing, before the sun went down (obviously)
    Aside from a little cafe to the right of this "post office and general store",
    this is Jelm, Wyoming
    I have no idea what this "Woods Lakes Dance Hall" sign says,
    It said, "Wyoming" and that's all that mattered
  • My 1st leg was about 4 miles and gained about 10,500' in elevation - or so it seemed; ridiculous how really only a 600' climb can seem like a mountain when your cardiovascular system is hovering around the bottom of the fitness scale.  At least I "look" speedy?  And bonus points that I'm not heel striking! 
  • My 2nd leg was exactly 12-hours after my first leg and I ran by the light of a full moon - incredible! 
  • My 3rd leg was the absolute worst of all 3.  Lucky me wasn't feeling so swell with some stomach irritations - let's also add some ridiculous wind, lack of sleep, and my leg starting at 9426' and climbing even higher.  My disposition really started to tank here, what was left of it. Kinda cool to start on the Continental Divide though.
  • "Slept" about a hour at the equivalent of the Roach Hotel in the hopping town of Walden, Colorado (yeah, Google that one, too...); thank god I had a sleeping bag to lay on the "love spotted" bedspread.  Ewww.
  • Ran though some very remote, yet incredible scenery
  • I knew one person on this team before the start but finished having 9 new, incredible friends.
  • The Chicks - and my lopsided body
    The Dudes
    The Team.  Done.  30:28, 58th place out of 116 teams.
    Despite my sleep deprived, sorry state of conditioned running body, I had an incredible time; there is nothing like a little sleep deprivation to make you constantly laugh at the stupidest things, and that whole camaraderie thing is a pretty amazing experience.  If you've never run a multiple day endurance relay, you really should consider it just once.  It's grueling, yes, but immensely rewarding.
    This relay was hard for me, humbling hard.  (I really hate blogger right now and not going to bother trying to fix the indention problem!!).  But you know ... I think maybe it was just what I needed.  I realized how much I missed the massive quantities of sweat that comes with hard workouts.  I miss the mileage my body used to love.  I hate to admit this outloud, but I even miss the strength training workouts, which have always given my muscles a clean, toned look.  I recently came across this quote and I couldn't help but insert myself....
    "God does not give us overcoming life, he gives us life as we overcome.  The strain is the strength.  If there is no strain, there is no strength.  Are you asking God to give you liberty and joy?  He cannot, unless you accept the strain.  Immediately you face the strain, you will get the strength."
    Reading this at the right moment after the relay gave me one of those know, the ones that stop time and take you to a place where you know it's time to make some changes.  I've been afraid to push the parameters with my running, fearful of a major heel setback ... fearful I'll get to the middle of some training program only to be slammed back to the start and what that would do to my already fragile psyche.  Had I read this before the relay, before I knew how sucky my current fitness level is, I'm pretty sure it wouldn't hold the same meaning.  The relay showed me exactly what I need to do...I think it's time to push the envelope a little with my running and enjoy a little strain to find the strength I dearly miss.
    New Balance MT876OR Trail Shoes review at Grays and Torreys 
    The weekend prior to the relay, I got the opportunity to summit the 14,000' peaks of Grays and Torreys with the cross country team.  Grays and Torreys are essentially two of the "easier" of the 52 14,000'+ peaks in Colorado to climb - that being the trail is not a scrambled mess of loose rock, and the 4 mile one-day distance and 3100' elevation gain is minor compared to most.  But the benefits of this make it also run-able in most parts, which at that elevation is a strenuous workout none-the-less.  The abundance of rain the state received in July left the valley in a blanket of wildflowers... provided my son a pair of their rugged New Balance MT876OR trail shoes to test out for our awesome adventure and see how they'd hold out and perform for him.  He had a blast running far ahead of me....and smiling the entire way...
    Though the trail is not highly technical, it can be a challenge on your feet as your climb and hit loose patches of rock and reach steep inclines.  I'm a firm believer that the shoes you were on these trails can make the difference between a great or a lousy experience.  Trail shoes are designed to protect the feet from the rugged, rocky surface and to maximize forward motion by gripping the trail to promote traction.  The thicker sole is nubbier and the added density provides more stability on uneven terrain.
    Because Ryan is a fairly minimalist road shoe wearer (thanks to his mom's persistence), the shoe was a bit stiffer than he is used to and bothered him a little at first where the terrain is soft and dirt-packed.  But as he gained elevation, he had absolutely no problems with them on the trails and his feet were comfy and free of blisters, black toenails, or any ankle twists.  Success!  We both reached the summit with feet feeling fantastic!
    In finding the proper trail shoe, make sure it fits your foot and don't make your foot fit the shoe.  The New Balance MT876OR is a great shoe for hitting the trails and making your trail running experience into a happy adventure-seeking run.  For this guy of mine, he can't wait to get out there and give them another trail run.  Thanks, - you made our adventure up Grays and Torreys a great one.
    Ryan in his coolio New Balance MT876OR trail shoes, posing after
    he reached the summit, and back down, of Grays and Torreys
    Run strong, my friends!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

From the highest to the lowest ... and more blogger sightings

One day Brendan and I were attempting to summit Mt. Whitney: the highest elevation elevation in the lower 48 states, 14,505' (ok, so we didn't actually reach the summit - hush!!) and the next day we ventured to the lowest point in North America, -282' below sea level.  My kid and I - we know how to live I tell ya!

Death Valley National Park.  The valley of death.

The sounds of it is pretty ominous, yet Death Valley has nonetheless beckoned me for many years, despite conjuring images of desiccated steer skulls and shimmering heat waves that would make possibly even a Dubai summer seem comfortable by comparison. Perhaps the geologist in me played a role in this desire, but there was also quite simply the curiosity of wanting to see a place famous for having both the highest recorded temperature in the United States as well as the lowest point in North America; extremes that are not coincidentally linked.

I also have a sick insatiable curiosity to visually witness famously insane endurance races  - for which I will never partake - such as the notoriously renal killing Badwater Ultramarathon.  It's ok, call me a wimp but for some reason, I'm thinking it's a good thing to have kidneys. I am a "fan" on their Facebook page though, doesn't that automatically make me an official finisher?   So here I am running a few miles of the race course:

Ok, ok, got me again - it's not actually ME running (and I'm at peace with that) but we did see this guy clipping about a 7 min/mile pace about 20 miles from the start line of Badwater.  It was 116 degrees.  He was the only idiot soul I saw running during our few hours there.  Brendan thought I was joking when I told him we had to turn around to take his would think after living with me for the past 16 years, he'd know me by now.

Driving along, we noticed the price of desolate lands is steep, good thing I had the foresight to fuel up before entering the park:

And still further along...the thought of encountering a snake kept me from hiking to the top of these dunes...

Or perhaps it was the sign.....

Either way, I walked about 30 steps and called it quits.  The dunes were cool, as was the surrounding topography...really, this place is a geologist's jungle gym; endless roads can land you in some of the most amazingly beautiful places ...

And had the temperatures not agreed with Death Valley's nickname, the hottest place on earth, I may have gotten out of the car more to explore some of these areas, but where I was really aching to reach was the Badwater Basin, which was a good hour's drive from the park's entrance. 

Finally, we arrived at Badwater Basin, at minus 282-feet, completely overrun with tourists.  You'd think July's oppressive temps would discourage the weak, but not so much.  I mean, we were there :).  Really, there were a lot of people but most didn't venture past the lowest point sign.

Is there a photo out there that screams more tourist than this?
Not us, we I had to venture way out onto the basin, bribing the son who was starting to whine about how hot it was - One Hundred Sixteen degrees, paaa-leeze, we were going on a hike.  In flip flops.  With no water.  No hat.  Who cares that it felt like we were blasted with an open oven door when we got out of the car.

The geology geek goddess me has to say this: Badwater is one of the coolest places on the planet I have ever been.  Really!  Badwater got it's name from a little spring feed pool of stream water which is laden with sulfur, borax and salt.  Therefore it's "bad water".  

That's actually water around that salt, and my beautiful shadow
The basin of Badwater is about 200 sq miles of salt flats.  Because this area gets so little rainfall (less than two inches annually) and no water can flow out of the basin, the water gets trapped and evaporates, leaving behind mineral deposits that cover the basin like a salty dusting of snow.  The nice people of the Park Service will let you walk on this basin of salt.

Repeated freeze–thaw and evaporation cycles gradually push the thin salt crust into hexagonal honeycomb shapes.
I was absolutely fascinated with these hexagon shapes of salt

A wooden “Sea Level” plaque 282 feet over Badwater Basin lets us visitors know just how low you are.

Brendan and I must have spent about 45 minutes out on the salt flats - some of it was hard and crunchy and some of it soft and squishy and we just walked around mesmerized (well, one person was....another person not so much.  He did write how much he missed his girlfriend in the salt so I'm not sure what all whining was about).  At one point I dug a little hole with my toe and suddenly this blazing hot water was oozing out of the salt.  It was just a spectacular place - the whole area had me absolutely engrossed and I must have told Brendan 30 times how I'd love to come back to this area ... in perhaps January, and spend days here.  Yeah, I could tell Brendan's head was already forming excuses for his absence for that vacation.

After my body decided to sweat out about 3 gallons water, I knew it was time to leave and we packed back into the comforts of the AC and drove out of the basin.

In a matter of minutes of leaving Badwater, I was overcome with fatigue and I needed some water - fast.  There was this little oasis, for lack of a better word, out in the middle of nowhere - a little general store and a hotel.  Perfect!  I pulled in and got out of the car, mind in a complete water-deprived fog and in such a rush to replenish my brain cells.  Apparently in my mad rush, I forgot to put the car in PARK.  It started rolling, fast, and before I could figure out what was really happening - BAM - the car hits a post.  Opps.  Landed a pretty big dent on the ole rental car and sported a little green paint from the post as a bonus.  This is what this valley of death will do to you!  Brendan said the entire dent incident was the highlight of his entire trip.  Brat!  We did have a great laugh out of it....I mean, what else do you do in the middle of absolutely nowhere in 116 degree heat but laugh!  I did eventually get my water....and I said a little thanks to the post for being there, I'm certain my car would have been a side fixture to the general store otherwise.
So no desiccated steer skulls to be found and I'm not even sure I witnessed any shimmering heat waves, yet in a matter of less than 30-hours, Brendan and I covered over 13,282' of elevation and a whopping 98 degrees of Fahrenheit temperature changes.  I think that's pretty dang cool!! Yet, we really only scratched the surface of what Death Valley has to offer the outdoor enthusiasts that we are.  To quote a resident of the state that is home to Death Valley:  I'll be back!

We left Death Valley in the late afternoon, and I apparently never regained all my sanity (quiet now!) after dehydration left my brain fuzzy for I let Brendan drive the dented rental down a "scenic route"...

I may, or may not have, screamed a few times.  It was steep, it was rocky, it was narrow...but the kid had a absolute blast.  And I figured if something happened out there, no one would find us anyway so who really cared...and besides, the car already was sporting one dent, what's another!  After a night in the awesome (hahah..ha...hahahahahah) town of Ridgecrest, we drove on to fellow blogger Meg's house in Northern San Diego to spend our final night in California.

Most of you know that Meg and I were Boston roomies in 2010 for the marathon.  We never met prior to Boston, but just hit it off before and decided to share the cost of the outrageously priced hotels there.  Meg is a true sweetheart and has the most beautiful soul.  She opened up her gorgeous home to Brendan and I and we had a great time catching up on life, playing at the beach, talking blogs and eating tons of awesome food.  Her husband, BS, is as nice and genuine as Meg and a master griller (just teasing you about that T'giving prime rib, BS!).

Pizza on the grill....yum!
Meg threw a little Southern Cali blog-fest and it was so much fun reacquainting with Chris K from The Manly Runner while meeting many bloggers I have followed for a very long time....Irene from Magazine Smiles, Anne from Run DMZ, Glenn from Running Fat Guy (who, btw, my whole trip up Mt. Whitney was suppose to be with.  Next year for sure, Glenn.  Maybe we'll even drag Chris K up with us....if he's manly enough!) and Aka: Alice. from Hefferblog (ok guys, I took the time to link all those really cool blogs for a reason!!).

The Motley Crue: Yours truly (getting hugs from Meg :)), Meg, her hubby Boy Scout,
Chris K and his very sweet gf, Alycia, Irene and her husband, Anne, Glenn, Aka: Alice and her husband.
What a fun evening!  Everyone was really nice and so funny (aka: Alice, I love your KC fat story...still laugh when I think about it)!  I was so tired from the whole week - up and down Whitney, Death Valley and pretty much driving most of Southern California so I hope I wasn't too blah.  Can't wait until we get together next time...a celebration after the Carlsbad Marathon, perhaps?  Thanks, Meg, you and BS are the best and I am blessed for your special friendship!

I am now home, back in Colorado, and busy, busy, busy (aka: tired, tired, tired).  I am working.  I am running (32.2 miles last week.  I KNOW, I can hardly believe it myself!).   I am climbing 14,270' peaks here in my own state.   I'm prepping for a little mountain race next weekend (yikes).  And am getting ready to do the 200-mile Wild West Relay tomorrow and Saturday.  This will be my first attempt at any type of race in about a year (with the exception of that Duathlon series I did on a very bum foot) so I'm a little nervous.  I can already tell I'm going to be the FUN one of the group....I got an email yesterday from the team captain stating the 11 of us on the team were going to have to run an extra 4th leg to make up the legs for the 12th person who we could not recruit for the team.  I opened the attachment of leg assignments and could only find my name on 3 legs and I wondered for about 30 minutes how 11 of us were going to run 3 legs before I decided to email the team captain back and asked her to explain my confusion.  She wrote me back: I was just joking about the fourth leg. You are only running 3 legs: 8, 20 and 32. The ones you requested... Just a little captain’s humor.
Um yeah...I'm pretty sure I'm not invited back next year, and I haven't even run my sucky 10:30 min/mile pace yet!  At least it's not 11 min/miles anymore...and that's all I got to say about that!

Up next week: a year in review about my heel...and what I've done to overcome my nightmare.  Can't wait to share with you all I have learned, and a guest spot from the guy who's been helping me.

Run Strong, Friends!