Thursday, December 19, 2013

How to Race CIM in 38 Steps

I've run races 4x as large as CIM (Boston, Chicago) and none has been as clustered at the start as CIM
1) have friend (Katie) pick me up at 430am for 8000 hour drive to California.  In the coldest weather recorded on earth.  Ever.
2) drive an hour to realize said friend dropped her phone in my driveway when she picked me up.  Drive back to get it.  In rush hour traffic.  Actual departure time is now 3 hours later than planned.
3) stop in Laramie, WY to get gas.  Car thermometer reads a balmy -21 degrees (without windchill factored in). OhhhhMyyyyGodddd!

4) toes take eternity to thaw out, just in time to get out of the car again for more gas.
5) 3 dogs tagging along for the fun get into dog fight and bite Katie's finger.
6) adorable 4-year old, also tagging along, has a melt-down about being stuck in the car for 400 hours (who can blame her?).
6) stop in Elko, NV for the night in raunchy hotel.  If you've been to Elko (who the hell would?), 'nuff said.  If you haven't - no need to rush there.
7) day 2 of eternity car trip from hell: eat shit all day.

8) start to feel nauseous.
9) start to feel REALLY nauseous.
10) have Katie pull the car over 30x to get some fresh air so I don't barf all over her (and the kid and the 3 dogs...though 2 of the dogs may have deserved it).
11) consider a lobotomy.
12) laughed for 20 minutes when this song came on...

 12) Leave snow-ridden, freezing Colorado to finally arrive in California - to snow.  

13) arrive at Katie's parents' house only to instantly go lie down for 2 hours due to severe car sickness.  I'm such an awesome guest!
14) invest in multiple bottles of Pepto Bismol.
15) go for a 3-mile run; want to die at a 10:30 pace.
17) go to expo and receive the ugliest shirt in my 37 year racing career.

18) listen to speaker at expo announce to crowd, "32 degrees is freezing.  Seriously, 32 degrees is freezing, people.  It will be colder than freezing at race start.  Remember 32 degrees is freeeeeeeeezing temperatures..." 
19) not thinking California would be gunning for record low temps, I brought no freeeeeeeeezing temperature race apparel.
20) shop at Good Will for race-day throw away clothes.  Buy Pepto Bismol colored pink down coat (yes, the Pepto is now becoming a theme).  Gawd, I miss that coat.
21) Katie's aunt (who graciously allowed me to stay the night there, and fed me - or at least tried to) looked at me at our night-before-race dinner and proclaimed, "You look a little green."
22) Drink Pepto Bismol for pre-race dinner.
23) Drink Pepto Bismol for race morning breakfast.

24) line up at start line with 3:55 pace group.  Wonder what the hell I'm doing here.
25) face plant at mile 2 (yes, that's correct, this a road race).  Leave some skin on the pavement from the knee, tweak the shoulder, bruise the hip, and rip two half dollar sized holes in the palm of my gloves.  

26) try to run by effort and not look at my Garmin for assistance.  
27) bahahahahahaha!
28) effort feels too I speed up (and leave the pace group behind).
29) mile 10: think to myself that I should have done more uphill hill work (apparently 6 months of vertical Leadville training was fruitless when you take 4 months off from it.  Who knew?).
30) miles 10-20 are some of my fastest miles.  I feel great, perceived effort be damned.
31) mile 21 I start to slow.  Imagine.
32) mile 23 feels like death would be a better alternative to continuing on...then all of a sudden, Jesus appeared out of nowhere to read me my fate.

33) mile 24: trying to do math to see if I can still get under BQ time.  Impossible.  
34) By the grace of some unbeknownst force (which was NOT my will the last 3 miles), I....

Boston Qualified!

35) actually choked up when medal (also ugly) was hung on my neck; it suddenly occurred to me I just wrapped up what has been one helluva incredible racing year.  I truly couldn't be more grateful!  A storybook fairy tale ending. tear.
36) rectified ugly race shirt with new, awesome shirt!

37) gave Katie the BIGGEST hug when she crossed that finish line - her very first marathon - with absolutely zero stomach problems.  The girl's had one disastrous long training run after another due a protesting stomach. Thankfully (?) her mom recently had knee surgery and gave Katie one of her anti-nausea prescription meds prior to the race.  It worked like a charm, and Katie was beaming (and she didn't have to down 4 bottles pink chalk tasting crap, like someone).
Triumphant Katie!  SO proud!
I didn't copy this; I stole it.

38) Not my speediest, but for the effort I put going into this race, it was an incredibly amazing day!  And I was delighted to share it with this mighty fine woman!  

Time: 3:56:23
AG: 40/270

Run strong, my friends!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

November: CIM - Half Committed

Trying to find something to say about my pending marathon, because I feel like there should be words here for it. 26.2 miles is a long way, long enough to appear something of an impossible stunt to a new coworker who hasn't been introduced to marathons as things that exist. But I don't have much to tell her, nor have I had much to tell you, because my heart just hasn't been into the training for this race and I'm left with a few days until race day, scrambling to figure out what I CAN do. 

It's not that I don't want to see how fast I could go. I want to know. Rather badly.  I'd really like to BQ, if I'm being truthful (even though I don't have any real desire to go back to Boston).  I haven't raced a road marathon in 4 years, but I can still feel the pain of those last few miles, when the body tells you to stop because you've overworked it, and yet you must ignore those warning - if you want to do well. 

And perhaps that's the problem.  Road marathons are cruel, in that they make you run - and run hard - the whole way. No stealing breaths on hills or overly technical sections like in hilly trail ultras have taught me.  And the result is what it is. You are what you ran that day, not what you thought you could do, not what that one workout said you could hit that you totally nailed a couple weeks back.  There's no room for error.  In a fifty miler, stopping for an extra few minutes at an aid station or walking because you're freaking tired won't bear much effect on your race.  Do any of those in a marathon and your goal is screwed.

My training for CIM started out well - I was hitting all my target runs on my plan.  For about 5 weeks. Then November struck.  I got sick.  I Lost interest in training for something.  I developed a glute "thing".  Lost even more interest.  I defended cake for dinner as acceptable nourishment.  And the illness - whatever it was/is - decided to hang on for weeks.  I even had a stretch of 5 days in a row in November where I didn't run.  O-M-G!  I found myself wanting to run for the sheer joy of - running.

Training for a road marathon takes a commitment of time to build up leg speed; my speed work for CIM can basically be summed up in the two races in November I did.

November 16th was the Pumpkin Pie 5k.  It was an inaugural event, which drew out an astounding 3500 runners (2000 in the 5k, 1500 in the 10k).  It was my daughter's 23rd birthday and she wanted to run it (she doesn't run).  It was a gorgeous, sunny day and I managed to drag the other non-running child into the action too.

We all ran our own races. Out of pure habit, I ran outside of my comfort zone and was dying by mile 1  and progressively got slower each mile.  Abbey and Brendan ran together for the first mile and I got to see them as we weaved back around towards the start.  It warmed my heart to see my two, the ones who don't run, together, running.  I finished a solid minute slower than my last 5k six weeks prior, which I will contribute some of that sluggishness to several tight, hair-pin turns, which left me disinterested in revving my pace back up. But some of that slowness is because I've lost fitness in those six weeks.  I managed to place first in my age group though and scored a sweet gift certificate.

I shuffled back out on the course and ran in Brendan, then back out again to bring home Abbey.  The girl is running...and smiling!

We then ate every last crumb of post-race face-sized pumpkin pie and called the birthday a happy one.

Best shirt of the year!
Time: 24:04 (7:45 pace)
AG: 1/82
Overall: 144/2030

Thanksgiving day marked the 40th running of the Mile High United Way 4-mile Turkey Trot.  I've run this race a handful of times, but not in the past several years.  I was invited to race this as part of Runner's Roost, a local running store here in town, and I represented the store where I work from time to time.  I really had no intentions of racing the thing; moreso I wanted to get a feel of 'marathon race pace'.  But when stores compete against one another and food is the prize.......

Wouldn't you know, the non-running child was there with me again - running.  Brendan had a great day and ran far better than he hoped.  He even enjoyed it.  I like to think I'm creating an epidemic of Parker runners.

4 miles is a long way to race, hard.  It's like racing a 5k but enjoying an additional pain-staking I-feel-like-puking mile.  

I was impressed with my first 3 miles, where I kept consistently in the high 7:30s, which was faster than the Pumpkin 5k.  The last mile, the one where the brain said it was time to stop because we had hit the 5k mark, was an unimpressive 8:04.  And I wasn't even running up a hill to earn that deplorable present.

Our store lost overall (but I was an entire 3 minutes faster than my predicted time since I had no intention of racing it when I sent in my prediction) so no food was won but overall I was pleased, considering this was my 2nd speed workout in my CIM training.  Basically.

Time: 31:12 (7:48 avg pace)
AG: 5/324
Female: 160/4778
Overall: 578/8519

November total: 
173.53 miles 
This is my 3rd lowest mileage month this year, during peak marathon training.  Awesome.

So I sit here and consider my options for CIM, on the eve of the eve when we head out of town to Sacramento.  My friend, Katie, is driving us (she will be staying with family the entire month; I will be flying home on Monday).  This is Katie's first marathon; I'm super excited for her and thrilled I could be a part of her journey as I helped guide her training.  I'll have more time to ponder my race in those 20 grueling hours on the road....

Jealous, aren't you?
I could hang back and enjoy the atmosphere of the race (like I essentially did the past 5 road marathons and the trail marathon I did back in October) since I only half committed to my training, and thus not beat myself up if the race unfolds poorly.  Maybe I could even run with Katie; that'd be fun!

Or maybe I can push myself out right out of my comfort zone, kiss this glute issue and sinus/chest cold goodbye, dig deep, and try to remember that I like to do hard things.  I mean, isn't the merit of things embedded inside the difficulty at hand?

Onto my last race of the year.... let's see what the girl's got left!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

October: Chasing Numbers

In case you didn’t already know this, I’m a very competitive person – surprise!  I have found that while I enjoy just running for the sake of being outside and keeping myself sane, racing generally motivates me and I love (though I rarely speak to) being around like-minded running obsessed freaks soles. I enjoy running for more reasons than I can explain, but part of what I love is pushing myself and learning what my body’s and mind’s limits are. Races are at the core of helping me define this….I have probably raced over 500 races (which includes my high school and college racing career).  How do you take the racer out of the runner who’s taught herself over the course of 37 years that there’s no bigger high than crossing that start line of a race?  You can’t, not really.  But I am learning some valuable lessons....

  - October 6th I ran the Blue Sky Trail Marathon on the outskirts of Ft. Collins in Horsetooth Reservoir.  It was a beautiful Colorado bluebird sky morning as a total of 161 of us toed the line on this deceptively challenging course.

If you’re waiting for the part where I landed on the podium and smacked down a stellar race time, well, you’ll be waiting a long time.  This was not that race.  I could write out a handful of excuses why, but it just wasn’t in my heart to beat the crap out of my body on the trails.  I realized early on, when I saw a woman there whom I beat by over a half hour in Leadville take off and leave me in the dust, pretty much all my vertical uphill training I did for Leadville is a distant memory.  Being an active participant of Racers Anonymous for the past 37 years, it took me a solid 6 miles of stressing over my watch’s dismal display that I needed to take the damn thing off and just enjoy being back out in nature and not an have an existential meltdown by not meeting some irrational number I set upon myself – which was unrealistic in the first place since this race had about 3500’ of elevation gain and was more in the lines of 28 miles.  At mile 6, I decided it was time to turn the watch off and instead look for an endorphin bath, not an ag win!

The course was an eclectic mix of challenging terrain  But wow was it gorgeous!  I found a guy who I felt was “slow” but decided slow was what I needed if I wanted to finish strong, and I let him dictate our pace for about 9 miles - I stuck to him like glue. 
I'm sure he has now has a restraining order against me

We rarely spoke, but he was clearly aware of his pacing purpose; around mile 18 he told me he I was pushing him too hard and it was time to cut him loose. Argh!

For the next demanding few miles, I tiptoed over and around vertically slanted red sandstone, just trying to remain upright.  It was relentless, and taxing - but that's what I loved most about it.  At mile 22, as the rock outcrops abated and more dirt emerged, it was time to pick up the pace a bit - if I couldn't have a decent finish time, at least I was going to finish strong.  I started passing people a little here and there, which is hard to do in a very small race like this, but I was legitimately now in race mode and determined to run hard through the end.  At mile 25.5, it was apparent that this was not a "true" marathon distance race, despite what RD Nick Clark told us at the start (due to biblical rains we had the weeks prior, the course was re-rerouted adding 400' more climbing and lessened in length to now "about" 26.2 miles (love trail races), and I was nowhere near the finish. I slowed a tad because, truthfully, my overzealous past 4 miles left me cooked, but I marched on - and finished satisfied with my day. 

Time: 5:31
Distance: 18.11 miles
Vertical: 3429'
Overall: 101/161
AG (40-99): 11/18

- October 20th I embarked on my 4th Denver Rock and Roll Half Marathon. The half marathon is my favorite road race distance; the strategy of learning the perfect cocktail to hold onto that threshold of pain for that distance excites me.  And scares the crap out of me.  I've killed a half marathon (or 20) by going out too fast at the start, thinking I had it in me when I didn't.  This could be one if I wasn't careful.

I really didn't have any wild expectations for this race.  I had wishful thoughts when I registered in the spring that I could knock out a good race here considering I was killing most of my races back then.  But after Pikes Peak Marathon my running took a nosedive - or at least my desire to want it did (Leadville training completely consumed me and left me empty after....but more on that in another post).  I'm still running and loosely training for California International Marathon in 6 weeks, but I gave up the notion I could run this race "fast" and just prayed I could somehow squeak out a sub-1:50 - even if it was just barely.

I wanted to line up with the 1:50 pacer and let him do the work (the guy in the blue shirt from Blue Sky was nowhere to be found), but they were in the wave behind me, and good lord I wasn't going to move back a wave-  gasp.  So I just ran.  I know that sounds too simple, but that's all I really thought about - run, run your guts out, run hard, "careful" be damned.  I felt my effort more in the lines of a 10k, but I didn't really care.  Wasn't racing about learning what I had in me?  I had my fun at Blue Sky, now it was war.  The hills almost paralyzed me, but I trudged upward and was surprising happy when I reached the top of them all at mile 12 with tons of energy to spare.  I ran the last mile (1.33, actually) the fastest yet (7:35) and landed across the finish far better - and happier - than I hoped a mere 1 hour and 47 minutes earlier.
Time: 1:47:27
Distance: 13.33 miles
Female: 220/5722
AG (50-59): 4/295  (I'm kinda in awe over this one!)

- I've been running the vast majority of my longer runs on my treadmill for CIM, like 20 miles long.  I know that sounds gruelingly poke-your-eyes-out-with-the-nearest-sharp-object boring, but it's a mental challenge for me.  If I can stay on this damn thing for 3 hours then surely I have the strength to run 4 hours on the road at CIM.  Plus, it's teaching me to feel my pace effort without looking at my watch 5 billion times in a second. I just punch in the pace and pray I don't fall off.  I love the simplicity of it....bonus: I'm getting caught up on reading.  And if Emz can run 100% of her training on a treadmill and still land 8th overall at the hellacious Javelina 100 milers in 20-hours, then yeah, I can suck it up once a week for my measly 3 hours runs on the thing.  It is making me stronger, mentally.

- I have been getting outdoors, too.....
Last week I hooked up with Steve from Happy Trails for a little 17 mile jaunt around the Air Force Academy trails.  My legs were a bit trashed from the 17 hard marathon paced miles I did 2 days prior (on my treadmill :)), and I was slower than my normal trail turtle self, but Steve was gracious enough to wait for me (frequently) and the miles clicked by so fast.  That guy has a heart of gold and never once did he complain about my sloth-like pace (I almost chocked when he told me his MAF, mine's a good 2-minutes/mile slower!) and I deeply appreciated the company.  It's a rare treat when I get to run with someone, especially someone so kind and whose wife is dear to my heart. 

Steve waiting.  And waiting.  And waiting...
This past Monday, Ryan had a college visit with the track team coach at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction (it's all becoming so real - they're leaving me!  But he had a promising visit - yay).  Steve and Kathleen sent me a detailed map of some trails nearby the college, all color coded for the girl who can get lost on an 400m track.  Ryan and I dumped off Brendan and his friend on some trails 3 hours away for their 3-day backpacking adventure (that, in itself, is worthy of an entire blog post) and headed out on the trails.  

It was super windy when we arrived to the trail head; Ryan and I stood around contemplating whether we should go to the hotel and bag it or take on the wind.  Thankfully, the wind won.  

The desert trails, nestled on the eastern banks of the Colorado Plateau, are simply stunning as the Colorado River snakes it's way along the iron-enriched red sandstone, leaving some breathtaking cliffs.

I swear, Ryan smiled or laughed the entire time.  He was so lost in time and didn't care one iota about his pace nor the fact his coach had him doing x-amount of distance, which he clearly wasn't adhering to.  Time didn't matter here; Ryan was completely immersed in this adventuresome day and deemed it, "an awesome day." And me, I was just so happy to have him here, with me, doing what we both love so much - running. Together.  It's not lost on me that times spent with him like this are numbered, so I soaked up every drop and logged my mileage that day as "a lot" in the 3 hours we played on the trails.  
Ryan climbing up as some mountain bike was coming down (carrying his bike, thankfully)

omg, scared shitless of the 1000' drop below

Yeah, racing means a lot to me, but running doesn't always need to be about chasing those elusive numbers - sometimes it's just about being connected. I am pleased with my two races this month but I wouldn't trade those memories on the trails non racing for any race PR or glorious finish line time.  Running is the best therapy I've ever gives me the awareness of strength and gives me the confidence to face the rest of my day, my week....and my heavy year ahead.

- October Numbers:
Total mileage: 241.15 
(that's a PR for the year, btw!  Thank you!)

Thank you for all your caring comments on my last post.  It's really hard for me to make big girl decisions that vastly affect the lives of my little ones - even if they are basically "adults."  It's hard stuff, but we're plugging away - together.

Run strong, my friends!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Summer's End

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” 
 - John Steinbeck

Making our way to Mt. Bross, one of Colorado's infamous 14ers. 
Sunday night, 1 days left in September, I haven't posted the entire month - seems like perfect timing for an update....

I just returned home from what may be my last hurrah in my beloved Rocky Mountains, though I may head up again at some point before year's end beings I left my only spare car key at my aunt's condo.  I spent extensive time this summer while training for Leadville here; the place is nestled back in the woods and is so peaceful and serene, which if you know how ridiculously touristy Breckenridge can be mid-summer, you wouldn't believe what I just said.  I love to come up here when life gets a bit chaotic....and run and run and run on all the amazing neighboring trails.

Wednesday I went for a long run on a section of the Colorado Trail, a trail my shoes marked well with monster mileage this summer.  The day couldn't have been more beautiful: Colorado's notorious blue skies finally emerged from the heavy, dark clouds it's been hidden from for weeks (and weeks), and the temp was a perfect-for-running 50 degrees.  Autumn was letting Colorado know it was here with it's recent snowy white peaks and peeping yellow Aspen leaves.  The trails were (relatively) dry, though, so I was excited to reconnect with nature and do some much-needed de-cluttering of the head. 

I have a lot of "stuff" swirling around in my life right now, heart-heavy sad stuff. Basically, life sucks. Consequently, I let the melancholy take control of my mountain run and the 16 miles of once soul-cleansing dirt and rock turned into a suffer-fest hike, half of which were spent bent over gasping for air., how did I lose SO much SO fast?!?   I'm sure I'd have enjoyed the sloth pace and the intense beauty surrounding me more if I didn't have a trail marathon looming next weekend and needed to get in some miles - running.  But trying to run and not FEEL and throw in the strain of a 26.2 hilly trail race next weekend -  suddenly, out of nowhere, the cocktail caused an intense inability to breathe at 10,000'.  All those endophins that running releases can't be released if I close them off to the feelings I feel while moving.   I surrendered and sat on a rock for about 20 minutes, and finally released all the tears (and subsequently, fears) I've built up the past week.   

I thought about all the incredible adventures I've had all far I've come in such a short period of time, how special the summer has been - including some pretty cool things I've done since I last posted.....

6 days after Pikes Peak Marathon, I participated in the Iron Girl sprint triathlon.  I could barely move for days after PPM (that race left me absolutely shredded!), yet I squeaked out a 4 minute PR day (1:24, even if it was only my 2nd sprint triathlon in the past 24 years), I improved my pathetic bike pace over last year, and I got to spend some time with some incredibly special kick-ass people I work with, one who has survived some pretty severe cancer shit (Amy, the one next to me in the bottom two photos).

A week after the triathlon, I ran (I use that word loosely) the inaugural Black Squirrel Trail Half Marathon in Ft. Collins.  It's on some of the same trails I'm about to embark on for my upcoming trail marathon next week, so I wanted to use it to familiarize myself with the course.  It would have been a great race had temperatures not reached boiling point.  I can say this with all honesty though - it was one of the most beautiful trail races I've ever done.  190 degrees temps aside, and a PW half ever (2:44, but in my defense, it was a challenging 2300' climb and incredibly technical with large boulders to scramble over), I had a really fun day and was one of the most well-organized and incredibly well-run events I've ever done.  And the best swag evah!

On Labor day, 3 days after Black Squirrel, I did another half marathon (are you tired yet?  I am), but this time back to my old road life for the Highland Ranch Half Marathon.   It was another inaugural race, but unlike Black Squirrel, there were a few hiccups - mostly lack of water along the course.   I'm learning that in trail races, you carry water no matter what the distance as aid is spread far apart.  But in road races, we've come to expect it frequently I guess.  1 oz of H2O in a cup every 3 miles when it's 85 degrees doesn't really cut it.  My very good blog friend, Jenny, was in town from New York (in black, below) so I was stoked to FINALLY get to race with her after countless months of running emails between us.  I grabbed my neighbor, Dennis, and found one of my crewers in Leadville, Kathy.
Jenny and I vowed to stick together for the race, our intentions were to just take the race easy since we were both a bit fried (she and her husband were climbing mountain peaks all week prior).

But you know me....

By mile 3, we were digging into the low 8's on the pacing chart  - I'm sure Jenny was ready to strangle me indicative by her comment, "We just ran that mile at 8:10, not 9:10 as we agreed."  By mile 11, I was dying and wanted to stop; my stomach was a disaster and hurt more each mile, but we dug our grave and I wasn't giving in, yet.  As we climbed the last suck-ass continuous uphill mile, I focused on a woman in pink on my right I vowed to take out (I'm certain Jenny will never race with me again)...
But in the end, despite Jenny's constant yelling, "C'mon, C'mon, C'mon, C'mon" the last quarter mile, I gave up the fight, let Pinky go, and Jenny and I both crossed at exactly 1:50.  I was fine with the time considering we didn't really start this race out racing, but I was disappointed in myself for not fighting the hurt.  I've lost my racing grit.  I hate to say it, but I think all the trail racing I've done has taught me it's "ok" to just cruise along at snail's pace and when it gets hard, walk.  I need to rekindle my love of the road racing hurt....I miss it, and if I have any hopes of finishing California International with a quasi respectable time, I need to find it.
Jenny, myself, and Pinky - all with matching foot planting :)
2 days post half marathon finish flop, Jenny, her husband, Paul, and I headed up high - I mean REALLY high - and climbed five 14ers in two days.  "14ers" (or "fourteeners") are the those peaks in Colorado (or anywhere, I suspect) which exceed 14,000' in elevation.  There are 53 official peaks in Colorado - "official" because there are actually more than 53 in total, but it's the general acceptance that a summit must rise more than 300' from its connecting saddle to a taller peak.   If we go with 'the rules', then I can technically only declare I summitted 4 peaks since one we climbed, Mt. Cameron (14, 238'),  doesn't technically rise above 300' from it's neighbor, Mt. Lincoln (14,286').  

But I climbed and summitted Cameron, it was over 14,000', so I'm claiming it (autocorrect is having a field day with  the word "summitted" and wants to use summons...which works just as well :)).
On top of Mt. Cameron (Mt. Lincoln in the background, another 14er).
You can't see the sign I'm holding, but each peak has a little wooden plaque on the summit, stating the name and elevation
I've done a few 14ers during my stint living in Colorado, but I wouldn't call capturing these things a passion, and I'm definitely not a "peakbagger"; those are crazy individuals who actually enjoy seeking out summits to bag....err, conquer.  I've done about 10 in all prior and nailed two of them this summer racing (Mt. Evans Ascent in June, and of course the infamous last blog report from the Pikes Peak Marathon last month (I've done the Mt. Evans race 4x now, Pikes Peak I've done the Ascent race 3x but never the full marathon until this year). 

Jenny, and her husband, Paul, are peakbaggers.  They live on the East Coast and have bagged a bazillion peaks out there.  They're super into stuff like geocaching, have all the coolest gear, and even speak peak terminology that leaves me quizzically questioning much of their vocabulary.  They decided to make a trek to Colorado to add a few more names to their belt notches -- and somehow convinced me it'd be a great idea to camp (gasp) in the rain and bag some peaks with them. 
Home Sweet Home
Jenny and Paul are great.  They are the kind of friends who never once made me feel like the third wheel in all the days we spent together.  And Jenny.... she's the kind of friend that doesn’t change no matter how much time or distance passes between you....and still speaks to you days later despite how much you whine and cursing you do on those trails.
Paul and Jenny: Bestest of the best
Day 1 we climbed Mt. Massive (14,421) with almost 14 miles round-trip and about 4800' of elevation gain.

What I like most about this climb is that you start below treeline, so the vast array of scenery changes frequently.

What I disliked most about Massive was the 'category 2' climbing we had to do towards the top.
Grace, herself, making her way down
But we were rewarded to Mother Nature's pride from the top ...

And I didn't even freak out (too much) as I ate my lunch on the summit's edge.

I managed to actually run some descending Massive, and as I peered out ahead, there across the valley rose the mountains I ran just weeks before at the Leadville Silver Rush 50, the sun shining directly on Ball Mountain.  The memory floodgates opened wide and my head filled with happy thoughts of that very, very special day.
Day 2 was 4-peaks-in-one.  My legs were ground hamburger from yesterday's ascent to Massive, and I was in a super fun mood (read: pissy) and honestly, I just wanted to shoot myself - or stay in bed all day and complain how tired I was.   As we headed out, I doubted I was even going to go climb; I brought my Kindle and visioned myself sitting on a rock all day waiting for them instead.
4-peak day: Democrat, 14, 154'; Cameron, 14,295; Lincoln, 14,295'; Bross, 14,177'
Mt. Bross is on private property and not technically legal to climb.  Whatever.
But you know me....
Kite Lake, lower left, was the starting point of the day.  Sunrise was spectacular.
I got there, and how could I not climb!

The clamber to Mt. Democrat was my least favorite of all four peaks; the rock was loose and footing was difficult.  
The Hokas would make great spies on these mountains
My favorite photo of Paul and Jenny
I was freezing on Democrat's peak, our first summit of the day, and doubts flooded the brain that I may bypass the next 3 peaks.  
It'd probably help the freezing fact if I'd have dressed appropriately :)
I got down from Democrat and the tug-of-war whether to continue or not started.  A guy soloing the 4 peaks wearing a Boston Marathon shirt arrived at the saddle shortly after we did and pretty much guilt'd me into continuing on by referring I'd be a wuss if I didn't.  That was all it took - I was off. 

I'm so immensely grateful I did....because truthfully, the remainder of the day will go down as one of my most memorable of my entire summer.   It was THAT rewarding.

We climbed up to Mt. Cameron on a narrow ledge where you could easily fall a thousand feet on either side...

The views...stunning.

On Top of Mt. Cameron, Mt. Lincoln as the backdrop 
I ran down the saddle of Cameron and then scrambled my way to the top of Mt. Lincoln..

The Garmin never lies *ahem*: 14,294' high

Dorko waving, with Mr. Boston dude
Jenny and Paul spent some time geocaching on Lincoln so I spent that time talking to Mr. Bostonian, who was a really neat guy and from Paul and Jenny's neck of the woods (and super damn fast runner).  Then it was off Lincoln to the last peak, Mt. Bross. Bross is actually privately owned and you're not "legally" suppose to climb it ... whatever.
It was my favorite peak of the day, mostly because it wasn't so stinkin' steep and I could actually run; plus the views were the most gorgeous.  I saw a guy mountain biking on the saddle between Cameron and Lincoln, which is pretty amazing considering the terrain and the dicey ledge.  The entire saddle was covered with these little reddish-colored flowers, which I think may have been some sort of succulent (does anyone local know?). 

On the way to Bross looking back on Mt. Lincoln, which we just previously climbed.
Mr. Bostonian making his way you see him?
Snack time

The descent off of Bross was truly insane.  I was doing the math in my head before we ventured to our car far below that we had 2300' of vertical plunge in about 1.5 miles - but I don't like math when it screams reality, so it wasn't until my legs protested the ridiculously arduous pitch that coming down was going to suck.  Bad.  So not to end my life sliding off the side of this mountains, I side-stepped down on absurd slippery pieces of palm-sized granite.  My legs never hated me as much as they did at this very moment in time.  

Old abandoned mines were littered along the sides of these mountains.  Impressive!
By some divine intervention,  I managed to stay vertical the entire way down and I got to the lush, green valley below and hugged my car in the parking lot.

5 peaks, 8000', and 22 miles.   The day was perfect gift because  it comprises the treasure of the hard work climbing  with some of the most amazing scenery on earth.   It wasn't easy but that's what I loved about it...that we truly earned those views.  The fact I got to share it with some very special people, who would give anything to have a few hours together, I appreciate today in my sorrow more than ever.  This was not lost on me.  The past 2 days were a well-written love note.

No, life is not easy right now, but after I thought about my pretty amazing life while sitting on that rock high in Colorado Rockies, I wiped off the tears streaming down my face and concluded it was a great day to be alive and continued on my way with much more spring in my stride.

I'm ready to face the last year of school, no matter how difficult life wants to make it, for my boys and myself.......and all the emotions that go with it.   I still wonder about my stress, all of my family's stress as we tackle some difficult decisions....

....but I figured out this summer that the best views in life are the ones you have to work for, wait for.

I have a lot of running to do this Fall and for me there is no greater way to achieve calm than to run - so it's forge ahead  with training as planned, we'll see how it all unfolds.   Running itself doesn't solve many of my problems, but it sure make me feel better about them.  It helps perspective, like there IS something I can do when I'm powerless.  Everything will going to be okay with that little thing called time, and the remembrance of my incredible, adventurous and much-treasured summer.   Thank you, Summer.

Run strong, my friends.