Thursday, November 20, 2014

Turn the beat around.

That's a nice elevation profile in both directions.
A familiar trail in the opposite direction is....a totally new trail.

Yesterday I headed down to the river for an 8-mile trek down the Buttermilk/Northbank trails and Belle Isle. It was a gorgeous fall morning, leaves covering the ground and sun shining. On a whim, I decided to be totally weird and follow the trail in the opposite direction than my normal route.

It was a spur of the moment decision, I'm not really sure why I turned left instead of right, but I'm glad I did.

Switching directions resulted in a totally different run, different views, challenges and rewards. I was sort of clumsy, slower than usual and overly cautious. The branches, roots and rocks were less predictable; I know the trail and all its little obstacles really well in my usual direction, but in the other direction...not so much. The blanket of leaves on the ground made me even more cautious, roots and other poky stuff was well-hidden; the last thing I need a month before the 50k is a broken ankle.

I was surprised by how different the landscape looked from the opposite direction. I noticed little off-shoot trails that I've never seen before and appreciated views I usually miss or see from an alternate angle. I slowed down where I normally fly and flew where I normally crawl.

Long story short: try your usual route "backwards," and you'll have a whole new course. You probably know this already. I'm usually about a year behind on these things.

Buttermilk, eastbound towards Reedy Creek

 Anyway, Happy Trails!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

MOAB Trail 1/2 Marathon

I just arrived back in RVA after an amazing (AMAZING!) trip to Moab, Utah. I think my brain is still on sensory overload; the scenery there is enough to make anybody totally speechless. But, being speechless usually doesn't last too long for me (just ask my husband...har, har, har). Anyhow, taking a trip out to Moab is something I've wanted to do ever since my good friend and hiking buddy, Laurie, moved out there about 8 years ago. Laurie and I met in Northern Idaho in 2005, where we worked together at a ranch and hit the trails together every morning. When I found out about this stellar trail race in Moab, I jumped online and started checking out travel info. Not only did the race look sweet, the start was just 15 minutes from Laurie's place and at a time of year that worked for both of us for a long weekend visit. The stars were perfectly aligned, as they say.

I saw a segment on the Today show that was about traveling; their expert insisted that 56 days before departure is the ideal time to buy a plane ticket. So, exactly 56 days before I planned to head west, I dropped the cash on a ticket. Merry Christmas to me!

About a week before my trip, I scanned the list of registered runners to see if any other Richmonders were making the trip out to Moab. Not only was I the only runner hailing from Richmond, I was the only runner from the state of Virginia signed up. No biggie. Just don't suck.

Jump to mid-air, somewhere over Texas, I started to get really excited. I couldn't wait to get my feet on those mountain trails, while also being relieved that I'd decided to do the half marathon instead of the full. I figured the half would be challenging enough, on little sleep, over difficult and unfamiliar terrain, in a different time zone and 4500 feet from sea level. Under those circumstances, 13.1 seemed far enough. Fo sho.

Moab always looked incredible in the pictures I'd seen, but I was not prepared for the stunning, breathtaking effect that this place had on me. I'm pretty sure I walked around with my jaw on the ground for at least an hour or two when I first arrived. I flew into Grand Junction, CO, grabbed my rental car and drove the 100 miles southwest to Moab. I had to pull over a few times to take pictures and basically stare, dumbfounded,  at my surroundings.

On Friday night, after devouring some pizza and a glass of wine, I called it a night. It was 8:30 local time but it felt like midnight to me. As a total novice traveler, I found the whole flying across the country thing pretty awesome but totally exhausting. My head hit the pillow and I was immediately comatose. It was amazing.

Excuse the pony, I took Pinkie Pie along and took pictures of
 her doing all sorts of cool stuff during her Utah adventure.

Saturday morning (race day!) I felt like a new person after a good nights' sleep... This is where the time difference totally worked in my favor... It was 7am in Utah, but to me, it felt like 9 am, which is my usual running time. Score ! Driving to the race venue that morning, I still couldn't believe I was in MOAB.  I was pumped to spend the morning enjoying the views, exploring and getting my butt kicked by people who are used to the terrain and altitude.
 My Race Goals
1. Finish.
2. Don't get hurt.
3. Talk to cool people.
4. Take pictures.
5. Have a BALL.

 As I pulled my cute little Ford Focus rental car into the parking area, All About That Bass (my current JAM) came on the radio. I knew it was going to be a great day.
Got my lucky race bracelet from Lu. Showtime!

After a rousing version of the National Anthem thanks to the Fiery Furnace Marching Band, the first wave was sent off and the race was on. I was in the 3rd wave, placing myself comfortably with other runners who ran at about my 10min/mile pace.

@ the Start

The race itself was, well, incredible. It felt more like an experience than a race. The landscape was beautiful, so of course I really wanted to look around and take everything in. Trouble was, the course was incredibly technical, requiring total focus and attention. In other words, looking up at the scenery was not an option if you expected to stay upright. I learned this quickly, stumbling a couple of times while trying to take in a beautiful view.

Honoring goal #2 (Don't get hurt), I decided to focus on the trail, glance up occasionally and stop when a view required my full attention. This happened a lot, resulting in a ton of pictures and a pretty slow pace. I was happy with that though, just along for the ride.

The first few miles traversed over some sandy, dusty areas with a lot of large rocks and small ledges. I settled into a nice pace and was surprised by how fresh my legs felt, especially following a long day of traveling. I chatted with a few other runners, mostly about the perfect weather, the awesomeness of Moab and which trail shoes we preferred.  Around mile 5, we had a little rock-climbing break, trekking up a huge rocky hill that made me feel like a total East-Coaster. Rock-climbing is not my thing. Luckily, my Brooks Cascadia 9 kicks proved worthy; my traction was better than I expected. Taking it nice and slow, I stayed on my feet and enjoyed the view from the top of our first climb.

Going up!

At mile 5.5 we hit our first aid station, where I filled up my water bottle, gobbled up a Gu (Chocolate Outrage= YUM), and hit the dirt. I was feeling great, almost halfway there.

Sweet Jeeps at the aid station

Its a good thing this course was SO well-marked. A lot of the trail was basically rocks and ledges, so for someone like me, who's directionally challenged, this was huge. As much as I was enjoying the scenery, there were a few spots where I had to just focus on my feet, because the trail took us up to some pretty high elevations and over some pretty narrow sections, where going off-trail would result in a tumble off a 300-ft cliff. Nice motivation to stay focused, huh?
 All runners followed the same course until about mile 9, where the marathoners took a left to continue, while the 1/2 marathoners turned right to head towards the finish. Leading up to this fork in the road was a descent through a pretty tricky area that caused some folks some problems. Approaching this area, we noticed the pace slowing and the traffic becoming an issue.
Finally, we were forced to come to a complete stop on a narrow ridge, where we waited for what seemed like an eternity (it was probably 20 minutes, which IS an eternity in a race)
Waiting in line to get through the rocky drop-off...Good thing I wasn't going for a PR.
The obstacle that slowed everyone down turned out to be a scary little shimmy through a narrow crack, followed by a 6-ft jump onto a tiny ledge. As I  mentioned, I am not a rock climber, so you can imagine how that went down. Anyway, I made it through, after which we half-marathoners parted ways with our more ambitious counterparts, those tackling the full 26.2. See ya'll crazies later!

 After standing still for so long, my legs felt like rubber once we finally got moving again. Jogging slowly up a giant hill towards the final leg of the race, I hooked up with a cool chick from Arizona; we ran together for the remainder of the race. I'm always amazed by the people I meet at races; trail runners are, as a group, some of the coolest folks you'll meet.

Everyone is on their own journey, out for a day of exploration. Their adventure just happens to be the same adventure you're on. There's something special that happens when you hang with your fellow trail junkies for the day, for the experience. You begin the day as strangers, and after just a few hours, you go way back.
A few of my trail buds, 2014 Moab 1/2 Marathon

After we made it up the hill at mile 9.5, my legs were starting to feel warm again. We headed towards the part of the course that ran along the river...or through the river, at some points. We spent the next 3 miles crossing streams, jumping over slick rocks and sliding down muddy embankments. At a couple of creek crossings, we waded through chest-deep water and I began to have Willis River 35k flashbacks. At least with this race, it wasn't 35 degrees outside. Its all about perspective.

As I neared the finish line, I could hear the announcer and the small crowd cheering as runners approached the end of the day's journey. It had been a wet, muddy, sandy and incredible day; I wasn't quite ready for it to end yet. As I crossed the finish line, I felt a huge sense of gratitude and happiness. I was so lucky to be able to make the trip to Moab and to participate in such an awesome event. My results were much slower than usual, but with the 20-minute traffic jam, altitude, photo-ops and crazy terrain, I was totally content with my time.

I landed in the top 50% of the pack, which is where I usually end up anyway. I'll take it.
Net Time
Overall : 371 / 735
Gender : 181 / 447
Categ : 70 / 161
Race No: 1037
Gender: Female
Category: Ages 30 - 39
Age: 31
Status: Finished
City: Richmond
State: VA
Resident Country: United States
Pace: 14:27 min/m

After an unforgettable day, I was treated to a delicious post-race meal at Red Cliffs Lodge, where Laurie works as a wrangler. We shared an amazing bottle of Castle Creek wine and a wonderful meal, topping off one of the best days I can remember.

Castle Creek Winery, Outlaw Red. Yep, that sounds about right.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Why on EARTH would you want to do THAT?

This is a question I've gotten a few times, and more than ever now that I've set my sights on my longest running distance yet: the 50k (31.25 miles).  I must admit, a few years ago I never thought I'd ever want to go that far, let alone actually sign up for an Ultramarathon. So, I try not to get too eye-rolly and annoyed when people just don't get it. Instead, I usually sort of dodge the "WHY on EARTH?" question with some cheeky reply ("Why not?") and move on to another topic.

Truthfully, there are so many reasons why I do what I do, at this point in my running journey it would feel bizarre not to run. Its awkward when people look at me like I'm loony, requesting a short & sweet answer to the question,

"What on Earth would make an otherwise (sort of) sane person want to run over 31 miles?"

Other people seem to find it mildly obnoxious when I list all of my (quite sane) reasons for aspiring to be an Ultra-Marathoner. I've learned that trying to briefly explain myself to a non-runner mid-conversation is not exactly productive. So, I'm gonna jot my answer down for future reference. That way, the next time someone gives me that "Huh?!" look, I'll just smile and send them right over to this cute little blog. Or, I'll come here myself on tough days when I need a reminder: This is why you run.

Man, this is gonna be super helpful.

Why am I a trail runner?

- I don't want to grow up.
Out on the trail,  I'm able leave the everyday stresses of adulthood, motherhood and wife-hood (is that a word?) behind, diving into my morning run head-first. Whether I'm climbing up a muddy hill, bounding over a small stream or flying across a rickety wooden bridge, for a brief period I get to take a break from being a grown-up. Inevitably, I'm a better grown-up for the rest of the day after my morning date with the dirt. Always.

Quick break to practice my wrestling poses.

-Its FREE. Sort of.
Running is probably one of the least expensive hobbies out there. All you need is a pair of sneakers, a good bra, a positive attitude and a sense of humor. However, if you're like me and love the competition and camaraderie of racing, that will kick up your bill a little (that race swag isn't free). Oh, and running shoes can be a little pricy, but that's about it. Long story short, running will always be less expensive, more fun and healthier than, say, a shopping hobby.

I like food.
I really, really like to eat. Maybe its because I grew up with two older brothers who could put away enough grub to make a sumo wrestler queasy, or maybe its just a genetic gift. Who knows. The point is: I. Love. Food. I also despise diets, calorie-counting and food-policing in any form. Running (a lot) allows me to eat pretty much whatever I want within reason. We tend to eat pretty healthy most of the time, but everybody needs a little greasy, cheesy, ridiculously delicious pizza once in a while. I've been the same size for a few years now, while eating enough coconut shrimp, cheese pizza and French fries to feed a few football teams.

Oh, snap. Now I'm hungry.

-I love beer.
I usually don't drink that much beer. I'm more of a Pinot Noir kinda gal most days. But, on the tail end of a 20-miler, there's nothing better than an ice cold beer in the shower. The harder the run, the better that frosty brewski tastes. YUM.

Frosty mugs after the Odyssey Trail 13.1, Douthat State Park VA 2013

-I like my peers.
Trail runners are cool. And usually nicer than average people. Sorry, average people.

- I love my body.
Trail running has changed my body in a lot of ways. Motherhood has also made some stuff move around (or droop, as the case my be). I'm now in my 30's (that was quick!). Surprisingly, I love and appreciate my body more now than at any other time in my life. This body has given me a daughter, taken me on countless adventures, completed dozens of races and put up with more than its fair share of alcohol intake. Its not perfect, but its mine and I'm proud to be in my own skin. Oh, and my husband really likes my legs. I'll take it.

-Baby Steps.
When you're starting out for a 20-mile run, you cannot think about mile 18. Or 19. Definitely not 20. The only way to get through a long run in one piece (and hopefully with a smile on your face), is to take it one mile at a time. One tiny goal at a time. Undoubtedly, during the course of a 20+-miler, there will be highs and lows, tough spots and breakthroughs. The beauty of the long run is in every milestone and every goal achieved, no matter how small. Celebrate each one. For me, this practice has transferred to every part of my life. I'm more patient, less anxious and more likely to acknowledge every small victory along the way. As the parent of a 3-year old, this definitely comes in handy.

-I love a good adventure.
My playground, Northbank Trail
Trail running can be pretty unpredictable. You never know what you're gonna come across out there on Mother Nature's turf. I've crossed paths with plenty of deer, squirrels, beavers, turtles, snakes, turkeys, birds and other critters. The wildlife I've seen while out running could rival almost any birdwatcher or (eeek!) hunter. Trail running. Its like hunting, with less killing and more exercise.

Adventure awaits where the cars can't go.
-It hurts so good.
I crave that all-over exhausted/invigorated feeling that comes with long-distance running. Its not pain, its not discomfort, its just complete and total exhaustion. In the best possible way.

-Finish line MAGIC.
If you've ever participated in a race of any distance, you know the magic of a finish line. Whether you're at the Monument Avenue 10k with 50,000 of your closest friends, or at the Willis River 50k with only a few hearty spectators, the finish line feels pretty dang good. And usually worth every mile.
Finish Line, Instant Classic Marathon 2014

"So, I get the trail running part, but why such long distances? What are you, crazy?"

 I've actually been asked that question before, word for word.

In short, running is good, trail running is awesome, and trail running for miles and miles and Running is healthy for your mind, body and spirit. When you crank up the mileage and time spent out on the trails, those feel-good benefits are amplified, blossoming into a feeling that I can only describe as pure JOY.

Oh, and I also am a little bit crazy.