Monday, June 29, 2015

San Juan Solstice Race Report

If you went for a run with me during the weeks leading up to this race you probably heard me whine about how terrified I was to do the hardest 50 miler in the country. I probably tried to guilt you into pacing me. You probably heard me make some self-deprecating comment about how I wasn't sure if I could finish it. And as annoying as I can only imagine I was, I didn't see how it was possible to run the toughest race of my life without any pacers or any crew.

Let me back up. The San Juan Solstice is a 50 mile race that has 12,000 feet of elevation gain and about half of those miles are above tree line. In my experience, if trees can't grow there than my body doesn't function up there either. Despite (and because of) all of this, the race is pretty popular and they implemented a lottery system to select runners. Cory and I both got lucky and there was no way one of us was going to forfeit our spot to crew the other. I secured a pacer right away, a friend who had run the race before. I decided to check in with Jessica a month before the race to make sure everything was still good and it turns out she had the date wrong. No hard feelings Jess! I scrambled to round up another friend and everyone turned out to be busy, injured, or running their own race somewhere else. I was going to have to do this alone.

The week leading up to the race I started to get sick: sore throat, sneezy, sinus pressure. After taking every herbal remedy on the planet and getting 9 hours of sleep a night I was ready to write it off as allergies. We made the long drive (6.5 hours due to construction!) to Lake City and pulled in to the Elkhorn RV resort. Let me tell you, these are the nicest people ever! Floyd, a former marathoner, had made a spot for us even though the campground was full. The most hospitable host I've ever met. He owns this place because he loves his community and can't wait to share it with others. Cleanest campground bathrooms I've ever seen and he made coffee for us at 4am!

First glimpse of the San Juans

The view from our tent

After packet pickup, we made pasta at our camp site. I had forgotten to pack salt so we wandered over to our neighbors to ask for a pinch. They told us to take a seat and we got the run down of the course from Chris Dickey with Jesse Rickert occasionally chiming in. They had brought the whole crew: grandparents, kids, dogs. It was so refreshing to see people including their whole family in the race experience. Chris was pretty humble so we didn't realize how fast these guys were until Cory checked results from the previous years; we had gotten advice and salt from some pretty speedy veterans.

I had a bad headache so we went to sleep before the sun set and before we knew it, it was 3:45am. Time to get ready. We walked over to the start, saw some friends, and suddenly it was 5am. The course follows a dirt road before turning off to some single track that has a ton of raging creek crossings. There was a lot of hype about these crossings because we had so much late season snow and rain this year. The first one was unroped and nearly knocked me off my feet. At another crossing a girl pulled on the rope and knocked me off balance, somehow the rope got stuck on my vest and was pulling me into the water, it took all my strength to lift myself out. At the next crossing I got wrapped around a log. Fortunately I had only gotten soaked to just above the waist. At each crossing my feet became numb and I was unable to run.

Finally we rose out of the creek bed and began the ascent to Alpine Gulch. The creek crossings had shocked us all into silence and no one had said a word to each other. I didn't feel like I was racing I just felt like I was surviving. Finally at the the aid station we were greeted with the sun and I started to feel my feet again. My one goal from here on out was to finish the race without puking. I had no time goals or any aspirations to beat anyone. I simply wanted to master my stomach. As we neared treeline for the first time, I heard a friendly voice behind me say, "There's another Pearl Izumi runner." I turned around to see John Lacroix, a guy I had never met but had heard a lot about.

Finally past the major creek crossings

Just after the first aid station

Near the top of the first climb

Tiny people dotting the ridge

John and I pretty much spent the next 25 miles together give or take and his company was exactly what I needed for the toughest part of the course. As we crested the first climb John kept teasing this guy saying he needed a picture of his ass for his ass calendar and telling him that it is now "ok to be gay." I felt compelled to explain that John was straight and has been married for a long time. After that, the guy, Donovan from Atlanta, fell in stride with us and rounded out our trio. John dubbed him Peaches.

The most beautiful part of the day

John and Peaches heading down the mountain

I realized on the first descent that I hadn't felt sick yet. Yippy! That was short lived. On the steep, jostling downhill to William's Creek, my stomach turned. This section also had a good bit of mud and as I was jumping through a boggy section, my shoe got sucked off. Think fire swamp from the Princess Bride. My shoe appeared to be gone. I dug my hand through the Giardia-laden sludge with no luck. We started stabbing around with my trekking poles and finally the hot pink heel tab appeared. Everyone continued on while I took a few minutes to try to make room for my foot in the mud shoe.

When I reached Williams Creek I felt pretty shitty but the crowd boosted my morale. All day I found that this race has the nicest volunteers I have ever met. And I am not exaggerating one bit. Because Cory had come through and used our drop bag, they had put it in the used pile. A young girl helped me find it, and told me that the guy who used it was doing really well. I wanted to give her the biggest hug for giving me the news! I was so excited that I left without my trekking poles and had to go back to get them. 

After Williams Creek at mile 15 or so, there is a flat road section. I should have made good time but I couldn't run and keep my food down. Fortunately some guys walked with me for a while but when I started my first round of dry heaving, they pressed ahead. When I reached the start of the next big climb to Carson, about 6 ATVs jumped ahead of me on the dirt road. Choking down dust and trying not to vomit, I decided now would be a good time to listen to music. At this point I thought John and Peaches were still ahead of me and that I would be alone the rest of the day. My music didn't help, I felt like sitting down for a good ol' cry. Just about then, Peaches came from behind me. Apparently he and John had taken longer at the aid. Soon John caught us too and the conversation was exactly what I needed to take my mind off the climb.

Me and Peaches... It looks flat but it wasn't
Photo by John Lacroix

Somehow we made it to Carson where I made a decision that almost screwed up my entire race. I filled my bottle with more Tailwind and left the aid station without grabbing any gels from my drop bag. For some reason, in my altitude-addled memory, I thought my next drop bag was at the Divide Aid station in 9 miles. I didn't even take stock of what I had, I just filled my bottles and pushed on. As we neared the Continental Divide, there were dark clouds looming on the ridge. Going into this race my biggest fear was that I would get altitude sickness on the ridge and be forced to stumble along in a thunderstorm.

Climbing out of Carson with clouds looming on the ridge

Waterfalls foreshadow the snowfields to come

Little runners climbing out of Carson

Getting nervous that these clouds appeared out of nowhere

So damn tired
Photo by Wesley Cropp

Finally on the CDT/CT near the summit
Photo by John Lacroix

We got to the summit and I had managed to keep my calories down. I knew I wouldn't be able to manage anything more than occasional sips of Tailwind. After the summit, we hit our first snow field. From that point on I felt like a baby deer taking it's first steps. I got a pounding headache, became very dizzy, and felt like I had no control over my own two feet. I was using my trekking poles like crutches. Peaches fell behind and Wesley Cropp joined our group. John started telling me a story and it was all I could do to stay within earshot. He persistently offered me what he called a "Redline Pill" which was a caffeine capsule that he thought would clear my head. At that point I was desperate. I knew the only thing that would help my headache was getting below tree line. 

We had made it through the snow fields and began stomping through frozen slush puddles. It was miserable. It started to thunder and my core temperature dropped. My feet were again numb and it appeared that my worst fears were coming true. I was reduced to crawling along the ridge on the verge of tears, my head hammering with the altitude, thunder looming over head, water bottles empty, no sign of the aid station. And then it started to snow. Not a lot, but just enough to make me feel broken. I didn't think there was any way I could finish this thing. We were just over half way done.

I finally made it down to some willows and was walking the downhill. So many people passed me. I was so thirsty and it had been so long since I had put down any calories, I thought there was no way I was coming back from this bonk. I remembered that my drop bag was not actually at the next aid station but figured they would have some other gels. Much more dry-heaving ensued but I was determined not to puke. We tromped through some more mud and there was a lot of swearing. I wanted to drop but I knew there was no good way down from the Divide Aid Station. I would have to walk 4 miles and then hitch hike to town.

After what felt like an eternity, the Divide Aid Station was finally in sight. I tried not to think about how only 31 miles had destroyed me so much. As I stumbled in looking like death, a volunteer told me that Cory had badly sprained his ankle and had dropped out. I was crushed. Did he need my help? Should I head back to town to take care of him? She said he was in good spirits and couldn't wait to come back next year and I knew he was just saying that to be nice. I knew that regardless of any circumstance if he took his first ultra-marathon DNF he was going to be beating himself up about it. I was also dismayed to find out there were no gels. I was so low on energy and all I had were two gels and an almond butter packet to make it the next 9 miles to Slumgullion.

John was leaving the aid station at about this time and offered me some Honey Stinger gels. They taste so good but they always make me throw up and, again, my one goal was to not throw up. I was a stubborn bitch at this aid station despite the nicest people working there and when I told John I didn't want his gels he told me, "Well fuck you," in the nicest way possible and left. That was the last time I'd see him all race. I walked out of the Divide aid station at 3pm doing some simple math. I had 3 hours to walk the next 9 miles of mostly runnable down hill otherwise I would miss the cut off. I kind of wanted to miss the cut off because I wanted to be done so badly. I decided if I walked the whole way, made it in time, and didn't feel any worse, I would try to finish.

The next section was nothing to be proud of. I hated every minute. We were still above 11,000 feet and my head was still pounding and my stomach still revolting. The views had turned to mesas instead of peaks and I could feel the sun burning my skin. Many people passed me and I thought for sure the sweeper was going to come by and tell me I was done. I started brainstorming how I would break the news on Facebook. "The Linfield family was stymied by the San Juan mountains. Cory escaped with a nearly broken ankle and I have no excuse except for the fact that I am a weak baby." That's when I snapped out of it. It hadn't been a perfect day but it could have been a lot worse. I had NO EXCUSE to quit. After 5 miles of walking I hit tree line and tried to eat my almond butter packet. Half of it ended up on my face, my hair, my hands, and my shorts. But after that I decided to run walk the next 3-4 miles into Slumgullion.

Finally out of the thundersnow

The road from hell leading out of the Divide aid station

After 5 miles of walking we were headed back below tree line

Somewhere in those miles I decided I was going to finish the race. It was too painful to quit. I figured if I finished, I would get my finishers hat and I would never have to run it again. I could come back and pace Cory or volunteer and I wouldn't feel like I had any unfinished business with the course. I started passing people and just before Slum, I caught up with Patrick, a guy who had encouraged me on the Divide. He said he was going to quit and that he wasn't having fun anymore. I told him that he didn't want to be the guy who quits 10 miles from the finish and that finishing a 50-miler is work. When we got to the aid station he saw his family and I saw Cory! Cory was hobbling around in an ankle brace and wasn't much help but getting a hug from him and hearing that he was proud of me was all I needed to fuel me to the finish. 

I had 3 hours and 45 minutes to make it the last 10 miles. I know that sounds easy, but those 10 miles involved another 2,000 feet of climbing and my old meta-tarsal injury was acting up. Every step felt like my foot was breaking and that my shin muscle was pulling away from the bone. I put my music back on and started to pick people off. Now that the rest of the course was below 11,000 feet I could start eating again and honestly I thought this section through Vickers Ranch was the most beautiful part of the course. The dense Aspen groves and sweeping views reminded me of the MAS 50, my first 50 miler.

Near the top of the last big climb... we could still hear thunder in the distance

Eventually I got my first view of town but it was still a long way off. I hadn't given much thought to the last descent but it was awful. 2,000 feet of descent in 2 miles hurts like a motherf!@#$% after doing what we had just done. It was slippery and loose and I kept falling. Again I thought of my spirit animal for the day, an uncoordinated baby deer. When it was finally over and I hit the dirt road leading to town a guy told me that there was only 1 mile left. I was nervous that he was lying and I didn't want to get my hopes up because if I got to the finish line in 15 minutes I would break 15 hours.

The most painful 10 minutes of my life ensued and I crossed the finish line in 14:56. We stuck around to cheer people on for the last hour and watched a few heart breakers cross the line after the 16 hour cutoff. I felt nothing but gratitude to all of the people that made the day possible. Even after the race volunteers kept taking care of us. I attained my goal of finishing without puking!

We woke up the next morning feeling broken and hobbled over to the awards ceremony and breakfast. My eyes were more hungry than my stomach would allow. I got my finishers hat and was surprised to win 3rd place in my age group. I got to reconnect with my friend Sadie who pulled out a 2nd place finish after taking a year and a half off from racing. That girl doesn't even know how fast she is or at least she is too humble to admit it.

What? Me? Award? Slowest runner award?

So about that plate of food that I couldn't eat. I brought it back to the car and set it on the hood while we loaded everything up. Confession: We drove a few miles before I realized that I hadn't grabbed the plate of food! I'm sorry Lake City! You were so nice to me and I littered! I will be back to volunteer and make up for it. But I don't think I can bring myself to run this race again. I am totally broken today and can hardly move but it was a race I will never forget!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Dirty 30 Race Report 2015

You know that feeling you have before your birthday where you think it's going to be a fun day but you don't want to get your hopes just in case it isn't? Maybe that's weird and other people don't experience that. I figure if I expect the worst and the worst happens then it's not so bad. If the day ends up being awesome then I will appreciate it more. That was my mentality going in to the Dirty 30 this year.

When I ran this race in 2013, I had a great experience. I suffered around mile 18, threw up, and then felt awesome and finished strong. I made some cool friends during the race and they helped me to run faster. In 2014, things were just rough. The race start was pushed back an hour and we had to take shuttle buses to the start because the parking lot was damaged by floods. Everyone showed up for the last shuttle and so the race started late on what turned out to be a very hot day. The course was two miles longer because of new single track so our times were unexpectedly slower. I felt crappy all day and when I tried to make friends, people were generally cranky. The post-race party got rained on and everyone left pretty quickly. Not the experience I was hoping for.

Going into this year's race I tried to temper my expectations. I was a bit sleep deprived heading into the race due to taking care of a sick dog who was throwing up all night on Thursday. Friday night we only got 5 hours of sleep because we decided to get up to the race start by 4:45am to get one of the few parking spots. It was worth it to not have to take the shuttle buses. One thing I did not anticipate is that I started feeling sick before the race even started. Lack of sleep + anxiety = nausea. Originally my goal was to finish in 7-7.5 hours but at this point I decided that I would just be happy to finish faster than last year's 7:40.

The one change that I didn't like about the race this year was the wave starts. Usually everyone starts at the same time which usually causes a bottleneck as everyone gets siphoned onto the single track. Knowing this, I usually start fast to get a good position. We are all adults and can make our own decisions about race strategy. The RD decided to mitigate this and we had 4 waves this year that started 5 minutes apart. I realize that it's a good idea in theory, but it was very difficult as a woman to decide what wave to start in. Obviously the guys hoping to be in the lead pack all start in wave 1 (people expecting to finish in the 4:30 to 6:00 hour range). Last year, only two women fit in that category, but if you start in wave 2 or 3 then you have no idea how far ahead the few leaders are. It created a weird dynamic where you weren't sure if the people around you were 5 minutes ahead of or behind you. When I pass someone, I want to know that I really passed them.

Enough about that. I started in wave 2 and spent the first few miles staring at Shelly Rollison's backside and her awesome RPF gaiters. That girl got after it and was a perfect pace setter. I was hoping my stomach would settle after getting started, but it did not. Fortunately one guy got chatty near the top of the first climb and we talked about San Juan Solstice. It was nice to get my mind off of how I felt. After passing through Aid 1 my stomach continued to deteriorate. I was very intentional about putting down calories (Tailwind) even though I didn't want to.

Around mile 9 I started getting into a really negative head space. You know the typical stuff like "I suck at running" or "why am I even out here if I'm not enjoying it." As we descended through a beautiful aspen grove with a fantastic view of the mountains I thought about how much I'd rather be camping and exploring the high country.  From behind I heard a voice hollering, "I'm going to pass Allisa!!" and without knowing it, Jared Conlin helped me to snap out of those negative thoughts. I decided that even if my body was rebelling I wasn't going to let myself slip into a downward spiral of negativity.

Jared and I left Aid 2 together but he quickly gained ground on the climb up the Coyote Trail. I was in rough shape at the top. I felt like throwing up as I stumbled through the next few miles. During the technical Black Bear Trail section a 50+ woman named Vicki caught me and she runs like a boss! An assertive little spitfire! I wanted so badly to throw up but she wanted me to stay with her on the rocky downhill to make sure that she didn't get lost. As we descended the rough stuff I started to feel better as we got lower in elevation and by the time I hit Aid 3 I was in a new mental and physical state.

Seeing Cory at this Aid Station cheered me up and made me pull myself together. It was time to rally. I had saved my music for this part and so I was rocking out as I picked people off on the climb up the Horseshoe Trail. I soon saw my friend, Will, and we ran/hiked the next few miles together until we caught Jared. I felt like a new person and though it was difficult to eat I made sure to keep putting calories down.

By the time we reached Aid 4 at mile 24.5 Jared was a little bit ahead. I'm normally not happy to let anyone pass me, but Phil came whizzing by! Seeing another friend made the prospect of the last climb seem less daunting. Will, Phil, and I all left Aid 4 together with the unspoken goal of catching Jared. Despite feeling so sick earlier in the race, Cory told me that I was just within my 7:30 time goal and so I was determined to make it. Just before Windy Peak I twisted my ankle pretty bad but I wasn't going to let anything get me down.

As we started the climb up Windy, hands on knees, we could see Jared's bright green shirt ahead of us. Soon all four of us were marching up the mountain together and I cannot tell you how much of a difference it made being surrounded by friends. We were all, more or less, within a quarter mile of each other at the summit and Phil and I let it rip on the downhill. I could tell Phil was determined to not let me chick him, and it was all I could do to keep him in my sight as we passed at least 4 people in the last mile.

I made my goal and finished in 7:21 as the 22nd woman. Despite feeling sick for the first 18 miles I had a great day. The weather was perfect and it never got too hot. The camaraderie was a game-changer and the post-race party was super fun. I will never take it for granted that we have such a great running community here in Denver. I love this place I call home.

Leaving Aid 3 (photo Terry Miller)

Not sure what part of the race this is but based on how crappy Phil and I look it must be near the end (photo Kurt Hardester)

Most awkward thumbs up ever (photo Kurt Hardester)

Climbing Windy Peak, trying to keep the guys in sight (photo Kurt Hardester)

Love these ladies! Julia (left) got 5th!

Monday, May 25, 2015

I'm still alive

It's been almost two months since my last blog post. Every day that goes by I feel overwhelmed thinking that I have so much to write about and I don't even know where to begin. So I'm not going to go into detail rehashing the last two months. The last thing I wrote about was how burned out I was feeling, and, rest assured, I'm not feeling burned out anymore.

We had just mounted the Tepui Tent on top of our car and gotten in our first good weekend of camping when Colorado got slammed with rain and gray skies like I've never seen here before. We've come to expect that the weather could change at any minute, which is why it was so odd that it stayed the same for so long. The same angry, bland sky devoid of any sun. It's become tedious even talking about the weather because it's old news and everyone is over it.

In the meantime I found a new appreciation for road running and hiking. I got a new pair of road shoes, the Pearl Izumi Road N3 and they are simply the best road shoes I have ever owned - and I'm not exaggerating! I used to dread pounding the pavement but the last few weeks I actually looked forward to strapping on my N3s. The other thing I usually dread is waking up early and, with a new-found running buddy named Courtney who is up for any adventure, I've come to really enjoy dawn patrol. I've made it my goal to do Mt. Morrison once a week in preparation for The Rut 50k and Morrison has got 2,000 feet of elevation gain in two miles. It's a lot easier to wake up at 4am when you have someone to run/hike with.

The other week, Courtney and I were talking and I was thinking about the kind of person I used to be. When I think back to the person I was in high school, I really don't like that girl. I remember going to bed and thinking that I hated the person I was but didn't have a clue who I wanted to become. At some point I snapped out of it and became determined to live every day as the person I wanted to be. I decided not to be controlled by regret: to stop worrying about things that had passed and to start dreaming about what was in the future.

In April when I wrote about feeling burned out, a lot of well-meaning friends tried to encourage me by saying, "It will pass," or, "It's just the winter blues." And they were right. Sometimes, though, I think it's important to take stock of why you are feeling certain things instead of trying to push them away and just get over it. When things feel forced and you spend every day feeling like you are doing battle, sometimes you need to reassess what your goals are. Are your current actions taking you to a place you want to be?

If my goals include wanting to push my legs to their physical limit, wanting to see and enjoy as many beautiful trails as possible, and overall spending as much time outside as I can manage, then racing early and often is maybe not the best approach. For example, it is a beautiful Memorial Day and I am lucky enough to have the day off. Am I outside running and exploring? No, because I have a race next weekend and I am tapering. I'm really excited to challenge myself at that race but it comes with consequences.

I'll still race next year but I am trying to commit to not doing any races between January and April. This means that our winter can be spent snowshoeing or doing fun runs with friends instead of having a certain number of miles to get in on any given day. I hope this prevents the Spring burnout from happening again. I'll also try to do less racing to free up more weekends to camp and explore the high country in the summer months. Maybe we'll finally get to knock off the Gore Range Trail and do some of the traverses we have been charting but won't have enough time to fit in between racing.

I've learned to embrace being in a funk. Some would call these periods "valleys." I've decided that I like going uphill. And hopefully this will be the last of the emotional posts of the year and I'll be sharing lots more race reports and adventures.


Mapping adventures

Lots of rain

And a few good sunrises

Friday, April 3, 2015


March was not the easiest month. It started off with a bad illness. Then I got lost at a race and quit. It's been rough getting back into the swing of things. Most days I don't feel like running and, honestly, there are days that I've thought that maybe I don't want to run at all anymore, ever. Most days I still push myself to get out there but instead of doing 60-70 mile per week like I have planned, I'm doing 30-40.

I've been spending a lot of time in my head lately. I know, it's a dangerous place to be. I keep coming back to this idea. It comes from a verse in the Bible. "Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands." I feel like that is very contrary to the way we are pressured to live on a daily basis. Fill your calendar, have places to go and people to meet, get promoted, fight for a raise, get little sleep. Essentially never settle and never be content with what you have.

I feel it in my running too. Throughout February I would wake up before sunrise and get 4-5 miles of roads in before work in the freezing cold. Then I would run after work, too. It was all about squeezing the miles in. I was determined that if I could build up to 70 miles per week I would have the breakout race I was hoping for. But you know what I learned? I hate junk miles. I'm tired of dragging myself out there and for what? So I can be a marginally faster mid-pack runner? I'm never going to make a name or a place for myself in running.

I'm not trying to have a pity party here... it's just the reality and even if I did have some big improvements I'm not sure I would want to be a recognized runner. Take Anton Krupicka for example. If someone caught him taking a walk break on his run up Green Mountain they would probably judge him a little. The guy can't run a race for fun without having to tune out social media. Once you get to that level, you have to prove yourself every day. You can't just have an easy run without having to justify it with an injury or illness. I don't want that.

I keep watching the new Salomon Trail Running TV episode on YouTube about Fell Running in the UK. There is a quote where Billy Bland, fell running legend, says, "You just pulled your shorts on and did what you thought was right." This guy gets it. We run our best and love it the most when we mind our own business and live a quiet life. Click here for a link to the video.

Looking at the next couple of months I'm intimidated by the things I have planned. A tough 50k followed by arguably the hardest 50 miler in the US. Then three US skyrunning ultras. I'm fearful that I'm not going to get the drive back that I once had in my training. But I think I'm just going to have to change my training. I need to put the adventure back in my running. There are times to push limits but right now I need to focus on enjoying the simple and ordinary things that make up my life. The cold air stinging my cheeks in the morning. The sudden warmth of the sun in the afternoon. Flowers along the trail that weren't there a few days ago. Springtime birds stretching out their vocal cords.

Here is a final thought. It's not that it is bad to grasp for something more, it's just that at some point you need to stop and look around you and say, "If this isn't nice, I don't know what is." It was Vonnegut who suggested that, by the way.

Here are some pictures from my short and slow run this morning on Green Mountain.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Salida Run Through Time Marathon 2015

This is the third year I have shown up for this event and it never fails to be a great weekend. I'll cut to the chase here: I didn't finish the race this weekend. I still got in lots of miles on some of my favorite trails and got to hang out with a lot of my favorite people. Sometimes your race doesn't go as planned, but that's not a reason to scrap the weekend and pout about it. On the other hand I did wake up at 5am this morning to the sound of Mayla dog throwing up and after cleaning that up I laid awake in bed thinking about what I could have done different to not get lost on the course.

My goals going into this race were ambitious. I wanted to run a time in the range of 4:30 to 4:45 which would be a big improvement from last year's 4:52. Unfortunately I got really sick two weeks ago, sicker than I've been in years! I called in sick to work for the first time in my working life and actually went to urgent care to get meds. This girl rarely takes ibuprofen so seeking medical advice was an achievement. When it came around to race weekend I wasn't feeling 100% but I was able-bodied enough to run.

The weather was perfect on race day with highs forecasted to be in the 60s, but the word was that there was a good bit of snow on the upper part of the course. As we gathered at the starting line my friend, Amanda, and I started chatting and suddenly people started moving. We didn't even have time to get nervous. I tried not to run the first 8 or so miles too fast and saved enough energy to run the relentless uphill dirt road to the turnaround point. I let myself look at my watch for the first time at the turnaround and was excited to see that 2:15 had elapsed... a 10 minute improvement over last year. I figured the snow in the next section would slow me down but would put me on track to finish around 4:45.

The turnaround is always the high point of the race for me because you get to see your friends that are within a mile ahead of or behind you. Getting to cheer people on always gives me energy. I think I was within the top 10 women or so but there were a lot of strong-looking women close behind me. I had been using Tailwind and had put down about 300 calories so my energy levels were where they needed to be. I was a little nauseous but after being on antibiotics all week and being at 9,000+ feet for the first time in a while, this was to be expected.

After the turnaround the course heads back down just short of a mile and hits another dirt road. This road was super muddy and slushy. I ran this road in a thin layer of snow two years ago and that was definitely easier than these conditions. There was a lot of staring at my feet trying to get good footing and I just got used to following the two girls ahead of me. After trudging on for a bit, the girl ahead of me stops, turns around, and in a panicked voice starts telling me that she hasn't seen the girl ahead of her in a while and that the intersection in front of us didn't have any flags.

Sure enough, we were at a Y-intersection with no clear way to go. In denial she starts to insist that there was no way we could have gotten off course and that surely they didn't mark it. She thought we should go right. I knew what she was feeling and I had insisted the same thing at the Dead Horse 50k last fall in Moab. That experience taught me that sometimes you just have to accept that you made a mistake and turn around.

We had no idea how far we had come since the last course marking and I was full of hope that we hadn't gone that far and that I had a chance to make up the time by speeding up. Full of panic/rage I started running as fast as I could and stopped drinking or eating. We had come almost 1.5 miles off course for a grand total of 2.5-3 extra miles (out and back) with some decent hills and a good 40 minutes (since we stopped to talk about our options and to pick up another lost girl on our way back).

When we saw where we went off, I got angry: angry at myself for getting lost on a course that I've been on TWICE! There were two flags veering off sharply to the side but I had been looking at the ground and the back of the girl in front of me. Since then I've been thinking of all the "if only" scenarios. If only I had been ahead of her I would have been looking around more. If only the flags on the hairpin turn had been in my peripheral. If only there had been someone behind us who would have seen us and called out to us. I could go on forever but when you sign up for a race in the mountains, you sign up for a little bit of route-finding.

I was pretty cranky when I considered my options. I could continue on and get in 29 miles and a seemingly slow time or call it a day at the next aid station. I started thinking about a conversation I had with Justin Ricks when he told me about a time he dropped out at a race. When he arrived at the aid station he planned to drop at, the volunteers kept trying to get him going and one volunteered to walk it in with him. But he didn't come to the race to walk it in. He knew he could finish, but he came to win.

That line of thinking made sense to me. I didn't come to just slog out the race. I came to get a PR and to be as competitive as possible. After I DNFed my first road marathon, it was really important to me to finish the next trail marathon attempt no matter what. But I've already finished the Run Through Time twice and I didn't have anything to prove to myself just by finishing. After having the flu for the last two weeks it wasn't worth trashing my body early in the season just to have another finish under my belt.

After I made the decision to quit I still had another 3-4 miles to the aid station so I chatted with the people around me. They were so encouraging telling me that I looked great and that I should try to finish. I smiled, thanked them, and tried my hardest not to let my negative energy wear off on them. At the aid station, the volunteers told me that I had tons of time before the cut off and I should sit and think about if I really wanted to DNF. Again, I smiled, thanked them, and asked the shortest way to get down the mountain. I walked myself out and got picked up on the jeep road by some nice strangers heading to the finish to cheer on their daughter.

The finish line of this race is always fun regardless of if you raced or not. Talking with a lot of friends it seemed that a lot of people either did a double-take at that tricky intersection or went briefly off course themselves. A group of guys did the same thing and back tracked to find Amanda, who thankfully only added about a mile and still managed to take 5th place. At the end of the day, I can only blame myself for not noticing the flags. And that's what kills me the most. I should have known better. I'm trying to take solace in the fact that I got in some speedy miles with lots of gain and ended up with about 25 miles for the day even though they weren't the miles I was supposed to do.

Congrats to everyone who toughed it out on a challenging course. And I'm especially proud of my honey who isn't happy with his race but still managed to take 17th place despite being sleep deprived from grad-school midterms and a full-time job.

The clouds hid the Collegiates when we came into town on Friday

Photo bombed the Runner's Roost guys photo with Bill Dooper

After the race we grabbed some Amica's Pizza and headed up S-Mountain for a picnic with a view

The view just before sunrise this morning

We hiked part of the Mt. Princeton jeep road today before heading home

Cory and the pups

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Living the dream

I'm going to be honest. Most of the month of February I feel like this:

But a girl's got to function in the world even when the sun isn't shining. The other difficulty I've had with trying to get anything accomplished at home is that any time I sit down this happens:

Or this:

Adorable distractions aside, I've gotten pretty good at managing my brain's horrible response to the month of February and I try to think of all the great things that make up the reality of my life. For example, I live in my dream place. I have miles of trails right in my back yard. I have an amazing husband and two adorable dogs. Why should I let the weather get me down when I have the life I've always dreamed of?

A lot of people have commented on pictures that I post on Facebook or on posts I've left on this blog that they wish they lived here or that my life looks awesome. If I know you and you live in another state, chances are I've tried to convince you to move to Colorado. I'm a pretty good sales person. Just ask Cory, if he doesn't agree with me then I won't back down until I've convinced him that I'm right.

We didn't just accidentally end up in Colorado. It wasn't some happy occurrence. We lived in Pittsburgh. We picked up all our stakes and, with help from my parents, moved our possessions to Colorado into an apartment that we had never seen until we moved into it. We were unemployed and had to start from scratch with very few connections. There were times that we were living from paycheck to paycheck. Not a day goes by that I remind myself never to take this place for granted.

Moving is hard and I knew the longer we spent time in a place that was not Colorado, the harder it was going to be to pick up and move. I firmly believe that you should not live in a way where you are always waiting for something better to come along. If you want something, take tangible steps to make it happen. It's made me curious what it is that holds people back from achieving the things they want, what keeps them from making their dreams or goals a reality. I genuinely want to know! Please comment, even if you are reading this and I've never met you before.

If there's one thing I've learned while working through Seasonal Affective Disorder it's that having a plan with both short term and long term goals makes every day easier to endure. As you see yourself get closer to where you want to be, it's no longer a matter of endurance, you are able to joyfully relish the last few steps to your finish line.

Here's some pictures from our winter adventures this last month:

Cadi retrieved multiple deer parts at Mt. Falcon for me

We found this fresh mountain lion kill a mile up from the parking lot at Apex

A close up of the mountain lion print... no claw marks and a three-lobed back pad

Cousin Bailey taking 10th at CC junior nationals in Boulder

View of Mt. Evans wilderness from the Chicago Lakes Trail

Happy pups!

Entering Mt. Evans wilderness... did not need the snowshoes

A chilly sunset on top of Green Mt before heading to Arizona for my best friend's wedding

Sunset run at Pass Mountain with dad

The one bright "star" in the sky is Venus

Sunrise view of Lost Dutchmen from Cat Peaks summit

I'm never wearing booty shorts again... too much wedgie 

Playing among the cacti with dad

The dad guy

I was talking on my phone in the campground and this rattler jumped out at me

Got to take some fun pictures at this couple's wedding!

Mayla's favorite winter sport is napping 

Cadi's favorite winter sport is being disobedient and feeling no shame

Family hibernation

Cory got some great pictures of me tripping on today's run

This is my "I hate the winter" face