Friday, January 23, 2015

For the Joy

I remember reading Killian's book, Run or Die, last year and one particular part has stuck with me. I would quote it directly but I lent the book to a friend, who will remain nameless, who has not returned it (Laura!). Kidding, keep it as long as you need to, Laura. Back on track. The part of the book I remember most is when Killian recalls coming home from a run and recounting the day's adventures to his now ex-girlfriend. As he animatedly wraps up his story and finishes showing off his photos, he asks his lady friend about her adventures and she cries and says that it was wonderful but that there was no way to fully get someone to share in the feeling and thrill of the day.

I've felt this feeling so many times. No many how many pictures I share on Facebook, no matter how detailed my blog posts are, even if I personally sit with you and talk about my adventures there is no way to pass on the Joy that I feel when I'm out exploring. At my core, I am a "feeler" and though I can use my words to get others to know things, I'm always caught in a paradox of not feeling understood until someone feels what I am feeling. Getting someone to feel what you feel is very different than getting someone to know how you feel. Some writers have a unique ability to do this. If you don't know what I'm talking about read Jenn Hughes' piece from Trail Runner magazine about the Hardrock 100 here.

Lately I've been unhappy with my blog and I think it's because I've spent so much time writing about things instead of capturing the essence of the thing itself, instead of extracting the emotion I felt in an experience and impressing that feeling upon you, the reader. Normally what happens when I start monologuing about this is I stop right about here and hold the backspace key for a long time. Not this day. I'm no Jenn Hughes, though, so don't expect me to make you feel any great emotion. What I want to do is ask a question. People often ask themselves why they run. Regardless of the details, I think most people run because it gives them a Joy that they are otherwise unable to attain in daily life. The question I've been thinking about is what about running gives you the Joy?

The reason I've been mulling over this is because I have a lot of running friends who seem to get frustrated by certain things in their running that are taking away the Joy. For example, Cory has been angry after every run lately because his Garmin is not uploading his run data to Strava. Data can be useful in training and can bring you Joy as you see gains over time, but I had to "ground" myself indefinitely from Strava. If every run wasn't faster than the last or if I didn't get a "Queen of the Mountain," I became dissatisfied with my run. I knew if I was approaching a popular "segment" I would gun it (which is kind of like interval training), but the reason I was doing it was to show others that I was the fastest. Strava was taking away my Joy.

On my quest to shed all the things that diminish the Joy, I keep thinking about a blog entry that I wrote around this time last year about sponsorship. I've thought many times over about deleting it because if any sponsor read it, they would incorrectly assume that I never want to be sponsored. But this blog post has been one of my most popular reads and to delete it would be to hide something important that I thought was controversial. If I'm about anything, I'm about authenticity. So it remains... and if you're curious you can read it here.

Now I find myself in a seemingly hypocritical place on the Pearl Izumi Champions Run Team. It's not a sponsorship, it's more of an ambassadorship. I get a pair of free shoes and a singlet and in turn I continue to tell everyone how much I love Pearl Izumi's gear. The reason why I don't feel like a hypocrite is because I was doing these things anyway: complimenting people's PI shoes at races, writing PI shoe reviews on my blog, wearing PI shoes until they were dead, and using my decrepit shoes to pot plants in. This company's gear enhances my Joy so why not get some kickbacks from it and make it official?

Have you ever noticed that the harder the thing is, the more Joy you feel in the end? Easy things leave a taste in your mouth like black licorice, not horrible but not exactly satisfying. In search of Joy we went on a little winter running vacation this weekend. We were exhausted before we left and camping with two dogs in our rooftop tent for three days with lows in the teens and highs in the 40s sounded by no means "easy." Somehow we came back more recharged than if we had stayed in our comfortable home doing runs on our backyard mountain. In a futile attempt to share my Joy, here are some pictures.

At Kenosha Pass

South Park puppy pick-up

Old girl still has the moves

Chalk cliffs on the way to Salida

Salida Sunset

The view from our tent

Plenty of room in this tent

On the Rainbow Trail

Little pup tries to herd me

Got snowed out just a mile further up

Dry trails in Salida

Sweet Collegiates

Lots of snow in Leadville

Running around Turquoise Lake


Closest thing I have to digitally capturing the Joy

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Happy New Year

I'm not sure how what started out as a once a week blog has degraded into a once a month blog. As I was talking to my dad, the wise one, on the phone yesterday he said that I need to write a new blog post, and he's right. I have a whole bevy of excuses for why I haven't written and they are pretty good excuses. But I woke up early, got my run done, and now I'm going to try to quiet this restless brain and spew some thoughts on the page before work.

The picture above features my number one excuse for not writing. We got a puppy! We named her Acadia after the National Park we visited on our honeymoon, but we just call her Cadi. We have been told she is about a year old, but behavior-wise she has needed a lot of work. It's taken a full week but now she doesn't go to the bathroom in the house and she finally knows how to sit. She is a ball of energy and will try to eat the iPhone out of my hand so that I will pay attention to her. The trade-off for her rascally ways is that she is a trail-running phenom. She bounds ahead always staying within sight, she doesn't bark at other dogs (she actually tries to avoid them), and she has enough to endurance to go many miles. So far her longest run has been 7.5 miles but we don't want to push her too soon. Needless to say I'm exhausted but it is kind of nice having an adorable alarm clock to wake me up to run at 5am. Mayla seems relieved that we don't try to make her run anymore in her old age.

Old pup and young pup napping together

If I'm honest with myself, my main excuse is that I don't like how my blog has become all race reports and none of the deep, thoughtful things I used to write about. Back when my blog got only a few views a day I felt like I could empty my brain out because, lets face it, those views were probably my mom and dad. Now I get a lot more viewers checking out race reports and gear reviews, which is super exciting, but I feel less inclined to share the things I'm really thinking about.

Lets face it, if you know me at all or if you regularly read this blog, you know that I really struggle in the winter with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Living in Colorado has greatly eased the symptoms that I experienced when I lived in Wisconsin, but I've come to develop a coping mechanism that includes just not let myself think about things. If I'm feeling down, stop thinking about it. If I want to quit my job and be a puppy shepherd, just go for a run and deafen the thoughts with my iPod. I know the feelings will pass. When you feel the downward spiral begin all you can do is dig your feet in and refuse to be sucked down.

Depression is like that scene in the Princess Bride where they are walking through the fire swamp and Princess Buttercup gets pulled into the quicksand. I'm just going to assume you all have seen the Princess Bride because if not, what the hell have you been doing with your life?! Anyway, the princess is walking along and falls in and Wesley immediately grabs a vine and dives in to save her. They come clawing their way out gasping for air, obviously relieved and astonished just to be alive. That's what it feels like trying to return to the land of the living after going through depression. And you learn, wouldn't it just be easier to avoid the quicksand?

So what does this mean? It means that in the winter, I'm not running races and I'm not thinking things. I'm thinking: breakfast, run, second breakfast, work, puppies!, dinner, walk, bed. Doesn't make a very interesting blog post does it? So what's going to be on this blog the next month or two. Damn sure it's going to be pictures of puppies and nature.

One big piece of news is that I got selected to be on the Pearl Izumi Champions Run Team for next year! Basically not much will change. I'll still be evangelical about how much I love their shoes. But now I'll be using a lot more hashtags and I'll have a sweet singlet to wear at races.

As promised, pictures of puppies and trails:

Fog above Green Mountain and Dino Ridge

A glorious morning on Mt. Morrison

Cory the cloud walker

We dog-sat this guy, Jack, who convinced Cory that it would be ok to get another dog

Mayla got really excited about Christmas

She was really not excited about her antlers

Mayla came to visit at the bank a lot

And missed a lot of balls

We had some below zero days... nbd if we were in Wisconsin but we ARE NOT!

Someone told me on Facebook that I should have run through the Mines of Moria instead

We met the new puppy and, to Mayla's dismay, we took her home

Acadia wants you to know that I got on the Pearl Izumi team and that their shoes taste good

Someone appreciates the sun as much as I do

This face!

This morning on Green Mountain

Trail dog

Cadi went to check out the coyote poo

I can't stop taking pictures

Ok winter, I guess you are pretty

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Wrapping up one season and dreaming about the next

I have been trying to rest the last three weeks. Keyword: Trying. With restless legs I have been sitting at the computer looking at race websites, Youtube videos of different courses, our bank account, and the calendar trying to figure out how to fit in all the adventures we want to do next year. The hard thing about being married to a runner is that you each have your separate running goals and dreams and sometimes they clash with each other. Sometimes we want to do different races that fall on the same date or we have different ideas about how we should allot our time off or our money.

2014 was a pretty good year for me and I saw a lot of improvement. In 2013 I did 8 races (including one DNF) and only one of them was an ultra. In 2014 I did 8 races (including one unofficial finish because I got lost) and 5 of those races were ultras. Of those five ultras I won two of them. The races that I won were not very competitive but at least I know what it feels like to win now (it feels good btw) and now I want to try to use that edge to push harder at some more competitive events next year. I was looking back at an old blog post that I wrote before my first ultra and I wrote that I felt I shouldn't run the uphills because it might make me burn out by the end. What a joke!

When I look at the areas I could improve on, the main one would be keeping the nutrition INSIDE my body. There was a lot of throwing up in 2014. I learned that I am a zombie above 12,500 ft. Also I learned that not sleeping = lots of puking. Both times I crewed Cory and ran with him through the night, I could not keep my stomach under control. Because I like to torment myself, this leaves me with two options for next year, run my first 100 mile race and master the night pukes or run the US Skyrunning Series and master the altitude pukes.

I've been debating a lot about which is the most noble pursuit. At first I was really leaning towards running my first 100-miler. Being part of the endless parade of headlamps while pacing Cory at Run Rabbit Run was surreal. While Cory groaned and cussed his way into the finish I kept choking on my tears and also the six minute mile pace. I felt so overcome with emotion about what the human body, specifically my husband's body, could do and immediately I wanted to find out if this body of mine was able to run that far.

There is also the matter of babies. Realistically, we only have 2 to 4 more summers before we start trying to have a family. I fully intend to be a mountain running mama but life is going to be different. I won't get to enjoy 8 uninterrupted hours of sleep. I won't get to selfishly hole myself up in the winter when Seasonal Affective Disorder messes with my brain. I won't get to take off for hours in the mountains until I've got child care lined up. Cory and I won't be able to camp every weekend and live out of our car in the summer. Knowing these things helps me prioritize what I want to do now.

Running 100 miles: It can wait until summer 2016. When I think about my favorite adventures from last year, they were running high alpine routes in Indian Peaks and Rocky Mountain National Park. We didn't get to do many of those this last year because we were so focused on putting in a certain number of miles and, honestly, because we didn't make it a priority. It only makes sense that if we are going to focus on exploring more above treeline next year that we do some Skyrunning races along the way. We don't have the money to travel abroad but we have a great camp set-up for traveling in the U.S. I'm planning to do the ultra series and Cory is planning to do the sky series.

So here's the tentative races schedule for 2015:

Salida Run Through Time Marathon (March) - Allisa and Cory
Golden Gate Dirty 30 (May) - Allisa
San Juan Solstice 50 mile (June) - Allisa and Cory
Kendall Mountain Run (July) - Cory
Aspen Power of Four 50k (July) - Allisa
Ouray 100 (August) - Cory
The Rut 50k (September) - Allisa and Cory
Flagstaff Sky Race (October) - Allisa and Cory

We also want to throw in some adventure runs we've been researching. There's a great loop in the Sangres that we've attempted a few times. Last time I threw up a few times and we had to turn back - big surprise. The Gore Range Trail is a 50 mile trail here in CO that looks pretty cool. Cory wants to do more of the Colorado Trail. We want to do the Pawnee/Buchanan loop and the Maroon Bells loop. I want the do the High Lonesome loop faster and also do the loop in RMNP again when there isn't snow and 50 mph winds. The options are endless!

Of course things always change and I usually like to throw in a few last minute races, but I'm really excited about this plan. Sometimes just having a plan, having things to look forward to, helps to push through the winter blues. I still feel really eager to try at the 100 mile distance but I don't think anyone regrets getting stronger before trying to go farther.

Our sweet setup, but now we have a 4WD vehicle.

Venable Lakes trail in the Sangres... part of a loop we want to do.

Trails and flowers in Aspen where the Power of 4 50k is.

I want more views like this (Cory's birthday hike in Indian Peaks)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pass Mountain 50k

After the Dead Horse 50k in October I thought my season was done. At least that was the plan. My dad and I were talking on the phone one evening and he asked if there was any possibility that I could make it out to Mesa, Arizona to run a race with him in November. I told him there was zero possibility. I was scheduled to work at the bank that entire weekend and the plane tickets were too expensive. Fortunately at that point I was being honest because I'm a really bad liar.

A few nights later I was trying to fall asleep and it dawned on me that the weekend of the race was also the weekend of his 60th birthday. The race was also one we had talked about doing for years. My dad camps at Usery Mountain State Park for a combined total of about 2 months every year and every time I visit him we run the mountain and talk about how fun it would be to do the race some day. I opened up my computer to see that flight prices had gone down. Now the hard part: getting off of work.

My boss was annoyed but made it happen and I got my mom in on the secret to surprise my dad. Things ballooned from there. To make a long story short, my mom decided to fly out from Wisconsin and surprise him at the finish line and eventually I decided that the man hates surprises so I caved and told him that I was coming. He got me at the airport and we camped at the park the night before the race. I was signed up for the 25k but was waffling about switching to the 50k.

Sun comes up

Race morning came and I decided to switch to the 50k. The sun rose and we were off. I knew that the most challenging part for me would be to pace myself in the first flat miles. A lot of the girls looked intense but I thought I had a shot at winning. I wasn't pushing the pace too hard but I led from the get go. The first mile ticked by at 7:15 pace and the first 5k was all under 8 minute pace. It was just so smooth and non-technical. The sand was the only thing to slow us down.

Somewhere near the first aid station another woman caught up to me. I wanted someone to talk to and sometimes I feel like if you talk to your competition and get to know them it doesn't hurt so bad if they beat you in the end. Her name was Tiffany and she owns a running store in Illinois. She was fresh off the Chicago marathon and she looked like a road runner. I really enjoyed chatting with her for the next three or four miles and it helped take my mind off the pace. I knew she had the training advantage on the flats but we hadn't gotten to anything technical or hilly yet.

Finally after the Meridian Aid Station things started to get more technical and rocky. I tucked in behind Tiffany on the climb up Pass Mountain and we ran the whole thing. She mentioned that this was her first ultra and finally near the top of the pass I asked her if she had drank or ate at all. She had just blown through the aid stations and had only two small bottles attached to her waist belt. She said she had recently taken a sip of water. I was worried about her but I didn't want to tell her what to do. I had already drank two bottles and taken two gels. I knew the day was going to heat up and once it got hot, we were all going to struggle to put calories down.

I passed Tiffany near the top and ended up taking on the rolling descent with a group of guys. We ended up in a train that was moving a little slower than I wanted but I thought it would be better to be conservative. At that point I was getting warm and I was not looking forward to running that flat section again. The course does the same loop twice.

When we came into the start/finish area, it was nice to be energized by the crowd. I had been daydreaming about watermelon for the last two miles and I was pleasantly surprised that they had some! When I left the aid station, Tiffany still had not come in yet, so I made it my goal to hold her off or, if she passed me, to at least keep up with her through the flat section up to the Meridian Aid Station. Unfortunately I started to have my typical GI issues throughout the next 6 miles even though I had taken Imodium. It was nothing new for me so I tried not to let it get me down... there were plenty of bushes to hide in. It was also getting really hot and I was dousing myself with ice water constantly. Maybe it wasn't hot to the natives from Arizona, but it was only 20 degrees when I left Colorado.

When I made it to the Meridian Aid Station the second time, Tiffany came in as I was leaving. Just what I thought would happen. Unless she had a second wind, I knew I had her on the technical sections. As I climbed up Pass Mountain again I kept looking behind me to see if she was there and I couldn't see a soul. I was totally alone these last few miles except for a non-racer who was out for a sprightly run. He tried to chat with me but I could not keep up with his fresh legs. I was running most of the ups but walking the really rocky sections that I had bounded up earlier in the day. At a few places I questioned if I was on the right trail even though I know this climb like the back of my hand. It made me realize how fatigue can mess with your mind and your ability to judge correctly.

As I started the descent, I noticed the clouds had cleared and there was finally a good view of Four Peaks. I love this side of the mountain, running in its shadow alone with the Saguaros and the occasional snake. I was fairly confident I had it from here. I had one more bout of GI distress but I knew I was only a 5k away from winning. I contemplated taking another gel because I was starting to feel woozy but it was just too hot to digest anything. I powered it in and got it done.

As I neared the finish line I heard a unmistakable screaming voice: mom. She was jumping around at the finish line and I realized she has never gotten to see me run an ultra. I was so grateful that everything came together and that my family was able to enjoy the weekend together in a place that is so special to us. For a man that hates surprises I think my dad was pretty happy with the way his birthday turned out.

It was great to finally check this race off the list. I ended up 1st woman and 8th person overall in a time of 5:41:36. Aravaipa puts on such great races with a fun crew and well-run aid stations.

Finish line kick

Happy birthday to Barth dad

With Tiffany who came in 2nd place

With Mike Ambrose, first place guy, holding our creepy awards