Monday, July 30, 2012

Beautiful Danger

Yesterday we had a scary running experience. Cory and I went to do our long runs at Bear Creek Lake Park. Cory was planning to do 19 and I was planning to do 15. We had run at this park before and it's not a particularly difficult place to run. We made two big mistakes. We had just been through a hard week and so we decided to sleep in. We didn't get on the trail until 9ish.

You can barely see Denver's skyline on the horizon

The second mistake is that we underestimated how much water we'd be drinking. I'm picky about my water sources and so I brought an extra liter of water in my Nathan vest and carried a hand held bottle with an electrolyte mix in it. I've never needed that much water for a 15-miler and so I thought I'd be just fine. Cory brought one handheld bottle and planned to fill up at various water sources on his route.

Cory on the Mt. Carbon switchbacks

We started off together and after we crested Mount Carbon, Cory took off in a different direction than I was  headed. We made sure that we knew each other's routes so that if anything happened we could find each other. The first part of my route skirted around two creeks. These trails offered a little shade, but I was so thirsty and I felt like every drink I took did nothing to keep me hydrated.

"Shade" along the creek

After breaking away from the creek section I took off toward a dry, hot ridge. There were a lot of intersecting trails and the map I had with me was not super clear. I ran to the top of a hill, second-guessed myself and came back down. I ran part-way up another hill, and came back down again. Then I figured out that my first guess was right and continued on. At this point I only had about 10 ounces of water left and I had only come 7 or so miles. I should have been smart and gone immediately back to the car, but I was feeling too stubborn.

I soon ran out of water and started getting very nervous. The sun was intense and I knew I wasn't going to come across any water or shade. I decided to take a short cut back, cutting my route down to 12 miles, but that still meant that I had 3 more miles to get back to the car. After going through WFR training, I'm very aware of the signs of dehydration and just tried to keep myself from going into a panic attack. I wasn't going to die. Even if I passed out, someone would find me and call an ambulance. But I started to feel my heart rate and respiration rate rise. I noticed my pulse getting weaker in the extremities indicating a decrease in blood pressure. 

I dizzily made it back to the car where I had a 20 oz. bottle waiting for me. I downed it in five minutes. But Cory still wasn't back yet and I had nothing left to drink. Finally I saw him off in the distance. He was moving fast, but as he came closer I noticed how horrible he looked. Apparently he had run out of water pretty early as well. He filled up at a drinking fountain and threw up. As he kept going on he started to get nervous because he thought we would pass each other during a certain stretch of trail (the stretch that I got lost on). When he didn't see me he became very worried that something was wrong. He cut off a few miles of his run and came back towards the car to find me.

Cory was still feeling sick today, but we ended up being fine. Lesson learned. Never again will I do a midday long-run in the Colorado summer sun.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Back to where it started

It was a long, tiring journey but we are finally settling in here in Denver. After putting in quite a few days of unpacking, job interviews, and DMV visits, I was itching to get to the mountains. It was killing me to run on the flat bike trails but see the mountains off in the distance, so yesterday we finally enjoyed some trail running fun.

About 8 years ago as a high school kid, I attended a two-week camp in Manitou Springs, a little hippie town at the base of Pikes Peak. Though I had visited Colorado before, this is where my obsession with the mountains began. And it was a rough start. On the weekend, a group of us from camp hiked Pikes Peak and we were very unprepared for how difficult it was going to be. Fortunately my friend and I had picked up some low-quality Walmart fanny packs the day before, but a lot of kids were using plastic shopping bags to carry food and water. Altogether I probably brought less than a liter of water with me. Needless to say I had my first encounter with altitude sickness and vowed to never hike Pikes Peak again.

I find this story so amusing because I have done Pikes Peak 5 or 6 times since then. I don't know why I keep coming back to Pikes Peak... it's not the most beautiful or majestic 14er in Colorado and Barr trail is usually packed with both runners and hikers. For some reason, I've been fascinated by the Pikes Peak Marathon and I decided last year that I want to run it in 2013. Yesterday a group of us ran 13 miles down the peak, and I'm not so sure that I want to run it ever again. My quads and calfs are totally trashed today and I can hardly walk.

My dad and Cory enjoying their pre-run donut.

I wonder how many thousands of people have pictures under this sign.

Complaining aside, let me share a recap of the journey. A group of 9 of us took the cog to the top of the peak. After taking some pictures at the top six of us began our run, a 7,500 foot descent. As the only girl I felt like I had to prove I wasn't the slowest runner but I started out pretty discouraged. My body struggles to acclimate and I felt pretty queasy for the first 5 miles. From the top of the peak to tree line is pretty technical if you are running (though much less technical than other 14ers). The boys flew down and left me in the dust (except for my dad who would run ahead and do push-ups while waiting for me). I've always been a pretty tentative down-hiller and I know that's something I need to improve on if I want to be a faster racer.

The group of runners. Cory, me, my dad, Dave (who just ran the Leadville 50 last weekend) and his sons.

After getting below tree-line I caught the boys and we all came into Barr camp at mile 6 to fill up on water and eat some food. At this point we were all feeling pretty good, though Noah and I had twisted ankles and Luke had blisters. High-school aged Noah had kept up with Cory the whole time! Good thing he's quitting football to join the Cross-Country team.

The boys at Barr Camp

We took off strong and once again I realized how competitive I can get. The boys blew by me again and I was smuggly convinced that I was going to catch them by the end (which I did). I was pretty sure the fast pace was going kill some quads. Ultimately this was a stupid mentality because we were just out there to have fun. There was no need to prove how tough I was. It wasn't a race. Sometimes I really wish that I could just relax and enjoy the company of others.

As the boys started to slow down, the dads waited for them and Cory and I got to the bottom wondering where the rest of the group was. Along the way I ran a maybe two miles with this awesome and inspiring older woman. She was training for the Pikes Peak Marathon next month (which she's run 6 times) and was putting in her last long run. She told me about her races and how it's been frustrating for her to adjust to getting slower. She still can win her age division but she can't win races outright any more. Eventually I had to let her go, though. The bottom 3 miles of Barr trail at mid-day are like an oven and I was starting to get some serious calf cramps. 

Cory and I were planning to run the flatirons in Boulder today, but I can hardly move. I guess that's what I get for not being willing to slow down. Plan B, go see the Dark Knight Rises... not in Aurora.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Long, hot North Park trail run

It's Independence Day! Cory and I celebrated by waking up before the sun rose to go run the morning away at North Park. It was 85% humidity this morning and you could see droplets of water hanging in the air.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Just a girl

Do you ever feel like in your head, you are so much tougher than you really are? I have a feeling that most people have had this realization at multiple points in their lives. Other times people surprise themselves and find that they were able to accomplish things that they never thought their bodies could handle. I've been reading a lot of race reports and blog entries about Western States 100 and the theme of this past year seems to be people breaking records that no one thought could be broken. Timothy Olson broke Geoff Roes' record and if you keep up with ultra-running then you know that Geoff Roes is the man (so that's saying a lot for Tim). Ellie Greenwood smashed Ann Trason's record by about 50 minutes and most people thought Ann's long-standing record was untouchable. And Dave Mackey broke the masters record (which was just set the year before).

I love running in the weeks following Western States because all of these inspiring stories seem to push me to run faster and stronger, and that has definitely held true this year. Sometimes, though, I have one of those runs where I'm reminded that I'm just a wussy girl... and that run was this morning. I was just doing a short run in Frick Park and because of the heat I've been waking up with the first rays of sun. For those who are morning trail runners, you know that there is a strong likelihood that you are going to be eating spider webs for breakfast. I don't think they are very nutritious and they make me feel really gross. I never should have watched Arachnophobia. This particular morning, I wasn't just running through wispy strands. There were many intricate webs spun out across the trail and the spiders were still resting at the centers. Of course, I couldn't see the webs at the pace I was going so I would run into them and entire web systems would wrap around my face and head making this sickly crunching sound.

What did I do? I frantically ripped off the webs and turned around. I've seen and read Lord of the Rings and I know that you don't forge through a tunnel of webs unless you want to get killed by a giant spider. When I finally got off the trail a mountain biker wizzed past me, probably headed for his death. I contemplated going in after him since he would be breaking the trail, but I was still plastered in webs. When I got home, there was a swath of dead bugs wrapped around my neck like a home-made necklace.

On my way home I felt like such a wimp. I've always struggled with the thought of being "too girly." I like to hang out with guys and go on outdoor adventures. It's not that I don't like doing crafts, watching chick flicks, baking cookies, and talking about feelings, I just always feel ashamed to like those things (and so I watch Twilight in secret and tell everyone about my backpacking trips and running excursions). I'm not sure where I got this idea that it's not ok to be a girl, but it affects many areas of my life. When I run with Cory, I feel this intense need to show him that I'm tough and can keep up with him (which is a joke... he's really fast). When we go backpacking, I always feel bad that I want to sleep in my tent (which is very lightweight) instead of his home-made tarp system (which is even lighter).

Whenever I feel like a wuss, I end up comparing myself to other girls. I remember hearing about the bear at Western States last year and watching this interview with Ellie Interview. If you watch it you will hear her talk about how, late in the race, she was running in the dark and saw two eyes and a hump in the middle of the trail. She didn't want to lose her first-place position and so she scared the bear off with noises like it was no big deal. The second, third, and fourth place women all got jammed up by the bear and when they eventually got by as a group it was a death race to the finish. I'm not sure I would have had the bravery that Ellie had.

Until this year, I thought I was tougher than most girls. Then I met Jamie (hopefully she doesn't mind if I write about her). Jamie and I both work for an organization that provides outdoor adventure opportunities for college students at campuses in the eastern US. When we are not in the field, we are in our cubicles at the office and we end up telling a lot of stories. She has this way of telling stories like it's no big deal when really every other person wouldn't put up with the things she's been through. Here's one of my favorites (paraphrase of story told by Jamie):

One time I was backpacking with this guy and we were staying in trail shelters. I woke up in the middle of the night and felt something tugging my hair. I told the guy to stop pulling my hair and he woke up and said that he wasn't doing anything. I went back to sleep and felt the tugging again and I realized that it was really mice chewing on the ends of my hair (her hair isn't that long so that means the mice would be pretty close to her face). I tried to go to sleep again but it got really annoying so I put a hat on.

What!!? She was just annoyed so she put a hat on? I would have reacted differently. One time Cory and I hiked Pikes Peak and stayed in an small shelter at Barr Camp. When we arrived I noticed that there were lots of large spiders living in holes in the wood. Totally fine in the day time, but at night I started getting super paranoid about dime-sized spiders dropping down on my face (let it be known that in college I was bit by a brown recluse mimic in my apartment that crawled into my bed at night for warmth). That night was a warm night and even though I had a 15-degree down sleeping bag, I insisted on zipping the bag all the way up and cinching the hood so that there was only a small hole around my nose and mouth. I have never been sweatier in my life.

So I think Jamie is pretty tough and I aspire to be as tough as her some day. But is that a healthy desire? It's hard to know the line between embracing your individuality and pushing yourself to become "better." Who decides what "better" is? We may feel influenced by outside sources, but we are the only ones who decide what the "better" us looks like. I'm still trying to figure out why I have such a skewed view of what it means to be a girl. Sometimes I feel like I should look like a girl and act like a boy. Working in a male dominated-field, it's hard to redefine womanhood. But I've learned that being independent and hard-headed comes naturally... no need to work on that. Learning to depend on others and work together is something that takes practice.

After mornings like this morning, I need to remind myself that people don't like me in spite of my girlishness. People like me because of it. I'm a lot more approachable because I am flawed. People can relate to my weakness because we've all experienced it. My Creator had a purpose when he made me and it's good to push myself towards a goal, but I never need to be ashamed of my weakness.