June running – snowy relays to sweaty, sun-burnt long runs

June turned out to be quite the wild running month. I started the month off in injury-recovery mode, praying things would hold together and get me through a frigid, snow-flurry-filled Sawtooth Relay without letting down my team or suffering a major hamstring set-back, and ended the month with a much happier hamstring and the confidence and strength to enjoy some long runs back on the trails in the summer heat.

Some highlights:

  1. Sawtooth Relay – in spite of a brief scare the day before (hamstring cramped briefly after a shakeout run with my teammate/friend) I was actually able to push the pace with zero pain or tightness, even with the couple hours of cramped van riding between my two relay legs! Our team had a blast as we pushed through swirling snow, sideways rain, and (luckily small!) hail stones to reach the much-appreciated sunshine at the finish line.

    HSCC3933

    Went from getting pelted with half-frozen snow/rain to getting bombarded by hail and wind gusts. But at least it was warm enough for shorts on leg 2!

  2. New Oiselle singlet arrived. A small but fun highlight since I am a sucker for new running clothes. I can’t wait to fly in this sunset-glow design at my next race!  IMG_0270
  3. Return to trails! After a week of lowkey recovery after the relay I re-committed to my hamstring rehab and gradually tested my hamstring out on hillier, more demanding terrain. My final week in June included some long, hilly trail runs with no mid-run or post-run soreness, and enough confidence to enjoy the amazing trail views rather than constantly worrying about my hamstring.
  4. Managed a brief handstand balance with no body parts touching the wall! This one isn’t strictly running related, but did renew my motivation to continue consistent core and upper body strength work. The effect of strength and stability during easy running is less obvious, so it’s nice to have a more demanding test to see the results of all that flopping around on the yoga mat and getting dog hair all over my hands by doing pushups around the house.

Now it’s July and the trails are calling! I plan to spend as much time enjoying the singletrack as possible while using the lessons of March, April, and May to remind me to stay on top of pre/re-hab before little twinges take me back off the trails.

IMG_0303

Summer – the season for long runs and outdoor ice baths 🙂

Advertisements

We’re number 2! We’re number 2!

I finally got in a XC race with enough teammates to score! The race was a club/community race a couple hours away and one of my Oiselle Volee teammates had done the tough work of recruiting and organizing a scoring team (4 person team in this case).

I drove down the morning of (over slightly icy roads and through glorious views of snow-capped peaks) and met my 3 teammates as we gathered before the race. It was still chilly but sunny and clear – perfect racing weather! We enjoyed the rare opportunity to warm up as a team, did some panicked pre-race peeing in the bushes (yay for only 1 working park-bathroom toilet and a huge herd of runners :-[), and then lined up in a small grass field for the start. There were about 100 runners in the race and we were several spots deep on the small starting line, shadows blending together in the bright early morning sunlight. We stood and said the pledge of allegiance (which was especially meaningful/nerve-inducing in light of the upcoming election) and then took our ‘ready’ stance to wait for the starting whistle.

“Pweeeeeeet!” The whistle blew and we were off, streaming around the starter and race director who hugged the single telephone pole amid the jostling crowd of runners. I got out well and found myself being swept along the first few turns, legs feeling like they were spinning out of control. At only 400m in we hit the infamous creek crossing, which was less of a creek and more of a deep, rocky ditch that caught several runners unaware. Fortunately my teammates who’d done the course previously had warned me about the tripping hazard and I scampered through without getting tripped up. I then almost ran straight into the back of an older man who’d sprinted the start but was now easing up a bit on the rolling hills. I slipped past him and continued weaving my way along with the rushing stream of fellow runners.

fullsizerender-9

Looking way more in control than I felt 😛

The first mile was windy, narrow, and rocky, and although my lungs and muscles felt fine I felt like I was running just barely in control, and was a little worried about tripping due to only being able to see the backs of the runners ahead of me and a foot or two of the ground in front of my feet. Thankfully the path widened at the mile mark and I was able to get a bit more room and focus on a group of 3 women ahead of me. We turned onto a small loop for mile 2 that wove through a boardwalk and a long stretch of brush-edged dirt single track. I was holding steady behind the women in front of me coming out of that loop and back onto the wide section, but then got passed by another woman who was moving strongly towards the group. I borrowed some of her momentum to work my way up towards the group going into the single track but didn’t know if I’d actually be able to catch them. We entered the third mile and also started lapping runners who were on their first little boardwalk/singletrack loop.

I tried to gasp a ‘good job’ to each runner I passed as I chased down the pack of women in front of me. I suddenly realized that if I had the air to say ‘good job’ I could probably be pushing harder, and used a little lull in pace as an opportunity to throw in a surge past the entire group of women and towards the two lead women who were starting to pull away in front. The effectiveness of my little burst kind of surprised me – I dropped the group without any resistance and found myself gaining slightly on the woman in front of me.

fullsizerender-11

Surging past the pack, wheeee!

We came out of the little loop and into the final half mile and I tried to lengthen my stride to see if I could chase her down. As we wound into the final 200m I couldn’t quite close on her, but pushed a final kick as a runner came up behind me, breathing loudly. “Ahhhh don’t let that be that pack of women!” I thought as I sprinted into the finish.

As I bent over feeling a bit barfy I was pleased to see it’d actually been a couple guys that made my finish panicky, and that they’d pushed me to a 20:05 5k! Soooo close to that sub-20 goal! I was even more pleased to get to cheer in my teammates who were sprinting in just a few seconds behind me!

fullsizerender-10

Goooo Oiselllllllle!!!

There’s just something awesome about finishing a race, hands on knees, and getting to stumble your way to the side of the finishing chute to holler for your teammates! With the first 3 of us in with only a few runners between us and all finishing in the top 15 women we knew we must have scored pretty well out of the the women’s teams. We shuffled back along the finish to cheer in our final teammate and then jogged a stiff-legged cool down before enjoying the post-race spread of yogurt, crackers, and beer.

We ended up placing 2nd for the women’s teams (thus the title of this post) and basked in the post-race pain/glow for a bit with our shiny 2nd-place ribbons before all running off to kids/family/spouses and other weekend activities. With the low-key but competitive atmosphere, my almost sub-20 time, and the joy of racing with a strong team this was definitely one of the highlights of my racing season.

Hurrah for club cross-country and the awesomeness of racing with an amazing group of women!

fullsizerender-12

Enjoying the 5k pain cave 😛  #headsupwingsout

Success – I embraced the nature over 5 kilometers of steep hills, shin-deep grass, and the occasional ice patch

img_7884

Saturday’s race morning started after a fitful night of being woken multiple times by a restless dog and a husband who was really excited about a bear on the patio at 2am. Knowing my alarm was going off at 4:20am, I was much less thrilled about the disruptive middle of the night visitor. Luckily no one was eaten and I managed a few solid hours of sleep before my alarm pulled my out of bed and into the dark morning.

I dressed, grabbed my gear, and drove the two hours to the course, wishing I had thought to make some coffee for the drive.Happily, the sun began to rise over the peaks just as I arrived, pulling me out of my drowsy state and into race prep mode. I registered and quickly started my warm up jog to wake my legs and get the chill out of my hands and feet. I spotted one other gal doing drills in an ankle-length down coat and runner’s cap and figured she might be my main competition in what was looking to be a rather sparse field.

The small group of us – mainly blue-lipped men in skimpy shorts and tank tops and more comfortable-looking women in tights, long sleeves, and gloves – gathered at the start for some pre-race instructions, an ‘on your mark’, and a very exciting send-off signaled by surprisingly-loud mini canon fire!

I took off conservatively, well aware of the steady hill that would take us from about the first quarter mile up to the 1 mile mark. A group of the tank-top men and I slogged up the double-track, gradually spreading out as the hill took its toll.

img_7890

The start, and the hill in the background.

The second mile started with a snow-covered switchback onto the only flat bit apart from the start, and then swiftly dove downhill on some frozen dirt single track that wound through gray and yellow aspens. This spat us out into some of the most challenging terrain of the course – deep, uneven grass.

I had somehow ended up in first but kept seeing the gal from the warmup whenever we went around a switchback. Now I was fighting the cold, fatigue from the long first mile climb, and the uneven, momentum-sapping grass to stay ahead of her. I tried to follow the men’s lead on the challenging terrain, sticking to the shortest grass and prancing around the many bumps, holes, and rocks. I rolled my ankle once but fortunately felt it spring right back with just a tiny twinge.

The course brought us tantalizingly close to the finish with about 800m to go, and then sent us around on one more final bit of single track, another section of knobby overgrown field, and then down a steep mowed-grass hill into the finishing flat. I was finally able to stride out and felt the effort, but was determined to stay ahead of the runner behind me who’s footsteps were growing alarmingly close. I pumped my arms through the finish and turned to see a guy finishing close behind and then the gal I’d been racing against.

We all spent a few moments congratulating each other and commiserating over the gnarly course, and then stampeded the concessions stand to get our well-earned muffins and free coffee. I settled on a sun-warmed boulder to sip my coffee and congratulated myself on keeping the ‘curse you mother nature!’ thoughts to a minimum during the race.

img_7888

COOOFFFFFEEEEEEE. With melted/dissolved whipped cream 😀

After the (glorious) caffeine kicked in I cooled down while cheering on the middle-school racers and then met up to cheer with a Volee teammate who was coaching a local high school team over the same brutal course. There’s nothing quite like spending the morning after a hard effort sprinting around a cross-country course in the Autumn sunshine cheering for a bunch of speedy young upstarts!

 

Here’s a question for you all! Favorite beverage post-race: hot (or iced!) coffee, cold beer, fizzy sports-drink? Or something more unique?

img_7895

A glorious day for racing and cheering

Cross-country: Sometimes it rocks, sometimes giant grass loops of doom chew you up and spit you out

I ran another cross country 6k against collegiate and club athletes this Saturday out in Denver. The course was described as flat and grassy and I was really looking forward to pushing myself to a fast time against the strong field of women. I drove the few hours to the course on Saturday morning, arrived with plenty of time to warm up and take in the big HS/college meet atmosphere, and then shuffled around on the starting line with the other non-collegiate athletes looking for a non-occupied starting box. We endured one non-firing starting pistol issue and then were off!

My thoughts during the race didn’t exactly live up to my pre-race excitement…

During the crowded first mile as we all fought for space on the narrow, chalk-outlined course my thoughts ranged from the semi-positive (“Well at least I’m *near* being on the course here…and have managed to avoid getting shoved into a tree so far!”) to the frustrated (“Holy frack, what is it with these girls cutting in front of me and then slowing down?!?”). I was having some trouble finding a clear path at this point and probably wasted some energy weaving and putting in little burst to get clear. The grass proved to be a more challenging surface to run on than I’d anticipated – it was rough and uneven and kept pushing my legs around, throwing me off balance. Running over a series of awkward bumps that causes your hips to ache and thighs to continually bounce off one another isn’t exactly the best way to feel strong and graceful…

At the 2 mile mark I got clear of the crowd and my thoughts briefly turned more positive. I could see one of the women I’ve run against and placed near about 50m ahead of me so knew I wasn’t doing too terribly and had someone to focus on reeling in. Alas, shortly thereafter a side-stitch slowed me down for a bit. I recovered and picked it back up, picking off a few women, but then got hit with another bout of rough breathing. As we neared the third mile the heat (70, but blazingly sunny) started to wear on me and the good feeling patches started to be outnumbered by the rough-feeling ones. The giant grass loops seemed tedious and unending, lulling me into an inward focus that emphasized the discomfort rather than the clusters of women that I should have been focused on chasing down.

At 3 miles I tried really hard to convince my brain that 1200m wasn’t *that* far but was apparently not very persuasive, as I couldn’t find the gear or motivation to pick the pace up enough to pass the few women that were theoretically close enough to catch. The last 400m consisted of a long straight parallel to the finish straight, a hairpin turn, and then another 200m into the distant finish. I was relieved to have the entire long, agonizing 200m to myself, glad to at least avoid the shame of lacking the will power to fight another runner’s kick in the last stretch. I wobbled through the finish and my jagged breathing tried to turn into little, pitiful cries as I hunched over, hands to my knees. Thankfully some saintly volunteer handed me a lovely paper cup of chilly water and dumping this over my head brought me back to some semblance of a functional human being.

I spent a few minutes chatting with some other women about the race (we almost universally disliked the wonky grass and long-ass finish) and then did the usual cool down thing, with many more breaks than usual. At least my legs were dead in addition to my mental focus! Upon getting home I saw that I had run a bit slower than my 6k a few weeks prior, though on a tougher course. When I looked at times for women that had been at both meets the average change was actually right around 0 seconds, so I was in good company with my small increase in time.

I am still a bit disappointed by my lack of competition-brain during the race, but am glad I travelled to the meet. Even if it didn’t turn out quite as I wanted it was a grueling workout for my lungs and legs, a good experience navigating a crowded course, and a great excuse to run around in my almost-underwear with a bunch of other strangely running-obsessed women.

#headupwingsout

Devil’s Dash -first ‘team’ cross-country race since college!

I ran my first cross-country race with a team since college last weekend!!!

img_7698

Check out those matching singlets!

Oookay, so we were only a team of *two* and weren’t running for a score, but it was still amazing to have a teammate out there on the course and have someone with which to excitedly discuss the just-completed race. An added bonus – my teammate coaches high school, so we spent our cool down sprinting back and forth on the course cheering for her team as they covered the terrain we’d just raced through.

The race itself was also a blast, although a bit rougher than my last race. We were running in the coaches/citizens/middle schoolers race so everything from bib pickup to the actual start time communications was a little sketchy due to the real meet emphasis being the large high school races. However, we all made it to the starting line decently warmed up, where I met up with my Volee teammate for some pre-race chitchat and strides. We found ourselves surrounded by a surprisingly large crowd of uniformed, nervous middle schoolers and tough coaches and open runners. We both squeezed into the 2nd row of starters after our last couple strides and got ready to take off.

The starter raised his pistol, gave us the ‘ready’ command, squeezed the trigger………………and then lowered his arm with a laugh as the blank failed to go off. The crowd of nervous runners laughed back with a startled giggle as we all tried to settle our heart rates from their sudden, lurching increase that accompanied the anticipation of the brief mad dash that comes with every crowded race start. I still felt my heart pounding in my ears when the starter lifted his arm again, and, as a result, surged a bit too enthusiastically of the line when the gun did actually fire.

The first 100m were crowded and chaotic, with my teammate and I fighting not to get squashed in the mayhem. About 50m in the course began to funnel, and an older man and a younger boy who had sprinted ahead of me both suddenly slowed right as the course narrowed to double-track, causing me to veer back and forth in an adrenaline-fueled quest to get around them. I wasted a bit of energy dashing around them through the weeds, and came around them feeling rushed and heavy-legged. However, I now had a clear view of the leaders, and thought I’d have a better chance of holding a strong pace if I didn’t get stuck in the larger pack. I spent the rest of the first mile feeling like my legs were spinning almost out-of-control, and like my breathing was on the edge of hyperventilation. Negativity threatened to drown my race from the very start, but luckily I have plenty of experience feeling like crud through the start of races and I was able to tune out my brain’s anxious chatter about the heavy legs and already suffering lungs. I later found out I came through the first mile about 15 seconds faster than my average pace, and much quicker than anything I’ve been doing in training.

In the second mile I paid for my over-enthusiastic start, slowing by almost 40 seconds/mile and just struggling through with the hope that I would eventually catch one of the runners ahead of me. It wasn’t the best of times but it was great practice in staying tough when everything seems to be going horribly. The opportunity to cheer on my close-behind teammate on a hairpin turn helped too, reminding me that we were at least in this horrible, painful business together!

Eventually the slower pace settled my breathing and brought some pop back into my legs, and I realized going into the third mile that I was within shot of the 2nd place woman*, a very fit looking runner who’d I’d noted on the starting line. I started picking off middle schoolers ahead of me (sorry boys) and eventually got on 2nd place’s back. I was still hurting but convinced myself to push past her strongly, hoping she’d be convinced enough of my effortless advance that she wouldn’t also pick it up and force me to reeeaaaally work for it. She was hurting badly and let me pass without much fight. I was embarrassingly pleased by this – I was also hurting badly and sure didn’t want to have to repeat the strong-pass-attempt performance!

We finally hit 1k to go and I managed to pick it up just a little more for a strong push into the finish. Just as in the 6k the week prior I could’t pull a kick out of my legs**, but I managed to at least hold pace through the line before stumbling through the chute in a state of nauseated fatigue. As I limped out of the chute I remembered that my teammate hadn’t been far being, so shuffle-jogged back around the finish to cheer her in. She arrived shortly, and we both spent the next 10 minutes trying to fake smiles and pep as her nervous high school athletes quizzed us on the course and asked why we looked so spent from the mild, mostly-flat terrain. “What, no, we feel great!” we chirped as we tried not to puke.

She and I parted ways as she went to prep her athletes, and then joined back up for some fairly challenging cool down work that involved repeated bouts of sprinting followed by cheering. The high schoolers raced amazingly and it was inspiring watching them work together over the hot, rough fields, faces showing the same freshly familiar race strain that my teammate and I had just experienced. It was amazing to have the chance to race and then turn right around to give back to the next generation of cross-country runners with cheers and encouragement.

Here’s to hoping those kids will stay joyfully passionate about the sport and end up as older, but still enthusiastic, racing fools like us!

img_7684

 

*We both got beat by a middle schooler. She broke 20 minutes which is *ridiculously* good for a middle school girl at 6000 feet elevation!

**I know, I know I need to start adding more strides and maybe some little spurts at the end of workouts. But this end-of-race kick used to come so naturally and I keep forgetting it’s gone until that last 100m when I go to shift gears and just…can’t! A little frustrating…

XTERRA Beaver Creek 10(ish…)k trail run race report

The Strava split summary actually sums up last weekend’s XTERRA trail race pretty well:

IMG_7308

I spent the day before cheering on a coworker who also happens to be a *awesome* triathlete (she placed top 5 in the pro division! Wootwoot!) and generally getting really nervous and pumped up as I watched the triathletes race the same course I’d be running the next day.

13728907_10153753919797061_5137059641470786651_n

Goooooo imaging research team! (Also, this is literally the flattest 100m of the course)

The next day I woke up nervous but excited, knowing I had a tough course ahead of me. I slapped on a Oiselle temporary tattoo since I was still waiting on my singlet (dang post-office forwarding lost it somehow), my favorite DIY singlet and short-shorts, and took off up the ski hill to warm up. The trail run portion of the event included 3 races: 20k, 10k, and 5k so I got to watch the 20kers take off about 10 minutes before my start time. They took off to a canon shot – talk about an adrenaline rush!

I arrived at the start line much more amped up than I’ve been for any of my previous summer races, perhaps due to the little added pressure of having a teammate of sorts (my coworker) at the race cheering for me, and hoping to live up to the trend that she started with her awesome race the day before. We didn’t get a canon, instead starting to a horn, but I still shot off the line like I was starting a track race, quickly ending up in 2nd behind the lead man.

Luckily I managed to calm down and drifted back a few spots, trying to hold a pace that wouldn’t put me deeply in debt when I hit the first big climb. I expected another woman to come up behind me during the whole first mile but instead held my spot as the first woman going into the 2nd mile and the first climb. Based on advice from some fellow trail runners and the triathletes from the day before I tried alternating power walking on the steep curves and running the straights of the winding switchback section. The grade jumps sharply at each turn, and walking at least felt more efficient. It also kept my breathing under control and kept the screaming in my legs to a dull roar, even as I stayed on the tail of the man in front of me. I found out after that I’d PR’d on the section by 5 seconds, so maybe there was something to the run-walk strategy!

After the first climb we had about a mile of steep but runnable downhill down a dirt road and onto some mellow single track. I was still in first and hadn’t seen any women close behind…was I actually going to hold onto this?!? I headed into the second climb feeling confident and strong from the long downhill recovery.

The second climb was ROUGH. The shock of switching from effortless downhill speed to the grinding exhaustion of more uphill running shook me mentally, making me wonder if I’d gone out way too aggressively. I started to fear that I’d falter so hard that I’d lose my lead and end up wimping myself out of a top 3 finish. I walked on a few sections much milder than the earlier switchbacks, but just couldn’t get any spring back in my step.

The happy surprise of an aid station and the resulting gift of cold, glorious water brought me out of my little pit of grumpiness and I managed to get back in sight of the guy in front of me on the final small climb. Unfortunately, right as I was starting to feel good again I realized my calf was sending regular twinges up my leg. I prayed it wouldn’t cramp and kept my eyes scanning for the calf-saving downhill that I knew was coming up soon.

Thankfully, my calf held off and I was able to enjoy the gorgeous wildflower views as I flew down the winding single track down off the mountain and towards the downhill dirt-road finish.

13726729_10101480489205371_4456438515641062041_n

I happily ran through the finish, grateful that I had somehow managed to stay in first (!) and that my calf had managed to hold together over the last mile. I hadn’t had the best race mentally, but had paced well in the first half and had then pushed through the miserable section well enough to hold my position, and had even been able to regain enough zip to actually enjoy the last section. The course was a blast apart from the tough second climb, and the opportunity to spend an entire weekend cheering and racing with a  friend was absolutely amazing.

Once I caught my breath my friend and I headed to the foam roller tent for a thorough, painful roll, grabbed some food, and then went on a 6 mile hike…because what better post-race cool down than a fun hike and a natural ice bath??

Hurrah for race weekends with friends and gorgeous, tough trail courses!