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.

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    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.

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

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

Summer Solstice 10k Race Report

Last Saturday’s race was preceded by the usual day-before struggle-fest of a run and some unusually discouraging pre-race thoughts:

Upon waking up: “Ugh I really am not feeling this getting up early thing…”

While eating breakfast: “I can’t decide if I feel hungry or nauseated”

On arriving at the course: “Gahhhh it’s hot already! Should I run in a sports bra?”

On the warm up: “Well this was a horrible idea…this is going to SUCK”

With that mindset, I’m almost surprised I didn’t just walk back to my car for a nap, skipping the race entirely.

 

Luckily, I spent a few minutes surrounded by the excited crowd energy before the start, taking in the gorgeous views of the mountains and getting distracted from the persistent negativity in my head.

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How can I stay negative while surrounded by this amazing start/finish-line scene?

The starter counted us down and my trusty runner brain went straight into race-mode and the distracting negativity faded away. The course started out downhill (woohoo!) before turning into gradual uphill around the half-mile mark. From there a steep climb took us up to the 2-mile mark.

At the first steep dirt-road downhill right before 2 miles I was hanging on as the 4th woman with 3rd place 10 seconds ahead (thanks helpful spectator who yelled that information!) Due to the heat I stopped and drank a full cup at the aid station, but could still see 3rd place (the tutu gal from the Memorial Day 5-miler) up ahead when I threw down my cup and took off from the dirt road onto the single track.

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A running photo in which I don’t look half-melted! Whaaaaat?!?

Unfortunately, my legs were pretty much dead from the first climb on – I *really* need to stop doing sweltering 6-mile runs the day before these races…and maybe do some squats! However, my breathing felt good and I managed to stay in sight of my friendly rival until we hit the switch-back downhill with a couple miles to go.

At this point in the race I had started to fade pretty badly in the heat, and my heavy quads were struggling to hold any kind of decent pace on the switchbacks. A gal who I knew from skiing (and who I knew was a beast of a Nordic skier) was coming up on my tail and I fought to hold her off until a stomach cramp ended that campaign and she flew by. She kindly offered some words of encouragement and I managed to relax from the cramp and ease back towards her on the smoother downhill of the dirt road and bike path coming into the last half mile. Alas, I didn’t manage to get back up next to her before the finish and ended up in 5th, but first for my age group once again.

Mentally and physically the race was MUCH better than the Boneyard race (only partially due to the slightly shorter distance…) and I’m pretty pleased with my result and ability to hang so close to two extremely tough runners/athletes. I’ve started adding in some more trail work and hill work (owwww….) and am hoping that I can race myself into good enough shape to just maybe sneak onto that overall podium later in the season.

Overall, it was a great reminder that those scary, negative pre-race thoughts don’t necessarily portend a scary, negative race. Staying calm, working through a regular pre-race routine, and drawing positive vibes from the pre-race scene can help clear the way for the necessary race focus and prevent the almost inevitable negative thoughts from sabotaging a perfect opportunity to get in a challenging, fun effort out on the race course.

Race report: LaSportiva Boneyard Boogie 11k trail race

Saturday’s race started off tough a few weeks ago when I previewed the course and apparently overextended myself to the point of becoming ill. I tried to shake off the less-than-great impression of the course, but still felt some lingering dread even through Friday’s (heavy-legged) shakeout run. I knew the course was exceptionally tough, and I feared that my relatively low endurance level would turn the majority of the race into a heavy-legged slog.

Luckily, I received two unexpected confidence boosters for this race that stemmed from my decision to join the Oiselle Volee. First, upon arriving home on tired, achy legs and feet on Friday night I discovered a mysterious brown envelope that turned out to be the Oiselle Volee welcome mailer! I immediately added the enclosed ‘I run for Oiselle’ sticker to my water bottle sticker collection and savored the cheerful surprise while downing some pasta and spending some quality time with my foam roller.

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On race morning I received another needed boost in the form of a Oiselle singlet flashing by during my warmup. I ended up stretching next to the singlet’s wearer (Rachel) and asked if she was with the local Oiselle group. It turned out she was from a few towns West and was returning to the trail series after a year or so off for a back injury. We happily chatted as we walked to the start and lined up together on the line. As the wave of racers took off onto the short dirt road stretch before the single track I tucked in behind her and we climbed the first hill together. The feeling of having a teammate and a singlet to keep an eye on in the crowd of runners brought me back to my high school and college days and provided reassurance during the heart-pounding uphill sprint to the single track.

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The quick course narrowing meant spending time in trains, trailing slower runners and then sprinting past groups of 1 or 2 on the turns or slightly wider sections. I was fortunate to be in almost exactly the same shape as my new-found teammate, and we spent the first 1.5 miles within a few runners, alternating between settling in and popping out wide to surge ahead in the line of runners.

At around the 1.5 mile mark I felt good and pushed ahead a bit, passing Rachel and another woman. I kept climbing, feeling pretty good until 2.5 miles. After 2.5 things started to get tough since we’d been climbing steadily since the start and it was beginning to warm up as the sun rose higher overhead. I focused on keeping the doubts quiet and impatiently looked for the 2nd aid station, which signaled the switch to downhill running.

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Up, up, up, doooooown

The 2nd aid station finally appeared out of the sagebrush and I happily grabbed some water, choked on it, and started my descent. I hadn’t gone more than half a mile when I heard two runners thundering down the windy, steep singletrack behind me, feet moving at least twice as fast as mine. I couldn’t match their speed so pulled to the side and let them pass. Happily, one was a buddy from running club and one was an extremely long-legged dude, so I didn’t feel too bad letting them wiz by at breakneck speed.

However, I really struggle with the downhill speed, especially on tired legs, and I was soon passed by another woman. The day had started to get truly hot and I was beginning to drag. Getting passed was discouraging, but luckily balanced out by the opportunity to pass several younger men/boys who had apparently gone wayyyy too hard in the first 3 miles. Around mile 5 I realized I only had 2 miles left and briefly pushed the pace. However, the heat and my own exhaustion fought back, and I paused briefly on the side of the trail as an unpleasant combination of despair in ever being done and hyperventilation overcame me. A woman’s voice from behind yelled ‘Are you ok?’ and snapped me out of my little pity party. I yelled back that I was fine and began running again to try to stay ahead of this concerned rival. We ran together over the last mile, with me focusing intently on matching her (much smoother) stride in an effort to stick with her.

With 400m left I knew I wasn’t going to catch her, so I just focused on pushing through the last (paved & flat, hallelujah!) little bit to keep anyone from sneaking by behind me.

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Pace/elevation profile. Windy trails do not make for steady running 😛

In the end, Rachel finished just 40 seconds back and we ended up placing 1-2 in our 20-29 age group. Go birds! I was happily surprised by the placing, and with my overall 8th place in the Women’s category, considering the relatively deep field of local ultra stars and serious trail racers. I finished in just under an hour – decent considering the course record of 51:08 and my complete inability to ride the downhill rather than clomping down it like an overly-cautious draft horse.

The after party was excellent (yogurt, pasta, salad, and a gear raffle) and any disappointment with my race (like the stopping and downhill struggle) was alleviated by the great atmosphere and post-race talk with the many friends from running and cycling club, plus my newly-met Volee teammate, who’d joined in the fun.

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The two lessons I took away from today’s race:

  1. Team helps soooo much. I’d almost forgotten this with all the decent runs alone lately, but it really does help to have the moral support and team mentality mid-race.
  2. I am in desperate need of some downhill form work and downhill strides to help with my speed. It’s free velocity so I really shouldn’t turn it down.

First XC race in 3 years!

Well, I finally got to step back out on the cross-country course and it was AMAZING! Honestly, I would have liked to run a bit faster (I set a new personal record for slowest 4k of my life, yay…) but I felt good mentally and physically during the race. Best of all I had the good fortune to race against my former team at my first race back!  All but 1 of the girls were returners that I ran with in college (they’re all seniors now). I may have only seen their backs during the race (they are a speedy crew!) but I got to chat with them a little before and after and it was awesome hearing what they are all up to with school and training. 

My most significant take-aways from this race were:

1) I need to focus more on pushing, rather than just avoiding fear by not thinking about the next part of the race. Whenever I started to feel anxious about the pace I just told myself to let my body run – my legs have run enough races that they can pace themselves. However, sitting back and letting my mind drift made me less competitive over the latter stages of the race.  I just need to find the balance between relaxing early on and pushing when it’s time to really race.

2) Re-hydrate more effectively. I should have known the heat was worse than it felt when I saw the trainers draping a few gals in ice-water soaked towels post-race. Even though it was only in the mid-80’s it was also sunny, windy, and at altitude – perfect conditions for drying runners up into little runner-raisins. I felt fine until about 4 hours after the race and then “enjoyed” a couple hours of a pounding headache combined with some pretty impressive nausea. Not so pleasant 😛

Celebrated a good race with a new long-run location this morning:

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The Cecret Lake trail up near Alta ski resort. The climb up goes from 9000 to 10000 feet of lung-burning altitude over about 2 and a half miles – it hurts like heck but the views are totally worth it!

Ass-kicker Hill

Yesterday’s run was killer – took a new trail up from the canyon road and ended up on the most technical, steep trail I’ve ever run.  According to Strava, some poor soul ran this route before me and named it, quite aptly, “Ass-kicker Hill.”  I gained 800 feet of elevation in the first mile and was gasping for air as I “ran” (more like crawled) up the shale-strewn single track.  I considered turning around, but just couldn’t resist finding out what was around each new corner.  And, can’t lie, I really, really hoped the trail would level out around each next corner 😉

I ended up on top of a hill nearly to the snow line, surrounded by little high-altitude cacti:

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I spent several more miles clambering down the treacherously steep return-side of the loop  and then finally got to stride out on some relatively flat trail near the base.  My quads, calves, and glutes were absolutely shot by the end of my 6 mile run – haven’t felt that exhausted in a long time.  Sore as heck today but the views were absolutely worth it 🙂

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Spring break thoughts…and a long run.

This break has been amazing, but has also brought some tough issues back to the forefront of my mind.  I have absolutely loved getting a chance to see old friends, hang out with my parents, and get out for some gorgeous, sunny runs between bouts of thesis writing.  However, I’ve also had to deal with an overwhelming number of “so, what are you going to do after you graduate?” type questions.  And since I don’t even have a defense date set (gah, I reaaaalllly need to get on that!), AND won’t *actually* graduate til August anyway, AND currently feel crushed between my beloved MountainMan’s desire to live in as-far-away-from-any-major-city-as-possible-ville and my desire to have a career at least vaguely related to my current field, this innocent question is really freaking me out.  I feel guilty for not knowing exactly what I want to do and even guiltier for the occasional daydreams of magically galavanting off to some awesome job in place-husband-would-nevereverever-tolerate.  Ignoring reality is NOT going to solve anything.  

My mom keeps pushing for the career – I get where she’s coming from, and I love her for it, but also know that she totally does NOT grasp the severity of MM’s blues in the current living situation.  Or how severely those blues rub off on me.  If we did a repeat of the current Big City debacle I just couldn’t handle the guilt.  Those on-the-brink moments could easily overshoot the balance point.  And judging by how much I’m already missing MM after a few days away, the long distance thing might be tougher than I thought.  It’s just a tricky situation.  I know something will work out – that we will MAKE something work out, but the overwhelming anxiety still pops up whenever I give it a chance.  

Luckily, I was able to escape today into the sunny outdoors and get out of my head for a bit by putting in 6 grinding miles on the trails.  3 miles uphill gasping for air, 3 miles downhill flying and turning my quads to mush.  The perfect cure for a head full of potential panic inducing fodder!  I ended up weaving my way around swarms of mountain bikers, happy dogs out for hikes with their owners, and fellow trail runners.  However, I got lucky with plenty of unobstructed views, temps in the 60’s (first sports bra run of the year, whoop!), and enough sun to give me a lovely pink glow even through my 50 SPF.

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Why can’t I just be this happy all the time?  More endorphins!!! 

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Falling in love with these views all over again 🙂

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This pic just barely captures the colors…and totally fails to bring the redwing blackbird banter to life 😉