10.22.2015

Leap of Faith

Change is hard. It's really hard. But it's an inevitable part of growing up.

When I came to Boulder in June 2012, I still considered myself a steepler. Then, I was a short distance road racer who enjoyed running on trails, but didn't realize there were trail races shorter than ultras. After some nudging, I ran a marathon last April. Yet, when people asked me what I do as a runner, I never had a simple answer. I had discovered trail racing at the 2014 GoPro Games and after we lost my mom last December, I was spending a lot more time on trails because it felt more meditative and gave me a chance to talk with Mom. But, it's easy to get hooked on speeding over flat roads, and when you've spent so many years focused on hitting various qualifying standards, it's hard to just leave that behind.

So, this year I had been trying to do everything. Between trails and roads, I've run 24 races this year. Obviously, that's excessive and I've definitely paid the price with some pretty bad races and wear on my body. I won't pack my schedule nearly as full in future years. But, in a way, it's what I had to do. Every race had a purpose and I stepped on many of those starting lines chasing not my competitors but my own happiness. I was trying to figure out my place as a runner.

I was feeling that I was more of a trail runner after a couple big successes in the summer -- a win at the Summer Roundup 12k in Colorado Springs and 11th at the USATF Mountain Running Championship -- but I wasn't ready to go all-in. Watching a bunch of my friends hit the Olympic Trials Qualifying Standard in the marathon made me want to give it another shot. But Fall is great for trail running, so I talked my coach into allowing me to continue training for trail races at the same time. I knocked a few races out of the park, and had some big flops too, both on the road and trail. I became really concerned that I wasn't going to be ready in time for the marathon, because I had been having terrible luck with long runs.

I've spent the past 2 weeks pretty immersed in trail running, with the Estes Park Trail Running Conference and then the USATF Trail Half Marathon Championship, and I've spent a lot of time talking to my fellow trail running women. It occurred to me that continuing to chase times wasn't actually making me happy. If I had to choose between a blazing fast road course and trails with heart-bursting climbs and breathtaking views, it's not even a question for me.

I know I'm rambling, but I promise this post is almost over, so hang in there!

While I have an enormous amount of respect and gratitude for everything Brad Hudson has done for me as my coach for the last 3 years, I've made the decision to leave Hudson Elite. Brad is incredibly knowledgeable and a great coach, but in order to best focus my efforts on the trails, I need to start working with a coach who has a better understanding about the unique demands of trail racing. But, I'm not going to dive straight into anything. I'm considering running the USATF Trail Marathon Championship in Moab, UT in 2.5 weeks, and then taking some downtime to let my body recover from this year. After that, I'll spend a couple months building up a solid base of miles before figuring out exactly what my next move will be.

As I said at the beginning, change is scary. It's hard. But, if you want to learn to fly, you eventually have to take a leap of faith into the unknown. And, I'd say I'm ready to test my wings.


**This doesn't mean I'll never hit the roads, but it just won't be something I focus on or let myself stress over anymore.**

10.18.2015

Race Recap: 2015 USATF Trail Half Marathon Championship

Over the weekend I was in Bellingham, WA for the 2015 USATF Trail Half Marathon Championship, hosted by the Lake Padden Trail Half Marathon. I had a lot of positive feelings going into this race. Race director Tad sounded really friendly and welcoming, and I had a really good feeling about how I would perform, even with hill and trail work being conspicuously absent from my training lately.

I often struggle during my first 24-48 hours down from altitude, so I wasn't too worried by the dizzy spells and heavy legs Thursday and Friday. I figured once Saturday rolled around, I'd be good to go. Home2 Suites Bellingham very generously donated rooms for the elites and we were very well taken care of all weekend. I was also very fortunate to take part in my first pre-race press conference with Kimber Mattox and Allison Morgan (eventual champion and runner-up) and Caitlin Smith (2015 USATF Trail 50km Champion), as well as 4 of the men. Rocket Pure, a natural skin care company, treated each of us to a goody bag filled with their products and I'm excited about putting them to use, especially the sunscreen and Friction Therapy. I also won the drawing for a year's supply of oil from Flora Health, and I'm looking forward to incorporating them as I work to overhaul my terrible eating habits. After the press conference, a few of us hit up a local pizza joint before bed.

Part of the elite field after the press conference

With a race start time of 10am, it was nice to be able to take my time getting ready and to have a nice breakfast to fuel up. An hour before the race, I set out on my customary 3 mile warm-up jog. Because I'd had trouble previewing the hilly part of the course on Thursday, I thought it might be a good idea to check it out so I knew what I was in for. First lesson of the weekend: don't do close to 700ft of climbing during your warm up when you'll desperately need your climbing muscles during the race. I took it easy and walked some of the steeper parts but, in hindsight, I wasted a lot of energy then.

Just awkwardly warming up in the background

Before I knew it, we were off and running! Now, my race plan was to run smart and calm for the first of two laps and then get aggressive in the second lap. But, honestly, when have I ever successfully pulled off that strategy? I let the speedy women go and tried not to panic about how far back I was, but I still hit mile 1 in 6:10. It was a bit of a downhill and not on technical trail, but I knew I was falling back into my usual pattern of running "stupid." I backed off a touch for a second mile around 6:30, and then we prepared to start climbing. The trail for this portion had more roots and rocks, along with some mud, and was punctuated by shorter, steeper climbs. It was impossible to get into a rhythm, as we were always going up or down, with very little flat running.



This section is where I blew two tires. In that third mile, my quads unexpectedly lost their ability to process any kind of uphill. Three miles into thirteen miles, and my legs were already toast. What followed was a long climbing section with several switchbacks. I alternated between forcing my legs to move with my hands and half-shuffling on anything that was flatter or downhill, so I sort of yo-yoed back and forth with Caitlin, but eventually I just couldn't keep up and I had to let her go. The big downhill was very welcome after all that time, and I tried to gain back some ground.

As I finished the first lap and headed out on the second, I had no idea how I would get my dead legs through another 6.5 miles. It seemed impossible. I didn't know what place I was in, but figured I couldn't even be in the top 20. I was beyond defeated. I wanted to quit SO badly, but I didn't want to have spent so much money on the trip, only to DNF. (Note: there are legitimate reasons for dropping out of a race, but I try to only do it if I'm injured or in some kind of danger. I really don't want to make a habit of dropping out of races if I can help it.)

There would be occasional moments where I'd make myself stick with a passing man for a few moments. I figured that being alone with my thoughts was dangerous to my chance of finishing. Like most runners, I've hit low points in races before, but I don't think I'd ever gone to such a dark place before in my running career. After some more time alone, I noticed a woman was gaining on me on the switchbacks, so I tried to latch onto her like I had with Caitlin on the first lap. We weren't moving very quickly, but Lizi helped pull me along and get my butt to the top of the long climb for a second time. Shortly before we reached the summit, I noticed another woman coming up. Still not knowing what place I was in and with over a mile still to run, I decided I had to go. I had run a terrible race, but it wasn't too late to still fight with everything I had left in me. And I did. She caught me with about 600m to go and my legs had no answer, but I still kept fighting.

I didn't know what place I had finished until about an hour after the race, but at that point it really didn't matter. That day, there was nothing more I could have done physically. That was really hard to accept, but I'm coming to accept it after a day to process. I've realized that if I'm in a position to be upset and disappointed with 12th place at a national championship, then my life is going pretty darn well. In my first two USATF trail national championship races, I've finished 11th and 12th, and that's not so bad. Being SO close to the top 10 twice now makes me even more motivated to put in more time on the trails to get ready for next time.



And, as I've told several people this weekend... Trail runners, especially these amazing women, have become such a wonderful family for me. I feel so loved and supported by this group of people, and I always find it so hard to return to "the real world" after a fun trail weekend. This morning, I shared some lovely trail miles with Caitlin and Maria Dalzot (a Bellingham resident who is at the same time a fierce competitor and one of the sweetest women you'll ever meet) and it was a beautiful, transformative run for me. Together we processed yesterday's race and they helped me work through my next steps to finding happiness as a runner. I can't wait to see them at a race sometime soon!

Speaking of racing soon... There are some changes to my racing schedule coming up... Stay tuned!

I have so many people to thank for making this weekend so incredible and I hope I don't leave anyone out...
Thank you to:

Tad Davis, race director
All the volunteers at the race, especially the man who chased me down with a water cup when I missed an aid station
My fellow athletes, every single one of you
Rocket Pure
Flora Health
Richard Bolt of USATF and the American Trail Running Association
HOKA ONE ONE, Henry Guzman of Flatirons Running, Susan Walton from Recofit, Racxers, and all my supporters

10.16.2015

A Handful of Race Recaps

I'm sure this comes as a HUGE surprise to everyone (NOT!), but I got way behind again. Work has been busy and I've been applying to grad school, so I kind of just forgot. I guess I just need to do one big recap. Again.
PC: Joe Viger

USATF Mountain Running Championship / Collegiate Running Association Championship - July 25
Location: Mt. Bachelor in Bend, OR
Distance: approx 8km
Elevation gain: 1600ft
Surface: trail
Shoe choice: HOKA ONE ONE ChallengerATR

Finish place: 11th overall, 2nd CRA

Oh, my goodness! So, so, so much fun! This course was crazy hard, but it was so beautiful and I'm so glad I did this! My plan was to try to be conservative the first lap, and then get aggressive the second. The second time up the long climb was brutal, but it felt so good to let loose and fly on the final big downhill. I told myself that a "great day" would put me in the top 10, and I only missed that by 15 seconds, so I would consider this a very successful first outing at a US Mountain Running Championship. I also fell in love with Bend on this trip, so I'll definitely have to go back for the USA XC Championship in February.

ERS Black Hawk 10km - August 1
Location: Golden Gate Canyon Park near Golden, CO
Distance: 10km
Surface: trail
Shoe choice: HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR
Finish place: officially 2nd (crossed holding hands with 1st)

This was just fun. I drove down from Boulder in the dark, excited to have some fun playing in the woods. I got to the turnaround with the 1st man, but we had some confusion about the route, so we stopped and waited for the next woman (Bret), who was about 30 seconds behind us. After a brief discussion, we all continued on, and I spent the rest of the run chatting with Bret. She's a Williams College alum, so we raced each other frequently in college. With about 2km to go, another guy rudely pushed past us, almost pushing us down a steep drop to the right of the trail. (Note: trail runners are generally very polite on the trails. If you just announce your intention to pass, we'll scoot over to let you through at the first safe opportunity.) Bret and I talked and decided to hold hands across the finish line. It's not something I would normally do, but in the moment it made sense because it would've been rude for either of us to throw in a last-second sprint after we'd been running together so socially for the past few miles.

Black Squirrel Trail Half Marathon - September 5
Location: Lory State Park near Fort Collins, CO
Distance: approx. 13.1
Elevation gain: 
Surface: trail
Shoe choice: HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat
Finish place: 1st woman

Yikes. This run was even harder than I expected. I knew there was a solid bit of climbing in the first half, but for some reason I still took it out aggressively. I think a major part of that was just not wanting to be stuck in a traffic jam on the long singletrack sections. The highlight of this race was the woman cheering in a squirrel costume around mile 8 or 9. The low point was the seemingly never-ending rolling stretch the last few miles. I kept thinking "are we there yet??" The only word I have to describe how I felt as I crossed the finish line was "relief." I was so glad to be done after running a little scared for the final miles. I was really hurting and I was worried someone would catch me. So, I was quite relieved to have held on to a 6+ minute victory. And I got a cute squirrel trophy!

Farmers 5000 - September 20
Location: Arvada, CO
Distance: 5km
Surface: Road
Shoe choice: HOKA ONE ONE Huaka
Finish place: 3rd woman

As you probably know, I've been competing in the Colorado Runner Magazine racing series this year. That's why I ended up running this small 5km that raises money for a high school in Arvada. I needed to place high and earn as many points as possible. My hope was that I could also run a fast-ish time. I went out too quickly the first mile -- it was a downhill, so it didn't feel like I was running that fast, but it definitely came back to bite me in the last mile when we had to go back up the hill. This one was not pretty, and the disappointment was compounded when I almost passed out during my cooldown. I'm not sure what that was about, and I'm still having occasional dizzy episodes. Hmm... Working on it.

Oktoberfest 8km - September 26
Location: Colorado Springs, CO
Distance: 8km
Surface: Paved Bike Path
About 200m into the race. PC: Tim Bergsten
Shoe choice: HOKA ONE ONE Huaka
Finish place: 3rd woman

This was the final race in the 2015 Colorado Runner series, and I went into it with a small lead. When I showed up, I planned that I would only run if one or both of the other top 3 women were there. And Ashley was, so I had to run, but I was only going to run as fast as I had to in order to secure the series win (I needed to save something for my half marathon the next day.) The out-and-back course was slightly uphill on the way out and downhill on the way back, so I just sat behind Ashley and Kierann and let them set whatever pace they wanted. It was hard to just let them pull away in the last 3km when I felt so good, but I knew 3rd overall was enough for the series win, so I just held my pace through the finish line. We didn't run fast, but it was good to feel so comfortable at close to marathon pace.

Colorado Springs Half Marathon / USATF CO State Championship - September 27
Location: Colorado Springs, CO
Distance: 13.1 miles
Surface: Road
Shoe choice: HOKA ONE ONE Clifton 2
Finish place: 3rd woman (2nd USATF-CO)

I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again: you can't trust any race in Colorado that advertises itself as "flat and fast." They're almost always just saying (in fewer words) they are "flat and fast compared to the Pikes Peak Ascent." I went out at a smart, relaxed pace in 3rd place and felt pretty great through about halfway... And then the hills got worse. There were long, gradual hills mixed with short and cruelly steep ones. Around mile 9, I switched into "Survival Mode." Spectator reports of how back the 4th woman was went from "I can't even see her behind you!" to "She's about a minute back" much too quickly. I was living for the last mile and a half, which were downhill. I knew if I could get there, I could pick up the pace and get to the finish line. I managed to hold onto 3rd place, but I ran considerably slower than I had thought I would and it felt so much harder. It was a very draining weekend. But a pair of 3rd place finishes isn't so bad, right?

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Now, I'm in Bellingham, WA for the USATF Trail Half Marathon Championship tomorrow. With the strength I'm building in marathon training, I'm aiming for the top 10 finish that eluded me at the Mountain Running Championship in July. The course is beautiful and challenging and I feel SO fortunate to be here. Thank you to my wonderful supporters: HOKA ONE ONE, Flatirons Running, Racxers, GU Energy Labs, Hudson Elite, and my family!