It’s been a while since I last wrote, but life happens sometimes… (Sorry, no pictures this time.) I haven’t stopped running, albeit my mileage has significantly decreased over the winter, only now picking back up again, looking forward towards the upcoming running season.
2018 is shaping up to be a very busy running season, which means many hours spent on both trails and roads. My 2018 race schedule looks like this, with weekly Parkruns (5k) and possibly other mid-range distance races in-between:
Colorado Marathon: 26.2 miles, road. Goals: receive qualifying time for 2019 New York City Marathon and 2019 Boston Marathon
Brooklyn Popular Half: 13.1 miles, road. Goal: as fast as possible. It’s sea level!!! Sub 7:30 minutes per mile would be great!
Bolder Boulder: 10k, road. Goals: get a medal, and run it under 45 minutes.
Bighorn: 50ish miles, trail. Goals: finish top 3 female
New York Road Runners Training Race: 12 miles, road. Goal: faster than the Brooklyn half! Sub 7:15 minutes per mile would be great!
New York Road Runners Training Race: 15 miles, road. Goal: faster than the other one! 7:00-7:15 minutes per mile would be amazing.
Pikes Peak Marathon: 26.2ish miles, trail. Goal: not bonk like last time. Sub 5 1/2-hour finish.
Run Rabbit Run: 100 miles, trail. Goal: win. Yes, there will be other goals, but have you seen the prize?!
I know, these are a lot of races, and a lot of goals. I also know this will entail a lot of work, and that the possibility of failure is there. Remember, though: failure is an opportunity to learn. You learn a lot for your successes, but you learn a lot more from your failures. I am ready to take on the challenges, knowing that I have so many wonderful people out there supporting me.
Thank you for your positivity and continued encouragement!
I run alone. Not that I would say “no” to someone who volunteered to run with me, especially at night, but I prefer being in nature by myself. It is the only time that I can clear my head, and truly focus on my soul. I prefer to run on trails, with the mountains being truly a place I can feel at home.
I had the opportunity to visit the Indian Peaks Wilderness on Labor Day weekend. I had been wanting to visit Lake Isabelle for a while, so naturally, I chose one of the busiest outdoorsy days of the year to do just that. Still, I was holding on to hope that visiting later in the day would have given time for most visitors to clear the area, allowing me to distance myself from any evidence of civilization.
As we arrived to the parking lot at Long Lake, we found the lot full. Luckily, a pair of hikers were just leaving the area, giving us their spot. I left Alexander and Idenaarin at Long Lake with James, and embarked on the best running/hiking journey of the summer. (It is still summer until September 22nd, you know!)
I started my run in the Long Lake parking lot, venturing around the lake to the fork with the trail leading up to Lake Isabelle. Last time I ran on this trail, I got caught in the rain, so the sun was a welcome companion on my journey. Still, the haze in the air was a sad reminder of the wildfires burning in various surrounding states. People were still present on the trail, but by the time I left Lake Isabelle, I left almost everyone behind. The waterfall behind the lake was the first time I felt an indescribable sense of peace and oneness with nature. I felt safe. (The bear spray I was carrying in my vest pocket probably helped, too.) Running turned to hiking. Hiking turned to stopping in my track to exclaim “oh my God, it’s beautiful!” This seemed to be a recurring theme throughout my trip. I kept thinking “this is what Kilian and Emelie must feel like when they run on the mountain.” The call of the Mountain song by Eluveitie came to mind, which reads:
The call home The tune in our hearts, the call of the mountains
(The slideshow below might take a few moments to load, as there are a lot of pictures)
I can’t really put into words the feeling of being in the mountains. Nature is beautiful! I am one of those people who will say “hi” to every child and animal to cross my path, and that day was no different. I had never seen a marmot in person, so of course, when I saw the little buddy off the trail, I had to get closer and have a conversation with him for a solid 5 minutes. The conversation went something like this:
Me: “Hi, litte buddy!”
Marmot: *confused look*
Me: “Don’t be scared! I’m just saying hi.”
Marmot: *curious and confused look*
*rinse and repeat for five minutes, until marmot got bored of the stare-off*
Once I reassured myself that I was still, in fact, a sane person, and assuring myself that there are many other people on this planet who have conversations with animals, I continued my journey up the trail, towards the glaciers. I had never been near glaciers before. You see, Colorado mountains are significantly taller than the mountains I grew up in.
One of the many benefits of mountain running is that one can explore new areas in a fairly reasonable timeframe. I wanted to cover as much terrain as much terrain as I could in two hours, and I wanted to make it at least to the foot of Apache Peak, the King of the area, sitting at 13442 ft. I kept following the winding, single-track trail through tall grass, tundra bushes and rocky mountain sides, until I reached the bluest body of water I had ever seen. Behind it, the mountain King stood tall, overlooking the area surrounded by the majestic Indian Peaks. I felt so small next to these mountains, and yet, I felt welcome in their presence.
Sadly, I didn’t finish climbing Apache Peak as I had planned due to lack of time. I was sad having to turn around, as I knew that this would likely be my last visit this year. One positive thing about running back was the fact that I was running downhill, and downhill running is my jam. Running downhill gives me a sense of freedom, plus, it’s a lot easier than uphill (for me, at least). It’s almost like Parkour on rocks! At some point during my run I heard a long, drawn-out scream. My first thought was “oh my gosh, is someone getting chased by a bear?!” Luckily, I quickly realized how unfounded my fears had been, when I saw a marmot, bigger than my cat, running away from the trail. Naturally, I spent the next several minutes talking to the little guy, apologizing for rudely ruining his afternoon siesta by running straight through his territory. I was quite disappointed for not seeing moose along the way, despite the fact that they’re usually a common sight in this area, but I did see a few deer, who were clearly so accustomed to people, that they couldn’t have cared less about my presence.
Then, I met people again, bringing me back to reality. Still, I knew that two little people were waiting for me, so I ran to the parking lot as quickly as possible. I found one very tired Idenaarin sleeping in his seat, and Alexander with a few flowers he had picked while waiting for me. Leaving the mountains wasn’t so bad. After all, I have two little boys to brighten my days. While the mountain is my home, my boys are my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I am often asked why I run. I run, because I love running. I run, because it maintains my health. I run, because it heals my soul. I run, because it helps me explore. I run, because it gives me courage. I run, because it allows me to do things I never thought I had the ability to do. I run, because it allows me to be an example for my children. I run, because it takes me into the mountains, a place I call Home. Best of all, I run, because it allows me to get into my children’s arms faster.
On August 20, 2017, I finally had the opportunity to do the Pikes Peak Marathon. America’s Mountain, as they call it, is a 14115 ft mountain located in Manitou Springs, Colorado, and the race is considered to be the hardest marathon in the United States. This was the best and worst running experience of my life, and the race took a worse toll on my body and mind than the Pikes Peak Ultra 50k race I had run three weeks prior.
I had wanted to run the Pikes Peak Marathon for 7 years, with missing the opportunity in 2012 due to my pregnancy with my first child. Fast-forward to last year, I had an epiphany when I got on the scale, and realized I needed to do something drastic. Naturally, I signed up for a marathon, dropped ~70 lbs in the process, and qualified for Pikes Peak Marathon. Oh, this is not the “normal” way of losing weight? Now you tell me! If you’re interested in that story, you can read more in the About section.
Prior to the race, I had probably watched more videos about Pikes Peak and running than anyone. I’m pretty sure I hold the record for number of running videos watched i a month. By race-day, I was ready physically, mentally and spiritually. Or so I thought…
The day before… Or the day of… Who knows; they blended in.
As luck would have it, I was assigned to a mandatory training session at work the day before the race, lasting until 9pm. So much for planning out my race in advance! I had to cancel the hotel, and prepare for a 3am wake-up time, in order to be able to drive to Manitou Springs on time to pick up my packet. My brain decided that the night before one the hardest endeavors of my life would be the perfect time to stay awake, and preoccupy itself with the mysteries of the Universe. I swear, my brain is a toddler: the more you tell it to do something (e.g. go to sleep), the more it does the exact opposite (e.g. only allows you to sleep 2.5 hours).
The asshole alarm decided to wake me up at 3am, just as I had told it to do. I woke up, got ready, ate half a bagel with Nutella, had a bunch of coffee, had zero Gatorade or electrolytes, and drove down to Manitou Springs. Basically, I did everything a runner should NOT do prior to a race.
At the start-line
I made it on time to pick up my packet, and lo and behold, a lovely lady from Trail and Ultra Runners recognized me while handing me my bib. I’m famous!!!! Not really… I am also very sorry for being so terrible with names. I know faces, but not names, especially not on 2.5 hours of sleep.
Finally, 6:55am came, and we were minutes away from the start. You see, I was in wave 1, so I felt I had something to prove. My plan (soon, you will see WHY I hate planning) was to reach summit in 3.5 hours, and then sprint the downhill. You see, downhills are my specialty. Not that you could tell, based on the number of scars I have on my knees, especially from Barr Trail (the name of the trail the race takes place on). A few moments before the start, lovely lady sang America the Beautiful, and off we were! I told you I’m terrible with name, so people in this blog shall be referred to as guy, gal, dude, girl, woman etc.
To No Name Creek (3rd Aid Station)
I went out fast. My strategy was to reach the trail in less than 10 minutes, then power-walk the Ws. The Ws are 13 switchbacks from hell, and people who run up them are aliens. Kilian and Emelie, I love you, but you’re not of this Earth. The first and second Aid Stations only serve water and Gatorade. They’re fairly close to start, and I didn’t really stop, because I didn’t want to lose my place. I should also mention that the organizers do a very good job at placing Aid Stations along this course. I knew the course very well up to No Name Creek, and I was right on schedule when I got here. They had food, electrolytes, water and Gatorade, so it was a very well stocked station. What did I eat, you might ask? Gu. I ate Chocolate Gu (the only gel I actually like, and doesn’t taste like a mix of sugar and Super Glue). I completely forgot about my poor dietary choices from that morning, so I assumed that the gel would provide enough nutrition. After all, it had coffee!
No Name Creek to Barr Camp
This was the easiest part of the course. There were some downhills, and I got to run. A lot. I even met some guys from Florida, and a lady who assured me we only had about 10 women ahead of us. Yes!!! I was still in the running for top 20! I passed the Aid Station at Bob’s Road, feeling great. I don’t even remember stopping. I knew there were about 2.5 miles left until Barr Camp, so I tried to not push too hard on the uphill sections, but I felt little to no sign of dehydration. It didn’t even occur to me that still hadn’t had a decent meal that day, but I had only been run/walking for less than 2 hours, so I thought I was okay. I reached Barr Camp at 1:58:00, still okay on time. There was a party at this Aid Station, which was the biggest of all. They had pickles, so I had to stop for pickles! I didn’t spend a lot of time here. I was still feeling well, so onward I went towards the next Aid Station at A-Frame, keeping a couple slices of pickles as a reward.
Barr Camp to A-Frame, a.k.a. tree-line, a.k.a. the Point of “what the heck am I doing here anyway”?
The Aid Station at A-Frame came 2 miles and some change after Barr Camp. I didn’t stop for to long, but I did have some Gatorade, and promptly consumed the remaining treats I had been carrying from Barr Camp. Tip: if you want your pickles extra salty, carry them in your hand for 2 miles while running/walking uphill. Sweaty-pickles… yum! When you lack a gag reflex, it makes it easier to consume such culinary delights, and subsequently write about them. Sorry, folks! A-Frame came and went quickly. Suddenly, the trees became smaller, and I started to feel the lack of oxygen, but I had trained at altitude, so I didn’t think it was a big deal. Except I had completely forgotten to train on 2.5 hours of sleep, with only half a bagel with Nutella, a Gu gel, two slices of pickles and about 46 ounces of coffee in my belly.
The Point of “what the heck am I doing here anyway” to summit
With the trees behind, the sun’s relentless rays were shining on my hungry and electrolyte-depleted body. It felt like someone had turned a light switch: I went from being happy-go-lucky to feeling I was about to pass out. In addition, my stomach felt like a very bad case of motion sickness. You know my lack of gag reflex? This was the point I was praying for the ability to empty the contents of my stomach one way or another, but didn’t have the luxury to do so. I thought to myself that this was it: I wasn’t going to make it. Several people stopped to ask if I was okay, and I lied saying I was fine. Truthfully, I couldn’t walk. I was miserable. I didn’t want to move, and I just wanted to quit. I was looking for every reason to get a DNF (Did Not Finish). After all, the best of the best get DNFs, right?
This was also the section that revived my hope in humanity. I had tens, if not hundreds of people ask if I was okay, or if I needed anything. A lady pointed at the search and rescue folks, and advised I should check in with them. One of the many guys who passed me put a jelly-looking electrolyte pill in my face, and said “you need to eat this.” Of course, I vehemently opposed, partly because my stomach felt like I had morning sickness on steroids, but also because I am vegetarian, so I knew that jelly usually contains gelatin. However, when the guy gave me the “you need to eat this so your stomach feels better” speech and literally shoved the darned thing into my hand, I knew I had to take it. I would like to take this time to apologize for the animals that had to die in the making of said pill (if there was, in fact, gelatin), but it was a choice between that and passing out on an 14115 ft mountain. Then, another lady was running down, and said “you can do this, baby!” while looking me straight in the face, giving me additional energy to continue moving.
When I arrived at the checkpoint, they already knew who I was thanks to the runners who had reported that there was a lady in a blue shirt with purple hair sick on the trail. Thanks to the electrolyte pill, by the time I got to Cirque, I felt okay to move, and told the folks at the checkpoint that I really only had two choices: keep going up for about another mile, or go back down with a DNF. I even managed to stomach some grapes at the next aid station, which gave me enough energy to make it to the top.
I spent about 16 minutes at the summit. No, they did not stop the clock for me. I should get extra credit for hiking an additional tenth of mile to reach the restroom. That was more for piece of mind, since I knew I had another 13 miles to go, plus it gave me a reason to sit down.
What goes up, must come down
The best part of the race was about to begin. I knew I could get off that mountain in a reasonable time, but I was worried that the constant pounding would bring back the sickness. I started at a fairly even pace, and started picking up. It felt good to finally start passing people again. My passing-business quickly came to a halt when I felt on my face as I was passing an older gentleman, who promptly picked me up from the ground. Barr Trail maintains a 50% record of getting me to fall flat on my face. I have scars to prove it. Falling is just part of trail-running, so of course, I just kept on going, faster and faster, to the point that I managed to make up a considerable amount of time. At one point, another gentleman asked me how long it took me to reach the top, to which I answered sheepishly “5:22…” to which he replied with amazement “I reached the top after 5 hours! How did you make up so much time?” Another guy exclaimed as I ran by “she knows how to run downhill!” I really didn’t want to admit just how horrible my uphill game had been…
If there is one word to describe the downhill, it would be “freedom.” I love running downhill, and despite my sickness and a completely disastrous ascent, the descent was exactly as I had hoped for. I passed many people, but most importantly, I was the one cheering people on, encouraging them that they could do it. By the time my feet hit the pavement on Ruxton, I was sprinting. I didn’t think anyone would still be on the streets, but there were plenty of people, cheering me on as I was running towards the finish line. 7 hours and 58 minutes later, I crossed the finish line with a bloody knee, jumping straight into the arms of another member of my Trail and Ultra Running Facebook group. I had done it! I should mention that the medal is amazing, and the jacket they gave is my favorite.
After the Race
I met up with my babies as they were cleaning up my wounds. My two year old wanted to be carried, of course, so I also did some strength training after running up and down a 14115 ft mountain. My four year old, on the other hand, got into the business of collecting candy from my fellow runners. My kids are incredibly friendly, and they are always up for giving hugs, and there were plenty of people to talk to and give hugs to at the after-party, in exchange for food. Because food from strangers is so much better than mommy’s food!
Several people I hadn’t even remembered walked up to congratulate me and ask about my well-being. A lady looked at my kids, and told them “your mommy is amazing!” I really just wanted to hug and thank everyone for all their support. I am confident that if it hadn’t been for my fellow runners, I would not have finished the race. While my body gave in, and I missed my goal by almost 3 hours, this was truly one of the best experiences of my life! I will be back again, but next time, I will do more training, more eating, more sleeping, and less planning, because plans always fall through anyway.
Until next time, Pikes Peak, my Old Friend…
I apologize for the lack of photos, but I didn’t have my phone with me.
Thank you to my friends and family who have always supported me, especially my running friends, TAUR family and other running groups I am a part of.
Thank you to my boys for being patient with mommy’s training schedule, and for waiting for mommy at the finish line.
Thank you, James, for looking after Alexander and Idenaarin when I can’t, and for bringing them to the race.
Thank you to my fellow racers, without whom I would not have finished.
Thank you for to the race organizers and volunteers for an amazing experience!
Wouldn’t it be great if we were motivated to run or work out every day? Alas, we aren’t. Yesterday was a particularly un-motivating day. (Is “un-motivating” even a word? Now it is…) After an 8-hour shift at work, I was looking for every excuse in the book to not run, including how the 87 degrees would likely leave me either dried up on the side of the trail or melted into the pavement leading up it. Then, something happened: I remember how I missed top 15 for my age group during the Bolder Boulder race by 4 seconds, arriving at the finish line in 17th place. Only top 15 for each age group received medals in this race, and I had really wanted that bling. I also remembered that Pikes Peak Marathon is right around the corner. You see, I only qualified for the 6th wave based on the Boulder Rez Marathon I ran last October, but I begged them to place me in wave 1 based on recent races showing significant improvement. So now, I have even more pressure to have a strong finish. As a result, I got my butt off the couch, and announced to my husband that I was going to go out for a run, but that he should order some pizza and salad.
Murphy’s Law is an asshole, I tell you. Just as I was exiting the apartment, the pizza guy showed up with that warm, delicious, and ever so tempting pizza at my door. Really? I mean, couldn’t he have arrived maybe 2 minutes? After thinking (only for a moment) that this was yet another sign that the universe didn’t want me running yesterday, I gave the middle finger to Murphy’s Law, and went on a 5k sprint interval session. I don’t always boast about my speed, but when I do, it’s because I surprise myself. Last year this time, I could barely squeeze in a sprint under 10 minutes per mile, and yesterday’s workout looked like this:
For the first time in a very long time, I felt good about running despite not wanting to run initially. Sometimes, it is so freaking hard to get out there, that it almost hurts. We all have our doubts. I am not an elite runner, but I imagine they have doubts, too. Running is a mental sport also, and the mental aspects of it don’t just show up on the trails. Sometimes, I don’t want to do my scheduled workout. Okay; this happens more than I’d like to admit. That’s when I look at my past, I look at my goals, maybe watch a couple motivational videos, and get my butt out there, because I know that at the end of the day this will help me achieve said goals. It also helps when you have pizza with a side of salad waiting for you at home.
Bonus: if you’re a nursing mom, your post-run ab-workout and stretching session may include a “gymnurstics” and a baby falling asleep on you. Yesterday was a good day, after all.