Becoming an Ultra Runner at the Javelina Jundred (100K)

I’ve been at this ultra thing for nearly a year now, but have been reluctant to say, “I’m an ultra runner.” It’s not that any of the 50K finishes so far have lacked worthiness, because all were amazing and each met “ultra” criteria, but I’ve wondered if my enamored spirit would eventually fade. Was I going to have a few bucket list races and then sit on the couch? I’ve hopped on my share of bandwagons so I knew it was possible! Nathan Sprint Tri 2011, anyone? One big swimming disaster, let me tell ya! But completing this weekend’s Javelina Jundred 100K has turned all of the self doubt off. Completely OFF.

I am an ultra runner and I’m about to do a lot more ultra running.

In 2013 my friend, Laurie, invited me to spectate at Javelina because she was pacing Paul Maisel in the 100 mile. I’d done a few short Aravaipa runs by then and ultras seemed absolutely absurd. Intrigued enough to go, I showed up to McDowell Mountain Park alone, not knowing anyone. After finding her in the sea of tents, I recall carrying hot cooca in my hands all night. You know, like that awkward beverage at a party you keep refilling so it’s not obvious you’re awkward? I may have spent a small fortune in cocoa that night.

It was chilly, but no one needs that much hot chocolate!
It was chilly, but no one needs that much hot chocolate!

Laurie encouraged me to be ready for pacing someone, but I ended up on the course with Paul. To make a long story short, I’m positive I was a horrible pacer! I couldn’t stop talking his ear off. How obnoxious is that after 90 miles, right?! Thankfully, Paul knew I was learning, is extremely cool and remains a friend to this day.

Paul's 100 mile sunrise finish!
Paul’s 100 mile sunrise finish!

After a year of slowly and intentionally adding race mileage, I returned to pace a friend in the 100K, but ended up pacing a stranger in the 100mi, Jason Romero–a phenomenal blind athlete who’s since set a visually impaired record at Badwater and compete in the IPC World Marathon Championships as the only visually impaired runner for Team USA. Being his sighted pacer was a divine appointment, not for him, but for me. It was an experience that forever changed my perspective on what people are capable of accomplishing. To say I had limited myself before is an understatement. I’ve resolved to steward this healthy life for as long as God allows me to have it and train my children to take on challenges too. “It’s OK to do hard things. You’re heart and mind are being refined,” I tell them.

My new found face of resolve in a Javelina tent at 2am after pacing Jason on his second to last loop.

I followed a training plan to prepare for this 100K, but really had no clue what would happen the second half. Everyone kept asking what my goal finish time was and I was too afraid to even utter what my coach had suggested. It was a tall order for a newbie! Work tasks kept me mostly distracted that last week, but then moments of total panic would creep in about what was coming. My coach would email something or Jamil Coury, Javelina’s race director, would post something on Facebook and I’d feel like barfing. Regardless, my husband, Chris, and I packed up the kids and camping gear and headed over Friday to claim our spot at Javelina Jeadquarters. The weather had cooled off and clouds rolled in with occasional showers, so I began to feel very optimistic. tents

I can’t express enough thanks to Aravaipa Running and their volunteers who made such a memorable weekend possible. Every detail from registration to the finish line was spelled out perfectly and made for a super enjoyable time! If there were any snafus along the way, they weren’t perceptible by anyone, I’m sure. They’ve got to be the most top notch race company in the country! Friday night we enjoyed short films on an outdoor screen presented by the Trail Running Film Festival, so I went to bed completely inspired.

Before starting my event at 7:00am, our family made sure to watch the 100 mile start and it was memorable, for sure!! Not only because the field of runners was so large and kept going on and on, but because I had the privilege of experiencing a unique parenting moment explaining costumes to my 9 year old daughter. The lead runner wore a Borat…um…bathing suit? She said, “Mommy, I think he’s gonna win that one prize,” referring to Javelina’s traditional “Best Ass” award. We laughed many times over that for the rest of the weekend with our kids! It was so funny!  KidsMe

Borat

My start had no visible ass…that I saw anyway…but the atmosphere was fun, hopeful, and the most exciting of any race to date! That first loop was full of great conversation with both locals and those visiting the desert for the first time. I made a concentrated effort to keep my heart rate low and my pace slow. So confident I was doing well, I never looked at my watch for splits. When my husband’s shocked face greeted me as I floated in, I knew I’d overdone it. That first loop was quicker than intended by about 10 minutes. Oops.

Feeling great on the first loop! http://www.sweetmimages.com/
Feeling great on the first loop! Photo Cred: SweetMImages

The second loop, I’m proud to say, was exactly on point at 2:35, the game plan all along. It felt ok, but some nagging upper hamstring and hip tightness leftover from training had me concerned that the second half might be rough. Going in I knew discomfort was coming and decided to accept it and carry myself with as much grace as possible…or at least save the ugly for my pacer. Haha!

Temperatures rose a bit by the 3rd loop, but didn’t affect me at all. Hydration went well and an ice filled bandana around my neck & ice water-soaked cooling sleeves kept me cool. Being a native to the valley was bonus and training through a wicked hot summer made the day feel cool. Muscles continued to tighten, however, despite solid nutrition, so my pace dramatically slowed. I really hoped keeping a 9:40 pace over the duration of the event was possible for me, but realize now that kind of average will come with more experience, as well as trial and error.

Coming in lap 3, I was really looking forward to seeing my family again and hoped my friend, Amber, was there. She planned on pacing ever since I registered but went through some injuries over the summer that made her wonder if she should. After making a bit of effort to find a replacement, I decided to just go it alone. I couldn’t tell anyone, for sure, what they’d experience with me on that last loop or even when to show up. I didn’t want to enlist someone just for them to shuffle and get acquainted with my less than positive side. “Hey! I admire your running so much, but right now I totally suck. Wanna hang out for a few hours while I struggle?” Yeah, no thanks.

Amber was, in fact, there waiting to support me (because she’s a dear friend), along with my long time FCA Endurance huddle leader (also a dear friend), Debbie Foster, another friend, Matt, and my crew, which consisted of my husband and son. After getting what I needed from Chris and at the aid station, we headed out for the longest loop–over 3 hours. By then, my quads were super tight and any time I slowed to walk they did this crazy quiver. I’d sustain a run, which was more comfortable, but then mentally shut down and do the quivery walk thing again. It was a vicious cycle! A couple times before the Jackass Junction aid station, I stopped to hold Amber’s shoulder and stretch my quads. Teary eyed and very discouraged, I barely reached my shin to carry up the lower leg for a stretch. Reaching Jackass one last time was such a relief! It was like seeing a ship after being on a deserted island!! A mutual friend of ours, Miguel Moreno, a local Dirtbag Runner, saw me and said, “You’re about to finish!” and gave me this fantastic bear hug and kissed me on the cheek. I had no idea a hug could be so invigorating. Amber later hugged me again with about 6 miles left.

Running was aided by a bit of gravity those final miles and by Coyote Camp, I only had 2 more to go…albeit my least favorite miles of the entire 15.3 mile loop. The sun was going down and having anticipated a finish before sunset, it became a race to beat the dark. Neither of us had a headlamp, but we’ve run together so much, I trusted her to pick a safe line and just followed her feet. Thoughts of my late night run with Jason returned and I found it a special blessing the Lord would make me so dependent on my friend.

Amber and I laughing at how I could barely stand up from stretching to take a hug she offered out on the trail.
Amber and I laughing at how I could barely stand up from stretching to take a hug she offered out on the trail.

I couldn’t have had better crew throughout the day. This effort truly took many people to pull off. My husband followed every detail we prepared. He lovingly supported me through months of training and spent his entire weekend serving me. My son earns the Best Cheerleader award. He met me about a quarter mile from Jeadquarters after each loop, ringing his cowbell and sharing encouraging words.

“You’ve gone so far Mommy, way to go! You’re doing it Mommy, keep it up!”

And my favorite coming in from the last lap,

“You did 100K!! You did 100K!! Mommy, you did 100K!”

I raced into the finish area so fast my parents didn’t get up quick enough to snap a picture. Where the turnover came from is a mystery other than it was fueled by the crowd’s energy and perhaps the thought of getting to stop and sit down.

Thanking my husband.
Thanking my husband.
At the finish with my dearest people.
At the finish with my dearest people.

Shortly after finishing, Marie from USL.tv came over and asked for an interview because I was 3rd place. “Sure, but I don’t think I was 3rd. There were several women ahead of me all day, I think.” She went off to confirm and came back saying, “No, you placed 3rd.” In my exhaustion and disbelief, I think I sent her off a second time! Here is the interview that took place: 

During the race our friend, Jack, took care of Lucy. He adores English Setters and is seriously Lucy’s biggest fan. They watched the ultracast until Jack arrived to pace our other friend, Jeff, in the 100 mile.

Lucy staying abreast of ultracast results! Haha!
Lucy staying abreast of ultracast results! Haha!

Normally all I can think about toward the end of a race is food, but not so much this time. I was excited for Freak Brothers Pizza and definitely placed my usual order…but then only ate about half. I’d gotten down my Hammer Recoverite shake and plenty of water, just couldn’t manage eating. On the late night drive home, I ate a single tortilla, drank more water and ended up going to bed without anything else. BAD IDEA! By 5am Sunday morning I finally felt ready to eat, but fainted on a short walk between our kitchen and living room. My forehead and chin struck something on the way down, perhaps our tile floor, and left a lovely lump and dark bruise. Putting on make-up for a wedding Sunday afternoon and then meetings with clients this week has been interesting to say the least! Food does wonders. Eat it, people.

In recent news, I learned November 1st, I got into the Zane Grey 50 in April of next year. Amber got in too, so my husband has agreed to be my pacer. I canNOT be more thrilled! There’s no one on the planet I trust more with my safety and training with him is going to be super fun. I’m sure there will be another few races between now and then because it’s a crime to waste beautiful AZ weather, so until then, thanks for visiting my blog and making it to the end of this post.   My Javelina Loot!

Advertisements

Man Against Horse 25 Miler: 1st Female & New Course Record…maybe…

Just 3 weeks ago, if someone had asked me my race plans, I would have naturally told them about the Javelina Jundred-100K. That has been the ONLY thing on my radar for the last 6 months or so, even though I didn’t officially begin training for it until July.  This time around, my plan was to “do it right”; basically, follow an actual training plan for goodness sakes!! My first 50K back in December of ’14 was super fun and I had a respectable finish time (5:19) and place (2nd), however, my training was totally lacking. Every other ultra since has kind of been the same…muscle it out and “don’t stop unless you drop” was my attitude. It also consisted of me saying, “Hmmm…I think I should run kind of far this weekend,” and then I’d find a group run and much of it would consist of shenanigans, like yoga poses on logs and climbing trees, two favorite activities of mine, I must say, but I digress.

Anyway, about 3 weeks ago, James Bonnett, who agreed to get me ready for Javelina, suggested I run Man Against Horse, either the 50miler, nice and easy like a training run, or the 25 miler like I was racing. He felt it would be a good “sling shot” into my first 100k. Well, seeing as how I’ve been trying to do everything he says, like the teacher’s pet that I am, and because I’m kinda cheap and don’t believe in paying for long training runs, I opted for a hard 25 mile effort. I laughed all the way to the mailbox sending in my paper entry for this iconic event! Rewind several years earlier to understand the laughter. While hanging out with friends, John tells me about how wild Man Against Horse was and how you can hear the sound of hooves coming up from behind you on the trail. I clearly recall thinking and may have said it too, “Wow, that is CrAzY and I have NO desire to EVER do that!” Little did I know I’d fall in love with trail running and ultras for that matter.

So, last Friday, my husband and I loaded up the kids and Lucy and set out for Prescott Valley. Packet pick-up was at the race start/finish, which takes place near the windmill off Highway 89A in a field below Mingus Mountain. Directions literally say, “by the windmill” and without looking for that and seeing the little wooden sign saying, “Man Horse Race” in red paint, we would have driven right past the dirt road.

MAHBib

This pre-race pic at packet pick-up makes me giggle because that face says, “What in the world have I agreed to do tomorrow?!” The landscape was gorgeous all around, for sure, but as I dodged cow patties and manure on my way to the registration table and saw cattle and antelope a stone’s throw away, I instantly realized this would be a race like no other. So glad I brought my Dirty Girl Gaiters!! Haha.

Cattle grazing just behind the start/finish area.
Cattle grazing just behind the start/finish area.

IMG_4208
A gorgeous “competitor” with his race number spray painted on his backside.
The night before the race was spent with family at their home just outside Prescott. I enjoyed a delicious and thoughtful pasta dinner and a fantastic night of sleep. I love my family!! Race morning greeted us with cool crisp air and horse trailers everywhere. It was hard to decide who was more excited about being around the horses, my young daughter or Lucy, our English Setter. Her pointing reflexes were out of control and naughty horses would snort at her for a reaction. I had several friends who came up to run as well and it was a nice treat to hang out so casually at the start area and guess what this whole experience would be about. The race director called everyone over and the riders received most of the instructions, especially about required vet check stops and then all of a sudden, the RD said, “Ok, well go ahead and go!” Was I at a start line?! Where am I going?! I took off in the general direction the riders were heading and tried not to trip.

Start1
Navigating a high desert field used for cattle grazing proved a challenge right from the start. Ankle twister potential all over!

IMG_8466
I later learned that behind us one of the horses pitched a bit of a fit, leading the rider to jump off and then the horse blazed a trail in another direction.
Before the event, James had given me a great description of the course because I really like to know what to expect before taking on a new route. The first few miles he said were relatively flat, which they were, but I don’t remember being tipped off to how much sandy wash we’d be running through. Holy rocky sandy beach running, Batman!! Nearly 5 miles of sandy wash started this race and had my ankles and calves heating up in no time. The best decision I made getting dressed that day was wearing a buff around my neck. My 11 year old son said, “Aren’t you glad I ran that night race this summer, so you could borrow that buff?” Guilty! I need a bigger buff selection. Anyway, every time a horse passed, I’d pull it up over my mouth and nose and did my best to breath normally. Even still, I had quite the painful coughing fit at mile 18 and coughed post race all afternoon.

Like I said before, the start was at the base of Mingus Mountain, so there was significant climbing involved. I knew that if I could hang on through mile 17, I’d catch a break at the top of the mountain and get to relax on the downhill to the finish. James had encouraged me to go hard the whole way, but then at mile 14, “really put on the gas”. Uuuumm….mile 14 was in the middle of a steep rocky climb…soooo…yeah, whaaaat??  I didn’t feel much extra gas at that point, but earnestly did my best and trusted he knew more than I did.

Important Side Note: In case you weren’t aware, James and his dad, Paul Bonnett have a teeny bit of notoriety when it comes to running against horses. Sarcasm implied, of course. When I write about Javelina at the end of the month, I’ll reveal the complete newbie I am and my embarrassing guffaws concerning James over the last few months.

Aid stations as I made my way up the mountain were simple and manned by locals in the riding community. Nearing the top of the mountain, I grabbed a water bottle at the aid station and when I decided I couldn’t drink it all and an eager little cowgirl agreed to throw it away for me. The climb varied from narrow rocky single track with thick brush on either side to thick wooded areas and then on top of Mingus Mountain, pine trees. The route was marked by pink ribbons hanging high in the trees and they were quite a distance apart from each other. It took a ton of focus to navigate the technical terrain and stay on course. With my head down and the markers high, most likely placed by someone on horseback, I struggled to feel on course. I had several panicked moments where I thought I’d lost the trail, but continued forward and prayed for another pink ribbon to appear.

Even still, the trail leading up the mountain offered sweeping picturesque views of the Fall colors below and the town of Prescott Valley. I imagined an overnight campout there would be super fun at a later date. There was another aid station at the top, so I swigged another half bottle of water. I still had water in my pack, but only a little, and knew once I started the decent I wasn’t stopping for anything.

Up to this point, I hadn’t tried to see my splits each time my watch beeped a mile. First, I didn’t have my glasses on and the older I get the more I need those, so looking wouldn’t matter anyway, and second, I was pouring out all I could do that day, so I figured I could wait until the finish to see what I did.

                                   BUT…everyone has a secret goal or two they don’t                                    share with anyone…and this day I had one…better than 3:53.

The results on the race website only go back to 2007, so earlier that week I had checked for the best female finish time and saw it was 3:53 and change. Maybe I could run the course quicker? It would be really cool to try, but I’m sure as heck not gonna tell anyone! Except my son. I secretly told my boy and remembered as much while I took full advantage of the screaming downhill switchbacks and passed a couple men and 3 horses. One rider yelled out as I passed, “Be careful! Don’t make us have to carry you down!” I politely replied, “OK!” but completely ignored the warning. It was a blast running fast!

Before the last stretch through the bumpy cattle field, the route took us down a wide fire road with rolling hills and then back into the wash. Oh, I dreaded hitting that wash again! Why oh why with the wash running?! Eventually, I popped out of the wash and saw the horse trailers off in the distance and knew if there was any proverbial “gas in the tank”, I need to use it. Once I crossed the timing table and hit my watch, I took a look and realized I’d met my goal. 3:52:11, officially. 1st female finisher and a new course record, at least since 2007. I leaned over and braced myself on my knees and whispered to my son, “Better than 3:53,” and showed him my watch. Technically, the course turned up shy of the 25 miles, by over a mile, but I was pleased with my time anyway.

Since the race, I emailed Ron Barrett, one of the RDs to ask if he knew what the women’s finish times were in the years prior to 2007. He replied that he would go back and check past results, but added, “I think you may have broken the record!”

Putting on the gas for the final stretch across the field.
Putting on the gas for the final stretch across the field.
IMG_4221

Just before this final finish photo, I spent some time talking to the man that crossed the line just before me. He had been sitting on top of the water cooler and had to get up so I could grab a bottle and we started chatting. I joked, “You know, my coach actually wants me to run a 2mi cool down now. What a slave driver!” The man replied, “Oh yeah? Who’s your coach?” I said, “James Bonnett.” “He’s been coached well. He’s my son.” Oh. My. Gawd. I am such a dork! Suffice it to say, we both had a good laugh.

Later that evening, most of the runners and riders gathered back at the start/finish venue and enjoyed a BBQ feast! It was incredibly delightful to spend time visiting with some of the riders that I had only seen trotting by before. Everyone was extremely courteous on the trail during the race and even friendlier at the dinner table. The RD gave out awards after everyone had a chance to eat, enjoy a beer or glass of wine, and visit with one another. I came home with a Man Against Horse coffee mug and a cozy finisher sweatshirt. FullSizeRender

3 weeks until Javelina!! Stay tuned!!

Flagstaff Extreme Big Pine 54K: Race Report

start line
Photo Credit: Aravaipa Running
Last weekend I ran my longest race ever!! The (Inaugural) Flagstaff Extreme Big Pine 54K in northern Arizona, was also my first event in some altitude. The added distance and elevation change had me really nervous going into this one, but the loop course put my mind at ease knowing I’d see my family often (especially since we had brought up some awesome cowbells!) and loops would give me a chance to carry less gear.

Just before the race, my husband ordered an Iso Versa Ultraspire handheld for us to try on shorter runs. I liked it so much that when we got to Flagstaff I bought another one at Run Flagstaff, where Aravaipa had packet pickup, and decided to skip carrying my Nathan hydration pack.  

The 54K required 4 spins around an 8.4 mile loop, so coupled with cooler mountain temps, a handheld bottle was ideal. For the past few years, my right wrist has had a bit of (weight bearing) pain and really struggles carrying other styles. The Iso Versa allows my hand to run along the length of the bottle, rather than perpendicular to it, so my wrist remains unbent and really comfortable. 54K of handhelds still took its toll in my shoulders and upper back, but the wrist felt great! Running without my pack grew my confidence too.

Photo Credit: Aravaipa Running
Photo Credit: Aravaipa Running
The weekend included camping right there along the race course at Fort Tuthill. Not only did Aravaipa put on several distances in the morning, but they also hosted the Blackout night runs as part of their Insomniac summer trail series. Both my husband and son ran the 13K that evening, for the third this summer, and having a tent to nap in while they were out on the course was amazing! Camping right next to the race venue had it’s advantages, but running in and out of camp to complete 54K would prove to be mentally taxing.

Our race began at 7:30am and weather was perfect. I had a pleasant night’s sleep in the tent (shocking!)  and was super excited to have a morning of forest running with cloudy skies. We worried before heading up north that the entire day might be rainy, so waking up to a really beautiful day was a nice surprise. As the race got started, I decided I would go out a bit quicker, and have a presence in the front with the lead gals. I’m still really new at running far and have lots to learn about doing it well, but I love competing and putting on a little pressure…even if I have no idea how long that’s gonna last! Haha! Somewhere in the first few miles, 2 ladies passed me and I made a conscious effort not to care. I have this bad habit of keeping a mental count of where I am positioned in trail races, but I’m learning to just do what I can do and be thankful for the effort. Plus, I’ve quickly learned the comparison game is hard to play in the ultrarunning scene. I’ve attended enough events to notice there’s no one body type, personality, or background that makes a successful ultrarunner. Instead, it’s mental stamina (and probably nutrition as a close second) above nearly every other thing, that allows a person to finish an ultra effort. Patience and consistency needed to define this run.

So the first loop went great! The altitude definitely had my lungs feeling tight, but I trusted that if I stuck it out they would catch up and adjust. Most of the way around was single track trail with a few long steady climbs, gentle rollers, and some smooth flats. An aid station was positioned at about mile 4 and I blew past it not needing anything that early. Some sections were surprisingly rocky and not the smooth forest floor I expected when I decided to wear my new Pearl Izumi N2s. I normally sport my Hoka Stinson ATRs, but figured I’d just be dodging roots and would wear a smaller shoe for this race. Not so much! The Pearls worked great, but a week later, the top of my right foot is pretty sore, probably due to a pressure point or perhaps jumping the mileage up in them before being broken in. Regardless, I’m hoping the discomfort doesn’t stick around.

On the way in from my first loop, my daughter and my blog’s namesake, Lucy, were standing near our tent and hammock. Right then and there I knew running by several more times was going to test my mental toughness. At some point, I was positive I’d rather be relaxing in that hammock, but it would have to wait. The second and third loop felt slower and the sun seemed to break through more and more heating up the route. I ran out of water on the third lap and even managed to get a sunburn.

My husband turned out to be the best crew ever! He was positioned right before the finish line shoot with everything I needed to head back out. It was fun to come in and execute my nutrition plan and bolt out again like my transition time mattered. This isn’t a triathlon, woman! Actually, not everything about the finish area was on point. There was one integral piece missing and a week later, I’m still shocked it wasn’t in place. The cowbells.

Where the heck were my cowbells?!cowbell Three cowbells, purchased for these family events, packed meticulously in the camping bin, were missing. Loop after loop and no cowbell. “Clearly,” I thought, “someone must have stolen them because of their magic ability to motivate and inspire the underdog.” Ok, it *really* wasn’t that big of a deal, but I had fun giving my friend, Matt, grief for not ringing one for me. “I gave you ONE job!” I said running in from my third loop, “One job and you’ve failed!” I think he was successfully mortified. I made up for the deafening silence that morning by bringing it to the night race later. Beer garden folks loved it!! 

The last loop was where the real racing and real excitement began. As I came into the shoot and met my husband for one last bottle of Hammer Perpetuum, he told me I was in second place and that there had been a couple leading women who had dropped. I knew I was playing a little catch up already, but that gave me an extra boost I didn’t expect for the last loop thinking maybe I could try and catch the leader. As I headed out, less than a mile away from the finish area, a huge thunderstorm hit. Pouring rain, lightening and thunder overhead, dropped temps and even hail. I actually loved the rain! The trail quickly turned to mud, though, and I had to get super cautious so I didn’t slip. At one point, I passed a guy huddled under a tree. Not sure what he was doing, but for a second I wondered if I should hide along with him and instead yelled, “We’re in Arizona! It can’t last long, right? Come on!” He didn’t follow me and then I thought, “Ok. Maybe I’m nuts to stay out here.” I kept slogging away, though, feeling more and more hard core with my mud splashed compression socks. What? I’m almost 40, I wear those suckers with pride!

Feeling great on the last loop, enjoying the rain and cool air, had me daydreaming about the finish. No bueno. Add that to how mentally tired I already was and you have a missed trail marker. Dang it!! Next thing I knew, I was hauling down a hill I was positive I was supposed to be running up. The large loop had a small lollipop too where the aid station was positioned. If I got to the aid station from the wrong direction, I’d have serious time and distance to make up. So, I turned around, cursing the forest, and I barreled back to where I thought I needed to be. With the weather and brain fog, I found myself in near tears of frustration unsure of where I was headed. Out of nowhere, a man showed up running who was just following the race route, but not actually racing. A bandit, I suppose. He assured me I was back on course, but after looking at my Strava, I had added about 3/4 mile. Pooh. “Oh well,” I told him, “That’s part of running an ultra, I suppose. If the gal behind me has passed, I totally deserve it.”

Photo Credit: Aravaipa Running
Photo Credit: Aravaipa Running

Heading back into the camp ground felt amazing!! I completed a race a little longer than the last one, I didn’t take any falls, lightening didn’t get me, I managed to keep 2nd place, and good friends and family were there to cheer me in…albeit without cowbells. 😉

Photo Credit: Aravaipa Running
Photo Credit: Aravaipa Running

Trail racing has been such a blessing the last couple years!! It’s expanded my community and brought our little family of four together for fun we’d never have imagined. My friend, Amber, who also ran the 54K and blogged about her race here, got hooked up with a hotel room in town so we could shower. Hallelujah!! I must admit, the thought of sleeping in the tent after this wet and muddy race crossed my mind several times while running, so a shower was much appreciated. Here we are super excited!  Last, but not least, I got to chill in the hammock. I tried to snooze, but reflected instead and thanked God for a solid effort and the ability to move. I was tired and the week following had its share of recovery, but all in all, a day well spent and enjoyed. Here’s to another ultra in the books! 

Pass Mountain + Wind Cave

Gorgeous View #1: Superstition Mountains
Tomorrow morning I’m volunteering to help set up a trail race for Aravaipa Running, so this morning I met a few friends for a local backyard favorite in Usery Mountain Regional Park. The most gorgeous and probably best kept secret in north Mesa is a 7.5 mile loop on Pass Mountain Trail. It’s the most gorgeous route I’ve found in my area and I often head there when I just need to be blown away at the beauty of the desert.

Some desert blooms are still hanging on, even at the end of May.
Not only is Pass Mountain Trail an excellent workout for any trail runner, it’s spectacular views draw many tourists and local hikers. When coupled with Wind Cave Trail, a 3 mile round trip that summits at a cave overlook, you get a nice solid roller with significant climbing, just over 2,000′ to be exact.

The first few miles are very technical and rocky and climb up through a saddle toward the north. When I first started hiking this trail a few years ago, I couldn’t imagine running around the entire thing with all the “ankle twisters”. Now, though, I love and appreciate the technical challenge.

The south section of Pass Mountain trail is very rocky single track, use caution!

Gorgeous View #2: I can see the Saddle!
I prefer to run this loop counterclockwise. I’m not exactly sure why, but it seems easier going the other way first, so I choose the challenging direction. Once I can see the saddle, I start to get excited! The views on the north side of the mountain are incredible and much of the rocky path turns to hard packed dirt with twisty turns.

Gorgeous View #3: On top of the saddle looking south from where you came.
As you make your way around the south side of the mountain, your legs start to come back, but don’t get overly cocky!! The trail gets extremely narrow and is lined with tons of cactus and punishing boulders. As I gain speed on this roller coaster descent, I always remind myself to pay attention and keep my form tight or my elbows and thighs might make friends with some cacti.

Gorgeous View #4: Looking North towards Payson as the Sun Came Up

Tight Single Track Hugging the Mountainside
The hairpin downhill turns are tricky too! My friend Matthew recently told me of when he missed a turn during one of Aravaipa’s Pass Mountain Trail Runs and needed help climbing out of a ravine. Just imagine lots of banged up parts and cactus needles. No bueno.

One of many hairpin turns!
It’s always fun at this point, because you start heading west, to look toward Fountain Hills and try to catch a glimpse of the fountain at Fountain Park. It sprays at the top of the hour for 15 minutes. I missed it today, but have enjoyed the view several other times. This is also the section where I am constantly on the lookout for wildlife since seeing these two guys earlier this spring. Just chipmunks since then.

Desert Bighorn Sheep…look closely in the bottom right corner for the big guy’s buddy.
After re-entering the park, the trail gets significantly wider as there was substantial trail renovation done after last year’s epic rains. What once was super narrow, technical, and windy single track, is now as wide as a golf cart and smooth sailing all the way to the Wind Cave trailhead. The saguaro forest on the west side of the mountain is especially nice! Not quite pine trees, but a forest, nonetheless.

Adding Wind Cave always seems like a good idea when I first start running, but then when I get there and realize I have to go up (sometimes steeply up) to the cave, I begin to question my plan. I stuck to it today, though, and headed up. I’m always happy when I finish a tough workout. It’s grows my self confidence and the stored muscle memory is like money in the bank.

The Wind Cave Summit

I Made it! Downhill to the Car!

The Hill Repeat: Goldmine Trail at San Tan Regional Park

Goldmine Hill Climb
Like every runner, I have read plenty in Runner’s World, Trail Runner, and Ultra Running Magazine to know *exactly* what I should do to achieve awesomeness. Right? Right?! Actually, I know so much about it that whenever I get a new mag, admittedly, I skip past the short articles on tempo runs, hill repeats and the long run and go straight to the race reports and exotic destination event pages, because, after all, that information is for newbies. 😉 I know what it takes to train well.
Too bad knowing and doing are two very different things!! When I was younger and had a coach dictating my every move, I did all the right things and reaped the benefits; since then, though, training is sandwiched into a full-time teaching schedule, parenting two elementary aged children, caring for my home, being a wife and keeping the pets alive…except for the fish, they kind of die often. Suffice it to say, smart training has been hit or miss based on my current motivation level. Currently, I’m enjoying a season of high motivation! 👍😀  So, this morning I took on Goldmine Trail in San Tan Regional Park and muscled out a few hill repeats…because I know I should.

Why Goldmine? 

Goldmine Trail at San Tan Regional Park is 2.5mi and when you park at the main entrance you enjoy a gradual one mile incline perfectly suited for a warm up.  Every good hill has a clear start line…my choice happens to be the “Little Saguaro Before the Big Cholla”.

Little Saguaro Before the Big Cholla
From here there’s a little more than a half mile of steep technical trail before reaching a saddle that sharply drops down to the north Wagon Wheel Trailhead entrance. Several I saw this morning had gone up one side, down the other and back again. That is certainly doable, but the north side has large sections that aren’t runnable, so today I stuck to repeats on the south side.

Why Hill Repeats?

In Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons, author and ultra runner Bryon Powell says, “In some regards, aiming for smooth, steady, low-key efforts in training and racing can yield an overall positive result. However, if you’ve got the mental sharpness and tenacity gained in fighting through sharp pain … well, you can squeeze more blood out of the stone at the end of the same smart and steady ultramarathon effort.”

The first half of this Goldmine repeat will have you crying, “Uncle!” and therefore training yourself to squeeze more blood out of the proverbial ultra stone.

Very Technical: Careful on the Downhill!

The Steep First Half
All joking aside, hill training is widely known as “speed training in disguise”, as Frank Shorter once put it, and hill repeats strengthen those muscles we need to continue driving the knees in order to finish an ultra.

The second half, with its lesser grade and tiny downhill finish to the saddle bench, renews confidence enough to start another and stores muscle memory for running hills on fatigued legs. That part of the climb is a nice mental break, but a lot like forgetting the pain of childbirth. I was aiming for 5 babies, I mean repeats, today, but wised up after 4.

Quality Over Quantity

I’ve always been told when doing any kind of repeat, hill, track, or otherwise, that once the quality of the effort diminishes, it’s time to be done. I noticed on my 4th hill climb today that the runnable sections were reduced to power hikes and my right hip flexor was noticeably fatigued. Even though I thought 5 was doable, I was content with 4, remembering quality over quantity is usually a solid bet. I made my final descent to the “Little Saguaro Before the Big Cholla” start line and cruised and cooled down another mile to the car. Totaled just over 6miles for the entire effort and felt great sticking out a tough workout solo.

Making Trail Progress

I haven’t posted on this blog since January of 2014, but certainly NOT because I’ve given up running or even running with Lucy, my English Setter. Rather, I’ve done quite the opposite. I’ve done boatloads of trail running! Lucy has logged many miles too…as well as lodged a rock in her duodenum, pooped it out, and then blocked herself up with large bouncy ball remnants and had surgery. THAT ordeal will certainly get a post, including x-rays, so stay tuned!  She picked up the nickname Hannibal Lucy in her rock eating stage.  

 When I began this blog, running trails was brand new, literally by accident, and I had no idea what my new love had in store. Rather than attempt a post for every special moment over the last 18 months, allow this short list, in no particular order of awesomeness, to suffice:

  1. Countless “training run” adventures and shenanigans that have never felt like training, but rather fun in a grown up playground. My favorites, Flat Iron, Second Water out to Canyon Lake, Lost Dutchman to Coffee Flat, San Tan Regional Park and Usury Mountain Regional Park. Visit my friend’s blog, Runner Girl Go, for complete write ups on many of our outings.     
  2. Building friendships with people whose lives would never have mingled with mine. I can barely believe how this hobby has expanded my community and grown love in my heart for enjoying Creation with new friends.   
  3. Actively choosing to try hard things and losing fear, bit by bit, like when I ran the Whiskey Row Marathon route as a training run before Crown King. Halfway up Copper Basin, I thought, “I’m kind of alone in this forest. Maybe I should have asked someone to join me, but I didn’t and look at me doing this by myself!!” A couple parked on Thumb Butte took this picture for me.   
  4. October ’13 & ’14: Javelina Jundred 100mi pacer (2x). In 2013, I attended with a friend and ended up helping her pace a 100 mile finisher. I immediately caught the ultra bug and wondered how I’d ever do something farther than a marathon, but knew I wanted to try. Then, in 2014, I paced blind ultra-athlete and US Para-Olympic Marathoner, Jason Romero, and my view of ultras was changed forever. Ultras were less about the body and more about the mind.
  5. Descending into the Grand Canyon and climbing out…several times.
  • May ’14: South Kaibab to the river and out Bright Angel (2x) – once with teens from a residential children’s home & once again with my son on his 10th birthday…a birthday camping trip he planned and trained with months of hiking.     
  • June ’14 & May ’15: Rim to Rim to Rim (2x) – South Kaibab – North Kaibab – Bright Angel, once with an overnight stay on the north rim between crossings and once in 1 day, just this May 16th. Blog post to follow, for sure!     
  • May ’15: Bright Angel to Plateau Point – assisting teens and staff from the children’s home.

 

6. Completing the ’13-’14 DRT Trail Series through Aravaipa Running without injuring myself & placing 3rd female overall for the series. I remember saying, “I’ll just enter this first one because I don’t know if I can run that much every month without hurting myself. If I’m still running and fine, I’ll enter the next one.” Boy, was that way more expensive than it had to be! Lesson learned. Have a bit more confidence and register for the entire series for the discount!  

7. December ’14: McDowell Mountain Frenzy 50K, 2nd Female. WHAT?! My first official ultra. 5:19:46 and loved every minute, every step, every sound of my breath and crunch of dirt under my feet, and felt like I could have run all day!     

8. February ’15: Black Canyon Ultras 50K, 2nd Female. Reeeeaaally?! My second official ultra. 6:35:24 and I struggled to run happy. It was a really warm day, the trail was extremely technical and rocky, and all I wanted to do was sit in a chair and eat a whole pizza.     

9. March ’15: Crown King Scramble 50K, 7th Female. Wow, I’ll take it!! My third official ultra. 6:03:08 and holy gigantic hill Batman!! Amazed I even entered such a bucket list item this new to the sport, but grateful for the legs to finish. The saloon finish line was super fun! Here’s my step-dad and I enjoying a cool drink to celebrate a hard fought finish.  

10. Spotted 2 big horn sheep on a solo run around Pass Mountain in Usury Regional Park this spring. A rare sighting and special blessing just for me, since not a single other person was there to share in it.

 
11. Made it through ALL of 2014 without seeing a single rattlesnake (Praise God!), but I did see this poisonous coral. There are very few reported bites from these little guys, although deadly, because they’re extremely reclusive. Neato!

 
12. My husband lost 35lb (and counting) and has been running short trail races with our son…who’s kind of kicking his butt at the moment. The increased joy in our home as he’s gotten healthier and fitter is immeasurable!  

13. Trained through 4 pairs of Hoka One Ones and have a clear opinion on the shoe…stay tuned for a product review. These were my very first pair of Stinsons and they’re completely thrashed now.  

14. Learning from those with more experience and wisdom is valuable. This sport is unique in that runners of all ages gather together to share the same trails. There’s mingling like I’ve never seen anywhere else! What I’ve noticed is if you’re teachable and willing to listen, veteran runners want to share what they’ve learned and can spare you much of the trial and error that they’ve already suffered.

So what’s next?? Being a bit more brave, even still. Perhaps a high altitude ultra this summer and definitely my first 100k at the Javelina Jundred this Halloween. Until then, attempting to train a bit smarter, maximize the summer with my family, and get some pool time to iron out tan line issues without being afraid to reveal my runner toes to the public.

Resolution Running: Wilder Ranch State Park in Santa Cruz, CA

 

Restored Wilder Ranch House

This post is a few days overdue because hanging out with family on the last days of vacation and then un-decorating Christmas once we got home, took precedent over reporting on Wilder Ranch. Running was such a big part of my vacation, though, that I cannot skip sharing my New Year’s Day adventure at Wilder Ranch State Park, north of Santa Cruz, CA.

Earlier in the week, I connected with my friend, Mark, in order to experience some unfamiliar trails. Since he was local, he was the perfect buddy to take with me to explore. Our first adventure took us to the Forest of Nisene Marks. I didn’t think a trail could get any more beautiful or entertaining! It was so good, in fact, that I took my family there a couple days later for a day hike. Here they are making they’re way up a pretty steep climb…pondering how sometimes it’s not fun being related to me, except for my baby niece who got to ride a backpack.

Sweet Family
Sweet Family

Of course, January 1st offered lots of options to jump start fitness in the new year and my friend was considering a Resolution Run, but decided he’d explore Wilder with me, instead. I’m so glad he did! Wilder Ranch has all that is good about trail running wrapped into one location. It was originally a dairy farm in the 1800s and since the mid-1990s, the acreage and existing structures have been restored, including the family’s original Victorian home pictured above.

On our way there, I tried to study the trail map and knew right away it would be a tough route to follow. Rather than scribble notes on my arm, we opted to just take the map with us. Great move!  As it turned out, our 11 mile “plan”, ended up being 12.5 and included several gut trail maneuvers for lack of signage. Regardless, we didn’t care in the slightest. It was January 1st and we were starting the new year off right. Every bit of scenery made the extra time and effort finding our way worthwhile and entertaining.

We parked in a small dirt lot off Highway 1, just south of the park entrance to avoid the $10 parking fee, and began our ascent up the rolling grassy hills. The hills were immediately challenging, but it was good because I was freezing my tooshy off. This desert dweller already had frozen fingers and toes and was wishing for an extra layer.  Things were peeled off in no time and at our first switchback, I caught sight of the ocean growing beneath the farmland behind me.

IMG_9040

It was about that time we started talking about the new year, plans or resolutions we had, and how last year, like so many others, came with surprises, some good and some bad. We both agreed that life was short and should be filled with gratitude and contentment. Our attitude accounts for much of our happiness, after all, so more joy must be in the queue.

I shared with him how Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts, has changed my daily mindset over the last couple years and how through gift counting I’ve received more blessing. Even still, I plan to be a better “counter” in 2014. Gifts are big and small in life and as a trail runner, sometimes it’s just the noise of leaves crunching or getting a glimpse of a tiny brown bird that blends in with the forest floor. I’m convinced I spotted a Common Rose Finch this week, but just for an instant before it camouflaged with the ground again.

The beginning of forest at Wilder Ranch
The beginning of forest at Wilder Ranch
I love these little bridges in the forest!
I love these little bridges in the forest!

Once we made our winding way through the forest part of Wilder, we ended up heading back down through wide open spaces where dairy cows once roamed. Today, the trails are limited to hikers, mountain bikers and folks on horses and unfortunately, there are no campsites for an overnight stay either. The working fields just above the ocean bluff were magnificent! I love whole, fresh food, and my tiny little garden plot at home brings me much joy. Being up close and personal to vast crops was super fun and way better than the drive back home to AZ  through the Central Valley.

Crops at Wilder
Crops at Wilder
Boatloads of Artichokes
Boatloads of Artichokes
Where every little girl of the 80s Cabbage Patch doll came from, I'm sure.
Where every little girl of the 80s Cabbage Patch doll came from, I’m sure.
Onions...glad to know that smell was NOT me. :)
Onions…glad to know that smell was NOT me. 🙂

The last several miles of our run were along the ocean and this is where I really wanted to slow down, not because I was tired, but because I felt the need to savor all around me. Joy-filled running was my only goal. The picturesque views and occasional spray of water took my breath away. The cliffs were so steep and reminded me a lot of the Grand Canyon. I once overhead a tourist at the canyon exclaim, “There should be a guard rail here!” Um, no. We all just need to NOT be idiots. Anyone and everyone can walk right up to the edge of the canyon or this ocean cliff, and experience a sense of power and respect. On the edge of big things, you’re feeble nature is well understood.

A Hoka on the edge.
A Hoka on the edge.
One of those unnecessary, yet necessary signs.
One of those unnecessary, yet necessary signs.

I want to do big things this year…in relationships, my community, work, running…things that require a healthy respect for the risk I’m taking. Big things that will test my faith, but assure me of God’s protection and provision. This year should be full of me saying, “I’m so glad I did that,” and not, “That’s so cool they did that.” Each day needs to be filled with appreciation and gratefulness and in such a way that when people encounter me, they feel my joy and are infected by it. 

“Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have.” Matthew 6:22-23 The Message

Seagulls gathered at Wilder Beach
Seagulls gathered at Wilder Beach

IMG_9075

Pelagic Cormorants that nest in the cliffs
Pelagic Cormorants that nest in the cliffs

So, as much as I like vacation, I also like routine. Teaching, a schedule, commuting, parenting, and fitting in workouts (somehow) resumes tomorrow. As much as all that can overwhelm at times, I’m making a conscious effort to feel the freedom all that brings. The freedom to find the little moments of joy that fill in the space between the big moments.

Blessings to you for a happy new year.