Monday, May 2, 2016

Back to basics

I'm back. For real.

It's been 1.5yrs since I last sat down to type something about me, my fitness and my race goals. It felt weird, but somewhat liberating to not have anything to train for. I didn't sit around, though. I created a human being... from scratch. That, my friends, was hard work.

My tiny human is perfect, but I'm his mother, so I'm biased. My post-pregnancy body, however, is not. And I'm sort of ok with it. Because I look at tiny human, and he's perfect. And my life is better since he's been in it.

Long story short...

My pregnancy was far from perfect and my close friends know it. I struggled with the worst morning sickness, crazy water retention, kidney stones and a few other hiccups here and there. Motivation was close to negative 100 to get out and do anything. And then, he was born. Life as I knew it was gone. And reality hit. Getting my pre-pregnancy body back was not as easy as many people made it seem, but we're all different and I'm one of those who has to work WAY harder. Bring it... I can do this.

The first 6 weeks, I was limited to walking. I walked 60+ days in a row. Starting with less than a quarter mile and up to 3-4 miles/day. The first chunk of weight I needed to lose was gone. Then I was given the OK to run. So I ran. Starting with 3/4 of a mile and working my way up to 6 miles (without walking). My first race came and went, a trail 5K in Beaver Creek which was more of a hike, but hey, it was all about getting out there. The Racing Underground Winter Running Series was my goal #2. And it was all about finishing, that was it. I met my goal of running a 5K in under 10min/mile and felt accomplished.

Then it was January 1 and I was surprisingly not satisfied with my fitness, weight loss, and body. It was time to kick it in high gear. Serious diet, serious training. I managed to lose 12lbs in 6 weeks and completed my first post-pregnancy half marathon. It wasn't pretty, but it was a finish. That was step 1. My spring was somewhat busted with some family trips, lots of food, work and a few other excuses.

Today, May 2, I'm happy to announce that I have Coach Marco on my side and he'll be kicking my ass moving forward. I have several goals. Lose ALL the pregnancy weight, and finish my first serious trail race: The 2016 Continental Divide Trail Run. I'll be doing the 16mi to get me going, but hoping to add some fun challenges for later in the fall and one big one for 2017.

My biggest challenge will be to juggle mama work, training, real work and husband's travel, however, I'm feeling optimistic since I have hubby's and coach's full support. Stay tuned for updates.

And now, without further ado, here goes nothing... 

My lil peanut, 2 days old!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Four-Pass Loop

TransRockies was such an epic experience that it's hard at this point to think of something bigger than that. While I actually did it, it is also hard to believe I did and it's hard to think of doing anything like it again. 

That said, the hubby and I tried to find an epic adventure for Labor Day weekend. He mentioned climbing Snowmass, a 14er. But after all my uphill struggles during TRR I just could not wrap my head around going up a 14er. Thankfully, we have a few other items on our bucket list and one of them is the Four-Pass Loop in the Maroon Bells Wilderness. 

Not sure why the Four-Pass loop sounded better than the 14er... Let me elaborate. The Four-Pass Loop is a 27 mile loop around the Maroon Bells. To complete the loop, you have to go over 4 mountain passes. Needless to say, you go over 12,000ft for each one of them. Why did I think a 27-mile loop with 10,000ft of gain would be easier than going for a 9 mile, 4,500ft of gain hike to summit a 14er? Not sure. Maybe TRR has officially made me dumber. Although I truly believe the Four-Pass loop is more attractive to me (a runner) than summitting all 14ers. 
4-Pass Elevation Profile... Not the easiest run!
Anyway... I hadn't run since TRR and I wasn't sure I was ready but was willing to give it a shot. The day before I went for a run in Avon and I felt okay. It was only 3 miles and on pavement, but I figured that was a good warm up. Silly me. 

We left the condo at 3am and arrived at the trailhead by 5am. It was chilly, but we wore our warm running gear, grabbed a headlamp and off we go. We didn't really get a view of the Bells early on as it was still pretty dark, but it looked like a gorgeous setting, and while running along the lake, Chuck took a wrong turn. I didn't appreciate it and while it only added probably 1/4 or a 1/2 a mile, I was already cranky at the fact that he made us bush whack a little bit. We found the trail and kept going. 

Early morning views of the Bells from Crater Lake
We arrived to the second lake and we decided to do the loop clockwise so we were headed towards West Maroon Pass. The trail was muddy and it was hard to get moving fast. At that point, Chuck and I had completely different ideas on how to do this. He was aiming for a sub 7h30m finish, while I was aiming to just finish. He's the sprinter in the family, I'm the endurance one. My approach was hike the ups, run the downs and take it easy at the beginning. He wanted to go all out the whole time. We argued... I cried. 

Getting high in the Maroon Bells Wilderness
This is the deal, I know my limits. And when I push on mile 5 of a 27 mile HARD loop, I know I will NOT make it. And it was especially scary once we were past the first pass, as we would be entering true backcountry and if one of us had lost it out there, it'd be a true challenge to come back. He asked I pushed as hard as I did at TRR, and I tried to explain that a steady hike was EXACTLY how I approached a lot of the big climbs at TRR. And now that TRR was over, my legs were slightly more exhausted than the usual... I literally didn't have more in me. I get where he's coming from too... he's more competitive and he had not run TRR and was on fresh legs. I came to the conclusion that we should not do this together and that he should continue and I'd turn back to wait for him at the lake. That wasn't an option for him. He wanted to turn around then and there... I suggested we at least tag the first mountain pass. We continued on without really talking to each other... sigh

We summited the first pass and took some pictures. The views on the other side were wonderful and definitely made me think of pushing through, but I knew it was a bad idea. At that point, Chuck and I were on better terms. We ran back down and it was a much faster and mellow approach. We had a better time. Once back at the lakes, we saw hundreds of tourists taking pictures of the lakes and the Bells. It is truly a wonderful area. 

West Maroon Pass Summit shot
VIews from the top of W. Maroon
So that was that. A failed attempt at the Four-Pass. It was too soon after TRR and we failed to communicate our goals. The section we did was gorgeous, although not as gorgeous as some of the pictures of the sections that are farther back... but we've decided we'll go back to finish it off, although now, we have a more realistic goal of sub-9hours. 

Family shot at Crater Lake on the way back. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

TransRockies Run6 - Stage 6

Vail, CO to Beaver Creek, CO
Distance: 22.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,554ft

"The reward of a thing well done is to have done it." Ralph Waldo Emerson


Bittersweet. That's what I felt the moment my alarm went off. This is the last day I wake up at camp. The last day I pack my camp. The last day I drag the heaviest duffel bag to the Budget truck. The last day I walk to the start line. The last day I listen to Highway to Hell. It was exciting that this crazy adventure was about to end. It was sad that all the work, all the training, all the cool stories... were all about to end. Bittersweet.

I had breakfast with all the other runners in the catering tent... people were excited. Marna, Mark and I walked to the start and chilled at the lodge for 40ish minutes before the start and we lined up a few minutes before go-time.

Start line in Vail Village
I think I became emotional as the runner's came into the start line chute and I was in disbelief that I had gotten this far. I'm pretty sure I had a few tears roll down my cheeks when I heard my name. I looked over to the side and Chuck was there. He made me smile. I was not expecting to see him and it was great to get a hug from the hubby before the start. That is, until he said the words: "You can do it, push for a Top 10 finish!" Oh boy... instead of those being the best words of encouragement anyone could ever hear, I just burst into tears and asked him if what I had done was not good enough (I was 14th overall at that point). He felt horrible. And today, I feel horrible I made him feel horrible. But I guess this is a GREAT example of how exhausted and emotional I was at that point!

The gun went off and I went off with a slow jog despite the big hill ahead of us. I thought it'd be short, but once I got a better angle, I decided to start walking up it since it was probably more like a mile long. We traversed on the front side of the mountain from Vail Village to Lionshead. Once above the Gondola base at Lionshead we dropped into town again, ran through the village and out towards i70. We went over the bridge and down to the Frontage Rd. on the North side and up into that immediate neighborhood. Sooner than later (probably 2-3 miles into our run) we hot the single track and up, up, up we go.

Views of Vail from the North Side. 
The endless switchbacks were slightly heartbreaking, but all I kept in mind was that it was the last push! On the flip side though, given the previous day's mistake of having the elevation profile all mixed up in my head, I actually brought a print out this time. I knew exactly when to push. And this time, the hills were perfectly lining up with the mileage I knew.

Amazing Aspen forest at the top of the switch backs. 
Between miles 7 to 9ish, the terrain flattened and we were pretty far north from Vail, or so it seemed like. The views opened up and we got to see the Gore Range.

Gore Range as seen from some very very remote backcountry! 
As much as my legs hurt going uphill, I tried to take in the views and enjoy the last day. I tried to keep in mind that the downhill didn't start until after 5 significant climbs (based on the elevation profile). Thankfully, the 4th climb wasn't so bad and it didn't feel so significant to me at the time so I didn't count it. So, once I was done climbing, and was enjoying the down, I tried not to get overly excited as I knew there was one more coming... Until I hit the aid station and they said: It's all downhill from here to Avon... That's 5.5 miles of nothing but downhill. Wait, whaaat? All downhill now? Yaay!! Let's do this! I smiled. Downhill was my strong suit!

All downhill until we get to town! 
It was great for a while, and I was catching up to runner after runner. All  those who passed me on the way up were slowly moving down and I was catching up to them one at a time. It was a nice feeling.  For a good 2 or 3 miles it was all easy breezy, but after that we got to a section where the single track was as narrow as it gets, it was as technical as it gets and the vegetation around it was extremely overgrown. I had to slow down. A lot.

I started getting incredibly frustrated at the fact that what had been my strength all week was all of a sudden a huge weakness. I could not push any harder, my  toes were hurting and I could not see through all the plants... I was mentally struggling and didn't seem to be able to pull myself out of the hole I was in. All of a sudden, I look up and there was Chuck and Levi. You'd think that would help, but it didn't. I may have been rude to him because I could not really talk to him and Levi's collar was making way too much noise as I was trying to focus on putting a foot in front of the other. After 5 minutes I had to tell him to go. He made me feel guilty about how I treated him, and I was probably somewhat rude, but at the time, it just seemed like my brain was about to explode and I'm pretty sure I would've been so much more rude if he had stayed. I needed to do this on my own and I needed him more at the finish than I needed him on the trail. Once he went ahead, I had to walk for a few.

Last section of trail before hitting the road. 
Shortly after Chuck left, we got to the last creek crossing and a few yards ahead we were on the road. One of the TRR staff had his RV right at the trailhead and offered me some orange juice. I drank some... it was delicious. We continued down the road until we reached the gas station in Avon. I was hoping I'd see Chuck at some corner now that I was feeling a little better, but he was nowhere to be seen... I did see Kevin and Courtney as they were pulling into Avon, that was randomly awesome. They honked and waved and kept driving.

We ran on the pavement around the Avon Reservoir and made our way into the Bear lot in Beaver Creek and started to climb towards Bachelor's Gulch. Welcome to Beaver Creek, folks! Last last push, for real!


With 2.5 miles of climbing left, I just gave it my all. Although, my "all" wasn't much at all. I just kept putting a foot in front of the other and that seemed to be enough at the moment. The single track climb seemed to never end but I wasn't passed by anyone and I didn't pass anyone... we were all in denial and exhausted. I saw Marna, who passed me while on the aid station before the big downhill into Avon (I stopped for goodies, she didn't), slightly ahead of me in the last few switchbacks before the downhill to the finish. She was focused and looked extremely determined to finish this strong. I lost sight of her once she reached the top. Didn't see her again til the finish.

Once I reached the top though, I let it rip... I knew this road, I'd ran on it in the past and I knew it'd be non-technical and wide. Good old service road. I was running 9 min/miles and it was only 1.5 miles to the finish. I didn't catch up to anyone as I should assume, they all did the same. Once I hit the road I saw Courtney first  and I wanted to cry... she was enthusiastic as always and said I was done. I took a right and there it was. The finish line. The FINISH finish line. Lined up before it was Chuck and Kevin. I barely looked at them and had my eyes set on the finish. I was done. I crossed the finish line in 5h 27m 23s for 18th place. My worst of the week, but it didn't matter. I was done. Took a while to catch my breath but when I looked up, my friend Jenny, her husband and baby were there as well... they'd made the trip up from Denver JUST to see me finish. I was feeling blessed to have so many familiar faces at the finish. I felt loved. I needed that.

And done! Medal and Finisher's shirt in hand. 
The small details of my experience during TransRockies may never be put into words the way I would like it to be. There are way too many stories and experiences that may never be shared. This doesn't mean they didn't mean the world to me at the moment. Running across the Rockies covering a distance of 120 miles at high elevation, meeting new people along the way, sleeping in tents, showering in a truck and eating what is available, not what I want, was my reality for a whole week.

I learned a lot about myself and what I can accomplish if I set my mind to it. I'd do things differently, yes. Training more would be one of them. I was well trained and got through it alright with no injuries, but I'm sure a few more hours on the trail would've made some of those climbs a tad easier and some struggles a little easier to get through.

If you ask me, doing this solo as opposed to with a teammate ended up being a blessing. Seemed like while I would've loved to have my partner Theresa with me during some moments, but I've learned I'm better off alone when in a dark place... and when in a good one. I'm sure it would've been a struggle to stay back when I'm feeling good or feel extra pressured to move faster when in a dark place. If I were to do it again, I'd definitely sign up with a friend, but would make sure to sign us up as "solo" runners. That way we could run together when needed/desired, but we could go our separate ways when we're mentally and physically in different places.

Finish line picture with Houda... Race Director extraordinaire. 
Will I do this race again? Probably not. This one-time experience was beyond amazing and I wouldn't change it for the world. It will always hold a special place in my heart... but I believe I should take what I learned about myself as a person and an athlete to other events and other adventures. I met some amazing people, a few of which, I believe, will stick around in my life for a while. If you're into big adventures though, I would highly recommend this one. It's worth every penny!

Official finish time: 27 hours, 54 minutes, 24 seconds for 14th place out of 59

"Only those who attempt the absurd, will achieve the impossible." -Escher. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

TransRockies Run6 - Stage 5

Red Cliff, CO to Vail, CO
Distance: 23.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,211ft


Woke up slightly more exhausted than my usual. Sleeping in the day before had been nice, but it was back-to-reality day. Had to pack camp and catch a shuttle back to Red Cliff. I hung out with Marna and Mark at Mango's, the bar in Red Cliff. They opened up early for us to stay warm while waiting for the race to start. Unfortunately, it didn't seem like enough down time and the race started sooner than later.

Quick picture at the start!
As usual, Highway to Hell played loud at the start line and off we go... uphill. I knew we were in for a treat with this one. For the first time since Day 1 we were going to climb more than 4,000ft and I was trying to wrap my head around it. I decided to slowly jog as much as possible, but walk when I felt like it. I was pretty much "going on feel". It all worked out pretty nicely for a while... but this was my biggest mistake of the day- I left the start line without a print out of the elevation profile (which I'm really good at doing at all my races!!).

In my head, it was 8 miles of climbing followed by a couple of rolling hills (10 miles in) followed by 2 miles of climbing (12 miles in)... and then all downhill from there (for 11 miles). Oh boy... was I wrong!!!

I arrived to the first aid station at mile 8 in really great spirits. Up until now, we'd been running on a wide dirt road that basically goes from Red Cliff to the top of Vail Pass. It was a little shaded (lots of trees) during the first couple of miles, but then it opened up and we had some awesome views.

Views opening up on our way to Vail Pass
The grade of the incline on the way up to Vail Pass wasn't horrible, so while I definitely did not run the whole 8 miles, I was able to maintain a very steady and efficient pace. Filled up my water bladder at the aid station and proceeded to the single track. This is when things got gnarly. What I had expected to be "rolling" for 2 miles, was more uphill... and actually, slightly steeper and more technical than the previous 8 miles (well, duh... now we were on single track!).  I could hear my heart break piece by piece... but I was still optimistic that maybe I'd be summitting soon! When my Garmin beeped for mile 10, we started going downhill... at which point we were already in what I thought was Vail Ski Resort (or at least the side country of it) so I figured, how much farther up can we go? So I just bombed down whatever went down, but to my disappointment, that lasted a half a mile... Ok, I was off by 2 miles. THIS was the rolling section. I pushed through despite it being more up than down, but we then arrived in Vail Ski Resort. For REAL this time.

We're in... FOR SURE! 
I continued very contently since I thought... How much farther up can we go? Well, a random girl behind me said: "Look to your right?" Ugh... I SO wish she hadn't said that... HUGE switch backs to the ridge. But I mean... the ridge was WAY up there. My heart broke JUST a little more. At this point, we were roughly at mile 13, so seriously? How much farther up can we go... we gotta go down at one point!! I walked slowly to the top, and I would just see the people who I had stuck with for 4 days slowly disappear in front of me... I feel like this broke me and slowed me down even more. Regardless, I got to the top to areas of the resort I recognized. I tried to regroup and continue on. I reached the rocky technical descent that the course director had talked about and even smiled for the camera. For all I knew, the climbing was OVER! It was all downhill from there!

TRR was a technical run, but not like this!  This was just a short scrambling section! :)
I reached the aid station shortly after this and even sat down on the chair to take in some calories. I got up quick though and continued on. Let's have some fun!!! Unfortunately, the fun lasted a half a mile... and at mile 16, I found myself climbing again! Ok, I was SUPER off... For all I knew, the climbing ended at mile 12!!! I was 4 ahead at that point, and had a hill in front of me that I had NO idea how long it'd be.

I literally cried. I was absolutely exhausted... I turned off my iPod, replied to some words of encouragement from my TRR friend Rob with some very cranky words in a very cranky mood... and fell behind. Before I knew it, Marna caught up to me... nicely, she pushed me. Like she ACTUALLY pushed me from the bottom of my hydration pack. It seemed to help, but I knew she was probably as tired as me.. she just happened to be in a less dark place. She eventually moved ahead and I was left behind with my tears.

We reached the top of Chair 4. Which I knew well. I was exhausted, I had cried and I was ready for an all downhill. It took me a little while to regroup (maybe a mile), but from the top (mile 17) to the aid station (mile 21) I was able to run. I stopped at the aid for a couple minutes and had a beverage and some watermelon and continued on... the downhill was fun:


I eventually caught up to Marna, who was now struggling. I stayed with her for a couple minutes and told her we were close (I know that mountain a little too well) and I passed her. I finally came close to the village and saw the finish line. It was a huge relief! I crossed the finish line in 5 hours 49 minutes and 49 seconds for 14th place. This was officially my longest day out on the trails and I was stoked it was over.

It was great  to see Marna finish just 4 minutes behind me. She was getting stronger as I was getting weaker! 
The rest of the evening was uneventful... Marna and I walked to camp together and it felt great to be at "home". I was struggling with eating as it seemed as if I had completely lost my appetite, but they had grilled some veggies and I ate some of that. Despite having had a crappy day, I was focusing on the next day's adventure... which was pretty much the end. Visualizing the finish was an emotional experience. It was surreal that this was the last night I was going to sleep in a tent and eat with all these people.

I tried to focus on the fact that despite the last stage being known to be a hard stage, it was still under 20 miles. Unfortunately, when the course briefing began, we learned that the last stage was not 19 miles as published on the guide book, it was more like 22. I was in disbelief and I may have had a tear roll down my cheek. I sat there silently listening, but heartbroken that I still had 22  miles to go. I know, it's not that big a difference, but after 5 long days of running at elevation, 3 miles was a huge difference.

I went to bed slightly bummed out, but tried to focus on the fact that it was almost over. One more day... and then, it'll all be a memory. I wasn't even sure I was emotionally ready for it to be over.

"Dig deep, my friend." Theresa said on her card for Day 5. I don't think I'd ever dug any deeper...

Up Next: TransRockies Run6 - Stage 6

Monday, September 22, 2014

TransRockies Run6 - Stage 4

Nova Guides at Camp Hale to Red Cliff, CO
Distance: 14.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,830ft


I was pretty tired when I woke up, but the start line today was only steps away from my tent. Not only that, BUT we didn't have to pack our campsite as we were going to be shuttled back to this same spot for that night. This was the day that I allowed myself to sleep in the most.

I was feeling pretty sore and was a little nervous about it... regardless I was hopeful that I'd have a good run. Feedback I had heard from people that had run this stage in previous years was all over the place. Some people were happy about a shorter leg, while others said the climb was worse than Hope Pass- seriously?!?

I lined up for the start with a little extra inspiration as Jenny had tagged me on a Facebook post that read as follows: "My girl Gaby is running the TransRockies and is currently 13th out of 59 women. 120 miles across some intense, high altitude terrain. I just want everyone to know how amazing and inspiring she is! Go Gaby!! You got it!!!" Yes, that made me smile and reminded me there were people following my progress. In addition, my amazing husband would meet me at the finish line in Red Cliff to grab a couple drinks in Red Cliff. With that in mind, I set off on day 4 of this crazy adventure.

At the start line
To not mess with the theme that TransRockies seemed to have going on, the run started with 6 miles of straight uphill. It was mellow the first 2 miles, with 4 miles of steep, technical jeep roads. People seemed to struggle a ton, but I seemed to be moving somewhat efficiently. I reached the top faster than I thought and was convinced that this climb had been WAY easier than Hope Pass. Apparently, most everyone seemed to disagree with me even after doing it. They all thought I was crazy! Regardless, I'm happy I had a good climb.

The last push uphill. Some amazing views.
Once at the top, we traversed on the ridge for a little while before coming back down to tree line. The traverse was a mild climb, but I jogged most of it.

Highest point of the run
Once at treeline and when we started going downhill there seemed to be endless switchbacks down... I just kept wondering when I was going to reach the river! I was averaging 10 min/mile on the technical descent, until we reached the bottom of the switchbacks and it was time to run on a creek. In reality, it was a trail, but a few years ago, the creek seemed to swell up to cover the trail, so while we didn't run IN the creek, our feet were wet. This water stretch was longer than expected and we ran in the water for 3/4's of a mile.

Trail under water. We ran on this for 3/4's of a mile
We then crossed a bridge and were on a smooth dirt road that'd take us into town. Chuck met me 1.5 miles away from the finish with the pup and I was stoked to see them. I maintained 9:30 min/mile those last 2 miles and finished in 3h29m43s for 16th place just like on day 2. Seemed like with the shorter distances I didn't have enough time to catch up to some of the other gals and longer days were more favorable to me, but that's no news... we've always known that.

Finish Line Shot
Chuck and I hung out by the creek until Marna finished and then Marna, her husband and Chuck and I enjoyed a couple drinks at Mango's- Red Cliff's most famous (and only) bar. Chuck then gave us a ride back to Camp Hale. He hung out with us for a while and even went for a run there... He kissed me goodnight and left right before dinner. I'm not gonna lie, but I desperately wanted to go to the Avon condo with him, but wouldn't give up my full TransRockies experience. Crappy sleep was part of it all...

Post-run drinks at Mango's 
I again passed out early feeling somewhat confident about the upcoming Day 5 as we were approaching a very familiar area to me. In the end, Vail area was where I has trained so much in the previous 6 months. I was ready to come "home".

Up Next: TransRockies Run6 - Stage 5