Wednesday, August 28, 2013

"I have a dream..."

It was 50 years ago today, that Martin Luther King Jr. stood in front of more than a quarter million people (the largest gathering of protesters at that time) and delivered a 17-minute speech. As most of you know, the most famous passage of this speech was not in the original text, but someone prompted him to talk about "the dream". Currently known as the "I have a dream" speech, it has been regarded as one of the finest speeches in the history of American oratory. 

On a lighter note... I always think of this speech in a particular Friends episode where one of the characters says that they have an idea, but they don't want to talk about it, at which point Mr. Sarcasm-Chandler says something like: "What if MLK would've said: 'I have a dream... but I don't want to talk about it'". This always reminds me of my own hopes and dreams and I find it fitting to talk about those on a day like today. 

What are my dreams? It's hard sometimes to take a step back from our routine life and remind ourselves what are we working towards. What are our goals?  I had a dream once, and it was to live in Colorado, but once I moved here, did I have nothing else to work towards? Of course not! I kept achieving different things and shooting for bigger and better things.  Today, I have some goals in mind but sometimes I'm not sure those smaller goals qualify as dreams. But then again, I remind myself, that anything is possible if I try and that some of my "smaller" goals may be huge accomplishments to others. We (mostly me) shouldn't be hard on ourselves and understand that as little or big as certain accomplishments may feel, they change or inspire us or the people around us. 

Here are some of my goals and dreams for the future: 
- Marry the man of my dreams, he who will support all the items on this list. (This is almost taken care of; t-minus 2 months!). 
- Raise wonderful children who have the ability to dream big. 
- Travel the world and share experiences with my love
- Continue to try something new at least once in a while
- Cross the finish line of the Leadville 100 at least once in my life
- Successfully complete the TransRockies 6-day stage race
- Run a marathon (or longer distance race) in each state
- Finish at least one race above 14,000ft
... and a few others that may have to be revealed in the future. But most importantly... my biggest goal should be to never stop trying. 

Have you thought about your hopes and dreams? Goals and accomplishments? If you haven't, today's a good day to start thinking about it... 

Sweet dreams!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

What's next?

This year is quickly coming to an end. I know it's weird to say that since it's only August, but seriously. Seems like only yesterday it was snowing while I was running the Dash and Dine on April 30th. 

What I really mean is: the races I'm signed up to do this year are almost done and while I'm planning on doing the North Face Endurance Challenge 50k in San Francisco the day before my 30th birthday, I'm not signed up yet. What I am signed up for is the Bear Chase 50k and the Denver Marathon.  Both races should be a huge challenge, and here's why: 

- I've run both races in the past. I know the course so I should, in theory, come really well prepared as I'm well aware of what I'm up against. 
- I've become a better athlete/runner- I have a pretty awesome coach, and he makes me work hard. The day I hired him, I basically committed to getting better, and I've seen a HUGE improvement. 
- I have PR'ed most my long-distance races in the past year. I have had goals an met them. Knowing the courses, these are the races I should actually be a little harder on myself. 
- Denver marathon held my marathon PR for 4 years until I crushed it in San Francisco in October 2012, and crushed again in NoLa in February 2013. Will be nice to have Denver take the #1 spot again. 
- Most my PR's are held in my home-state: my 5k, 10k, half marathon, 50k and half Ironman PR's were all Colorado races. I hope I can bring back the marathon to that list. 
- Most my PR's were achieved in 2013: my 5k, 10k, half marathon, marathon... I should keep the trend going. 

Training is ramping up again, so I feel I should at least be able to accomplish a PR at Bear Chase. It's always scary to publish a goal time because then I'll have someone (I know I have AT LEAST a couple readers) to hold me accountable. Last year I had told myself I wanted to finish in under 6 hours, I finished in 5h59m11s. Mission accomplished. What is my goal this year? I would like to finish in 5h51m20s. Why this random number?  Well, it's just a 15s improvement per mile. I think it's achievable, yet challenging. 

Bear Chase time in 2012
As for Denver Marathon, I don't know how to "time" it just yet.  My San Francisco and NoLa times are so far off what my fastest Denver times are, that I feel like I shouldn't even compare.  San Francisco was very hilly, but at sea level and I was very well trained. NoLa happened after I got pleurisy, so I was not very well trained but managed to beat San Francisco's time because (I think) it was also at sea level (and below) and it was very very flat. Maybe my legs weren't tired?  I don't know. Realistically, and don't take my word for it just yet, I should be able to run a 4h18m- not so hilly course, but at elevation, with not very fresh legs. This will put me right in between my San Fran time and my NoLa. It would still be a 30+ minute difference between my last Denver and this one. 

What's next, you ask? My wedding and my 30th birthday. Both events: kind of a big deal.  But then comes 2014.  A year of challenges. I have two big races in mind: the Silver Rush 50 and the one and only TransRockies Run. The Silver Rush is one of the Leadville Trail Series races and while I've run the distance in the past, it's still a distance you can't just run "off-the-couch" and much less in a race like Silver Rush: technical and at elevation. I have not signed up and registration opens January 1st. 

TransRockies deserves it's own post, but not just yet. I can tell you a little bit about it so you know what I'll be prepping for the next few months. It's a 6-day stage run, which means you run a marked course 6 days in a row (it is a race). Each day is different and your official finish time is the sum of all 6 days. You can run it solo or as a team of 2- I'm running it with Theresita. In the end, we will run 120 miles, with 20,000ft of elevation gain in 3 different counties in only 6 days. I understand this may not be appealing to many people, but think about it. Doesn't that sound like the ultimate challenge for a distance runner trying to get away with her all-time running partner and best friend?  The answer you're looking for is yes. It's the perfect fit for this girl. Further TransRockies talk to follow, like I said, this race deserves its own post. 
TransRockies - Here I come!
As for today, I'll be running my last Stroke and Stride, which is the same course as Dash and Dine. Will I PR? Probably not, but I still don't want to take the 5K PR away from my engagement night... Maybe I'll leave that as a 2014 goal. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

I'm a distance runner

"I"m a distance runner. I've been trained to keep going, even when it's hard. When it hurts. When it sucks. When I don't want to. I look past it. Relentless forward progress to the finish. Call it what you want; stubbornness, endurance, determination, guts. Deep down, I don't know how to give up. [And it's always worth it in the end]"

- Not sure who wrote this, but I can relate.

Monday, August 19, 2013

THE Leadville Trail 100 mile run

It's been a few years since I've been into long distance running but it's only been a couple years that ultra-marathons have become a huge part of my life.  I've only completed three ultras but plan on running a few more, and while as of now, the distance I'm the most comfortable with is the 50k (the shortest of ultra's), I know I'll work my way up.

It's been years since I read the "Ultramarathon Man" book and loved it.  It was at that time when I found out about all these epic 100 mile races and became "curious".  After my first 55k race, I couldn't imagine doing it again and declared myself a road runner and got into Ironman races. Shortly after finishing my 2nd Ironman, I remembered how "easy" it was to just run. I knew I was in good shape and attempted an "easy" 50k. I was incredibly satisfied with the result and went after a 50-miler.  

I'm not gonna lie, it hurt and thought it'd never cross my mind again, but here I am a month later writing about potential 50-milers that I'd like to put on my schedule. Life is too short to not attempt what seems to be impossible and so I'll publicly say that the Leadville Trail 100 mile run has been in the back of my head for years and I'd love to one day feel ready enough to toe the start line. Will it be my first and last? Will it even be my first? Will I attempt to give the distance a shot in a more forgiving environment? Who knows. All I know is that one day I will be showing up at the start line. 

The 2013 Leadville Trail 100 mile run took place this past weekend and I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to help time the event. I was assigned at the Outward Bound Aid station which was at mile marker 24 on the way out and mile marker 76 on the way back. 

It was a surreal experience all around. As I gave my 2-week notice at work on Friday and decided to take on newer opportunities in a field that is truly my passion, I found myself driving up to Leadville to work in the one event that I'm truly scared of.  Not knowing what to expect, I was hoping it'd scare me off.  Running 100 miles can't look pretty, right?  But I believe, it did everything but. 

The 2:45am wake up call came a little sooner that I would've wanted to, but I wanted to make it to the start by 3:30 to see my friend Laurie start her race. I saw her, hugged her and positioned myself at the start line by the timing tent. At 4:00am sharp the runners were off... I got the chills. I wanted to be lined up badly. 

Off they go in the dark and all you see are little lights bouncing up and down. 

The start line of the Leadville 100
I then drove over to the Fish Hatchery outside of Leadville, which was Aid Station #2 and where I'd be spending the next 24 hours. Once the first runner showed up around 7:00am it was non-stop til 10:15. Runners were mostly in good spirits, but as the 10:00am cut of approached, you could see some of them struggling.  It was beyond heartbreaking to see Sandy "the cut-off lady" cutting wrist bands with chips of those runners who didn't quite make it and I've never seen so many tears and disappointment looks. I wanted to hug each and every one of them. 

Scott Jurek leaving the aid station at mile 24
I had a chance to lay my sleeping bag in the medical  tent and take a short nap before setting up again and get ready for the first runner to hit mile 76. Ian Sharman, 2x winner of the Mt. Hood 50 and course record holder (it got crushed by this year's winner though) was the first to get to my aid station with a lead of 20 minutes. Scott Jurek, who was the one expected to win all along, showed up in 4th but eventually lost some time and finished 8th. 

Ian Sharman looking fresh at mile 76
While it's impressive to see the "pro's" crush it. I was more impressed by the "normal" people.  Those with a full time job, those with their kids on the sidelines... Those who's bodies were giving up before their minds did. It was impressive to see their souls exposed and look like they couldn't take a single step more yet they'd fuel up and continue their journey.  Impressive to see pacers sprint into the aid station to have water bottles ready for when their runners showed up 30 seconds behind. 

Outward Bound Station at sunset
Heartbreaking to see the tears of those who against their will had to call it good and be smarter about the way they race. Heartbreaking to see those who wanted to continue but didn't make the cut off... Taking away chips was no easy task and I hugged every single one of them. 

Once all the runners came in, those who made the cut off and those who didn't, it was time to pack up. It was already 4:00am and I somehow got a second wind.  I drove back to the start line to see if I could meet some of the timing crew. Not many people there, but got to see the last few runners that earned the big gold buckle, meaning those finishing in under 25hrs. I'm not gonna lie, if you had paid close attention you would've seen a tear or two rolling down my cheek. I wanted to be them BADLY. 

LAST finisher to come in under 25hrs. 
I then drove to Avon to sleep at my parents' place there... I slept from 6:15am through 3:00pm and was a lazy bum the rest of the day. 

All in all, no. This experience did not scare me off, if anything it made want to try harder. I know deep in my heart that as much as I want to go online on January 1st and sign up, I shouldn't. I am not ready. I should conquer the 50 mile distance first. And by conquer, I mean be comfortable. I ran it once and it hurt. I'll run it twice and I'll understand it. I'll run it a third time and I will race it. After that anything is possible.  Dream big I guess... that's the only way you'll accomplish something. 

Special thanks to RaceRite for the amazing opportunity which was not only a job... it was an amazing experience and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. 

That's me... working. Yes. I worked. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A whole new meaning to the word EPIC

I'd like to start by asking myself the same question I ask myself every weekend: "Why do I do this to myself?". Yes, I do ask myself this question EVERY weekend since I continue to sign up for events that do nothing but KICK MY ASS.  What did I do this time, you ask?  Well, I grabbed 4 of my (now) closest friends and a weirdo (what's a running team to do without a weirdo?) and headed up to Logan, UT to run a relay race of 205 miles that finished in Jackson Hole, WY. Each one of us needed to run over 30 miles to complete this task, and while we could all run 30+ miles (and most of us have in the past), little did we know how hard it'd be if you did it in 90 million degree weather, no sleep and poor calorie intake. 

Somewhere in the middle of nowhere (read: northern Utah)
The EPIC adventure started on Thursday when we started driving northwest towards Logan, UT.  It seemed fitting, after an 8 hour drive, to feast on hot wings from Buffalo Wild Wings to watch the Bronco game. We didn't really pay attention to the game and no, eating hot wings was not a great idea the night before a 30 mile run. We all seemed to have a good night sleep that night and we headed out to the start line bright and early on Friday.  Our start time was 7:00am and we were checking in at around 6:20. Took some goofy pictures, decorated our van and off we go. 

From left to right: Mr. Weirdo, Holly, Kevin, myself, Fernando, Mike
Let me explain how a relay race works in case you've never done one. Basically, you get a team of 12 people and you divide your peeps in 2 vans of 6 people each. There are 36 legs to be run by your 12 runners, so 3 legs each. For example, if you're runner #1, you will run leg 1, leg 13 and leg 25. If you're runner #12, you run leg 12, leg 24 and leg 36.  Runners usually get anywhere between 6 to 8 hours of rest between legs and also get 4-6 hours of "downtime" in their van when the runners in the other van are running.  This is usually when the van parks in a big parking lot and they get to take a nap before having to get ready to run again.  When you do it this way, people run anywhere between 12 to 20 miles total divided in 3 runs. Also, this way, you get to have beginner runners and advanced runners and they all get to have fun.  

Happy Endings Van. Runners resting, Runner ready, Runner taking pic (me), Runner running (Holly)
That said, there is a thing called ULTRA teams. Ultra teams are teams of 6 instead of 12. So you have half the people to run the exact same 36 legs. Gaby's thought: "How fun would it be to have an ULTRA team??" Gaby's thought at the time of signing up: "This is such a GREAT idea." Gaby's thought today: "Yeah, not so much fun. Lots of pain."  There's two ways the ultra teams can officially run this race to be eligible for awards. Each runner runs 6 separate "shorter" legs or each runner runs 2 legs in a row to make 3 long legs. So for example, your runner A can be runner #1 and #6 or he can be runner #1 and #2.  We went with the latter option, so we still ran 3 legs, but they were double. This way, we'd get 10-12 hours of rest in between legs.  

Slap that Sh!t. Mike finishing his first run, Kevin about to face the heat
Ok, back to the actual race. Our first 3 runners did amazing. They all had 12-13 mile legs and weather seemed to cooperate. Little did we know, the heat was just around the corner.  Kevin was our runner #4 and he was tackling legs 7 and 8 when the heat got slightly out of control.  His first leg was LONG, roughly 15 miles, and he managed to get through the first half just fine.  The second half of it was brutal, the heat was unbearable and he was struggling. I started to get nervous since I was up next and I was about to start running at roughly 2:00pm and was going for 10 miles. Slow but steady, Kevin completed his leg and I was bummed I couldn't stay behind to make sure he was ok, but the rest of my crew was amazing and I knew they'd take good care of him. I started running carrying my water bottle but I finished my water in 2.5 miles. My crew was waiting for me 3 miles in and re-filled my water bottle. I asked them to meet me at the exchange point again. The re-filled my bottle and I continued on to my second part of the run. The first half was ALL UP, and with the heat, it seemed like I had used up all my energy, but my second half was mostly downhill, at the beginning anyway so I was able to eat up a few miles fairly quickly but then it got flat so I struggled. I met my crew another 3 miles in, they re-filled again and I told them to just meet me at the finish. Surprisingly, I ran out of water AGAIN and a crew of Colorado runners helped me out. That was enough to get me to the finish (which was uphill for roughly a mile). 

Couldn't be happier to finish this first leg. IT WAS HOT
I've never been happier to finish. It was time for Mr. Weirdo to head out. He underestimated the heat and was bragging about how fast he could go. He slowed down 4-5 miles in but he was still a pretty fast runner. If the heat didn't slow him down, a wall would... that was enough for him to stop bragging.

Big A$$ climb
Once he finished, it was time for round two. Holly, our runner #1 was up again. It was just past 6pm and it was slowly starting to cool off. Fernando, our second runner, started around 7:30pm when the sun decided to make us smile by coloring the sky in all sorts of shades of purple, yellow, orange and red. Nice sunset in  the middle of Idaho. 

Kevin - happy night runner
By the time Fernando finished, it was dark and Mike was on his way. Kevin started his longest run at around 11:00pm and seemed really content with the 17 miles he had ahead of him. Clearly the heat got the best of him but with the sun shining in the other side of the world, he was a happy camper. After Kevin, it was my turn again. I started my longest run at 1:30am. The first section was again mostly uphill with another 600ft of gain and reaching 7000 ft of elevation. The last 5 miles were mostly downhill, but in the dark, it was hard for me to speed up significantly, so I just maintained a comfortable pace that felt "safe". I finished my 13 miles around 3:40am. The night runs seemed to go by fairly smoothly. We all tried to sleep while not getting ready to go run, but it was complicated. Between the car stopping to check in on runners, people getting ready, moving around, other teams cheering their runners on, we didn't get much sleep. We only got time to "rest our eyes". Literally. 

As I mentioned earlier, we started our race at 7:00am along with 5 other teams.  There were probably around 10 more teams out of 73 that started after us at 9:00am, 10:00am and 12:00pm respectively. Your start time is assigned based on your team's average pace. Most teams started at 5:00 or 5:30am and before sunset, we seemed to have passed a few getting to the checkpoints with 20 teams left behind us. But that somehow changed overnight. At 5:00am it was time for Holly to hit the road for the 3rd and last time, and while waiting for her to finish her last run we realized there were only 5 teams that had gone by that checkpoint. Wait, what??? Yep, we passed a ton of people overnight. On average, for the following legs we were between the 7th and 12th team to hit the checkpoints, not too shabby considering we had started towards the end of the pack. We got slightly pumped. I say slightly cause we were tired. 

Chilly sunrise in Wyoming
Faster than we thought, Holly, Fernando and Mike were DONE with their last leg. They'd all automatically get a huge smile on their faces. They were ready to party. Kevin started his last leg and I was anxious to get my part over with. My last leg consisted of a 3-miler, mostly flat and a 7-miler that went up, up, up and down, down, down and then up, and then down... finished flat. I somehow managed to push through the first 3 miles only to start the second section with what looked like a HUGE climb. If I go back today, I can guarantee I would run it just fine. But then and there it seemed like a huge wall. Reminded me of the Mt. Hood 50 "wall". Will this ever END? I walked and jogged and MOST LIKELY crawled backwards. It was hot AGAIN and I literally wanted to die. My crew looked after me stopping every 2 miles at first, but then they seemed to stop every half a mile. They broke my heart by telling me no Gatorade was left in the car, but rushed to get some for me... they gave me hope. At the "one mile to go" marker, my love showed up. I hugged him and I cried. It was the lowest of points. I put my sunglasses back on to cover the tears and jogged the rest of the way. I finished. I was pissed. That was hard. 

Finishing "strong" (Check out the face of pain)
It took a while for this girl to give away free smiles...
Finishing my last leg only meant one thing. 8 miles to go. Mr. Weirdo was the one bringing the team to the finish. We met him half way, got him some water and went over to Teton Village. HOLY COW?!? Is this true? Did we seriously just run from Logan, Utah, through rural Idaho and all the way up to Jackson Hole, Wyoming? While waiting for the rest of the team to show up I decided to go talk to the announcer and ask him if any other ultra teams had finished. He said no. We were the last ultra team to start, so this meant we passed them all and we were still finishing in front of them. Mr. Weirdo showed up. We stumbled across the finish line and they announced loud and clear we won the ultra division. We won. 

We are #1
The stomachache, the pain, the heat, the toughness of it all just went away. We won. Smiles were back and it was time to celebrate and sleep. 

Tired runners
We enjoyed some beer at the finish line area and headed back to our hotel. Unlike other relays, we just didn't have it in us to go "all out" and party, but we did have steak dinner all together. A big hearty meal with manhattans, bloody mary's beers. We attempted to dance some at the Cowboy Bar, but we were slowly fading. We decided to just go to sleep, in the end, we deserved it more than anyone else. 

Tired runners post gigantic meals
Today, all I have left is countless memories, stories and a new friend/running buddy (no, not Mr. Weirdo). It was quite the experience and I think it made all of us slightly tougher. I shared 32 hours in a car with some seriously bad ass runners. If you ever get to meet them, you'll see what I'm talking about. They're truly inspiring. Will I do it again?  Not sure, but probably yes. Will I change our strategy? Not sure, but probably yes. Funny enough, I chatted with a few other ultra teams and they all had different strategies, which they all sounded much better than ours, but in the end we won. Was it strategy? Maybe, but mostly, I think I had some amazing runners in my team and changing our strategy will only makes us faster and even harder to beat.  Until next time, EPIC Relays... I (we?) will be back. 

Email from EPIC Relays announcing the winner