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Mastering the Trails

Running Past 40

Trail Therapy – The Adrenaline 10k Race Recap

Not a day goes by where I’m not physically in pain. And while it is not something that I talk about much, my Fibromyalgia is a daily struggle and greatly limits how I can train and what I can do. But I know from experience that most of us have something that we struggle with- be it physical, mental or emotional pain. And running can be a lifeline. Truly, the mental health benefits of a great trail run are immeasurable.

Last year before Aravaipa Running’s Adrenaline night race, I’d recently received word that my mother had Breast Cancer. On top of my father having Rheumatoid Arthritis, Leukemia, and Lymphoma, this was just too much. And so, I wore black for the race. Not Breast Cancer pink. Black. And while both of my parents are doing really well right now, and have recently moved to Arizona to live nearer to us, I still chose to wear black last night to remember their constant fights, and to remind myself that we are all fighting something.

During last year’s Adrenaline 10k race, I ran my heart out. But, during an early uphill section of single track, I got stuck in the single-track train, and was unable to finish under an hour, which was my goal time. 1:00:03 would haunt me for a year. This year, I was going for a 4 second PR and nothing was going to stop me.

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Hanging with the AZTraiLeggers at the start of the race

A recent face plant on the trails had left me with a stiff and sore knee, and I was still battling that dang hamstring. So, I knew I had my work cut out for me.

Determined to avoid the single-track train, I went out fast, probably too fast. But, I was able to run the uphill section at my own pace. And, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that for the first time in 2 months, I was running completely pain free. Honestly, I think the fall jostled my hamstring into submission.

On I pushed up the relentless climbs: and the more I suffered, the more I thought about Cancer, and how much I hate that word. And how amazing it is to be able to run, and run pain free at that.

Because of my recent fall, I knew that I was being overly cautious on the downhill. But, I really did not want a repeat of last week. So, I took my time coming down the mountain while trying to maintain a good pace, hoping that I could make up the time on the flats.

Once I hit the bottom of the mountain, I had 3 miles of relatively flat, un-technical trail. And, I would need to stay in a sprint for the rest of the race in order to hit my time goal and PR. And so I went, jumping over baby snakes and kangaroo rats that were startled by my headlamp, and forcing myself to go as fast as possible without puking.

Finally, the finish line was in sight. And with one glance down at my watch, I realized that I would need all all-out final burst to make it. With a loud yell, I pushed up the hill, came around the corner and glanced at the clock. Seconds to spare, I lunged across the finish like a track star trying to edge out the competition. Had I made it? The timer said I was two seconds over, but I would need to wait for the timing system to refresh to see what my chip said. And finally it was in- 59:58. I had made it with 1 second to spare. I had gone out for a 4 second PR and achieved a 5 second PR. Amazing that a 10k trail race can come down to one or two seconds. But for me, it certainly did.

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Celebrating at the finish line- all in black

I have no idea how I will improve on last night’s race. But I’ll be back next year to try. And I’ll be wearing all black.

Running on the trails has given me a wonderful release from my pain. And the friendships that I have developed along the way have been incredible. Trail Therapy sessions with my buddies are some of the highlights of my week. And I can’t wait to get back out there again. I hope that each of you is able to find some relief from whatever you face on a daily basis. Finding great friends to share miles of trails with can make all the difference.

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In the Adrenaline 10k Trail Race, 203 people started, 130 women ran, I finished 9th Place Female.

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Enjoying my custom acai bowl from Foxy Fruit Bowls and Smoothies- Good Eats

***Special thanks to all of my wonderful sponsors: Aravaipa Running, for putting on a great race; Squirrel’s Nut Butter, for keeping me chafe free, or healing me when I stupidly forget to lube my legs; Honey Stinger, for keeping me fueled; Acel Compression, for keeping my legs, feet and calves healthy; and SolRx Sunscreen, for protecting my skin in the brutal sun while I train. And to my husband, son, and parents, for being a constant support and sounding board for all of my crazy running adventures.

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free or at a discount. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

 

The Sinister 9km Race Recap

What you do in the hours prior to even starting you race, can make or break it. And I’m not talking about training here, but nutrition. I was reminded of this during a pre-race discussion with two amazing ultrarunners- both of whom had visited the ER after races (as I have). They said that it was not what they did during the race, but what they failed to do the day before that lead to that ending. Hydration and nutrition are so very important in race preparations, and fortunately, this weekend, I got it right.

The week leading up to the Aravaipa Running Sinister 9k race for me was filled with two PT appointments where I was dry needled, massaged, and electrocuted. Well, mild electricity. And, I knew that despite being cleared to race, I was far from 100%. I also knew that if I didn’t pull on the reins during my race, I might be done for the entire summer.

All of this started a week before the Mesquite Canyon 30k. I’m usually pretty good about listening to my body, but a last minute pre-race push after that little gluten incident (we won’t mention that again), lead to a dumb decision to run 4 days back to back. A hamstring and adductor strain would be my punishment for not being smart about my training. A month later, I was still hurting. And so, I decided to see a Physical Therapist in the week before Sinister.

In the days leading up to this race, I really just wanted to be able to run it and have fun. Sinister was my first ever night race and it has been a favorite ever since. Held in the San Tan Mountains, this was also my farthest “local” race, but it is well worth the drive.

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Pre-race chia seed pudding

I did a good job of hydrating well in the days before the race was to start. My pre-race hydration and nutrition begins on Thursday for a Saturday night race and I tried to eat healthy and keep a water bottle with me at all times. But, I think the true secret to Saturday night’s showing for me was the chia seed pudding lunch I had hours earlier. A simple recipe, one part chia seeds to two parts coconut milk. Place this in a mason jar, shake it up, and let it sit overnight in the fridge. When you are ready, you can add honey, protein powder, cacao nibs, anything really.

This pre-race meal gave me a ton of energy last night and will be my new go-to fueling on race day now that the summer night series has begun. I will run most of my races at 8pm in the dark, until November. But, as a night out, I love it- and these are my favorite events of the year.

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At the start of the Sinister 9k- 2017

So finally, I’ll get to the race. After a brief jog out on the course to warm up (I did promise my PT I would do this), I lined up with the 200+ other runners on a nice, mild evening in the mid 70s with a slight breeze. With a group this large, I knew I would want to try to go out a bit fast to avoid any traffic jams. But, I also knew that I would need to watch my leg and not make things worse.

And for the first time ever in a race, I didn’t look at my watch once during the entire event. I raced based on how I was feeling; Keep it in 5th gear, don’t go into overdrive. Pull on those reins, don’t blow the whole summer race series tonight. And whatever you do, do not walk, especially on that big final hill. Walking it would have been more efficient at this point, but I knew that my hamstring would not approve. And despite the ever-nagging pain, and that it was pretty angry at me by the end, I was running again, and most importantly, I was having fun.

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Having fun and happy to be racing again. PC: Aravaipa Running

And so finally, 9km later, as I approached the finish line, I could finally see my time on the big screen. And I realized that I had just finished a race without damaging my leg more, while having a great time, and still while finishing within 5 seconds of last year’s time.

The Sinister 9k was over. 205 people raced, I went up against 129 women, and I finished in 12th place, just 5 seconds slower than last year in 57:18.

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My post-race pitaya bowl from Foxy Fruit- So excited that they will be at all of the races this summer!

***Special thanks to all of my wonderful sponsors: Aravaipa Running, for putting on a great race; Squirrel’s Nut Butter, for keeping me chafe free; Honey Stinger, for keeping me fueled; Acel Compression, for keeping my legs, feet and calves healthy; and SolRx Sunscreen, for protecting my skin in the brutal sun while I train. And to my husband, son, and parents, for being a constant support and sounding board for all of my crazy running adventures.

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free or at a discount. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Cool new finishers swag bottles

 

Mesquite Canyon 30k – Take Two

This morning was the Mesquite Canyon 30k race at the White Tank Mountains in Waddell, AZ. Folks that have run this race, know that the warning given on the race website that says, “This is a very tough, rocky, mountainous trail run!”, is no exaggeration. And with a sudden shift in temperatures in the last week to soaring heat, and a forecast for 94 on race day, this was going to be another doozy.

Though I live and train in the Arizona desert, it usually takes at least 2 weeks to heat acclimate to the increasing temperatures and build up extra hemoglobin reserves to help combat the heat. But there was no time for that this year. Fortunately, the good people at Aravaipa Running, decided to up the start times. Mine shifted from 8am to 6:45am. Even with this wonderful change, I knew that today would really challenge me.

I’ve been fortunate to have some time over the past month to spend training on the course. And even got a chance to run the full 30k loop a few weeks prior to the race. It was much cooler that day, but re-familiarizing myself with the course was extremely helpful. And so, bright and early, we headed off onto the course.

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During my training run- right before the first aid station. PC: Jon Christley

The first 5 miles are relatively flat and untechnical, nice rolling hills. I did my best to reign myself in knowing what was to come. Still, I arrived at the first aid station manned by Squirrel’s Nut Butter, almost exactly on last year’s pace. As I headed out of that aid station and started the slow climb up Goat Camp, my hamstring reminded me that I had strained it last week, and it was still mad. Not wanting to completely wreck my summer racing plans, I shifted between wanting to push the pace, and not wanting to destroy my leg in the process.

With the soaring heat, this climb up Goat camp was by far my worst ever. Despite all of my training, I was working much harder just to keep a steady rhythm and my lungs weren’t happy. Fortunately, I’d packed my inhaler and was able to continue on after a few puffs.

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One of the smoother sections of the course

I’ll be honest, like childbirth, I think I blocked a lot of the Goat Camp climb out today because it is all a bit of a haze. And fortunately, it was over relatively soon and I could focus on not falling  on the rocky descent down the back side of Goat and Mesquite. I was completely alone most of this time, except for the occasional passing in the opposite direction by 50k and 50 mile runners. Also fortunately, my hamstring stopped yelling at me and I was able to settle into a nice rhythm, soon tucking in behind another runner and hanging at a comfortable pace for a few miles. I’d run out of water during the 9.3 mile gap between aid stations, and my stomach was starting to complain.

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Beautiful views await those that climb Goat Camp

But, we made it into the aid station, filled up on the wonderful water that had been carted up to this remote spot, and headed back out. Before I knew it, we were nearing the bottom of the mountain and I knew it was time for me to pick up the pace if I wanted to finish in under 4 hours again.

Those last two miles in the full sun exposure were the worst! At this point, I was just hoping to avoid losing the Honey Stinger gels I had managed to consume and finish under my goal time. And I did.  I was super consistent, finishing with exactly the same finish time as last year, to the minute. 18 miles of brutal trail running in soaring heat completed in 3:56. And one super tough race that I was glad to be done with.

As this race was the final event in the Desert Trail Series, I’ll find out soon where I land in the Masters podium mix and will post an update below. Thank you to everyone for your continued support and encouragement! I am so thankful for the great family and friends that make this sport so enjoyable!

***Update: I did achieve my series goal of becoming the first place Masters female for the Trail Series and will receive my podium award in a few weeks.

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So happy to finally be done!

***Special thanks to all of my wonderful sponsors: Aravaipa Running, for putting on a great race and moving up the start times to keep us save; Squirrel’s Nut Butter, for keeping me chafe free; Honey Stinger, for keeping me fueled; Acel Compression, for keeping my legs, feet and calves healthy; and SolRx Sunscreen, for protecting my skin in the brutal sun today. And to my husband, son, and parents, for being a constant support and sounding board for all of my crazy running adventures.

 

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free or at a discount. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

 

The San Tan Scramble 26k

With my last two races not going quite as planned, I was hoping for a breakout race where everything lined up perfectly and my recent shift in running longer distances and adding extra strength training, would be reflected. But, with nausea kicking in at just 3 miles, this was a race that almost wasn’t…

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A beautiful start to the day

The San Tan Scramble 26k started at a brisk 42 degrees. Fortunately, there was no wind to speak of. With gorgeous views and ideal conditions, I was hoping for a great race. But a rough week of work and life meant I was more tired going in than I had hoped for. Still, with several extra long training runs on the Black Canyon Trail with fellow friends training for Aravaipa Running’s BCT 100, I had more training under my belt than ever before.

Training during the winter is particularly difficult for me with my fibromyalgia as the cold makes things worse. But a recent shift in my diet to more plant-based, and extra post-run care of my body meant that I was ready for this race.

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Ready to begin the race

Feeling good at the start and wanting a PR from the previous year’s 3:18, I was pushing the pace up the slow steady incline during the first few miles. But a long week and overall fatigue meant this was too much at this point. Nausea kicked in at just 3 miles and I seriously considered just turning around for a DNF. But a few walk breaks and an extra Honey Stinger gel helped settle things and I pulled back my pace for a few miles until I hit my sweet spot. For some reason- around mile 6 of every race, I start to get my legs under me and feel like my race has finally begun. And this is why short races are so difficult for me…

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I continued to try to bank extra time knowing that the dreaded Goldmine was ahead at mile 8; a brutal climb that decimated my legs last year. This year, Goldmine was all mental for me as I started talking out loud to psych myself up to push through the pain and just get it done. My fellow runners probably heard things like “suck it up”, “not today”, and “this is my house!”.

And though my legs were toast at the top, I was still able to resume running and finish the last 2 miles of that first loop. Coming into the start/finish line to refill my bottles and head back out, I was 10 minutes ahead of last year’s loop 1 time. But, losing 3 minutes at the porta potty would end up being a big mistake here.

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Gorgeous views of the San Tan mountains

Knowing that loop 2 last year was when the wheels came off the bus, I tried to keep a conservative pace the first 3 miles. But constant glances at my watch, and knowing that I really wanted to get a sub 3-hour time, meant that I was going to need to make a move.  With 3 miles to go, I pounded some Honey Stinger chews and picked up the pace.

After 2 miles of 90% effort, I came upon my friend, Raul. I told him I was trying to sub-3 hours the race, and with a quick glance at his watch, he said it would be tight. As he started to sprint for the last mile, I struggled to keep up with him. Huffing and puffing, it was all I could do to hang onto his 7-8 minute pace.

But finally, we saw the finish line ahead. I could see that I was just seconds off from that sub-3 hour goal time. 21 seconds to be exact. But, I had set an 18-minute PR, and I just couldn’t be disappointed in that. Next year though, that sub 3-hour will be mine!

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Pickle juice in hand after the race

And as a final addendum, 3 miles of full-out effort at the end of the race lead to immediate calf cramping once I finished. My Acel compression socks had kept any discomfort at bay while I raced, but there was only so much they could do when my body desperately needed salt. Patty came to my rescue with a cup of Pickle Juice and after downing that, and a few pickles, I was all good again.

So, after feeling like I have turned a corner in my training and racing, I’m looking forward to what the future holds and to sharing my adventures with you. Thank you to everyone for your amazing support and encouragement. I could not do any of this without you!

 

 

***Special thanks to all of my wonderful sponsors: Aravaipa Running, for putting on yet another amazing race; Squirrel’s Nut Butter, for keeping me chafe free; Honey Stinger, for keeping me fueled; Acel Compression, for keeping my legs, feet and calves healthy; and SolRx Sunscreen, for protecting my skin in this brutal sun. And to my husband, son, and parents, for being a constant support and sounding board for all of my crazy running talk.

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free or at a discount. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

McDowell Mountain Frenzy 25k

I knew this race was gonna hurt. And it most definitely did. But it was also gorgeous and exhilarating and amazing.

When my alarm went off at 5am and I could hear the wind rattling the window of our house, I knew that my asthma might become an issue. What with the recent change in temperature over the last week moving us from blazing heat to freezing cold. At least freezing cold for us in Arizona.

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Freezing before the start

And so, I, along with the 150 or so other 25km racers at the McDowell Mountain Frenzy by Aravaipa Running, huddled around the portable heaters and fire pits while waiting for the race to begin. After the start, which is filled with rolling hills and a little bit of climbing, my lungs began to burn immediately. Lack of proper oxygen lead to my abs cramping, forcing me to slow down from the start. It took almost 6 miles before I got my legs under me.

Around mile 6, I started to feel better and began to cruise. Trying to enjoy the beauty around me without taking a header on a wayward rock. Twisting and turning, climbing and descending, I continued on the first loop of the course, the 10 mile loop. But, my asthma would continue to rear its ugly head from time to time and I found that speeding up was a challenge, and stopping would be worse. So I plugged along, hydrating as much as possible because dehydration is an even bigger trigger for asthma.

 

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Waiting for the start of the race

As I neared the start/finish line, knowing that I still had a tough 5 mile loop to go, I started to wish I’d signed up for the 10 mile race. But there was no way I was quitting. So after a quick refill of my handhelds with water, I headed back out for the final 5 miles.

I knew that my A goal time was out of the picture at this point, but my B goal was still very doable. But, it meant pushing harder than my body wanted to at that point. And, as my ultrarunner friends definitely know, as long as you aren’t ignoring signs of injury or other issues, sometimes you just need to tell your body to be quiet, and get it done. That’s what the final loop was for me today, sucking it up, pushing through, and realizing that I can do a lot more than I think I can.

After a few final cruel climbs, the end was in sight and I was ready to call it a day and go eat my post-race quesadilla. With a final push and a loud yell, I crossed the finish line of arguably, one of my toughest mental races yet – Exhausted and happy, finishing under my B goal time. 25km done, 2 hours and 56 minutes.

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Absolutely exhausted, but still smiling

***Special thanks to all of my wonderful sponsors: Aravaipa Running, for putting on yet another amazing race; Squirrel’s Nut Butter, for keeping me chafe free; Honey Stinger, for keeping me fueled; Acel Compression, for keeping my legs, feet and calves healthy; and SolRx Sunscreen, for protecting my skin in this brutal sun. And to my husband and son- thank you for always supporting me in everything I do and my parents, for listening to me talk for hours on end about this crazy sport that I love so much.

 

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free or at a discount. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

Pass Mountain 25km Race Recap

After weeks of colds, the flu and other craziness, I was anxious to race the Pass Mountain 25km race on Saturday. This is the second race in the Desert Trail Runner series with Aravaipa Running, but my first this year due to illness. And after tweaking my neck earlier in the week, trying muscle relaxers for the first time, spending the night throwing up said muscle relaxers, and only one day of proper fueling, I knew that it might be a rough day.

And a challenge it was. But after months of racing in the dark to escape the summer heat, this was my first daytime race in a while, and the weather was perfect for a gorgeous race with highs in the low 80s.

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Watching the sunrise at the start of the Pass Mountain 25k

With this race, the real work doesn’t begin until about 9 miles in when you begin your climb. This meant that keeping a reserve over the first half of the race would be key. And so, thanks to some advice from a friend who has run Pass Mountain several times, I kept my speed in check during the first 6 miles or so, feeling great at this point.

But after the first hour mark, my energy really started to lag as I was reminded about my poor fueling during the days before the race. So I accelerated my mid-race fueling and increased the pace of my Honey Stinger gels, hoping that my stomach wouldn’t rebel on me. Fortunately, it didn’t, and though it took about 10 miles and 3 gels, I finally got my legs under me- right as I was making the huge climb. Rocky and technical, this mountain was nowhere near runnable for me at this point. So I spent several miles hiking as fast as possible and conserving my fluid for later in the race. There may have been some muttering at this point as well.

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Gorgeous views at Usery Park

This was the first long daytime race where I decided to run without a hydration pack and only use handhelds. But no aid during the final 8 miles of the course would make this a challenge. Still, I discovered that I really need a lot less water than I ever thought. And, for the first time in a long race, I had absolutely no stomach issues. Avoiding sugar, fruit, alcohol, caffeine and dairy in the days prior to the race seemed to be working.

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Once I hit the top of the mountain, I had hoped to begin cruising on the descent to make up some lost time. But rocky single track with sharp drops that would be really, really bad if I caught a toe, slowed me down. It wasn’t until the final 2 miles that I was able to open things up again and cruised into the finish line with a final time of 3:11 and 15.55 miles run. Not what I had hoped to do, but given the week leading up to this, I was thrilled to be done and have a solid start to my racing series with Aravaipa Running.

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Finish of the Pass Mountain 25k trail race. Photo Credit- Aravaipa Running

Key learnings from this week: My race begins 3,4, even 5 days before the actual start. How I fuel in the days prior and how I hydrate makes all of the difference. I don’t tolerate fruit before long runs. But everyone is different. The key is to figure out what works best for your body.

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Post-Race with soda and quesadilla in hand.

 

***Special thanks to all of my wonderful sponsors: Aravaipa Running, for putting on an amazing race, as usual; Squirrel’s Nut Butter, for keeping me chafe free; Honey Stinger, for keeping me fueled; Acel Compression, for keeping my legs, feet and calves healthy; and SolRx Sunscreen, for protecting my skin in this brutal sun. And to my husband and son- thank you for always supporting me in everything I do and for my hubby, spending his Saturday cleaning the house for his own birthday party. Happy Birthday my love!

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Always the best races from start to finish

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free or at a discount. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

 

The Javelina Jangover…25k

Running should be fun, right? Sure, there are days when we don’t feel like getting up at 3am to beat the heat on that early morning trail run. But for the most part, we run because we love it. The same is true of racing. So when I neared the Javelina Jangover 7k night trail race, and just wasn’t looking forward to it, I knew I had to make a change.

Maybe it was the heat, forecasted to be 106 that day. Or maybe it was the 13+ mile race up Pikes Peak that gave me a taste of that mid-distance trail again. And I missed it. So with only the 13 miles at Pikes, and a 16-mile road (ugh) relay that ballooned due to a last minute drop, I decided to jump into the 25km race at Jangover with almost no distance training under my belt. I was hoping my body wouldn’t punish me too badly.

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Wait, this isn’t a 7k bib!

While not quite 106 that day, it was nearly 100 degrees and I knew that heat would be a huge factor in the Javalina Jangover races (held on some of the same trails as the Javelina Jundred- both 100k and 100 mile races held in late October where I pace and crew each year). So I hydrated like never before prior to the race. And, I ate, a lot. Starting Thursday night. I ate as much as I wanted, whenever I wanted, including two lunches on race day. Then I stopped eating about 6 hours prior to the 8pm race. Just a granola bar and bread with peanut butter would need to tide me over until my pre-race gel. There was no way I was making the eating-too-close-to-the-race mistake again.

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And so, with more pre-race excitement than I had seen in a long time, I toed the line, ready to see what my body would give me that night. I went out conservatively, knowing that the first half of the course was a slow uphill climb. Ready with my full pack of water to tackle the 8.5 miles until the only aid station on the route. I had an A, B and C goal in mind. With C being just to finish without ending up in the ER. By about mile 4, despite my hydration efforts, mild nausea set in and my hip flexors were already angry at me. But I kept trudging on and noticed, amazingly, that I was on pace for my B goal, maybe even my A goal.

It’s amazing to me that you can be racing with 120 other people, and go 30 minutes without seeing a single soul. But that’s how the middle section of this race went. And that meant I was on high snake alert. I knew they were out there- the McDowell Mountain trails are full of them. But fortunately, they stayed hidden for me that night.

Coming out of the aid station after filling my bladder and chewing some candied ginger, I was feeling pretty good due to the shift to a long, slow downhill for the second half of the course. If I needed a walking break, I walked. But only for a short burst, then it was back to work. And while the nausea wouldn’t go away, and neither would the hip flexor and now IT band pain, it was all manageable. You’re nauseous, okay, drink more water. Your hip flexors hurt, take smaller steps. But keep moving!

 

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And finally, those grand lights of the finish line came into view and I knew I had done it. My C goal, my B goal, and within a minute of my A goal time- finishing the 25k race in 2:46. Without the distance training, without my hip strengthening exercises (I really need to resume those clam exercises), but with a huge smile on my face. I was having fun. I was in my happy place again.

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Post race and already working on recovery

***Thank you to my wonderful husband, who always supports me in whatever I am doing. To my beautiful son, who always encourages and cheers on mommy to bring home a trophy. And to my amazing sponsors- Aravaipa Running – who puts on the best trail races, Squirrel’s Nut Butter – who keeps me chafe free, Acel Compression – who helps me recover so I can train harder, and Honey Stinger – who keeps me fueled. And thank you to all of you- for continuing to read and comment on my blog. Your encouragement has been amazing!

*This blog pro­vides gen­eral infor­ma­tion and dis­cus­sion about med­i­cine, health and related sub­jects.  The words and other con­tent pro­vided in this blog, and in any linked mate­ri­als, are not intended and should not be construed as med­ical advice. If the reader or any other person has a med­ical con­cern, he or she should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other health care worker.

 

Conquering Pikes Peak

Twenty-five years ago, I attempted to hike Pikes Peak during a youth camp. I made it 3 miles up the trail before turning around. That decision created a bucket list item that I never believed could be crossed off. I was convinced that my asthma, coupled with my fibromyalgia, would make this dream impossible. I was wrong.

But why just hike a mountain when you can race it – time cutoffs and all? First though, I needed to qualify.  And as a trail runner who doesn’t race on the road this was easier said than done. Trail races don’t usually fall into tidy boxes like “half marathon”. But last spring during a charity race, I qualified without even trying. And there my journey began.

Fast forward to March where I would casually check the Pikes Peak website, only to discover that the race that usually fills in a few hours still had a few ascent spots left, and my fate was sealed.

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And so, I took a break from the Phoenix heat in August and toed the line in Manitou Springs, Colorado, for the Pikes Peak Ascent. A grueling 13.41 mile race ascending 7,814 feet up the rocky Barr Trail.

Years of research on this race told me a very important fact- you cannot go out too slowly on this race. And my trail race qualifying time put me in a later start wave that would ensure that I would keep on track here.

Half jogging, half power walking, we trudged along through the infamous “W’s” in a steady stream of racers. I would watch racers frantically trying to pass here on the narrow single track, knowing that I would see them again soon.

 

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And the spot where I turned around as a 15 year-old camper? I recognized it immediately and loudly cheered for myself as I made it past.  Step by step, drinking water, fueling on my Honey Stinger gels, and holding back the reigns on my pace, I continued on.

Knowing that I would need my inhaler later in the race, I did everything I could to delay using the few precious puffs I was allowed until I truly needed them. So hydration was the name of the game- as dehydration can trigger more asthma problems (along with a slew of other issues). And at this point in the race, I only passed when truly necessary- like when I was behind the guy with GI issues.

The first cutoff was at Barr Camp, 8.6 miles in- and I knew I was well ahead of that time and having no breathing issues, or any other issues for that matter. So I allowed myself to run when the trail permitted. Running at this point after hiking for so long felt amazing. But I knew that the race didn’t really start until A-frame, the 10-mile mark.

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A-frame marked the second cut-off of the day, and as I was still well ahead of this time, I began to relax knowing that there was no turning around at this point, I only needed to continue putting one foot ahead of the other and I would finish!

I also allowed myself to use my inhaler for the first time here as we were nearing tree-line and my lungs were starting to complain a bit; but not nearly as much as I had imagined. Still, these final three miles took up the majority of my ascent time as the air had much less oxygen at this altitude, and running was completely out of the question for me (as well as everyone else around me).

I believe the term for Everest climbers is the “death march”. That point where your body is starving for oxygen and you, along with all of the other climbers, trudge along slowly, marching onward and upward.

To my surprise, I was still able to pass up until that final mile- which was a doozy. I was still feeling relatively well, with no nausea issues, and only a mild headache. The final mile was a horse of a different color though.

16 Golden Stairs- There aren’t really 16 of them, more like 60, and there’s nothing golden about these huge boulder step-ups. What followed was a half hike- half climbing crawl over the last portion of the Barr Trail. Spectators and volunteers littered the side of the mountain and cheered racers on by name as they read our bibs as we passed. At this point, I knew that I would finish and achieve my life-long goal. But, as the emotion would surge, my lungs would tighten, and I had to force it back down until I got within a few yards of the finish line.

When the finish line was in site, there was no choking back the emotion as years of doubt flooded my senses. I had finally done it; I had conquered the mountain. The feeling of relief was incredible. I had learned that I can do so much more than I think I can.  And while physical issues may limit me at times, they can’t stop me.

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As to what is next, I’m just happy to be done. And, I’m happy to get back to focusing on the short distance trail races that I have grown to love. Will I be back next year to do Pikes again? I don’t think so. But, I’ve also learned to never say never again.

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—A very special thank you to my amazing husband for supporting me on this journey and allowing me to achieve this very special dream. To my son, who had to say goodbye to mommy on his 6th birthday so that I could board an airplane to Colorado. And to all of my wonderful sponsors- Squirrel’s Nut Butter, you kept me completely chafe free during difficult conditions. Honey Stinger, you kept me fueled through this arduous race on just 4 gels. Acel Compression, for helping me recover with your great compression socks. And Aravaipa Running, for giving me the qualifying time I needed and going the extra mile to put the results online so I could use it for this race.

*This blog pro­vides gen­eral infor­ma­tion and dis­cus­sion about med­i­cine, health and related sub­jects.  The words and other con­tent pro­vided in this blog, and in any linked mate­ri­als, are not intended and should not be construed as med­ical advice. If the reader or any other person has a med­ical con­cern, he or she should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other health care worker.

Running on the surface of the sun

 

“Do you really train in this?” I get asked this question a lot, being a trail runner living in the middle of the Phoenix desert. And the answer is Yes, Yes I do. Do I run when it is 114 degrees out? I do. But I have also learned over the past 3 summers of heat training just what my body can and can’t do. So let’s talk about heat training.

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Heat training in the White Tanks on the competitive trail loop

But before I talk about what TO DO when training or racing in the heat, let’s flash back two years to the Hypnosis 25km race with Aravaipa Running. I had a great race, felt really strong throughout the run and after. Drove home feeling good, and ended up in the ER later that night. Over the course of the race, I’d consumed about 200 ounces of water plus sodium. My ER diagnosis: dehydration. How is that possible after 200 ounces of water and electrolyte replacement? If you are a heavy sweater like I am (I think we have established this in the past), and you don’t keep pushing the fluids after the race, it is indeed possible.

Fast forward a couple years…What am I doing differently these days? Well, here are a few of my tips and tricks for training and racing during the hottest days of the year:

  • I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a full workup by a qualified medical professional. I get an annual physical, blood work, and over the years, have had my heart thoroughly checked out.
  • Start slowly. I don’t just wake up one morning after having trained indoors all summer and hit the trails in triple digits. During the summer, the first few weeks of heat acclimation is always rough. Give your body time to adjust to the added stress of cooling your body while running. There are lots of scientific articles on the benefits of heat training and how the body adapts physiologically to the added stresses placed on it.
  • Drink, drink, drink. I can’t stress enough how important hydration is. So, I’ll spend a bit longer on this one. Hydrating for a run or race begins in the days prior to the run. I prefer to train at night, even though it is hotter than early morning runs. So, I am hydrating all day long. In fact, I can see a 10 bpm difference in my heart rate on a run where I haven’t hydrated as well as I should. I personally prefer water both pre and during my runs. In this heat, my stomach just doesn’t tolerate electrolyte replacement drinks, and I have tried most of them. But I make sure that I have something on hand for immediately after my run to replace the fluid I’ve lost, and the sodium too. Whether it is your preferred electrolyte drink, sodium capsules, pickle juice, or a salty food, use it! And keep drinking. I’ve mentioned my race rule- I don’t get to go home until I pee. This rule would have saved me an ER visit.
  • Slow down. It’s just not possible to run the same pace in 100 degree weather that you would in 50 degree weather. For longer runs, this may mean adding more walking breaks into the mix to help keep your core temperature down.
  • Cool your core. Wearing breathable fabrics and less clothing so your body can utilize its natural cooling mechanisms is very important. And, ice is your friend here. Rolling up ice in a bandana to tie around your neck, adding ice to the bladder on your hydration pack or in your handhelds, or simply tucking ice in various places can make a huge difference.
  • Use the buddy system. I try to do my longer, hot weather runs with a friend. Suffering it out together is better than going at it alone. But on days when this isn’t possible, I write my route down on the refrigerator for my husband. Should anything happen, he knows where I’ll be. I know that trail and park names like “Tanks”, “Sidewinder”, “Pemberton” mean nothing to him- but if it is written down and I go missing, there’s a huge Facebook group of Trailrunners that will descend on that mountain like a swarm of bees until I’m located.
  • Don’t be afraid to quit. Some days, whether our hydration or eating has been out of whack, our sleep inadequate, or our recent training too intense, we just don’t have it. No training or race is worth our health, or our life. Don’t be afraid to call it a day and head home. There will always be another trail to run or race to conquer.

Hydrate well, stay safe and have fun. I’ll see you on the trails.

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*This blog pro­vides gen­eral infor­ma­tion and dis­cus­sion about med­i­cine, health and related sub­jects.  The words and other con­tent pro­vided in this blog, and in any linked mate­ri­als, are not intended and should not be construed as med­ical advice. If the reader or any other person has a med­ical con­cern, he or she should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other health care worker.

 

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