Friday, October 3, 2014

showing up

In January I got an out-of-the-blue email from Jamil Coury asking me to join his new Run Steep Get High Mountain Running Team, with the focus of competing in the inaugural US Skyrunner Series. I said sure and decided to give both the Sky plus Vertical Kilometer distances a whirl. In the ensuing months I developed a decent fitness base, as well as a foot issue.

Since the end of June, plantar fasciitis has precluded me training the way I envisioned. However, it was my goal to do every race in the series (in the midst of completing our local Run Flagstaff Summer Series), so I resolved to do so, even if it meant being less competitive. I decided to show up.

July 19th brought me to Silverton for the 37th annual Kendall Mountain Run, hosted by Aravaipa Running (co-race directors Nick and Jamil Coury). The 12.05 mile race course took us from 9,291’ up to 13,023' (a solid 3,853' of climbing), with a scramble the last quarter mile or so, before descending the same route back to town. If it's any indication of the caliber of athletes who showed up for this series kickoff, Erica Baron (five-time Pikes Peak Marathon champ) came in 3rd. I hung on for 4th.  I was pretty humbled by the experience (the rough terrain was not what I imagined!) and questioned whether I was cut out for this (thanks again Claire Lears, for the post-race encouragement).

Happy to win my age division after Erica got bumped out for being in the top three overall
A week later, I was back in Colorado, this time driving 650 miles to Copper Mountain for the first-ever La Maratona Verticale Marathon (car camping at Arches National Park along the way). I iced my foot as I drove, popping ibuprofen. Pulling into Copper and seeing TransRockies Run-esque mountains got me excited, as did a banner strung across the road leading to the the race, hints of what would be a top-notch event put on by Bad to the Bone Endurance Sports. Pre-dawn on race morning, amidst the pillar torches of Burning Stones Plaza, I got my first glimpse of Stevie Kremer, who was offering gracious smiles even at that hour. What a stellar human being that girl is! So fun to finally meet her. We spent the rest of the morning on gorgeous single track and roads way up high.

Trying to keep pace with Stevie's pep (photo courtesy of Ryan Krisch)
Our "marathon" turned out to be 28.78 miles with 5,635 feet of elevation gain (beginning at 9,762' and going up to 12,435’ twice, before heading back up to an 11,852’saddle). Trading glances with a playful marmot near Copper Summit helped to keep things light when fatigue set in.

One of two Saturday trips to Copper Summit (thanks to Drew at Vertical Runner of Breckenridge for this photo)
Stevie had intended to run the half but switched to the full en route...we yelled out encouragement to one another at nearly every juncture where out and back sections converged.  I'll take second to Stevie any day!

Stevie had a bachelorette party in Vail to tend to (hence her absence in this picture)
After hanging out largely by myself in Silverton, I had the good sense to invite Rachel over from Denver to keep me company between races.

Post-race R & R is the best
The next day brought the hardest double of my life, wherein we headed back up to Copper Summit for the Vertical Kilometer (this time from 10,692’) via a more direct route that took us straight up a boulder field.  My legs were cashed, foot protesting, and I had nothing in the tank. However, it felt short compared to the prior day, so there's always a bright side.

Thank you Ryan Krisch for sharing your photos!
It was a great sense of accomplishment to get through the 1,712’ of climbing over 3.04 miles, therein reaching Copper Summit for the third time in 24 hours. What a feeling, to finally be able to relax and take in the view with such awesome people at the top. I came in second again, this time to Shawnie Mulligan, a mountain biker-turned-runner who had raced on fresh legs.

Vertical Runner of Breckenridge provided phenomenal support! (and pics!)
My wish for Gill (J. Russell Gill III), the race director, and his lovely Francesca is that word gets out about this amazing event. They pulled out all the stops for just a small group of us. These physical tests gave me a new appreciation for their motto, DISCOVER YOUR NEW NORMAL, as these were easily right up there with the most gorgeous and challenging courses I have ever done.

Summertime in Leadville is even better with Finnley Ann
I was very grateful to have friends in Leadville and Salida, where I recharged before the long (albeit beautiful) slog home.
Post-hot tub view from my friend Annie's deck after the Vertical K
August brought lots of trail races, as our local summer series crescendoed. This is when I went into the mode of just trying to recover between each, with just a semblance of my training earlier in the year. With a full-time job in the mix, I found it easy to neglect the stretching and strengthening that always proves beneficial. The weekend after the La Maratona events there was 10k in Flag, followed by a half marathon the Saturday after that, a weekend off, then a rugged15k. That last one really exacerbated my heel pain. I started getting reaquainted with the Wall Acquatic Center at the end of August, with lots of visits to HYPO2 High Performance Sport Center for both manual and laser treatments. Three weeks later I flew to Montana for the first-ever Lone Peak Vertical Kilometer, which took place at Big Sky on a mid-September Friday morning, as part of The Rut.

It was a L-O-N-G way up (photo thanks to Pete Beck)
This was just a day before the Skyrunner World Series Ultra Final, so there was lots of excitement in the air and an all-star cast out on the course cheering us on (such as Ellie Greenwood retrieving our drop bags containing warm gear at the top). Temperatures had dropped to the teens the night before, making for a chilly start. The course took us from 7,535’ to 11,148’, for 3,569' of climbing over 3.26 miles. I was tucked in just behind the lead women till we reached the shale of Bonecrusher Ridge. I simply didn’t know what to do on this terrain and began hiking (which I still found to be quite difficult). I was glad to find a hand rope plus other things to grab onto higher up, along Alto Ridge.

You'd be smiling too if you were almost done...I can't remember a more wobbly homestretch
I ended up 22" behind second place, someone named Nicole whom I had traded places with a couple of times early in the race (lots of people had been cheering for her out on the course, so I knew her name). When I congratulated her I discovered she was Nicole Hunt! Awesome. First place was Stéphanie Jiménez (an Andorran mountain runner who runs internationally for Salomon). 

A welcome sight!
While I had raced for third, this event was done in waves five minutes apart (due to the number of entrants), and it turns out Michela Adrian (an accomplished local) ran in Wave Two but had the second-fastest women's time of the day, bumping me to fourth. However, all contenders were asked to race in Wave One, so the race directors (Mike Foote and Mike Wolfe) extended prize money to me as well (a nice surprise), in the true spirit of racing against one's competition (since this wasn't possible because we had been in different waves). The Montana Mikes put on quite an extraordinary event and it was super-fun to reunite with a bunch of my former Salomon teammates.
Honored to be in the company of such decorated runners (google Nicole!)
My dad and stepmom live less than an hour away in Bozeman, so they had gotten up super-early to take me to the race (their first-ever trail race!) and later we headed further down the road so I could see Yellowstone for the first time.

It's ideal when your family brings you to Old Faithful post-race
This buffalo was making a statement about time and the silliness of it all
My foot was still really bugging me when I got home, so the following Monday I got a couple of x-rays, to rule out anything that would preclude me from completing the series. Nothing in the imaging indicated a stress fracture (yay!). I flew to Seattle that weekend and stayed with Peace Corps friends before driving down to Crystal Mountain, with a jaunt on the Wonderland Trail as my shakeout run (oooh, my foot was sore but I didn't want to miss out!). 
First visit to Mt. Rainier National Park did not disappoint
The Crystal Mountain Sky Marathon was the hardest yet, covering 25.5 miles with 8,042' of climbing. Prior to arriving, I mistakenly thought the relatively low elevation, of 2,742’ to 6,766’ would be easy in comparison to the other events in this series; then again, I hadn't yet met Scott McCoubrey, the race director, who explained at our pre-race meeting that we were his guinea Ppigs. I'm glad I didn't know what was in store before this one began.

So focused on reaching the top that I didn't notice Mt. Rainier till I was running back in the opposite direction after picking up my pack at the nearby aid station, when another runner called out, "Don't forget to the look at the mountain!"
Let's just say Scott meant what he said when he mentioned several times that he "created trail where there was none, where only the animals go."

Photographer Glenn Tachiyama graciously offered up his photographic magic
Each race has been so unique. This one brought us through alpine meadows and old growth forest, alongside Mt. Rainier, to a pristine lake, and so much more. 

Earlier-on, an extended stretch in the deep forest (miles) was every bit as steep - here we could at least see the end
Oh man, it was taking so long to reach the top...
It was a treat to see the Douglas Firs, other trees, and scenery unlike where I live. Another highlight was the couple perched atop our last climb, where the Pacific Crest Trail comes in, cheering us on while smoke wafted from their huge, curved pipe. Scott McCoubrey and his outgoing wife Leslie graciously offered up their family lodge to a bunch of us. I enjoyed sharing a beer with Jodee Adams-Moore (didn't mind coming in 2nd to her, either) and meeting so many wonderful persons both before and after the race (who I could go on and on about!).

Each race has its own flair
When I reflect back, the inaugural US Skyrunning Series with its people and inspiring locales, stands out brightly. I am so impressed by the nature of these down-to-Earth folks and the incredible races they've created. When the year started, I anticipated new experiences but had no idea the fresh perspective I'd also gain, in expanding my own horizons. It's interesting to me that despite my progressively deteriorating training regimen, I got so much out of these races and have been able to appreciate trails in a way I haven't in a long time (there is always a silver lining to being injured). I know that race hopping, aiming to just recover between each, is not ideal, especially when one's body is sending signals that something's askew. While this is not how I like to approach running (and certainly not racing), I feel such satisfaction from having taken advantage of these opportunities, of being part of the first year of this series stateside (apparently this type of running is really popular in Europe), and for staying on the path toward reaching my goal.

Goodbye summer
Another two weeks have passed. I'm on the cusp of the US Skyrunner Series finale right here in Flagstaff. Typically this would be a dream-come-true, to race on my home trails; however, I will be happy just to be out there, experiencing fall with a new appreciation for being able to be on these trails I haven't seen in a while. I only ran 70.5 land miles the entire month of September, in addition to eight pool runs since late August. I don't know what will happen tomorrow, or on Sunday (two races remain for me), but I will be out there.

I wouldn't be able to participate at all if it weren't for Dr. Kym Wilkens of Wilkens Sports Chiropractic, Active Release Techniques, and Graston who has been helping me sort out bunched up muscles, Monica Coplea for healing massage therapy, my core team of Drs. AJ and Wes Gregg at HYPO2 who have kept me running year-round despite injuries, and my wonderful supervisor Joanne Keene who believes in an active lifestyle and taking time off to pursue one's passions.

Here's to adventure.  Perhaps I'll see you at these sensational events next year, or even this weekend at our Flagstaff finale. I love how we never know what a day will bring, what a race will be like, who will wander into our lives, or what a season will reveal.

How great that all we have to do is show up.

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Live the way you run. Run happy.

Live the way you run. Run happy.
Thanks to Kevin Riley at Action in Solitude for this Buffalo Park (Flagstaff, Arizona) photo