Friday, November 27, 2009

Sisterly Pride at the Turkey Trot 5mi

I ran the Turkey Trot 5 mile yesterday, which was held at Harper College in Palatine. The course consisted of 2.5 loops on the circle drive around the campus. My younger sister, Cindy, also signed up for the race. She has been running quite a few 5k races recently, and this was going to be her longest race to date. 

Considering all the long and slow running I've been doing this year, I didn't have too high of expectations. I figured I'd be coming in around 45-50 minutes. The weather wasn't very ideal with upper 30's temps, light rain (at least for the first part of the race), and a blustery wind.

I had no concept of pacing so my splits were kinda all over the place, but I did better than expected with a finish time of 45:30. My splits were 8:57, 8:58, 9:28 (yikes), 9:28 (double yikes), and then 8:38 (redemption!). I forgot how uncomfortable the 5mi/8k/10k distance is -- it's short enough that I have to run pretty fast but it's for nearly a whole dang hour. Whew! I had some "ugh, dang, I'm suffering!" moments there...

IMG_2611 copy  
Cindy had a great race and came in under an hour in spite of enduring the blustery conditions and a lingering chest cold. I'm so proud of her!! It was definitely a great way to start off Thanksgiving Day. :-)


Sunday, November 15, 2009

My first 50k!

nfec It's been three weeks since I ran the North Face Endurance Challenge 50k in Wisconsin, but it definitely was an experience to write about -- better late than never! This year has definitely been a different year for me in terms of my training. Training for the TransRockies Run pushed my weekly mileage higher than it has ever been. I really feel that it made me a stronger runner, both physically and mentally. Until this year I wasn't really interested in running farther than the marathon distance. I felt like I needed to be faster at the marathon before I ran farther than that. My marathon PR is 4:17, and my wish is to run sub-4:00 someday! 

But...I have started to really fall in love with trail running and the laid-back nature of trail races. After a couple years of crewing and pacing Brian at trail ultras (Miwok was so amazing!) and becoming more involved with the newly-formed Chicago Ultrarunners Group (CHUG) this year, I had a change of heart. While I was planning my post-TransRockies race schedule, I decided to run the North Face Endurance Challenge 50k. It was held two weeks after the Chicago Marathon, which I ended up running at a relatively easy pace in preparation for the 50k. The marathon was a fun experience, and now I was looking forward to an equally fun but totally different experience at North Face.

Brian and I drove up to Wisconsin the day before, picked up race stuff, and then met up with fellow CHUGs at a nearby Italian restaurant that served some killer giant soaked-in-butter garlic bread. Yum! It was great to chat with everyone and it helped calm my building nerves a little bit. Afterwards, we headed off to the hotel with Paige (who was running the 50 mile) and Geof to start getting stuff ready for the next morning.

After a pretty decent night of sleep, we got up around 6am to get ready for the 8am start. By then Paige and Geof had already left as the 50 mile race started at 6am. It was lightly raining and the temps were in the 30's. Brrr! Luckily the rain did stop while on our way to the race start. We got there around 7am and milled around for a while as other CHUGs showed up -- Deanna was also running the 50k. Several others were there to cheer us on -- Karen, Torey, Jim, Ian. I was freezing and really nervous, but also ready to get going!

Brelly before the start

Me and my awesome cheerleader

A few minutes before the start I turned on my GPS watch which immediately turned back off due to low battery. It must have been on in my bag or something because I had fully charged it the day before. Oops! I put my sports watch back on so that I had a little bit of an idea of elapsed time. This was going to be quite the change from knowing every mile split like I do in road marathons. It's probably good I didn't have it anyway so I didn't run as a "slave to the watch" and instead just run based on how I feel and enjoy the day. My goal was to come in within the 8 hour time cutoff and avoid coming in last. :-) I didn't really have a concept of what I could do, so I didn't want to put too much pressure on myself -- it was my first 50k after all! Crossing the finish line was the main goal.

It was almost time to start and I made the decision to wear my jacket because I was still freezing. I figured that if I didn't want it, I could tie it around my waist and then drop it off with Brian at the first aid station at 6.6 miles. I lined up at the back of the pack and then it was time to go!

Just starting
Time to run 50k!

The first part of the course is about a mile on roads leading to the path. My legs felt good and I took it easy as we entered the trail. Ahhh, the trees were at varying stages of fall colors, so beautiful, and I was glad to be out there. This part of the trail was fairly flat, with some rolling hills here and there. To my surprise, Brian and the rest of the CHUGs were cheering just before mile 2. I was already getting warm with my jacket (as I kinda expected), so I took it off and gave it to Brian.

Here ya go
Here ya go! I don't need no stinkin' jacket! ;-)

Then it was time to run among the beautiful pine trees in the Scuppernong trails. At lot of this part was pretty flat and runnable, and I took it easy and just went with the flow. The trail is wide so I just ran my own pace, not dictated by those ahead or behind me. 

At the first aid station at mile 6.6, I waved hi to Brian, Torey, and Jim again, spent just a few seconds at the aid station, and off I went again. My goal was to avoid spending too much time at the aid stations. I had most of what I needed with me anyway.

At the first aid station, mile 6.6

The miles went by pretty well, I was walking up the hills which were more plentiful in this section, and I was taking it easy. I saw Brian again approaching the next aid station at mile 11.1, he is a great cheerleader. :-)

Past the aid station was a really nice winding single-track trail, some ups and downs here, and I was loving it! Being towards the back of the pack, there wasn't anyone around me, but I didn't mind. It was quite the change from two weeks earlier being in the thick of the crowds at the Chicago Marathon. Then came the prairie section of the course, which was exposed to the brisk wind but luckily offset by the sun that finally decided to come out. I tried to run as much as possible during this part as it was pretty flat. Another reason to keep it up was that I could hear several gun shots and saw a few hunters hunting in this area. I didn't want to be a potential target. At least I wasn't wearing my deer costume, hehe. ;-) Actually, I found out later that they were bird hunting. This was also where some of the trail was pretty wet from recent rains. I was hoping to keep my feet dry as I was able to skirt by some flooded parts of the trail, but my efforts turned out to be futile as there was a larger marsh-like area I couldn't avoid. Ahhh, nice cold water submersion. Luckily after a few minutes my feet warmed up again and any concern about it was gone.

Approaching Wilton aid station, mile 16.4

Ever the loyal spectator, Brian was at the next aid station (16.4). I was over halfway there! I still felt great and a smile was still planted on my face. I didn't know how fast or slow I was going but at this point I knew I would be finishing well within 8 hours. After some more prairie running the course went back into the woods for more horse trails. I think I was slowing down a little and might have had a little low point physically, but knew it would pass. I didn't want to let it affect me otherwise. Then I saw Brian along the course -- he had walked towards me from the aid station, and then we ran together for about a mile or so.

We approached the aid station at mile 21.9, I made a pit stop, and got my hydration pack filled. This was the longest break at the aid station, a couple of minutes. My legs were definitely feeling the mileage but I was still enjoying myself out there. I was past my "low" and ready to take on the last 10 miles. Piece 'o cake! :-) After I left the aid station I had passed the Vibram girl, said hi, nice job, and went on my way until I came upon a junction and wasn't sure where to go. I waited for Vibram girl just so that we could figure it out together. The course was really well marked so I was a little surprised that this part wasn't. Luckily we picked the correct route -- not that it matter as a little bit later we saw that both trails lead back into the main trail. Ah well! 

I saw more people on this part of the trail as some of the 50 milers were starting to pass me. It was fun to give and receive encouragement from them. Then I heard fellow CHUG Tony yell my name, who was doing the 50 mile. It was great to see him doing so well! Then we both saw Brian who was parked at a road the trail crossed. After snapping a picture, Tony ran ahead and I got another kiss from Brian. Those kisses provide a pretty good energy boost during races! :-)

Yep, still smiling with about 8 miles to go

I continued on and had a nice conversation with another runner, Jody, from Kansas. It was her first 50k as well. She was starting to slow a little (or maybe I was speeding up), so we parted ways after saying good luck to each other. In spite of some decent hilly sections, I was doing pretty well and saw from my watch unless something  crazy happened I would be finishing under 7 hours.

Approaching the last aid station
Runnin' to the hug! (mile 27.2)

Pretty soon I spotted the last aid station and ran down the hill to see Brian's open arms (run to the hug!). Mile 27.2! Longest run ever! Feeling great, less than 4 miles to go! I passed through the aid station quickly and was on my way again to the finish. After a couple miles I knew I was on the trail that we started out on, on the way back to the finish. I passed by a couple of people and then once we got back onto the road I picked it up even more. My legs, though tired, still felt strong. I took the final turn into the park area, saw the finish line, took a couple of turns and then arms outstretched, crossed that finish line in 6:39!A new milestone, I am an ultramarathoner! 

Winner of the dorkiest finish line picture EVER... :-)

I received my medal, and then my hug and kiss from Brian, then more hugs from the CHUGs who were cheering everyone in. What a great experience! I love this sport.

After getting some warm clothes on, we cheered on the rest of the CHUG runners. I ate some post-race food and then after that more food was eaten with Geof, Paige, and Tony in town. Then it was time for Brian and me to head home, stopping for DQ on the way (yum!), and then finally, home. A wonderful day, my first 50k finish, sharing it with Brian and the rest of the amazing group of CHUGs. This is the life! :-)

View my 50k photos

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I Heart the Chicago Marathon...#8 = Great!

Chicago Marathon It's been over two weeks since I ran the Chicago Marathon, and I was hoping to write about it before my first 50k at the North Face Endurance Challenge. Oops! Well, that has come and gone (race report is coming soon), and now I figured I'd better write about it before leaving with Brian and the rest of the CHUGS for Javelina Jundred this weekend! For the marathon, I didn't have a PR expectation as it was going to be more of a training run for the 50k, but gosh darn it, I was going to have fun running it. Also, after the TransRockies Run in August, running Chicago this year was going to be somewhat anticlimactic. In reality, it wasn't at all! This would be my 8th time running Chicago (12th marathon overall), and I still love this race, big crowds and all. 

The day before the marathon I started to get a little nervous. Marathons, even training ones, are a pretty big deal to me. I still wanted to do well and have a good run. Perhaps I was feeling some anxiety left from the horrible experience that was Chicago Heatathon 2007, I'm not sure. Anyway, my night of sleep was fitful because of nerves, so when the alarm went off at 4:45am, I was ready to get up and get going. Unfortunately while I was getting ready I started to have stomach issues and nausea so I took some Pepto hoping it would help settle my stomach. This was definitely not normal for me, but I tried to be laid-back about it and hope for the best.

Brian and I left at around 5:15am to go downtown. Brian needed to be at the 4k mark by 6:30am, so we allowed ourselves plenty of time. We got to our usual parking garage and after some good luck kisses we headed off in different directions -- Brian to his course marshal post (he had to hold a 4k marker for the elites as they ran through) and myself toward the start area. With plenty of time before the start and the fact that was barely 30 degrees, I took cover at a local hotel lobby on the way. There was a large group from France in the lobby, it is neat to see all these runners from all over the world that would take a tour of our great city.

After a while I got antsy so I decided to head over to the start. Luckily my stomach was feeling better but I was still a little worried about how whether I would have to make pit stops during the race. I found the 10:00 pace corral area (was hoping to run somewhere in between 10 and 11 minutes per mile) and got in position around 7:00. My toes were freezing and numb and I was regretting the decision not to wear any "throwaway" pants to cover my freezing legs. Ah well, it didn't matter as we got closer to the start because more and more people started coming in and soon we crowded in enough that I was actually pretty warm for the last minutes before the start. I shed my fleece pullover, listened to the national anthem, and then the race started. Not that we moved or anything. :-)

Start line
I finally crossed the start line about 15 minutes later and sent a text to Brian letting him know so that he could estimate when I would be passing through at different points of the course. We headed up Columbus and you could feel the excitement in the chilly air. My toes were still numb but I knew they would be fine after a mile or two. We ran under Randolph with the usual woo hoo's that make me smile. As we approached the river I actually spotted Ian and yelled hi to him as I was passing. I was glad to see him and was hoping I would see others I knew along the course. It's so crowded and bustling, though, so you don't expect to. A short while later I also saw another CHUG, Greg, who was one of the many course marshal volunteers that Ian recruited.

During the first few miles I just went with the flow of runners. It was pretty crowded and I didn't feel the need to weave through the crowd. Before the 4k mark I texted Brian to ask which side he was on but didn't get a response so I looked on both sides of the street to find him but unfortunately missed him in this spot. Oops! I passed by the 5k mark in 33:54 (10:54mpm pace), an easy pace I was hoping to improve upon further in the race. I headed up north through Lincoln Park, enjoying the crowds and bands along the way. I picked up the pace a little, but it was still comfortable. The sun was out and I was really enjoying the race. After passing the 10k mark, a guy yells out, "only 20 miles to go!" which those around us laughed at, shaking our heads. Gotta love those comments. ;-)

Then we headed through Lakeview, one of my favorite spots in the course with its vibrant and spirited spectators and volunteers . I knew one of my co-workers, Jim, would be at the mile 8 water station, so as I approached, I randomly picked the left side to look for him. Shockingly I spotted him and ran over to grab the cup of water he was offering, and yelled "Hey Jim!" He was stunned I was able to find him, "Kelly, go Kelly!" he yelled and I waved goodbye and ran ahead through the rest of the aid station. Now we were heading downtown again. I hear a fellow runner say "this is one of my favorite parts of the race, look at the view!" and I look ahead and see the high-rise buildings and I agree. I work downtown every day and many times I take for granted how cool looking it really is. :-) 

At about mile 11, I sent Brian a text letting him know I was on my way. It was right around here where two years earlier I started hyperventilating and suffered a mini-breakdown over how the heat was really affecting me. Not this year! I was still feeling good and chugging along just fine. Past mile 12 I saw Brian, he snapped a couple pictures -- always a boost to see someone you love cheering for you along the course. :-) I slowed down a little west of Union Station because the crowds were thick and spilling out into the street. It was a fun section, lots of spectators as we passed the halfway point (2:17:50, 10:31mpm pace). I was pretty happy with that split, and that if things continued to go well, I would finish well under 5 hours. That was what I was hoping for!

The miles continued to fly by, passing by the United Center, then coming back eastward with Sears, er, Willis Tower, in the background. Brian was at mile 16.5 on Halsted, it was great to see him again as I ran by.  

Mile 16.5
I still was feeling good with less than 10 miles to go. I ran through the Little Italy neighborhood and then Pilsen, which was lively with mariachi music blaring and enthusiastic spectators. My splits were pretty even, my legs felt great, and I was really enjoying the day. I could tell some around me were slowing down in this later part of the race.

Now we were approaching another favorite part of the course -- Chinatown. Crowds were in the streets again so my pace slowed a little from crowding, but I was having fun and I didn't mind. Every year I've run Chicago I always get the chills turning right onto Wentworth and under the Chinatown Gate. The excitement is like an electrical charge in the air, such a great feeling! I got a surge of energy and then as the crowds thinned out along the Dan Ryan, I felt more energy. This part of the race is probably the most desolate. It's strange to go from such a high through Chinatown to this. I didn't affect my pace, though. I kept chugging along, passing people regularly as we approached 33rd street and Sox Park.

By now I'm starting to speed up as there are only 3 miles left and I'm feeling great. I think about my upcoming 50k and how I could definitely run longer than 3 miles left based on how I felt that moment. The course brings us through the IIT campus and free beer, which I almost took but decided to pass on as I was on a mission now. :-) My mile splits are closer to 10:00 and I can't believe I'm almost done!

I'm getting really excited as I turn northbound onto Michigan. The final stretch, just 2.5 miles to go now. Even after getting "gator-splashed" by a guy who dropped his half-full cup of Gatorade on the ground in front of me, I still had a smile plastered on my face. (Ok, maybe I did a little eye roll at his lack of awareness of those around him. ;-)) At about mile 24 I saw Tina and Tom from the St. Charles CARA marathon training group that I had run with in the past. It was great to see them! They had both run great races at the Lakefront Marathon so they were out to cheer for the others in the program. I saw the "1 mile to go" sign and felt a rush of excitement. I did the math and knew I wouldn't be able to get under 4:30, but for sure would make it under 4:35. Not too shabby!

I take the right turn onto Roosevelt and the marathon's only "hill" on the course (an overpass above the south shore trains), and then left onto Columbus and the finish line. Instead of sprinting to the finish, I pulled out my phone to take a quick finish line shot and then ran in, taking in the glory of a marathon finish. :-)

Almost finished!
What an awesome, fun race! I crossed the finish line in 4:33:24, which, while not a PR, was definitely one of the most enjoyable marathon experiences I've had. It was my third fastest time -- can't complain about that! Oh, and it was a 2-minute negative split, too. Woo hoo! 

What made it even more special was that Brian was also volunteering at the finish and gave me my finisher's medal and a congratulatory kiss. :-) An excellent way to cap off a great marathon finish, that's for sure!

Finish line
My Marathon Splits (RunningAhead Log)

Friday, October 09, 2009

Tri-ing to be Pleasant in Pleasant Prairie

I did the Danskin Triathlon in Pleasant Prairie, WI, a couple of weeks ago. I decided to do this race because my sister, Cindy, signed up, and also because I thought it would be a good way to help curb a post-TransRockies slump. I thought by having a different type of goal, adding in swimming and cycling, would be a good idea to help me recover from the run. Well, as the weeks passed by, the slump was in full force and while I was running a little, I just didn't feel like getting to a spin class (my main form of bike training) and blew off swimming, too. So, aside from doing recovery (slow) runs, I had just one swim and one spin class under my belt for preparation. Niiiiiiiice.

Needless to say, I had very low expectations for this race, and instead of being excited about it, I was downright crabby about it -- like having that full-on dread, annoyance, and the feelings of a kid stomping his feet on the ground screaming "I don't wanna!!!" The only good thing was that Cindy was doing well in her training and I was looking forward to seeing her cross the finish line. I'm so proud of her getting back into running, post-baby, and reaching all sorts of new milestones.

On Saturday, we went to packet pickup, racked our bikes so we wouldn't have to worry about them in the morning, and then grabbed a bite to eat before heading back to Cindy's to spend the night. That night turned out to be a rough one because of noisy neighbors and the fact that I was pretty nervous about my lack of preparation. When the alarm went off at 4:15am, my crabby mood had not changed at all. Ugh.

We left Cindy and Mike's as a convoy to make the 40min drive to the race. We had to take a couple of detours because of blocked-off roads, but we finally made it to the parking area where they were shuttling everyone to the start area over a mile away. Cindy and I got on a shuttle and we left Brian, Cindy's husband, Mike, and their three kids there to take a later shuttle as time was getting a little tight. Cindy and I got our stuff set up in transition and then we headed over to the start to meet up with our cheerleaders.

The elite race started at 7:00am. My wave was scheduled for 7:37, and Cindy's was 7:43. The time flew by and pretty soon I was zipping up my wetsuit, putting on my swimcap and goggles, and walking over to line up with my wave, near the back. Alright, let's get this sucker done! I spotted Brian just outside the start area, waved and smiled, and tried to psych myself up a little bit. :-) After some encouraging words from the announcer, off we went!

Before the swim

Waving to Brian before the start

Swim - 800m, 17:32

The water was not nearly as cold as I remember it being a few weeks back. Still, I had to do a bit of breaststroke until I could get my breathing under control. Ugh, breathing! The wetsuit, which I haven't worn since 2004, fits just fine but I am not used to the compression feeling. I try to calm down and just move forward, towards the single tree at the swim finish that I use as a visual guide. I start going into freestyle, and I can only manage a handful of strokes before I lift my head fully above the water to swim the "freestyle with head above water" way of swimming (ick, bad freestyle). Oh well, whatever works. I alternate between decent freestyle and bad freestyle, making sure I stay ahead of the noodle swimmers. Yes, being a feel-good type of triathlon, there are "swim angels" and floaty noodles that racers can use to help with the swim. Luckily, in spite of my total lack of training, I didn't need these aids. :-) Finally, I get to the swim finish, run out onto the sand, hit my watch split and am seriously stunned that I swam under 20min. I thought it would be a lot slower!

T1 - 4:28 There I Fixed It
Now thankfully done with the swim, I ran to the aisle I thought my bike was in...only to be off by one aisle. Doh! Luckily I only lost a few seconds as I scrambled to get to my bike. Off with the swim gear, put on the socks, shoes, shirt, adjust my ponytail...SNAP!...goes my hair band. (Too bad I didn't have a twist tie like this gal, LOL!) Oops! Hmm, ok, I frantically twist my hair and stuff it haphazardly in my helmet. I then grabbed my bike and ran to the bike start. 

Bike - 20k (12.4mi), 48:48 - 13.5mph
I haven't ridden my bike since my last triathlon back in June 2007. A couple of days before the race I dug the bike out of the basement, filled the tires (luckily the tires remained at correct pressure), and replaced the battery in the bike computer. I knew that I would be slower and more cautious on the bike, so I just went based on feel and trying to aim for a certain range of speed using feedback from the computer. I was also fumbling with my helmet at times because of the way I stuffed my hair into it. The bike course was different from the last time I rode it, but mostly nice smooth roads. There were some inclines here and there but not too bad. I felt like I was going a pretty decent pace and passing pretty frequently. Little did I know that I would later find out that I should have re-calibrated the bike computer as it was off a bit and gave me a faster reading. I ended up finishing about 5 minutes slower than back in 2003, which was a bit slower than I expected. In spite of this, I was starting to enjoy myself a bit more and was definitely looking forward to starting the run.

Almost finished with the bike

T2 - 2:19
I dismounted and ran back to my stuff in transition -- this time going down the correct aisle of bikes. :-) I put on my hat (stuffed my hair inside), replaced my bike shoes for running shoes and then was off to the run start -- a quicker transition this time around.

Run - 5k (3.1mi), 28:00 - 9:02mpm pace
I felt a little stiff-legged starting the run but really happy to be doing my favorite part of a triathlon. :-) I passed by Brian (thanks for being an awesome cheerleader, sweetie!) along the path and gradually the stiffness lessened. Though I was passing people pretty regularly, I still felt like I was going pretty slow. As I passed by Mile 1, I was surprised to find my first split to be 9:12. Wow! I was expecting something over 10, so I was really happy to see that split. As I am going along, I notice that there are many women walking now, and I'm having a great time "blazing" past them. I get to the turnaround to go back toward the finish, approach Mile 2 in 9:16. Nice, steady pace. The lake is pretty and there is a nice breeze off of it which feels great. Just one more mile to go, and time is really flying by. I guess it would considering my last race was 6 days for a total of 30 hours. ;-) I pass by a older woman who is looking strong, and notice the number "73" on her leg, which was her age. Wow! I want to be as fit as she looked when I'm that age!

The final stretch
The final stretch, yay!

My legs feel great and I start to quicken my pace a bit more. Now it's time for the final stretch, the spectators are cheering for us triathletes along the path. I have forgotten about the crappy mood I was in prior to the race. I hear my name being called over the loudspeaker and sprint to the finish, the race is in the bag, finish time of 1:41:08 (last 1.1mi was 9:35), which was good for 536 of 1711 overall! Not too shabby for this back-of-the-packer. :-) I check later on and find that this year's time is only a minute and a half slower than back in 2003 when I actually trained for it. Not too bad! Having a great run and a decent swim definitely made up for a slower bike portion.

Loyal spectator
A very loyal spectator/cheerleader, my niece, Megan :-)

Once I walked out of the finish area, I met back up with Brian and my sister's husband and kids to wait for Cindy along the path. We cheered for her as she passed by onto the finish, coming in at just over two hours. It was great to see her finish strong! Afterwards, we got our stuff from transition and made our way back to the parking area, and then went out for a celebratory lunch. All in all it turned out to be a great day. I'm very proud of Cindy for doing so well, congrats to you little sis!! She Swims, She Bikes, She Runs, She ROX! :-)

Me and my lil sis
Me and my lil sis, Cindy -- so proud of you, girlie!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

TransRockies Run 2009: We Rocked It!

Brian and I ran the TransRockies Run (TRR) last week, and I can honestly say it was by far the most physically and mentally challenging thing I have ever done -- but it was such a rewarding and amazing experience. We crossed that finish line hand-in-hand, with smiles on our faces, and then came the tears streaming down my face as the emotion overflowed from the last six days of learning more about myself and experiencing all the highs and lows -- I would not trade that exhilarating feeling for anything. It is something I will never forget. 6 days, 113+ miles up and down the mountains of beautiful Colorado, taking on this challenge with the love of my life as my teammate...just WOW. Here goes the long story...

After spending a fun and relaxing five days with Brian's sister, Trish, and her family near Colorado Springs, we made our way to Buena Vista to get our race packet and go to the pre-race dinner. On the shuttle there, we rode with other TRR teams (Ashley and Fumi, Sarah and Elisa, Peter and Jeff, and Dan and Noel), which was fun and made the ride go by pretty quickly, filled with conversation about where we were from, our training, and our expectations for the race.

We walked to the race check-in from our hotel, and then began the swagfest, which would continue throughout the race, too. After we left check-in, we had our big duffle bags which we would be using for the race, a nice Windstopper jacket, 75-lap Timex watch, aluminum drink bottle, Nathan handheld bottle, race t-shirt, race hat, trail socks and a few nutrition goodies as well.

Race Swag

Race Swag = awesome!

Then, throughout the race we received Windstopper mittens, a metal Salomon mug, a cozy Windstopper scarf, lip balm and first-aid kit. They also gave out lots of swag to stage winners, middle-of-the-pack awards (sorry Team Perky dudes Dan and Noel , was really hoping you guys would win one of those days!! Loved the snarky Dan comments each day, though. ;-)), picture-taking prizes, free beer after each stage, and then some. This race has some pretty awesome sponsors and they really did take care of us.

A while later we returned to downtown Buena Vista to attend the pre-race dinner. Everything was really organized and the opening ceremony set the tone for all the rest of the nights -- very regimented with sponsor shout-outs, athlete recognition, and a course preview for each stage.

Brian and me at Pre-Race Dinner

Afterwards, Brian and I walked back to our hotel, got our stuff ready for the next morning, and then tried to sleep in spite of nerves.

Stage 1, Buena Vista to Railroad Bridge - 20.8 miles, 5hr 13min
One could definitely feel the nervous energy in the air on this first stage. The weather was starting to get warm and with a 10:00am start, we knew it would be a hot one today. The race organizers did not require us to have the safety items (jacket, hat, gloves, etc.) because the course was more desert-like and at a lower elevation (8000-9300ft), thus less likely to have extreme weather conditions. The starting gun goes off and off we go down Main Street, Buena Vista. We started out slow and then once we hit the trails, there was a little crowding but then we got into a decent rhythm. It was tough, though, right off the bat. I was hoping my legs would feel more fresh but then I realized that my legs normally don't feel "warmed up" until after few miles. The uphill section at the beginning was definitely an eye-opener and generated feelings of "holy @$&*!, what did we get ourselves into?!" much earlier than expected.

Stage 1 - CHUGging uphill
CHUGgin' uphill :-)

As the day progressed, the temperature went up, probably into the mid-80's. The sun felt HOT, and it was definitely affecting our progress. I started feeling better after about halfway, but then Brian felt worse because of the heat.

Stage 1 - Going downhill
Goin' downhill, beautiful clouds!

We took more walking breaks approaching Checkpoint #2 (14mi), making sure to get fluids in us for the remaining ~7 miles. During the last stretch of 3+ miles, which was basically pavement, we alternated between walking and running. Brian was struggling while I felt ok, which was a stark contrast to earlier in the day. Finally we saw the finish line and ran across, hand in hand. Stage 1 = Done! After the stage, we were shuttled to our camp at Arrowhead Point, where the tents were all set up. We chatted with other teams about our day, showered, were fed a great dinner, followed by a race recap, awards, and course review for the next stage -- this was our routine throughout the rest of the stages. We actually sleep pretty well each night, getting at least 8 hours, and then waking up to zipper noises around 6am from people getting out of their sleeping bags and tents.

Stage 2, Vicksburg to Twin Lakes - 10 miles, 3hr 22min
So, we woke up around 6am for Stage 2, and my body definitely felt like it had run a hard marathon the previous day. This was the theme for the rest of the stages -- varying levels of soreness, mostly in my quads. But you learn how to deal with it and keep moving, however slow. I mentioned my soreness to Brian and he said he felt fine. Seriously?! This guy is not human. ;-) After breakfast we were shuttled to the Stage 2 start in Vicksburg. It was much colder than the previous day, and we ended up wearing our jackets (now required to have with us for the rest of the stages) for the beginning of the stage. After a flat-ish couple of miles to get the legs warmed up, we then started our ascent up to Hope Pass (12,538 ft). This trail is also part of the Leadville 100mi that occurred just a couple days prior. It blows my mind that the 100 milers (Ben, you rocked it!) run this part TWICE after 40 miles and I was struggling right off the bat! It was during this portion that we clocked a blazing 51min for mile 3. Nope, that is not a typo! Luckily we didn't have too many of those types of miles. :-)

Fun times UP ahead...

We and other teams took turns "leading" up the single-track trail, and it was during this part where we began our friendly "rivalry" with Team Rubicon (Jen and Nic), whom we affectionately called "Idaho" and they called us "Chicago." :-) They were fun to chat with during the race and we would see them several times during this and the rest of the stages. Towards the top we were leapfrogging with Team 101+ (Shelly and Dennis), another nice couple that we saw during some of the stages and around camp. While taking "breathing" breaks here and there going up, I made sure to look around and take in the beauty. It was just awesome!

Day2 (18)
Almost to Hope Pass (located near the center of this picture)

While the altitude definitely was a factor getting up to Hope Pass, as I was definitely breathing harder and could feel my heart beating rapidly in my chest, I felt pretty good -- I didn't feel dizzy or nauseous. I was definitely looking forward to some downhill, though!

Day2 (21)
Woo hoo! We made it to Hope Pass, now it's all downhill from here

Now it was time for some serious downhill running. The first section was actually pretty scary for me as it was pretty steep and I hadn't quite gotten comfortable navigating the loose rocks on the trail. Brian just flew down as I took my time trying to avoid falling and rolling down the mountain. :-) Past the checkpoint (5mi) we had some really great miles, running with Idaho for a few miles. I just loved running in the pines. :-) After the descent, we ran in grassy fields and had fun with a few water crossings in the last mile. That water was COLD but felt good!

Day2 (28)
Brian navigating the first of a few stream crossings this stage

It started to rain a little bit as we were finishing up the last mile, running across the finish line in Twin Lakes. We luckily didn't have to wait too long in the rain to catch the shuttle to Leadville, where we would be staying that night. During the shuttle ride we met Team GORE/City Sports (Chrissy and Martin), a super cute couple from Boston. This was turning out to be such a great experience, made even better by the people we were meeting along the way.

That afternoon the middle toes on my left foot felt a bit strange and thought I might have a blister under one of the nails, so I made a quick visit to the medical tent. After waiting for the other two people get treated for massive blisters on their feet, I felt a little wussy getting my super small blister taken care of. ;-) That was my first ever "blister under the toenail" -- which I am not surprised about considering how many rocks I kicked with my left foot. That also was a recurring theme for the rest of the stages -- my left foot really took a beating with all that rock-kicking but it luckily didn't slow me down too much!

At dinner that night I finally was able to meet Deb Russell, who is on Team Pine Line with her brother. We've kept tabs on each other via our blogs and Facebook and it was great to chat in person with her. She and her brother did really well each stage, finishing near the front of the pack and ended up third overall in the Open Mixed division -- awesome!

Stage 3, Leadville to Nova Guides - 24.3 miles, 5hr 46min
We were up and at 'em again for Stage 3, climbing out of our tents at the Leadville high school football field. I had a slight sense of dread of starting this day since it was the longest leg. On the other hand, after this stage, we'd be at the halfway point, which was a nice feeling. The race started promptly at 8am and we were off through downtown Leadville and then onto the shoulder Hwy. 24, a pretty big stretch of pavement for the first few miles.

Then we got to the first big ascent of the day which lasted for a couple miles followed by a descent with a couple of stream crossings, which, while early in the stage, didn't not cause too much of an issue. I think Brian was actually able to avoid getting his feet wet at all -- not only do the descents not affect his quads as they do mine, but he also happens to be a good rock jumper/navigator. :-)

Looking behind us - first climb of the stage

It was on the second ascent, near halfway, that I had a really low point. Our strategy, for the most part, was for Brian to lead us on the trail. We noticed that if we ran side-by-side, I would slow down, but would maintain pace or speed up if he was a little ahead. I pretended that were was an invisible tether between us, but unfortunately I was really struggling up this second ascent and Brian got further ahead, to the point that was no way I could catch up. I started to feel pissed that he wasn't looking back and frustrated at myself for not being able to maintain a good pace up this hill. I just felt....overwhelmed by it all. The emotions started to rush in, and I started hyperventilating. I stopped, hunched over, and tried to calm myself down and BREATHE. Chrissy and Martin were nearby and saw me, asking if I was ok. Chrissy said some really supportive words (thank you!!) while Martin caught up to Brian to let him know what was going on. After a few tears and calming down, I felt better and told Brian that we needed to stay closer together, even if that meant that he would have to stop and look back more often to make sure we weren't too far apart. We were a team after all, and we knew that going in to this race that we are at different levels physically, and that Brian would have to be patient. We got into a good rhythm with this, but it was a learning process that was really highlighted during this short moment, midway through Stage 3.

My meltdown was a turning point during this stage, and thereafter we did really well on the downhill towards Nova Guides. I felt really good past the second checkpoint, on the Colorado Trail crossing the Continental Divide. The trail was pretty smooth and really runable during this part and we had good momentum. I was in a happy place again. :-)

Day3 (18)
Fun downhill single track trail...weeeeeeee!

After we ran down the fun single track, the last part of the stage was on gravel road and for a couple miles we could see the finish area. We passed a couple of teams as we made the final turn and ran the final stretch to the finish.

Day3 (24)
Finish is in sight, the final stretch

Whew! That was a big one, but we did it! Afterwards we had a beer (so refreshing!) at the Salomon tent and took a much-needed leg dip in a nearby pond. It was good to be done with this stage!

Stage 4, Nova Guides to Red Cliff - 14.2 miles, 3hr 56min
Stage 4 was a "short" stage, but definitely not easy. This stage had us climbing up Hornsilver Mountain into Red Cliff. I woke up this morning to the worst quad soreness of the race, but after a few miles in I loosened up. It was sloooooow going as we neared the summit of the mountain, where the road seemed to have inclines near 45%. I can't imagine non-ATV vehicles getting up those roads, and ironically one of the TRR jeeps carrying supplies to checkpoint #1 broke down, so we had a mini-checkpoint there to fill our water bottles. We finally got past the really steep part in the woods and the trail opened up to awesome views as we approached checkpoint #1.  

Day4 (9)
A little downhill before some more uphill to the checkpoint

The views were just awesome here at 11600 ft. We filled our bottles once we got to the checkpoint and then continued on along the ridge, admiring what we were seeing. I just loved this part of the course!

Day4 (12)
Brian and me on Hornsilver Mountain

Pretty soon we were on our way back down the mountain toward Red Cliff. This section went well for us and while my quads were screaming on the downhill, I got some good momentum going and we passed many teams on the way down. We then hit the fun part of this stage -- where the trail is actually a stream! A little treacherous but I felt like a kid splashing around in the water. :-) 

Day4 (20)
Running down the stream on the way to Red Cliff

Once we were out of the stream, we made a quick stop at the last checkpoint and ran strong in the last few miles to the finish into downtown Red Cliff. From the finish we went to a nearby stream (freezing!) for a nice post-stage ice bath which really helped my sore legs. After a verrrrrry long lunch (lots of hungry runners but the restaurant was woefully short on staff) we were shuttled back to the Nova Guides camp as we were going to spend a second night there.

Now that we were finished with Stage 4, I felt a little relief that we "only" had two more stages (44 miles total) to go. I was getting used to my legs being sore and somehow still being able to run anyway, but it was nice to know that in a few days I would be able to rest. :-)

Stage 5, Red Cliff to Vail - 23.4 miles, 5hr 55min
We awoke on Stage 5 morning and it was REALLY cold getting out of our warm sleeping bags to get ready. Luckily we were strategic with our stage preparation and we always slept in our running clothes to make the morning easier. This morning it was probably in the low 30's, but the day would warm up to the upper 60's by midday. After breakfast we got on a shuttle to go back to Red Cliff for the start. We hung out in the nearby restaurant and waited until a few minutes before the start to get back out into the cold and line up. 

The race began and we re-traced our route from the previous stage for a couple miles, then went the opposite direction towards Vail this time.

Day5 (04)
Having a great time on Stage 5

Another beautiful day in the mountains, I felt pretty good and had a good feeling about this stage. After the first checkpoint we entered onto a lovely single track trail that would lead up Benchmark Mountain.

Day5 (10)
On Benchmark Mountain, enjoying the panoramic views

Then began many switchbacks to the top. We were moving along pretty well, and it was at this point when Brian would be further ahead, he'd stop, outstretch his arms and yell out "run to the hug!" which of course was pretty decent motivation to speed up a little. :-) I was really enjoying this trail and was looking forward to summiting (11555 ft) and then picking up speed going back down. 

Day5 (12)
Switch-backing single track to the to the hug!

Once we got to the summit, which was the second checkpoint, we got our bottles filled by the awesome volunteers, watched a few teams getting their "dance" on, and then started on our 10-mile descent into Vail.

Day5 (15)
All smiles at the summit of Benchmark Mountain

My legs took a little while to get into the groove of the downhill. My quads were still pretty sore but eventually they warmed up. The miles flew by quite well at this point and we were passing teams who were encouraging and supportive along the way. Since we were running among the same teams each day, there was definitely a rapport built -- not one of rivalry but almost of teamwork in a way. Good, positive vibes in the back of the pack. :-)

The last four miles were really blazing (relatively speaking, of course!), we were going on 90+ miles for the week, so 9 min/mile pace was pretty good. :-) We passed more teams in the last couple miles as Brian was really pushing the pace, and luckily I was able to respond pretty well. I felt GOOD! Then we got to the last part which was a little rocky twisty single track and we were still doing pretty well until I turn around a bend and see Brian lying on the ground. Oops! Luckily his trail tumble wasn't too bad! I helped him up, he brushed himself off, and we ran the last quarter mile into the finish chute in beautiful Vail, hand in hand, so happy to have run such a strong stage!

After another "ice bath" in a nearby stream and an amazing post-stage cheeseburger and Blue Moon (heaven!), we hopped on a shuttle to the nicest campsite in Ford Park. The only downside was that it was along I-70 so it was a little noisier than the other sites. TRR organizers got creative and actually positioned all the tents to form the letters "TRR" -- very cool!

TRR Tent Camp in Vail (photo by Dan Hudson)

It felt good knowing that this night would be the last night sleeping in a tent. While we slept pretty well during these stages, I was definitely looking forward to sleeping in a warm bed! After a great steak and potato dinner and then the awards ceremony, we went to sleep that night happy to know we had just one more stage to go! My legs were actually less sore and my left foot was ready to do some more rock kickin' on the last day. ;-)

Stage 6, Vail to Beaver Creek TRR Finish! - 21.2 miles, 5hr 41min 
The last stage! We rolled out of our tent on the last night feeling ready to was almost hard to believe this was the last day! We headed back into downtown Vail and were on our way at 8am.

Day6 (5)
Running in Vail at beginning of Stage 6

The first part of the course is on pavement until we hit the single-track trailhead. We had a good start on this trail but then I started slowing down a bit as we got closer to the high point of this run at 10511 ft. I was definitely looking forward to making up some time on the downhill which started at around mile 10 and would last about 6 miles.

Day6 (8)
Loving this single track and the trees

Now on the descent, we were really doing well, with Brian passing several people on the somewhat treacherous rocky single track and I was happy to be able to do the same! I had a good rhythm and was navigating the trail pretty well.

Day6 (10)
Time to descend into the town of Avon

We made it into Avon, through town, quickly stopped at the last checkpoint, and then began another 3-4 mile climb towards Beaver Creek. This climb was ROUGH for me. It was starting to get hot and I was moving at a snail's pace. One of the volunteers was running from the last checkpoint to the finish and he goes "need a little push?" and actually pushed me a little (more of a symbolic gesture, hehe) up the hill bringing a smile to my face and I thanked him. I think this was the same volunteer who during an earlier stage actually ran up to us from a checkpoint to grab our bottles and fill them. The TRR volunteers were awesome!

Day6 (12)
Up ahead is some brutal switch-backing uphill...

Once we finally hit the top of the trail, I was so happy to get some speed going again on the downhill for the next couple of miles. Things were going really well, switch-backing down the mountain until we came screeching to a halt to the sound of a woman yelling from above about seeing black bears on the trail. Seriously?! A half mile to the finish?! Then suddenly, I stop on the trail, look at a lower switchback to Chrissy and Martin standing, frozen, watching a young black bear ambling across the field.

Day6 (15)
Eeek! A bear delay in the last stretch of the race!

Woah! None of us knew what to do, so we just waited until he was in the trees again before moving on. After some more warnings but then assurances there were no bears in the direction we were going, Brian continued on and I followed. During this time some of the other teams made the decision to cut the switchbacks for fear of encountering more bears, a decision I totally respect even if it meant that those teams were now ahead of us. At this point we could see the finish area, it was so close....then yet another warning about bears! We decided to cut the last switchback (maybe cutting .1mi), holding hands for support down the steep hill, I slipped on my butt once, got up, and awkwardly made our way down to the road to the finish.

After we crossed the bridge, grabbed each other's hands, and ran over that finish line with a huge rush of emotion, smiles, tears, and awe of what we accomplished. What an amazing feeling!

Day6 (19)
We are so happy to be TRR finishers!

Team New Leaf Ultra, 6 stages - 113 miles, 29:56...Party Time!
After taking more pictures and congratulating those who finished around us, we made our way to our hotel for check-in. During our walk, we just looked at each other and cried, then laughed...I was still feeling overwhelmed about the last six days. Wow. We did it! I felt so happy to share this experience with Brian. He is a great partner, and this event was further validation of that! Now it was time for us to rest and celebrate. :-) 

Day7 (02)
Yay for Team New Leaf Ultra :-)

The TRR awards banquet started at 6pm and it was a great time to eat good food, talk about bear sightings and our overall TRR experiences. The energy levels were high, especially as more free beers were passed out. ;-) After watching the awards being handed out, TRR staff recognitions, photo slideshow, and video, we mingled a bit more, saying goodbye to those we hung out with over the last 6 days. 

Day7 (01)
Brian was really attached to his sleeping bag, hehe

The next morning we got up leisurely, had breakfast, and then began the long commute home -- first by shuttle to the airport, waiting at the airport where we were able to chat with Team Hot Chicks, Darcy and Amy, and then finally getting back home at 10:30pm. Ahhh, so good to be home!

Now what?
Recovery is going well and I'll be back running this weekend. My legs feel surprisingly good and my left foot is still a little sore but not too bad. I've got a sprint triathlon on September 27 that will give me an opportunity to do some cross-training and mix things up a little bit. Then October will be a big month! I'll be running the Chicago Marathon on October 11, then my first 50k at the North Face Endurance Challenge (Wisconsin) on October 24, followed by pacing Brian at the Javelina Jundred. It's going be a great fall season of running and I'm pumped about it!

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