Sunday, July 8, 2018

Marathon du Mont Blanc: Take Two

After a peaceful week staying at our dear friends’ home in Les Crosets, Switerzerland, we arrived in Chamonix during the hustle and bustle of a Friday night. The apartment we rented, while in an ideal location, was situated on a major thoroughfare and very noisy until the wee hours of the night. There was a youth hostel right down the road and so we would hear parades of young people returning from partying between 1 and 4 in the morning.
Our temporary backyard in Les Crosets, Switzerland.
This year, the marathon is part of Salomon’s Golden TrailSeries, so there was a lot of media hype around the race. My original goal coming off last year was a top-10 finish, but after seeing all the incredible athletes who were signed up, we knew that was going to be nearly impossible. The main goal was to try to prevent what went wrong last year from happening again this year.

The temperatures were very mild for our entire trip to Europe - upper 60’s to low 70’s - until the day of the race, where temperatures soared to around 86. I knew that running in the heat was going to be a challenge for me because I never run in those temperatures in the PNW, let alone at altitude, which seems to make the sun hotter and more draining.

We don’t know what caused me to crash so hard at mile 20 last year, but we tried our best to come up with reasons and address each of them this year. Here is a list of some changes:

More cheese and bread, please!
1.   When I returned from Europe last year, I noticed that I lost a bit of weight. I think it was a combination of eating less just because we didn’t have as much food in the apartment as we do at home and dehydration. So, this year I made sure to eat just as much as I typically do and did not hesitate to put salt on everything while drinking plenty. If anything, I was going to be well-fueled for this race! One thing I love about Chamonix is the accessibility to a variety of foods and cuisines at an affordable price. We ate everything from curries to sushi, only cooking a couple of nights, which was a nice vacation from doing the dishes. 

2.      Last year we did a big 20 miler two weeks out from the race (and soon after arriving from the tiring, jet lag trip over); we cut it to 14 miles this year.

3.      All I had with me during the race last year was GU and it was not going down well. I think it was because I was too dehydrated. In my pack this year, I had variety: GU, single-serve Trail Butter, shot blocks and Skratch labs in one of my bottles.

4.      I did a true taper – not just a week before. My mileage was significantly lower 2 weeks before the race.

Checking out the course two weeks before the race.
5.      After seeing that the weather was going to be very warm, I went out and bought a white hat and an extra handheld to use during the part of the race where I ran out last year.

6.      I took off my necklace before I raced this year, because last year it got wrapped around the top of my water bottle preventing me from using it properly.

7.      Last year I was running in 5th early in the race and felt comfortable, though that means one thing running a race like the Chuckanut 50k and something completely different with this beast of a course. Because of this, we decided to go out much slower than last year. (That was the plan anyway, though I did not execute this one properly.)

It was already warm outside at 6:15 in the morning when I stepped out to do a short warm up. As soon as I opened our door, I see fellow American Pat Smyth warming up. When I approached the start line, I scanned to find a familiar face amongst the jumble of languages being spoken and the loud music blasting over the speakers. I soon found Magda Boulet, Alex Varner and Sage Canaday. I love seeing my USA teammates. I don’t know what they feel, but I feel such a bond with them even though I am only friends with some via social media. There is something about being so far from home that brings us together in solidarity.

After the announcer made us all do the wave, the backwards countdown from 10 in French began and, with the sound of Hell’s Bells, we were off. I mentioned that I wanted to start out slower this year and what felt like slower ended up being 15-20 seconds a mile faster for the first 4 miles.
I was in 15th early during this section and Anne Marie Madden passed me after a very controlled start as she worked her way up into the top 10.

Making my way to the top of Possette.
Tad spent all week mapping out his spectating spots so I knew I would see him at several places to get insight on where I stood among the field and receive reassurance and encouragement.

Magda came into sight and I finally caught up to her at the Vallorcine aid station (mile 11ish). I started the climb up to Possette with her. As I started to pull away I focused on Emma Clayton of Great Britian who was in front of me, but because I stopped at the water station, she got away from me on the ridge. Going over the ridge I was in 12th place and thinking maybe a top ten was possible as surely some of the leaders would fade on the toughest part of the race yet to come. (As it turns out, I was wrong, these are some tough women!) There had been a significant amount of snow on Col des Possette two week prior, and come race day, all of it had melted; I couldn’t believe it.  

The Marathon du Mont Blanc is a very special race. Not just because of the stunning scenery or the competition, but also because the spectators and volunteers are kind, encouraging and passionate. Our first names and country flags were on the race bibs, so I had a thousand fans on course screaming, "'allez, allez, Maria!" A moment that sticks out to me is when I was up on Aiguillette de Possette and Tad was running behind me with the camera, I started to doubt myself and asked him - thinking no one was around – to tell me I could do this. As soon as I popped up over a rock, a man and women were perched above, and the man said in a heavy French accent, "of course you can do this, Maria!" The cool thing is Tad got it on camera. 

To hear the encounter and see some snippets of the race, part one and two are on my IGTVchannel (@mariadalzot). 

Teamwork makes the dream work.
Coming off the ridge and dropping 2500 ft down the technical descent into Le Tour, I was passed by a young woman from Nepal who flew over this technical section and then by ultrarunner Jo Meek of Great Britain. With the drop in elevation, I soon got uncomfortably hot. I started running off trail to fountains in people’s backyards to cool off. I know this caused me a lot of time, but I just held the memory of last year’s breakdown in my head, so I stopped at every water stop because I was so afraid of running out of water or getting dehydrated. One thing I need to work on is my aid station protocol. I would make the Western States crews cringe.

Tad came into the aid station tent at Le Tour while I was trying to fill up my water bottles but got yelled at and told to leave. So, I had to fill up my bottles on my own and then go out of the tent where he was able to give me my extra bottle and pour water on my head.

I felt really refreshed afterwards and approached the part of the course where I lost my marbles last year, the overpass. Once crossing the road, we start a 1,000-foot technical climb immediately followed by a 1,000-foot technical descent. There were photographer and videographers all over this section which helped me keep my power hiking honest.

Once I made it to the Flegere aid station, only 5km separated me from the finish, but this is a very exposed and rocky section with a steady incline all the way to the finish. It is hard to describe just how hard this section is, but suffice it to say that if Megan Kimmel describes it as tough, that’s saying something. It really seemed to take forever. My watch was running long, and I was already at 26.5, but not yet at the finish. After crossing three snow fields, finally the finish shoot came into view! I mustered the energy to get a couple of high-fives coming in and then crossed the line so relieved to be done. They immediately checked our packs to make sure we had the required gear before letting us exit the finish area.

We got dressed for our last night in magical Chamonix.
I met Tad, but he wasn’t sure where exactly I finished. He thought I had faded considerably and counted me in 20th place, but he didn’t know that some women on the course were part of the Duo race that started the previous night. On the way back to the house, I looked up results to see that I was 15th woman. Yes! We were stoked.

Anne Marie finished ahead of me in 12th and Magda behind me in 16th (closing 5 minutes or so on me the last 5k!). Full results here.

I felt incredibly nauseas the rest of the day and it continued the following morning. My appetite finally came back, just in time for our final meal in Chamonix before heading back to Paris en route home.

I don’t know yet if I will return to Mont Blanc for the marathon next year. Third time is the charm, right? We know so much about the course now and learn so much each time, it’s hard to not give it another try. But, damn, is it hard!

We drove to Paris two days after the race to be tourists for 24 hours. In an 8-mile run, we saw Jardins du Tracadero, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Elysees, Jardins des Champs-Elysees, Place de Concorde, Lourve, Cathedrale Notre-Dame, Musee d'Orsay, Seine, Esplanade des Invalides, and Palais Bourbon. Basically, a whiplash of all of Paris in 90 minutes.

The same day, we drove to Versailles and toured the palace and gardens which was extremely cool. Crowded and hot, but cool. According to the museum site, Versailles is one of the greatest achievements in French 17th century art. Since the French Revolution forced Louis XVI to leave Versailles for Paris in 1789, it would never again be a royal residence. Instead, it became the Museum of the History of France in 1837. The rooms of the Palace were then devoted to housing new collections of paintings and sculptures representing great figures and important events that had marked the History of France.

Trying not to get hit by traffic at the Arc de Triomphe.
Unsurprisingly, I felt run-down and woke up the next morning with a sore throat and head cold which made traveling home even more uncomfortable. But I can’t complain too much because this is my first cold in two years and what do you expect after a hard effort and surrounded by crowds of people.

Thank you for La Sportiva, PRiME Bellingham, Align Chiropractic, Terrain Gyn, Trail Butter, Ona Treats, Lily Trotter’s Compression, and Native Eyewear for all your support, expertise, nutrition, recovery, and injury prevention leading up to the race. I am beyond grateful for having a running career that has had such longevity and such incredible support along the way.

Thank you to everyone who sent me a message of encouragement before the race and a congratulations after the race – your love was truly felt.

A lap around the Lourve.
Thank you to Colleen and Erwin Martens for graciously giving us their home to live in for a week prior to going to Chamonix. We are overwhelmed with your hospitality!

Thank you to iRunFar for the shout out in This Week in Running

To see more of Tad’s pictures and video footage, you can check out my Instagram feed and IG TV @mariadalzot.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Fragrance Lake Half Marathon: Summer Edition

The Destination Trail Fragrance Lake Half Marathon traditionally takes place mid-February in the throes of winter. However, due to an incredibly tragic plane accident that occurred on course days before the race, the race was cancelled and rescheduled for June 9th.

Fragrance Lake typically has the potential to be chilly, muddy, icy, and/or snowy with many downed trees to navigate around, over or under. With this May being the driest month on record in Bellingham, the trails were in prime condition for a course PR despite the day’s previous rain showers.

Damn roots.
However, because the Marathon du Mont Blanc is three weeks away, we made the decision to train through the race which meant running on fatigued legs. The race fell at the end of a hard three weeks of training, and my body could tell. The previous Saturday, I did a 4 ½ hour run with a lot of climbing that totally wiped me out. The next day we were trying to take a photo before starting my run and I tripped and almost fell on my face… three times… while walking. We took that as a pretty clear sign to take the day off. Regardless of the results of Fragrance, I hoped that my efforts over the past month will serve me well at Mont Blanc. (To read about my experience last year, read here.)

Looking for the men ahead.

The Fragrance Lake ½ course went the long way around the lake this year like in 2016. Otherwise, everything remained the same: still the same 3,300 feet of climbing in the first 7 miles, then a trip across the Ridge, concluding with spiraling down Fragrance Lake Trail.

Without David Laney present to take the start out screaming fast, the first mile was relatively calm, and I kept the lead men in site before catching up on the first climb to Two Dollar. I shared a couple of miles with Paul Sage from Club Northwest, but once he pulled off to take the finish for the simultaneous 10km, I was on my own. At one point on Lost Lake trail, I saw a glimpse of the leader, Matthew Logan, but my climbing legs were screaming “not today!” so I trudged on with only my past splits to use as a reference. I knew two miles in it was going to be near impossible to run my best time today, but that didn’t stop me from pushing my hardest.

Some video footage from the top of the big climb and the start of the Ridge.

Coming off the Ridge and on to Cleator Road for the final bump up, Tad said that a woman was only about a minute behind me as I entered the Ridge and I better push it from here to the end. Aw man! Not the news I wanted to hear today. My legs were burning so bad on any slight incline. I gritted my teeth and ran down Fragrance Lake Trail like a crazy person. Luckily, my loud breathing warned hikers far in advance and they kindly stepped to the side, and my downhill legs were surprisingly awesome.

When I bottomed out at Fragrance Lake Trail, Tad was there and asked me if I passed the lead guy. I knew that I hadn’t, so I wasn’t sure what he was talking about. I sprinted to the finish and embarrassingly missed the finish shoot so I was spinning my wheels in the gravel trying to quickly make the turn and cross the finish line. Eighteen seconds later, Matt came through. He missed reading a course sign and unfortunately took a wrong turn. Had he not, he would have gotten me by a couple minutes. It was Stacey Cleveland from BC who was hot on my heels, finishing just 3 minutes back; she ran so strong!
I got lucky today, that's for sure!

Full results here.

This is my fourth year in a row running the race and my slowest time yet. Of course, that doesn’t sit well, but I know that had I backed off on mileage and rested the results would have reflected that.

Girl Power
Thank you to the whole Destination Trail Team who orchestrated a flawless event, despite having to fight with course vandalizers the previous day. The weather man called for rain and cloudy skies, but he couldn’t have been more wrong. We were treated with perfect running weather: mid-50’s and sunny. Also perfect for hanging out, eating, and drinking beer while we cheered on our fellow friends and racers.

We leave for Europe this week, but before we take off, a quick thank you to some of the people who have helped me prepare, kept me healthy, motivated, inspired and who enrich my life on a daily basis:

Tad Davis
Kerry Gustafson
Chris Lockwood
Tonia Boze
Quinn Carrasco
Bellingham Distance Project ladies and gents
Jenn Love
Jeff Fisher
Jeff Boggess
Casey Szesze

Au revoir et à bientôt!

Bracing myself for the final push.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Smith Rock Ascent 50k

The last 6 miles of the Chuckanut 50k I told myself I never had to run again if I didn’t want to. My left leg was so tight I had to stop countless times to stretch throughout the race (starting at mile 5!) and every mile from the start of the race felt like a struggle. Two years in a row, running that far was not a fun experience and so I thought maybe the 50k distance was not for me.

But as time goes on, we runners tend to forget these things; the pain, the suffering, the soreness. Instead, we remember the camaraderie, the adventure, overcoming adversity and this fuels our fire. So just two months later, there I was contemplating running the Smith Rock Ascent 50km, hosted by Go Beyond Racing.

These are a few of my favorite things. PC: Jeff Fisher
Tad and I were on the fence about traveling all the way to Terre Bonne, OR (the town closest to Smith Rock), but when I got a coincidental message from Jenn Love from the Mountain Shop in Portland asking if I would like to come down and lead a La Sportiva demo run sometime, synergy was in play and our minds were made up.

Trail friends. PC: Jeff Fisher

My training since Chuckanut has been about consistency rather than intensity and even though my workouts are not as rigid or aggressive as they used to be, I feel myself getting in shape. Everyday runs are a little bit snappier, I am recovering well, and I have no – knock on wood – pain or tightness in my butt (an ongoing problem). I felt strong three weeks ago at the Yakima Skyline Rim 25k and came within 40 seconds of my course record so that was a good sign as well.

The 50k distance is still so unknown to me. Unlike the sub-ultra distance, I never make goals of trying to win or place because I lack the confidence. It’s more a battle between me and my anxiety, and the longer I am out there, the more opportunity for the voices in my head to talk. The goal is always not to listen.

Crusin' through Forest Park. PC: Jeff Fisher 
I have never been to Smith Rock, so I didn’t know the course other than studying the map and elevation profile. Another factor coming in to play is central Oregon can get toasty this time of year, so I was concerned about the heat. If it hits 70 in Bellingham it’s a big deal. But we put the course map into my watch and there’s nothing we can do about the weather except run smart and keep up on hydration.

We left for Portland on Thursday morning to meet up with the folks at Mountain Shop to share some miles with the local trail running community and demo the La Sportiva Akasha’s. It was my first time running in Forest Park and I was so impressed. Beautiful buttery green and lush trails that you could really fly on if you wanted to.

We drove to Smith Rock State Park the next morning and got there at about noon. So did a gazillion gnats. Swarms of them. There were no warning signs just tiny pellets hitting you in the face and mouth like a summer rain. My shake-out jog was basically me flailing my arms and complaining with my mouth covered. My goal became to finish the race before the bugs came out.

Trying to out-run the bugs.
I knew from Ultra Signup that the competition would be stiff with fellow Washingtonian and friend, Paige Patillo, on the starting line, as well as Tori Tyler, who I raced at the 2014 Trail Half Marathon Championships. Because I get so nervous I was hoping to work together with these ladies and enjoy their company for as long as possible.

As we started the five mile loop around the park, Paige and I calmly navigated our way along the undulating path until the start of the first climb where I began to pull ahead. Paige is a boss at downhill running as I experienced firsthand from our first meeting where she used her natural speed to run me down in the final mile descent, so I knew she would be back with me soon. After the first climb came some flat miles and then a significant downhill where Paige caught back up, just as I had hoped. We came through the first aid station (7ish miles) together, but then started climbing again and I latched on to the man in front of me. We rolled along until he had to stop to pee at the bottom of a sandy hill. I kept going and turned to see if anyone was coming with me, but the chase pack all started to power-hike the hill. I really didn’t feel as though I needed to hike, but then I was thinking they knew something I didn’t. I decided to just keep my pace, nice and controlled.

Riley and I working together.

At the second aid station (13ish miles) I started running with Maks, but had to let him go as he was not pushing as hard on the climbs. Again, I hesitated, but not too far up ahead was Riley. Riley was a pleasure to run with. We chatted about how these trails remind us of Helena, Montana where he is from and how the Don’t Fence Me In Trail Run was going on at the same time.

Mile 12 seemed to be taking forever and finally, after 20 minutes, I realized that I accidentally stopped my watch and had never restarted it. Riley was kind enough to announce every mile until I pulled away with about 10 miles to go. We were clicking off the sub 7 minute miles so easily I really couldn’t believe it. I kept waiting for my legs to fatigue or my energy level to dip or for the anxiety to rear its ugly head. But nothing ever happened. This was his first ultra and he crushed.

After I crossed the road at mile 24 and prepared for the final ascent, I caught up to Levi who was being challenged by some inner demons. I gave him an unsolicited pep talk and then we worked together to push it up to the final aid station where Yassine and his Wy’east Wolfpack crew were there rocking and ready for us to run through the “tunnel of love.”

Feeling effortless.
I kicked it into another gear and started catching up to the 15 milers finishing. I enjoyed the momentum of passing the runners and cheering them along, but I got stuck behind a guy who had two ear buds in. I was screaming “excuse me!” and “pardon me!” and “SIR!!!” I contemplated hurling myself in the brush and going around that way, but then he finally heard me and moved to the side. Why didn’t I tap him? Because I am scarred for life from the time I did just that to a lady on the trail in the middle of a race. You can read about that craziness here.

Jazz hands!
I knew that about 3 miles to the finish we came screaming down a service road so when I looked to my right and saw a road below while the trail I was on was going left I questioned if I was going the right direction and somehow got turned around. I ran backwards until I could ask the next 15-mile runner if we were heading to the road and once he confirmed I took off again. The last 200 meters is up a very steep paved side walk before making the turn into the finish chute.

I felt strong and smooth and loved every mile. I know this is going to sound annoying, but I think I could have done 10 more on that day or I could have run much faster. I am feeling proud of my first ultra win and 8th place overall in the second fastest course time.

Full results here.

With RD's Todd and Renee.
After Chuckanut I told you that even my hair hurt. After Smith Rock, I have one toe that looks like it has been through the blender and that’s it. Even though I feel good, Tad is still making me take an easy week (40ish miles) to make sure I am good to go for one final push before we leave for the Marathon du Mont Blanc in Chamonix, France. I can’t believe we will be leaving next month; time is going by so quickly!

Thank you to Todd and Renee from Go Beyond RacingThis win was very special to me and I am so grateful for the awesome print, rock, and pint glasses to always remember it

Thank you to Aid Stations 1&4, 2 and 3 for being so efficient and bringing so much joy, energy, and entertainment to each runner.

Get in my belly!

Can we just talk about Longboard Louie’s burritos for a minute? SO good and satisfying. Thank you for this fabulous treat and perfect recovery fuel.

Thank you to Maks, Riley and Levi for your company and encouragement. You made the race so fun.

Thank you to iRunFar for the shout-out in TWIR

An extra-special congratulation for TEAM USA Women and Men who made us all proud representing the U.S. at the Trail World Championship in Spain this weekend. What a show of teamwork, grit, determination, and passion. Read more about their amazing performances here

A continued thank you to my team of constant love and support: Tad, La Sportiva, Trail Butter, Terrain Gym, Prime Massage, Align Chiropractic and Lily Trotters Compression.

Until next time, Smith Rock,

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Yakima Skyline Rim: Take Three

By now I think everyone knows how much I love Rainshadow Running’s Yakima Skyline Rim 25km. Every April, I look forward to heading over Snoqualmie pass where it is 38 degrees and snowing and descending the other side into sun and 60 degrees. It is quite magical, really. Plus, the drastic change in scenery – the lack of trees, massive rolling hills and clouds of dirt and dust – is a welcome change after feeling so soggy after a particularly wet and rainy PNW winter.

The 25km is on Sunday so we left Bellingham early Saturday morning in the hope of catching the finish of the 50km. We made it to the finish line two minutes before Mike Wolfe came in with nobody in sight. We took our lunch and hiked up the trail a bit to cheer and take pictures. We got to see the veterans, my Trail Butter teammate Yassine Diboun and Seven Hill’s Phil Kochick, as well as my La Sportiva teammate Kaytlyn Gerbin who ran with focus and determination to crush the course record. All the 50k-ers deserve a hearty “Well done!” after navigating 10,500 feet of climbing in extremely windy conditions.

La Sportiva 25km & 50km sweep with Kaytlyn!

After the race we headed to the AirBnB, which our friends so graciously invited us to share with them. We usually stay at the Ellensburg KOA, but I am so thankful to have had a warm bed to sleep in before the race as the morning low was in the low 30’s.

When I woke up in the morning and went to the bathroom, I looked down at my foot to see a gnarly looking bruise over the top of my 5th metatarsal. “What the hell?” I thought. I had no idea what I had done. I don’t remember dropping anything on my foot or any kind of trauma that would leave such a mark. I was just hoping that it wouldn’t hurt during the race or be so bad afterwards that it is something serious.

We arrived at the Umtanum Recreation Area an hour before the start to have enough time to do all the pre-race things. The day’s weather had the promise of perfection – light wind, sun and mid-50’s at the finish. I’m sorry 50k-ers!

Leading the conga line in the first mile.
I didn’t really have a pre-race strategy going into the race. We have been focusing on consistency and steady workouts rather than really hard efforts that have left me drained and injured in the past. The first year of the Yakima 25k, I went out too fast and about died coming in. The second year I went out much slower and felt a lot better on the return but was over a minute slower. Super-stud Ladia Albertson-Junkans was signed up to race the 25km but decided to withdraw as she is preparing to throw the hammer down at the inaugural Silo District Marathon in two weeks to get an OTQ. With Ladia out of the race, my goal was just to try to win, without really focusing on a time goal.

After James gave the pre-race briefing and reminding us all not to die, we were off and awkwardly running across the Umtanum suspension bridge as is went up and down from so many legs crossing it. I actually felt kind of dizzy when we got off, you know that feeling after you get out of an elevator or off a plane?

Anyways, the top guys took off and I looked up and saw the bright green of friend Josh Vander Wiele’s shirt in the distance. I was on the back of the chase pack train for the initial climb and then towards the top I took the lead. When we crested the top at 3 miles, the guy beside me said, “you’re in fifth place,” and I responded with, “so are you!” We worked together on the undulating service road until making the left turn at Doug McKeever’s (favorite) aid station on to technical single-track. The decent down to Rosa Creek aid station is a doozy. Even though I lubed up my feet based on past experience, I still felt the burn of friction from sliding on the loose ground.

Finish line feelings.
The out and back nature of the course allows us to meet and greet all the runners at the turn-around. This is one of the reasons I love this race so much. Trail races are often so lonely, but on this course, at least for a couple miles, you get to experience the camaraderie and enthusiasm of the race. I felt stronger than I ever have on the net-uphill return to the finish and was able to really push the final technical decent back to the suspension bridge where Tad was waiting to run behind me across it because #anxiety. 

I made the loop around the perimeter of the parking lot and made sure to slow before crossing the finish line for my revered James Varner high-five. Last year, I nearly pulled his arm out of the socket as I dragged him with me almost to the buffet line. For an embarrassing documentation of this, look back at last year’s report.

I ended up first woman and 5th overall with a time of 2:28:50, 40 seconds shy of my 2016 CR. Full results here

After running the 25km three years in a row, I think next year, body-willing, it will be time to step it up to the 50km. Oh boy. Double the fun, right?

James, me & the awesome print.
As always, I want to thank James and the entire Rainshadow Running team and all the volunteers for making every race such a special experience. From the food, to the beer to the music – the atmosphere is unbeatable, and I am so grateful to live in the PNW and to have the opportunity to take part in these events.

Tad and I were not ready to leave the sunny-side of the mountains quite yet, so we decided to camp out the following night. We usually sleep in the car, but the Orange Tiger wouldn’t start before the trip, so we had to take the Prius which meant sleeping in a tent. I froze my ass off. We woke up to 32 degrees with ice on the tent. We got up before 5am and booked it to Starbucks for warmth and caffeine.

The temperatures rose quickly, and it was a comfortable 60 degrees for our hike/jog. My foot was significantly worse and was causing a lot of pain for the first time. (Luckily, now a couple of days later, the coloring is better and no longer causing pain.) What a freaky thing!

You know it was a good weekend when you step in the shower and a plume of campfire smoke smell is released and you let out a little scream from all the cuts and scrapes you acquired. I think I finally got all the dirt out of my nose… three days later.

Trying to hide how sore I am the day after.

Up next for me is the Smith RockAscent 50km in three weeks which I am so pumped about. I have yet to experience the gorgeous trails of Smith Rock or a Go Beyond Racing event, so I am really looking forward to it. I am still trying to kindle a love for the 50km distance so maybe this race will be enough to light my fire.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Chuckanut 50k: Take Two

What a beautiful day we had for Chuckanut this year - a stark contrast to last year's downpour. The depth of the women's field gets deeper every year with this year being no exception. A solid race for me could mean barely breaking the top 10. This was my second ultra, the first being the 2017 Chuckanut 50k where I placed 5th female.
Warm-up snuggles with Nikki.

I had a really good training block early this winter and was feeling strong and fit. My first race of the year was the Orcas Island 25k in January in less than ideal conditions. Running aggressively through snow and slush left a lingering twinge in my knee that put a kink into my training leading up to Chuckanut. I took several days off and skipped a couple of weeks of workouts to try to tame the pain and tightness.

With that, my confidence wasn’t high, and I really didn’t know what to expected on race day. About three miles into the race, my left leg started tightening up (a chronic issue of mine that flares up when I run on flats) and forced me to stop and stretch several times on the Urb before heading up the single track into the Chuckanuts. I was running in about 7th or 8th place early on with Sarah Bard who would pull away every time I stretched so I’d put in a minor surge to catch back up each time. Unfortunately, the tightness never let up, so the race ended up being an uncomfortable grind the whole way. Since I know the course so well, it was hard not to feel 100% because I knew every little challenge that was ahead of me and I began to dread each section. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss!
Taking a much-needed GU on Chinscraper.

Because the women's field was so deep, I was constantly trading places with some of the top women, especially Kathryn (Kat) Drew (6th and just over a minute behind me last year), who I leap-frogged with multiple times. She really allowed me to get out of my own head and start racing, which made the experience much more fun.

At the start of the final long 3-mile descent to Lost Lake aid station, somebody yelled out, "Great job, Ellie!" My first thought was, "Wow, somebody has mistaken me for one of my trail heroes and the queen of the Chuckanut 50k, Ellie Greenwood!" My second thought was, "Wow, this is what it feels like to be hunted down by Ellie," as I felt the wind of Ellie screaming by me in classic Ellie fashion. I never had so much fun getting passed by somebody in a race.

When I got to the final aid station, I traded in my hydration vest for a hand-held and braced myself for what every Chuckanut 50k racer dreads the most: the final 10km on the Interurban Trail. I stopped 1-2 times each mile to loosen up my left leg. Unfortunately, this meant watching Kat get further and further ahead (and little did I know Sarah Bard getting closer and closer behind me). She had such a strong race and it has been very impressive to watch her bring her Chuckanut times down significantly every year.

Finish line. Oh, sweet relief!
Given the way I felt on the day, I am extremely satisfied with my 6th place finish. But even more so, I am so grateful for the love and support of my Bellingham community. So much love waited for me at the finish line. Gosh, I love you trail people! I woke up the next morning unable to move most of my body, but with a very full heart.

Congratulations to everyone who raced, from Keely’s super impressive first Chuckanut win and second fastest time ever, to Anne-Marie’s Chuckanut PB, to Ellie’s non-comeback comeback, and so many more standout moments to mention. During the final 10km I told myself that I would never have to race – or run! – ever again after this. Now that it has been a couple of days, I think I might reconsider. This event is far too special to pass up.

Hopefully saying something witty to Anne-Marie and Kaytlyn.
Hard to tell.

Thank you to Krissy Moehl and her team of race directors, and to all the volunteers and aid station crews who help make this such a special and memorable experience for everyone every single year.
A massive thank you to the team of people who have helped me for 4+ years: Kerry Gustafson, Chris Lockwood, Tonia Boze, Jeff Boggess, Jenn Love, Jeff Fisher, my La Sportiva family, my Bellingham family, and my real family. And of course, it goes without saying, to my husband, Tad.
With the champ, Keely.

I wasn’t sure if I should keep doing these blog reports because the message always ends up being the same after all these years, but it is an opportunity to really reflect and remind myself about what is most important in life and the many good people that I am so blessed to have as role models, friends and family.

This was my last race in my 20’s. What a decade it has been! I am so grateful for the experiences I have had the last 10 years and will continue to work hard to learn, grow and open opportunities for the next 10 years.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Orcas Island 25k

I usually kick off my racing season at Destination Trail’s Fragrance Lake Half Marathon in Bellingham in February, but I have been feeling back on track after my fall reset and have been able to get in some solid training. Rather than waiting, we decided to begin the year with Rainshadow Running’s Orcas Island 25km because #whyrunanywhereelse?

I’ve raced on Orcas once before at the inaugural Orcas Island Marathon. It was my first trail marathon and it was obvious in the way that I raced it. The weather provided some challenges for that race, with a hail storm causing me to stop at the top of Mt. Pickett and put on a shell for protection. (In hindsight, I wasted way too much time fumbling with the jacket when I could have gotten away without it. Ah, well.)
On the ferry with Mitch and Scarlett

A snow storm tormented us the days before the race, threatening a course change if the predicted 6-8 inches fell on top of Mt. Constitution. This would prevent crew and emergency vehicle access, so a snow route was sent out two days before. Luckily, the storm was downgraded and the morning of the race, it was announced that there would be no course change.

We stayed at the Rosario Resort and Spa in the same room as in 2015. Instead of eating at our usual Hogstone’s Wood Oven, which is closed for the season, we ate at the Rosario Lounge in the center of the mansion. I was blown away by their pizzas. Easily the best I have ever had. I still find myself thinking about it…
Fancy footwork?

The resort is all set to welcome Rainshadow Runners for the next two weeks as runners come in for the 50km this weekend and the 100-miler the following weekend. We felt very well taken care of, and it was fun to check out the upstairs museum and read about the history of the mansion and Moran State Park.

I expected to wake up to rain so was relieved to pull the blinds open to a dry morning. After check-in, I warmed up with Tad, Scarlett and Mitch – just like the usual Saturday morning long run.

Rainshadow Running legend and one of my favorite trail runners, Doug McKeever, saved the day by giving me quick bathroom access in his camp cabin strategically located right beside the start line literally 5 minutes before the start. Thank you, Doug!

Following Mitch through the slush.
One of my favorite moments at a race is the start line because everyone is gathered together, and you get to say hello to friends, give hugs and well wishes. There was no shortage of hugs before this race. I am so grateful for the good people in my life (I’m talking about you Doug, Scarlett, Mitch, Nichole, Christian, Jennifer, Bill and Marie!)

Scarlett tailed me the first 5.5 miles which was really comforting until we hit The Power Line and I latched on to Mitch. Together we *powered* up the climb away from the strung-out pack we started with until we were isolated, trudging our way up and up and up. Snow and slush began to appear, and the wind picked up.

(I made the mistake of forgetting a water cup so I could not get water at the two aid stations, so I went the whole race without any water. Duh!)

The two-mile section of trail that connects the top of The Powerline to the bottom of the Mt. Constitution climb is my favorite trail. But on this day, it was covered in slick slush and downed trees that are not conducive for short legs. I awkwardly had to hurl myself over the large trunks cowboy style, and scurry to catch back up to Mitch.

Mitch kept an honest pace up to the Mt. Constitution look-out and then once at the top, we admired the view that wasn't there, and proceeded carefully to the descent. There was about 3-4 inches of wet sloppy slush to splash through for several miles until Cold Springs. Glenn Tachiyama was in his usual spot capturing the essence of the race. Thanks for being out there, regardless of weather, Glenn!

What a view! PC: Glenn Tachiyama

The last five miles, Mitch and I worked to try and finish under 2:30. I took the lead on the final descent thinking we were definitely going to be sub 2:30. But then a half mile to go there was this annoying short steep hill that put an end to that dream. Aw well.

I ended up finishing in 2:31:40, first female and fifth overall. Full results here.

I attempted a very pathetic cool down backwards on the course to cheer on the racers as they came through, but it was more like a shuffle walk with lots of whining. I was a hurting pup after this race!

After changing into warm dry clothes, we feasted on an impressive spread of pizza, wraps, salads, fruit and cookies while hearing the play-by-play of fellow racers. We couldn’t hang for long in order to make the 2:10 pm ferry. On the way to the terminal, we missed the turn and ended up getting pulled over for speeding. Oi vey. Luckily, the police officer was very kind and understanding and let us go with just a warning. Double win!

Hanging with the Bellingham Crew.
Thank you to the entire Rainshadow Running Team for always ensuring our safety and a good time. It was an honor to kick off my 2018 season with you.

James Varner, the brains behind Rainshadow Running
I am extremely grateful for the continued support of my main sponsors in 2018:

It’s teamwork that makes the dream work and I have an incredible team of people who believe in my dream.

I am already looking forward to the Fragrance Lake Half Marathon on February 17, one month out from Chuckanut 50k. I hope to see you there!

Hooray for high-fives!

Monday, November 13, 2017

La Sportiva Running Camp 2017

I had the special opportunity to be a part of the 2017 La Sportive Running Camp which took place in Sonoma County, just north of Healdsburg, California over three and a half days. The retreat can best be summed up in 3 words: running, wining, and dining. What could be better?

Striding out on the Marin Headlands. PC: Tad Davis
Since August, I have been dealing with a nagging glute strain. After unsuccessfully pushing through the pain, I decided to take a month off from running and just do yoga and some hiking on the weekends.  I had to cancel my fall race plans, but my hope was to at least be well enough to start running the week before camp so that I would be able to run with my teammates. Thanks to the combined efforts of Bellingham rock stars and masters of their craft, Chris Lockwood, Keri Gustafson and Ash Goddard, I started back jogging 4 days before we left.  When we stopped at the Marin Headlands after our flight on Wednesday, I had my first pain-free run in months.  

The purpose of my involvement with the camp was to learn more about the company’s past and future, the business, the new gear, and to get to know the other ambassadors and staff. As an ambassador of the program, it’s important to have a solid understanding of the mission statement and inner-workings of La Sportiva. This allows me to better promote the company especially through social media. Being an ambassador is much more than just showing up at a race in the gear. My responsibilities include constant personal photo shoots, social media activity, blogging, and general representation of the brand.

Team Selfie. PC: Matt Trappe

The La Sportiva athletes joining me were Anton Krupicka, Meredith Edwards and Leor Pantilat. The journalists sharing the weekend with us were Lisa Jhung, Adam Chase, Allison Patillo and Brian Metzler.

Our accommodations were in a farmhouse on Rockpile Ranch, an 800+ acre vineyard. Rockpile is known for their red wines, producing premier varietals which include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Zinfandel, Primitivo, Syrah, and Petite Sirah.

Good food, good people, good conversation. PC: Matt Trappe

The drive up to the ranch was a doozy, especially in pouring rain. The fog made it feel like we were driving up and over a mountain pass in Europe. The ranch is fenced off and has multiple gates to keep the wild pigs out and prevent them from destroying the grapes and vines. We drove up to the first gate which was locked. We had no service to call and find out how to get through. Convinced we were lost, we started to turn around when another car pulled up beside us. It was Maria Clemente, our chef for the weekend. Maria had the info to open the gate and we followed her through the meandering woods to the house at the road’s end.

Maria spoiled all of us for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day making plant-based, deliciously healthy foods to satisfy and fuel the day’s adventures. I might be biased, but there’s something about Italian girls named Maria who have a passion for food.

Morning Yoga. PC: Matt Trappe
The first night we had special guests John and Lisa Medinger of Ultrarunning Magazine and RDs for the Lake Sonoma 50 for dinner. It was fun to get to meet so many people that I have only read about through the years. I was so excited when I saw John, I pulled on Tad’s sleeve and said, “look, he really does always wear a Hawaiian shirt!”

The first morning, Chris and Mari Coppinger from 2up Yoga came to the house to teach us some yoga for runners. They provided for us mats, blocks, and even straps. Pretty cool!  Unfortunately for Tad, when he was transitioning into warrior one, he caught his toe and may have broken it. Luckily, he was still able to run, but his poor little toe is black and crooked.

Skip explaining the way. PC: Matt Trappe
The runs were organized by the owner of Healdsburg Running Company, Skip Brand. He provided maps for every run and water for mid-run and after. Skip radiates positive energy and is a true ambassador of the sport.  

Wining. PC: Matt Trappe

The first run started at the Lone Rock trailhead and we ran some of the famous trails of the Lake Sonoma 50. Tad and I ran with Emma, the associate winemaker from Mauritson Vineyards. We learned so much during that run; Emma’s passion was inspiring.

Getting carried away. PC: Tad Davis
I don’t remember the rest of the day because I was drunk.

Just kidding!

We went to two wine tastings, the first at Wilson Wines and the second at Mauritson Vineyards. Both were paired with the most delicious cheese and crackers and education. I loved it.

The second day’s run was at Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, a beautiful lush loop through the redwoods. Maria packed us lunch to go, which we paired with sparkling white wines from Iron Horse Vineyards.

That Zinfandel glow. PC: Jonathan Lantz

Before our last dinner, Chef Maria and I did a little talk and food demo about how to make vegetables taste good by preparing them correctly. Maria pan-friend squash and made the most delicious chimichurri sauce and I went on a couple of my nutrition rants.

The "Maria & Maria" Show. PC: Matt Trappe
The end of camp would culminate the next morning at Stinson Beach for Inside Trail Racing’s Mt. Tam Trail Run. Since my body was feeling good, albeit with little fitness, I decided to run the 10km. After looking at the course record, I believed that I could run close to the best time and wanted to go for it.

Instead of getting up at 3:30 am and driving 2+ hours from Rockpile Ranch to Stinson Beach, Tad and I got a hotel outside of Mill Valley for the night before. It’s no secret that I am high maintenance when a race is involved.

Finish line. PC: Tad Davis
After three days of rain, Saturday was a crisp sunny fall day. Joining me in the 10km was Lisa, Allison, and Corey; the rest of the gang was taking on the half marathon distance. We all started together at 7:30 am and when the gun went off, I went to the front with another girl right on my shoulder. She passed me on the first of the famous Dipsea stairs. I stayed on her, not wanting to push too hard and die for the downhill back. Once we crested the top of the 1,600-foot climb, the trail leveled out and she cruised as I sprinted to the Cardiac Hill aid station. She took a left for the half and I took a right for the 10km. For the final three miles it was a race against the clock. I ended up 4th overall and first female, besting the previous course record by 2 minutes with a time of 57:25.

Full results here.

So many people to thank for making this memorable weekend possible:

Quinn Carrasco – our fearless leader. Thank you for organizing and bringing us all together. You are truly one-of-a-kind and we are all lucky to have you.

Quinn being Quinn. PC: Tad Davis
Jonathan Lantz – president of La Sportiva North America. It was a pleasure getting to know you and it is reassuring that such a genuine person is leading our company.

Cory Lowe – the account manager of La Sportiva’s PR firm and the backbone of media.

Maria Clementi and Bird – I am so happy for the new friendship. Hopefully we can take the “Maria & Maria” show on the road sometime.  

Skip and Holly Brand from Healdsburg Running Company – thank you for your hospitality and kindness.  

Tim Stahler – Mt. Tam Trail Run race director from InsideTrail Racing. This is my third race of Tim’s and he and the volunteers never fail to put on an A+ event.

Post-race with Lisa. PC: Tad Davis
Chris and Mari Coppinger from 2up Yoga – thank you for teaching us the importance of slowing down and taking time to transition out of running and into our daily lives.

Mauritson Vineyards, Iron Horse Vineyards, Rockpile Ranch and Wilson Wines – what an experience to visit all three of these wineries and get to literally taste the passion behind each grape. Coming from a wine-making family, this was such a treat!

Lisa Jhung, Allison Patillo and Adam Chase – thank you for your interest in the company and the team, and for being a promoter of the sport through your writings, involvement and lifestyle.

Matt Trappe – mad respect for you and the way you effortlessly carry that camera with you wherever you go. Thanks for capturing all the good times.

Meredith, Anton and Leor – thanks to each of you for inspiring me and being good people on and off the trails. I’ll always be cheering for you. 

La Mia Famiglia di La Sportiva. PC: Matt Trappe