Sunday, September 13, 2015

Vancouver Spirit Run

Before trail and mountain running there was cross country. I love cross country. Strength, speed, agility and guts required over 5-8 (preferably muddy) kilometers. And the best part is that I don't have to worry about getting lost, eating and drinking while running, falling off a cliff or being eaten by bears.

The Vancouver Spirit Run, previously held in Whistler, B.C., pays tribute to the many life achievements of Frank Reynolds (August 11, 1939 – December 28, 2006), a local Vancouverite with a passion for the sport. His vision was to "provide a world-class running event in the beautiful backyard of British Columbia." I can confirm that the Spirit Run embodies Frank's intentions.

Mid-September is very early in the year for me to run cross country. Typically I don't start racing cross until late October after having some quality speed workouts. But I am using a couple of cross country races to prepare for the fast Lake Padden Trail Half Marathon, the U.S. Championships on October 17th. The course around Jericho Beach Park was a 3 x 2 kilometer loop. This is the same venue that has hosted Canadian Cross Country Nationals the last 4 years. Jericho Beach likes extreme weather…

2011: Extreme Mud

2014: Extreme Cold

2015: Extreme Wind

I don't think I will ever have a PR (personal record) at Jericho Beach! Nevertheless, the racing is always good. I sat in 4th place for the first lap and then worked up to third by the start of the 2nd lap. I was hesitant to move away from the lead pack as the wind was so powerful it was knocking my left leg into my right. But I gradually pulled away and used the short steep hill and slow mulch path to increase my lead. Fortunately, I held off for the win and was showered with plentiful prizes by the races generous sponsors. Full results here.
Anchoring each other down.

Coming off a large training chunk I definitely lacked pep in my step; I never had another gear to kick into, just a steady grind. It feels good to get the rust buster out of the way and with another speed workout this week the next race should feel more comfortable (which means more painful because if you're comfortable you can push it that much more!).

Alyson and Aly, my Bellingham Distance Project (BDP) teammates, also headed north to compete. Cross country is not the same without a team and I am very blessed to have these awesome girls as friends, motivators and supports. We each had a solid performance which is a stepping stone into a successful 2015 season!

Many thanks to the race organizers, volunteers and sponsors, especially SierraSil for the generous prize purse and to Santevia for the awesome mineralized alkaline water bottles.

It was a good day at the office!

*All photos credit to Tad Davis 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Return to Table Rock

Post-Zermatt Marathon I felt really great. No soreness, high energy and ready to go. This 'high' lasted about a week after returning from Europe. The days leading up to Table Rock I started feeling tired and sluggish. The Table Rock 27K is the penultimate event in the La Sportiva Mountain Running Cup. Because I knew the course (having raced it 2 years ago) and because it was only a 2 hour flight away, we decided to travel the day before the race - something I never, ever do.

Travel went smoothly until we actually made it to the airport and got to the Rent-a-Car Center. A lesson for everybody: do NOT rent a car from Thrifty at the San Francisco Airport! The line was absolutely ridiculous; I have never seen anything like it. Tad stood in line for an hour before making it to the desk while I sat with all the little kids and old people who couldn't endure the long stand. By the time we made it out of there it was too late to go to packet pick-up so we went straight to dinner. My US Mountain Running teammate and friend, Chris Lundy, was extremely kind and generous and offered us her home to stay in while she was in Vancouver for NACAC. She lives a convenient 35 minutes from the course so we were very appreciative. Thanks, Chris!

View of Bolinas Bay from Chris' kitchen window. I know...
I woke up the next morning feeling really tired; I really wanted to just stay in bed. Obviously this is not the way one should feel race morning. My warm up was no more encouraging; I felt stiff and tight. I perked up a bit when I saw the La Sportiva clan and our friends Caitlin Smith and Sam Robinson. I knew there was going to be some great competition with the return of former course record holder Caitlin and 2:38 marathoner Yiou Wang.

Team La Sportiva: Jason Bryant, me, Brett Ferrier. Photo: Quinn Carrasco
The 27k starts with a 2,000 foot climb in just over 2 miles. I started slow and steady to allow my body to wake up from its funk. I passed Caitlin just before the mile and Yiou just after the mile. I looked ahead to the men and tried to use them to keep the momentum going. Even though I didn't feel springy, I was clicking off relatively fast splits hitting a couple sub-6 minute miles. At mile 10, the infamous switchback section, I saw Yiou hot on my heels. She passed me at the bottom and I tried to keep in contact until we hit the next big climb at about 12 miles where I took the lead again. We worked together up the final 1,500 foot climb to where we popped out to the final aid station. With 3 miles to go, she took the lead again, this time all the way to the end. The last 2 miles are on the famous stair-studded Dipsea course. I kept pushing because I knew I was going to kill my previous course time. I ran 2:13:08, a remarkable improvement over my 2:25:31 from 2013. I am a completely different runner than I was then. Yiou, Caitlin and I ran the 2nd, 3rd and 4th best times for this course. Full results here.

Almost to the top of the first climb

New La Sportivas! Photo: Quinn Carrasco
While standing around the finish line talking, all my fingers swelled up like little sausages. This was another first for me. I think it was a combination of the travel and a particularly hot and humid day for Marin County along with insufficient fluid intake. After a lunch that included a lot of water and salty soup, I'm happy to report my fingers deflated.

Thanks to race director Tim Stahler and all of the volunteers who made the day a success. Inside Trail events are top notch races. (Plus, they have my favorite race tech shirts-female, extra small AND a v-neck!) For a list of upcoming events, be sure to check out

Second place earned me 17 points for a total of 77 Cup points. There is only one more race left in the series, the Jupiter Peak Steeplechase, so I think it is safe to say that I got it this year.
Full Mountain Cup rankings can be found here.

At the start of the year, my two goals for the spring/summer were to 1. Make the US team and perform well at the World Mountain Running Championship and 2. Win the La Sportiva Mountain Cup. It was a grueling schedule the past several months and to come out the other side achieving my goals while staying healthy feels very satisfying. We made the tough decision to skip next weekend's National Mountain Running Championships in Bend to get a start on training for the fall. I have some big goals so there is no time to waste! Plus, just the thought of driving 8 hours makes my hammies spasm.

Post-race hugs are not the best. Photo: Quinn Carrasco
On a side note, congrats to the US women and men who placed first and second, respectively, at the NACAC Mountain Running Championships in Vancouver B.C. and to my Zermatt teammate Megan Kimmel who won the Dolomites Sky Race and set a new course record!

Friday, July 10, 2015

World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships

Usually I can produce a race report within 48 hours after finishing a race. However, it has been almost a week since the Zermatt Marathon, host of the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships in Zermatt, Switzerland, and I have just now started this report. There are so many memories, emotions and reflections that it has been difficult to get started on trying to organize them all in one blog post.

Tre Cime, Dolomites.
Tad and I had the good fortune to go to Europe 2.5 weeks prior to the race in order to adjust to the time change, become comfortable with the increase in altitude and - *TMI alert*, for my bowels to reset before race morning. For anyone who has traveled internationally you can understand the frustration of constipation, let alone having to run a marathon with 7,000 feet of vertical gain at altitude.

Our first stop was in San Vito, Italy just outside of Cortina to train in the awe-inspiring Dolomites. We were there just a week before the The North Face Lavaredo Ultra Trail race. From the Dolomites we moved to majestic Mont Blanc in Chamonix, France and fortuitously became spectators of the Mont Blanc Vertical KM. The week before the race we stayed in Grachen, Switzerland with Mario Mendoza who was on the men's team and Jade Ice his fiancé.  Grachen is a small town at about 5000 ft on the side of a mountain that towers over St. Niklaus where the start of the marathon takes place. Our pre-race adventures were so spectacular that we are already planning a return visit to any or all of these places next year.

Crusing in front of Mont Blanc.

Tad and I did a lot of preparation over the past 2 months to be as ready as possible for the Zermatt Marathon. I trained on a mountain road on the side of Mt Baker Highway that mimicked the first part of the course elevation gain (before we ran out of runnable mountain), we studied the course profile in great detail and the week before I ran the first 12 miles of the course at what we had dialed in as expected race pace followed by the next 8 miles the next day. I felt prepared and ready, both physically and mentally. My body felt good; strong and loose. It is very satisfying to know that you have done everything you could to be set for such an important race on such a grand scale. Regardless of the result, I made it to the start line in peak condition and that is a victory in itself. 

Training with the Matterhorn.

We left Grachen on Thursday to meet up with our teammates in Zermatt. Our Swiss hosts did not disappoint; Hotel Jägerhof was a beautiful hotel apartment with an incredible view of the Matterhorn right outside the window. Zermatt itself was a drastic contrast to the quaint and quiet town of Grachen; it was swarming with tourists, tiny cars zoomed in and out and around, and it was very expensive. Nevertheless, it was extremely beautiful to be always in the shadow of the Matterhorn, with the mountain constantly photo bombing every picture.

Mario, Jade & me relaxin' in Grachen.

Friday evening before the race Team USA met in the town square with the rest of the countries for the parade down to the opening ceremonies. I was excited to meet teammate Stevie Kremer, having followed her mountain running success on the international stage. I have preciously met, raced and got to know the rest of my teammates, Megan Kimmel, Brandy Erholtz and Megan Roche. With the American flag leading us, we marched down the street while being greeted by spectators eating gelato. I was incredibly proud to be standing alongside my teammates. They are my inspiration, my idols and truly some of the greatest people I know.

Go U.S.A.!
What better way to celebrate the 4th of July than by wearing the USA jersey at a World Championship. Race day was predicted to be warm (upper 70s) and so race organizers added 3 more water stops for a total of 13 aid stations along the 26.2 mile route. I used and needed every single one. My goal was to race smart. To keep cool and under control for the first half (only 1500 feet of elevation gain in the first half) in preparation for the long grueling climbs up to Sunnega and the final brutal ascent up to Riffelberg, a breathtaking 9,000 feet above sea level. On the starting line I saw a familiar face. Benoît Gignac, a Canadian friend who comes down to race in Bellingham from time to time, was racing for his country. At precisely 8:30am we were off. I made a last minute decision to run with a water bottle; a decision that I was very glad to have made.

Coming through Zermatt at half way.
My first half was smooth and comfortable. I made sure to drink and sponge at every aid station, but never lost a stride. I was in 22nd place into Zermatt, the half way point. Now the real work begins. The next 6 miles had a 4 mile section with a long relentless climb of some 2000 feet. I worked together stride for stride with Luibov Dobrovolskaia, a Russian competitor. I was thankful to have her beside me as we passed several men and women. I said something encouraging to her, but then realized she couldn't understand me so I gave her a pat on the back with a smile and a thumbs up. 

Working the climb with Luibov Dobrovolskaia.
I don't know how he did it, but Tad was everywhere. He was able to tell me where I stood in the race and how far behind I was. With 6 miles to go he was really excited and told me that if I kept moving up, I could be top 10. I got excited - maybe too excited - caught a foot on a short technical downhill and went tumbling to the ground. I busted my knee pretty good; enough to trigger a blink of panic, but I was able to jump up and keep moving. Unfortunately, while I was regrouping I lost my Russian friend and got passed by a couple women that I had passed on the way up. My mojo started to wane at this point and rather than being aggressive I started to become more careful to make sure that I stayed upright for the remainder of the race.

Me and Benoît pre-race.
At the next aid station, I gained a new perspective on what is one of the enemies of every dietitian, Coca-Cola. My decision-making skills dulled, I grabbed a cup of coke instead of water. What the hell, I remember thinking. It was the best thing I have ever put into my mouth! It was so delicious and so uplifting. It was like… well, it was like coke. At that point in race, I couldn't believe I have been telling people to avoid soft drinks all this time!

With 3 miles to go I looked up and saw Benoît; it was like seeing an angel. He was unfortunately struck by muscle cramps and was having a rough day. We ran together for about 1.5 miles until the final climb up to the finish. The last ascent was a grueling 1.2 miles with about 1,000 feet of gain. When I finally crested the top, there was a large inflatable arch over the trail and people lining the route. I knew the race finished on a downhill so this couldn't be the finish. I asked a race volunteer if this was the finish and he shook his head. A couple of the US men were sitting by the banner and yelled that the finish was another 600 meters. I have no idea why they would put that there, but it was very cruel.

I ended up placing 18th overall and 4th American in a time of 3:54:00. The US men had an awesome performance and won the silver medal and the US women earned the bronze behind Switzerland and Italy. Full results here.  

Megan Kimmel, Maria Dalzot, Megan Roche. Not pictured: Stevie Kremer and Brandy Erholtz.

Overall, I am really happy with my performance. I fueled well; never had any stomach issues and I felt strong the whole way. I feel I performed to my full potential and my preparations were on par.  I performed very well at 5009-8500 ft elevation with athletes that live and train daily at the altitude. Tad and I are continuing to reflect on the race to see what we can learn from and improve upon for the future. We already have some ideas.

The last climb was a doozy.
After the race Tad and I drove back to Italy to spend a couple days with my family who lives in Varese. Pizza, pasta and pastries are delicious, but I am thankful to be back home, back to my routine and ready to get back to work. I head to San Francisco next week for the La Sportiva Table Rock 27k, the second to last race in the La Sportiva Mountain Cup. I have been feeling really good post-marathon with no muscle soreness and high energy. I am confident I can have a solid performance to secure the Cup win.

Nancy Hobbs and me.
Race kit necessities.
What an incredible experience this has been and I am so very thankful for all of my supporters. Competing at this level is a total team effort and I wouldn't be able to do it without all of the amazing people in my life. Many, many thanks to Tad Davis, Nancy Hobbs, Richard Bolt, La Sportiva, Trail Butter, Terrain Gym, Align Chiropractic, Prime Massage & Sports Medicine, Bio Skin Premium Bracing, GU Energy Labs, Rocket Pure Natural Body Care and AthleteBiz. I want to extend a very special thank you to John Miller and Becky Conner who made a contribution for my participation in this race. Also thank you to my dear Bellingham Distance Project teammates, my family and friends from Bellingham to West Virginia and all of you who read about and support my athletic pursuits via social media. I appreciate every one of your comments, encouragements and congratulations, and look forward to having you all with me as I continue on this incredible journey.

*Click here for more of Tad Davis' race photos.

Post-race massage. Man, it felt good to be done!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Rothrock 'n Roll (On the Ground)

As promised, the Rothrock Trail Challenge had a lot of rocks. Infamously known for its technical single track, cliff scaling and unrelenting undulations, the race attracts over 400 runners to central Pennsylvania willing to test their patience and skill in the east coast humidity. It is part of the La Sportiva Mountain Cup and was my 3rd race in the series.

Rothrock Elevation Profile.

I had some concerns about the brutality of the course because my hip flexor really flared up after my last long run. The pain forced me to take 3 days completely off at the beginning of the week. Kerry and Chris graciously worked to get things under control enough for me to be able to run the race without further aggravating the strain.

To add insult to injury, our connecting flight to PA was cancelled due to a plane malfunction. We had to sit in the Chicago airport for 10 hours before the first available flight. After 28+ hours we finally made it to my parent's house and then drove to State College Friday afternoon to preview a section of the course. We chose to run the Shingletown Gap cliff trail to eliminate the element of surprise the next morning. It was going to be a long 17 miles on the trails.

Hunting for rattlesnakes.
Because the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championship is less than a month away, Tad and I made a conscious decision to run safely instead of aggressively to protect my hip and to make sure that I can recover quickly to resume training prep for World's.

From the start, I had the mindset of being out for a long run with 400 people. I followed the assembly line of racers up the first steep climb and then at the first downhill the eventual winner, local Meira Minard (she has won Rothrock multiple times), went bombing gracefully down. I tiptoed down as if on hot coals. I realized that I was not going to win this race by being conservative. I ran alone for the next several technical miles. Around 7 miles, a group of chatty men caught up to me. They kept me entertained until I fell flat in front of them and stopped the train. While I was rolling around on the ground, the third place girl passed me. I motioned them on so I could take my time and carefully maneuver the rocks. Despite my trying to be careful, I caught my toe and fell twice and rolled my ankle several times. Fortunately, just a couple scrapes and bruises to show for it.

I ran with Bryce Gavitt, two time Trophy Series winner, for a while until a sour stomach from bad pizza the night before got the better of him on the second to last climb. I am thankful for his cheerfulness to keep me company for at least 2 miles.

I crossed the finish line as 3rd woman, good for 15 points and a 34 point lead in the Mountain Cup. Full results here. The post race party was as intense as the course: a barbecue with all the fixings, pizza and even an ice cream truck to celebrate the courageous effort of all the runners.

The only rockless section.
I chose to wear the Helios SR which fit me like a glove and have a sticky rubber to grip even the slickest of rocks. However, for such a technical race like Rothrock, in hindsight I may have been better off wearing the Bushidos. Because the Helios SR is so narrow, it would get stuck between the rocks and start to pull off my foot when I pressed off. I did see 10 pairs of Bushidos on feet, but no Helios on the starting line.

A big thank you to race director Craig Fleming and all of the volunteers, especially Megan Marshall for being such great hosts, conducting a seamless race and for marking the course so well I never had to look down at my watch (which is a good thing because I would have fallen flat on my face). Thank you to Bio Skin for the awesome support provided by the compression calf sleeves. I can't wait to get my hips into a pair of the Bio Skin compression shorts! I also want to especially thank Dr. Chris Lockwood and Kerry Gustafson for fitting me into their busy schedules to make sure that I was "ALIGNed" and "PRIMEd."

The good news is my hip flexor feels better the day after the race than it has in two weeks. Mission accomplished. 

Final descent to the finish.

 *Tad Davis photos.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Ski to Sea 2015: The Year of No Snow

For those of you who are unfamiliar with "America's original adventure race," Ski to Sea is a seven sport relay race that covers 93.5 miles from Mt Baker to Bellingham Bay. The seven race legs in order are: cross country ski; downhill ski/snowboard; downhill road run; road bike; canoe; mountain bike; kayak. The first Ski to Sea was run in 1973 with roots stemming all the way back to 1911. Ever since, the event holds high prestige and attracts athletes from all over the world. It is known to the locals as the Bellingham Olympics.

Due to the unusual low snow pack (read: no snow pack), the cross country and downhill ski would not be possible this year. Ski to Sea race organizers were forced to come up with a solution which resulted in an alpine run as the first leg and another mountain bike leg as the last leg. See the new 2015 course here. As you can imagine this change of events caused quite the stir. It also gave me an opportunity to race in one of the most celebrated events in Bellingham. (Bellingham Herald article: Dalzot to make the most of rare Ski to Sea opportunity.)

I was gasping for air the entire 3.3 miles.
Lucky for me, Alyson, a.k.a. Cap'n Klein, asked me to lead the way for her team, the SHEroes. I was thrilled to be a part of a team full of talented, genuine and fun women.

Tad and I went up to Baker a week before to check out the course. I was so happy to see that, with the exception of the road section, the course was a true mountain run complete with steep scrambles, log jumps, water run-offs, brambles and mud. My excitement grew.

Kikkan Randall kickin' it in.

As I stood on the starting line waiting for the canon to explode at 7:30 am, I had no idea that Olympian and World Champion Nordic skier Kikkan Randall was running this leg. I'm glad I didn't as she is an intimidating athlete. Check out this video of her training and working out in the gym. It is stunning!

Alyson taking off and me doubling over.
After the shock of the boom subsided, runners took off, starting way too fast for a mountain race. Climbing is my strength and I was able to take the women's lead shortly after we started up Honkers Cat Track. This race distance (3.3 miles) is much shorter than what I typically run so it felt like an all-out sprint from start to finish, both physically and mentally.

As I came up and over the last short steep climb to the road loop where the downhill runners were anxiously awaiting the exchange, there was a huge roar of cheers from the crowd. This is something I have never experienced before; it was exhilarating. Long distance running is known as a lonely sport, but trail running is the loneliest of the lonely. Usually I am lucky if there are 10 people at the finish line and I rarely see spectators on the course because races are in remote locations on mountain tops with no access. Sometimes I don't even see my competitors for miles and miles. I have watched videos of the European races and this is exactly how they treat their trail runners. It was a huge adrenaline rush. The experience was extra special because most of the people in the crowd were part of the Bellingham community; good friends and supporters of mine. I moved to Bellingham for the trails, but have stayed for the great people. Ski to Sea is just another example of how cool Bellingham is.

I handed off to Alyson in first place, 14th overall (24:37) who then took off for the blistering 8 miles down the mountain to meet Aly with her road bike, who then handed off to world-class canoeists Daphne and Barb, who met Jenna on her mountain bike who handed off to Amelia in her kayak who hammered her way to Selva for the last leg on her mountain bike. We all met at the finish line at the ceremonial bell ringing. It was awesome. The SHEroes came in 3rd in the competitive women's division.

I don't know if I will have another opportunity to compete in Ski to Sea, but I am so thankful for the SHEroes, for race director Curtis Anson, for all the volunteers and for the community for the chance to experience an amazing event tied to so much culture and history. If there does happen to be another no snow year, you bet I will be there to help continue the legacy.

Team SHEroes! From left: Aly, Jenna, Maria, Amelia, Selva, Alyson

The Bellingham Herald race recap, Ski to Sea Succeeds without Snow.
Aly's beautiful blog report.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Hurtin' in Helena

Race Start.
Photo Credit: Gary Marshall Photos, Blackfoot Media Group
I'm lying on my La Quinta bed the morning after Don't Fence Me In and I can't move. My calves are sore. My hips are sore. My butt is sore. The beautiful trails of Helena put the hurt on me. This year was the Prickly Pear Land Trust's 15th running of the race and the 5th race in this year's La Sportiva Mountain Cup. After the positive experience we had last year, we were excited to return.

Race preview by Jimmy Grant, Montana Trail Crew:

Weaving through the switchbacks.

I'm in better shape this year so I was hoping to take 3 minutes off of my time from last year. I started out pretty aggressive from the gun and around the 5 mile mark I was 1:20 under last year's time. There was a course change that eliminated a one mile stretch of road and replaced it with an undulating single track that added some distance. Still, at 11 miles I was 2 minutes under my time. I started to feel the pace at the bottom of the climb up to Helena Ridge Trail, about 12.5 miles. I started to trip over rocks and swerve off the trail. I squeezed my GU too hard and it drooped all over my gloves and got all over my shorts when I went hands to knees to climb up the mountain. At 16.5 miles I was less than a minute under my time, but I was catching and passing many of the men. I didn't realize I was settling in and not pushing as much as before.

My feet are burning!!
The last climb up to the top of Mount Helena was hard. There was a lady walking up the trail who had started the race an hour earlier. She pulled over to the side to let me pass and said some words of encouragement. Then she pulled out her phone and started taking pictures of me so I really had to get moving! At this point I started to lose it. Close to the peak, a man's voice yelled down that I was almost there. When I reached him he said to go down this trail and then go to your left. Once I figured out which was my left, I started a mantra that was "go to your left, go to your left." Now was not the time to go off course; I just wanted to be done. The last mile is so steep and rocky, my feet were burning inside my Helios.

I ended up running 6 seconds slower than last year, but there is no question that I ran harder. It's difficult to tell how much the new course change affected splits, but given the way I feel today, I know I ran a strong race and how aggressively I can run without blowing up completely.

Full results here

Thank you to my sponsors La Sportiva, Terrain Gym, Align Chiropractic, Prime Massage & Trail Butter. Thanks to Kelli and Martin and all the folks at Prickly Pair Land Trust. Thank you Tad, BDP and all my friends and family from Washington to West Virginia.

Thoughtful note on my race packet bag.

Next up is the Rothrock Trail Challenge on June 6th at the Tussey Ski Area in Boalsburg, PA. Hello, heat and humidity!

iRunFar's "This Week in Running".