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

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Cutthroat Classic

The Cutthroat Classic is called a classic for a reason. The race is point-to-point 11 miles that goes 5 miles up and over Cutthroat Pass via the Pacific Crest Trail and then 6 miles of switchbacks down to Cutthroat Lakes Trailhead. The views are incredible, the community even better and the post-race burritos are 10/10. These are just a few of the reasons this race sells out every year, and why I wanted to be a part of the fun.

I first raced Cutthroat in 2014. I had a solid performance, but started the race a bit frazzled as I peed over a hornet’s nest 5 minutes before the start and got stung directly in the buttocks (I always say that with a Forrest Gump accent). You can read more about my experience here.

Since returning from Europe I have not been focused on racing because I was preparing to start a new job working as the dietitian of a bariatric weight management clinic. Now going into my third week, I am getting used to a tighter schedule and working on keeping my anxiety under control. Even though I have felt more tired, I did not back off on mileage going into Cutthroat because I am preparing for the Oregon Coast 50k in October.  

My goals for the race were to beat my previous 2014 time of 1:26:12 and to not get stung. (In addition to getting stung in 2014, I got stung by hornets the past two weekends on my mountain runs!) I knew winning was going to be difficult after hearing that the always impressive Ladia Albertson-Junkans would be on the starting line, but I would try to be as close to her as possible.

Lily Trotters Reppin'.
We stayed at the Winthrop KOA which meant a 40-minute drive to the start Saturday morning. I figured it was worth the extra driving time in the morning given the Four Season’s-like amenities at the campground. What I failed to factor in was how crowded the campground would be as people are trying to squeeze out every bit of summer before returning to school, darkness and rain. Obnoxiously large RV’s were pulling in deep into the wee hours of the night and their equally obnoxious owners cackled and yelled, inconsiderate of those trying to sleep. Anyways, I digress.

I got up at 5:00 to a chilly 43-degree morning. Tad brought the heater for the tent and made coffee while I ate my usual pre-race TrailButter and bagel. We left at 6:30 and made it to Rainy Pass Trailhead and first dibs on the bathroom before the bus of racers pulled in from Mazama. We met up with Ladia and jog-chatted until the first wave set off at 8:00. The trail quickly funnels from the parking lot onto the single-track PCT. The lead men took off and I led the train of the chase pack for about a mile and a quarter until Ladia let loose, went by me and off she went. It was kind of mesmerizing to watch her just float away. Then I realized that I had two ladies still right behind me, not missing a step. At about 3 miles, Winthrop’s Novie Mccabe passed me and then Spokane’s Kelly Quinn went by. I felt stuck in first gear and couldn’t respond quickly to their moves so I was now the caboose of the train. After about ¾ a mile I felt like I was having to slow down too much so I carefully took the lead again until a half mile from the top when everyone in the string passed me again. I kept calm, hoping that my improved downhill skills would serve me well. But as we crested up and over Cutthroat Pass, I was left in plumes of dust from my competitors. I worked the downhill as hard as I could, but was never able to catch back up to be within striking distance. I ended up as 4th female with a time of 1:26:02, 10 seconds faster than 2014.

Full results here

One mile to the finish.

Upon reflection, I was in really good shape in 2014 and ran Cutthroat just 2 months before I won the Trail ½ Marathon National Championship. So even though I didn’t have an ideal race then, I am not in that kind of shape right now to run significantly faster. I think I also underestimated how tired I was going into the race. But overall, it was a hard effort that will serve me well for the future and I got to run on a trail that is close to my heart (Tad proposed on top of Cutthroat Pass in 2015) with good friends on a beautiful day.

I don’t know if it’s me getting older –and hopefully wiser—but I don’t get as upset as I used to when I don’t run as well as I had hoped. There is so much more to racing than the pursuit of times and places, and while I will always work 110% to be the best I can, I also have a better appreciation for the ability to just be able to run in such magical places. As Ladia so poignantly quoted the inspiring Gabe Grunewald after the race, we just need to show up. Show up without expectations and pressure and with an open heart.

One of the many cool parts about this sport is that even if you don’t have a good race you can hit the trails the next day and let the beauty feed your soul. The following day, Tad and I ran the Maple Pass Loop which is easily my new favorite course in the North Cascades. Just wow. If you haven’t made that run/hike yet, please do yourself a favor and check it out.

Maple Pass, elevation ~6,900 feet.

Also, I didn’t get stung once all weekend.

Thanks to Adrienne Schaefer, the new event coordinator, the Methow Trails Event Team and to Winthrop Mountain Sports for such a challenging and fun race experience. Next year is going to be extra special as it will be the 20th anniversary of the race. I hope I can be there to help celebrate.

Thank you to Lily Trotters for sponsoring me in this race. These socks, are not only cute and comfortable, but they also are perfect for keeping clean on these dry dusty trails. You can check out more of their signature compression socks here

Here’s to squeezing out the last bit of summer.

Overlooking Lake Ann.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Pull-Up Assist Bands: Review from BarBend

Getting my pull-ups on at Terrain Gym
Lets be honest. Runners are not known for their arm strength. After all, it is our legs that propel us forward, up and over mountains. But this doesn't give us a free pass to skip the gym or monkey bars.

Many distance runners tend to overdevelop their chest and front shoulder muscles due to the way they carry their arms. Over time,
 this imbalance can result in a posture that causes stress and pain in the lower back, and is inefficient and uneconomical over long distances. Upper body strength is especially important for runners who frequent hilly and technical terrain.

The good news is that a combination of mid- and upper-back exercises such as pull-ups and chin-ups will help to prevent imbalances from developing. To help you do a pull-up correctly without sacrificing form or increasing chance for injury, use a pull-up assist band. I use these bands often in the gym, especially when I am getting tired and am straining in a way that feels injurious to me. 

For a reliable resource on the best pull-up assist bands and why this piece of equipment is a game changer, check out a comprehensive review from BarBenda news, analysis, entertainment, and opinion platform that posts multiple times a day on what is relevant in strength-based competition and training. 

Are pull-ups part of your routine? Do you use an assist band? How many can you do with and without an assist? Do you feel it makes you a stronger runner? Let me know!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Europe Trip 2017: Marathon du Mont Blanc and the Stanserhorn Mountain Run

Two years ago, we stayed in Chamonix for a couple of days while en route to Zermatt for the World Long Distance Championships at the Zermatt Marathon. Coincidentally, we were there the same weekend of the Mont BlancMarathon. The excitement buzzing through the valley and the inspiration of watching the racers finish the 80km race in town was so special that I wanted to be a part of it. This year we made that happen.

Aiguille du Midi - Chamonix, Mont Blanc
This was our third time traveling to Chamonix, so even though I was going to a foreign country, I felt comfort going to a familiar place. The weather when we arrived was super warm for us Pacific Northwesterners – mid-8o’s. That sun is just so hot if you’re not used to it.

Hanging with the locals.

Two days after we arrived and two weeks before the race, we ran 16 miles of the Mont Blanc Marathon course as part of a 20-mile long run. One week before the race we ran the 10-mile loop that included the daunting climb up to Col des Possette. Our first impressions were that the course was much more technical than we had first thought, but still nothing too crazy (especially for Europe). 

Col des Posettes on a clear day.
The climb (3,000 feet in 3.5 miles) was not as bad as I had anticipated and, after studying splits from racers past, set a goal of placing in the top 10. To be honest I really wanted to be one of the ten women standing on the awards stage. With 9,000 feet of climbing and 5,000 feet of descending in 26 miles it was not going to be easy, but I felt confident that this was a realistic goal.

Course Profile

Supporting ITRA with Andy Wacker.
The day before the race I got called to the laboratory next to the hospital to get my blood taken for doping control. I was so honored to take part! I stood in line behind Kilian Jornet. No big deal. As an aside, I just got an email today from the lab saying that my cortisol levels were especially high and that maybe this was race anxiety, but I should still share this information with my doctor. This stressed me out.

Climbing through the fog.
The night before the race a front came through changing the weather dramatically. Now I was anticipating rain for much of the race and hoped it wouldn’t be too bad at 6,000 feet. I started out the first four miles clicking off splits that were similar to my tempo run 10 days before. I was feeling good, running calm and relaxed, completely under control sitting in 5th position. Right before the climb to Possette, there was a downpour. The men around me were all stopping to put their jackets on, but I figured it would pass through quickly and knew that we wouldn’t be up on the ridge for long. And, come on, I live in the Pacific Northwest−this is nothing! The rain did let up, but left me soaked and in a cloud with zero visibility making a chilly traverse across Possette. The descent off the mountain is super technical with rocks and stairs made of slick wood logs. These technical parts are usually my weakness but after practicing on Chuckanut Ridge this Spring I was pleased that I only got passed by two men and I even passed one myself.

Sitting comfortably in 5th.
I always take GU when I’m racing and have never had a problem. When I took my first GU of the race, I noticed it didn’t appeal to me as it usually does and had a harder time getting it to go down. I didn’t think anything of it, and attributed it to breathing hard at elevation. But each sequential GU kept getting harder and harder.
Packet pick-up with Andy and Karly.

When we finally bottomed out, I felt off. I didn’t have the same composure. There is a road crossing at 19 miles where they put a temporary overpass made of scaffolding two-stories high. This is where the wheels fell off my bus. Looking back on the pictures, Tad told me that in this spot I look sick and pale with a caved in face. I started the long climb up to Flégère, but could only run a few steps, then I’d have to bend over. I suddenly felt so nauseas and had such an incredible thirst. Unfortunately, there was no aid until the top of Flégère. I have never felt such sickness in a race. I was really struggling and still had so far to climb to get to water. I don’t even like to drink from the same bottle as Tad, but here I was asking random people on the side of the trail and other racers for water. I started getting passed by other women until I was clinging to the 10th spot.

Right before the wheels fell off.
The best aid station crew.
Cheering for the Vertical Km with Megan and Sage.
When I finally got to the Flégère aid station, the top of a 6,000 foot peak, it was completely socked in and I became so cold I started shaking violently. The med staff saw me and pulled me into the medical tent and made me lie down on a cot. They brought me some Isostar sports drink and wrapped me up in an emergency blanket. One of the men even took his jacket off and covered me. They rubbed my hands together and made me tea to try to warm me up. They checked my temperature which had dropped significantly. Smartly, this race has a mandatory gear list for all racers which includes a cell phone. They were able to get me wi-fi (“wee-fee” as they called it) so I could call Tad. With his usual spectating plan of driving and running side trails he had followed my progress and was aware I had lost some spots when he last saw me at 21 miles. He was down in the valley in line to take the gondola up to meet me at the finish hoping I was holding on to that top ten podium spot. I explained I was sick in the medical tent so he drove to Les Praz and took the gondola up to Flégère. He got to the top, looked in the medical tent and saw two cots, one empty and one holding jackets and a space blanket. I was so bundled he didn’t even notice the lump under the pile was me. Tad said to call it a day and come back down the mountain in the gondola, but after the World Long Distance Mountain RunningChampionships in Slovenia last year, there was no way I was not going to finish. I asked how long I could lay there and still finish. I had three hours to get it together, so I laid there for about an hour and started feeling better. I thanked everybody for helping me and walk-jogged the final 5k which took a little over an hour. Tad jogged the first half mile with me to make sure I was okay to finish and then turned around and went back down the gondola at Flégère. This meant that I was alone at the finish. I am usually so hard on myself, but in this moment, I felt so proud. I took a selfie and got my yearly cup of coke. By this time the clouds lifted and the sun came out so I sat down for a bit and enjoyed the view before taking the gondola back down.

Finish line selfie.
So, what happened? Well, I don’t know for sure. Was I severely dehydrated? With this much climbing did I underestimate how slowly I should start? Did I have a bug? What could I have done differently? These are all questions going through my head to make note of and learn from for next time.
I honestly got to experience it all. From being treated as an elite, to racing in the top five, to being taken care of by the kindness of strangers, to racing to the finish with back of the packers (which is no different than running up front!). My friend Nikki summed it up best for me: “What an incredible day! To learn how fast you are (first 18 miles), how tough you are (last 3 miles), and how loved you are (Tad and aid station workers) all in one race!” The whole experience leaves me feeling so full of gratitude. The best part about not racing the way I had hoped is I get to return to Chamonix and try again. I’ll be back for you Flégère!

La mia famiglia
Two days after the race, we rented a car in Chamonix and drove to Varese, Italy to see my family. It is always so special to see them and they treat Tad and me like royalty. I’m still dreaming about the lasagna, risotto, cream puffs…  

Happy place.

From Varese, we drove into Switzerland and up and over Gotthard pass where we stopped for an awesome 7 mile run on a trail we found on the side of the road. The rest of the drive up the pass was so nerve-wracking because we were completely in a cloud and couldn’t see two feet in front of the car. With the narrow roads and cliffs, I’m terrified of the cars coming the opposite direction. I had to sit down low in the seat, close my eyes and pray.

The backdrop of Interlaken is the stunning Jungfrau mountain range. The problem with Interlaken is that to get anywhere with a cool view you have to climb. A lot. Or you have to pay to take the gondola. A lot. So, Tad studied the map and found the most obscure and scary road to drive up so that we wouldn’t have to do so much climbing. (I think by the time we returned the rental car imprints of my hands were molded into the dashboard and ceiling.) The trail was absolutely polluted with cow shit. There was just no avoiding it and we had to tip-toe through it to make sure we didn’t slip and fall face-first. Once we waded through that mess, we were treated with unobstructed views of the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau Mountains. Truly spectacular, shit and all.

Gotthard Pass, Switzerland.
Out of curiosity I looked up what other races were going on in Europe during our visit. One of the many cool things about Europe is that there always seems to be some trail or mountain race going on in every town. About one hour away from Interlaken was the 31st Stanserhorn Berglauf in Stans, Switzerland. This is an 11-kilometer mountain race with 5,000 feet of gain. A true mountain run with zero descent.

Jungfrau Mountain Range.

On Saturday, the day before the race, I still couldn’t decide if I wanted to run. The weather did not look good and it was going to make for a long day of travel because the town of Stans was the opposite direction of where we needed to end the day. We had to return the car to Chamonix Sunday night, get a shuttle to the Geneva airport, and then a shuttle to the hotel in France, to fly out the next morning. I hardly slept at all, tossing and turning about logistics. I woke up at 5am and still didn’t know if I wanted to race, as it was pouring rain outside. We decided to head to Stans and make the call when we got there. So we drove to Stans, pulled into the cobblestone town square where they were just starting to set up the start banner. We were a little early and luckily found a parking spot meters from the start. I still didn’t know if I wanted to race as I was walking to the registration table. Finally, I thought what the hell, just do it. This is not my normal mode of operation by any stretch so this was a big step for me. We paid 50 francs, and they handed me a number. Nobody spoke English so after a fun game of charades we finally found the bathrooms.

1 Km in before the road turned to trail.
I felt surprisingly good on the warm up given that I had just run the marathon a week before. (I guess it helps marathon recovery when you take an hour nap in the middle!) From the start through the first 1 km (each km was marked) I was about 30 meters behind the lead woman. I didn’t know at the time, but this woman was the course record holder. Half-way up the climb, I was still feeling really good, closed the gap and covered any move that she tried to make. As the race wore on, she started to lose her footing in the closing mile so I figured she was getting tired and as soon as the trail opened up, I would be able to pass her in the last mile and pull off the win.

Pushing to see the finish.
The problem with not knowing the course and running in a cloud is that I didn’t know exactly where the finish was and couldn’t see anything ahead of me. The final mile continued to be narrow trail that was so steep it was mostly stepped switch-backs. I’m not as efficient on steps and my opportunity to “let ‘er rip” never came. I ended up getting beat by 24 seconds. I’m kicking myself for not making a move earlier, but I’ll know for next time.

What a trip. I think this has been my favorite adventure yet because I grew so much. I feel like every day I was pulled out of my comfort zone and had to embrace being comfortable feeling uncomfortable. My hope is that as I settle back into my every day routine I can hold on to this new growth.

More pictures from my trip can be found on Instagram @mariadalzot.

Thank you to all of my sponsors who help support my dream and to you for reading and following along on the adventure.