Sunday, December 6, 2015

Terrain Gym Vimeo Shoot

I had the really cool opportunity to work with Bellingham photographer, Carton Artac, on a Vimeo for Terrain Gym. The two minute video shares my innate passion for running and tells how strength work was a missing piece of my training until I found Tonia and how it takes my training to the next level in order to be more competitive.

Prior to this interview, my goal for 2016 was to qualify for the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championship that will be in Slovenia next year and place in the top 10 (I was 18th at the World Championship this year). However, I failed to mention the Long Distance part. Also, this was before I went to the qualification race in Moab in early November and ended up not racing. 

Oh well.

It's a pretty awesome clip if I do say so myself. I am very proud of Terrain Gym and all that it stands for. If you're in the Bellingham area and looking for a unique gym that will make you stronger, fitter, faster, more durable and confident--then come and check it out!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Running in a Dream: The Lake Padden Trail ½ Marathon National Championship

Running in the USATF National Trail Half Marathon Championship yesterday at Lake Padden was like running in a dream. I say dream because nightmare sounds too dramatic. I was surrounded by too many loved ones, too perfect weather and my love of trail running is too much to compare my experience to a term that induces fits of horror.  

Winning the National Championship last year was one of the most special moments in my life. I have never experienced such a voluminous out-pour of love and support and it was a huge boost to my resume helping to bring about many opportunities for me in the last 12 months. I know that I was fortunate to have had that experience, especially in my hometown, and I will forever hold it close to my heart.

At the expo with 'Motional Maria. PC: Richard Bolt
Two weeks before the race I started to get really nervous. I blame this partly on Tad who is usually my rock, laid back and calming my monkey mind, but he was uncharacteristically worked up. Between his nervous energy and my anxiety our house was turning from a peaceful pea-pod (term coined by the BDP gals) to a restless storage closet of race paraphernalia. But, one day I woke up with the revelation that I didn't care what anyone thought about me or my race results and I recognized that all of the pressure I felt was all self-induced. I felt so much better. The week leading up to the race I was in a good head space; calm and mentally sound.

My body, on the other hand, felt slightly off. Even after cutting my mileage down dramatically I felt tired and sluggish. My token workout on Wednesday was ugly and forced. I also wanted to punch everybody in the face. Classic PMS symptoms. The night before the race I was up all night with bad cramps and when I woke up in the morning I had started my period. Bummer. But my first thought was if Krissy Moehl can run 175 miles of the Tahoe Rim Trail in 47 hours on hers, surely I can run 13 miles around Lake Padden on mine. So there.

After a beautiful evening for the race expo we were treated to perfect race weather. I got to the course in time to see the start of the Al Coyle Community 5k take off for the first time. It was great to meet some of the athletes who I have only read about and welcome them to Bellingham. As soon as the horn blew and we were off, I could tell I was off. I was working harder than I should have been and after running this course countless times I knew that that was not a good sign for what was to come. I passed a couple women on the first loop, but after coming back around on the gravel path my legs were done. At 7 miles I didn't think I would be able to finish. It literally felt like the classic dream of trying to run as fast as you can but being in slow motion. I was flailing, but going nowhere.

Trying to move forward.
I can honestly say that I have never felt like this in a race before. It really sucks that it had to be this one in front of everyone I know. Even though I kept slowing down, all of the volunteers and spectators kept cheering me on. I felt embarrassed and slightly humiliated being so far back. I was better than this, but there was nothing I could do about it. I ran the entire second loop alone. I could have very well just been on a training run. Time was not moving and I found myself constantly looking down to my watch to see if I was making any progress, something that never happens to me in a race. It was such a surreal experience that I still can't get over. On the last climb I heard bells and looked up to find the course sweepers, they were my trail angels. I needed their smiles and support more than ever!

I finally crossed the finish line in 8th place after what felt like 3 days of torture. For me, whether a race goes good or bad, there is always that immediate feeling of bliss to just be done. Even though I was so far back I still received such an abundance of love from my community and I am so touched by everyone's support. Sincere congratulations to repeat men's winner Patrick Smyth and new national champion Kimber Mattox. Full results here.

It is when the excitement calms down and everyone goes home that the realization that you failed to achieve your goals sets in. I was realistic and knew that winning this race would take miraculous powers, but I am in shape to place top 5, no question. I was up all night tossing and turning with depression. I know I have no reason to be sad; I have had an incredible year! And truthfully in my old age I handle these situations much better than in the past. It doesn't make them any easier or the hurt any more bearable, but I know that this is par for the course and in the wise words of Alexi Pappas, 'I'm glad I didn't achieve all my goals today because then I would have nothing to do tomorrow."

So I am up at 6:30am this morning and ready to hit the trails. I will be racing the Marathon Trail Championships on November 7th in Moab, Utah. There is no time to waste feeling sad. The good news is I won't be on my period!

I really can't thank enough all of the people who came out to watch and support and volunteer for the race. You are all so important to Tad and me; we truly struck gold when we decided to move here.

From the bottom of my heart I want to thank the important team of people who have got me to every starting line this year healthy: Kerry Gustafson, Chris Lockwood and Tonia Boze.

Thanks to my sponsors La Sportiva and Trail Butter for keeping me equipped and fueled to succeed; and Bio Skin Premium Bracing for aiding in my recovery and injury prevention and Rocket Pure for spoiling me with some awesome natural body care products.

Can I just say that my BellinghamDistance Project (BDP) teammates are the best? I love you girls so much!

Post-race Party at Aslan.
Lastly, I just have to say how proud I am of Tad Davis, race director extraordinaire and freshly minted fiancé. He has worked so hard over the past 12 months to create a national class event. He had many sleepless nights chewing over the best way to mark the course that would be vandalizer-proof (he ended up marking it 3 different ways) and stressing over having local awards, tables and chairs for the expo, etc at various points as problems arose. From the t-shirt design to laminated maps for each volunteer, he put a lot of care into every decision. He produced the results he envisioned and I am so proud of him. Thanks (and Happy Birthday!) to Al Coyle for establishing this platform where we can show off Bellingham and what makes it such an outstanding place to live.

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!