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!