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".