Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Sun Mountain 25k

Friday afternoon we headed over to the east side of the Cascades for Rainshadow Running’s Sun Mountain 25k. The stoke was high that the highway 20 pass opened just days before, cutting our road trip in half. We stopped at Washington Pass for the obligatory “look how much snow there is!” picture.

I made reservations for us to stay the weekend at the Winthrop KOA, the crème de la crème of campgrounds. Our tent sat right next to the river which was rushing so hard it sounded like the ocean. The owners were just delightful; super welcoming and hospitable. The bathrooms were insane. Held inside a landscaped cedar cabin, inside each door is your own private toilet, sink and vinyl shower. I will forever be spoiled.

Tad and I ran 9 miles of the course on Saturday while cheering on the 50k runners we saw on the course (Kaytlyn Gerbin, Michael Plummer and Tara Berry crushed it!). I feel a lot more confident going into a race when I know the course so I try to see as much as is reasonable the day before. This also allows me to really stop and enjoy the amazing scenery, which is just breathtaking.

James moved the start of the race up two hours from 10:00am to 8:00am. I was so grateful for this change as it was going to be a high of 82 in the Methow on Sunday, a temperature to which I am not acclimated.

After studying the course and splits from folks who ran it last year, my goal was to run under two hours. But after previewing the course and finding out that an extra 1.4 or so miles was added, I let the time goal go and just focused on running aggressive. And, let’s be real, a win is always nice, too.

The first couple of miles are net downhill and a woman took it out hard at about 6:15 pace. I worked to catch up to her and passed her at 3.5 miles. I continued to move up the field catching the 7th and 8th place men on the first sustained climb. I shared a few miles with Brett Winegar who was clearly running much more relaxed than me based on his ability to speak in full sentences versus my grunting.  They kept me company until the aid station where I did not stop and kept the pressure on to try to gap the woman who was hot on my heels.

When I saw Tad at 10 miles, she was 90 seconds behind and then at mile 11.4 she was 4 minutes behind. Experience has taught me to not rest on my laurels despite the increasing gap so I continued to run scared. With a couple of miles to go, I checked my watch and realized I still might have a chance at breaking two hours! But the clock was ticking and the finish line was just out of reach. I finished the approximate 15.7-mile course in 2:01:08.

Full results here

Congratulations to everyone who ran not only the 25k, but also the 100k and 50k in such warm conditions. An extra special congratulation to Doug McKeever, who returned to racing after a 10-year hiatus. Doug is a pioneer of the sport and it is because of people like him that not only make trail racing possible with volunteering, etc., but are also a tremendous source of inspiration and a tribute to the longevity of the sport.

I didn't embarrass myself this time and knock James out at the finish.
Thank you to James, the Rainshadow Running crew, and all the volunteers who make these events so special. I realize that this is biased, but the trail running community is the best and I just feel so blessed to be a part of it and have so many good people in my life.

I have had consistent training for 8 weeks now thanks to the help of Kerry Gustafson, Chris Lockwood and Tonia Boze. A month out from Mont Blanc I feel good both physically and mentally. Another two weeks of training and we head to Europe.

Thank you for reading and for all the messages of support and encouragement. They carry me far. 

Sunglasses: Native Eyewear
Pre-race fuel: TrailButter Dark Chocolate & Coffee
Body care: Rocket Pure Friction Therapy Anti-Chafe Balm & Sunscreen

Monday, April 24, 2017

Return to the Rim

It was a cold and rainy Saturday morning about a month ago in the throes of the PNW late winter, and I was dragging my feet trying to get out the door for my run. I started watching Rainshadow Running race videos and dreaming about the sun. I made a split-second decision to sign up for both the Yakima Skyline Rim 25k and the Sun Mountain 25k. Not only are these races an escape to a sunnier, dryer land, the timing aligns perfectly with my build-up to the Mont Blanc Marathon on June 25th, all about a month apart.

One of my self-improvement goals this year is to work on being more comfortable being uncomfortable. With this in mind, Tad and I camped out the night before the race. If you told 10 years ago Maria that she was going to camp outside in the cold the night before a hard race she would have laughed in your face while booking it to the nearest Holiday Inn. The low was a cold 39 so we slept in the back of our Explorer on a platform Tad built, but also pitched the tent for changing and stretching in the morning. Tad fit the windows with Reflectix Insulation which helped keep it warm and prevented light from coming in. We blew up the air mattress which made it comfortable, but only left 6 inches above us when lying down. I wish I had a video of us crawling out of the car at 1:00am to go to the bathroom. Other than feeling a bit claustrophobic, it was cozy and comfortable until about 3:30am when the temperature really dropped and I still struggled to keep warm.  

Leading up the first climb.
I ran the Yakima 25k last year so this time I knew what my legs and feet were getting into. This race is noted in my brain as one of the hardest trail races I have ever run with almost 5,000ft of gain in 15 miles. The weather this year was much cooler and the trails less dusty which made racing condition more pleasant, though James still required each runner to carry 40 ounces of water.

Side note: We went to the course two weeks ago to get some sun and instead got rain, 60mph winds and the type of mud that sticks to your shoes in 50 pound clumps. 

Epic sun (and video) fail.

There is no crew access due to the remote nature of the course. Tad started up the climb about 20 minutes before the start so I only saw him in the first mile and then at the finish. But I knew I wasn’t going to be alone out on the course. I knew Doug McKeever was going to be stationed at 5.5 miles providing runners with water and encouragement. I knew Glenn Tachiyama was going to be taking pictures up on the ridge. I ran into Paige Patillo at the Ellensburg Starbucks race morning so I knew smiling faces and high-fives waited at the Roza Creek halfway aid station (and Tad screaming from across the river, watching through his binoculars).

It seems like I was surrounded by friends for the whole race. The out-and-back course allowed runners coming down to cheer on runners coming up. The cheers and encouragement from my fellow racers were so appreciated. I tried to return the good juju, but I got to the point where I was breathing to hard a wave or thumbs up would have to suffice.

Last year I started out very aggressively and paid for it on the return trip. I kept that in mind this time and used the first 2,100ft climb essentially as a warm up. I felt so much better on the return and was able to run all but the extremely steep sections. I passed the 4th place man heading back up and spotted the 3rd place man up ahead. I worked on reeling him in the whole way back. Not until the finish did I realize it was Sam Naney, husband of my friend and former La Sportiva teammate Alison Naney.

I was so deep into “race mode” I totally forgot to let up at the finish line for my high-five from James! This series of pictures embarrassingly highlights the intensity of my finish. Sorry for almost dragging you straight to the pizza, James!

I can always tell how good a race was by how terrible I feel after. I felt pretty terrible after this one with the headache kicking in on the way home. This morning, I can’t make any sudden movements without something cramping. It was a good day.

Full results here

Monday, March 20, 2017

Ultra Debut: Chuckanut 50k

Just another rainy Saturday morning
with my training buddies Corrine and Nikki.
Since Krissy Moehl moved back to Bellingham she has become a dear friend of mine. Over the course of the past year, I have heard of the excitement building for the 25th anniversary of the Chuckanut 50k. Visions of sky writers, balloons, fireworks and lots and lots of sparkles danced in the planning committee’s heads. This was going to be an unforgettable event and I wanted to be a part of it. But this time with a bib number pinned to my shirt.

We started training for the race in December. Tad studied splits from racers past to get a feel of what we needed to do. We had intentions of running each section of the course exactly as how I would in the race. Per usual, we were going to be as dialed in as possible. But like most things with running, rarely does training go as planned. This year’s unprecedented snow really limited our ability to train on the course safely and made workouts near impossible. I mentioned in my Fragrance Lake Half Marathon report that I have been unable to get on a role with my training for a year now. This frustrating pattern continues. Though Fragrance Lake went really well, I had to take a couple days off prior to the race due to hip pain and then I had to take a week off afterwards due to a high hamstring pain.

Coming down from the Ridge.
So, as Chuckanut crept closer, my ambitious goals became softer to the point we were like, okay, let’s just get to the starting line healthy and have a good experience.

Because I missed or had to cut short several long runs, my confidence leading up the race was really lacking. To be honest, I was terrified. I have only raced two trail marathons in my life and the 50k distance really intimidated me. I was worried about how my legs would feel - would I be able to finish without pain, what was the right way to fuel, what was I going to wear? So much to think about; it was exhausting. I started packing for the race two weeks out…and I live here! #OCD #anxiety

Start Line Smiles with Chuckanut Champ Ladia.
It was only the week before the race that the snow melted from the course. Tad and I went up on Monday to run the Ridge because I haven’t been able to get on it for a couple of months. It was surprisingly dry and in great condition. However, these conditions were quick to change as the night before the race brought downpours that absolutely trashed the Chuckanut trails into a muddy slip and slide obstacle course.

Racers were greeted race morning in true PNW fashion: 43 degrees and steady rain.

Since I am in no shape to race the lead women, who are some of the nation’s finest talent, my race execution was to just run my own race. I really wanted my first ultra to be a positive experience, without any major catastrophes and maybe even have a little fun along the way. I let everyone take off and stayed a controlled 7:00-7:10 pace on the way out on the Interurban trail, knowing that the key was having legs for the return 10k. As someone who usually races half marathons to 25k, I felt my biggest challenge was to just stay calm and patient and not let my anxiety have a voice.

Crawling up Cleator with Corrine

At aid #1, I took off my Hail Jacket and traded my handheld for a vest. My adventure through the middle 18 miles was pretty uneventful. I ran mostly alone, completely comfortably, and never experienced any lows. You know that song from The Band, “Up On Cripple Creek”? Well, I had the lyric, “When I get off of this mountain, you know where I wanna go…” playing in my head. I just kept moving, never once having to walk until the steep sections of Chinscraper, which is where I felt my strongest. I passed a lot of men and one woman who informed me I was now in 5th position.

"When I get off of this mountain..."

My one kryptonite was my Reynaud’s Syndrome. My hands became so numb even though I had handwarmers. Once handwarmers get wet they are useless and then my hands are useless. I couldn’t open any GU’s or drink any water from Lost Lake down to the last aid station. I wasn’t able to put my gloves back on after trying to unzip my pack pocket and needed assistance from aid station volunteers to help me put my gloves back on. (Thank you, Michael!)

I flowed back down Fragrance Lake Road to the final aid station where I was to meet Tad to trade back my vest for the handheld for the final 10k. I yelled that my hands were too numb to take the handheld and that I was so thirsty, but my mouth was too numb to drink water. Tad had to hold a bottle and feed me like a baby bird. He opened two GU’s for me which I held in each hand and kept my vest on for the final stretch.

First ultra - DONE!

I felt pretty strong coming in, only frustrated with losing time stopping at the road crossing for cars. I struggled to keep pace the final mile, but made it to the finish line as 5th woman, with all my limbs intact and a smile on my face. Goals met. The whole race I kept telling myself that I only had to run 30 miles because the final 1+ miles are just excitement and adrenaline. Turns out, that didn’t happen. There was no magical energy source that usually comes at the end of the race. It was just, “get me to the damn finish chute already!”

Photo Booth shot 2 minutes after the finish.
Full results here

Overall, I am very pleased with my first Chuckanut 50k, my ultra debut. I am so incredibly thankful that I was able to run the whole race pain-free (hip and hamstring were fine and I’m feeling pretty good two days later!), considering that I couldn’t run 60 seconds 2.5 weeks ago without pain. It was a positive experience surrounded by my amazing Bellingham community and friends. 

As they say, you never forget your first time.

Congratulations to EVERYBODY who crossed the finish line from 1st place to last; this was no easy feat in many regards and took perseverance, strength and a good sense of humor. Well done!


Krissy and her team of co-race directors: Alina Prendiville, Kevin Douglas, Tyler Pouley.

All of the wonderful aid station volunteers, especially Michael Plummer and CamE Tasker, and to all those from the community who came out to cheer. It means so much!

Tad, the world’s best spectator…and coach, and photographer, and pack mule, and husband, and crew, etc. I love you!

Kerry Gustafson of PRiME Massage and Sports Medicine and Dr. Chris Lockwood of Align Chiropractic.  I am infinitely grateful for all the time these two have put into me. Seriously two of my favorite people!

My training partners (Nikki Vander Wiele, Scarlett Graham, Corrine Malcolm, Andrew Taylor, Christian Blankenship) who met me every Saturday morning since December at 8:00am at the bottom of Cleator Road to go up and down Fragrance lake over and over because the rest of the course was covered in snow.

Hanging out with my gorgeous BDP teammates at the after party.
PC: Courtney Olsen

What’s next? I want to get the hell off Chuckanut Mountain and go find some sun! I will be racing Rainshadow Running’s Yakima Skyline Rim 25k and Sun Mountain 25k in preparation for the Mont Blanc Marathon in Chamonix, France on June 25th.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Fried Eggs & Fragrance Lake

I woke up this morning unsure of how my first race of the year would unfold. Of course, I would like to say that my training has gone seamlessly and without setbacks, but that is far from the truth. I am still struggling to get rolling and have consistently good workouts. I am still struggling with inconvenient aches and pains and tightness that interfere with any semblance of speedwork.

Add to that snowpocalypse 2017 and this winter’s training has been nothing to write home about. This week was especially frustrating because the Pacific Northwest got hit with another freak snowstorm. Six inches of snow at sea level made it impossible to run without slipping or pulling an adductor. I tried on Monday and aggravated my hip flexor. Between that pain and the ridiculous amount of snow and slush that accumulated, there seemed no way that I would race this weekend. The last thing I wanted to do was really injure myself and be out of the Chuckanut 50k, my debut at the distance, now only five weeks away.

But on Thursday a weather miracle happened: a warm wind blew in and the temperature rose 20 degrees in a half hour. Then it started raining. The snow was melting at such a fast pace, sidewalks turned into streams and we could finally see the Prius. It looked like racing was going to be a possibility. Tad and I checked out the Fragrance Lake Half Marathon course on Friday for any remaining snow and ice. The trails were - amazingly - all clear. I was almost hoping they would still be covered so I wouldn't be able to race. Now, I had to make a decision when I wasn't confident in how I'd be able to perform. I planned to warm up for the race, see how my hip felt and then decide.

Today’s pre-race breakfast was fried eggs and potatoes. There is nothing that makes me giddier than a fried egg cooked just enough to have a beautiful runny yolk. As I cracked my first egg in the pan, I busted the yolk. Damnit! I was careful to not damage the second, but when I went to flip, I saw a steam of bright yellow ooze across the bottom of the pan. Nooo! My plate of eggs ended up being a complete mess. My immediate reaction was to assign a foretelling of the race to my eggs and think "this race isn't going to go well". I added salt and pepper and a roasted purple potato. It was delicious. It doesn’t matter that your eggs are not cooked to perfection or Instagram-worthy; they can still taste good. I left the table with this comforting thought and took it with me to the start line.

All systems were go after warming up and feeling oddly good for a change. After some course briefing from race director and 200-mile mastermind Candice Burt of Destination Trails, we were off. David Laney led the way, stringing the pack out quickly before starting the ascent up Chuckanut mountain. I started out per usual and let the crazies go screaming out to try to keep up with David. Once the climb started, I made my way into the men’s chase pack and worked with them up to Fragrance Lake. The recent storm left many trees down across the trail which required a quick decision to go over or under. My short legs struggled to get over the big ones and I had to use my upper body strength to pull myself over. But then there were some where I could stoop low enough to scramble under. Either way, it slowed things down but kept things interesting.

Awesome handcrafted wooden awards from Elevation Culture.
I felt strong from start to finish. I could switch gears efficiently and keep pushing without feeling any fatigue. Two weeks out from the race was a planned down week and the week before I scrapped my double days and workouts because of the snow so I was feeling the advantages of rest. It’s amazing; you should try it.  I actually passed and pulled away from two men on the Ridge. Those of you training for the Chuckanut 50k know how challenging the Chuckanut Ridge trail is so I was thrilled that maybe I’m finally getting the hang of it.

When I crossed the finish line I was stoked that my time was the same as last year despite the extra challenging trail conditions and being in worse shape. I am thankful that the weather cooperated and my body responded so well to treatments from Chris and Kerry that I could race. This was a big confidence boost, one I desperately needed going into the final weeks of training for the 50k.

Full results here

I am also thankful that my yolks cracked because it is a good reminder that just because life isn’t perfect and running isn’t constant progression, doesn’t mean that the results can’t be good. The best thing I can do is believe and stick to my 2017 motto: let failure be an option. 

I want to give a shout out to my 2017 team of sponsors who continue to encourage me and support me on and off the trails, regardless of my performance. They believe in me as much as I believe in them.

iRunFar: This Week in Running February 13, 2017
AthleteBiz: Valentine's Day Feature
Trail Run Project: 8 Pros Share Best Trail Running Tips