Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Monday, August 6, 2018

Volcanic 50: Racing Around Mt. St. Helens

“There is no way I am racing this in two weeks!” I scream ahead in frustration to Tad as I am crawling like a baby monkey over a vast boulder field. Fast forward two weeks, and I have crossed the finish line of Go Beyond Racing’s Volcanic 50km with a swollen butt cheek from a hornet (my signature sting location), black and blue palms, a busted hip, and the most incredible feeling that I did something that was so far out of my comfort zone despite the voices of anxiety trying to talk me out of it.

Here is how I got there:

Two weeks before the Volcanic 50, a “rugged, remote and challenging 50K+ course” circumnavigating Mt St Helens with 7,400 ft of elevation gain and loss, Tad and I drove to Cougar to run the course as a preview knowing this race could trigger all manner of anxiety for me (boulder fields, drop offs, scree fields, being alone, getting lost in some remote canyon, etc.) The weather man was warning us of severe temperatures topping off in the mid-90’s and cautioned people to stay indoors. Not what you want to hear when you know you are going to be completely exposed with little water for hours. To make a (very) long day short, we got lost in the first three miles, stopped a total of 5 times at every water source to filter water for half an hour and still ran out, cooked like wienies, and barely made it back to the car in 12.5 hours.

I couldn’t imagine doing this all over again in two weeks. But something kept nagging at me despite the anxiety and doubt. It would be a completely different experience having a marked course, support from aid stations and the company of 250+ other racers. I really wanted to run this race to prove to myself that I could. How many times in your life do you get to run around an active volcano, over lava and pumice fields, cross rivers, and run through a blast zone? Not many. So, I decide to attempt it.

We left Bellingham Friday morning around 10:00am and arrived at the Cougar RV campground around 5:00pm after hellish traffic. Immediately after pulling into the campground, I had a bad feeling. I just did not get a good vibe from this place and felt a sense of unease. We met the owners and they were very nice people. They showed us to our campsite and it was right beside the RV owners who reside there. They had nice private tent spots in the back, but the owner said there were hornets’ nests and I might not want that before my race.

Let’s just say it was like staying on set of a Twin Peaks episode. Very unique characters walking around and doing tasks like searching for something (no idea what) in the bushes or tinkering with their RV. While we were eating dinner, this extremely malnourished cat with a pink collar crawled over to us by using only it’s front two legs. His back legs drug on the ground it a splits formation. It was one of the most upsetting things I have ever seen. Tad had to give me a pep-talk before I was convinced to use the bathroom which gives me the heebie jeebies just thinking about it. At least it’s quiet, I said aloud. Then, almost on cue, a caravan of Latinos pulled in around 10:00pm and continued to scream, shout, and laugh until 4:00am, when our alarms went off. Did I mention there was no wi-fi?

We survived the night and got out of there as quickly as possible to head to the race start at Marble Mountain Sno-Park. The volunteers of this race were nothing short of spectacular. The check-in process had three lines: one for a mandatory gear check, one to get a ticket stub with race number, and one to receive your bib.

Before sending us off, Todd and Renee reminded us of bees, gave us courtesy instructions for the rope climbs and assured us that we were going to experience the best water of our lives at The Spring aid station around mile 20.

Start to Butte Camp (6 miles)

The first couple miles climb gradually on an access trail to the Loowit trail. Once we popped out on the Loowit trail we were smacked in the face with gorgeous views. I could hear a lot of “oohs” as “aahs” as we started up the first climb through the forest. Around mile 3, we were in a conga line of sorts and up ahead somebody yells, “BEES!!!” Suddenly, panic ensues. I stopped for a second and asked the guy behind me what we should do. *Cue all the Forrest Gump references* He responded, “Run!” and I said “Okay!” and off we went when something jumped up and bit me directly in the buttocks. It hurt, but I figured if I was going to get stung, the ass was a good place to get it. Plus, I have a running history of getting stung in the butt. The poor guy in front of me had bees stuck in the liner of his shorts and got stung multiple times in the groin.

Once we recovered from that trauma, we hit the lava fields. This was the section we were on when I told Tad I wasn’t running this race. I knew that my timid approach from boulder to boulder would get me passed by many fearless technical runners. I climbed as aggressively as I could considering that we were only at mile 4 of 32, but I still got passed by many men and 4 women. Once the ground became runnable again, I surged to catch up to the group being led by my good friend Jeff Fisher. Before the race I was hoping that we could run together, but I knew that he is more skilled then me on all the boulders. It worked out that I got out ahead of him early so that I could get a head start on the lava field knowing that he would catch me there.

Butte Camp to Toutle River (6 miles)

I ran in the back of a small pack of people wearing La Sportiva’s as calmly as I could, but I still felt like we were running way too aggressive for this early on. “What did I get myself into?” I started thinking. I felt like I was in way over my head. I chatted as much as I could to try to get out of my own head. Jeff, eventual women’s winner Cassi Knight and I stayed together all the way around the edges of the steep canyons and down the 1,600-foot drop through dense forest to the Toutle River crossing. I am pretty quick through the aid station, so I thought I would get a head start on the rope climb down and back up again.

Cautiously crossing the scree field.

Toutle River to the Spring (8 miles)

We were only allowed on the rope one at a time, so once you got to the top, you had to yell down “FREE!” so the person at the bottom could start. It was stressful having people wait on me to get up the rope, so I went as fast as I could. Let me remind you that this is mile 13 of 32. I needed to calm the F down. Once I got to the top of the rope, Cassi was just gone, and I was alone which was bad news for me because the next section was the part I was most afraid of – the scree field switch-back. I made it to the opening of the field and hesitated. I knew Tad was up top to take pictures, but I still froze there and waited until the next man came up behind me to cross. He was going slower than I would have liked and eventually stopped half-way through the field to take in the views! How dare he when he’s supposed to be helping me across this thing! Then Tad starts screaming at me to keep moving so I eventually make it across and up over this thing. By this time the lead women have minutes on me, but the trail flattens out and I can finally run. The only problem is we must run right on the edge of another cliff. It’s a very short section, but again, enough to make me stop and wait on the person behind me. At this point I am racing the demons in my head and want to just make this a fun experience. Luckily that’s just what happened.

Jeff caught up shortly and then we weaved in and out of canyons and rolled through the expanse of the blast zone enjoying the views, smelling the musk scent of elk, and telling stories, namely how the impact of the blast moved Spirit Lake to the location it is now.

As I was running, I went to drink from my full water bottle and suddenly, I feel this splash of water in my face. I don’t know how it happened, but my bottle burst just like a water balloon. I lost all the water I had, plus my bottle, but luckily the aid station was 3 miles away and I had a spare bottle in my pack.

Todd and Renee were not joking when they said how good the water was going to be at the Spring. Safe to drink directly from the source, it was the most satisfying liquid that ever touched my lips. Not to mention the aid station volunteers were dressed up like astronauts (because it looked like we were on the moon) and just the sweetest people ever.

Focus, focus, focus!

The Spring to Ape Canyon (4 miles)

Between the Spring and Ape Canyon is the highest point on the course, Windy Pass, which sits at 4,950 feet. I caught up to 3 men hiking the climb and then we all carefully made our way down the other side which was the craziest part of the course because there was literally no trail. Just extremely loose, unstable sand and rock. Everyone was just sliding down in plumes of dust. I slipped on my butt and used my hands to slide across instead of down. We plopped out on the bottom, dusted ourselves off, took rocks out of shoes and then were off again.

All the way to Ape Canyon the trail was flat, compact, and runnable. In Brian’s words, “just what the doctor ordered!” I cruised with Brian Eckerling all the way to Ape Canyon aid station. We were so excited to finally be running, I tripped on a pebble and went down hard on my left knee and right hip. It stunned me for a second as it was pretty painful, but there was no blood that I could see so we kept going. It took about a mile before my knee loosened up. Two days later I am just bruised, luckily no serious injury occurred.

Last mile!

Ape Canyon to Finish (8 miles)

At the aid station, I heard several of the runners saying how it was all downhill from here. I knew better and they figured out pretty quickly how wrong they were. The course profile is deceiving as we go in and out of countless canyons that really test your patience and resolve. I felt the strongest through this section and wasn’t bothered this time by the forever canyons. Jeff ate a couple berries on the side of the trail and took off like superman. I should have eaten some berries.

I ran the last 4 miles mostly alone. I knew we had one more climb and boulder field to cross before getting back on Trail 244 to the finish so I put my map up on my watch just in case as I am terrible at following the orange cones. Tad appeared just before getting to the June Lake Trail and told me Jeff was just ahead. I caught up to Jeff only because he was cramping and as soon as we hit the lava field, he was gone again. When I finally got off the boulders I had a hard time getting back on the connector trail. I got off course twice but got myself back on track using my watch and footsteps in the sand. I was so happy to be on the final 2 miles I ran as fast as I could. My last full mile was 6:48.

Full results here.

Cassi, Elizabeth and me with our awesome Mountain Shop prizes.

I crossed the finish line so happy and so proud of myself. I didn’t care that I didn’t win or that I was so far behind. I had just run the longest race of my life around this freaking volcano on some of the toughest terrain. Sure, I wanted to win. Sure, I wanted to come close to the record. And the more I am removed from the race the more the immediate post-race satisfaction dissipates, and the criticism and self-judgement set in. I am so proud of myself that I started and finished this race, but disappointed how much my anxiety gets in the way of performing to my full potential. I am faced with a decision of whether I should only run races that suit me, or should I run races that challenge me and push me out of my comfort zone where I may not come out on top? I am deciding on the latter because, in my mind, I did come out on top. I won in so many ways on Saturday, how can I be disappointed? It isn’t an easy decision given the demands of sponsorship, the pressure to perform competitively, social media, etc. All of which I know is in my head as my sponsors are the best people and there is never the hint of pressure and my social media followers are a wonderful, supportive group. However, just like my anxiety, knowing it is all in my head doesn’t make it one bit less real so I must continually remind myself of the positives despite the occasional whisper in my head that I lost by half an hour.

Mt St Helens may not have seen the last of me!

If you made it this far in my report, thank you. I am learning that the longer the race is, the more stories and lessons there are to tell.

Congratulations to new course record holder, Cassi Knight and runner-up Elizabeth Helland on two spectacular performances.

Thank you to race directors Todd and Renee for creating this event and bringing some of the best humans together to share this incredible landscape. The volunteers and medical team were the most hands-on crew I have experienced; I am grateful for their time and expertise in helping me get around that mountain. Big thanks to the Mountain Shop for the awesome water filter!

Thank you to Jenni Hulburt of Wild Wellness and doTERRA oils. I was so stressed that night of camping, I’m glad I had a lavender-scented pillow to stick my face in and calm down.

Thank you, as always, to the usual crew who make my life possible: La Sportiva, Trail Butter, Native Eyewear, Prime Massage, Align Chiropractic, Terrain Gym, and Lily Trotters.

Thank you to YOU for reading and to everyone who has left a comment or encouraging word – you fill my heart.

Cheers to you from Jeff and me.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Marathon du Mont Blanc: Take Two

After a peaceful week staying at our dear friends’ home in Les Crosets, Switerzerland, we arrived in Chamonix during the hustle and bustle of a Friday night. The apartment we rented, while in an ideal location, was situated on a major thoroughfare and very noisy until the wee hours of the night. There was a youth hostel right down the road and so we would hear parades of young people returning from partying between 1 and 4 in the morning.
Our temporary backyard in Les Crosets, Switzerland.
This year, the marathon is part of Salomon’s Golden TrailSeries, so there was a lot of media hype around the race. My original goal coming off last year was a top-10 finish, but after seeing all the incredible athletes who were signed up, we knew that was going to be nearly impossible. The main goal was to try to prevent what went wrong last year from happening again this year.

The temperatures were very mild for our entire trip to Europe - upper 60’s to low 70’s - until the day of the race, where temperatures soared to around 86. I knew that running in the heat was going to be a challenge for me because I never run in those temperatures in the PNW, let alone at altitude, which seems to make the sun hotter and more draining.

We don’t know what caused me to crash so hard at mile 20 last year, but we tried our best to come up with reasons and address each of them this year. Here is a list of some changes:

More cheese and bread, please!
1.   When I returned from Europe last year, I noticed that I lost a bit of weight. I think it was a combination of eating less just because we didn’t have as much food in the apartment as we do at home and dehydration. So, this year I made sure to eat just as much as I typically do and did not hesitate to put salt on everything while drinking plenty. If anything, I was going to be well-fueled for this race! One thing I love about Chamonix is the accessibility to a variety of foods and cuisines at an affordable price. We ate everything from curries to sushi, only cooking a couple of nights, which was a nice vacation from doing the dishes. 

2.      Last year we did a big 20 miler two weeks out from the race (and soon after arriving from the tiring, jet lag trip over); we cut it to 14 miles this year.

3.      All I had with me during the race last year was GU and it was not going down well. I think it was because I was too dehydrated. In my pack this year, I had variety: GU, single-serve Trail Butter, shot blocks and Skratch labs in one of my bottles.

4.      I did a true taper – not just a week before. My mileage was significantly lower 2 weeks before the race.

Checking out the course two weeks before the race.
5.      After seeing that the weather was going to be very warm, I went out and bought a white hat and an extra handheld to use during the part of the race where I ran out last year.

6.      I took off my necklace before I raced this year, because last year it got wrapped around the top of my water bottle preventing me from using it properly.

7.      Last year I was running in 5th early in the race and felt comfortable, though that means one thing running a race like the Chuckanut 50k and something completely different with this beast of a course. Because of this, we decided to go out much slower than last year. (That was the plan anyway, though I did not execute this one properly.)

It was already warm outside at 6:15 in the morning when I stepped out to do a short warm up. As soon as I opened our door, I see fellow American Pat Smyth warming up. When I approached the start line, I scanned to find a familiar face amongst the jumble of languages being spoken and the loud music blasting over the speakers. I soon found Magda Boulet, Alex Varner and Sage Canaday. I love seeing my USA teammates. I don’t know what they feel, but I feel such a bond with them even though I am only friends with some via social media. There is something about being so far from home that brings us together in solidarity.

After the announcer made us all do the wave, the backwards countdown from 10 in French began and, with the sound of Hell’s Bells, we were off. I mentioned that I wanted to start out slower this year and what felt like slower ended up being 15-20 seconds a mile faster for the first 4 miles.
I was in 15th early during this section and Anne Marie Madden passed me after a very controlled start as she worked her way up into the top 10.

Making my way to the top of Possette.
Tad spent all week mapping out his spectating spots so I knew I would see him at several places to get insight on where I stood among the field and receive reassurance and encouragement.

Magda came into sight and I finally caught up to her at the Vallorcine aid station (mile 11ish). I started the climb up to Possette with her. As I started to pull away I focused on Emma Clayton of Great Britian who was in front of me, but because I stopped at the water station, she got away from me on the ridge. Going over the ridge I was in 12th place and thinking maybe a top ten was possible as surely some of the leaders would fade on the toughest part of the race yet to come. (As it turns out, I was wrong, these are some tough women!) There had been a significant amount of snow on Col des Possette two week prior, and come race day, all of it had melted; I couldn’t believe it.  

The Marathon du Mont Blanc is a very special race. Not just because of the stunning scenery or the competition, but also because the spectators and volunteers are kind, encouraging and passionate. Our first names and country flags were on the race bibs, so I had a thousand fans on course screaming, "'allez, allez, Maria!" A moment that sticks out to me is when I was up on Aiguillette de Possette and Tad was running behind me with the camera, I started to doubt myself and asked him - thinking no one was around – to tell me I could do this. As soon as I popped up over a rock, a man and women were perched above, and the man said in a heavy French accent, "of course you can do this, Maria!" The cool thing is Tad got it on camera. 

To hear the encounter and see some snippets of the race, part one and two are on my IGTVchannel (@mariadalzot). 

Teamwork makes the dream work.
Coming off the ridge and dropping 2500 ft down the technical descent into Le Tour, I was passed by a young woman from Nepal who flew over this technical section and then by ultrarunner Jo Meek of Great Britain. With the drop in elevation, I soon got uncomfortably hot. I started running off trail to fountains in people’s backyards to cool off. I know this caused me a lot of time, but I just held the memory of last year’s breakdown in my head, so I stopped at every water stop because I was so afraid of running out of water or getting dehydrated. One thing I need to work on is my aid station protocol. I would make the Western States crews cringe.

Tad came into the aid station tent at Le Tour while I was trying to fill up my water bottles but got yelled at and told to leave. So, I had to fill up my bottles on my own and then go out of the tent where he was able to give me my extra bottle and pour water on my head.

I felt really refreshed afterwards and approached the part of the course where I lost my marbles last year, the overpass. Once crossing the road, we start a 1,000-foot technical climb immediately followed by a 1,000-foot technical descent. There were photographer and videographers all over this section which helped me keep my power hiking honest.

Once I made it to the Flegere aid station, only 5km separated me from the finish, but this is a very exposed and rocky section with a steady incline all the way to the finish. It is hard to describe just how hard this section is, but suffice it to say that if Megan Kimmel describes it as tough, that’s saying something. It really seemed to take forever. My watch was running long, and I was already at 26.5, but not yet at the finish. After crossing three snow fields, finally the finish shoot came into view! I mustered the energy to get a couple of high-fives coming in and then crossed the line so relieved to be done. They immediately checked our packs to make sure we had the required gear before letting us exit the finish area.

We got dressed for our last night in magical Chamonix.
I met Tad, but he wasn’t sure where exactly I finished. He thought I had faded considerably and counted me in 20th place, but he didn’t know that some women on the course were part of the Duo race that started the previous night. On the way back to the house, I looked up results to see that I was 15th woman. Yes! We were stoked.

Anne Marie finished ahead of me in 12th and Magda behind me in 16th (closing 5 minutes or so on me the last 5k!). Full results here.

I felt incredibly nauseas the rest of the day and it continued the following morning. My appetite finally came back, just in time for our final meal in Chamonix before heading back to Paris en route home.

I don’t know yet if I will return to Mont Blanc for the marathon next year. Third time is the charm, right? We know so much about the course now and learn so much each time, it’s hard to not give it another try. But, damn, is it hard!

We drove to Paris two days after the race to be tourists for 24 hours. In an 8-mile run, we saw Jardins du Tracadero, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Elysees, Jardins des Champs-Elysees, Place de Concorde, Lourve, Cathedrale Notre-Dame, Musee d'Orsay, Seine, Esplanade des Invalides, and Palais Bourbon. Basically, a whiplash of all of Paris in 90 minutes.

The same day, we drove to Versailles and toured the palace and gardens which was extremely cool. Crowded and hot, but cool. According to the museum site, Versailles is one of the greatest achievements in French 17th century art. Since the French Revolution forced Louis XVI to leave Versailles for Paris in 1789, it would never again be a royal residence. Instead, it became the Museum of the History of France in 1837. The rooms of the Palace were then devoted to housing new collections of paintings and sculptures representing great figures and important events that had marked the History of France.

Trying not to get hit by traffic at the Arc de Triomphe.
Unsurprisingly, I felt run-down and woke up the next morning with a sore throat and head cold which made traveling home even more uncomfortable. But I can’t complain too much because this is my first cold in two years and what do you expect after a hard effort and surrounded by crowds of people.

Thank you for La Sportiva, PRiME Bellingham, Align Chiropractic, Terrain Gyn, Trail Butter, Ona Treats, Lily Trotter’s Compression, and Native Eyewear for all your support, expertise, nutrition, recovery, and injury prevention leading up to the race. I am beyond grateful for having a running career that has had such longevity and such incredible support along the way.

Thank you to everyone who sent me a message of encouragement before the race and a congratulations after the race – your love was truly felt.

A lap around the Lourve.
Thank you to Colleen and Erwin Martens for graciously giving us their home to live in for a week prior to going to Chamonix. We are overwhelmed with your hospitality!

Thank you to iRunFar for the shout out in This Week in Running

To see more of Tad’s pictures and video footage, you can check out my Instagram feed and IG TV @mariadalzot.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Fragrance Lake Half Marathon: Summer Edition

The Destination Trail Fragrance Lake Half Marathon traditionally takes place mid-February in the throes of winter. However, due to an incredibly tragic plane accident that occurred on course days before the race, the race was cancelled and rescheduled for June 9th.

Fragrance Lake typically has the potential to be chilly, muddy, icy, and/or snowy with many downed trees to navigate around, over or under. With this May being the driest month on record in Bellingham, the trails were in prime condition for a course PR despite the day’s previous rain showers.

Damn roots.
However, because the Marathon du Mont Blanc is three weeks away, we made the decision to train through the race which meant running on fatigued legs. The race fell at the end of a hard three weeks of training, and my body could tell. The previous Saturday, I did a 4 ½ hour run with a lot of climbing that totally wiped me out. The next day we were trying to take a photo before starting my run and I tripped and almost fell on my face… three times… while walking. We took that as a pretty clear sign to take the day off. Regardless of the results of Fragrance, I hoped that my efforts over the past month will serve me well at Mont Blanc. (To read about my experience last year, read here.)

Looking for the men ahead.

The Fragrance Lake ½ course went the long way around the lake this year like in 2016. Otherwise, everything remained the same: still the same 3,300 feet of climbing in the first 7 miles, then a trip across the Ridge, concluding with spiraling down Fragrance Lake Trail.

Without David Laney present to take the start out screaming fast, the first mile was relatively calm, and I kept the lead men in site before catching up on the first climb to Two Dollar. I shared a couple of miles with Paul Sage from Club Northwest, but once he pulled off to take the finish for the simultaneous 10km, I was on my own. At one point on Lost Lake trail, I saw a glimpse of the leader, Matthew Logan, but my climbing legs were screaming “not today!” so I trudged on with only my past splits to use as a reference. I knew two miles in it was going to be near impossible to run my best time today, but that didn’t stop me from pushing my hardest.

Some video footage from the top of the big climb and the start of the Ridge.

Coming off the Ridge and on to Cleator Road for the final bump up, Tad said that a woman was only about a minute behind me as I entered the Ridge and I better push it from here to the end. Aw man! Not the news I wanted to hear today. My legs were burning so bad on any slight incline. I gritted my teeth and ran down Fragrance Lake Trail like a crazy person. Luckily, my loud breathing warned hikers far in advance and they kindly stepped to the side, and my downhill legs were surprisingly awesome.

When I bottomed out at Fragrance Lake Trail, Tad was there and asked me if I passed the lead guy. I knew that I hadn’t, so I wasn’t sure what he was talking about. I sprinted to the finish and embarrassingly missed the finish shoot so I was spinning my wheels in the gravel trying to quickly make the turn and cross the finish line. Eighteen seconds later, Matt came through. He missed reading a course sign and unfortunately took a wrong turn. Had he not, he would have gotten me by a couple minutes. It was Stacey Cleveland from BC who was hot on my heels, finishing just 3 minutes back; she ran so strong!
I got lucky today, that's for sure!

Full results here.

This is my fourth year in a row running the race and my slowest time yet. Of course, that doesn’t sit well, but I know that had I backed off on mileage and rested the results would have reflected that.

Girl Power
Thank you to the whole Destination Trail Team who orchestrated a flawless event, despite having to fight with course vandalizers the previous day. The weather man called for rain and cloudy skies, but he couldn’t have been more wrong. We were treated with perfect running weather: mid-50’s and sunny. Also perfect for hanging out, eating, and drinking beer while we cheered on our fellow friends and racers.

We leave for Europe this week, but before we take off, a quick thank you to some of the people who have helped me prepare, kept me healthy, motivated, inspired and who enrich my life on a daily basis:

Tad Davis
Kerry Gustafson
Chris Lockwood
Tonia Boze
Quinn Carrasco
Bellingham Distance Project ladies and gents
Jenn Love
Jeff Fisher
Jeff Boggess
Casey Szesze

Au revoir et à bientôt!

Bracing myself for the final push.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Smith Rock Ascent 50k

The last 6 miles of the Chuckanut 50k I told myself I never had to run again if I didn’t want to. My left leg was so tight I had to stop countless times to stretch throughout the race (starting at mile 5!) and every mile from the start of the race felt like a struggle. Two years in a row, running that far was not a fun experience and so I thought maybe the 50k distance was not for me.

But as time goes on, we runners tend to forget these things; the pain, the suffering, the soreness. Instead, we remember the camaraderie, the adventure, overcoming adversity and this fuels our fire. So just two months later, there I was contemplating running the Smith Rock Ascent 50km, hosted by Go Beyond Racing.

These are a few of my favorite things. PC: Jeff Fisher
Tad and I were on the fence about traveling all the way to Terre Bonne, OR (the town closest to Smith Rock), but when I got a coincidental message from Jenn Love from the Mountain Shop in Portland asking if I would like to come down and lead a La Sportiva demo run sometime, synergy was in play and our minds were made up.

Trail friends. PC: Jeff Fisher

My training since Chuckanut has been about consistency rather than intensity and even though my workouts are not as rigid or aggressive as they used to be, I feel myself getting in shape. Everyday runs are a little bit snappier, I am recovering well, and I have no – knock on wood – pain or tightness in my butt (an ongoing problem). I felt strong three weeks ago at the Yakima Skyline Rim 25k and came within 40 seconds of my course record so that was a good sign as well.

The 50k distance is still so unknown to me. Unlike the sub-ultra distance, I never make goals of trying to win or place because I lack the confidence. It’s more a battle between me and my anxiety, and the longer I am out there, the more opportunity for the voices in my head to talk. The goal is always not to listen.

Crusin' through Forest Park. PC: Jeff Fisher 
I have never been to Smith Rock, so I didn’t know the course other than studying the map and elevation profile. Another factor coming in to play is central Oregon can get toasty this time of year, so I was concerned about the heat. If it hits 70 in Bellingham it’s a big deal. But we put the course map into my watch and there’s nothing we can do about the weather except run smart and keep up on hydration.

We left for Portland on Thursday morning to meet up with the folks at Mountain Shop to share some miles with the local trail running community and demo the La Sportiva Akasha’s. It was my first time running in Forest Park and I was so impressed. Beautiful buttery green and lush trails that you could really fly on if you wanted to.

We drove to Smith Rock State Park the next morning and got there at about noon. So did a gazillion gnats. Swarms of them. There were no warning signs just tiny pellets hitting you in the face and mouth like a summer rain. My shake-out jog was basically me flailing my arms and complaining with my mouth covered. My goal became to finish the race before the bugs came out.

Trying to out-run the bugs.
I knew from Ultra Signup that the competition would be stiff with fellow Washingtonian and friend, Paige Patillo, on the starting line, as well as Tori Tyler, who I raced at the 2014 Trail Half Marathon Championships. Because I get so nervous I was hoping to work together with these ladies and enjoy their company for as long as possible.

As we started the five mile loop around the park, Paige and I calmly navigated our way along the undulating path until the start of the first climb where I began to pull ahead. Paige is a boss at downhill running as I experienced firsthand from our first meeting where she used her natural speed to run me down in the final mile descent, so I knew she would be back with me soon. After the first climb came some flat miles and then a significant downhill where Paige caught back up, just as I had hoped. We came through the first aid station (7ish miles) together, but then started climbing again and I latched on to the man in front of me. We rolled along until he had to stop to pee at the bottom of a sandy hill. I kept going and turned to see if anyone was coming with me, but the chase pack all started to power-hike the hill. I really didn’t feel as though I needed to hike, but then I was thinking they knew something I didn’t. I decided to just keep my pace, nice and controlled.

Riley and I working together.

At the second aid station (13ish miles) I started running with Maks, but had to let him go as he was not pushing as hard on the climbs. Again, I hesitated, but not too far up ahead was Riley. Riley was a pleasure to run with. We chatted about how these trails remind us of Helena, Montana where he is from and how the Don’t Fence Me In Trail Run was going on at the same time.

Mile 12 seemed to be taking forever and finally, after 20 minutes, I realized that I accidentally stopped my watch and had never restarted it. Riley was kind enough to announce every mile until I pulled away with about 10 miles to go. We were clicking off the sub 7 minute miles so easily I really couldn’t believe it. I kept waiting for my legs to fatigue or my energy level to dip or for the anxiety to rear its ugly head. But nothing ever happened. This was his first ultra and he crushed.

After I crossed the road at mile 24 and prepared for the final ascent, I caught up to Levi who was being challenged by some inner demons. I gave him an unsolicited pep talk and then we worked together to push it up to the final aid station where Yassine and his Wy’east Wolfpack crew were there rocking and ready for us to run through the “tunnel of love.”

Feeling effortless.
I kicked it into another gear and started catching up to the 15 milers finishing. I enjoyed the momentum of passing the runners and cheering them along, but I got stuck behind a guy who had two ear buds in. I was screaming “excuse me!” and “pardon me!” and “SIR!!!” I contemplated hurling myself in the brush and going around that way, but then he finally heard me and moved to the side. Why didn’t I tap him? Because I am scarred for life from the time I did just that to a lady on the trail in the middle of a race. You can read about that craziness here.

Jazz hands!
I knew that about 3 miles to the finish we came screaming down a service road so when I looked to my right and saw a road below while the trail I was on was going left I questioned if I was going the right direction and somehow got turned around. I ran backwards until I could ask the next 15-mile runner if we were heading to the road and once he confirmed I took off again. The last 200 meters is up a very steep paved side walk before making the turn into the finish chute.

I felt strong and smooth and loved every mile. I know this is going to sound annoying, but I think I could have done 10 more on that day or I could have run much faster. I am feeling proud of my first ultra win and 8th place overall in the second fastest course time.

Full results here.

With RD's Todd and Renee.
After Chuckanut I told you that even my hair hurt. After Smith Rock, I have one toe that looks like it has been through the blender and that’s it. Even though I feel good, Tad is still making me take an easy week (40ish miles) to make sure I am good to go for one final push before we leave for the Marathon du Mont Blanc in Chamonix, France. I can’t believe we will be leaving next month; time is going by so quickly!

Thank you to Todd and Renee from Go Beyond RacingThis win was very special to me and I am so grateful for the awesome print, rock, and pint glasses to always remember it

Thank you to Aid Stations 1&4, 2 and 3 for being so efficient and bringing so much joy, energy, and entertainment to each runner.

Get in my belly!

Can we just talk about Longboard Louie’s burritos for a minute? SO good and satisfying. Thank you for this fabulous treat and perfect recovery fuel.

Thank you to Maks, Riley and Levi for your company and encouragement. You made the race so fun.

Thank you to iRunFar for the shout-out in TWIR

An extra-special congratulation for TEAM USA Women and Men who made us all proud representing the U.S. at the Trail World Championship in Spain this weekend. What a show of teamwork, grit, determination, and passion. Read more about their amazing performances here

A continued thank you to my team of constant love and support: Tad, La Sportiva, Trail Butter, Terrain Gym, Prime Massage, Align Chiropractic and Lily Trotters Compression.

Until next time, Smith Rock,

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Yakima Skyline Rim: Take Three

By now I think everyone knows how much I love Rainshadow Running’s Yakima Skyline Rim 25km. Every April, I look forward to heading over Snoqualmie pass where it is 38 degrees and snowing and descending the other side into sun and 60 degrees. It is quite magical, really. Plus, the drastic change in scenery – the lack of trees, massive rolling hills and clouds of dirt and dust – is a welcome change after feeling so soggy after a particularly wet and rainy PNW winter.

The 25km is on Sunday so we left Bellingham early Saturday morning in the hope of catching the finish of the 50km. We made it to the finish line two minutes before Mike Wolfe came in with nobody in sight. We took our lunch and hiked up the trail a bit to cheer and take pictures. We got to see the veterans, my Trail Butter teammate Yassine Diboun and Seven Hill’s Phil Kochick, as well as my La Sportiva teammate Kaytlyn Gerbin who ran with focus and determination to crush the course record. All the 50k-ers deserve a hearty “Well done!” after navigating 10,500 feet of climbing in extremely windy conditions.

La Sportiva 25km & 50km sweep with Kaytlyn!

After the race we headed to the AirBnB, which our friends so graciously invited us to share with them. We usually stay at the Ellensburg KOA, but I am so thankful to have had a warm bed to sleep in before the race as the morning low was in the low 30’s.

When I woke up in the morning and went to the bathroom, I looked down at my foot to see a gnarly looking bruise over the top of my 5th metatarsal. “What the hell?” I thought. I had no idea what I had done. I don’t remember dropping anything on my foot or any kind of trauma that would leave such a mark. I was just hoping that it wouldn’t hurt during the race or be so bad afterwards that it is something serious.

We arrived at the Umtanum Recreation Area an hour before the start to have enough time to do all the pre-race things. The day’s weather had the promise of perfection – light wind, sun and mid-50’s at the finish. I’m sorry 50k-ers!

Leading the conga line in the first mile.
I didn’t really have a pre-race strategy going into the race. We have been focusing on consistency and steady workouts rather than really hard efforts that have left me drained and injured in the past. The first year of the Yakima 25k, I went out too fast and about died coming in. The second year I went out much slower and felt a lot better on the return but was over a minute slower. Super-stud Ladia Albertson-Junkans was signed up to race the 25km but decided to withdraw as she is preparing to throw the hammer down at the inaugural Silo District Marathon in two weeks to get an OTQ. With Ladia out of the race, my goal was just to try to win, without really focusing on a time goal.

After James gave the pre-race briefing and reminding us all not to die, we were off and awkwardly running across the Umtanum suspension bridge as is went up and down from so many legs crossing it. I actually felt kind of dizzy when we got off, you know that feeling after you get out of an elevator or off a plane?

Anyways, the top guys took off and I looked up and saw the bright green of friend Josh Vander Wiele’s shirt in the distance. I was on the back of the chase pack train for the initial climb and then towards the top I took the lead. When we crested the top at 3 miles, the guy beside me said, “you’re in fifth place,” and I responded with, “so are you!” We worked together on the undulating service road until making the left turn at Doug McKeever’s (favorite) aid station on to technical single-track. The decent down to Rosa Creek aid station is a doozy. Even though I lubed up my feet based on past experience, I still felt the burn of friction from sliding on the loose ground.

Finish line feelings.
The out and back nature of the course allows us to meet and greet all the runners at the turn-around. This is one of the reasons I love this race so much. Trail races are often so lonely, but on this course, at least for a couple miles, you get to experience the camaraderie and enthusiasm of the race. I felt stronger than I ever have on the net-uphill return to the finish and was able to really push the final technical decent back to the suspension bridge where Tad was waiting to run behind me across it because #anxiety. 

I made the loop around the perimeter of the parking lot and made sure to slow before crossing the finish line for my revered James Varner high-five. Last year, I nearly pulled his arm out of the socket as I dragged him with me almost to the buffet line. For an embarrassing documentation of this, look back at last year’s report.

I ended up first woman and 5th overall with a time of 2:28:50, 40 seconds shy of my 2016 CR. Full results here

After running the 25km three years in a row, I think next year, body-willing, it will be time to step it up to the 50km. Oh boy. Double the fun, right?

James, me & the awesome print.
As always, I want to thank James and the entire Rainshadow Running team and all the volunteers for making every race such a special experience. From the food, to the beer to the music – the atmosphere is unbeatable, and I am so grateful to live in the PNW and to have the opportunity to take part in these events.

Tad and I were not ready to leave the sunny-side of the mountains quite yet, so we decided to camp out the following night. We usually sleep in the car, but the Orange Tiger wouldn’t start before the trip, so we had to take the Prius which meant sleeping in a tent. I froze my ass off. We woke up to 32 degrees with ice on the tent. We got up before 5am and booked it to Starbucks for warmth and caffeine.

The temperatures rose quickly, and it was a comfortable 60 degrees for our hike/jog. My foot was significantly worse and was causing a lot of pain for the first time. (Luckily, now a couple of days later, the coloring is better and no longer causing pain.) What a freaky thing!

You know it was a good weekend when you step in the shower and a plume of campfire smoke smell is released and you let out a little scream from all the cuts and scrapes you acquired. I think I finally got all the dirt out of my nose… three days later.

Trying to hide how sore I am the day after.

Up next for me is the Smith RockAscent 50km in three weeks which I am so pumped about. I have yet to experience the gorgeous trails of Smith Rock or a Go Beyond Racing event, so I am really looking forward to it. I am still trying to kindle a love for the 50km distance so maybe this race will be enough to light my fire.

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.